A/N: So this is, um. A little bit different compared to what I usually write. Yeah. Let's just face it, people. This is angst. Deep dark angst. All I can say is - you're gonna have to trust me.
Disclaimer: Let me check... Nope. Still not mine.
Crouched in the seat, a hand pressed to the trickle of blood on his forehead, Castle hears Kate being thrown to the ground. Her gun clatters distinctly on the concrete. Shit.
"Castle, I got your girl!" Tyson boasts, breathless. "You watching? I want you to see this."
Of course he does. Rick takes in a small breath, tries to calculate where exactly Kate's weapon landed. Somewhere on her side of the car, surely - against a tire? He thinks he heard the gun skid for a second before something stopped it.
"You think that I'd let you live?" Tyson goes on. "After everything you done? Castle! Come o-on, I want you to watch."
The writer tunes him out, carefully slips out of the car through Kate's still-open door. Quiet, he has to be quiet; the faintest of sounds and it will all be over. The bastard will do as he says. Shoot her.
Rick shuffles forward on his hands and knees, stifles a relieved sigh when he finds Kate's Glock, sleek and deadly and perfect against the back tire.
Good. Good. He's armed now.
He gets to his feet as silently as possible, hears the pause in Tyson's speech - the man probably just realized that Castle wasn't in the car anymore. Rick steps out from behind the trunk, doesn't hesitate.
He knows what he has to do.
"Over here," he calls, and the moment Tyson turns, he shoots him in the right shoulder, the only place where he doesn't risk hitting Kate instead.
He fires and fires again, cold rage burning in his throat and fingers, and stops only when he realizes things aren't working out the way he hoped. Instead of releasing his hold on Beckett, Tyson clutches her tighter as he stumbles back, closer and closer to the edge of the bridge and she seems too stunned to notice-
But his call comes too late, and his moves are too slow; in the time it takes him to reach them she's already falling along with Tyson, her eyes meeting his for a split second as she tries, fails, to catch herself.
Castle, he can read on her lips before she vanishes from his sight. He gets to the end of the bridge and falls onto his knees, peering at the dark, murky waters of the river, panting. Kate-
He almost jumps right then; the only thing that holds him back is the knowledge that he would probably be no help to her. Instead he hunts for his phone with trembling fingers, hits speed-dial five, his left hand a fist against his mouth.
Fuck. Fuck. Kate. She looked hazy and disoriented and Tyson must have knocked her out somehow, hard enough that she wasn't able to keep herself from falling, and now she's underwater and maybe even drowning-
"Kate fell from the bridge," Castle sputters, can't stop the incoherent flow of words now leaving his mouth. "Tyson ambushed us - he ran his car into ours and then tried to shoot us, and she got out with her gun and somehow he got the drop on her-"
"Whoa, wait. What? Castle-"
"There's no time," he hammers out, frustrated and desperate. "Esposito. Beckett is in the Hudson River with a head wound and Jerry Tyson."
The detective swears loudly on the other hand, says something to Ryan, then asks sharply, "Where are you?"
"Triborough Bridge. The Harlem River section. You need to - you need to bring divers - I can't even see her-"
"We're on our way, Castle," comes Ryan's mild, soothing voice. "Don't do anything stupid, okay? Calling in for back-up right now. You just - sit tight, man. We'll be right there."
The line goes silent and he drops his right hand, horror digging a slow pit inside him. Fifty feet below, the river flows relentlessly, a continuous, opaque stream of grey that no matter how much he stares, he can't see through.
He doesn't know how long he's been sitting there, at the back of a police van, waiting for the divers to resurface. It's been - a while.
The morning is dull, daylight barely making it through the clouds. He doesn't really notice.
They wouldn't let him come along. He's a good diver, PADI certified; he's done it a dozen times with Alexis.
Still they said no.
Ryan circles around the car, sits next to him, but Rick can't even gather the energy to return the greeting, let alone look at his friend. He simply stares blankly ahead, his whole body still, frozen in wait.
They're going to find her.
"So... The divers haven't found anybody yet," Ryan says softly, cautiously. "No Tyson, no Beckett..."
"I saw them fall," the writer states, no emotion to it. Only fact. He saw her fall and he couldn't-
"I know you did," Kevin answers, his voice so gentle. "And we believe you, of course. It's just - the currents might have driven them further, and we have no way of figuring out where exactly-"
"Surely there must be some currents expert who'll be able to help us," Castle says, some life returning to him as he turns his head to Ryan. He can do that - hire an expert, whatever the cost, and a team of divers that will search every section of the river Kate might've been driven to. He's rich; he won't give up-
"It's not just that," the blue-eyed detective admits reluctantly. "Castle... It was late, and the water was cold. And you said Beckett got her head banged pretty badly. What the divers said is - the more time she spent in the river, the less likely it is that she actually pulled through."
Actually pulled through.
He stares at Ryan, who rubs a hand against the back of his neck, averts his eyes.
"This is Beckett we're talking about," he says, and his voice is something foreign, cutting and sharp.
"I know, I know." Kevin lifts his hands in surrender. "And I don't want to give up hope either, but-"
"Then don't," Castle says, standing up to put an end to the conversation. He walks away, his hands fisted in his pockets, his heart burning in his chest.
She didn't give up on him.
He's not giving up on her.
He knows what they're saying behind his back, the looks and the whispers. He's only been to the precinct a handful of times since the bridge, but it's always the same.
They think he's crazy.
Ryan and Esposito do a better job of hiding it than the others, but he still sees the looks they share, those sorrowful little presses of their mouths. As if they're mourning for him. As if they think he's dead, too.
But Kate isn't dead.
And he doesn't think Jerry Tyson is, either.
He's still paying divers to investigate the bottom of the Hudson, following the map of the currents that the hydrographer, James Lewis, drew for him about two weeks ago. There've been no results yet, and he doesn't really expect any, since he doesn't think either of them is dead - but better safe than sorry.
He walks out of the elevator and ignores every cop who turns to look at him, doesn't let it alter his step. Ryan and Esposito are at their desks when he strides into the bullpen, and it makes Kate's deserted chair seem even more abandoned.
He grits his teeth. "Hi guys," he says, aiming for nonchalant and failing spectacularly. Ryan gives him that little smile that reeks of pity, blue eyes filled with understanding; Esposito glances at him appraisingly.
Haven't given up yet? his face seems to say.
Indignation surges in Castle's chest, but he knows better than to give way to it. Been there, done that. "I've come to pick up a few things from Beckett's desk," he offers by way of explanation, plopping down into Kate's chair. He sees something flicker across Javier's face, anger maybe, or annoyance.
Good, he thinks with a perverse pleasure. So there is some sense of loyalty left there, no matter how easily those two seem to have given up on her.
He opens her bottom drawer, lets his fingers run over the documents she keeps in there. Where her hands have been. He didn't lie to the guys, but he hasn't told them the whole truth either.
The truth is...
He just misses her.
And the more time passes, the more desperate he grows for any evidence that he didn't dream her, that they really did share those wonderful months together. That's the thing he's most terrified of - that he'll forget the taste of her mouth smiling under his, the feel of her clever hands over his bare skin, the sound of her laugh when he asked if he could use her handcuffs.
It's only been twenty-two days, and already he thinks he might go crazy with how much, how painfully he misses her.
There's nothing in the bottom drawer worth taking with him; he closes it, opens the middle one. He knows she's kept his paper clip chain in there, and his breath stutters when his thumb brushes over it, struck by a vivid memory of the way she looked at him in the early days of their partnership. Frustrated, pissed off and - yeah - intrigued, too.
And turned-on. He remembers the sharp tug of it in his gut, knows she felt it too.
God, he needs her so badly.
He allows himself one slow blink and pushes it all back, can't allow himself to appear weak in her workplace. In the privacy of his own home, yes; but not in front of all those non-believers. He shuts the middle drawer, leaving the paper clip chain where it is, and finally moves on to the top drawer, to the one item he's been wanting all along.
Her stick man.
His fingers curl over it and he feels that physical ache for her thump in his chest, has to breathe through it carefully, in and out, in and out. Even on the worst day, there's a possibility for joy.
He wants to believe her, he really does, but the joy has yet to make an appearance since the night on the bridge. Still. The stick man disappears into his coat pocket.
His head swivels up at Gates' voice, a gentleness to it that makes his stomach churn. He gets to his feet. His relationship with the captain has been strange lately; her dislike of him seems to have disappeared along with Kate, and every time they meet is an awkward, hesitant dance. "Sir."
She studies him, her eyes dark and knowing, and it takes an effort not to squirm, to keep standing with his back straight, his chin held firm.
"Detective Beckett is not here," she says, soft, almost regretful. The simple words are a punch to his gut.
"I'm aware," he answers, struggling to keep his voice even.
"You didn't come looking for inspiration, I presume," Gates goes on, and shit, his throat clogs up.
He shakes his head.
"So why?" He hears the unspoken tail of her question, why do this to yourself, and he's hit by the staggering realization that Captain Gates is worried about him.
For a long moment, he stares at her and she stares right back. It feels like everyone in the bullpen is holding their breaths. Maybe they are.
"I was just here to pick up some things from her desk," he admits at last, feels with his hand for the stick man in his pocket. His fingers rough along a twig, an arm maybe, and some courage seeps back into him. "And ask if you'd heard anything."
The captain's eyes narrow; her mouth tightens and she looks away. If he didn't know any better, he might think she's struggling against tears. "You would be the first to know if we had," she says. There's an underlying current of reproach in her words, and he doesn't have an adequate response, doesn't have anything.
"Okay," he murmurs. Out. He needs to get out of here. Now. "Well - I should...go, I guess."
He smiles, knows by the feel of it that it's all wrong, and he's making an exit when Gates's imperious voice calls him back. "Mr. Castle." He pauses, doesn't turn back. He'll break if he does. "You know that there is very little chance by now that we will hear anything at all."
Yes, yes. That's what they've all been telling him.
He doesn't want to know.
"I have to go," he says, his voice thick, stuck in his chest. And then he nearly runs for the elevator, has to put the most distance he can between himself and those people, that place where her presence is stronger than anywhere else.
Where are you?
He asks favors of everyone he knows. Jordan Shaw, Fallon, even square-jawed Sorenson - after all, the man was once in love with Beckett. He gets the CIA, the FBI to issue bulletins with Tyson's face, and Kate's too, but none of the calls they get ever leads to anything tangible. It's like 3XK and Beckett have vanished from the face of the earth.
His theory - which he stubbornly clings to - is that they vanished together.
The bridge was a setup; he's certain now that Tyson played them all along, that the whole case wasn't intended to frame him, but rather to direct him and Kate in the direction where 3XK wanted them.
It was never about him. What Tyson wanted was to be left alone, disappear so he could start killing again - and what better vanishing act than a fall into the Hudson River, his body riddled with bullets?
What Rick can't decide is whether Kate falling into the river was part of the plan, or if Tyson had to improvise. Doesn't matter, he knows, and his heart always squeezes in his chest when he gets to that part of his reasoning. Because if they're both alive, and Kate hasn't come forward, hasn't been sighted by anyone in the country - then it means Tyson has her. Locked away somewhere, caged and vulnerable, going through God knows what.
And sometimes, late at night, when he's alone in bed and misses her the most, he wonders if, maybe, it wouldn't be more merciful to pray for her death.
Esposito calls him two months after the bridge.
Kate Beckett is officially missing. There can be no death certificate, no closure until a body is found; Castle finds relief in that.
But not everyone feels that way. They're having a wake, Esposito says, to honor Kate's memory, get a chance to say goodbye. It was Jim Beckett's idea, but everyone is coming, Lanie, Ryan, Madison. Even Gates.
"You should come, bro," he tells Castle over the phone, and his voice is everything that Rick has grown sick of, the judgement and condemnation, the deep-rooted annoyance because he won't move on, won't chorus with them all and pray for Kate's soul.
"I'll see," he answers vaguely, even though his decision's already made.
He won't go.
She's not dead.
He starts a new investigation on his smart board. He gathers every possible piece of information about 3XK, his family history, the places where he's been, the houses he might be tempted to find shelter in.
They've got to be somewhere.
He finds Jerry Tyson - he finds Kate.
That much is clear to him.
He reads the papers meticulously, saves every article that mentions a murder even remotely similar to Tyson's MO. Sometimes the murderer is caught, sometimes not; Castle travels over the US to meet with the sheriff or detective in charge of the investigation, personally jots down their feelings about the case.
He hasn't written a word in months.
And then - Alexis is offered a place in an exchange program in France. She comes into his office one night, when he's already had a little too much to drink, and she explains it all. She wants to go; once in a lifetime, she says.
It's not all there is to it, though. She wants - she wants him to go with her.
There's hope in her blue eyes, that fierce determination to save him, and he doesn't know what to do. How does a man tell their own child he doesn't want to be saved?
His silence seems to speak for him. Alexis jerks her head away, the line of her jaw working like when she was a little girl, wouldn't tell him what Meredith had done.
"What do you hope to accomplish here anyway?" she says bitterly after a moment, her eyes finding his again. "What is this really about, Dad? You can't still be kidding yourself, not after all this time. I know it's hard, and I know you miss her - you loved her, and she was an amazing woman - but...please. You just have to accept that she's gone, and she's not coming back."
His daughter gets a defiant look on his face, and he winces inwardly, braces himself for what's coming.
"She's dead," Alexis says, spitting the words out. "She's dead, you hear me? Kate Beckett's dead. You're not gonna get to kiss her again, you'll never hold her in your arms, you'll never hear her voice again." She blinks, a tear escaping and rolling down her cheek, but she doesn't stop. "She's gone. But I'm not. And Gram's not. And you have to open your eyes, and see what's still here, Dad. I'm still here. I'm still here, and I want you back," she finishes quietly, arms wrapped around her waist. "I want my Daddy back."
He doesn't know how long he stands there, watching Alexis struggle not to cry in the middle of their living room, unable to go to her. He feels like one of those automated toys, but without the batteries. Can't function.
"You should go to France," he murmurs in the end, can't offer her anything better than that.
Alexis looks like he's slapped her. Her betrayed face digs deep into his heart, another crack that will never heal; she gasps a sob, her eyes startled, disbelieving, and then she spins on her heels and runs upstairs, her long red hair flying after her.
He watches her go, remains immobile for another moment before he sweeps the wetness off his cheeks.
He can't be that man anymore.
It takes Jim Beckett to break him.
It's a Saturday night; Castle's been going through his information, desperate for some connection to pop up, a glass of Scotch cradled in his palm.
He barely remembers the time when he used to spend his Saturday nights at fancy parties, events that Paula would get him invitations for, so the knock on his door startles him a little. His mother still lives at the loft in theory, but she's been spending more and more time at her acting school - he gets the feeling that she doesn't want to abandon him, but she also can't take his newfound obsession.
She has a key anyway.
He sways a little when he lifts from his office chair - that whiskey's lovely but treacherous - and slowly makes his way to the door, doesn't even bother to check who it is. He yanks the door open and then stumbles back a step, truly surprised.
The memory of the last time when Jim came to him rises unimpeded, and the bitter taste of melancholy is in his mouth. If only there was a Kate to save from herself now.
"Jim," he acknowledges, voice catching in his throat.
The man looks at him, those piercing blue eyes that aren't Beckett's in shape or color, but have something of her anyway, maybe in the calm, steady way they regard people.
"Hi, Rick. May I come in?"
Castle wordlessly shifts, making room for the older man, and lets the heavy door close behind them. There's something implacable in the low thump, and a shiver runs down the writer's spine when he turns to Jim Beckett.
"You, um - you want a drink?" he asks, raising his Scotch glass in example before he remembers-
Shit, he's such a dick.
"I'm fine," Jim says with a thin smile, like he can actually read Castle's thoughts. "Don't worry."
Rick nods, feeling like an asshole, lowers his eyes under Mr. Beckett's acute scrutiny.
"You look older than me," the man says abruptly, some of that Beckett sarcasm dancing at the back of his eyes.
Castle blurts out a laugh, does a terrible job of it because it's been long, so very long. But it's a laugh.
They stand awkwardly in the space next to the kitchen, and he could offer Jim a seat, but somehow he doubts the man would take it. Instead he waits, keeps his breathing even, his body poised for the blow.
"I didn't want to come," Jim says gravely, his eyes averted now. He's looking at the window, into the starless night, but Rick lifts a surprised gaze on him. "I felt like it was - hypocritical of me, you know. Drowning my sorrow in the bottle, hurting Katie like I did. Seems unfair of me to be giving any sort of lesson."
He runs a hand down his face, letting out a long sigh, and Castle waits for the rest of the story.
"But Katie loved you," Jim declares, looking Rick in the eye now. "And I've seen for myself how good you were for her. You're a good man, Rick. And I ought to try and keep you from destroying your life like I nearly destroyed mine."
He needs to stop using the past tense when he talks about Kate. He needs to-
"She wouldn't have wanted that for you," the older man says, shaking his head. "And I know it sounds like a stupid phrase, that you're thinking how could he possibly know what she wanted, but I knew my daughter, Rick. I knew the kind of person she was, and she... she was in love with you. She cared for you more deeply than I've ever seen her care for anyone, and she never would have wanted you to be so miserable."
Then she shouldn't have left me, Castle wants to say, but even in his head it sounds childish and pathetic.
Jim gives him a long look, probably assessing the effect of his words, and - what is it with Beckett folks that give them the ability to read him so easily?
"I've heard that...you're still trying to find her," he says, his brow knitting thoughtfully. "That you're convinced that she's still alive. I wasn't sure I believed it, but I do now."
Convinced. Castle regrets those three glasses of Scotch; everything is affecting him too much, hitting him where the flesh is tender and swollen, and there's nothing he can do to stop it.
"I don't know what I would have done," Jim admits, almost talking to himself. "If they hadn't found Johanna's body, if I'd never known... I probably would have gone nuts. But, Rick, the only thing I can give you here is my own conviction that - that my daughter is dead. I think that she drowned in the river that night," he says quietly, his voice rough as he forces the words out.
"Let's be honest. Why else would she not have contacted us? Do you really think she's being held by that man, Jerry Tyson? Whom you yourself put a round of bullets into? And nobody would've caught sight of either of them in the last ten months?"
"She...she could have amnesia," Castle offers, weakly, knows he sounds like a desperate man.
Jim presses his mouth together, so much Beckett in the light tilt of his face, the compassionate eyes - Rick's going to throw up.
"I think she's dead, son," he says gently, laying a hand over Castle's forearm. "I think she's dead, and she never meant to take you into that darkness with her."
Fuck - fuck, he's going to cry. He's going to - no, no, Kate...
"Let it go, Rick," Jim encourages. "Let her go."
Castle makes a sound that he had no idea he could make, the cry of a wild beast left to die in the woods, his chest expanding with all the things he can no longer contain, how much he misses her, how he loved her and no one could ever come close, no, no one-
And then the tears are spilling hot and fast on his cheeks, his heart breaking, shattered into a thousand pieces, and he thought her absence was painful before but really he had no idea, no idea how the thought of a life without her would rip him apart, just like that.
He's vaguely aware of Jim's solid hug; some remote part of him is struck by the incongruity of it, how he's never had a dad, never really needed one until now, and the only reason Jim Beckett is here at all is because the link between them is broken. Severed forever.