Despite having worked with the detectives at the Twelfth Precinct for a week, Castle felt they were no further ahead than when they started. At first, it had been almost fun for him, like a week at police camp, and he had relished every moment. He spun theories, drank bad coffee, stared at the evidence, combed through case files. It was exciting to be a part of a real case, and much less scary now that he was doing it from within the security of the precinct walls. He was gaining valuable information for his novels.
At home he would go through the details with Kate, telling her all that had been said, everything he'd seen, and all the theories he'd been too scared to share with the detectives for fear of being upstaged by their years of experience. And some of his theories had been more than a little farfetched, but Kate had listened to them all, with only a few garnering that annoyed eye roll that he had grown to love. Sometimes he suggested theories he didn't believe himself, just so he could see it.
At first, she had been resistant to working through the case. She was clearly finding it frustrating to be getting all the information second-hand. But, after a little prodding on Castle's part, she had managed to get into the work.
Castle had learned so much about her personality just by watching how she worked through the details of the case. The way she took her time looking at the evidence, trying to piece it all together in a way that made sense, ignoring the details that looked like coincidence and insisting that there was no such thing.
She was a formidable officer, of that he was sure, but she was also highly perceptive. Not that he wasn't also, but really he'd had years of practice, of having to undertand how all the pieces fit, while she was still a relative rookie. He was amazed by how quickly she pieced the evidence together and found hidden connections between small details. And, she was becoming highly skilled at taking the sometimes outrageous theories that Castle suggested and whittling them down to the roots where inevitably, one, or both of them, would find a new clue or a new avenue to investigate. Castle took all their ideas to the precinct with him and for a while, they kept the officers busy.
But there were a few significant pieces of information that had truly stumped them all.
First, one of the NY State Troopers had found the dart that Beckett had shot Johnson with. It had apparently fallen out as they struggled at the cliff's edge and was discovered later in a tuft of grass. Examination of the dart by the crime scene techs had revealed that after the dart had been fired, the back end had broken off. The techs suggested that sometimes this was known to happen.
Kate had looked at Rick suspiciously when he told her about it. But when he showed her the documentary he had watched about a bear who had fallen into a vat of sewage, in which that exact thing had happened when the forest rangers tried to subdue it, she was forced to believe it was possible. The techs said they had no way of knowing how much of the tranquilizer drugs had gotten into Johnson's system, therefore it was no longer conclusive that Johnson was unconscious when he hit the water that day.
There had also been reports of a few sightings, but again, the evidence was inconclusive. It didn't help that people claimed to have seen him in a variety of cities, including Hartford, New York City, and as far away as Boston. None of them seemed entirely reliable, and just left the authorities tracking down dead ends.
Finally on the third day of working at the Twelfth Precinct, Montgomery cornered Castle in the breakroom.
"Okay, Castle, spill it," he'd said. He wasn't accusing Castle of any wrongdoing but clearly he knew something was up.
"What do you mean?"
"I know you write mysteries for a living, and if my wife is right, then you're pretty damned good at it."
"Thank you," Castle smiled proudly.
"Yeah, well, you can thank her for that. I haven't read a single one of your books." Castle was taken aback by the man's bluntness. "But what I want to know is how you are going home at then end of a shift with nothing, and coming back the next morning with all these good ideas that none of my seasoned colleagues have managed to come up with."
Castle shifted uncomfortably. Montgomery had told Kate she was on the bench, but if the case was still open when she got back she would be on the team again. Rick wasn't sure if he was breaking any protocols, though he assumed what he and Kate were doing wouldn't be highly favoured. She was supposed to be resting. But, at the same time, the man couldn't argue they were getting results. Even still, Castle didn't want to just throw her under the bus.
"I, well...I guess I just keep having these revelations. Maybe writing it all down is helping?"
"It's Beckett isn't it?"
Castle stammered, but couldn't decide on the right way to explain himself.
While he floundered for words, something he was not finding a pleasureable experience, Montgomery eased his pain.
"It's okay Castle. I figured that's what you were doing. No way you come up with these theories on your own."
"What?" Castle replied indignently. "I could so come up with these theories on my own."
Montgomery laughed at him, "Nah, come on Castle, you're more of the secret government agency conspiracy kind of guy. Don't tell me you didn't want to suggest that Johnson was secretly abducted by aliens or some nonsense."
"Aliens? Come on Detective, that's just ridiculous..." Castle's voice trailed off as he remembered a conversation he and Beckett had had the night before.
"Castle, Johnson was not abducted by aliens."
"Oh come on, it totally makes sense. A wild storm comes up out of nowhere not long after he falls in the river, nothing is found of him but his shoe, what else could it be?"
"Seriously, Castle, it wasn't aliens."
"Oh, what, you don't believe in aliens? There's no way that we're the only sentient species in the universe."
"I didn't say that Castle, I just said that I don't believe aliens are involved in this case. There has to be a more logical explanation."
"Okay, like what?"
"I don't know, like maybe he washed up at a different part of the river than they thought and he managed to somehow get away? Maybe he had a radio with him or had a stash of things that we didn't know about and he was able to contact his partner?"
"Well what fun is that?"
"It's not fun, Castle. It's logic. Something you are clearly not in possession of right now."
"Well, I think you need to have more fun Officer Beckett."
"Oh really? Well what are you going to do about it?" Kate knew that once the crazy theories started coming out of the woodwork, they were pretty much done for the night. Castle advanced on her, eyes filling with passion and desire as he caught the meaning of her words.
"Hmm...I think I could probably give you a lesson or two in having fun..."
Montgomery snapped his fingers in Castle's face, breaking him from the memory. Just when I was getting to the good part.
"Listen Castle, I know you want to help Beckett out while she's on leave. If I know her she must be going stir crazy by this point."
"You really have no idea." The level of Kate's frustration at being stuck at home away from the case was evident from the minute Castle walked in the door each night. She would barely let him close the front door before she was hounding him for the details.
"Yeah, well, as long as she doesn't do anything stupid, try to actually run down any of these ideas you've been feeding us, then it's fine. Technically she's on leave so she shouldn't be working this case, but clearly you two make a good team, and frankly, I'm starting to think this one may not get solved, at least not any time soon. But seriously Castle, don't let it get beyond theory building, okay?" Montgomery smiled and patted Castle on the shoulder as he walked back into the bullpen. Castle wondered just how easy, or difficult, a challenge that might be.
By the end of the week, most of the officers at the Twelfth Precinct had been reassigned to other cases. Montgomery and Castle were left working on what little evidence there was, but the captain was starting to suggest that maybe it was time to put it away for a while. With no new leads and no new evidence, it was pretty much a dead end. Even Castle and Beckett had been having trouble gleaning new information from what they had. Castle's theories were starting to get more and more outlandish, and Kate was less and less willing to entertain them. For her sanity, and for the health of their relationship, Castle was glad that Beckett would be returning to work the next day.
"Listen, Roy," Castle and Montgomery had dropped the formalities earlier in the week. It was late in the afternoon, he would be leaving soon, and he wanted to talk to the detective about his future with the NYPD. With Kate coming back, he'd been giving it a lot of thought and wanted to make sure he handled it right. "I was thinking...there's not much left that I can really help with on this case, and Kate is coming back tomorrow. Maybe I should step back for a while until she gets back into the swing of things. I think it would be good for Kate to come back and not have her boyfriend hanging around. Something tells me she's going to face enough flack from these guys about me as it is."
Montgomery smiled good-naturedly. They both knew that as helpful as Castle had been, he really wasn't one of them, and his assumptions about the teasing she would face were probably right on the money. Being one of few women in a room full of men meant that she had to work harder to achieve her goals, and the guys felt that it was their duty, in a big-brotherly sort of way, to give her a hard time about, well, pretty much anything of this nature.
"Sure Rick, but, 'for a while'? Are you saying you want to come back at some point?"
"Well, I would really like to still help out, if there was ever an opportunity, maybe as a special consultant or something. It's been fascinating to witness firsthand the processes and procedures of the NYPD. I think it's going to add a really authentic quality to my novels. But not just that, I'd like to think I was pretty good at it."
"You know Castle, you weren't half bad."
"Well thanks, I think," Castle laughed at the veiled joke made at his expense.
"What does Beckett think about this idea of yours?"
Castle cleared his throat nervously. He hadn't actually talked to Kate about what would happen once she returned to work. He wasn't sure how she would take it, especially because it was more likely that he would be able to work with the detectives and not with her. That might make for an uneasy power struggle between them, and at this point, Castle was more interested in keeping their relationship positive and fun, and he never would want to make her feel uncomfortable in her workplace. He'd seen first hand in the forest how that sometimes worked out. Though, over the last week, they had managed to get into a rhythm as they worked through the details of the case.
"I haven't mentioned it yet. I wasn't even sure if it was a possibility, so I didn't want to bring it up until I knew."
"You mean you're chicken." Montgomery looked knowingly at Castle with the hint of a grin on his face.
"Hmm. Yeah, maybe."
Montgomery laughed heartily. "Well, maybe you better clear it with Beckett before you make any big plans."
"Yeah, okay. Probably not a bad idea."
After her mandated week off Kate Beckett was finally returning to work. She had enjoyed the time off, staying with Rick and Alexis, and getting to know them better. Castle especially had been so caring and fussed over her every need, while Alexis had been a breath of fresh air whenever she walked in the room. It was easy to start letting the emotional wounds heal being around the two. And Castle's fly-on-the-wall connection to the case was helping her to stay focussed on work, even though she wasn't allowed in the precinct.
Kate felt a bit frustrated that she was going to be relegated to desk work for the next month while she let her shoulder heal, but she was thankful to be back in the midst of the other officers. She had missed the hustle and bustle of the bull pen.
As she walked off the elevator, several officers and detectives looked up from their desks. Most broke into wide grins and several applauded. A few came over to offer hugs or handshakes or even a high five. Everyone knew about Kate's involvement in the case and how, even as a junior officer, she had managed to stop the kidnapping attempt.
Standing in front of the evidence board, Kate reviewed all the details, though really, she already knew them by heart. But it was giving her a fresh perspective to see them all laid out in a manner with which she was familiar.
"Welcome back Beckett."
Kate looked up to see Montgomery watching her. "Hey. Anything new?"
Montgomery chuckled at her down to business demeanor, but shook it off realizing he should expect no less from her. "Nothing. Captain thinks it's about time to move on."
"He wants to close the case? But Johnson is still out there."
"Not close it Beckett. But there are other cases piling up. He wants us to...change our focus." Montgomery's eyes softened at Kate as he watched the realization hit her.
"Another unsolved case..." she whispered under her breath. She swore when she joined the police force that she would do literally everything she could so that no family ever had to live with the unsettling feelings that came with an unsolved case. And now here she was, about to do the same thing that had been done to her. She felt herself falling into a pit of despair and inadequacy. She sat heavily on the edge of Montgomery's desk, her eyes moving almost wildly across the evidence board, willing something to come to her.
"Yo, Officer Beckett?" A voice brought Kate out of her reverie.
"Yeah?" Kate looked up to see a young Latino officer staring at her, a look of awe and respect pulling at the corner of his eyes.
"This was delivered to the front desk for you." The officer produced a flat white box that Kate hadn't noticed him carrying.
"What is it?" Montgomery asked.
"I have no idea." Kate looked down at the box as she took it from - "Thanks...?" Kate looked inquiringly at the officer standing before her.
Kate smiled. "Nice to meet you Esposito. Thanks."
"Sure. Oh, and Beckett? I heard what you did out in that forest, saving that kid. That was pretty badass."
Kate smiled as Esposito walked back to the elevators. She looked over at Montgomery who was smiling at the exchange.
"Looks like someone's got a crush."
"Sir, come on."
"Okay, well, a protege then. Maybe you should take that kid under your wing. Teach him everything you know. I hear he's got a lot of potential, you know."
"Hmmm...maybe I will." Kate glanced back again at the elevators as they closed on the young officer.
"So, you gonna open that box or just hold onto it all day?"
Kate looked down again at the box wondering what it could be. She slowly pulled the lid off and pulled back the tissue paper inside. A smile grew wide on her face as she looked at the simple black frame and the picture that stared back at her. It was her, up at the top of the climbing run at the Climbing Adventure Park. She was sitting in the Adirondak chair staring out over the forest and she had the biggest grin on her face.
She handed the box to Montgomery to see, while she opened the card that she now knew to be from Rick. Kate read silently:
"Thanks for the adventure. I'm looking forward to many more. No matter where we are in life, I'll never let you fall."
In that moment, Kate realized that this was it, her one and done. She had gone to camp, broken and desperate, and she had come home with happiness and hope for her future. Somehow, amidst the rocks and the ropes, the river and the valley and the trees, the kids and the kidnapper, she had fallen in love with Rick Castle. And she realized, she was looking forward to the adventures too.
Author's Final Notes:
Thank you so much to everyone who has read, reviewed, favorited and followed. I appreciate you all so much! You've carried me through some challenging times and your feedback and support has been truly humbling.
Especially I would like to thank ms_TGR and supermandy77 for all of their editing, assistance, support and advice (and delightfully inappropriate twitter convos - seriously people, if you're not already following these two, what are you waiting for?). You two are fantastic and I am so thankful for everything you have done to keep me going.
This has been a true labour of love and I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole process I've learned so much about myself, these characters, and my passion for writing. Thanks to everyone for joining me on this journey!
For those who ask, yes I have left this open for a possible sequel, but please don't expect it any time soon. I have a few other fics in the works that I will be posting and I also have a novel to work on outside of the Castle world. But feel free to poke and prod me now and then to actually work on Into the Wild 2...I'm sure it will eventually come pouring out. I want to know what happened to Johnson too :)