Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I watch the show.
He'd never realized how light she is. She's tall and incredibly physically fit, so it never occurred to him how easy it would be to pick her up. He doesn't, really, though he'd like to, but he does help her to stand up. As her arms slide down his chest, he grabs her by the elbows and keeps his hands there until she's steady. They're still face-to-face, but not eye-to eye. Not just because of the height difference, since she's barefoot, but because she's looking sideways, away from him.
She lifts her right elbow, but leaves the left nestled in his palm. With the heel of her hand she rubs away her tears. And then she says something, but he can't make it out.
"I'm sorry, Beckett. I couldn't quite hear you."
"I said, 'Why did you do it?' "
Why did he do it? Holy mother of God. For a million reasons, probably, but he has no trouble identifying the two main ones. The first, while not noble, is one that he hopes she'll come to understand. If she can ever forgive him for violating her trust, which is a long shot. The second is mortifying, and it's tangled up with the first. Should he own up to it? Whatever he decides, and he'll have to decide right here, he can't keep her waiting, so he starts to talk.
"I thought I could help."
"I didn't want your help. I told you."
"I know. And I know that I should have left it alone, but I couldn't."
She appears to be studying the wall clock, but he'd bet she doesn't even know that it's there. She just doesn't want to look at him. Is she aware that he's still holding her elbow? He's doing his best not to caress it.
He releases a column of air, and inhales a new one, as if trying to prop up his argument, give it a solid base. "Because I couldn't bear that no one in the police department had given it the care that it deserved. Were they lazy? I haven't seen much of that in my limited time here, but that could be. Were they corrupt? I don't know that, either, although I've got my doubts about the M.E. on that case." He pauses to order his thoughts, hoping to be at least marginally cogent. "When I started writing books, I discovered just how much I loved mysteries. Loved putting them together and picking them apart, over and over, until they were just right, at least in my eyes. Your mother's death is a mystery that I want to solve. Help you solve."
"My mother's death is real, Castle." She's moved her head again and is addressing the top button of his shirt. "It's not fiction. It's not something you can fix with a rewrite or a plot twist. And the pain of it is real. The ramifications of it are real. The loss is real."
Her voice isn't angry, but surprisingly unemotional. This must be her coping mechanism, after all these years. She's taken the middle ground between fury and despair. That's what she probably occupies most of the time–until he stirred up everything and her self-administered analgesic stopped working. She'd gone from rage to anguish and collapsed on the floor in front of him.
"I know. I do. But I was also sure that I might have a way into the case that you didn't. I took a chance and asked Clark Murray. He can't, won't, let anything go, and I figured if anyone could find a lead, he could. And he did. What I told you about. The other related deaths."
"Why tell me now, Castle?" Emotion has resurfaced in her voice, rising like magma. "Why couldn't you have waited at least until we weren't working together any more? When you wouldn't be sitting next to me at my desk or in the car or standing with me at the murder board. When I might have had a chance to lick my wounds alone, without your being there every damn day." This time she does pull her other elbow away, and walks into the living room.
Should he follow her or leave? Was that a rhetorical question or did she want him to answer? She must. A few minutes ago at the door she said, "Stay. Stay and talk." Okay. He goes after her.
"Do you remember when you told me about your mother?"
"Of course I do." Her back is to him, and she has wrapped her arms tightly around herself, as if in to keep from breaking apart. "Right after we closed the Melanie Cavanaugh case. The woman who'd been murdered and frozen for five years."
"Right. I was so shocked when you told that your mom had been killed. You were so serious, of course, but at the end you said, with a little smile, 'So, I guess your Nikki Heat has a backstory now, Castle.' And I made a joke of it, saying that I liked the hooker-by-day, cop-by-night idea but that a heavy emotional one might work. When I think about it now, I'm horrified at what I said. My response when I'm uncomfortable is to go for humor. I've been doing it for years and maybe it's time for me to stop. But in my very lame defense, I also felt I was giving you an out with that, you know? Conversation over, case closed."
She shrugs, just barely. A tiny lift of the shoulders.
This is torture, but it's his fault, and he needs to see it through, for both of them. "But it wasn't over or closed. Not for me. Not the conversation and not the case. It ate away at me, your mother's case."
"What the hell do you think it's done to me?"
"I'm sorry. That was a terrible choice of words. What I should have said is this. I want to know what makes you tick, Beckett, and unfortunately that means I want to know about your mom. How what happened has shaped you as a person and as a detective. Every time I watch you in interrogation, I'm more amazed. You are relentless, in the best possible way. I've never seen anyone so smart and so determined. Nothing gets by you. Nothing. And part of me thought, how can she not be that relentless about finding her mother's killer?"
"I told you that–"
"You did. Absolutely. But tonight you said you wanted me to stay and talk, and I'm trying to explain. Not ask for absolution, just to explain. Anyway, I used my resources to get the details of her case and I couldn't believe how little there was. And so I asked Clark Murray for advice. You know the rest." He clears his throat, wishes he had a glass of water.
"You asked me why now, and that's embarrassing. If you turn around, you'll see just how embarrassed I am." He waits. Will she do it? One Mississippi, two Mississippi… He's at forty-eight Mississippi when she pivots. She looks straight at him at last, but she still has her arms around her.
Her eyes are drilling into him, and he feels like one of those hapless criminals on the other side of a table from her, the deluded schnooks who think they have a chance against her.
"I wish that I'd sat on that information for a while. Or given it to Montgomery so he could deal with it. But I didn't. Why? Ego. And." Has anyone ever choked to death making a confession? He might. "And jealousy."
"What?" She seems genuinely taken aback.
"I don't like Sorenson."
"Abundantly clear. He feels the same about you."
"Also abundantly clear. I have a little confession to make. Not a confession, since it wasn't my fault. But last week, during the child abduction case, I was walking down the hall in the precinct right before I found you and him, uh."
"Right. I heard you talking about when you broke up. Him expecting you to follow him from place to place, as if his career were ten times as important as yours. It really pissed me off."
"Thanks. I guess."
Wow. Is that progress? He'll take it. He pushes on.
"And then this week he's brought in on another case with us and gets shot and you're so overcome with guilt. And I thought, she's going to go back to him. But I could play a card he couldn't."
"It's not a game, Castle."
"True. But I told myself that I had something really, really important about your mother's case, and what's more, it would trump anything that the feeb has to offer. Needless to say, I'm not proud of that."
The silence stretches on uncomfortably. He'd like to check the wall clock himself to see how long it's been, but he can't. He's said his piece, such as it is, bad as it is, and maybe he should just say goodnight, especially since she hasn't said a word in however many hours it's been. Okay, not hours, just feels like it.
"So, you're jealous of Sorenson?"
Oh, shit. He hadn't foreseen that. He hasn't been listening to himself. He should have, since he'd said he could "trump anything that the feeb has to offer." He'd actually said that. Truth is honorable, but he's going to evade it.
"I think he treats you like it's nineteen nine, not two thousand and nine, and you deserve better."
"You're giving me dating advice? That's rich."
"I give you free rein on disapproving of who I date. Whom."
She sighs. "Look, it's late. I'm exhausted. I can't unhear what you told me about my mother's case, but I need to be alone with it. Put it in a box. I don't know. It's–. I just don't know."
"I'm going. I'm sorry, Beckett. Truly."
"I hate what you did, but I appreciate that you regret it. Thank you for the flowers." She stares at the floor and he turns for the door, walks out and down the stairs. When he gets home Alexis and his mother are asleep, so he goes to his office and does something that he hasn't done since the day he caught Meredith cheating on him. He uncaps the Scotch and drinks it straight from the bottle until he's had enough, however much that is. Then he undresses, leaves his clothes on the floor, and throws himself onto his bed.
Long after Castle has left she's still staring at the hyacinths. Suddenly hungry–she hasn't eaten since breakfast–she scrabbles around and comes up with an unopened box of Girl Scout cookies that she bought from the 10-year-old who lives one floor up. With the flowers in one hand and the Thin Mints in the other, she traipses into her bedroom, puts the vase on her dresser, and takes the cookies to bed with her.
It's long past midnight. She's had four cookies and can't sleep.
Do you know how high your IQ is?
Why are you asking me at this hour? Why are you asking me anything?
Because apparently you will discuss with no one what you need to discuss.
Discuss my IQ? Who cares?
I'd think it's obvious that I do, since I'm your brain, but I'm asking as a way of having you acknowledge that you're extremely intelligent. You're extremely intelligent, but you're acting like Pooh, whom you may have loved since you were five, but who is not your intellectual equal.
I've had an incredibly hard day and I don't know what the hell you're talking about.
Pooh. Who called himself a Bear of Very Little Brain. That's who you're acting like and you shouldn't. At least Pooh had the wits to eat enough–I know, he ate too much–but you'd be a hell of a lot better off right now if you'd had something today besides half a doughnut and four Girl Scout cookies.
Could this culinary chat wait? I have a hell of a lot on my virtual plate and I don't want to talk about a real plate, okay?
Another time. What I really want to discuss are two much more important things. First, are you seriously considering getting back together with Will Sorenson?
Not exactly? That's not an answer. Do you remember how hurt and angry you were when you broke up? Do you remember why? Because Castle really nailed it when he said that Sorenson treats you like it's nineteen nine, not two thousand and nine. And how about how annoyed you were with him over his behavior to Castle? Not just his resentment of him, but the way he kept putting him down.
I defended Castle.
Not strongly enough. And here's the second thing, which is much, much more important than Sorenson. Castle.
He did exactly what I told him not to. The worst thing that anyone could do to me.
He did, but at least he's contrite. Sincerely contrite. And here's something for you to contemplate. Suppose Sorenson or someone else close to you had done what Castle did, digging into your mother's case? What would you have done? I know you're not going to answer me, so I'll do it for you. You'd have cut him off at the knees, or appropriately and painfully higher, and fed him to a wood chipper. You'd never have spoken to him again.
But Castle showed up here with flowers, and what did you do? What you didn't do was hit him over the head with the vase and kick him down the stairs. No, you asked him in. You asked him to stay and talk. And he did. At the end you were still angry, but you told him that you appreciated his regret, and you thanked him for the flowers. That's an enormous step for you. Immeasurably enormous. I told you this weeks ago, and it's truer now than it was then. He's gotten under your skin and into your heart. And before you can sputter some protest, I'm tuning out and turning in. Good night.
She reaches for another Thin Mint and takes a bite.
Dammit. Her brain's right. Not totally, one hundred percent right, but she cedes a point. If any other man had gone behind her back and poked into her mom's case, he'd be dead. As good as. Dead to her, anyway.
He'd talked for a long time, and she hadn't stopped him. Why? Because some part of her wanted to hear it, obviously. She asked him things, he answered, and when she said she was exhausted, he instantly offered to go.
She stews about it for a long time, revisiting everything that he'd said. Castle had opened an old and indescribably painful wound. Not for the first time, he'd crossed a line and invaded her privacy, but the line he'd ignored this week was the one that had NO TRESPASSING signs. KEEP OUT.
And yet, she hasn't banished Castle or written him off. He's still here. Not literally here, but here. Here in her life. Not just her precinct life, either, but here. Her hand hovers over her heart but doesn't land there. His flowers are here. He chose flowers that are symbolic of apology, of asking for forgiveness.
And yet he told her that he didn't expect her forgiveness.
There's no point in trying to go to bed. It's after five; the sun will be up in half an hour. It's Saturday. She doesn't have to go to work. She could go for a run, but she has no interest in it.
Instead, she takes a shower, washes her hair, and gets dressed. At 5:42 a.m. she texts Castle. He's probably sleeping in, since it's the weekend. She knows he'll answer eventually, because he always does. Maybe at 10. Maybe she'll have some coffee until then. She shoves her phone in her back pocket and goes down to the tiny lobby to pick up her paper. Home delivery is a luxury she hopes she'll never have to give up.
When she's pushing her apartment door open with her hip, the buzz from her phone startles her so much that she drops the Times.
It's Castle, answering her text. "Breakfast at Gumshoe? The place you said has those popovers and film noir posters?"
"OK. Be there in 12 minutes."
"Twelve minutes? What the hell? Oh, what the hell, so will she.
"See you in 12," she types, her hand a little shaky.
With her bag over her shoulder, she runs the seventeen blocks to the coffee shop. She wants to get there ahead of him, and she does. At this hour there are only two people in the place, a couple looking somewhat worse for the wear.
Like us, she thinks, as she slides into the booth in the back corner. Whoa, whoa. Like us? As in a couple? She and Castle are not an us.
Oh, for God's sake. Not now. I can see Castle getting out of a cab.
The other half of us, you mean.
Okay. I'll leave you to it.
She waves feebly in Castle's direction, and he walks over. When he sits down opposite her, he appears to be wincing, though he's wearing sunglasses, so she's not sure.
"You all right?"
"Yeah, sorry." He removes the glasses and tucks them into the vee of his shirt. "I might have had. Uh, I did have. A little too much to drink last night."
"You hit a bar on the way home?"
"No, the only thing I hit was a bottle. In my office. At home. Don't ask."
Her eyes narrow. "Oh, I'm not supposed to ask?"
He studies the napkin dispenser and the salt and pepper shakes before responding. "Point taken. You can ask. But you're a detective, and I don't think you need to."
Thank God, here's the waitress, carrying a large thermos.
"Can I start you with some coffee?"
They say it in unison. Of course.
No comment, please, brain.
My lips are sealed. I don't have lips, but if I did, they'd be sealed.
"We'd like a basket of popovers, please," she says to the waitress, before giving Castle an appraising look. "And scrambled eggs. And I think he could use a large glass of tomato juice."
It's then that she notices the young woman's name tag. It can't be, but it is. She watches her walk away and says, "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she works into this one."
"I know. I recognized it, except for the part you made up at the end. What are you talking about, Beckett?"
"You didn't see her name tag?"
"That's a name I never kid about, Castle. At least, not yet." She takes a sip from her mug to steady her nerves, and wonders if she's the only person on earth who uses coffee to calm down. "You're probably wondering why I asked you to breakfast."
"I stayed up all night."
"Yeah, and you probably–"
"Conked out, courtesy of a great deal of single malt."
"Right. The thing is, I didn't like the way things ended last night. Specifically, I. Me. What I said."
"You thanked me for the hyacinths."
"Not that. My saying I hate what you did."
"I deserved it."
"You did. But I realized after you'd gone that I shouldn't have left it like that. I did hate what you did, but you're a good guy, Castle. And you really do want to help. Most people don't. They say they do, but they don't. I'm not an easy person. I used to be, before. Easier. But you are the only person I know who is as curious about things as I am. You went to a lot of trouble to help. You found, or Doctor Murray found, the only useful information I've had about my mother's case. Ever." She needs some more coffee, and drains her mug. "And some day I would like you to help me look into those details, see what road they take us down. I'm just not ready yet. But until then, thank you. And for the record? Don't be jealous of Sorenson. He's kind of a jerk."
He doesn't know what to say, but what comes out of his mouth is, "I don't trust a guy who's sp enamored of sprinkles on doughnuts. The only place they belong is on ice cream."
And she laughs.
And so does he.
A/N Thank you, all readers, and thank you, all reviewers. The next chapter will be far less serious and will take place a few episodes into Season 2. Have a good weekend.