He sits there staring at her in the bed, holding her hand in both of his.
He hasn't seen her for over three years and she looks like hell. Her hair is longer than he ever knew it, but right now it's a tangled, sweaty mess. Her face is thin, too thin, dark shadows under her eyes, mouth pinched.
He looks around the room, once again noticing the threadbare curtains that could do with a wash … or better still, burning. The table and two chairs are cheap, flimsy. The tv looks circa 1980s and is bolted to the wall with brackets showing rust round the bolt heads. The bathroom was worse; he'd gone in to get her a glass of water … and wished he hadn't. Rust streaks running down the bathtub and sink where years of dripping water and neglect have applied their own stamp, the toilet seat is broken, the flyblown mirror with the pathetic contents of her wash bag scattered on the cigarette-burnt shelf below it.
His mind retreated to earlier in the night ….
He wakes to the chime of his phone.
The caller is unknown.
He frowns, looks at the time, it's gone three in the morning …
He clears his throat, taps the answer button "Yes …?"
His blood runs cold. It's a voice he hasn't heard in over three years …. since he had gone to see her that night, had asked her to give them a chance, to let the Dragon go …. more than three years since he had told her they were over, that they were 'done' …
"Rick …?" It's weak, racked by a cough, and his heart is squeezed by a giant fist … he had got over her … or at least he had fooled himself into believing it … had survived for nearly four years, had carried on his life … if life with only half a heart could be called living ….
At first he had kept in touch with the boys, with Lanie, an occasional drink at the Old Haunt; the precinct still had privileges there though they weren't as assiduous visitors as in the old days. They had sent birthday cards and Christmas greetings, had skirted awkwardly round the elephant in the room, just a mention of her not looking so cheerful, about her loss of weight, her return down the rabbit hole …
Then her disappearance, about a year and a half ago, the boys had called in at her apartment; the landlord told them she had cancelled her lease, cancelled her post, paid the bills and left a deposit for anything outstanding. They'd found her cell phone, her badge, her official weapon and a note thanking them for all the years of friendship, for having her back. Nothing else, no explanation, no message for her best friend … it had broken Lanie's heart.
They had run traces, put out a BOLO; after all she was still a cop, one of them. Nothing, she seemed to have disappeared into thin air.
A year and a half …. And now she had called him ….
"Rick …. please … Pine Tree Motel …. Jersey …."
It had taken him over an hour to find this god-forsaken place off the Jersey Turnpike near East Brunswick. A twenty had convinced the concierge to give him her room number and a spare key.
As soon as he'd entered …. taken in the scene, he knew things were bad. She was on the bed, the thin blanket pulled over her, perspiration glowing on her face, the forced breathing adding to the dread in his heart as he had approached the bed.
He had looked for and found her hand under the blanket, fingers like ice. At his touch she had opened her eyes, unfocused, jaded, tired eyes without that sparkle that he remembered.
Then recognition had flared, a smile, so reminiscent of his memory of it lit her face ….
"You came … " and tears made tracks down her cheeks. He had gone to brush them away with his thumb, but she had turned her head away, rolled over on to her back and hissed in pain as her face scrunched up.
He had pulled the blanket down, stared appalled at the bunched up towel she was holding to her side, the bright red colour soaking into it needed no explanation.
He had called Lanie, given her the address.
He placed his hand under her head, supporting her as he put the glass of water to her lips and allowed her a couple of sips; he didn't know what damage she had to her system, too much water could be detrimental. He should call an ambulance … but how had she ended up like this? What had she done? Who was looking for her? Would she be safe in a hospital? … questions which flashed through his head.
He let her head back down. Wrapped his hand around hers and placed his other on the towel, applying pressure without looking at the damage …. He was afraid to look.
He doesn't know how long he sits there, listening to her uneven breathing before she turns to him, her eyes flutter open and her hand curls around his "I got him Castle …. I … got … him …"
He nods, murmurs meaningless words, not sure what she's on about, but willing to guess it's to do with the Dragon.
She is silent again for long minutes; he thinks she's drifted into semi-consciousness again. He lowers his head, tries to hold back the tears, wonders what is taking Lanie so long. He feels her stare and looks up …. She's watching him, a faint smile painting her lips, her eyes almost holding the old sparkle …
"I'm so sorry …. I … love … you …"
He nods, unable to say anything, but she can see the hurt in his eyes, the pain ….. and tears trickle from the corners of hers, trace their way down her temples and add to the dampness of the pillow.
Her eyes close again and she seems to lose substance even as he watches her. Time passes, eventually he hears a car pull up outside, the slamming of doors and then the door to the room swings open. Esposito stands there, gun drawn, Lanie peering round his shoulder.
She moves past him, rushes to the side of the bed and leans over Kate. She pulls the blanket down, eases the towel away from the wound and lets out a low moan. She pushes the towel back in place, puts Castle's hand on it and silently tells him to carry on applying pressure. She pulls Kate's eyelids up, checks her pulse … all the time she's shaking her head and whispering a "Come on girl, don't do this to me" on and on, like a litany.
Esposito is calling it in, telling Ryan to fill in Captain Gates. There are going to be jurisdiction issues.
They hear the siren approaching, the flashing lights throwing an orange swirl of discord through the curtained window and open door.
Lanie stands up. There are tears running down her face and she looks at Esposito, shaking her head and nodding towards the outside. He looks back at her, eyes too large in his face, swallows and nods jerkily. He steps outside to intercept the paramedics.
It takes most of the next hour to sort out the jurisdictional issues. Captain Gates has contacts, pushes the issue. Ron Halloran, Jersey Homicide Detective leans against the wall, keeping quiet, he's there to observe and ensure protocol. Tired eyes take in the scene and he's glad it's not his case. This looks like the wheels are coming off big time. Senator William Bracken and his bodyguard found dead in a hotel suite. Blood from a third subject leading out to the fire escape. Hotel security compromised. An ex-cop … or whatever she was … found with a bullet hole through her guts in a sleazy motel .… no he was glad it wasn't his case.
It's almost another hour before the ME on duty arrives. Lanie's glad it's Perlmutter, he may be an insensitive prick, but he's efficient. She stops him inside the doorway with a hand to his chest. He looks past her, then looks down at her and nods slightly.
She moves to the side of the bed, puts her hand on Castle's shoulder and slides her other down his arm to where both of his are clutching Beckett's. Slowly, gently, as if dealing with a child she eases his hands apart, murmuring a gentle stream of words, mostly about it being time to go, time to let her go …
He barely responds, but allows himself to be gently pulled to his feet, Esposito holding his other arm and leading him towards the door. Ryan is outside, leaning against his car's hood, head sunken forwards between his shoulders, trying desperately to hold the tears back and unable to. He doesn't notice the curious stares from the few motel guests who are watching the scene from open doorways and windows.
CSU have finished, cleared away the tools of their trade and got a signature off Detective Ron Halloran; protocol to be observed at all time. Perlmutter moves forward, signals to his assistant to unfurl the bag …. The bag for her body … not the body …. she is … was one of them.
Outside, several doors away and in relative darkness, Esposito sits on the stoop, elbows on his knees, hands hanging down between them. Next to him, shoulders almost touching, not having said a word for the last three hours sits Castle. Javi doesn't know what to say, doesn't want to say anything, has nothing to say. There is a sense of emptiness he cannot comprehend.
Over by his car, Kevin Ryan looks on as the body bag is wheeled out of the room. His tears have dried now, but they have left tracks down his cheeks and he just needs to get back to Jenny, needs to reaffirm life like he never has before.
Sitting with her legs out the open door of her car, Lanie watches mutely as her best friend is placed inside the ME's van. She is biting on her knuckles, tears still streaming down her face, her breath catching on jerky gusts which threaten to tear her throat out.
Four people, each unable as yet to deal with the loss of the glue that had held them together …. Four people who would need time … and distance … and space, to heal.
Far above them, unnoticed above the flashing light, the shingle roofs, the gently waving trees … a shooting star sped across the night sky ….