Author's Note: This story was originally intended to be a birthday gift for Lou (InkyCoffee) back in December, but it didn't come together in time. But I finally managed to finish it, and since Lou's quarter-birthday semi-coincides with my actual birthday (today or tomorrow or yesterday depending on your time zone), it seemed like the perfect time to post. :)
This story, as with so many of mine, is based on a TFLN prompt, which I'll put at the end. And it's set just after the episode "47 Seconds," because we all know how much Lou loves 47 Seconds fic :)
I hope you like it, Lou! Happy belated birthday! :)
There are some days, Rick Castle mused to himself, when the phrase it was a long day just doesn't seem adequate. The English language just doesn't have the right words to capture how you feel at the end of such a day.
He stared into his glass of Scotch, contemplating this. Yes, he had experienced some damn long days in his lifetime - especially in the past few years - but today was extreme even by recent standards. It wasn't every day that you solved a bombing case involving multiple deaths and found out that the woman you loved had been lying to you for months.
It was his first drink of the evening, and he had only taken one sip yet, so alcohol was no excuse for the muddled incoherence of his thoughts. No, as usual, the cause of his mental abstruseness was not a beverage but a person. The same maddening, extraordinary person who always seemed to defy description. Castle had been manipulating the English language to his own advantage for decades now, and yet, when it came to Detective Kate Beckett, he was still so often at a loss for words.
He was just lifting the glass for a second sip when his phone buzzed, The Old Haunt showing on the screen. Castle sighed deeply and put the glass down.
He didn't very often get involved with the business side of the bar he owned. Brian the bartender was also the manager now, and kept things moving pretty smoothly. He only called Castle when there was a problem he couldn't straighten out on his own, which was fairly rare these days.
Castle was really not in the mood to deal with such a problem right now, but that's life, isn't it?
"Castle," he said into the phone.
"Oh, hey, Mr. Castle," Brian's voice came through, a touch of nerves in his tone. "Uh, sorry to bother you, sir, but it's Detective Beckett."
Castle squeezed his eyes shut and ran a hand wearily over them. Of course it was Beckett. What else would it be?
"What about her?" he forced himself to ask, his voice gravelly through a tight throat.
"Um..." Brian hesitated. "She's pretty drunk, sir."
"She's-" Castle glanced at the clock. It had only been about an hour since Gates had dismissed them. When he and the boys had declined Beckett's invitation to go out for drinks, he'd assumed that she would go home. "I just left her an hour ago," he said. "She's been drinking this whole time?"
"Uh, well, yeah. She came in pretty upset," Brian said cautiously, "and, uh, she ordered a bunch of shots. I guess she must not have eaten much today. She usually holds it a lot better than this, but uh, she slammed them back pretty fast."
Castle winced. Pain seemed to be stabbing through his chest, but it wasn't a physical sensation; it was the beginnings of grief.
I remember every second, she had said. He couldn't stop hearing that moment in his head. I remember every second.
For nine months she had been lying to him. Nine months of working together, smiling, teasing - yes, even flirting - and had all of that been a lie too? He could hardly bear the thought.
"Well, call her a cab and tell-"
"The thing is," Brian interrupted him, "uh, she keeps saying she needs to get to the doctor."
"The doctor?" Damn it, he was trying so hard not to care, and yet, the thought that Beckett might be hurt in some way had his pulse suddenly racing, his palms clammy. "Is she sick or something? She was fine when I left."
"No, I mean, she seems fine to me too," Brian answered. "I asked her what's wrong, but she just said she has to get to the doctor. I don't know, sir. She's not really making much sense."
Castle sighed again. Damn it.
"Okay. I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Don't let her leave." He rolled his eyes at himself for that. As if Brian, or anyone, could stop Beckett doing whatever the hell she wanted.
"I'll do my best."
"And don't give her any more drinks."
"Of course," Brian said, sounding affronted.
After ending the call, Castle simply stood still in the middle of his study for a long moment, eyes closed. He breathed in anger, he breathed out disappointment.
He didn't know what to think, what to feel. His emotions had been in one long free-fall since that moment in the observation room hours ago, and there was no end in sight.
But he could do this. He would do this. He would push his feelings down, once again, and go to Beckett's side. It was what he did.
He opened his eyes and turned to business: grabbed his blazer from the back of a chair and slipped it on, checked his pockets for wallet and keys and phone.
"Going somewhere, kiddo?"
He startled slightly at the unexpected voice, but forced a smile as he turned to face his mother. "Yes. Going out for a bit. I won't be long."
"Mm." Martha saw right through him. The rictus he'd twisted his lips into wasn't fooling anyone. "Oh, Richard, how many times are you going to let her trample on you?"
"It's not like that," he said, an unexpected flare of anger. Well, maybe it was like that, but he wasn't ready to face that truth. "Look, it doesn't matter, Mother. I'm going out." He scooped up his almost untouched glass from the desk and pressed it into Martha's hand. "Finish this for me, would you? And make sure there's some left in the bottle when I get back."
His mother pursed her lips in disapproval, but for once, uncharacteristically, stayed silent. He saw her lifting the glass to her mouth as he strode to the door.
A short taxi ride later, he was outside the Old Haunt, giving the cab driver a hefty tip as he climbed out. Castle stood on the sidewalk for a long moment, steeling himself. His thoughts were still whirling, but at last he sighed, ran a hand through his hair one more time, and went inside.
The place was sparsely populated at this early hour, and he spotted Beckett immediately, sitting on a bar stool with a glass in front of her. Had she managed to talk Brian into-? But as Castle approached, he realized that it was a water glass. Beckett was moving it in small circles on the bartop, staring at the patterns of condensation she was creating.
There was something about her slumped posture that twisted Castle's heart, made him swallow thickly with apprehension. The curve of Beckett's spine, the way her cheek was resting on her hand - it was unlike her. There was a defeated air to it, and Beckett didn't do defeat.
What was going on?
"Hey," he said, faking a light tone of voice as he came closer. Beckett's head came up, her eyes blinking slowly at him.
"Cassstle," she said, and oh yeah, there was a definite slurring of the word. "You came."
He pursed his lips and worked his jaw briefly before replying with careful control, "Yeah, I did. I heard that you were asking for the doctor."
She nodded jerkily, blinking. "Dr. Burke. I have to get to him, Castle."
Castle took another breath. This was clearly going to be one of those conversations that required patience. "I don't know who that is, Beckett. I don't know a Dr. Burke."
"He knows you," she said, humor flashing briefly, but then she turned morose again. "All abou' you. But iss not enough." Her words ran together, her normally sharp consonants gone liquid.
"Beckett." He lifted a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Drink your water and tell me who Dr. Burke is."
"Don' order me around," she complained. But she obeyed nevertheless, taking a deep pull from the glass. Then, setting it back down with a firm clink, she said, "Dr. Burke is my therapist. I have an appoi'ment at seven."
"Seven," he repeated blankly. Therapist? She had a therapist?
"He stays late for me once a week. He usually leaves at sis-thirry." Her eyes were on him, wide and red-rimmed. "I'm too drunk to drive, Castle."
He let out a shaky laugh. "Yeah," he breathed, still trying to absorb it. "You sure are."
"Everything okay, Mr. Castle?" They both turned at the sound of Brian's voice as the younger man came over to them, behind the bar.
"Fine," Castle assured him. "Thanks for calling me, Brian."
"No problem." Brian nodded to both of them and moved away again.
"So..." Castle checked his watch. "Your appointment's at seven? Where is this Dr. Burke's office? It's a quarter to."
"Oh no." Beckett stood up, too quickly, and reeled on her feet. One hand grabbed for the edge of the bar, the other landing on Castle's bicep. His arm came up instinctively, his hand wrapping around her hip, steadying her. "We have to go," she said with urgency in her tone. "I need - I need to-"
"Okay, calm down," Castle soothed. "It's okay. Tell me the address. Where's your car?"
Beckett stared up at him. Her eyes were hazy, blinking rapidly.
Castle took a deep breath. "Never mind. Come on."
With one hand on the small of her back, he guided Beckett toward the exit, his other hand fishing his phone out of his pocket. He quickly pulled up his search browser and typed Burke therapist Manhattan.
"Give me your keys, Beckett, come on," he coaxed as they attained the sidewalk. "Carter Burke? Is that him?"
"That's him!" Beckett paused with one hand in her purse, twisting her neck to look at Castle's screen. "That's it! West 73rd Street, yeah, that's it."
"Great. Keys," he urged. She managed to produce them, and he looked around as he pressed the unlock button on the key fob. He spotted the car when its lights flashed, and nudged Beckett back into motion, heading toward it.
The whole thing felt so unfamiliar, so wrong. Castle was in the driver's seat, literally and figuratively. Beckett buckled her seatbelt without help, and sat staring out the window as the streets slipped by. He focused on navigating, letting it distract his mind as best he could.
The address was an unassuming brownstone on a tree-lined street, rows of similar buildings stretching away on both sides. Miraculously, there was a parking space just a few buildings down. Castle parked the car and quickly jumped out to join Beckett, who had climbed out as soon as it came to a stop. She was standing on the sidewalk now, wobbling slightly. He caught at her elbow for support as she swayed on her feet.
"I'm really not sure this is such a good idea," Castle sighed. Ignoring his words, she stepped forward, weaving slightly, staggering determinedly across the sidewalk and putting her foot on the first stair. "Beckett, you should probably just come back another-"
"Can't break an appoi'ment," she said, her words still slurred. She began to climb the stairs and Castle, grimacing, followed behind, braced to catch her again if she lost her balance. His writer's imagination showed him a dramatic simulation of what it would look like if she fell backward onto him and they both went crashing down the stairs together. He flinched, almost feeling the pain of the sidewalk bashing against his unprotected skull. Or maybe that was just the truth, doing what it did best.
But, as it turned out, they made it to the top of the stairs without incident. Inside, they stepped into a small foyer, and then - Beckett clearly knowing the way very well and Castle following along - they proceeded into an even smaller anteroom. This held a few plain chairs and what looked like a receptionist's desk, currently empty, the computer shut down, chair pushed in. It was all very orderly. Beyond the desk was another door, closed.
Beckett walked - swayed, really - over to the desk, and spoke as if there were a receptionist sitting behind it. "Good evening," she said with exaggerated formality. "Detective Kate Beckett, here to see Dr. Burke."
"Beckett..." Castle began, rubbing his temple with his fingertips. But she leaned over the desk, nearly losing her balance - she planted one hand on the desktop to anchor herself - and pressed the intercom button on the telephone.
"Detective Beckett is here to see you, Doctor," she said. Releasing the button, she giggled softly. "Always wanted to try that."
Castle shook his head slowly. What the hell had he gotten himself into? He must be out of his mind. Maybe he was the one who needed a therapist. He winced, as that thought hit a little too close to home.
The inner door opened, revealing a tall older man in an understated sweater-vest and trousers. "Kate?" he said, his eyebrows lifting as he took in the way Beckett was leaning on the desk, and the presence of Castle behind her.
"Dr. Burke," Beckett said, straightening up, swaying on her feet again. Castle's hand came out automatically to steady her once again. "I'm here for my appoi'ment," she said. "I'm a li'l drunk."
"I see," the therapist said, studying her with a slight frown for a moment before moving his gaze to Castle. "And this must be Mr. Castle."
"He knows all about you," Beckett said over her shoulder, in what she probably intended as a whisper. Castle's gut clenched again at the thought of Beckett telling her therapist about him. He didn't know how to feel about it, what to think.
"Um, nice to meet you," he managed, holding out a hand. "I just, uh, she asked me to bring her. For the appointment."
Burke's assessing gaze seemed to take everything in as he shook Castle's hand. "Very kind of you," he commented neutrally.
"I suggested that she reschedule," Castle added, grimacing, "but, uh, you may have noticed that she can be a bit stubborn."
A hint of a smile graced the other man's face. "You have a way with words, indeed, Mr. Castle." He shifted his attention back to Beckett. "Are you sure you're up for this, Kate?" he asked gently. "I have some time tomorrow. Maybe if you get-"
"No," she interrupted. "It has to be tonight. Please."
"Very well." Burke glanced at Castle again. "Mr. Castle, you don't have to stay. I can call a cab for Detective Beckett after our session."
"Noooo," Beckett whined again. She lifted a hand as if to grab Castle's arm, but stopped herself, her hand wavering in midair. "No, Castle, don't go. Come in with me."
"Wh-what?" he stuttered, blinking.
"Can he? Please?" she asked, looking at Dr. Burke again. The therapist hesitated, frowning slightly.
"Beckett, look, it's okay," Castle cut in. He took her outstretched hand in his, awkwardly, giving it a squeeze. "I'll wait out here and take you home afterward. I won't go anywhere. I'll be right here."
She wavered, her glassy eyes roaming his face. "Promise?"
He managed a semblance of a smile. "Promise."
"Okay..." Beckett squeezed his hand back, then let it go and followed Burke into the inner room.
Castle sat down on one of the waiting-room chairs, sighing as he pulled out his phone and opened the texting app, pulling up his mother's contact. His thumb hovered over the tiny keyboard for a long moment, and then with a grunt he closed the app and put the phone down.
He leaned back, his head thumping against the wall in a pale imitation of the impact he had imagined a few minutes ago, and closed his eyes. God, it had been such a long day, and showed no sign of ending. He was so tired.
But his brain wouldn't shut off. It kept circling back around to this: the therapist's office. Beckett's therapist. He'd had no idea that she was seeing one. He knew she'd had to be cleared to return to work all those months ago; could she have been coming back regularly this whole time?
She'd talked about needing her walls to come down, before she could be in a relationship. He'd thought, at the time, that she meant a relationship with him. He'd carried that thought around with him for all this time, letting it warm him in those cold moments when his faith wavered.
But then earlier today, when he'd heard her harsh words to Bobby Lopez in the interrogation room, all of those hopes had frozen, solid and still. The realization that she had been lying to him all this time - that she did remember everything, including his declaration of love - had turned the blood to ice in his veins. Castle had fled in a daze, turned upside down.
He'd been so sure, at first, of what it meant: that he'd been wrong about that conversation on the swings, wrong about Beckett, about their entire relationship, everything. She didn't want him. She wasn't trying to break down her walls for him. She was just... stringing him along, too polite or kind or cowardly to tell him the truth.
Or so he had thought, throughout all of these anguished hours since he heard her confess. But now... he suddenly wasn't sure, at all. He wasn't sure of anything any more.
He hadn't been sitting there long, eyes closed, pondering, when he heard the door open. His eyes popped open in surprise. They couldn't be done already, could they? He'd expected it to take longer.
Beckett came rushing out of the therapist's office, a wild look in her eyes. "Castle," she gasped. She nearly stumbled in her haste to get to him, collapsing ungracefully on the couch beside him. "Castle, were you there?"
"Kate," Dr. Burke said from the doorway. "Come back inside. Let's finish that thought."
She ignored him, her eyes glued to Castle's face. "Were you there?" she repeated. "In the observation room? When I was questioning Bobby?"
Her eyes were still bloodshot, but seemed clearer; her speech was less slurred than it had been. The aroma of coffee tickled Castle's nose and he realized that Dr. Burke must have brewed a pot in his inner office. The man knew Beckett pretty well, apparently.
Castle took a slow breath, and nodded. "Yeah," he admitted. "I was there."
Beckett bit her lip, her eyes sad. "I'm sorry," she breathed in a near-whisper. "I'm so sorry, Castle. I never meant to hurt you. You must think I'm terrible."
"No..." Conscious of the therapist's presence, Castle found himself spurred to be more direct than usual. "To be honest, I've thought a lot of things in the past few hours. I've come up with a lot of reasons that might explain why you lied, but... I'm just not sure what to believe." He sighed again, shaking his head as the words left his mouth. It was just the truth, but speaking it felt like a betrayal.
"I was scared," Beckett confessed, lowering her chin toward her chest, her eyes sliding away from his. "I wanted to - I wanted to be good enough, but I just wasn't."
"Good enough for what?" Castle asked. When Beckett didn't immediately answer, he frowned, looking up at the therapist, who was still standing in the doorway. But the man was inscrutable, his expression neutral, even when Castle raised his eyebrows in silent question.
"I've been trying so hard," Beckett said, huffing in sudden frustration. "I'm so tired of waiting, Castle." Her head came up with a jerk, and she shot a glance back at Dr. Burke, almost apologetic. "I mean, healing." She turned back to Castle with a hint of an eyeroll. "That's what he always says: I'm not waiting, I'm healing. But I'm just so tired of it. I just want to be good enough."
"Beckett, good enough for what?" Castle asked again. Damn it, half-drunk Beckett was every bit as confusing as the sober version.
"For you," she said simply, as if it were obvious. As if it were the most natural thing in the world; as if she weren't entirely turning him upside down with two little words.
"Kate..." he breathed, blinking, unable to pull his gaze from her face. She sucked in a quick breath at the sound of her name on his lips, and he saw her eyes drop to his mouth. His pulse sped up, pounding in his ears.
"I told you I have walls," she said in a near-whisper. "And I want so badly to let you inside them, Castle. But it's just... it's just so hard. I've been working on it so much, here with Dr. Burke. But then today you were so cold, and I just thought... maybe... maybe I was taking too long. Maybe you gave up on me."
"No," he gasped, his body canting toward her in an almost instinctive reaction. "God, no, Kate. I haven't. I could never," he added, feeling the painful truth of the words as they left his mouth. "Never."
Beckett's eyes came back up to meet his again, wide with wonder and slowly blooming hope. "So you... you still love me?" Her words were so quiet they were almost no more than a breath, a movement of her lips.
Castle nodded slowly, lifting a hand to her cheek - but as his fingertips brushed her skin he suddenly remembered the therapist and dropped his hand again, abruptly self-conscious. "Yes," was all he could manage to say.
Beckett let out a long, slow breath, almost as if she had been holding it. Her eyes were shiny with unshed tears, but a smile spread across her face; his heart twisted anew, but this time it wasn't so painful. This time he had hope.
Dr. Burke cleared his throat quietly, startling them both; their heads came around in unison to look at him. "I think you should take Detective Beckett home," he said in his gentle, soothing tones. "It has clearly been a very emotional day."
"You can say that again," Castle agreed with a self-conscious chuckle. He pushed himself to his feet and held out a hand to Beckett. A thrill went through his body when she slipped her hand willingly into his, and he tugged her up to stand beside him.
"I'll see you again next week, Kate," the therapist said, coming forward to catch her eye, "unless you feel a need to come in sooner. You can call in the morning if necessary."
"Thank you," Beckett said with feeling. Dr. Burke simply smiled and nodded.
"Good night," Castle echoed, and ushered Beckett out the door.
Outside, on the sidewalk, Beckett stepped around the rear of the car as if she were going to get into the driver's seat; Castle stopped her with a hand on her shoulder, his other hand digging into his pocket for the keys.
"What are you doing, Beckett? I'm driving."
"I'm fine," she said, frowning slightly, looking bemused. "I had some coffee."
"Nope. Your blood alcohol level is probably still above the limit."
"Castle," she snapped, some of her usual bite returning to her tone, lifting his spirits even further. "Give me the keys."
"No," he said firmly. "I'm driving you home."
Beckett took in a breath as if to yell at him, but then she paused, her face clearing. "You really still-" She cut herself off, surging forward, her hands framing his face, pulling his head down to her. Their lips met, sudden and unexpected, and heat flashed throughout Castle's body in a rush, making him feel light-headed.
He held her against him, his entire being reveling in how perfect she felt in his arms, how right. Her mouth was greedy on his, her tongue demanding entrance, her hands pushing into his hair, and he heard her moan softly as she drank him in. He could taste the coffee on her tongue and, underneath it, a hint of tequila.
Common sense reasserted itself at that, and he pulled away with an effort. Beckett whined softly as he gentled and then ended the kiss; her lips chased his, hungry, but he slid his hands up to her elbows and held her off.
"Definitely too drunk to drive," he said on a low chuckle, his voice raspy. Beckett stared at him, her eyes hazy with desire and drink, beginning to edge over toward indignation. Before she had a chance to decide whether to be angry or amused, he pressed the button to unlock the car and leaned over to open the passenger-side door.
She huffed and glared at him, but climbed in without a word. Castle closed the door gently and took a moment to gulp in mouthfuls of the cool night air, trying to get himself back under control. His head was still spinning.
He got into the car and started the engine, glancing sideways at Beckett, who had buckled her seatbelt and was leaning her forehead against the window, her eyes half-closed.
"I'm not that drunk," she murmured, sounding tired, but her consonants were sharper than they had been before.
"Okay," was all he said as he pulled the car out into traffic.
By the time he got to Beckett's block, she had fallen asleep, slumped against the door. Castle had to circle a couple of times before he found a parking space around the corner from her building. He parked the car and sat for a moment, gazing at Beckett's face in the dim light from the streetlamps.
God, she was gorgeous. His chest felt tight with how much he loved her, with all the furious hope the evening's conversation had brought him.
He pulled out his phone and called his car service, gave them Beckett's address and asked them to send a town car. Then he leaned over and shook her shoulder gently.
"Beckett. Hey, Kate, wake up."
She groaned and opened her eyes, blinking blearily at him. "Castle?"
"You're home. Time to get out of the car."
He watched until he was sure that she was awake and unbuckling her seatbelt, then he undid his own and got out. A moment later she joined him on the sidewalk. He locked the car and gave her the keys.
"Thanks," she murmured, and they walked side by side toward the intersection in comfortable silence.
"You should drink some water and get some sleep," Castle said as they approached the entrance to her building. "You're going to have quite the hangover."
Beckett stopped walking and looked up at him, her eyes serious, a slight frown furrowing her brow. "Castle, I know I was pretty drunk, but I'm not going to... to regret anything I said tonight. You know that, right?"
He met her eyes, and saw the certainty there, and he nodded. His throat was dry again. "Yeah," he managed. "I do know that."
"And I'm not going to forget any of this either," she added. Her eyes were fixed on his face, unwavering. "I'll remember it, all of it. I'll remember you saying that you still loved me. I could never forget that." The crease in her forehead deepened. "Will you remember me saying that I loved you?"
"N-" Joy surged up in his chest and he had to pause and clear his throat before he could speak. "No," he said at last. "Because you didn't say that."
"Oh." She looked surprised. "Well, I do. I love you, Rick."
He felt the smile curling his lips and suffusing his whole face. He couldn't help it, couldn't have held it back even if he had wanted to. "I love you too, Kate."
He leaned in and brushed a soft kiss to her lips, holding himself back from anything more, because he really did want to do this right.
"Until tomorrow," he whispered.
She smiled up at him, her eyes clear now, her expression calm. "Until tomorrow," she echoed.
There are some days, Castle thought as he climbed into the town car a few minutes later and leaned his head back against the seat, when the phrase it was a long day isn't anywhere close to adequate. Some days, even for a wordsmith like him, defy description. Some days, all you can do is feel.
He smiled into the darkness. It had been a long day.
Thanks for reading! And thanks as always to The-KLF for beta reading and title brainstorming :)
TFLN prompt: "He drove me to my therapist appointment because I was too drunk to drive. Total keeper."