"I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link…" Set Christmas season 4 after Killshot, before Cuffed.
She chewed on her thumbnail, arms wrapped around her middle as she stared at the thin plastic Christmas tree standing on the small table in front of the window. Ornaments scattered the spindly branches. She could almost hear the Charlie Brown Christmas theme humming in her ear. This had been a mistake. This wouldn't help. Burke had suggested it as part of her therapy.
Put up a tree, he'd said. Decorate it. Call your father. The only way for you to continue to heal is for you to confront the parts that are painful for you.
So, after work she had stopped at the store and picked the last small tree off the shelf, forcing herself to give a weak smile to the cashier as the girl rung her up with a bored expression on her face. Now, she was staring at a tree in her living room on Christmas Eve, alone, her phone in a vise grip in her hand.
"Mom! Dad! Are you serious?" 19 year-old Kate gasped from her place sitting cross-legged in front of the fluffy Christmas tree as she tore open the paper on her present, taking in the picture of the orange and white shell of the iBook laptop.
"Well, you're in college now and we thought it would be a good thing for you to have," Johanna Beckett explained as she watched her daughter tear through the rest of the paper. "They didn't have purple but we thought you'd like the orange one too."
"Like it? I love it! Thank you so much!" Kate placed the computer on the floor beside her before launching herself into her parents' arms. She pulled back bouncing in place a couple more times before skipping back to the tree picking up one of the gifts for her father. "Dad! You next. This one's from Mom."
Jim Beckett's eyes were dancing as he took the present from his beaming daughter. Tearing open the paper gently, his smile grew as his robe-clad wife snuggled into his side, the steaming cup of coffee cradled in her palms. "What is it, Jo?"
"I don't know. Open it and see."
Jim chuckled as he flipped the lid on the jewelry box open revealing the large round face of a watch. "Perfect, it's perfect Jo. I love you."
"I love you too."
Tears pooled in Kate's eyes as the words from the memory echoed through her mind, her hand coming up to twist the watch on her thin wrist. This was a mistake. She could feel the panic swelling in her chest. They weren't even the right ornaments, the ones from her childhood. They were cheap ones she had bought from the corner store, generic shiny metallic balls and a string of white lights. She hadn't even bothered to get a tree topper or a skirt for it. The green plastic feet of the stand stuck out at awkward angles. A stupid plastic tree wasn't going to heal her.
I want to heal. I want to be better. I want to be more than who I am.
Her words from weeks before echoed through her head.
But was she really ready? Would she ever be?
What did she really want?
So many answers screamed through her brain. She wanted…
… Her mother back. She wanted to be cuddled up with her parents on Christmas Eve, drinking hot cocoa, and singing off key Christmas carols at the top of their lungs. She wanted to rip open more presents with them on Christmas morning. She wanted everything to be… perfect.
The ring spun in the air as she held it out in front of her, perched on the seat at the bar. The picture on her fake ID looked nothing like her, she had even had to turn on the charm to convince the bouncer to let her in but it had been worth it in the end, the double shot of vodka on the rocks sweating on the sticky counter in front of her being proof.
She palmed the ring before taking another swallow of her drink, already feeling the warmth starting to coat her stomach, making the ache in her chest a little lighter. Taking her time, she considered the drink for another long moment before turning to respond to the boy… the man… who had taken the stool beside her. He was decent enough looking, nothing special but he would do to take her mind off of things, like why she wasn't eating an elaborate feast with her parents at the moment. She could almost taste her mother's stuffing. That secret recipe that had died with her…
No, she shook her head. She could feel the tears welling up again. Not now.
"Hey," she responded in kind.
"Why are you here on Christmas Eve?"
Kate snorted into her drink, like she was actually going to tell that story. "My parents went on a cruise."
He nodded, sticking a hand out in front of her. "I'm…"
"No." Kate shook her head, reaching out with her own fingers, trailing them up his thigh, proud of the shiver she evocated from him as she dropped her voice to a whisper. "No names."
She downed the rest of her drink as a feral grin spread across his face and he flagged down the bartender, motioning for another round.
"Fine. No names."
20 year-old Kate nodded as she threw back the second drink. Merry fucking Christmas.
Far from perfect…
Kate shook her head as she leaned forward and yanked the end of the strand of lights from the socket.
It didn't matter what she wanted. It wasn't going to happen anyway. Not now, not ever.
She drained the rest of her wine as she made her way toward the bedroom, depositing the empty glass in the sink before stripping off her sweater and boots, pulling the pins from her hair. She would just sleep for the next two days and wake back up after this was all over.
"You know, fate has a cruel sense of humor."
Kate bolted up in her bed; heart pounding in her chest as her hand automatically went for her gun under her pillow.
"Don't bother, you won't find it there, not that it would matter anyway if you did."
Her hand felt the mattress erratically as her eyes searched the darkness for the owner of the voice. "Who's there?"
"Recognize me now, Detective?"
The light flickered on beside her, illuminating the shadow in the corner.
"Raglan?" Beckett questioned as she brought a hand up to shield her eyes from the sudden harsh light. "But you're…"
"Dead? Yes, I know. But like I said, fate has a cruel sense of humor, girlie," John Raglan growled as he took a step towards the bed. "I once likened myself to Jacob Marley. I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link…"
Kate's brow creased as she stared up at him hovering over her bed. "I don't…"
"I'm here to grant your wish, detective, well at least to show you what might have been… if only…"
Then, Kate watched as Raglan snapped his fingers, her hand no longer an adequate shield as the white light surrounded her.
"Where are we?" Kate questioned as she pulled her robe tighter around her. Her feet dancing in place as the snow began to fall around them, creating a thin white blanket on the ground. She was still in her pajamas and slippers, her hair pulled back in a messy bun, not that she cared— it was only a dream after all.
"I told you. I granted your wish, this is your Christmas if your mother had never died," Raglan explained as she spun in a circle taking in her surroundings.
"… But, I'm confused, this isn't New York."
"No, it isn't. We're in D.C. That's your apartment right up there." Raglan pointed to the dark window of the apartment on the third floor.
"Well it's pretty obvious I'm not home so why are we here? Where are my parents?"
"Oh, your parents, they're on a cruise to Mexico, enjoying retirement."
Kate turned in another circle, drawing her lip in between her teeth, nibbling on it nervously. She was starting to get a bad feeling about this situation, what was Raglan trying to tell her? Her eyes darted over to the man again. He was wearing the same clothes he was that day in the diner. His jacket edged open and she blanched as she caught sight of his blood stained shirt. "Well then I'm with them, right? I mean I would spend every Christmas with them if this had never happened. I know I would."
Raglan let out a snort as he began to stroll down the deserted road. "Would you. You had the perfect childhood detective— privileged most would call it. Good schools, loving parents even if they were workaholics. You never knew tragedy. You had nothing to show you how to cling to life."
He stopped in his tracks, turning to face her, a single finger darting out to jab her in her shoulder. "At least not until your mother died."
He turned to walk again, letting his words sink in. "What were you doing with your life before that happened, Detective? Partying with your friends? Worrying over exam grades? Do you remember what you were thinking that night your mother died when your father told you that you were going to meet her for dinner?"
Kate shrugged, "No, I don't. All I remember is what happened afterwards."
"You were mad because you had to cancel your friends. You were supposed to meet up with Madison and some of your old high school friends before you headed back to Stanford." Raglan turned to look at her again. "You never learned to appreciate what you had, Detective because you never learned tragedy. So, tonight you are here."
Kate glanced at the sign as they stopped once again on the cold streets of Washington D.C. "But this is an office building."
Raglan nodded as he snapped his fingers once more transporting them inside the building, "The home of Hummel and Steel to be exact. The law firm you are currently working for. On the quest to be the first woman Supreme Court Justice, remember? That doesn't come without a few sacrifices."
Kate stared in shock, her mouth forming an 'O' as she watched herself through the glass, all alone in the dark office, only a single desk lamp illuminating her work. "But it's Christmas Eve. I work Christmas Eve, now, to protect others, to allow my colleagues to be home with their families. I'm not doing that here, am I? Is that an important case I'm working on?"
She took another step forward, pressing her hands to the glass like a child mesmerized by a toy in the window.
"Oh, that?" Raglan waved a hand in dismissal. "It's an open case but it's nothing so important to spend a holiday on. It's a murder trial, and you're going to win by the way."
Kate let out a sigh of relief a smile ghosting over her lips. "So, he's innocent."
"Oh, no, girlie," Raglan laughed. "That man is guilty as sin and you know it, well, she does anyway."
He waved a hand at the Kate sitting behind the desk, head still bent over a pile of paperwork. "In fact there is a witness that you will end up discrediting in order to win your case and the information you find will end up ruining her life but it's all okay in the end because this is the case that will make you partner."
"But, that's horrible! I'm horrible. I would never do something like that." Kate gasped as Raglan turned to walk back down the hall.
"You wouldn't but she would." Raglan motioned over his shoulder lazily at the woman in the office. "Anything to get her where she wants to be."
"But what about Castle? Obviously he wouldn't be okay with me taking a case like that," Kate protested as they clomped down the stairs and back out into the December night.
"But you never met Richard Castle, Detective. Remember? This Kate, well she had a passing acquaintance with his books back in college but she never had time for frivolous things like pulp fiction. She didn't need it like you did."
Kate froze in her tracks, her stomach plummeting. Wrapping her arms around her middle, she squeezed herself in a hug in the center of the quiet, deserted street, the snow no longer a comforting blanket, the cold cutting straight through her skin. "I want to go. I don't want to be here anymore."
Raglan quirked a single eyebrow at her. "But this is what you wanted. This life, your mother alive…"
"I…" Kate stuttered, looking around. "I didn't want it like this."
"Fine," Raglan lamented, snapping his fingers once more. "As you wish."
Kate's eyes flickered open expecting to see her bedroom not the dark living room of Castle's loft.
"Castle..? Why are we here?"
Raglan shrugged, thumping her on the side of the head twice with his index finger. "You were thinking about him, weren't you? We're in your brain, remember?"
She glanced around again, her brow creased in confusion. "Is it still Christmas? Where are all the decorations? Where are the lights and Santa's village, and train tracks? Castle was describing it to me a week ago; he made it sound like a freakin' winter wonderland. What the fuck is going on Raglan?"
Anger was flaring in her chest. This wasn't right, none of this was right. Her fists clenched at her side. "Where's Castle?"
"In the office, girlie, go see for yourself."
Kate wandered over to the room slowly, bracing one hand against the bookcase. Castle was reclined in the chair at his desk, hair disheveled, dressed in a worn green robe and pajamas, a glass of scotch in his hand staring at the computer screen.
"He's writing, that's good, right?" Kate questioned inanely as she took in the tortured scene in front of her, the answer already echoing in her head. "Why does he look so sad? Where's Martha and Alexis?"
"Alexis is visiting her mother in California and Martha is out with friends."
"Why aren't they here?" Kate whispered, her heart sinking in her chest. "They are always together on the holidays…"
"Well," Raglan shrugged again. "That was before…"
Kate swallowed hard, her stomach churning, bile rising up her esophagus. She didn't want to know… "Before what?"
"Before you died."
Kate's head whipped around. "But I didn't die."
"Here you did. He did everything he could to save you but he couldn't and he blames himself for that."
"This isn't funny," Kate hissed. "Is this some sort of cruel joke to you? Why would you show me this?"
"You've thought about it, haven't you Detective? You were just thinking about it tonight, in fact. 'Why did he have to tell me he loved me like that..?'.
Kate's head snapped around again. "But… why would that matter? Him telling me he loved me?"
"Look at him, Detective. Really look." Raglan pushed her into the room, forcing her to stumble toward the desk. "His daughter left because she can't stand to see her father like this. It's been seven months and she can't take it anymore. He didn't even finish Heat Rises. He couldn't bring himself to do it. Gina even stopped calling to pester him about it. There's no point."
Kate rounded the desk slowly, peering at the screen from over Castle's shoulder only to see her own smiling face staring back at her. "But…"
"That man is so in love with you that losing you has torn his world apart and not having the courage to tell you he loved you made it even worse for him and for you. Because whether you know it or not him telling you how he felt made you hold on a little harder, fight for your life a little longer. Those words saved you…"
Raglan placed a hand on her shoulder as she brought her own hand up to cover her mouth, stifle her tears. "You are his inspiration but he inspires you too. You need each other."
Her hand shook as she reached out running a hand through Castle's hair gently, quietly soothing the heartbroken man. "I want to go home please."
And Raglan snapped his fingers again.
But they were still in the loft and Kate spun in a circle, a hesitant smile crossing her face as she was assaulted with a Christmas explosion of light, ornaments and snow. A train circled on a table in the corner. "I thought you were taking me home."
"I did… well your home a few years from now at least…"
Kate spun back around to look at him. "You mean…"
Raglan smiled back at the expectant look in her eyes. "You got married last year, finally. See that stocking over there, the little one? You snuck out in the middle of the night and tacked it up next to the others."
Kate nodded as she wandered towards the fireplace, the rest of the loft quiet around her. Her fingers danced over the fluff of the tiny green stocking hanging next to Alexis'.
"That," Raglan whispered over her shoulder. "Is how you are planning on telling him you're pregnant. It's a girl by the way."
"It's…" Kate breathed, her eyes wide with awe. "Perfect."
"Oh girlie," Raglan chuckled. "It's far from perfect. There have been a few rough patches, a near miss here and there. You've made it work, though, because you wanted it to."
He circled around her slowly, kicking one of the neatly wrapped presents under the tree gently with the tip of his boot. "You can ask yourself 'what if', 'if only' and 'I wish' so many times but none of that matters, you can't change the past. You can, however, make the future."
He spread his arms wide as he motioned to mountains of presents and over the top decorations. A pair of Santa suit clad storm troopers stood in the corner. "This is yours if you want it. It's waiting for you but you have to fight for it, not against it. You have to let all those other 'what ifs' go."
There was another bright flash of white and Kate bolted up in bed, her chest heaving, Raglan's voice echoing in her head. "What links do you want to make girlie?"
Shoving the covers off with her feet she stumbled into the living room, taking in her surroundings. It was her apartment, the same appliances, her shoes still scattered in the middle of the floor. The tiny tree still sparkled by the window. Her hand drifted to her chest, pressing a finger against the puckered scar between her breasts. She was back, home.
Her eyes drifted over the kitchen counter, her dark phone staring back at her. Slowly she walked toward it, one hand reaching out as the other wrapped around her middle, pressing cool cloth of her oversized sleep shirt to her skin. With shaking fingers she dialed the number, listening impatiently, her lip pulled in between her teeth as it rang in her ear.
"Beckett? Wuz wrong? There a body?" Kate let out a sigh of relief as Castle's sleep heavy voice drifted through the speaker.
"No… no body." She replied quietly as she twirled a lock of hair around her finger. Her eyes drifted to the ticking clock in the corner. Two AM. "I just…"
Wanted to make sure you were alive? See if this was some sort of weird parallel universe? Tell you that I love you and can't wait to marry you and have your babies?
"… I wanted to say Merry Christmas…"
He breathed out into the phone and she could hear the smile in his voice. "Merry Christmas Kate. Now go to sleep, Santa won't come if you're awake… Love you."
His voice drifted off as he fell back into his slumber and her breath hitched as the mumbled words came through the speaker.
The phone went dark as she stared at it. "I love you too."
And even though he hadn't heard the words, even though he didn't know yet, her face broke a wide smile because it was enough. It was a link.