A/N 1: Wow! I am overwhelmed at the response to this fic! And for a 551-word prologue! I truly appreciate your kind words and support. I just hope the rest of the story lives up to your expectations. And away we go, I hope you enjoy!
About 10 minutes earlier in NYC
"Hey, Lanie. Glad you could make it."
Lanie held up a bottle of wine.
"Hey girlfriend," the medical examiner replied as she walked into the apartment. "I've heard nothing but good things about this vintage, so grab the corkscrew."
Kate grinned. "Yes Ma'am."
She was quiet rummaging around the drawer and was still pensive as she opened the bottle.
"All right, Kate – spill. Who are we talking about that's got you so inside your head? Or do I really need to ask?"
Kate held her lip between her teeth; staying silent a moment longer while she took glasses out of the cupboard.
"Mhmmm," Lanie interrupted. "Thought so."
Kate began pouring the wine.
"I'm telling you. Something happened. Something changed. It's been weird between us lately."
"Lately?" Lanie paused, pulling out her phone and checking something. "Kate, it's been weird for 4 years."
Kate handed Lanie the glass and poured her own.
"No, this is different. He's different. It's like he's pulling away."
"Well, can you blame him? He's probably tired of waiting."
Lanie took a sip of wine, placing a cocktail napkin on the counter, accidentally covering her phone, though she didn't seem to notice.
"Waiting?" Kate asked. "Waiting for what?"
The innocent look Kate gave her friend didn't fool Lanie.
"What do you think? The guy is crazy about you. And despite your little act, you're crazy about him."
Kate gave her best 'Beckett' glare.
"Oh, what? Was that supposed to be some big secret?"
'Beckett' fell away, and Kate was back – still trying to be her badass persona and failing miserably.
It was Lanie's turn to glare and Kate wilted.
"No." She sat at the bar and asked quietly, "Do you think he knows?"
Lanie smirked. An expression Kate wasn't sure what to make of.
"Do you remember how he used to be?" Lanie went on. "Girl on either arm? You really don't see that guy too much anymore. Why do you think that is?"
Kate was listening but didn't respond.
"He's waiting for you."
Kate sat with her mouth open. She knew Lanie was right, but…
"Yeah, but Lanie –" she began.
"I know", Lanie interrupted. "You're dealing with stuff. But you cannot ask him to wait forever… Unless, of course, you're okay with him pulling away."
"Of course not!" Kate exclaimed. But I don't know how…"
Lanie rolled her eyes.
"You could try talking to the man, you know."
"Kate." She leaned back and raised her hands. "I tell you I'mma smack the both of you."
Beckett smirked and took a sip of wine.
"And then I'll handcuff you and Castle together again and lock you in a room until you do talk... or start something else"
"Oh, jeez, don't tell Javi that! He'll get all sorts of ridiculous ideas."
"Where do you think I'm gonna get the cuffs?"
The two friends glared good-naturedly at each other for a moment until Kate's phone rang.
Lanie found her phone under the napkin as Kate wrote down the case information from dispatch. She smirked. It had worked.
The screen read:
RICHARD CASTLE 5:47
He'd heard the whole conversation. The ball was in his court.
Now Castle was pacing. There was no way he could sleep now, and he was stone cold sober – that call woke him like a thermos of coffee chugged like a pitcher of beer in college.
They had been talking about him. Lanie wanted to handcuff Kate to him again so they'd talk? That was a laugh, he and Kate never talked about anything important. Unlike Kate and Lanie, apparently – though Alexis had taught him that girlfriends were different. He knew his daughter had told her friends certain things instead of him.
Did he believe her? He wasn't sure. Kate had seemed sincere. She'd seemed genuinely confused about his behavior. And whether the call was really a butt dial, or Lanie being sneaky, Kate sounded real.
But with no visual – not seeing her face – Castle couldn't be positive she was being honest. Lanie could see through the bullshit, right? It seemed like it, the way the conversation had gone.
But Kate was good. Rick had thought they'd developed a real friendship after she returned from her dad's cabin, but maybe not. She'd pretended for months that she didn't remember her shooting – maybe the friendship was pretend too.
Either way he needed to see it for himself. He needed to confront her and find out once and for all how she felt. And he needed to be blunt. No subtext this time. No speaking 'between the lines' this time.
He grabbed his bag and was on his way down to check out, phone at his ear connecting to the airline he'd flown in on, before he could overthink things.
"Yes, I know I just flew in this morning... No, it's not an emergency – well it might be to me, but not for anyone else, I suppose – never mind... No, I need a flight to New York City, preferably sometime today... (Oh, for God's sake!) Nothing is available today or tonight? ...Even tomorrow morning? ...What about standby, or a redeye? ...Fine. As soon as possible, please... Yes, you have my phone number with the rest of my information... Thank you."
The biggest problem with a cell phone is that there's no way to satisfyingly slam it down in anger. At most you get a wimpy little beep.
Of course, Castle wasn't really angry, was he? He couldn't decide. On the one hand, no. Kate had seemed extra vulnerable since she came back to work – well, as vulnerable as a completely badass detective could be.
A completely badass detective who in many ways was still recovering from a gunshot wound, he reminded himself. So how could he be angry about that?
But on the other hand, yes. Yes, he was pissed. And he still felt he had every right to be. Their friendship could have remained strong even if they never made it to more. If she had only admitted she didn't want more.
But she lied instead, which was why he was in Vegas in the first place.
When was the first lie? He wondered. Was it on the swings? It could have been, he supposed. He'd been working her case with Ryan and Esposito, and she knew that he'd have the information they had smuggled out of the precinct. Hell, that was probably the whole reason she came to the signing, to find out what he knew.
Or was it the first time she said she didn't remember? That could have been the truth, he supposed. The mind was a tricky thing. He recalled Dr. Holloway saying something similar to that during the amnesia case. And trauma can certainly affect the mind, even without a brain injury.
The second time she told him she didn't remember definitely was a lie. And come to think of it, she did look a little furtive as she said it. And then the interrogation after the bombing.
"I was shot in the chest and I remember every second of it!" came unbidden to his mind. He'd confront Beckett with that statement. The interview was recorded, he'd find it and prove it if she tried to deny it.
"You can lie like that?"
Another unwelcome memory. Especially since that could prove him wrong. But he doubted it. Telling someone to 'stay in town' when they didn't know you didn't actually have that authority was one thing. Telling something personal like being shot was much more.
Or was it? Think about it, Castle, Beckett's been known to fudge the truth with a suspect, especially one that hasn't lawyered up. That nanny case wasn't the last time it had happened, and he was positive it hadn't been the first time either.
However, and it was a big however, that was usually a minor procedural thing, for someone naïve about how person of interest procedure worked. And with a real suspect, (even though Castle felt Bobby fit the person of interest more than a real suspect, placing the backpack or not) Beckett would stay closer to what information they did have.
Which meant she was telling the truth to Bobby, which meant she had indeed lied to him. He almost needed that to be true, because if she'd fudged the truth to Bobby, then there was a good chance he'd been an asshole for no reason.
Castle ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. Damn it Lanie! Couldn't you have butt dialed someone else? He glanced around and noticed people looking at him furtively. One child was openly staring at him. He'd been so lost in his thoughts he'd nearly forgotten he was sitting in an uncomfortable chair in the airport. He hoped he hadn't expressed his frustration out loud.
He hadn't wanted to charter a plane, perhaps subconsciously putting off the confrontation with Ka — Beckett. He was still too hurt for first names.
But maybe that's what he should do, charter a plane. Get back to New York quickly because putting this thing off wasn't helping. Both he and Beckett had put off, procrastinated and spoken in subtext for too long. It was time to turn on the lights and watch the cockroaches scatter.
A disgusting analogy maybe, but it fit his mood.
"Rick?" a voice called.
Castle glanced around at the sound of his name. He doubted it was a fan, they usually squealed 'OMG Richard Castle!' not the shortened version. Whoever was calling might not have meant him anyway – it wasn't as if Richard/Rick was uncommon.
Then he saw the woman striding toward him, dragging a small roller carryon behind her.
"Jacinda!" he exclaimed. "I thought you were staying for a few days."
The flight attendant laughed.
"Same here, Rick."
"Something came up at home and I need to go back. You?"
"Another FA got food poisoning at one of the buffets, so I got called in."
"Ooh, I hope they feel better soon," Rick said. "And that it's not too serious."
"Oh yeah, a couple of days and she'll be fine."
Rick thought of something. Maybe Jacinda could help him make sense of what was going on with Kate.
"This may be a little tacky, but could I pick your brain about something?" he asked.
Jacinda looked at her watch.
"Sure, I can spare a few minutes. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"
Rick hesitated. Coffee was his and Kate's thing.
'But…' he mused, was there a 'thing' with Kate anymore? Was he going to swear off coffee permanently?
"Sure," he replied. "Though maybe I'll hit you up for some cocoa instead. I need to try to sleep on the plane," he paused. "If I can catch a flight."
Jacinda smiled. "I'm sure something will come up. Let's go."
"So, where are you headed this time, Jacinda?"
He set a ceramic cup of cocoa in front of the woman and sat with his own cup across the table.
"Thanks, Rick," she said. "It's a short jaunt, just over to LA. So unfortunately I won't be able to help you with your flight home."
Rick shrugged. "It is what it is. I've been on the phone with a couple of airlines, they'll call me with any news."
The two made small talk for a few more minutes then Jacinda looked at him shrewdly.
"So, what did you really want to talk to me about, Rick? What's tacky? Who is she?"
Rick had the good grace to blush.
"This is why you didn't take me up on my offer after we landed. There's somebody, isn't there?"
Castle sighed and began to talk. He didn't exactly pour his heart out to Jacinda, but he did explain some of his relationship with Kate. He might have said more, but the flight attendant's phone let out a loud beep.
"Oh, I'm sorry Rick," she said with some regret. It seemed Rick really did need to get this off his chest, and she was a willing listener, even if it meant she never had a chance with the handsome writer. "I have to leave," she pulled a small notebook from her purse, wrote her number in it and ripped the page out. "Please, give me a call when you get back to New York. We can continue the conversation if you like."
"Thank you, Jacinda," he answered. "I may take you up on that, you're a good listener. And hey, thanks for the information you gave me on the inner workings in the airline industry on our flight. I'll find someplace to put it in a novel."
Jacinda grinned. "I expect credit Mr. Castle."
Rick watched as she left the café, texting something on her phone. He glanced at his own phone for the umpteenth time in the last fifteen minutes, hoping it would ring with news from someone at McCarran and when it didn't, he recalled his thoughts about a chartered flight. He opened a web search on the phone – he didn't want to take the time to dig his laptop out of his carryon – and began clicking.
He was perusing the airport's web page when the phone finally rang. It startled him so much he nearly dropped it.
"Yes?" he answered, a little rattled.
"This is Rachel, liaison with McCarran airport. We spoke before at the desk?"
"Yes, Rachel," Rick dropped back into his seat. "Has something opened up?"
"Sort of. There is one seat left on a Marcos Airlines flight."
"I don't believe I've heard of Marcos..."
"That's not surprising Mr. Castle," The customer service rep replied with a smile in her voice. "It's not really a charter service, but it almost might as well be, it's such a small airline."
"How soon does it leave?"
"Departure is in an hour and a half, Mr. Castle, so you'll have time to check any luggage you may have. Are you interested?"
"I was just weighing my options for chartering a flight. This is perfect. My credit card and I will meet you at the desk. Thank you, Rachel."
"Well, did you call him?"
Kate rolled her eyes at Lanie's enthusiasm as she knelt next to the body and wondered not for the first time if the ME was up to something.
"Of course I called him, Lanie. I always call him for a case."
"What's got you all snarky and mean?"
Kate gave her friend 'The Look' and Lanie raised her hands in supplication.
"Okay, okay. Stupid question. Did he say he was on his way?"
"No, it went straight to voicemail."
Kate's dejected tone broke Lanie's heart. The answer also surprised her a little. Maybe he hadn't heard the call.
No, that didn't make sense, he'd picked up and stayed on the line. Her phone would have said no answer if he hadn't.
So where the hell was he?
"Well, I refuse to worry about it. Apparently, he's made his decision to pull away and I can't stop him."
Lanie could see the steel form in Kate's eyes.
"And I'm not sure I would even if I could. He's always said he's a wiseass, not a jackass, but he's certainly being a jackass now. Let him do what he wants, I don't care. What have we got?"
Lanie wanted to disagree, Kate was 'not caring' a little too much, but this was neither the time nor the place for that discussion.
"Our victim's Naomi Allen, age 25. Her green card indicates she's a British national. Ryan's notifying the consulate."
"Her address is in SoHo," Kate mentioned, studying the card Esposito handed to her. "What was she doing all the way down here?"
"Don't know," he replied, "but she checked in 2 hours before she was killed."
Kate heard a shout from Ryan outside the motel room. She looked at Lanie as she stood and walked out to see what was going on.
What was going on was Castle's Ferrari tearing into the parking lot of the motel. He came to a screeching halt and exited the car, phone glued to his ear.
"Yes, thank you, Jacinda. I appreciated our talk today."
Jacinda? Kate thought, Who the hell is Jacinda?
Shut up, Beckett, you really don't have any cause to be jealous.
"Under different circumstances, sure."
What different circumstances?
"And who knows?" Castle looked straight at Kate. "It could change soon."
What? What does that mean? Why is he looking at me like that?
A pause while Jacinda answered that statement.
Castle looked at Kate again, his eyes full of anger, pain and longing.
Kate stared back, confused.
"Yes, I'll give it a chance. I'm good with words."
What did that emphasis mean? Kate knew, of course. She was always tongue tied around Rick when it counted. A case, she was fine. Personal? It was like she was trying to speak a language from another planet.
And maybe she was. She could talk about some personal things with Demming and Josh, but never with Castle. And she figured she knew why.
One foot out the door.
It seemed like it was the story of her life. From flannel dude in high school, to Rogan (boy, had she dodged a bullet with that one) in college, she shied away from 'real'. She was too young; it was time for fun. Then, the lesson she'd learned from Rogan was to wait for her 'one and done', but seeing her father's devastation after her mother's murder terrified her. Did she really want that kind of love if it could be taken away so brutally?
Then she met Will Sorenson on a case. The first man she trusted with herself and her secrets. No one knew about her love for Castle's books; not even her dad in his sober moments. Oh, no. She was on her way to becoming a badass cop. Nobody needed to know about her fangirling over murder mystery novels – and their author.
But she told Will, and still wasn't sure why. Maybe she'd needed to tell somebody, or maybe he'd gained her trust, or maybe she had just needed to explain why she wouldn't be meeting him for lunch the day she got her book signed. He teased her about it, but it was gentle. She'd told him how those books helped her after what happened to her mother, he wouldn't begrudge her an autograph from the author.
Will Sorenson definitely had the potential to be the 'one and done'.
Then he got the offer in Boston. A great opportunity for him, and a bit of a disappointment for her. Long distance could work, though it wasn't ideal. But she sucked it up in preparation to say goodbye for now.
Until he'd suggested moving with him.
It wasn't the offer itself that annoyed her per se, it was nice that he wanted to be with her. But it was the expectation that she would automatically drop everything she'd worked for. She was under no illusions she wouldn't get a job with the Boston police, but she'd told him… She'd told him about her mom. She'd told him the reason she became a cop. She wasn't going to get anywhere solving the murder if she was in Boston. Then he said she wasn't getting anywhere in the case anyway.
Things went downhill from there.
They both said things they didn't really mean, and Kate stormed out of his apartment. Will called her later to apologize. Kate accepted it, but they both agreed that it would be best to cut all ties.
When he returned for the Angela Candela kidnapping, Kate discovered he hadn't changed much. He was still arrogant – though he almost had a right to be – professionally, he was unquestionably good at his job, but he still expected her to drop everything and move with him. At least he hadn't mentioned her still getting nowhere on her mother's case. She would have kicked his ass and tossed him out of the precinct on said bruised ass.
Opening her heart had led to a whole lot of pain. Johanna Beckett's murder had built the wall, but Will Sorensen had fortified it. And now Kate wasn't sure she even knew how to let someone completely in anymore.
The 'one and done' seemed like a pipe dream, Real just wasn't worth it.
Then Castle came along and somehow got past the outer walls of her fortress and had been working hard on the inner wall. She had almost decided to help him when she was shot.
Then Kate had to steel herself against Rick's onslaught – especially after she remembered what he'd said to her as she was lying on the grass at the cemetery. She wasn't sure his love was real anyway. He was in love with Beckett. The badass. The cop. He'd seen glimpses of Kate, the woman, the romantic, the sci-fi fan, (though she was keeping her Nebula 9 geekiness under wraps. She didn't need him teasing her about that – and he would, she knew it.)
They had more in common than Kate was willing to admit, but she needed to keep Rick at arm's length. Real or not, the "I love you, Kate" was alarming at best. By itself it scared her, but combined with the memories of the shooting it was overwhelming.
She heard him repeat it in her dreams, which put her right back there in the graveyard in excruciating pain. Pain that she still had from time to time. Physical therapy was over, but phantom bursts continued to break through. She was still dealing with PTSD, though it was under control thanks to Doctor Burke. She still had some panic attacks that terrified her, but they were much less severe, and she'd learned how to pull herself out of them.
All this went through her mind in the 15 seconds it took Castle to walk from his Ferrari to her. He didn't look happy, but the anger was tempered with something else. There was a mixture of confusion and hope(?) in his expression.
He stopped about three feet in front of her and just stared.
"We need to talk."
A/N 2: What did you think of this one? I'd love to hear your thoughts. :)