Disclaimer: Castle is not mine.
Spoilers: None but those at the beginning.
Setting: Slightly AU in the sense that Kate was not in New York when her mother was murdered, and she's now flying back for Johanna's funeral. Castle's past is canon up to Kyra. Meredith and Alexis don't exist.
He hates long-distance trips.
Okay, so maybe a flight from California back to New York doesn't really count as 'long-distance'. But it is eight hours long, layover included, so he thinks he's entitled to a little whining.
His seat-mate is the slip of a woman, all skinny and efficiency-sized. She's oriented towards the cabin window—feet up on the edge of her seat and elbows tucked in between her body and her thighs—and she ignores him as he stuffs his carry-on bag into the overhead storage space. He wrestles his large frame into the seat beside her and observes her disgruntledly. A long-distance flight he can deal with, but not a taciturn seat partner. He's a social man by nature—he can't imagine going through eight hours deliberately not acknowledging that he is squished into an uncomfortably small space with a woman who pretends he doesn't exist.
When she still doesn't turn around despite his tentative 'hi', 'hello', and 'hey', he gives up and sinks back into his chair with a magazine.
They will be getting off the plane in Dallas, anyway. Maybe he'll have a different seat partner when they reconvene.
(Four hours later, unluckily for him, he finds out that that's not the case.)
Being a writer, he runs on a completely different sleep-wake schedule from the Average Joe. People normally go to bed early in the night and wake up at dawn; he likes to go to bed at dawn and wake up blearily at noon, vaguely aware of the need for lunch. It's no surprise, then, that having stayed up in order to board his 6AM flight and then kept himself occupied with magazines throughout the first leg of his journey (he'd rather not go to sleep next to Miss Stick-Up-Her-Ass, thank you very much), his stock of adrenaline depletes right around the time that they take off on the second flight.
He's nodding off into a gloriously tanned bikini body on a glossy page when a snuffle next to him brings his senses back to high alert.
Just as his eyes close again, the sniffle comes again.
Frustrated, he tears his eyes open. "'Scuse me," he says gruffly, tired enough by now that he's not afraid of being killed in his sleep by Mystery Woman. "I'm trying to rest."
Miss Holier-Than-Thou finally turns her head around, and her face shocks him back to wakefulness. It is not as if there is anything distinctly alarming about her features; her red-rimmed eyes are simply enough to make him wonder if she has been crying beside him the entire time. "I'm sorry," she says hoarsely. "I'll … try to be quiet."
"No—" he dismisses his words, instantly contrite, "—hey, are you okay?"
Her face crumbles and then blanks so quickly that he wonders if the change in expression was simply a trick of the light. "Yeah, I'm fine," she replies. "I just—allergies, y'know? Someone on this flight must have a cat or dog."
Four hours is the heck of a long time for an allergic reaction to develop, but he lets her excuse pass. He doesn't really know her, anyway. He wouldn't know what to say if she did tell him what was wrong. (Maybe she thinks she's the one with the taciturn seat partner, and she's disproportionately upset about that?)
"Oh, okay," he concludes awkwardly. Then, as an extra measure, adds, "Well, I mean … feel free to sniffle, then. I suppose we can't really help allergies."
The woman's—or girl's, really; she seems so young now that he's seen her (How old is she, anyway?)—smile is brittle. "Right," she agrees, and then she turns to look out the window. The clouds must be beautiful.
And he's never going to be able to fall asleep now.
Ten minutes later, his conscience finally wins out.
"Hey," he says, reaching over to tap on the woman's—girl's—arm. She hasn't made a single noise since he called her out on her sniffling, but he's not remotely stupid enough to believe that that means she's stopped crying. "You know it helps to talk about it, right?"
The girl hums in reply, but doesn't turn back to look at him. "Thank you, but this is far too personal to talk about."
"Well, all the more reason you should tell me," he points out. "We're strangers; we won't see each other after this. You won't have to worry about my betraying your secret or any such issue. I don't even know your name."
"Oh." He pauses. "I guess that would make it harder for me to keep your secret."
He thinks she does chuckle.
"My mother…" she finally tells the cabin window. "She—passed away. I'm going back to attend her funeral."
"Oh," he utters. Now he feels like the biggest ass on the planet. He didn't think— "I'm sorry."
"She was only forty-seven."
He doesn't know how to respond to that. He didn't think it would be something like that. 'She died so young' seems wildly inappropriate for a complete stranger—let alone someone who's the almost-grown daughter of the deceased—but forty-seven really does seem shockingly young. Who dies at forty-seven?
"It was so sudden," the girl continues. "She was still fine when I went back for Christmas break."
The break in the dam is abrupt; in the blink of an eye, Kate is curled up in her seat and sobbing in a manner that is simultaneously controlled yet hysterical. He feels a sense of guilt wrack him. God, he wants to comfort her. He wants, perversely, to make things better for her. But he can't, because they barely know each other and he's really bad at comforting and the last time he faced a crying woman was when his girlfriend of three years decided she needed better things in life than him but felt bad about her decision.
Nevertheless, he can't leave this not-girl-not-woman to cry alone, so he lays an awkward palm on the spot in between her shoulder blades—she doesn't shrug him away, oddly enough—and uses his free hand to wave away the alarmed stewardess that strides over to them.
Kate keeps crying, and so he keeps pressing his hand to her back.
A long hour later—or maybe it was five minutes; he's not counting—she calms down. He lets his hand drop, and she bends down to search through her bag under the seat for … a wet wipe, apparently, which she passes quickly over her face as if to erase the mark of tear tracks. Thus cleaned, she straightens up and looks at him with a partly ashamed smile.
"Thank you," she says. "I didn't mean to break down on you like that."
He twitches a shoulder. Truth be told, he's not really that heartless. If she needed to cry, he would have gladly let her. "Do you feel better?" he asks instead.
Her eyes dart away. "I suppose so, if we're not counting my embarrassment now that I'm done … breaking down."
"Hey, there's nothing to be embarrassed about," he replies firmly. "Crying is a completely ordinary physiological reaction to stressful stimuli."
She rolls her eyes, ostensibly at his choice of phrasing. "I'll keep that in mind."
"See that you do," he answers crisply. "Seriously, though … I'm sorry for your loss. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I don't think so. Thank you for offering, though."
"I mean it."
"Yeah, but…." She sucks in a stilted breath. "Short of bringing my mother back to me, there's nothing anyone can do."
"What was she like?"
Kate looks startled by his topic of choice. "What do you mean?"
"Was she tall? Fat? A bad dancer? A good cook?" he persists. The girl's eyes narrow in response, but before she can go on the defensive, he holds up a stalling hand. "I've never had a dad," he tells her gently. "Most of the time, I don't even realize that. It's not something that's frequently on my mind. But when it is, I find that making up stories about him helps.
"I don't know if it works that way here," he continues sombrely. "And I'm not trying to compare what we have, or even saying that I understand what you're going through, because I don't. But I hope you know that you can talk about her. To me. 'Cause we're strangers an' all, you know?"
Kate nods slowly, seeming to process his words. She opens her mouth. He thinks she's going to tell him about her mother, but instead, she queries, "What's the image in your head like of your father?"
He doesn't talk about this to anyone, ever.
Not even to his mother.
But they—he and Kate—are strangers.
And her real mother has just passed away.
If she needs him to talk about his fictional dad, he will.
He'll give her that.
They land at New York's LaGuardia Airport at five in the evening; by that time, he's exhausted the stories he'd already made up previously about his dad, and then come up with a few new ones.
His seat companion doesn't seem okay yet—and he doesn't expect her to be—but she's smiling, and he thinks he might consider that one of his greatest accomplishments in life. So maybe they're still strangers, but he's never given a stranger a real reason to smile like that before.
They part ways at the luggage carousel after disembarking; Kate sticks out a hand to shake his, and he gladly obliges. It's funny, he thinks. He'd assumed she was a cold, unfriendly person when he first boarded the plane. But if ever there were a person to prove the old adage 'Don't judge a book by its cover' true, it would be her.
"I never told you my name," he says after their handshake. "It's Rick."
Just levelling the playing field.
"I know," she answers to his surprise. "My mom loved your books."
And then she's turned and walked away.
A/N: If you're wondering what he was doing flying Economy, that will be explained if this fic is continued :) and no, that's not a you-better-review-or-I-won't-update threat. I currently have a second chapter in the works, but as I haven't written out any other chapter yet, I'm making no promises. This chapter works just as well as a one-shot or not, so I'm marking it 'Incomplete' for now—if I haven't continued it in a week's time, I will mark it 'Complete'.
Thank you for reading!