"People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within." -- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Hope is a precious commodity, one that cannot be bartered or sold. Sometimes, it leaves us when we most need it, and other times, it reanimates us when life seems to beat us into submission. In those moments when darkness is close, hope can enlighten and inspire. It can also tease and torture. In some sense, that’s what life is about. The ever present ebb and flow between opposites, the poles of this earth as they lie in stark contrast with the equator, and though hope is just a four letter word, it’s power is undeniable.
When Richard Castle walked into the precinct early that Thursday morning, he had no idea the chain of events he was about to set in motion. The moments that lie ahead would bring him to his knees, test him, and pull him to extremes he would be sure he could not survive. We are not defined by the worst moments of our life however, we are not the sum of all that is wrong or pained with the world, we are a collection of action and reaction, of cause and effect, and our true nature is defined not by the moments which might break us but by the moments we create in response. When the world threatens to consume us, our life is defined by just how hard we fight back.
She would lead him back with her light from within and he would do the same for her.
We are all stained-glass windows.
And this is their story.
April 26th, 2012-New York City
“So you expect us to believe that you walked into that room, picked up the murder weapon to protect yourself, and didn’t kill her? Do you think we are that stupid?”
At this point, Castle had had enough. This idiot was trying to play him, trying to convince him that he hadn’t killed April Travis with that knife, but the evidence spoke. It was a language that four years of ‘research’ had imbued within him, the evidence led to the killer, it was both the simplest and hardest trope of being a detective, and though CIA conspiracies and alien-abduction stories might be true, Richard Castle had found that most, if not all, of the cases they faced provided natural answers to the evil of the world. Ray McDonald was just another in a long line of brutish thugs who desperately held to some ill-advised moral high ground, a foundation of excuse and denial where they could somehow at first deny and then plead for absolution.
McDonald spat back, “If you think I did this then you are incredibly stupid!”
The mood in the room was uncharacteristically charged, the atmosphere was suffocating, and though that usually meant a rowdy suspect, today’s climate was the product of a highly valued member of Kate’s team. And she couldn’t indulge, “Castle!”
The interrogation room descended into silence. Actually, it didn’t so much descend as free-fall spectacularly into a silence filled with the fear of two men for the obviously enraged woman who now stood frozen behind the interrogation table. Castle’s gaze finally found Beckett after what seemed an eternity, and he could do nothing but stare.
Kate placed her emotions in check quickly, unwilling to let any advantage she could gain with McDonald become a casualty of her partner, “Why don’t you go check in with Esposito and see if the victim’s financials have come back. I’ll finish up the interview by myself.”
It was unmistakably an order, though she would never say the words, but there was something else within the subtext, an understanding born from a sniper, an empathy that he had earned through years of work and toil. He knew that it pained her to say it and he cursed himself for putting her in this position, but justice demanded the book and anger would not win the day. And so he took his leave, knowing that the real battle was ahead…
An hour later…
“Why are you letting him go? We both know he killed April Correia.”
As calmly as she could, Kate replied, “No he didn’t Castle. We haven’t checked his alibi just yet but my gut tells me it’s good.”
As the detective and the writer walked quickly back to her desk, Rick’s frustration got the better of him, “If you haven’t checked his alibi yet, why would you let him go then?”
“Castle, if he killed her, why are there no wounds on his hands? There were 8 stab wounds on the body, the wounds were deep and delivered with a lot of force, the knife was incredibly sharp, and it had no hilt protecting the murderer from their hand sliding up the knife when that much thrust was created. If he had done this Castle, his hands or hand would be covered in wounds. He didn’t do it.”
His hands…his hands were immaculate. Not even gloved hands would have come away unscathed. Castle himself had even commented on the man’s obviously manicured hands when uniforms had brought him in. How had he not seen that? He wasn’t a rookie.
As Castle sunk into his chair near Kate’s desk, the resignation of his mistake rang true, “I’m sorry Kate.”
Kate took her place across from him and leaned forward, “What’s wrong Castle?”
The empathy was apparent on her face as her hands crossed in her lap, and it occurred to Castle just how far they had come in the three and half years they had been friends and partners. They were both selfless and selfish, they tried their best but the timing was never right for their moment, the circumstances of this world they chose were never aligned, and though they weren’t technically in a relationship, if he really thought about it, he could see just how close they had become. Since the sniper, she had let him in bit by bit, and since the mayor, her feelings for him had become crystal clear. He sought her like a Cubs fan seeks an ace and that meant that he had to step up the investigation into her mother’s murder. For the past two weeks, this drive to find the people behind this vast conspiracy had led to sleepless nights, concerned daughters, and friends who saw him lose that spark that made him uniquely Castle.
“Nothing, I just missed it. Sorry about in there.”
“Oh really? You’ve been pissed off all day and for the past two weeks, I’ve hardly recognized you. C’mon Castle, what’s going on?”
She asked with such concern, such empathy and compassion that his secret nearly spilled forth from a damn that had just lost its main support. He didn’t quite understand how she could have such a powerful impact on him with words, and yet, he saw the power his words could sometimes have over her. Their dance had led them to a place of passion and desire but more than that, it had led them to a place of mutual respect and concern.
“What, am I not allowed to be anything but chipper?”
“You are allowed to be whatever you want to be. I’m just wondering why you went at McDonald so aggressively and why the real Richard Castle is still at home.”
“It’s nothing detective.”
“Something is going on with you. C’mon Rick, I am here for you, what’s wrong?”
When she reached for his hand, he almost pulled it away. He understood her concern, had seen the changes in the mirror and on the faces of his friends and family, but if he was to achieve his goal, he also understood that he would have to sacrifice a part of himself in the process. If he wanted Kate, he would have to go back down that rabbit hole himself and get back the part she left there the last time because he knew what even she didn’t. The part Kate left down that hole when she backed away ten years ago was her heart, encased in stone, with only her able to access it. Her heart was atrophied from disuse, stained and rusted from the damp and dark place it had resided, and he know beyond question that at some point someone worthy would have to make the trek to retrieve it.
Somewhere along the path, Rick had taken a chisel and gone back down that hole to retrieve it for her, to break away the stone encasing that helped to protect her from the despair, but more than that, Rick wanted nothing more than for her to be whole once more. The surgeons may have skillfully sewn her heart back together, they may have left as little scaring as they could, but Kate Beckett was still broken, she was damaged goods, and the selfish part of him knew that he could not stand to see her like that.
The sniper had shaken him too.
“I told you, I am fine. I am perfectly fine.”
“No you aren’t Rick. I like to think I know you, and the person that walked into the precinct in the past two weeks isn’t the man I knew. The man full of humility and compassion, but I can’t find that man unless you share, unless you trust me enough to tell me what is dragging you down.”
“Hmm. That’s a little funny coming from you.”
Deflection. Misdirection. It was magic.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Are you asking me to share? Really?”
Castle felt himself losing control of the conversation, it was spiraling to a place neither Beckett nor Castle wanted it to go, but he couldn’t seem to reel in his emotions. Kate, who had begun this conversation with the best of intentions, didn’t know what to make of Castle’s demeanor, and she too felt her emotions bubbling to the surface.
“Quickly turning into a jackass Castle…”
“Oh so when I’m no longer the school’s funniest kid, suddenly I’m a jackass?”
“Asking you to take things seriously and calling you on your bull-shit doesn’t make me a hypocrite!”
“No but the world’s coldest woman asking for honesty and openness is quite the picture. You’ve always thought I couldn’t take things seriously and now that I am you want me to gather up my clown mask and do tricks for peanuts!”
What had begun as a conversation to help a friend that seemed to be on the edge had turned into something uglier and far more public than either of them cared to make it. Esposito and Ryan sat in awe at the scene playing out on this stage, they were certain that Beckett was about to destroy Castle, and they knew it wouldn’t be a pretty picture.
Kate shot up out of her chair and pointed, “Break room…now!”
The electricity and fire in the room was nearly consuming, it threatened to tear this family apart, but what it did most was force a confrontation that neither Kate nor Rick had foreseen. The entire world is a stage and they wore their masks well but when their emotions brought out their worst, when the tension of three and half years was ignited, those masks would provide little protection against the ever expanding fire. No one expected the explosion to happen like this, no one thought that the tension would be relieved through anything but a night of passion and an ever-changing relationship, but here in the 12th precinct bullpen, years of regret and tension and sacrifice would nearly destroy them and make an argument in her apartment those many months ago tame by comparison.
As Beckett and Castle hurriedly made their way to the break room, Ryan turned to Esposito and asked, “How bad?”
Esposito’s reply was simple and to the point, “The worst.”
Two cups of coffee later…
“I’m not perfect, Castle.”
She gave him an opening. Instead of tearing into him like he thought she would, she was opening the door, inviting him to calm down and join her, saving him from himself and from her, from the pain of unchecked emotion. He tried to walk through the door…
“I’m not asking you to be and I know you aren’t, Kate.”
“I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, you represent a few of
those, but I’ll be damned if this turns into another. I’m not a character in
one your books Rick, I can’t do or say the perfect thing when times are at
their worst, and though I don’t know what this is or why we are here, I am
hoping that maybe we can be equals here. Let me in Rick, like I am trying to do
with you.” She nearly whispered her last line, a silent plea to her partner to
come back and understand her motivation and desire.
Rick sighed and allowed himself to sink into the couch in the break-room. Her empathy, her concern were the same he witnessed all week, but just as those who tried to help him before, she was ill-equipped for the job. He couldn’t possibly allow her in, he couldn’t let her fall victim to this dragon, and in that moment, he understood how she could sometimes close herself off to the world. He had experienced tragedy far less than she but they shared the scars of a heart torn asunder by love, and as she tried to be there for him, she placed her scars on full display.
Unbeknownst to her, those scars were the reason for his character these past weeks. He had to escape this inquisition before she was burned alive, and so, he accessed an anger he thought long dormant. The heat wasn’t gone from the room, only replaced with misdirection and secrecy. He would do whatever he had to do to keep this from her, it was too important, and so he provoked, hoping that she would bite.
“Did you let me in after you got shot? Were those three months you didn’t bother to even call part of ‘letting me in’?”
“Is that what this is about? I told you…” She stumbled, searching for the answer that seemed right, that might justify one of her great mistakes, “I told you…I needed time to come to terms with everything…everything that happened.”
“Do you know how hard that was for me? After a month, I made a promise to Alexis and my mom; I wouldn’t come back. When you finally did return, I broke that promise…for you. Allowing others to be there when we need them is a mutual concern and that’s a concern you never seemed to consider. Why should I let you in when you could so casually throw me away?”
Her blood seemed to boil to the surface, “You think it was easy for me, Castle? I didn’t just throw you away, I could never do that, but I had to get away from the world. From everything I was trying to work out. I told you I wasn’t perfect, and I thought…I thought I was doing the right thing.”
His was already there, “I know you were the one that was shot but you bled out into my hands! I watched your lights go out, Kate! I thought that was the worst thing I could experience…until you didn’t call.”
Kate whispered her response in a desperate attempt to keep this conversation from spiraling into an abyss they might not find their way out of, “Did I make it worse by not calling or by coming back?”
And then years of frustration and tension could not be held back any longer. A dam had burst causing an explosion of unresolved tension and regret, of pain and heartbreak, of obsession and love, “I don’t know, Kate. What I do know is that it gets more and more difficult to keep showing up.”
His words burned and singed her fragile flesh, her sins were coming to collect on the promise they had made so long ago, and this hell she had created threatened to consume her whole. It always seemed the more she tried, the harder it became to achieve something greater.
She couldn’t find the words, the words that would stop this boulder from hurdling down the mountain, she was simply at a loss, “Castle, I have to…my mother wouldn’t…”
“Oh please Kate, your mother is nothing but a crutch you use to limp through life. An excuse you can so easily hide behind that you have done it for years. And I’m just so tired…of everything.”
It wasn’t screamed at the top of his lungs nor were her musings the product of anger, they were both just tired, both exhausted by life and circumstance, and as they stared at each other, they saw the resignation and failure which brought them to this point. It was brutal in its simplicity. Neither had seen this coming nor had warning of the conflagration that occurred in that break room, but they knew that this had been a moment neither could escape. When two good people try to do their best and fail, all they can do then is try their best to pick up the shattered pieces forged from years of turmoil. She thought she would be damned if it ever got this far.
“Then don’t come back Castle.”
Turns out, she was damned already.
April 28th, 2012-New York City
Two days. Two days since everything had fallen apart. As she sat at her desk that early Saturday morning, she was grateful to be alone. Though Ryan, Esposito and Lanie had been wonderful in the aftermath, she couldn’t bear to see the pain that resided in their eyes. Pain for her. She had failed once again to be the person she wanted or needed to be, she had allowed that conversation to spiral out of her control, and now she had to live with the consequences of pushing Castle away for possibly the final time. She loved him, there was no question about that, and really, her existential journey had been, in part, a product of his influence on her life. She wanted to be better and part of her knew that she wanted to do so because of him.
Two days ago, she thought she had lost him forever, and so, the bottle seemed like a natural pain killer. She didn’t care that that’s the way her father once fell so hard, Jack Daniel helped numb the pain, though it didn’t take it away. Since then, she had fought against an urge to crawl into a hole, to shut out the world so that her fragile and barely repaired heart would have the time it needed to beat once more. Work and Lanie and Dr. Burke had helped…
But it had helped.
She had just begun to get a footing in this world once again, she had just begun to at least function with the heavy weight that seemed to crush her heart, to brace herself against the harsh reality that Castle may never come back. Life though, tends to be cruel before it can be kind…
“Detective, can I speak to you for a moment?”
Since the shooting, Alexis had been an enigma to Kate. They had never been really close, they had never been girlfriends who spoke to each other about dating or life, but they always did seem to share a mutual respect. Occasionally, Alexis had called Kate for advice, and when the bank heist occurred, Alexis had been more than cordial the night they shared in the loft together. Yet, since the shooting she had noticed an edge to Alexis. She understood really, she had been shot right in front of her and Castle had nearly taken the bullet for her, and that didn’t even take into account the three months she spent away from the world in her father’s cabin. Needless to say, this was a surprise.
“Uh, sure. Break room?”
Again, a cup of coffee and a cup hot chocolate later…
“I don’t trust you detective.”
“Alright, so now that the pleasantries are out of the way, call me Kate?”
Kate sat on the couch in the same place Castle sat. Whether it was by choice or fate, Kate didn’t know, but what she did know was that there was something about Alexis today that was far stronger than the edge she had once perceived. Was this anger?
“Yeah, I’ve had enough of pleasantries. You ran away from everyone for three months, you hurt him more than he lets on because you are so broken, and because of that, I’m not sure you are worthy of him. And yet, I learned something when he and Gram were taken hostage. You would do anything you could to protect them and to keep them from harm. I hope that’s why you hid from us because at least then I wouldn’t think of you as the coward I once did. However, I think we are at a point where things need to be said and secrets revealed.”
Anger. Kate met that anger with guilt, it was a good shield that allowed her to take some measure of control, and it was a mechanism she had learned through years of practice and focus.
“Alexis…I…I’m sorry about those months. I don’t think I’ve explained to you why I needed the time, but I can tell you that I never meant to hurt anyone. I just needed some time to come to terms with what happened. I needed time to heal.”
“I can understand that I guess but that’s not why I am here. The day you came back into our lives was the day I knew that there would come a point where he would lose himself and I might not be able to bring him back. I knew from the beginning that what he was doing was going to be dangerous and I begged him to live up to the promise he made over the summer. Stop going back. Stop pretending and be my father.”
Though she was selfishly glad he hadn’t listened to his daughter, she worried what kind of person that made her and what it meant about them given what had happened two days ago. The more pressing concern was the obvious anger that threatened to spill forth from a daughter who clearly and desperately wanted nothing more than to protect her father. Kate understood that people made choices and that those choices defined them, but what she never wanted to do was make that trek to the Castle residence and do to Alexis what had been done to her. That night thirteen years ago had produced the abomination she saw in the mirror every morning, the person who was so broken that life was beyond her grasp, and she desperately did not want that for Alexis. She didn’t want that for anyone. That’s what Alexis meant….right?
“He couldn’t though. It was for you and he was blinded by love. It took me 100 days to realize that we really were the classic case of the blind leading the blind, and when I did, I watched you across that dinner table and wondered if you could see. If you could see what you were doing…what you have done…”
Kate was shocked, “Alexis, I’m not sure I understand.”
“It was then that I saw my dad at that table. I saw the look in his eyes, and I realized that with as much as you took in those three months, in the three years prior you had given him so much more. Purpose. You gave him purpose. And meaning. Jealousy is a powerful thing, it’s an emotion that rips at you, and makes you want to rip at others. I know I am the most important person in my dad’s life, I know that he would take a bullet for me, but I also know that he would take one for you too. That’s what he is doing now. Taking a bullet meant for you like he couldn’t last May.”
Kate was stunned with the realization, “You wish it was me?”
Alexis paused briefly, “Yes. I feel horrible that I wish it was you, I really do. I wish you were the one in the line of fire and I know what kind of person that makes me. I wish I could be better and I am sorry for that. It’s my secret. My one great flaw.”
How was he taking a bullet for her now? And how could Alexis hate her so much? What could possibly…Oh God…
“Surely that’s not why we needed to talk Alexis. What bullet is he taking for me?”
Alexis steeled herself, “When you first came back to the precinct, dad received a call from a man who only identified himself as Mr. Smith. He told dad that Mr. Montgomery had sent him information on the case and that he was able to broker a deal with the people who wanted you dead.”
“My mother. The same deal they made with Roy?”
“Yeah. All dad had to do was get you to back off the case, make sure you didn’t investigate it, and if he was able to do so, you and Ms. Montgomery would be safe. For the time being.”
It all came into stark reality for Kate, “He’s investigating the case, isn’t he?”
“Yes. When you broke down and when your feelings became clear, it lit a fire underneath him. It was a desire to solve the case, and though I would love to say it came from a place of love, it’s now an obsession. He sits in front of that screen every night when he thinks we have all gone to bed to hide it from us, but I know he does it. I’ve come down on more than one occasion to see him writing furiously in his journal or making notes on his electronic murder board.”
“So what do you want from me?”
“The last two days have been the worst. The worst I have ever seen him. I’ve tried to save him, I’ve talked to him, pleaded with him, but he won’t see reason. He won’t see me. He won’t save himself until he can save you. He cannot see the danger because you block the way. So I come to you because I can’t save him. But I know you can.”
In some sense, it was a selfless act, an admittance that her father was even more important than the jealousy, but Kate couldn’t see past the betrayal. She had once asked him who she was without this, it was the one question she sought an answer to now as she sought mental health, and it had all been based on a lie. All of it. Fuck. She wasn’t the one who honored the victims, the one who could bring closure, she was the one who had been lied to once again because someone thought she couldn’t make the decision for herself. Everything about them, the new and precious foundation she thought they were building was composed of nothing more than lies and subterfuge. It was the apartment all over again, only this time he went and did it without her. The anger was overwhelming. God damn him!
The rage was evident in her voice but Alexis stood her ground, “Alexis…I forgave Roy because he was about to give his life for me. I wanted nothing more than to save him from his own foolishness. Your dad knew all of this and he still held this from me. Even knowing how that betrayal nearly destroyed me last time, he still chose this. At least Roy was original, Castle should know better. Honestly Alexis, I don’t even know if I want to save your dad.”
Alexis was shocked, “Then you are the coward I never wanted to think you were.”
As Alexis stormed out of the break room, Kate wondered whether she could carry Castle out of this hangar. More importantly, she wondered if she even wanted too.
April 28th, 2012-Washington D.C.
Mr. Smith’s House
He stood in his office debating whether to answer his phone or get his microwavable dinner. Damn phone, it just kept ringing.
“And what do I owe...”
“Let’s save the pleasantries my friend. I just called to say I’m sorry.”
“Yeah. I hate to do this John but I have no choice.”
“You always have a choice.”
“Not this time brother. You and your friend failed to live up to our expectations. And you know the penalty.”
“Well, at least you called.”
He laughed, “Glib. Until the end. How bloody appropriate.”
John looked out his window at a strike team that rushed to his front door, each holding a Ruger P90 assault weapon, and he knew this would be his last stand.
“So this is my last stand. Instead of causing it, you should be here.”
“I wish I could John. Goodbye, old friend.”
And with that he hung up.
15 minutes later…
‘Sir, we have retrieved all of the files in question.”
“Is he dead?”
“Well, he is wounded but not dead. Do you want us to terminate.”
“Yes…terminate. RTB immediately.”
Jorge Ramirez had been in Delta and understood the nature of an order. He knew his cause was just and he knew the greater good was always the motivation. It felt wrong though, somehow killing a fellow member of Delta seemed incongruous with the nature of his mission, but he trusted in his commander and in his judgment. With a heavy heart, Operator Ramirez returned to his fallen comrade to finish what he had started just a few moments prior.
“I’m sorry John.”
As John lay dying on the floor, his only comfort was the comfort he took in her. Montgomery had told him just how special she was and he hoped beyond measure that Montgomery was correct. He hoped that she could take them down. He hoped that she could do what he was too afraid to do. But he would give her a head start, he would do his part, he would push the button…
As he coughed up blood from the wounds in his lower chest
and stomach, John responded, “you know, everyone keeps…saying that to me…today.
Why don’t you tell him that I have a message for him.”
“What is that sir?”
John knew that the two operators outside could hear his words through the com link, he knew they would survive and his message would get back to the man it was meant for, and thus, as Ramirez bent down to take in his words, he knew he had one last chance.
To be glib.
“Tell that rotten SOB that I’ll see him in Hell.”
They never saw the detonator John held in his hands and they were far too slow to stop him. With one quick push of the button, John’s house in suburban Washington D.C exploded, taking with it one of the few remaining remnants of Delta Task Force 19.