Title: Brittle

Rating: T

Summary: Beckett's life is turned upside down when her wayward partner turns up again. An AU story.

Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or the recognizable characters who appear in this story. Any other names, for characters or businesses, are fictional, uncompensated, or are in the public domain.

A/N: This story is a diversion from my normal fare, the result of a stray thought that just couldn't be reined in. *Please Note*: I'm not big on spoilers or trigger warnings, so I offer none here. But some bad things happen to good people in this story. These will be handled as in my other stories, so if you were okay with those you should be fine here.

While the temperature outside was cool, within the car it was frigid.

"So," the driver offered with an affected shrug after the weight of the stilted silence became too much to bear, "I guess we're not talking?"

Met only with silence, he focused on the road and his own rising irritation.

"It was a bad party, I get that," he ground out again a few blocks later. "But, you know, you could've actually tried to be social. Those were my colleagues and friends. I need you to get along with them."


The simple response seemed to stump him, especially from her. Usually, she'd let loose with a series of incisive questions, zeroing in on her topic with sometimes unnerving precision. The change in her approach, coupled with her icy demeanor, had him wondering what he missed. After thinking about an answer for another block, he offered a response.

"Because we'll see a lot of them. You know my job includes making appearances at parties and other events." He turned quickly to see if his words resonated, but saw only the profile of her face as she looked out the side window.

She'd been acting oddly lately, something he was admittedly slow to recognize. But, after picking up on enough of the clues, he figured out what was bothering her. He'd thought the topic would arise at the party, even had some side conversations about it while she was circulating. The problem, of course, was that he wasn't sure he was ready to consider such a serious turn in their relationship. But, he braved a partial step.

"And because there will be more of those events in the future."

At those last words, she finally turned her head and, after staring at him for several long moments, replied. "Oh? And why is that? Are you expecting a promotion? Or do you expect to have more time for socializing in the near future?"

Already uncomfortable, her questions irritated him. He was trying, dammit, which is more than she bothered to do at the party. She wanted him to spell things out for her? Fine.

"If… when… if… we get married, we'll have more time for these kinds of things."

"Why would we have more time on our hands after getting married?" she asked in a tone that carried more curiosity than derision. "We already have demanding jobs."

"Now," she answered with a shrug, "but not after we're married."

"Oh, you plan on quitting once we get married? I don't know if my salary would carry us both."

"Not my job," he snapped back, certain now that she wasn't taking his suggestion seriously. "My job would easily cover us."

"Oh, I see," she answered with a nod. "So, I'm going to walk away from my career, then? All my effort, all my accomplishments, all my goals – I'm going to leave those behind to settle down? Seems a bit of a waste."

"It's not like…," he started, before recognizing the trap. Instead, he switched gears. "It's not like I wouldn't be giving anything up. I'd have to… cut down on my trips." He hoped she hadn't noticed his hesitation, but he knew better. She didn't miss anything. He strongly suspected that a proper marriage would require eliminating his trips altogether, which is one of the reasons he'd never seriously considered it! He also suspected, for the first time, that he'd drawn the wrong conclusion. Maybe she hadn't been thinking about marriage. Maybe her recent demeanor was related to something else…

"But why cut down on your trips? If I've already given up my career, why shouldn't I walk away from my friends and family, too? I could tag along on your tours and sit there like a nice, docile wife. Unless there are social obligations there, too, in which case I'll need to work on being more social."

His patience finally broke at her tone of false naïveté. "Dammit, Kate, what's your problem? I'm trying to have a serious conversation here."

"A serious conversation?" she asked incredulously. "If this were a serious conversation it would be a discussion. Instead, you seem to have my life all planned out while everything about yours seems carefully conditional."

"So I'm not comfortable. It's not like we've talked about this and I might be a little nervous…"

"We haven't talked about it, but that doesn't mean you haven't discussed it with others, does it?" she asked, pinning him with a glance. "Or, should I say 'joked about it' with others?"

He wrinkled his brow at her question. Thinking back to his conversations during the party, he can't recall any jokes, just the usual banter… Oh. Oh, crap.

"'The best part…,'" she quoted in an unkind impersonation of his voice, "…'is that I wouldn't even have to worry about a mother-in-law!'"

"Kate, that was just…."

"I know exactly what it was," she interjected with a growl. "Just another example of complete disrespect. My mother's death is a joke to you. My career is a joke to you. Sounds like a wonderful foundation for a marriage."

"It was just party talk. You know MacDonald always fights with his mother-in-law. He rants about her every time he gets drunk and he always gets drunk. I was just playing to the audience."

"I don't pretend to know much about marriage, but I know a hell of a lot about good partnerships. Good partners back each other up. They look out for each other. They defend each other. They don't…," she paused for emphasis, "… 'play to the audience' at each other's expense."

"We're talking about a real relationship here, Kate, not about cops."

"I'm a cop! As much as that doesn't impress you, it's what I am. And I expect my relationships to be a lot like partnerships."

"Yeah," he replied snidely, weary of being defensive, "because that's worked out so well for you."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Will. Tom," he spat back. "They were cops, or close enough. How'd those partnerships work out for you?"

"You bastard," she replied with disgust at the below-the-belt shot. "But, fine, let's talk about them. They were bad partners. Doesn't mean a good relationship shouldn't be a partnership. Or include mutual respect. I've actually known people who admired my career and my…"

"Oh, here we go," he interrupted in exasperation. "Please tell me, yet again, how you could've been with the great Richard Castle. It's a wonderful story. I love hearing about how the guy who didn't even have the patience to finish his damn book would've been an attentive partner."

"He finished the book!" she replied defensively. "It just couldn't be published. And, since you're so interested, you'll be happy to know that I just heard from his editor, who told me it's in production now."

"So it just takes an extra two years to finish what he started?" he laughed. "Sounds like a great partner."

"He wasn't a good partner," she replied, trying to end this topic of conversation. "That's why I kicked his ass out."

"And went running to Demming, which worked out so well," he replied with a shake of his head. "Face it, Kate, you only dated me because I wasn't a cop and couldn't screw you the way Demming did. And you only dated Demming because he was a cop and couldn't screw you the way Castle did. You know," he pondered, "maybe the problem wasn't your partners. Maybe the problem was you."

"Maybe so," she replied after deciding the best way to absorb this attack was to accept and redirect it. "I clearly have bad taste. But, I learn quickly," she added as she reached for the door handle as the car came to a stop for a red light. "You said the best thing about your would-be mother-in-law is that she's gone? Well, so am I."

Having bailed out of the car only two blocks shy of her apartment, Detective Kate Beckett was back on the road within half-an-hour. She'd used the short walk home to clear her head, shed her stress, and make a plan. From there, it was simple: a quick change of clothes, three minutes to toss any evidence of her ex-boyfriend into a plastic CVS bag (as she determined that Dr. Josh Davidson didn't even warrant a cardboard box), and she was off on her motorcycle.

She reached Davidson's condo another twenty minutes later. She'd figured it was a fifty-fifty proposition as to whether he'd be home. Part of him would want to return home to seethe, to rant and rave about how unreasonable she was being, how a simple cop should be thrilled with the opportunity to leave her career behind. The other part, the one that apparently prevailed since there was no answer to her sharp knocks, would have him sitting at some yuppie bar, making eyes at coeds while bitching about women to a distracted bartender.

Beckett smirked to herself after entering his condo. The great key asymmetry had been another point of dissension in their relationship. As he was frequently out of town for medical trips, Davidson had given Beckett a key to his condo. "Just in case," he'd said. But Beckett had been reluctant to surrender a key to her own apartment. "I don't really travel," she'd replied when he asked. He'd recognized she was brushing him off, but had been unwilling to push further.

And yet, somehow, he thought they were ready for a conversation about marriage.

It took her even less time to remove any trace of herself from his condo. That should bother her, she thought as she ghosted through the rooms, but she had a hard time getting worked up about it. So, with a few items that were easily stowed in her pockets, she hung the CVS bag on the handle of his door, stepped into the hallway, relocked the entrance, and slid his key under the door. No mess, no note, and no more doctor.

Had she been more irresponsible, she would've ditched her helmet just to feel the wind through her hair as she drove away from his place for the last time. But she'd seen far too many casualties to be so blasé about personal safety, so she had to content herself with pushing the speed limit a bit. Hardly the rebel she used to be.

Breakups always made her introspective and this one was no different. She was musing on her fight with Josh as she wandered through the city, following traffic laws and lights by rote. Being lost in her own head wasn't a great idea while riding her Harley, but it was relatively quiet in the city tonight – plays had started but not yet let out, closing time was hours away, and it seemed to be one of those odd nights when people stayed in.

She was surprised, though she quickly realized she shouldn't have been, to look up only to find herself idling in front of a condo building on Broome Street. It'd been nearly two years since she was last inside and almost as long since she'd seen the author. Their parting had been sharp and painful – her fury at his decision to look into her mother's case was the end. She banished him from her precinct and hadn't heard from him since.

But he's always lingered in her mind. Working with him on cases had been an experience. Initially, it was an experience in (in)patience and forbearance. But when they caught their stride, there was nothing like it. Lanie had teased her mercilessly, but she couldn't deny there was something fundamentally stimulating about working with someone who could puzzle things out from a different perspective. Add in the flirting, innuendo, and good humor and 'stimulating' started to be an insufficient description.

The heady feeling of working so well with him had made the pain of his betrayal all the more acute. So, out he went. And then the book went nowhere. All that effort, all that pain, and nothing to show for it. Although the surprise call from Black Pawn last week made it sound like she'd finally get to read about the fictional exploits of Nikki Heat sometime soon. Oh, how she detested that name.

Thinking about Heat Wave finally gave Beckett the push she needed. Pulling around the corner, she parked her bike, doffed her helmet, and walked into the reception area of Castle's building.

She couldn't help the smile that blossomed upon seeing stalwart Eduardo still attending the security desk. And based on his genuine smile, he remembered her, too.

"Hello, Eduardo," Beckett offered with her first smile of the evening.

"Hello, Miss Detective Kate," he replied with a friendly look and a slight blush.

"It's good to see you. Is Rick still upstairs?"

"Oh, no," Eduard replied with genuine sadness. "Mister C left two years ago."

"Finally gave up on the city and moved to the Hamptons?" Beckett asked, unable to suppress her inquisitive mind or baseline desire to investigate.

"Virginia first, I think, then Chicago," Eduardo replied, though the hazy look of recollection suggested his memory might be in doubt.

"Oh," Beckett replied, surprised by this turn of events. Knowing Castle, there's probably a woman involved, she thought. Yes, should could easily see him blowing around the country, especially if his writing projects were stalled. Still, what of Alexis and Martha? Ah, but Eduard said "left," not "moved out."

"Is Martha around?"

"No," Eduardo repeated, still down. "She left us two years ago, too."

Stymied in her effort to collect information on people she'd ignored for two years, Beckett made pleasant conversation with the doorman before she walked out of the building and mounted her Harley while haunted to a troubling sense of unease.

Late the next morning, Beckett was back on her Harley and heading out of the city. It's another route that she knew by heart since her many, many previous trips to this location engrained the path into her mind. Unlike the previous night, though, she didn't want to let her mind wander. So, instead, she played a game they'd learned in the Academy. She imagined she'd be tested upon arrival, asked to account for as many of the details of her drive as possible: how many times did she stop? How many bodegas did she pass, and how many were open? Did she see a blue, four-door sedan while driving and if so, where was it licensed, was the license current, and in what direction was it heading? Mind games like this were supposed to enhance her memory for details, but she appreciated them for their distraction.

A distraction was welcome and necessary. She'd awoken that morning with a gasp as the obvious answer appeared to her sleeping mind – Eduardo's comment that "she left us" was a euphemistic reference to Martha's passing, not a simple reference to a relocation. It had taken only minutes to find the obituaries online. But something was wrong: while the summaries of her life covered the expected highlights, they were curiously lifeless and restrained. It was a sad juxtaposition from the personality of the woman they described. It made Beckett wonder if there was a scandal involved, if Castle's references to his mother's wilder antics were accurate and if they ended in a blaze of glory that the newspapers downplayed to protect the dignity of those involved.

For the first time in a long while, Beckett feels the sad weight of guilt on her shoulders. Martha died a few short months after Castle's departure from the precinct. And whether scandalous or not, Martha's passing would've devastated her son and granddaughter, neither of whom were mentioned in the obituaries beyond a vague reference to "family." It's no wonder Castle's publication efforts were put aside.

All too soon, Beckett had to release the failed distraction of her memory exercise and make the final turn into the cemetery. It disturbed her on a fundamental level that while she found herself back in this familiar graveyard, it was to visit someone else's mother.

It wasn't lost on her that their moms were buried in the same place, and she wondered again if it was intentional. She never knew Martha's story, where she came from or where her family lived (or died). She assumed that Martha's story was not without sadness, given Castle's references to the difficulties that marked his early childhood. Perhaps she was cast out for her pregnancy, or perhaps she was an orphan? The frustrating obituaries provided no insight.

Still, it wasn't possible to stop here with paying her respects to Joanna Beckett, so that's where Beckett started. The path to the marker was familiar. Before she knew it, Beckett was kneeling before the site, offering quiet words of remembrance and asking for strength in her next task.

It was a long walk to Martha's plot. On a low rise, the grave marker did not call attention. It was small and simple, almost anonymous in its ubiquity. In another few months or years, the stone will be weathered like all those around it, blending into a sea of nearly indistinguishable cairns that protect the privacy of grief. The only deviation from this theme are the small words carved into the marker beneath Martha's name and dates of birth and death: Beloved Mother and Grandmother, Broadway Star, True Heroine. The Heavenly Host is More Flamboyant with Your Addition.

The epitaph made her smile, even though it seemed wrong. It was cute, but terse. Limited. Clearly this was not planned in advance and Castle managed what he could while in the depths of sorrow.

Beckett had fond memories of the woman who so assertively welcomed her and helped her prepare for an undercover, high society event. With a smile at the recollection, Beckett knelt to offer a heartfelt if slightly tardy prayer for the matriarch.

Beckett arose feeling slightly lighter as she realized that her trip was a good idea. Martha had a full, wonderful life. Sure, it was beset with challenges, not the least of which must've been raising a young Richard Rodgers as a single mother. But she had a life for which she could be proud: a successful career and a loving family. Beckett found comfort in knowing that not every grave here was filled prematurely, even if her own mother's life was tragically curtailed.

As she stood to depart, Beckett's eyes drifted to the neighboring marker. Her body went rigid, she swayed, and then fell to her knees once again as her mind tried in vain to process the words on the headstone that was planted only two months before Martha's. Alexis Harper Castle. Our Love, Our Life, Our Light. Please Continue to Guide Those Who Are Lost Without You.

A/N: Greetings from San Francisco! We're on vacation for another few days. As long as everything goes as planned, I'll be able to post the next chapter on Friday.