Castle arrived back at his loft that evening exhausted in almost every way imaginable. He showered, changed into his sweats, and called Alexis and Martha at his house in the Hamptons. In the midst of telling them they could come home whenever they wanted, his voice almost cracked a few times with emotion. He was more exhausted mentally and physically than he ever remembered, but still their laughter, teasing, just the sound of their voices emanating through the phone sounded much sweeter than they did hours before. They were alive and he was alive and he couldn't be more thankful for that.
He ordered Chinese from a nearby carry out and opened a beer while waiting for it to be delivered. As he stood in his large loft holding the cold beverage in his hand, he closed his eyes, and let his head fall backwards. He focused all his senses on the moment, the here and now, and savored so many ordinary sounds, smells, and feelings that he typically missed through the course of a day: the feeling of the sweat from the beer bottle running through his fingers, the creaking of the building, the muffled sound of the traffic and voices outside, the hardwood floor beneath his feet, the soft material of the clothes he was wearing, his heart beating in his chest. I am alive, he thought. I am alive…and so is Mother, Alexis, Ryan, Jenny, Esposito, Captain Montgomery, Lanie…and her. Beckett was alive too. He had saved her again. But what she didn't know, he realized, was how she had saved him. But if she was alive, it meant Josh was also. He opened his eyes and felt the pain begin to spread from his chest throughout his body like a poison.
Suddenly, the sound of his front door buzzer intruded upon his thoughts. He greeted the delivery man with a warm smile which masked the conflict within him. He took his food and gave the young man perhaps the shock of his life when he handed him a fifty dollar bill and told him to keep the change. It was the only cash he had on him and he didn't really care that he had grossly over-tipped the guy. After all he had been through over the last few days, it really didn't matter.
He ate slowly, chewing every bite a few more times than normal, finished his beer, and when he was full, cleaned up the leftovers and carefully tucked it all away in the refrigerator. He dropped his beer bottle in the trash with a clang and pulled out a second bottle. By now it was dark outside. Most everyone in the city had arrived safely at home and were busy going about their daily lives, he thought. Were this any other night, I'd be doing the same, ridiculously oblivious to all the dangers present outside my loft's walls. He had seen too much violence in the years since he had begun volunteering at the precinct and feared it was hardening him. No, he thought. That's not it. It's just the clarity from having stared death in the face three times in the same number of days. Thank goodness for people like Fallon, he thought, who somehow have the constitution to face down these threats on a daily basis. Death one body at a time I can handle, but not by the millions.
He opened the second bottle of beer and walked heavily to one of the family room windows that looked out over the busy street below. His gaze slowly lifted to the rooftops across the street, across the neighborhood and beyond. What was she doing at this very minute, he wondered? Musing over the fragility of life like I am? Soaking her silm, toned, sexy body in a hot bath? Eating dinner? Reading a book? Cuddling with him? Or worse? He hated the thought of it and tried shoving it to the furthest recesses of his brain, but it kept fighting its way back: Beckett and Motorcycle Boy with arms wrapped around each other sitting on her couch drinking wine and watching television or talking…or kissing. He closed his eyes tight to try to block the vision, but failed. He then figured out why these images haunted him so: he couldn't compete with Josh. For all his success, his best sellers, his fame and fortune what had he done lately, as Beckett had once asked him, which could measure up to a surgeon who saves lives on a daily basis? Sure he had told her when they had been quarantined that nobody could compete with Josh's chosen profession and volunteer work, but he had only said that to make her feel better. Anything to make her feel better, to wipe the pain off her face and make her smile that smile that warmed his heart like nothing else did.
But she confided in me, he began arguing with himself. She told me what she really wants in a relationship. Me and not him.
But that was before he came back, before she knew he had heard her, was willing to sacrifice something he loved for her.
She also showed you her home made murder board that she keeps hidden in her apartment which she said he doesn't know about. That must count for something?
Yeah, whatever. She's probably telling him about that right now. The whole if-we're-really-gonna-make-this-work-there-need-to -be-no-secrets thing.
Enough! She's happy with him. You have to let her go, at least until she signals to you that she's ready to go in a different direction, ready to try something new with someone new, ready for you.
He took a long gulp of his beer, leaving the dark brown bottle a little less than half full. He then turned towards his office. There was something he kept in there that he desperately wanted to look at.
Don't do it, that other voice resumed arguing. You'll only make yourself feel worse.
But you know you won't be able to sleep until you do. Might as well get it over with.
He loped slowly to his office, with the physical toll of the case just concluded weighing him down like a ten ton weight. The mounting depression he felt wasn't helping either. He dropped himself into his chair, put the beer bottle on his desk, and paused a moment. He glimpsed the cover art for his two previous Nikki Heat books mounted in frames on one wall of the room. It was amazing, he thought, how much a picture could represent. Amazing, but also tragic in a way he would have considered delicious had he not been sitting squarely in the middle of the tragedy.
He pulled open the top right drawer of his desk and extracted a manila envelope. He placed it on the desk and pulled out its contents. Before him he saw the smiling faces of all his new friends at the 12th Precinct sharing drinks at The Old Haunt, working away at their desks, and joking around at crime scenes, behind Beckett's back of course. Then he came to another photo of just him and her, Kate Beckett, that extraordinary woman. He stood just behind her over her right shoulder with his hands in his pockets, grinning wryly, a twinkle in his eye. She stood with her arms crossed, that bright smile shining on her face, looking away from him at the ground as if he had just cracked a joke to make her laugh. These were photos he had taken with his cell phone then printed on photo paper so he would always have something solid, besides the Nikki Heat books, to remember his shadowing experience, but more importantly, just to remember the people. Especially her.
So many times had he pulled out these photos when he found himself blocked while writing and every time this moment that he had captured on film of her laughter had gotten him over whatever obstacle faced him. For months now, he had dreamed of seeing that smile and hearing that laugh at his front door, in his kitchen, on his couch, or in his bedroom as he awoke in the morning. But last night, when he saw the way she looked at Josh and said she thought they had a chance together since he stayed and didn't go overseas, he saw all those hopes evaporate. He watched them disappear again in the precinct just as he was going to suggest she join him with Alexis and Martha in the Hamptons for a respite from her work. I've saved her life several times now, I've brought her coffee every day, listened whenever she's had a problem, risked my life to help her catch any number of criminals, been there whenever she's needed me and she still only sees him. How is that possible? He didn't know.
He ran his thumb over her beautiful photographed face as a tear coursed its way down his cheek. It finally found his jaw line and fell unceremoniously, landing partially on his thumb and partially on her smiling face. Instead of wiping it away, he left it there. It just seemed fitting, he thought.