Disclaimer: All things "Castle" belong to Andrew Marlowe and ABC & Co.
Author's Note: And now for another story… An AU version of "Knockout," in which Beckett didn't let Castle come back after he looked into her mom's case.
"For whatsoever from one place doth fall, Is with the tide unto another brought: For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought." - Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
For the rest of his life, Castle would be able to pinpoint the exact spot on the sidewalk where he was standing when he saw the news. And stood riveted, staring at his phone for a moment before he fumbled to pull up the entire news article.
Decorated NYPD Captain Killed in Ambush. That stark headline alert was accompanied by the lede, identifying the Captain as Roy Montgomery of the 12th Precinct.
Captain Montgomery was dead.
He skimmed the article telling the story of a shootout in an airplane hangar in New Jersey, resulting in the deaths of not just Montgomery but also of three others, including one who was identified as a murderer who had escaped the other day when a flash bomb had been set off in a courtroom where he had been for a hearing.
The sketchy details the police released in such instances were just the tip of the iceberg so he knew there was a much bigger story behind this but not one for public knowledge. His burning curiosity for the whole story about what had happened to Montgomery was drowned out in another more urgent concern, encapsulated in a single word that seemed seared onto his brain.
Oh god, Beckett would be devastated. He knew how much Montgomery had meant to Beckett, more than just her boss but also as a mentor, a friend, a man she respected and looked up to in a way Beckett reserved for few other people in her life.
He had no right but for once, he didn't think about that. All his doubts, his regrets, his fears, fell away, reduced to cinders because of this overwhelming concern, this need to make sure she was okay.
It didn't matter that he hadn't even seen Beckett in almost two years. It didn't even matter that as far as he knew, she might not have forgiven him for looking into her mom's case. He even forgot that as far as Beckett was concerned, he might well be the last person she would want to see.
He had walked away from her once because she had asked him to and after going against her wishes in such a disastrous way, he had resolved never to do so again. And even now, he knew that if she told him she didn't want to see him, he would leave. Again.
But at that moment, he needed to see her, needed to see how she was coping. Needed to offer his condolences, his support. Anything.
Right now, in the face of this loss, nothing mattered except this need to see how she was doing.
As Castle had long ago accepted, when it came to Kate Beckett, there was almost nothing he wouldn't do. If she asked, if she ever needed or wanted anything, it was never a question of 'if' or even 'how much' for him. For Kate Beckett, his answer was—and would always be—yes.
There were times he almost hated it, thought it was pathetic to be so hung up over a woman who had made it clear she wanted nothing to do with him, but he couldn't seem to help it. He had tried. God knows, he had tried. But even in just the space of those few months shadowing her at the precinct, she had somehow imprinted herself on his mind, his heart, his soul—and he could not erase her.
But it wasn't only about her; it was also about him, what he had learned because of her. He had wronged her, he knew that now. He understood that he had violated her trust and her privacy, pried into matters that he had no right to look into. And he had done so because he had decided that he knew what was best for her; he had decided that he could help her, save her, even when she hadn't asked to be helped or saved.
So when he acknowledged that he would do anything for Beckett, it was part of his atonement. After what he had done, prying into the most personal, devastating thing in her life, he owed her nothing less.
Castle had been on his way to Black Pawn for a meeting, another meeting in which Gina would try to pin him down about ideas for his next book, no doubt, but he sent a quick email cancelling it because an emergency had come up without a qualm. And hailed a cab to head to the Twelfth Precinct for the first time in almost two years.
If it had been under any circumstances, he would have found the atmosphere at the precinct after such a major loss to be a fascinating research opportunity. Under the circumstances, well, he could only ache over the loss.
Even the lobby of the precinct that was usually buzzing with cops chatting was subdued today, as people went about their business without any of the usual smiles and banter. The cops all had black mourning bands on their badges.
The desk officer recognized Castle and nodded in greeting. "Castle, it's been a long time."
Castle shook Paderewski's hand. "Good to see you. I heard about Montgomery."
Paderewski's expression became more solemn. "Yeah, it's a loss. He was one of the good ones."
Typical understated praise for a cop but knowing them as Castle did, it was also just about the highest accolade cops could give. "Yeah, he was." He gestured with his head to the elevator behind the barrier. "I thought I'd pay my respects."
Paderewski nodded, waving a hand. "Yeah, go on up." He hesitated for a moment and then added, "They're all pretty upset up there."
And Castle understood that by 'they,' Paderewski meant the homicide division generally and Beckett, Esposito, and Ryan more specifically. Homicide because it was, by its very nature and also because of Montgomery's experience in it, the division most closely associated with Montgomery and also because Beckett's team was the one most closely associated with Montgomery. Partly because they were the best homicide team but as everyone generally acknowledged, Beckett was Montgomery's favorite, 'the teacher's pet' as those who were not as much Beckett fans tended to put it, or the one Montgomery was trying to groom as his successor and heir apparent, for those who were more Beckett fans.
It wasn't a surprise but Castle's heart still twisted. Because if Beckett was upset enough that Paderewski could see it and speak of it, that spoke of a level of devastation Castle had never seen in her. Deeper than the hurt and betrayal he'd seen when he'd told her about looking into her mom's case—and that already was much more hurt than he ever, ever wanted to see on Beckett's face.
It was strange, walking into a place where he had once spent so much time (where he had been so happy) but had not set foot in for well over a year. Stranger still because of the subdued atmosphere.
Captain Montgomery's office was dark, he saw, with a black ribbon draped over the chair and over the desk, a seal placed on the closed door.
Karpowski was the first person who spotted him after he stepped off the elevator, surprise flashing over her face, as she returned from the file room, he guessed, from the folder she was carrying. "Hey, Castle."
"Hey. I stopped by to say sorry about Montgomery," he managed, not quite smoothly.
Karpowski nodded. "Yeah, I kinda guessed."
"How've you been?" he asked, even as his eyes roamed over the bullpen, looking for more familiar faces—oh, who was he kidding, he was looking for Beckett.
He didn't see her or Esposito or Ryan immediately, guessed they might be in one of the conference rooms or maybe the break room.
"Not bad except for the Captain," Karpowski answered.
He jerked his eyes back to her, hoping his distraction hadn't been that obvious, and then they were joined by LT, who paused when he noticed Castle and detoured towards him.
"Castle. Hey, it's good to see you, man."
Castle shook LT's hand, managing a small smile. "Hey, LT. How's it going? Sorry to hear about the Captain."
"I gotta get back to work. Nice seeing you, Castle," Karpowski inserted and he gave her a distracted wave before turning his attention back to LT.
LT's normally sober face appeared even graver than usual. "Yeah, it's tough."
Castle hesitated but then ventured, "What happened? How'd Montgomery end up out in that hangar?"
It was LT's turn to hesitate. "I'm not sure. I know it's something about that guy who escaped from the hearing and was also killed but how that ended up with Montgomery…" He paused and finally went on, "You'd probably better ask Beckett."
Castle barely heard the last sentence because as LT said those words, Castle sensed or more prosaically, saw out of the corner of his eye that Beckett had just emerged from one of the conference rooms with Esposito and Ryan in tow. And as he would have expected, everything in him, all his awareness, his senses, zeroed in on Beckett as everything else, including LT, seemed to fade away for a moment. All he knew was her.
Beckett. Right there, just yards away.
He had expected that reaction, seeing Beckett again for the first time in so long, but the actual impact of it was still stunning. Happiness, grief, guilt, hurt, loss, affection, relief, worry. And still, in spite of everything, physical attraction, that instant flash of want he couldn't seem to help and by now, was convinced he would always feel for her.
"And there she is, so check with her." Castle only peripherally heard LT's voice, managed to flick his eyes back at the cop.
"Yeah, thanks," he managed distractedly and was barely conscious of LT walking away.
Beckett noticed him, their eyes meeting across the bullpen and he almost imagined he heard an actual click as their gazes locked. Her eyes widened a little in shock and—the breath he had momentarily lost just at the sight of her left him again because he thought—was it possible?—that for a fleeting moment, she looked… happy?
No, that couldn't be it, he told himself. He had to be imagining things.
And in another second, her Beckett mask was firmly back in place, her expression once more resembling marble—smooth and cool and impenetrable.
The boys' gazes followed Beckett's and they were easier to read.
"Castle," Espo stated flatly.
"Castle," Ryan echoed almost at the same time, a faint smile flickering over his lips. But then Castle already knew that Ryan didn't hate him. Ryan was the only one of the three that he had seen since he'd left the precinct, at first by accident, when he and Alexis had been out for dinner and had run into Ryan and his then-girlfriend, now-fiancee Jenny. Since then, Ryan and he exchanged occasional texts and Ryan was probably his main source of information about Beckett, although Ryan was too loyal to Beckett to reveal much. Most recently, Ryan had called him up to ask for a favor to help him get a reservation at an exclusive restaurant to take Jenny out for dinner on Valentine's Day.
Castle finally managed to uproot his feet from where they seemed to have taken root, and moved forward to Beckett. Towards all three of them, he mentally corrected himself. He should not be so exclusively focused on Beckett. They were all affected by this loss. (Oh, who was he kidding? It was Beckett he cared about the most.)
She looked pale, he noticed, and tired, even drawn, as if she hadn't slept at all. An ordinary observer might not notice but Castle's eyes were made sharper by absence and concern and because he had, after all, spent almost six months working closely beside her. And he saw the subtle signs of grief, of devastation. Her eyelids looked a little swollen from tears, there were some faint lines around her mouth he wasn't used to seeing.
"The hell are you doing here, Castle?" Espo asked as he neared.
He inwardly winced. Okay, well, that showed how much Espo had forgiven him.
But to his surprise, Beckett was the one who spoke up, silencing Espo with little more than a look and a word. "Castle. It's been a long time."
Absurdly, the neutral greeting made him feel a little better. She wasn't still angry, at least she didn't sound it. "Hey, guys. I saw the news, about the Captain. I wanted to say sorry. He was… a good friend. He'll be missed." God, he sounded awkward. Where was all his vaunted skill with words when he needed it?
For just a moment, devastation flashed across Beckett's face. And was he imagining it or was there something like betrayal glittering in her eyes too? Of course, that could be his betrayal, he thought with a sinking heart.
"Thanks," was all Beckett said, her composure once more in place.
As if Beckett's acceptance of his condolence had been a signal, the boys reacted, Ryan reaching out and shaking Castle's hand, accepting Castle's brief grip on his shoulder. "Hey, good to see you, man," Ryan said, following it up with a flicker of an actual smile.
Espo didn't unbend enough to shake Castle's hand, only nodded. "It's been a while, Castle."
"Yeah, yeah, it has been," he said inanely and then couldn't help himself. "What happened? What was Montgomery doing there?" he blurted out.
He regretted it the next instant as the entire atmosphere changed, tension spiking. Beckett's stance shifted almost imperceptibly, seeming to curl in on herself, except no, that wasn't it, it was more as if her body, her physical energy, just… tightened, as if she were bracing herself. She and the boys all exchanged swift glances and Castle noted it with his gut twisting. There was something else going on, something more than just Montgomery's death. This wasn't some run-of-the-mill case. Although he supposed he should have known that because a run-of-the-mill case wouldn't involve the Captain, let alone result in a massacre in an airplane hangar.
The boys were quite obviously leaving it up to Beckett to determine what and how much to tell him and she finally responded, "Let's talk in the conference room."
She dismissed the boys with a look and Castle felt a pang at how familiar it was, her bossiness, their obedience. It was a strange time to realize it and an even stranger thing to miss but he had missed it. Not Beckett's bossiness per se (well, maybe a little, because she was so hot in her bossiness) but her whole air of authority, her competence, and the boys' respect for it. It was one of the things he respected most about her because he knew how much it must have taken for Beckett to have earned the kind of respect she had. And maybe it wasn't that strange of a thing to miss after all because it was part and parcel of Beckett's strength and that was one of the things that had intrigued him about her from the beginning.
She returned to the conference room which she had just been in and he dutifully followed her inside. Almost like old times, he thought wistfully. God, he had missed her. And even though he hadn't thought it until now, it belatedly occurred to him that this could be his second chance. This tragedy pulling him back into her orbit might afford him a second chance to, well, stay in her life.
She took a seat at the head of the conference room table and he sat down on one side, not directly adjacent to her but two seats off. She didn't speak immediately and he finally ventured quietly, "I really am sorry about Montgomery. I know how important he was to you."
Again, that grief he'd seen before flickered across her expression. "Yeah," she agreed briefly. She paused and then let out a breath. "About what happened, it's… a really long, complicated story."
"I've got time," he hurriedly inserted. Having cancelled his morning meeting at Black Pawn without a blink, he had nothing else scheduled and even if he had, he would cancel anything and everything.
Something that might have almost been amusement softened her expression. Certainly some of the faint lines around her lips eased before she sobered. "Maybe but I don't want to get into it all now. It would be… too much. All I'll say now is… it was a trap Montgomery set to try to get those criminals. He went in with a plan and…" her voice momentarily shook, stark pain flashing across her face, before she finished, "that was his plan."
Castle forgot how to breathe, his breath stalling in his lungs, as the meaning of what Beckett said sank in. "He knew what was going to happen," he breathed. No, more than that. "He sacrificed himself." Oh god. But… "But Evelyn, his kids… Why?"
Beckett gave a small wince, paling even more than she already had been. And somehow, that reaction—a dramatic one considering Beckett's usual imperturbability—told him the truth.
He hid a wince of his own. "Never mind," he said hurriedly. "Montgomery must have had his reasons and I'd trust him." He wouldn't make her say it. Couldn't make her say what he knew had to be the case, even if he didn't understand why. Montgomery had sacrificed himself for Beckett. Castle could see it in her expression, recognized the flash of guilt for what it was. Somehow, for some reason, Montgomery had decided it was necessary to take such a drastic step and he had done so in order to save Beckett.
A silence fell. Beckett was clearly lost in her thoughts or trying to contain her emotions. For that matter, Castle needed to come to terms with his, or at least try to. The emotional upheaval of the day was dizzying, starting with the shock and grief at the news of Montgomery's death and then the riot of his emotions in seeing Beckett for the first time in more than a year.
But now, the initial shock of it over, his thoughts started churning again and he realized, remembered, now that he had seen Beckett again, there was something he needed to tell her. What he'd tried to tell her in a voicemail which he suspected, in his more optimistic moments, had gone unheard because he had never received a response (while in his more pessimistic moments, he thought she had listened but still not responded).
"I'm sorry," he blurted out.
"You already said that."
"No, I didn't mean, I was sorry about Montgomery, although I am. I meant, I'm sorry about what I did, back then." He inwardly winced. What was it with Beckett and her ability to turn him into such an idiot, stumbling over his words, when he was supposed to be a wordsmith? (Except he knew exactly why.) He didn't want to bring another painful subject up, not today of all days, but he had to and forged on. "Looking into your mom's case. Now that I have the chance, I wanted to tell you that I'm sorry so hear me out, please. It was wrong of me. I interfered in something I had no right to interfere in. I violated your privacy and betrayed your trust. I was rash and selfish and I did not consider your feelings. Whatever happens, just know that I'm very sorry." He stopped, running out of breath as he hadn't paused to breathe during his apology.
"Castle…" she almost sighed, quietly. "I forgave you a long time ago. I… should have told you, called you or something, but it had been so long and… I wasn't sure if you'd want to hear from me…"
"Why wouldn't I want to hear from you?" he blurted out, latching onto this one thing in the midst of his roiling emotions. She had forgiven him.
She blinked, a shifting ray of sunlight from the window slanting across her face, catching the green and gold sparks in her eyes, and he felt his heart twist, even as it bounded inside his chest. God, she had such gorgeous eyes. He had somehow almost forgotten just how incredible her eyes were.
She sat back, shifting out of the direct sun, shrugging a little. "I just… wasn't sure. You'd moved on, gone back to your normal life…"
He inwardly boggled. She thought he'd moved on? (Well, of course she would, a little voice in his mind reminded him. Why would she think otherwise? She didn't know just how little he'd been able to move on.) He felt a quick pang of regret that she hadn't called—or he should have tried to contact her sooner. But he'd given up when she stopped answering his calls or his texts, when she hadn't responded to his voicemail, had not shown up to the Heat Wave launch party. He had ignored her wishes once already and he wasn't about to compound his sin by forcing his company on her when she didn't want him around so he'd stayed away, stopped trying to contact her.
"I would still have wanted to hear from you," he assured her, trying to sound bland. "We were friends." They had been, before he'd screwed everything up.
An expression he couldn't read flashed across her face but then the set of her mouth eased, softened. "Yeah. And here you are, because of Montgomery."
He wasn't quite sure how to interpret that. She sounded matter of fact, as if she was stating what day of the week it was. But did she think it was a good thing? She had forgiven him, seemed as if she wouldn't have minded hearing from him earlier. She didn't hate him.
He knew it was way too soon and pushing was the last thing he would ever do but he couldn't help the little tendril of hope sprouting up inside his chest. Maybe, this could be a second chance of sorts. Maybe they could be friends again…
~To be continued…~