Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or the characters used in this story.

Finally growing weary of being the center of attention and anxious to hear the press conference, Castle brings things to a close. "Come on, let's go see what we're telling the press about this." The others rise as he sidles back to the side table. "I'll catch up after I pack these up," he says, referring to the drawings. "I'm having them framed."

Given the magnitude of the case and the 12th's role, the bullpen was as full as Castle could remember seeing it. Talbot was standing on a chair, trying to knock some life into and static off of the decrepit television mounted near the ceiling. Deciding that the reception was as good as it was likely to get, Talbot nearly topples over while standing down from the chair, to the cheering catcalls and taunts of his colleagues.

Castle wanders over to join his team, stepping into a space between Beckett and Ryan. There are calls for someone to raise the volume as the press conference prepares to get underway.

It's an impressive display for the press conference. There's a podium on red-carpeted stairs outside of One Police Plaza, the heart of police operations in New York City. The Police Commissioner stands at the podium in full dress uniform. Flanking him are the Mayor and District Attorney to his left and Captain Gates and Agent Wilson to his right. Calling for a mid-afternoon conference means that the sun is high overhead, eliminating the threat of squints marring close-ups during the conference and basking the assembled VIPs in a flattering, buttery light.

Beckett feels a quiver of cynicism as she imagines the press consultants who probably selected the wardrobes, the positions, and the postures of all on camera. Chastising herself, she admits that this isn't just a PR event, it's real. It's a chance for the police to tell the people of New York about terrible crimes that were stopped. It's a chance to show that there are examples of success to contend with the negative stories that seem to command headlines so easily.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Citizens of New York City," the Commissioner begins. "It is my honor and pleasure to inform you of significant arrests made by New York City officers earlier today. Thanks to the efforts of detectives from the NYPD's 12th Precinct…" – at this, a small cheer breaks out in the bullpen, rapidly hushed so as to not overwhelm the television's meager speakers – "… with the cooperation and assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we have arrested more than 10 conspirators on charges ranging from kidnapping, extortion, obstruction of justice, and jury tampering. Most notable among those arrested is Leonard Cartwright, III, who had already been arrested for fraud and embezzlement, and two members of his legal team."

"These arrests," the Commissioner continues, "represent a significant victory for the people of New York. They show that those who let their greed run rampant, those who assume that they can buy justice, those who think they can use their money or status to bully and threaten are instead accountable to the very people they seek to harm."

"Getting a little deep around here," Castle mumbles before suffering a sharp Beckett elbow to his side.

"These arrests," repeats the Commissioner, "also demonstrate our ability to combine the efforts of law enforcement from multiple agencies and jurisdictions in order to protect our citizens. While these arrests started with an investigation by the NYPD," – quiet cheers in the bullpen again, while Gates noticeably straightens on screen – "the ensuing investigation drew in and benefited from the participation the FBI and agents from the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Since that terrible day when we joined the ranks of cities that have suffered from who those seek terror rather than justice, we have worked assiduously to provide a seamless network to thwart criminals of all types. Today's arrests show the great advances that we have made to protect our citizens."

"Seriously – 'assiduously'? 'Thwart'?" Castle says while protecting his ribs, "I was right here all day, and they couldn't have called? Who wrote this speech?"

After a brief pause to collect the applause of those attending the press conference in person, the Commissioner rounds into his conclusion. "No less valuable to the citizens of New York are the efforts of the District Attorney's Office, which now takes up the responsibility of prosecuting those arrested today. It is the work of many months to bring the justice we seek, that we demand, and we took our first steps on that path today. My thanks, and that of the citizens of New York, goes out to the NYPD, the FBI, the SEC, and all others who contributed to this effort."

With this final statement, a young women in an immaculate suit darts up the steps and stands next to the Commissioner, leaning into the microphone to say "With that, and understanding that the NYPD cannot comment on the details of ongoing investigations or prosecutions, the Commissioner is available for a brief question period." With that, the PR director steps to the side but remains available to intervene based on time or inappropriate questions.

"Yes, Lou," says the Commissioner, pointing to a veteran reporter in the first rank of assembled media.

"Can you elaborate on the charges related to the jury tampering charge?" asks the jowly, disheveled reporter.

"I can confirm that five people, including Leonard Cartwright, were charged with jury tampering. I can also confirm that those charges are associated with different methods employed with the goal of affecting the outcome of a jury trial, including bribery, extortion, and kidnapping."

"Can you confirm that it was Cartwright's jury that was the focus of the tampering?" calls out a reporter from the scrum, not waiting to be called upon.

While this is a wasted question – after all, there was a significant media presence at the Cartwright trial when the mistrial was announced – it's still an opportunity for the Commissioner, who replies easily. "I can confirm that jury tampering charges affect at least the Cartwright matter that ended in a mistrial this morning. Karen," the Commissioner calls out another questioner, not waiting for someone to call out another question.

"Is it true that the other charges stem from a homicide investigation?" asks Karen Brown, a veteran reporter for the Ledger.

"Victoria Gates," the Commissioner calls out, "is the Captain of the NYPD's 12th Precinct. Captain, would you like to respond?"

Cool and confident in demeanor, Gates approaches the podium. "Yes, Ms. Brown, many of the charges resulted from the investigation of a double homicide that detectives from the 12th began investigating on Monday morning. Thanks to their diligence and effort, and with the subsequent assistance of the FBI," she says while looking to Agent Wilson, who tips his head, "the detectives secured a confession by Tuesday afternoon. That confession spurred subsequent inquiries that led to the charges described by the Commissioner." With her brief statement concluded, Gates steps back to the side and the Commissioner resumes his place at the podium.

"You're not getting much love from the boss, bro," Espo whispers to Castle, who simply smiles in response.

"Two more questions," chirps the PR director.

"William," calls out the Commissioner, gesturing to a local correspondent for a national news program.

"Commissioner," the reporter begins, "regarding the kidnapping charge: who was kidnapped and how was that situation resolved?"

"Happily," the Commissioner says with a grin, mugging for the cameras. "A child of a juror was kidnapped in an attempt to affect that juror's opinions. NYPD detectives rescued the child, who is now, I'm pleased to report, safely back at home."

"Last question," says the Commissioner. "Christine?" he says, looking at a local news personality.

"Thank you, Commissioner," she begins. "Richard Castle has shadowing members of the 12th Precinct's Homicide department for years. What role did he have in the activities that have been described today?"

"Victoria, would you care to comment?" offers the Commissioner, shocking many by ceding the last answer, the last opportunity for screen time, to Captain Gates.

While Gates makes her way to the podium, Ryan whispers to Castle, "Here you go, Castle."

"Did you bribe her to ask that question?" Beckett offers with a smirk.

Castle simply grins and watches the TV, wondering how Gates, hardly his biggest advocate, is going to handle this question.

"The 12th Precinct in particular, and NYPD in general, derive many benefits from Mr. Castle's presence. His stories offer an inside glimpse at the lives of dedicated law enforcement personnel and show the challenges that these remarkable people overcome every day in an effort to keep all of us safe."

Beckett, who had been very worried about what Gates would say, bumps Castle's shoulder with her own and offers a beaming smile. "Not bad, Castle," she offers.

"Mr. Castle is an excellent author," Gates continues. "He is not an officer. He did not leave the precinct headquarters for the bulk of this investigation. He is an observer, someone who can chronicle the successful investigation led by the trained men and women who make the NYPD a premier law enforcement agency. In common parlance, Mr. Castle is just along for the ride. I'm sure he would join me in directing praise for the success of these investigations to those he observes at the precinct and those other law enforcement personnel who were responsible for this investigation."

With her statement concluded, Captain Gates returns to her former position while the PR rep thanks the media for their attendance. Mayor Weldon has a political smile welded to his face, not offering any reaction to Gates' answer. On the other side of the podium, Agent Wilson offers a sly grin. Before she can check other reactions, the news affiliates cut away from the news conference and return to their regular programming.

Beckett is standing in place, shocked at how completely Gates mischaracterized and devalued Castle's contributions in general, and how she failed to recognize Castle at all for this case. Everyone involved knows that what's now known as the Cartwright Case was a tour de force for Castle. Without him, they wouldn't have found Brooke; wouldn't have captured faux Davis, wouldn't have broken him in interrogation, wouldn't have traced it all back to Cartwright. Beckett feels a little sick as she realizes how different things would be, how many lives could have been irrevocably altered, if Castle had chosen to remain in his business meeting on Monday morning rather than turn up at the crime scene.

That queasy feeling blossoms into revulsion as Beckett turns her thoughts to Captain Gates. Her statement is inexplicable. Was she building up the department to look good? Did she think hearing that a civilian made critical contributions to the investigation would undermine the public's faith in the department? Was she trying to limit Castle's clout? It doesn't make sense, Beckett howls to herself, especially because it will inevitably explode in Gates' face. Too many people know Castle's true contributions, too many people are interested in Castle, and the media is too intrigued by this story. There is no way that there won't be leaks and subsequent stories that contradict what Gates offered in the press conference.

Hell, even the department's records will show that Castle led the interrogation, Beckett realizes. Even if those records are unavailable to the public, they'll go to the DA's office, expanding the circle of those who know the full story. Then, add the ME's office, the FBI, the SEC, the officers from other departments who may have already talked, even in the unlikely event they'd be willing to remain silent now. No, it's inevitable that the true story will come out, and life in the 12th Precinct will be very ugly then, especially regarding Gates' views on Castle.

Maybe this is why Agent Wilson was smiling after Gates' answer at the press conference – could he have already foreseen the end game, where the tension Gates bought for herself today convinces Castle to explore the FBI's "opportunities"?

Turning to share her thoughts with Castle, she's surprised to see that he's not there. In fact, while she's been contemplating the press conference, the crowd in the bullpen has largely dispersed, though it's clear from the lingering pockets of conversation that she isn't the only one who is troubled by Gates' statements.

Casting her eyes around while walking back to the conference room, Beckett notices movement by the elevator. Inside, with a satchel over his shoulder, a poster tube in hand, and staring resolutely at the floor, stands a demoralized Richard Castle. Beckett calls out to him, tries to command his attention, to no avail. As the doors slide shut, Beckett's only thought is that she's never seen him look more crestfallen.

A/N: So ends "Just Along for the Ride." Technically, I think that the whole of the story could have slotted into Season 4 without diverging from canon. But I'm toying with the idea of AU follow-ups that pick up where JAR leaves off. After all, Castle's got opportunities to pursue, with people who might provide some appreciation for his efforts.

Many thanks for all the kind words and encouragement along the way. This first story was a bit of an experiment and the reviews and feedback made it a lot of fun. Hope you enjoyed the read.