Close Encounters 0

Castle stared blindly at the stone labeled Beckett.

A woman?

How the hell had this slipped through? A woman, a relative of hers. He did a mental calculation of the dates and came up with an almost 48 year old woman who'd died a handful of days into the new year. Johanna Beckett.

And the detective? She'd have been. . .nineteen.

The Latin read, Truth conquers all things.

He'd had no idea.

His fingers twitched against his thigh and he gave in and reached for his phone, did a simple search on the browser with the name and date, hoping against hope that all he found was an obituary, a paragraph about those she'd left behind and the legacy that remained. An embolism, a sudden heart attack, anything other than what he dreaded.

But he knew better.

He found the article immediately, dated in the next day's paper. Every terrible, agonizing detail. Her mother. Her own mother stabbed in an alley, the sensationalism of the reporting doing nothing to mask the horror.

Oh, God, her mother.

He saw again the form of her kneeling in the grass, the white hand against the grey stone and the flecks of black in the granite that made her profile blur into the mark of death, the line of her own body disappearing.

"Where is she now?" he breathed out quietly. But he was already at the apartment building and slipping inside.

"At the 12th." Eastman sounded suspicious.

"Just message me if she heads for home," he said.

"You've got to be kidding me."

He ended the call before Eastman could give him a lecture, big brother or no, and pulled the newly-made key out of his jacket pocket. He hustled up her stairs and ignored the fierce pound of his heart.

He just - wanted to know. He needed to know. Being a spy had taught him many things, and preparation was key to success. If he knew how it affected her, what kept her up until four in the morning, the reasons she visited her mother's grave when she was facing an obstacle - if he could parse her behavior and assign each moment meaning, then he might know her.

He might know her.

He needed to know her.

His phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out even as he arrived in her hallway.

"Eastman, I don't have time for this."

"What you're doing is stupid."

"I know that," he grit out, dropping to one knee to see the lock.

"Then stop."

"I can't."

"If I'd known that you were getting Reynolds to make a spare key, I'd never have approved it."

"I know. I had to."

Eastman hung up first this time; Castle was grateful that his partner was both a brother and a friend as well, because he knew when to stop the lecture and just back him up. Castle pushed his phone back into his jacket and inserted the key carefully into the lock.

The sound of the tumblers falling into place made something fall into place inside him as well. The knob turned smoothly and easily under his hand. The door swung open and he was given that first insightful impression of Kate Beckett's apartment.

He was met with a home.

This was her home.

Castle stepped inside and shut the door softly behind him, breathing in a welcoming aroma of books and wood, soft blossoms and musk, and something exotic that he couldn't immediately identify. He wanted to say it was her, what she might smell like if ever he got close enough, her hair and her skin, the clean scent of her clothes mixed with whatever lotion or perfume this was.

He wanted to know, but he couldn't. That was one thing he would never know.

The front door came on into the living room but Castle stepped quietly towards the kitchen first, pushing past a tall bureau that doubled as a bookshelf - weathered turquoise and gold. Surprisingly bohemian, feminine.

He stepped through the open French doors that delineated the kitchen from the living room, and he ran his fingers over the dining room table - solid, sturdy, but clean lines and a perfect fit. She had four chairs pulled up but it didn't look like it got used that much. The centerpiece was a simple display of fruit in a bowl.

He touched one. Smiled. Plastic.

Moving on to the kitchen, he began by opening cabinets, not sure what he was looking for, just trying to get a sense of her. He found glasses right beside the fridge - and exactly where he might place them himself - and then plates and bowls, pots and pans. Stainless steel countertops and backsplash, but beveled glass windows ran the whole length of the back wall. It gave the appearance of a greenhouse, lending the kitchen a sense of space despite how narrow it was.

She had knickknacks set up on her kitchen counter, a decorative plate and what looked like a rooster-shaped creamer, a pair of elephant salt and pepper shakers, a frosted blue bowl. A few things looked to be stored under the island that separated the kitchen from the dining area, making the most of the space she had available, and he was surprised to see appliances that a serious cook might have.

He wondered about that; she didn't seem like one who used the kitchen much, let alone making fancy dinners. Castle, on a hunch, opened the fridge and glanced inside.

A temple of styrofoam, a shrine to fast food take out. Chinese, mostly, by the smell. An old. He pulled out a carton and popped it open, found the veggie burger and fries from Remy's. Limp french fries now, and the smell of cold greasy potato made his stomach clench.

He sighed and put it back, noted the condiments and the lack of fresh foods. No fruit, no deli meat, no non-frozen chicken or fish. A block of cheese - fancy - and a bottle of wine, a case of water bottles on the bottom shelf. He let the fridge door swing shut.

It depressed him more than it should.

He turned away from the kitchen and passed through the dining room, fingers brushing across the table once more, standing at the open French doors for a second.

On the other side of things, her living room looked like the turret of a castle.

And he liked that.

A lot.

Support beams ran to the left wall where skylights were set in the sloped ceiling; she was the top floor of a walk-up and now he knew why: the light. Spilling inside those windows, the kitchen glass behind him as well, the massive amounts of light kept the exposed brick and wood from overwhelming the small apartment.

Between the two beams at the floor was an arch window that glowed like a rosy fireplace, giving the illusion of warmth and cheer and romantic chivalry. She had a few lamps set up around the place and he could picture her on that overstuffed, damask couch, curled up with a book and her back propped up with throw pillows.

Instead of a coffee table, she had a round, white ottoman, scattered with photos and files, a temporary workspace, if anything. He found her laptop charging on a striped armchair near a floor lamp, another window just behind it - this one like a porthole, white brick framed.

His heart was pounding and his throat was dry just letting his eyes wander the space. He could see her here, he could see her. Period. Who Kate was. Not just the detective but more of the woman, the essence of Kate.

Little touches around the room - another elephant figurine, a rock paperweight on top of a stack of books, a vase filled with blue wooden flowers. She had a few framed prints, no mattes just glass, artistic things that were evocative and alluring. He found himself standing in front of a triptych just over her couch, staring.

A girl with her fingers spread out to the camera and a wide smile, black and white - was it Kate? some cousin? - and beside it a flash of a purple flower, bold in the green grass. Below those two was a professional photo of printed pages in a book, an echo of the black and white but with a lavandar book mark barely seen in the image. He narrowed his eyes to read the lines but he couldn't quite grasp the meaning. Something about the law? Something legal-

It was her mother. It was her mother as a child, smiling, hand out to the photographer.

He knew it with a certainty that made him desperate, even in this warm, close space.

Castle shifted away from the framed photos, barely able to see as he moved, found himself at a door and opened it before he could even think.

He hesitated on the threshold, the door half open and a provocative glimpse of clothes and warmth and flare and cluttered neatness beyond. The blinds were closed but raised a few inches to let in the light; a plant was growing just in front of it, green and delicate. His palms were damp and he clutched the knob a little harder and moved his gaze to stare at her messy bed.

Messy. Like she'd had a restless sleep and gotten up too early and had just left it as it was, wanting out.

His eyes were stuck on that wide, rumpled bed and the vision of Kate Beckett in it.

And he couldn't do it anymore. He took a step back, out of her space, and he closed the door after him, just as it was.

He needed her to invite him inside. He needed that more fiercely than anything. Ever.

He couldn't keep doing this.

Castle left her apartment.

He picked her up at Hudson University, overseeing CSU as they unpacked their gear from a black, unmarked van and hustled into the building of the physics department. He did a quick search on his phone and realized they had an altitude chamber, which would account for Marie's strange manner of death.

While he baby-sat the CSU van, Castle used his secure laptop to hack into her work computer. He'd taken note of the paperwork strewn across that leather ottoman, and as he'd suspected, none of them looked like open or active cases.

She worked cold cases at night, alone at home, trying to give someone else the closure she still lacked.

He scrolled through her case log until Beckett came blazing out, Ryan following along behind her. She looked fierce but thwarted.

Altitude chamber wasn't the scene of the crime then. She was getting into her squad car so he closed his laptop and started his own engine, waiting on her. Looking at her now, her control and isolation, her reserve and her strength, he had a funny taste in his mouth, bitter.

Was it shame?

He didn't know why.

He shook it off and pulled out into traffic, startled when a horn blared right at his rear tire, speeding up to close the distance. He checked but Beckett's car hadn't even stopped, had kept on going, so at least she hadn't heard the commotion.

How much of an idiot would he be? She made him stupid.

That night, he read the report on her mother, deleted it from his phone once he was done. He didn't log it into the case file as background info - he just got rid of it. He didn't want to have read it in the first place, but he told himself he needed to know where she might be blinded or biased.

He didn't, however, watch her sleep. He wouldn't let himself.

Castle stayed at his place and let Reynolds have the night watch. Opening his apartment door to the stark lines and soulless interior only reinforced his decision to get this case done with. Because of her, he was even looking at his own life differently, seeing lack where before it had been necessity and discipline.

He needed to stop seeing the angle of her elbows pressed against her ribs as she walked through that cemetery. He needed to stop wondering about her, about whether or not it was a four a.m. bedtime again or if she wore that ring around her neck every day, if she propped her chin on the back of her couch and looked at the photo of her mother as a child and then dug deeper into those cold cases on her ottoman.

He had to stop.

The next morning, he had a clearer outlook.

He did his job, hands off, just watching as she interacted with the principal players on this case. He couldn't help heading into Remy's before her, standing a few people back as she paid for the precinct's to-go order. He followed the team to another interview after lunch and tried not to remember how rich and lovely her home had smelled when he first walked in.

Castle made notes on his phone for follow up, but in some ways she was going the opposite direction of where he needed her to be. The ex-boyfriend, the UFOlogist - these guys weren't Chinese operatives, just ignorant acquaintances.

Still, Subbarao might have passed information to them, the men in her life unwitting accomplices to her espionage. It had merit; he'd have to get Deleware to do background checks, work up the usual profile.

Thing was, the more Beckett looked into Subbarao's life, the less everything seemed to fit together. He had these disparate pieces of the puzzle and he had a detective running around gathering new pieces, and still Castle was getting nowhere.

The Chinese consulate was a dead end - no one of any interest was coming or going officially - and while they were still scouring the intake rosters on a variety of international flights, his team hadn't yet uncovered the North Korean Ninja. He honestly didn't even know the spy's identity - only fleeting glimpses of the guy as Castle had gotten the shit beat out of him.

Castle winced and ran a hand over the back of his neck.

He needed Beckett to rattle cages until she shook loose Subbarao's contact within the Chinese government. Once he had that locked down, he could get the rest of this done - finished.

He could walk away.

Castle could tell it was going to require some movement on his part to get her pushed in the right direction. The disappearance of office furniture evidently didn't meet her criteria for clandestine services, so he needed to do something to get her attention. Put himself right in her face-

No. The case. Put the real facts of this case up front and center, namely, that Marie Subbarao had gotten killed trying to betray her country. Ignore the ex-boyfriend and the UFOlogist, Beckett.

All Castle needed to know was where that damn satellite information had gone. Once he got the information, he was done here.

He was ready to be done here. He needed to stop trailing after Beckett like a lovesick puppy.

It was time to do something drastic.

It'd been three fruitless day and of course - of course - Black was calling.

Eastman gave him a raised eyebrow and settled back in his chair at the coffee shop even as Castle debated ignoring it. Beckett was at the precinct bright and early, her face shuttered but fresh with determination, and so here he and Eastman were, trying to come up with a plan to force the detective's hand.

Castle sighed and took the call.

"Richard. Three days."

"I know," he said tersely.

"Now it's day four and you have nothing."

"Today," he promised. "It breaks today."

"Gut feeling, I suppose," Black said casually, but Castle could hear how very not-casual this conversation was.

He grit his teeth and released his fingers from around his coffee cup, forced himself to sit back and breathe. "No sir. I don't play my gut feelings," he said, exactly what Black wanted to hear. "But I've got a plan."

"A plan."

"Yes, sir."

"You have one more day, Richard."

The conversation was over.

Castle sighed and shoved his phone into his pocket, rubbed his hands over his face briskly to get rid of the feeling of rebuke - like a student at the principal's office. Shit. His father sometimes just. . .

"So what's our plan?" Eastman said quietly.

"I got no idea," he gruffed out, shaking his head.

"Yeah, me either. But don't worry, man. We'll think of something."

Castle hoped so. Otherwise he'd just spent three days shadowing one of New York's finest for absolutely no reason.

And gotten himself all twisted up in the process.

"New Jersey Turnpike?" Eastman snorted. He unfolded his long limbs in the passenger seat, trying to stretch, but Castle just drove grimly after her.

The detective had gone out alone this afternoon, late, the sun already touching deep shadows across the city, and when they'd left New York, he hadn't known what to expect. It could have been another personal side trip - like the cemetery two days ago - but he had a feeling.

He wasn't supposed to play on his gut, but here he was doing it anyway. He'd thought, after Ireland in his foolish twenties, that he'd learned that lesson: stick to the plan.

And after Sophia Turner and her dazzling deceit, Castle had expected his traitorous body to fucking heel, but instead he was back at it, trailing after a woman like she had the strings to his heart.

No, not his heart. An organ farther south. Castle had no heart - he was the CIA's machine; he did his job, he saved the world.

This had nothing to do with the glimpse of soft need in her break down at the cemetery, nothing to do with the core of strength and steel in her that wouldn't back down, wouldn't give up.

Nothing to do with her at all. Just a case.

"New Jersey Turnpike," Eastman sighed. "If we went the other direction, we could stop off at my house. Carrie would find us some dinner, you know."

He swallowed and kept Beckett's unmarked in sight, saying nothing.

"We're at the tail end of our twenty-four hours," Eastman said again.

Castle still said nothing; he already knew they were running out of time.

A sign appeared on the turnpike, one of those brown metal things signifying the next exit's offerings. Gas, lodgings, national parks. His eyes raced down the list and then it came to him like lightning.

"It's the Observatory," he said then. "Exit nine. Look. She's slowing down."

"You think?" Eastman said. "But why? Why would Subbarao go to an observatory? She had access to some far more powerful telescopes."

"I bet you twenty."

"Deal. Easy bet."

"Ha. I'm right. Here we go." Castle checked his mirrors and eased into the exit lane, took the ramp as it came, Beckett's car only a hundred yards away from him. He slowed down to keep her from making his Range Rover - it'd been in her neighborhood a few times now - and when she turned towards the observatory, he mentally cheered.

"You were right," Eastman said, sounding disgruntled but lifting a hip to get at his wallet. "But man, this doesn't make sense. She goes to see a guy who spends his life talking about UFOs, she's acting all secretive and weird, she has missing time no one can account for-"

"What are you saying?" Castle laughed, taking the twenty and pushing it into his pants pocket. "Abduction?"

"No, I don't think - we'd know, wouldn't we? We'd know that kind of thing. I mean, we are those mysterious men in black."

"We are at that," he grinned.

"So I'm not saying it was, I'm just saying, this woman got weird right before she was murdered. And then she comes out here to this radio telescope?"

He shrugged. "Good meeting place, right? And if she knew the area well, then it's away from her usual stomping ground. She's not bringing the spy shit home with her."

"What do you mean - knew the area well?"

"Didn't she?" he asked, suddenly wondering. "I thought I read that detail, but I don't know. Hey, get Reynolds to check the NYPD's progress, yeah? Because maybe they've actually got a lead here, more than I'm thinking."

"Do this, do that," Eastman muttered. "What am I? Your research ass?"

"Ass?" he chuckled, glancing over at his partner, brother, friend. They'd been together since Afghanistan, where Eastman had been his case worker, and that hooked nose, thin face - it never got old. He always looked the same.

"Ass," Eastman affirmed. "Short for assistant."

Castle laughed and shook his head, kept following Beckett at a distance, going past the observatory's turn-off even as her car disappeared down the long drive.

"Hey, Reynolds says that Subbarao used to work here."

"See?" Castle murmured, feeling like maybe they were getting somewhere. "She had the meeting here. Or she was scouting ahead at least."

"Maybe," Eastman said, sounding reluctant. "Wanna bet? I can win my twenty back."

"No bet. I'm going to park at the back here, and when the detective leaves, you go in and see what she asked about. I'll keep Beckett on GPS and we can catch up to her afterwards."

Eastman winced. "I get all the fun jobs."

"Only because you're my favorite."

The darkness had settled deeply over the Range Rover when Eastman hustled back, shutting the door after him with a shiver. Castle looked up from the GPS screen and raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

"Subbarao used the telescope here. She took video of a certain section of the sky and then she erased it."

"You shitting me?" he grunted. "What the hell does that mean?"

"It's the same section of the sky as our satellite."

His mouth dropped open. "Well, fuck. She was orienting - figuring out the coordinates for our satellite so she could task the telescope at the Science Center."

"Looks like," Eastman said grimly.

Castle slammed his hand into the steering wheel.

"But-" Eastman continued.

"What?" he said harshly. They had proof now. Fuck, they had proof Subbarao had been siphoning coded CIA data from that satellite.

"She took something with her when she left here. The researcher, Harrison, wouldn't tell me more and I didn't want to arouse suspicion if she was part of things."

"What'd she do with it? Did Beckett-"

"I don't know if she gave it to Beckett. But I bet she's got something of Subbarao's. I bet our little traitor gave that information to someone and Beckett's tracked it down."

Castle glanced down to the GPS screen and the healthy green dot of her vehicle. He scraped his hand over his jaw and couldn't shake the crazy, stupid idea churning in his guts like need.

No. It wouldn't work.

Would it?

"You said. . .men in black," Castle started slowly. "The SETI research, the UFO guy. . .we've already set it up ourselves, taking Subbarao's office furniture. So."


"We still got that EMP device in the trunk?"

"Hell, no. No. We are not using an EMP - not around so much civilization. Are you nuts?"

"Actually, Beckett's not that far from us and she'll be on that lonely stretch in about thirty minutes. We can get there. We stall out her car. We bring in the chopper to flash a light. . ."

"You are insane."

"Men in black. We take her, interrogate her back at the Warehouse, drop her off home nicely sedated and with a fuzzy memory."

Eastman was regarding him like he'd grown a second head. And then his eyes narrowed and he stared off into the distance. "Actually."

"Works, doesn't it?"

"Your father is gonna flip out."

"Fuck him; he said twenty-four hours. We're doing this."

Her car died.

In the sudden quiet, it was a beautiful night, despite the chill of the November air and the scent of decaying leaves. The dark sky was glittering with stars, handfuls of them, and he closed his eyes a moment to revel in it.

Castle took that first breath and then opened his eyes. "Crichton, your cue," he murmured into his phone.

The black ops chopper flashed its spotlight and he saw, through the brilliance of its whiteness, Beckett lean towards the window and look up.

Castle primed the injector in his hand and started forward in a running crouch. He saw her using a forearm to block the light, the wince of her eyes as she was dazzled, but when he got to her car, he didn't even have to pick the lock.

She had moved to open the door to investigate, her hand on her holstered weapon, so he jerked the door out of her grip, moved swiftly to plunge the sedative into her neck.

He couldn't help but be impressed by the resistance she offered even as the drug dumped into her system, the half-draw of her gun, and he caught her before she could slump out of the car.

Castle paused in his crouch by her door, his heart rate steady until this very moment with Kate Beckett in his arms. She was warm and heavy with sedation, her face against his neck, and he gathered her knees into his lap to stand.

But he took a long moment - just to make sure she was really out - and let himself breathe her in, her warm scent, the blossoms and musk of her skin more redolent and deeper and richer than the light touch he'd smelled in her home.

Her hair was soft where it brushed his jaw, catching on his scruff, and he stood now and carried her back to his car.

She was his now.