He’s seated in the waiting room, wishing he’d brought his laptop or at least his book. He’s half-considering typing out Chapter Seventeen on his phone when it buzzes in his hand. Meredith. He pauses, wondering whether or not he wants to take her call. Under normal circumstances, he would, but it’s likely going to be a continuation of yesterday’s ugliness. Then again, Alexis is in her custody right now so he’d better answer in case something’s wrong.
Castle exits the waiting room and stands in front of the hospital building in the muggy air. The thick clouds overhead are trapping in the heat, leading to a stifling—yet not sunny—day. He’s not the only one out there making or taking a phone call. The woman to his left is commiserating with someone, face soaked with tears, and the man to his right is yelling. Castle and Meredith’s conversation will fit right in here.
He catches it on the last ring. “Hello?”
“Rick, you’ve got some nerve.” Here we go, he thinks. “How dare you throw away Alexis like that! You’re her father; that’s not a job you can just blow off when you want to! Not that you would know what a job is, seeing that you’ve never worked a day in your life. You’re the one who’s always telling me that I need to be a better parent, be around more, keep my promises, and spend more time with my daughter. What do you say now, you filthy hypocrite? She cried herself to sleep the night before—” Either Alexis is a better actress than he gives her credit for or Meredith’s exaggerating again. “—and today I had to take her to a fancy restaurant, a high-end boutique, and the Ange Boulangerie to finally see a smile on her face again!”
Castle smiles—Alexis really is milking this for all it’s worth. Perhaps she learned a few tricks from Martha to pull this one off. “And in the boutique she wouldn’t even let me buy her anything, like she didn’t think she deserved it! Alexis’s self-esteem is down the drain, and you’re the one who put it there!” Ah, now that sounds more like his daughter, keeping Meredith’s attention but not manipulating her into buying her expensive things. That would just make Alexis feel incredibly guilty. He’s not sure where Alexis got her outspoken conscience.
Well, he’s not going to be the one who ruins Alexis’s little charade. So he listens to Meredith’s tirade with a slight, amused smile on his face, jutting in at just the right times to get a few contradictory words in before letting her continue. At last he feels it’s winding down. “I just can’t believe you, Rick. Alexis will be returning from her call with Ashley soon, but this isn’t over. Remember—when Alexis goes to Stanford for college, she’s going to be on my side of the country. And I am perfectly ready to be the better parent!”
“Wow,” Castle says after ending the call. He had had no idea that Meredith could be so protective as a parent. Or perhaps she just likes being the righteous one for once. It amuses him that she’s throwing his own words back at him, twelve years later. He slips his phone back into his pocket and goes back to the waiting room. He sends a quick text off to Alexis, warning her of Meredith’s plotting for her university days. He hopes Meredith remembers that hanging around with their mother isn’t exactly the college-life dream of most students.
When Kate comes out, she’s in her wheelchair again, and looking thoroughly annoyed to be there. Castle retrieves her from the nurse and asks, “So, how was it?”
“Everything looks good,” she yawns. “Learned some new, harder stuff in physical therapy to try.”
“Where to?” Castle asks. “The cabin?”
She runs a hand through her hair, blinking several times to look more awake. “Could we pick something up from my apartment? We can eat there and then maybe we can go see Lanie.”
“Sure,” Castle replies, surprised but happy. He’s happy she’s not cutting herself off from the world during her recovery like he thought she might. Granted, she’s not as social as normal—not seeing the boys or anything—but at least she’s staying in touch with her best friend.
And him. He feels so lucky she’s sharing this with him.
Castle watches her out of the corner of his eye as he drives to her apartment. She is staring out the window the whole time, whether lost in thought or appreciating the city sights he doesn’t know. He wonders if she misses it while at the cabin, or if it’s a welcome reprieve. She insists on leaving the wheelchair in the back seat just as he insists she take the elevator, not the stairs. She’d just be stupid to try considering how ashen her face is by the time she reaches her door. Kate Beckett is many things, but she’s not stupid.
“Castle, come in here; I need your help to lift it,” she calls from inside her bedroom. He finds her standing in front of her closet pointing at an oddly-shaped black object near the back. It isn’t until he pulls it out that he discovers it’s a guitar case, heavier than he expects it to be. And awkwardly weighted, he thinks, as he accidentally bangs it on the edge of the bed. “Careful,” she warns as he maneuvers it out the door.
“Why do you want to bring this back with us?” he asks.
“It’ll give me something to do besides read,” she replies. “And I can do it sitting down.”
“What, just talking to me isn’t entertaining enough for you?”
She rolls her eyes. “No, Castle, I like variety. That’s why I like the weird cases.”
“Well, that and the fact you met me while working one of them,” Castle amends.
“Wow. Egotistical much?”
“And proud of it.” Castle lowers the guitar case carefully into the trunk and closes it. Kate jumps at the bang and then tries to hide it by leaning against the car with her elbow. “You okay?” he asks her.
“Yeah, fine,” she lies. Her eyes are darting around too much for her to be fine. She notices the look he’s giving her. “Let’s just get to the morgue, okay?” She pulls the door open perhaps more roughly than normal and climbs inside.
“Okay,” he murmurs, getting behind the wheel once again. They drive in silence for a minute before he says, “I’ve never seen you play before. Are you good?”
“Not anything special, but I can play the chords and do the strumming patterns,” she replies. “I first started learning when I was eleven, and then off and on I would play after that. Usually after breakups or bad test scores or stuff like that.”
Castle narrows his eyes. “There’s no way I’m going to get you to tell me about said breakups, is there?”
“No,” she says derisively.
“Thought not. Okay then, what songs can you play?”
“Pretty much anything with the chords written out after a few tries, but I’ve played a lot of Taylor Swift.”
“Taylor Swift? I never pegged you as a Taylor Swift fan.”
“I’m not particularly. I have a much younger cousin Charlotte who was really into her, and we used to hang out a lot before she moved. When my dad and her parents would talk, we would play those songs in the living room. Until I got better, it created quite a ruckus. I got a lot better within these last few years.” She smiles at the memory. “Tell you what, Castle, when we get back to the cabin you can pick any Taylor Swift song and I’ll play it for you and you can sing it. Alexis likes her music, right? So you should know the lyrics.”
“Just ‘cause my daughter likes it, why does that automatically mean I know the songs?”
“I was a teenage girl once too. She probably plays them all over the apartment…and on repeat for days on end. We all did.”
“Fair point. But I’m only singing if you do with me.”
She makes this cute harrumph noise in her throat. “Fine.” Castle grins as he parks outside the morgue.
“As I’ll ever be,” Kate replies with a nod. She and Castle exit the car and he stays close to her as they approach the building. He holds the door open for her as she steps inside and leads the way to Lanie’s usual station. The wall turns into glass as they come close and the door is open.
“I told you, Javi, we need to act professionally in the workplace.”
“Come on, chica, it was one comment; nobody even heard,” Esposito replies.
“It’s not just this one time! This isn’t going to work if you keep—” Kate knocks on the door, interrupting Lanie and Esposito’s hushed conversation. They practically leap apart. “Kate!” Lanie exclaims, pulling off her blue gloves and hurrying over to meet her. “What are you doing here, girl? How are you?” Esposito looks equally happy to see her, if a bit rattled.
“I’m doing better, Lanie, thanks,” Kate says, smiling. “Hey, Espo.”
“Hey Beckett,” he replies. “Come to see dead bodies instead of solve murders? Interesting career change.”
Kate rolls her eyes. “Yeah, right. No, if you need me to come help you with your cases because you and Ryan are incapable of functioning without me, feel free to call.”
Castle connects Lanie and Esposito with his fingers, noting how the two of them are standing an awkward distance apart. “So, what’s up with you guys?”
“Castle!” Kate hisses. She tries to step on his foot but misses. He steadies her hastily, trying to act like nothing has just transpired.
“We’re fine,” Lanie says shortly, moving to the other side of the examination table and disposing of her gloves in the wastebasket underneath.
“Sure you don’t want to—” Castle begins before Lanie cuts in.
“Castle, you ask one more question and I’m gonna smack you.”
“Take her seriously; she’ll do it,” Esposito adds. Lanie fixes him with a death stare and he closes his mouth.
“Lanie, could I talk to you, privately?” Kate asks.
“Sure,” Lanie looks away from Esposito and leads her into an adjoining room, shutting the door behind them.
For a moment there’s silence between him and Esposito. “Girl talk. Wonder what they’re discussing,” Castle says.
“When the women convene in private, it’s never good, bro,” Esposito shakes his head. “For one of us at least. This time I’m gonna go with me…unless you’ve done something horrendous to Beckett in the last twenty-four hours?” Castle opens his mouth to respond. “By the way, if you say yes, I will knock your teeth in.”
“…No,” Castle says slowly. “For the two of us, it’s been pretty smooth sailing.”
“Lucky you. You make it official yet?”
“You talk about it yet?”
“Well, not in so many words…”
“You tell her about the man on the phone?”
“Okay, man, I don’t envy you anymore. All hell’s gonna break lose when Beckett finds out about that secret.”
“Which is why I haven’t told her.”
“Bro, I get why,” Esposito says. “And to some extent I agree with you. But I’ve been thinking since we last talked, and…she’s going to find out sooner or later. Maybe you just want to get it over with now, so that she’s incapacitated enough to be prevented from diving in and it doesn’t come back to bite you in the ass later when that holding pattern of yours breaks.”
“Lanie’s words, not mine. Listen, lying or keeping things from Beckett is not the way you want to start the relationship. The hardest thing to get from her is trust, and right now you have it. Don’t screw it up.”
Lanie closes the door behind them, but Kate barely notices because she’s transfixed by the body lying on the table. It’s a woman with two GSWs just below her shoulder and the sight makes Kate’s blood solidify into ice. She could be lying there on that table. That could have been her.
The spell is broken as Lanie whips the light blue cover sheet over the victim’s shoulders and face. Kate sinks down on the stool and Lanie pulls up a chair across from her. “What did you want to talk about, Kate?”
“Is everything okay between you and…” she gestures feebly towards the door.
“But Castle told me you two were getting along great at the hospital. What happened?” she pauses. “I mean, if you want to share, I’m here.”
“The hospital was a special circumstance, Kate. We both needed someone to comfort us, so of course we were fine then. But lately…” Lanie trails off, so Kate has to prompt her.
“Something about acting professionally at work?”
“Yes, but it’s not really about that. It’s about more than that. I know you and Ryan and Castle all know about us, but we’re still keeping it a secret from the others. Javi’s ready to put it out in the open, but I’m not yet. It feels like he’s trying to rush this while I’m still figuring it out.”
“Have you told him that?”
“I’ve tried, but neither of us can say what we really feel. So we’re just going in circles, fighting the same fights over and over again.”
“I’m sorry, Lanie.” Kate gives her friend a sad smile.
“Yeah, well, just ‘cause my love life is circling doesn’t mean yours is. What’s new with you and Castle?”
“We just talked two days ago. So no, nothing new.”
“You two are living together. A ton can happen in two days, girl!”
“We are not—well, yeah, I guess we kinda are,” Kate says defeatedly. “But not like that, okay? Separate beds, Lanie. Separate rooms.”
“Okay, fine, got it. But seriously, when you’re ready, I think you and Castle would be great together.”
Kate looks uncertainly at her best friend. “I’m not sure. I mean, after seeing what’s happened with you and Espo…”
“Yeah, well, at least we gave it a shot. If it doesn’t work, then that’s that, but if it does…imagine how great we could be. You can’t throw away that kind of possible future with Castle because you’re scared it won’t work out. It’s only through trial and error that you’ll find the right one for you.”
“We should head back out. I trust Javi, but Castle could get himself into a lot of trouble out there without supervision.” Kate laughs. After rejoining Castle, they bid their goodbyes and Espo promises to pass along her greetings to Ryan.
“So, what was up with Esplanie?” Castle asks as soon as the car doors close.
“Esplanie?” She’s lost in thought.
“Come on, we’ve gone over this: an amalgamation of their names, and because they’re always esplaining things…”
“Oh, yeah… It’s none of your business, Castle.” Fortunately, Castle seems to respect her silence on the matter much more than he had Lanie’s at the morgue and quits asking questions. They talk of trivial things the whole way back, and Kate’s eyes are half-closed as she steps across the cabin threshold. It’s only seven o’clock, but it’s been a long day and she’s exhausted. Castle recognizes this and follows her to her room to say goodnight.
“I was supposed to play you a song,” Kate murmurs, remembering. She doubts her fingers are coordinated enough right now to use a fork. “Raincheck?”
“Raincheck,” Castle agrees.