A/N: Hey there! I apologize for the long delay. But it's freaking worth it because I passed my Comprehensive Exam! I'm now a Pharmacy Aid. Two more years and I'm officially a legal drug dealer.
So, here goes chapter seven. I hope you like it.
Reviews-meanie or not meanie-are very welcome. :)
"Is something bugging you, Rick?" Stefanie peered into his office, where apparently, he had been sitting for quite some time without so much as bulging. He snapped in her direction, a small smile appearing on his bewildered features as he watched her come close, two cups of identical coffee mugs in hand. But she saw right through him, and he hadn't been quite the same since last week, when Beckett showed up at the bookstore. Castle couldn't help but feel guilty about his indifference, and he swore he wanted to spit it out to Stefanie, yet the idea of it made him feel like he was cheating; when it was far, far from that. He didn't even do anything! He just signed the book, greeted her, and that was it. She was before he processed that there wasn't a bit of normalcy in the situation. "You've been weird,"
He's been acting a lot worse than weird. For more than once, he had shut himself in his own thoughts, blocking out the tiny conversations he and Stefanie stay late at night for, and for more than once, he had failed to realize she had been asking for his opinions—that don't really matter that much—about her dress, her choice of shoes, or how the pancakes tasted.
The worst part of it all is that he didn't like blocking Stefanie out. Castle wanted nothing more than to stay late at night as she gave away supposed to be confidential details about her cases, comment about her dress, and adore how she struts the hardwood floor with those killer heels. But none of that had been happening lately. Because no matter how he forced himself to focus, his mind always wandered back to Kate. He wasn't supposed to be so affected, dammit!
He cleared his throat, and took a large gulp of his morning coffee. Castle looked up at her. Oh no. She had her 'lawyer' face on. This was a point of no return. She relaxed as he caved in, and went behind him to ease his tensed shoulders. "Well, you remember Kate Beckett?"
Stefanie let out a laugh. Right. Who was he kidding? Of course she remembered Kate Beckett. He tripped down into memory lane, looking back to those drunken nights, where he poured his heart out to a woman he barely knew, about a woman he had been following around for a long, long time, who had crushed his heart into a million pieces. "So, what about her?" her voice cut through his thoughts. Damn, he did it again.
"She showed up at the book signing. Last week."
Stefanie's hands left his biceps, and she stood right in front of him, arms crossed around her waist, betrayal—or, something a little lighter than betrayal—written in her eyes. "Last week." She said, more like a statement than a confirmatory pause.
Castle nodded, instinctively putting on a defensive stance. "I'm sorry, Stef. I shouldn't have kept secrets." Oh that statement. Where it all fell apart. "Not that there's any secrets to keep. She just showed up, and left. I was…" he backed down, the brief memory playing back and forth his mind. Then he glanced up at Stefanie once more. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. I was just…"
"It felt awkward?" She tilted her head, her voice a little softer now. He heaved a sigh of relief.
He nodded, "Yeah, it was awkward. What's bugging me is that, I'm realizing just now; we never had the chance to smooth things out. We broke and didn't deal with the aftermath."
She leaned against his desk, head dipped down. "Closure?"
"Yeah." He replied, his voice cracking without him noticing. Because Stefanie was right. The last time he had seen Kate Beckett was at that afternoon in the swings. He proposed, she turned him down, then she flew to D.C. Lanie filled him in on what he missed; how Beckett waited until the last minute of boarding, holding on to a sliver of hope that he was coming to see her. One last time. At least, to have a decent goodbye.
But that didn't happen. He was well too intoxicated to make it to his kitchen without giving himself a bruise. He remembered a shadow of the pain she had caused him, and that was what he kept on reminding himself to stop him from dialing the all too familiar numbers. He couldn't remember when everything started going uphill, but then he was certain Stefanie was a big part of it. He stopped thinking of Kate, burying the memories—good and bad—in the back of his mind, stopped holding on to the things she left in the loft, and at one point, finally found the courage to put it all in a box in the corner of his office.
"I should talk to her, right?"
Stefanie looked up, her eyes screaming protest. But Castle had never let him down, and this couldn't be any different. So instead of voicing out her thoughts, she smiled. "If I were her, I'd like some closure, too, Rick."
"Thank you." He mouthed, and clasped his fingers on to hers.
"I'll see you tonight, alright? I've got to run." She hurried, and picked her black and white leopard print purse and coat, then walked out his door. Something wasn't right, and he knew that. After all the little clues he missed in his relationship with Kate; little clues he missed that led to their fallout, he tried to be more observant. Maybe this talk with Beckett will put everything back to normal.
Castle's eyes shifted to the box sitting on the corner with a thick layer of dust, and thought of today as the right time to return her things. A part of him still longed to hold on to her belongings, but then again, he had moved on, and Kate deserved to do the same.
A click of a round button, the beep of a car on lock, a brief walk to the lobby and a short ride to the homicide floor—all but a haze of a déjà vu. Only, it wasn't some unexplained phenomena of the brain. Kate realized it was all but her life returning to what it had been six years ago, before the nine-year old on a sugar rush writer stepped into her life. Years back, she would be relieved at the solemn and professional atmosphere in the precinct.
Not anymore. Kate spotted Ryan and Esposito in the makeshift FBI headquarters, going over the screens, glancing back and forth at each other. Tom, stood ever so stiffly in one corner, one hand tracing the stubble on his chin. It must have been the spidey sense when Tom caught her gaze, as if he felt the weight of her stare on him. Not stare. It was a look. A glance.
He nodded in greeting as she walked into the cramped up room.
Ryan looked over his shoulder. "Well, so far we've tracked down the wife, and uniforms are one their way back."
"Still, nothing on the fake IDs. So far we've got nothing but grocery purchases. Last transaction was made by Claire Summer, seven months ago, and still, nothing suspicious."
She furrowed her eyebrow, out of theories as to explain the multiple accounts. Nothing ever made sense, so far. "What's Jed Hudson doing in the FBI's radar Agent?"
Tom straightened up, letting out a small sigh of surrender. The FBI's secrets have secrets. Kate, of all people, knew that, and it wasn't an accident that their noses were into a just like any other twisted homicide. "Jed Hudson retired from the FBI, three years ago."
"Yo, man, how did we miss that?" Esposito bucked up. Sure, the FBI had their ways.
Kate crossed her arms. "When did you plan on telling us?"
"The big boss wanted to keep it clean. But as we're coming to a dead end in every turn, it'd be best to disclose important information. Jed Hudson was never to work at the FBI ever again," he trailed off, and motioned to the screen, popped only God knows what, and shifted to another window. There. All of the victim's 'wiped out' history. "…but he's an asset. And his very specific skills set came in handy."
His finger tapped the print button, and the printer on one side of the room came to life, buzzing and screeching slightly with each paper. Just in time, a couple of uniforms walked in, accompanying a young, red-haired woman to the interrogation room. "Do the honors, detective?" Tom offered, pointing to the direction of the woman.
Kate heeded without much ado, trusting the lengthy paper work to the boys. She had done quite enough of the desk work back in D.C., and her heart ached for something good and old as the interrogation process. A folder in hand, she entered the room, brisk enough to earn a warm respect, and feminine enough to get someone's trust. "I'm sorry for your loss, Mrs. Hudson,"
"Oh no, missy," the woman snapped. "Ain't no Mrs. Hudson no more; the bastard signed the divorce papers the other day." She held up the hand where the wedding ring was supposed to go. Kate pulled up the steel chair opposite the ex-wife, glancing briefly at the file to learn her name. "Not even surprise he got killed. After the entire dirty job's he's been working."
Kate perked up, and held her pen. "Can you tell me about this dirty job?"
"I'm sorry. I don't know much." She shook her head. Kate nodded. She still had that knack for separating the liars to the real ones. "…I only cared about bringing food to the table. I've been working day and night and he's been doing whatever business he's doing." A tear slipped on the woman's cheek, and her hand was quick to wipe it. "…that bastard."
The detective paused, and waited until the other had recomposed herself. Then, she laid open the folder she'd been clutching. "Do any of these names ring a bell to you?"
"Yeah. Actually, this one…" she pointed to the second to the last name, "Claire Summer. Around months ago, I thought Jed was having an affair. Been getting calls and whatnot. I confronted him about it, and the calls stopped. Last thing I've heard of the name."
"Did you have any chance to meet Claire Summer?"
"No. Just calls. I didn't even hear the voice." She shrugged, pushing back the files to Kate's direction.
Each turn made her a bit more frustrated. Above all, she didn't like working with ghost suspects. "When was the last time you saw Jed Hudson?"
"Yesterday morning. Kissed our little girl goodbye and that was it. I didn't think it was a big deal when he didn't come home. Some other times, he'd go missing for a whole week."
Beckett squared her shoulders, and leaned against the back of her chair. With nothing much to extract from the oblivious wife, she sent her home, with a promise of justice, villain or hero, everybody deserved some sort of justice. It had been her paradigm as a homicide detective. Beckett shut the door behind her, and let her feet drag her back to where his colleagues were. Captain Gates had yet to give Beckett her desk back, and not having a fort wasn't much big of a road block, but it wasn't easy, either.
Her gaze drifted to the row of desks, read the name plates, inwardly celebrating that she was still welcome in the NYPD. At least there was a part of home that didn't change. She looked up, and what her eyes saw next caused her to stop in her tracks.
Castle. What was he…
For a moment there, she blinked back to those happier times; Castle waiting at the edge of her table, two large cups of her favorite coffee in hand, mouth stretched into a wide smile as she walked towards him. Those times they had to put on extra effort to keep their hands of each other, and the fierce longing they saw in each other's eyes, and their hands relaying the words buried deep within each other, all under a light cloud of romance.
Well. There's none of that now. There's just a man, standing a mere feet in front of her, his eyes locked on hers, and it was not the same. He was smiling, but only half-heartedly, and his arms were clutching a box, and she recognized that one. It was the same box she had used to move some of her stuffs into his loft.
A fresh wave of sting washed over her, and forced her feet to work. Kate never would have thought a day would come that Castle—the man she learned to love more than she ever loved anyone, and not to mention, the insistent little boy who followed her for so long—would finally let her go.
"I uh…" he broke their gaze, and looked down at the sealed box, setting it onto the chair beside him. "I meant to have these sent out when you were in uhh…" despite the circumstances, Kate found it cute to watch a nervous Richard Castle. It was but a once in a lifetime sight. But still, she didn't find the courage to spit out a single word. "…when you were in D.C."
"I forgot about those." Lie. She dreaded for the day a shipment from New York shows up at her door—the last thing that reminded Castle of her. "Thank you."
"I'll just leave it right there, so..." he trailed off, and took in a sharp breath. Castle had never been so anxious around someone before. Especially not around Beckett. Hell, he stuck around even when she clearly didn't want him. Stayed by her side when she needed a hand to hang on, and gave her space whenever she felt being alone. Right from the beginning, he'd always been at such a comfortable level with her. More than the comfortable level.
He shifted his weight, and gathered what courage left in him to let the words flow. He didn't realize they'd been standing opposite each other for quite some time until she cleared her throat, and basing on the extra suit-donning crowd and big toys, he knew he came in at the wrong time. But to hell with that.
"We didn't get to talk." He blurted, and she stiffened. "We didn't get some kind of closure." And that was such a shame. For him, because she had been a huge part of him, and losing her in a bitter ending was something he didn't want, and for her, because the closure thing wasn't one of the many things she wanted to tell him.
"Yeah." She forced the word out of her dry throat.
"I don't want to be like this around you, Beckett." He said, gentle and kind, as if his words didn't stab her deep enough. "We should talk."
She swallowed a lump in her throat. Beckett was only kidding herself when she thought she had the slightest chance to make things the way they used to be. And she despised Castle for making her into this needy, broken-hearted teenager who's constantly mooning over some senior in high school. Every now and then, she had to remind himself that she lost him. It was her fault. And she just had to live with that. "I agree."
Castle nodded slightly.
"I'm free for lunch in three." Said Beckett; her voice cracking at the end of every sentence.
Then he reached a hand out for a handshake that was nothing but painfully awkward. Beckett released his palm, and offered a small smile, as he headed back to the elevator. She dipped her head, and clenched his eyes, as if that would make her regain her composure, or pine for him any less. When she looked up, Ryan and Esposito are already looking in her direction, concern written on their faces. She carried the box with her arms, and walked into the room.
"You okay, Beckett?" Esposito asked in a low whisper, a strong hand gripping on her shoulders, cautiously on the lookout for her.
She smiled, and set the carton down. "I will be."
Esposito nodded, and knew better than to push. So he distracted her with the new information from the Vic. It was all over the screen. A hundred or so case files, ranging from homicide to murder to robbery. "Our guy's a lawyer—and a good one—before he worked for the FBI. We're looking into his cases, see if any of these is related to what he's been up to. Maybe it's someone Hudson put behind bars."
"What's the word with the wife, Detective?" Tom asked, dismissing the information from the others. Beckett rolled, and gave off every bit of information she had been given. Divorce papers, negligence as the family's provider, late nights out, dirty jobs, Castle showing up at the precinct. Castle returning her things. Castle wanting closure. Castle moving on. Without her.
No, she was far from alright.
The last thing she ate was two pieces of grilled cheese and a glass of orange juice. It was well beyond her eating time, but she didn't feel the least overcome by hunger. The smell of beefy, presumptuous burgers filled her nostrils, and the screeching smoothie machines wracked her ears. Beckett made light taps on the wooden table, eyes fixed on her hands, because watching the others to get through the boredom didn't seem so polite. She came in ten minutes earlier, when Ryan and Esposito suggested she take a break. The boys knew she wasn't the least focused. And she hated herself for that.
Beckett drew a deep breath, and shifted his gaze to the passers-by outside the glass window. A black sports car pulled up in the driveway, and at first she could only make out the woman on the passenger's seat—familiar—and a moment more for her to realize that Castle was in the driver's seat. She watched as both the doors swung open.
His girlfriend. And he let her drive his car.
And wait, she's the girl from the coffee stall. What are the chances?
The woman went her way to the driver's side, and kissed Castle goodbye. Her fingers tugged on his shirt as they locked their lips for a brief, yet too much for her to bear moment. Beckett felt her chest tighten, and so she looked away. The next time she looked, the woman was already behind the wheel, and he stood by, waiting until the black car blended into traffic.
Wow. This is what Lanie meant by serious-as-a-heart-attack.
Beckett exhaled deeply, and put what little glimmer of hope left inside her into a small box and buried it deep in the comforts of her walls; the same walls he had so skillfully scratched and clawed away. She didn't realize how far she'd gone out of her mind until Castle slid inside the booth.
She snapped in a startle.
"Sorry." He said in a snide remark, his lips stretched into a wide smile. He had yet to recover from the smooch fest earlier.
"It's alright." She put on a pensive stance, and straightened her back, so she was stiffly seated. Castle felt like being thrown back in time when Beckett was nothing but cold and stoic towards him. "Lanie filled me in on what I missed this past year." Suddenly she was talking more, and feeling less. Maybe it was the realization that she had officially lost him, or watching Castle be with another woman; but something inside her burned. "The new novel, who's the lucky muse?" she said, trying to sound casual and failing at every level. Lucky muse seemed like a better choice than new muse. Even though she knew the very answer to her question.
He hesitated, and his answer left his lips in almost a whisper. "Samantha Winters is based on uh, well, Stefanie. She's my uh…"
Beckett nodded, already fighting back long-held tears. He noticed this. Well, Castle knew her like the back of his hand. "It's a good read."—she mumbled with a smile that didn't make her eyes sparkle. He missed that.
"Samantha's different. She's well…" he shrugged, unable to put his thoughts into concrete words. Not with Nikki Heat around. "…different, like I said."
"I think she's perfect." For you. She makes you happy. She's fun. Uncomplicated. He was right when he said those two traits were just what he needed.
"How are you, Kate?" he changed the subject, as a cloud of cold ice rose above them, making it a lot harder to talk things through.
"Good." Right. Who was she kidding? "We're currently working a case. Everything's going back to what they used to be." Not a complete lie, if she meant back to the years before Castle started coming in for research.
Castle felt a sharp pang in his chest. He was no longer a part of Kate's normal. Then he mentally kicked himself in the butt for being too concern about that. He shouldn't care. But a part of him became home to the solving of cases and almost-dying with his partner. One look into her pair of green eyes, and he felt something inside him stir—only to be reminded of how miserable she had made him. Before he even realized, he was already on the roll. "You hurt me, Kate. Bad."
She was dumbfounded. And so was he.
But then this whole 'closure' thing was never going to work if they weren't so honest with each other. So he went on. And Kate sat still, her feet itching to get away, but her heart screamed at her to stay. So she listened. "I couldn't take that we broke up for a job." He emphasized, like a thousand knives to her already bruised heart. "...I loved you." Past tense. "I really did." Past tense again.
Beckett nodded, fighting back emotions. She was usually good at that. If this was his way of coming to terms with everything, finally letting out the anger he had so skillfully tucked inside his chest, she let him be.
"You turned me down, Kate. I had to move on." Castle said softly, as if his words were going to break her. And by the feeling of it, she might; because it was over. She had known for a while, but coming out of his lips, it felt official. Final. Like a death sentence she was going to face outside the four walls of the diner.
Words had left her. And a rogue tear slid down her cheek.