Implausible Deniability

A 'Still' post-ep because we are still flailing.

Victoria Gates stared out the bay of large windows lining her office walls. She hadn't slept well, the knowledge of a bomber on the loose unsettling even her unconsciousness. Since Boston just the week before, even the rumor was enough to set the city on edge. She could see it etched on the faces of the people she passed on the streets, their eyes glued to the front page headline of the Ledger, their voices hushed, scared to speak too loudly for fear they might jinx their own fragile state of safety. Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine, 9/11, the marathon and now this? Everyone was just waiting for that other shoe to drop. Who could blame them? The whole nation had PTSD. Even she had found herself mired in fatalism from time to time, looking at a situation and wondering if this was the end.

Doomsday naysayers had been standing on corners spouting the end of days, predicting the wrath of God would reign down on this city of sin as she turned the block mere hours before, the 12th in her sights. She had shaken the negativity from her thoughts, though, as she crossed the threshold of the precinct, swore to herself she wouldn't let this man strike again. No more New Yorkers would die, not today, not on her watch.

So, when word came down that they had found him, they had a name, an address, she had rejoiced. Silently, of course. Only a half smile and a stern 'good work' were tells to her detectives that she approved, but they had been enough. Her team had been proud.

Now, though, she sat staring out into the bullpen with the knowledge that one of her people, a woman she had grown quite fond of over the past two years, was standing on a bomb, and she could feel those same tendrils of fear curling around her own stomach. She didn't want to have to look Jim Beckett in the eye and tell him that he had lost his only remaining family. Then, on top of it all, Richard Castle was refusing to leave the room. And if the past was prologue, and if this bomb couldn't be disarmed, then there would be three people sitting in the room with her when she delivered the bad news, not one.

But even in the middle of this God-awful situation, the corners of her lips twitched up at the memory of Esposito's earlier briefing.

"Why is there still a civilian standing four feet from that bomb?"

"With all due respect, Sir, this is Castle we're talking about."


"And, when he called to update me, he used the phrase 'bomb buddy.'"

Those two were idiots to think they were still fooling her, or anyone.

Castle had been there that first dark day she walked into the 12th Precinct, now nearly two years ago, not sitting in what she now considered his green chair, not even in his partner's, but perched at the normally abandoned desk a couple rows over, his back to the parade of elephants lining Beckett's workspace, as if unable to face the fact the detective wasn't there with him. He had introduced himself, though she was already acutely aware of with whom she was speaking. She had heard of his books, been briefed by the commissioner about his "arrangement" with Montgomery and Beckett. But even as she considered the disheveled state of his hair, the darkening smudges under his eyes and his rumpled, untucked shirt, she couldn't bring herself to allow a civilian, especially someone as unqualified as a writer, to spend time in her precinct. He had no place there. He was one more potential casualty, a hindrance to the safety of her team. So, she had sent him on his way, unswayed by the quiet protests of the other detectives explaining how he had, in fact, been an asset.

She hadn't understood why he was there in the first place.

At the end of that first summer, she finally met the reason.

Well before Kate Beckett had flown into her office with barely a knock on her door, Gates had reason to hate her - this woman who crept in and stole the title of Youngest Woman to Make Detective right out from under her. Gates had seen Beckett as a loose cannon who didn't deserve the praise she was given from the higher ups. They twittered about her case closure rate, about Montgomery's effusive praise. But Gates had seen the reports. This woman wasn't someone to be put on a pedestal, she was a risk-taker who liked to defy the rules and needed to be reined in before she finally succeeded in getting herself or someone else killed.

And then that first day, meeting her face to face, something had shifted. Although Kate had been still reeling off of a gunshot wound and the loss of her mentor, Gates had seen something in her eyes, a steel that not many cops, let alone female cops, possessed. Beckett hadn't known about ranks or who was keeping score. And beyond that, she hadn't cared. And while Gates could see that Beckett had been teetering on the edge of a pit of vengeance, she had developed a modicum of respect for her that day.

Then she saw them together.

She would have had to be blind not to see that spark. It radiated between them, as bright and as hot as any fire, threatening to ignite at any moment.

At first she had assumed they were already together, but she revised that assessment upon noting the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Castle had been at the precinct while Beckett recovered, not by her side. And that energy radiating between them? It was tension, lust, not the steady support, the love and dedication of an established couple. Then there were the looks, both between the two of them and from everyone else. That knowing smirk on Ryan and Esposito's faces as they sat back and watched the two verbally spar on a theory, like the boys were privy to a secret not even Castle and Beckett were in on themselves. No, they definitely hadn't been together in the beginning.

The more she had thought about it, the more it seemed maybe the affection was one-sided. After all, Castle followed Beckett around like a lost puppy; he was probably just clinging to hope that his unrequited love would one day be returned. That had seemed more plausible, but it still wasn't the whole story.

The detective had fought hard to keep the writer around; risked more than mere friendship would allow in order to do so. There were heated looks, an almost palpable longing from her side. It was mutual. And it was a mess. There were days when she had wanted to give them both a swift kick in the butt, to tell them to get on with it, already. But of course, she hadn't.

A sharp rap on her door broke Gates out of her musings.

"Good news, Sir. BDU says this device has an off switch. That remote our buddy used to set it off has a five-digit disarm code."

She stood, the first real glimmer of hope shining in her chest since their bomber refused to cooperate in interrogation.

"Good. Get tech on it. They've broken pass codes longer than that in no time."

Esposito's face still looked dour.

"Unfortunately, it's not that easy. Thing's tamper proof. We put in the wrong code, and it... triggers."

They had an unspoken agreement to not use the word "explode." None of them was willing to tempt fate.

"So it's up to our friend to tell us. Did he get his lawyer?"

Esposito nodded, one short jerk of his head. "Suit's as green as they come. In with him now."

"Fine. We make him a deal, and we make him talk."

The detective turned, his back stiff, fists clenched, and strode toward interrogation, leaving Gates to pinch the bridge of her nose, let out a strained sigh.

Those two had been in bad situations before, but did it always have to involve a bomb? Or a tiger. Or a rogue CIA agent with a vendetta. And, yet, somehow they always made it out alive. Alive, and just as deep in denial about their feelings. But with each one of those victories, slowly, subtly, something changed.

Gates made her way to the break room, went through the practiced procedure of brewing herself a sinfully good cup of coffee from that ridiculous espresso machine. She had found out on her second day at the 12th that Castle had provided the beast.

It was fitting: if Castle was the writer, and Beckett was his muse, then coffee was his love sonnet. No matter how wounded he was, or how jealous of consultants or former muses or airhead flight attendants she got, they always kept that coffee flowing between them. But when they had hit a snag around this time last year, Gates had seen the hesitation in their caffeinated hand-offs. Then they had stopped entirely.

Not long after, when Beckett finally crossed that line, gave into her vendetta against her shooter, Gates took no pleasure in suspending her. In fact, it had been one of the toughest decisions she had made since joining the 12th. Of course, Beckett had balked, tried to resign, but Gates found herself holding on to that paperwork, almost hoping the pain-in-the-ass detective would change her mind.

After it all worked itself out, when her team was whole again, Gates could see that Beckett had changed her mind about something else during her time away.

The muse started making coffee for her writer.

As she crossed the bullpen back to her office, Ryan swung around the corner, sheaf of paper in his hand.

"We've got a list of demands for the D.A., but you're not going to like them."

After a very awkward if predictable conversation with the District Attorney's office, they were nowhere closer to an answer for Beckett and Castle. But if she had read Esposito's look correctly, they might be making some headway momentarily. If the man walked back in with that code, she was fully prepared to let him save the day and leave any questions about his methods for later.

Goodness knows she had looked the other way enough times in regards to Castle and Beckett's amorous overtures for the better part of a year.

Honestly, when they went away for the weekend and solved a murder on the beach; that obviously hadn't been the work of just their "favorite" mystery writer alone. When she had quietly stepped into the observation room to watch Ryan question Lerner, she couldn't understand why he seemed so shell-shocked in the end. Had he really not seen the signs by then? And Beckett's complete 180 at Christmas? Gates had risked her life in the dark of the bullpen at 5AM standing on a chair in high heels to hang up that mistletoe just to see if she could get them to slip. She had cheered a little when the paperwork came across her desk a couple of days later showing that Karpowski filled in at the last minute.

Now, Valentine's Day, on the other hand had actually been kind of fun, what with all the squirming and hoop-jumping on Castle's part attempting to get that pair of earrings back. His face when she accused him of trying to curry favor with a married woman? Priceless. It seemed he had found a suitable replacement for his Valentine, though - that intricate gold bracelet that had appeared around her wrist wasn't exactly subtle.

But by far the most rewarding moment of all had come as part of his birthday present, which, anyone with a working pair of eyes could see had taken Beckett every waking hour of the two weeks prior to plan.

Oh, she should have won an Oscar for keeping a straight face while she dressed him down. Good thing she had clicked "record" on her iPhone just as he'd walked in. She had relived the audio for a little pick-me-up at the end of a tough case just last week.

And by the way, seriously? He broke his kneecap skiing, and she just happened to be on vacation the same weekend, on the same ski slope? As a mystery writer, Castle should have been capable of a better cover story.

Ryan poked his head through the door, eyes a little wide for her liking.

"Captain? We have a problem. Our bomber just took himself out of this game."

And just like that, they were back to square one.

Gates spent the better part of an hour helping get in touch with every person on the prosecution's team from Fosse's trial. By the time she reached the end of the list, she was feeling so twitchy she was on the verge of driving to the site herself and offering to lend BDU a hand.

The moment she saw both Ryan and Esposito headed for her office, lips pressed in taut, twin lines, she knew this very bad day had just taken a turn toward disaster. Esposito had apparently drawn the short straw again, kept his tone quiet.

"BDU just called. They've got eyes on the device. There's a timer."

"How long?"

Gates felt the muscles of her jaw protest as she clenched down. She got the feeling that she didn't want to know the answer.

"About half an hour."

Esposito's phone buzzed, sending the boys off to find Diego Jimenez, and with him, another dead end. Bad choice of words.

Her eyes slammed shut, and she momentarily felt the defeat threatening to take over her body. She pictured Beckett standing in an empty apartment, feet glued to the same spot for... God? Six hours now? The woman had nerves of steel. That was one fact that hadn't been in dispute since her very first case back on the force, when she had muscled through her psych eval and what Gates was sure had been some nasty triggers, to keep her badge. Back then, the detective wouldn't let anyone in, wouldn't take help from her colleagues, her friends, not even the man who so obviously loved her.

But now? Now she could imagine Castle standing there with her, refusing to leave, keeping her distracted from her tired legs and her adrenaline-drenched thoughts. And Gates knew she would let him stay, want him there, in fact, even if in the end she tried to make him leave. Because over the time she had known Beckett, she had seen the changes.

A little more trust. A little less skepticism. A little more openness. Well, at least in her friendships, what small part of her personal life she chose to share at work. There was part of her life she allowed to be personal. And that was another change, too. Kate had requested vacation time. Twice in two months, though she only ended up taking one of those two. Up until this spring, Gates had never signed off on a single day of personal leave for her. And recently there were nights - though still few and far between - when Kate left before Gates did. Granted, they were paperwork days without active cases, but the Beckett of Montgomery's day left last unless ordered to do otherwise. Gates had read the letters in Kate's personnel file herself. That Beckett had lived and breathed the job, but this one, this one was learning how to live her life.

Gates felt the clench in her gut. Kate deserved the chance to keep on learning.

Damn, she thought, shaking her head absently, Montgomery had been right in his note on the file. Castle was good for the detective.

Pacing the bullpen, she forced her hands not to fidget, to run through her hair or clench at her sides like they wanted to. She needed to keep an illusion of calm even if she was starting to fall apart on the inside. Ryan was walking toward her again, rigid but with purpose, a cacophony of mixed signals. She braced herself, praying for good news.

"Less than ten minutes left. BDU says that they are staying 'til the last possible second, but Fosse was smart; steel plates are blocking their access to all the key parts."

He paused to draw in a deep breath, a futile attempt to mask the emotion in his voice, his eyes. "They pulled Castle out."

Her stomach dropped. Beckett was alone. She couldn't even imagine, being alone in a room just waiting to die but unwilling to move and speed up the process, savoring the few precious moments left, grasping at the last few straws of hope for a reprieve.

The whole bullpen had gone motionless. They had all been working for hours to find a solution, to save one of their own, but now they were standing useless, still. The only hope they had had was the five-digit number and that had died with Fosse.

But codes weren't random. They were normally memorable, something of meaning. If they could just...

A phone was ringing.

"It's Castle."

If she had thought the room was still before, now it was frozen, every single person holding their breath, the same thought on their minds but no one willing to speak the words. Had it ended early?

Ryan was fumbling with his phone, stabbing at the speaker button.

Gates startled, there were two voices on the line. That mean Beckett was still alive... and that Castle was back in the building with her.

God damn it. Stupid man. Who the hell waltzed back into a building where a bomb was set to explode in less than two minutes?

But the detectives were scrambling, looking for a name. And bickering. Who bickered about nicknames at a time like this? Apparently, Ryan and Esposito...

And then, just like that, it was over, and everyone was cheering, the raucous sound masking any hint of what might be transpiring at the other end of the line. She could only imagine it involved a whole lot of relief, and suddenly she was glad they had their moment of privacy muffled by the happy noise of their colleagues.

Alive. They were both alive. And as she nodded at Beckett's boys, signaling that it was time for them all to go, she found herself idly wondering just how many lives Katherine Beckett had.

They were standing the requisite three feet apart when she approached them outside Fosse's building, but she knew she had interrupted a moment, probably not the first one since Beckett had stepped out of that red circle, but an important one nonetheless.

"I don't know many men who would have done what you did."

She had to admit that her level of respect for the writer grew just a little bit more that day, not that she would ever say it out loud.

"Neither do I."

That look. She forced herself not to give into the urge to perform her own 'Beckett eye roll'. They really were too much, and as much fun as it was to see them squirm and dance around her on a daily basis, enough was enough; they deserved to have this moment.

"Oh, for heaven's sake Detective, kiss the man!"

The nearly identical wide-eyed stares of shock from all four of them were almost comical.

"Sir? You know?"

Know? Of course she knew. How could she not know? Not knowing was completely implausible, especially considering these two had the subtlety of a rhinoceros in a china shop.

"What, do you think I'm an idiot? I had to maintain plausible deniability. But seeing as how we are on neutral ground, I'd say he deserves it, wouldn't you?"

The smile that blossomed over the younger woman's face was all the thanks she needed.

Gates couldn't help but peek over her shoulder as she walked toward the sea of cruisers. The love radiating off of the couple was stronger than any exploding bomb, and she felt her own heart flutter as she watched their lips lock for the first time. When they parted, faces bright, hearts on their sleeves, hands firmly clasped, she smiled to herself at the ridiculously sappy picture they made.

But if she ever caught them sneaking out of the supply closet looking that moony-eyed, all bets were off.

A/N (Alex): What happens when two fic writers conspire to collaborate on a present for a dear friend? Life unfailingly gets in the way. But here it is, a little bit late, but still with the same amount of love. Happy Birthday, Angie, we love you. :)

Twitter: aspen_musing

(Kate): Angie, birthdays come but once a year. This year, yours just lasted a little longer...

Twitter: Kate_Christie_ Tumblr: KathrynChristie dot tumblr dot com