The elevator doors open and Castle half expects to be swarmed by police officers, though he specifically told Esposito not to let them do that on a five-minute phone call last night. He’d also asked him to try and get the other detectives and uniforms to conceal their firearms a bit better, and Esposito’d said he’d try. Castle didn’t agree with Kate’s decision to move back into the city, but he has to admit it is her decision to make. Fighting her on it now won’t help—all he can do is give her every chance to succeed. Now for the moment of truth.

Only the faithful L.T. Tolliver, Castle’s favorite uniform, catches their eye and comes over to say hello. He exchanges a few words with Beckett—Beckett? Where did that come from? Precinct habit—gets a laugh out of her, and moves on. Castle notes that he’s not even wearing his gun and must have left it in his locker. That’s what Castle likes about L.T.—he’s considerate, knows what he’s doing, and not as much of a stickler for the rules as everyone else is.

Unfortunately, Castle can’t really see if Esposito managed to do his job because the bullpen seems to be filled to the brim with plain-clothed people. They’re acting too chaotic to be extra detectives brought in for some sort of crisis, so he assumes they’re civilians like himself here for another reason. Everyone seems to be busy talking with someone, though.

Esposito greets them with a broad smile and a “Hey, Beckett, Castle!” while Ryan stands stiffly to say his hellos. His non-slouching, straight-backed demeanor reminiscent of a Catholic school graduate meeting a nun is odd…in a flash Castle remembers the last time Ryan and Beckett talked on the phone, and he has to resist the temptation to smirk.

“Hey, guys. What’re all these people doing here?” Castle asks, gesturing to the bustling bullpen around him.

“Daytime shooting in the park,” Esposito replies. “Lot of witnesses to get statements from. This is one of those ones that makes me question the wisdom of the second amendment—guys like this who bring guns to picnics with their girlfriends.”

Kate nods absentmindedly, taking everything in. “You said you had a murder board for me?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry ‘bout that, Beckett,” Esposito says. “Caught a break that night with traffic cam footage, closed it first thing this morning. We can go to lunch as soon as Gates lets us off, which’ll be when Ryan finishes that monstrosity of paperwork.”

“I’m almost done!” Ryan protests, bending over his work.

“Never mind, that’s okay,” she murmurs. Castle had expected her to be more disappointed that they don’t need her help with a case. If he’s not mistaken, she’s a bit nervous being back here. Her eyes seem to focus not on the faces of the cops nearby, but at their waists where she knows their guns are holstered. The officers that he can see have covered them with their jackets and such, but the slight bulge and just knowing they’re there seems to be making her tense. He steps a fraction closer to her, but she’s already moving away to explore her empty desk behind them. Out of the corner of his eye he can see her picking up the name plaque reading DET. BECKETT and running her fingertips along the white engraved letters.

“Yeah, we’re swamped just taking statements,” Ryan agrees. “Gates has been running around all morning trying to maintain order, but it’s pretty chaotic. I guess back in IA she liked to think precincts ran a bit smoother than this.”

Castle laughs, always willing to make a pass at the Captain who had kicked him out of the precinct. “So, what have you guys been up to? Catch any cool murders lately? Or gruesome? Like, ooh—CIA hits gone wrong? Masked bandits willing to kill for a map leading to ancient treasure troves? Men melting down their wives’ bodies in tubs of acid?”

“Dude,” Esposito says. “I get that you’re a crime writer, but really?”

“Yeah, so, how would we get those wife murders, exactly?” Ryan asks. “No bodies.”

“Maybe he got interrupted and didn’t have time to fit her entirely inside,” Castle suggests. “Maybe when you got there, there was still half an arm on the floor, sizzling.”

“Bro, gross,” Esposito shakes his head. “We see enough creepy things without you making us imagine more. We,” he glances at Ryan, “wanna hear about you and Beckett.”

“Didn’t you learn your lesson from last time?” Castle asks pointedly, looking especially at Ryan. The detective suddenly becomes very interested in the smudge of dirt on the floor.

“Come on, dude, don’t shut us out like this,” Esposito badgers. “We’re your bros, remember?”

“Really? When she’s standing right there at her desk?” Castle asks. He turns to Beckett for support, expecting to see her patented glare directed at the three of them. Except she’s nowhere in sight. “Kate?”

Leaving Castle and the boys to talk, Kate moves away from her desk, setting the plaque back down on it as she goes. She pauses briefly, deciding where she wants to go, before heading for the Captain’s office. There’s nobody inside, so she pushes the door open and closes it behind her. A modicum of relief slows her heart rate as she separates herself from the throng outside. She’s never liked crowds, and now she likes them even less.

The place looks different than she remembers it. Different Captain, different decorations. The framed awards on the walls are still for the Twelfth Precinct, but certain certificates have the name “Victoria Gates” on them now. Where there used to be a picture of Montgomery and his wife, Evelyn, and daughters Rebecca and Mary, there is now a woman and husband she doesn’t recognize but assumes must be the new Captain Gates.

“What are you doing in my office?” a female voice asks angrily. The door has opened behind her, and Kate whirls around to find herself face to face with the woman in the picture.

“I…” She tries to hide how startled she’d been. The Captain, at least, doesn’t carry a weapon. That helps.

“Detective Beckett,” the woman says, recognition flaring in her eyes and replacing the anger. “I’m sorry, I thought you were one of the riff-raff from outside. I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.” She holds out her hand and Kate shakes it. She can’t quite figure out how to explain her presence here as Gates makes her way around to the back of her desk and closes several folders on it. “Now, Detective, if you’re here to ask for your badge back, I’m afraid you still have another month of mandatory recovery and re-examinations to pass.”

Kate shakes her head, but before she can say anything, Gates is peering out the window into the bullpen. “I suppose you’ve brought Mr. Castle with you?”

“Yes sir,” she finds herself answering. Gates catches sight of Castle standing with Ryan and Esposito and takes off her reading glasses ominously. With her hands on her hips she gives the two detectives a dangerous look, and they scurry to look like they’re working. Castle meekly retreats to Kate’s desk and sits in her chair, playing with the mechanism that moves it up and down. Gates sighs.

“Then why are you here, Detective? Even though you do have the highest case closure rate in the precinct, your being here while on leave is distracting and detrimental to the work of the other officers. Especially when you bring the second-rate novelist, Mr. Castle.”

“I’m sorry, sir, we’re just waiting for Esposito and Ryan,” she says before her eyes alight on a little cop figurine on the desk, holding a tiny clipboard with the Miranda rights etched on it. She can’t stop herself from picking it up; it’s an item that’s been on this desk as long as she can remember, an item Captain Montgomery was fond of. She turns it over to find writing.

To Roy

Congrats on making Detective

-Mike 1986

“Can I just…have a minute?”

Gates’s gaze softens. “Of course, Detective.” She leaves the office, shutting the door softly behind her.

Kate sets the figurine down, wondering who Mike could be. The name doesn’t match any of the men Montgomery was friends with during the kidnapping scheme, but that’s about all she knows about Roy Montgomery’s life. His words echo back to her. “This is my spot, Kate. This is where I stand.”

“Turn around slowly,” says a menacing voice from behind her. Immediately all her senses are on overdrive, screaming danger at her. She does as the voice commands. Her eyes take in the situation in half a second, but her limbs are immobile. It’s a man with his hand pressed over a young woman’s mouth, holding a gun to her head. The woman is whimpering softly, tears leaking out her eyes. “Don't move,” the gun man hisses. Her hand drifts unconsciously to her hip, where her holster should be. There isn't one. “Ah, ah, ah,” the man warns, spying the twitch of her hand. He cocks the gun, and her gaze hones in on it. What it can do. Destroy. Maim. Hurt. Kill. Tear apart. Her entire body is shaking now, staring mesmerized at the hunk of metal in his hand. Its effect on her is all-encompassing: her throat closes up so that she's gasping for air, her heart pounds erratically, her hands and feet grow cold. “Call out for help, and she dies,” he warns. “Act normally. I need you to get us out of this precinct. Now.”

Before she can say or do anything, the man shoves the girl up against the wall and the door opens widely, obscuring them both behind the blinds. “Whatcha doin’?” Castle asks. “If Gates catches you in here all alone, you’re toast.”

She has to speak. She knows that, but her larynx isn’t cooperating. Come on, it’s just Castle. She can do this. “I have permission,” she grinds out weakly. “I’ll…I’ll be out in a minute. Just go back and finish up with Espo and Ryan. You’re not going to have much of a chance to do any more research for Wild Heat for a while.” Confusion flashes through Castle’s eyes, and she’s glad he’s facing her and not the gun man. Come on, Castle, she thinks desperately, willing him to understand.

After what seems like an eternity, he nods. “Yeah, I’ll do that.” He turns and exits the office again, making a beeline for Ryan and Esposito. Outside, she can see the two detectives stand and catch L.T. by the wrist, pulling their guns surreptitiously from their holsters.

Knowing he’s been caught, the gun man kicks the door away from him, not quite hard enough to close it. Esposito, Ryan, and L.T. hadn’t been inconspicuous enough, or something else must have gone wrong. He drops his hostage unceremoniously on the floor and fires two rounds into the ceiling, capturing everyone’s attention. Kate flinches at the noise, unaware that he’s shoved her to the floor as she relives the cemetery once again. The impact. Everything slipping away.

The first thing she’s aware of when she comes to is that Castle’s gently prying her hands away from covering her eyes and face, murmuring something unintelligible. He smoothes back her hair and grips her tightly. He shakes her slightly by the shoulders, forcing her back into the present. Forcing her to look him in the eyes. “You’re okay, Kate. Up, come on.” He lifts her from the ground, supporting her with his body. Her entire body is shaking and her knees are weak; it’s hard to see through a cloud of dissipating panic. Castle guides her to the chair at her desk. Esposito and Ryan follow, clustering around. They’re soon joined by Captain Gates, freshly off the phone.

“That was narcotics above us,” she informs the four of them. “One of the bullets caught a uniform in the foot, but otherwise no one was hurt. What the hell happened?” Everyone looks at Kate.

She swallows. “I was in your office, and then a man came in, holding a gun to the head of a woman. A hostage. He told me he wanted me to get him out of the precinct, but before I could do anything, Castle came in.”

“Beckett was acting weird, and I knew something was wrong,” Castle supplies. His hand is clasping hers comfortingly, but her brain feels fried. Every nerve she has is tingling, and her mind flits from one thought to the next frantically. She itches with the suppressed need to run. “On the way out I caught a glimpse of the hand with the gun through the blinds on the door. I told Ryan and Esposito, but he must have known I had seen him because he fired.”

“Once the gunshots went off, all the civilians started screaming and rushing for the exits,” Esposito nods. “The perp dropped the woman, ran out of the office, and blended in the crowd. By the time Ryan and I managed to get through, he was gone.”

“Where’s the woman now?” Gates asks.

“L.T.’s got her in interrogation one to be safe,” Ryan answers. “He’s talking to her now, trying to calm her down and see what she knows.”

“Security footage? Maybe we can ID the man off that.”

“I’ll get on it,” Ryan slides away on his chair.

“Detective Beckett, do you think you could sit with one of our sketch artists in case the video doesn’t pan out?” Captain Gates suggests. Kate nods mutely. “Mr. Castle, take her to them. I trust you know where to go? Good. Detective Esposito, you’re with me, interrogation.”

“Yes, sir,” Espo replies automatically. Gates strides away from them, but Espo just looks at Kate. “You okay, Beckett?” There’s genuine concern in his eyes.

“Yeah, I am. Go,” Kate says.

Esposito exchanges a meaningful glance with Castle, who says, “Yeah, I got her.” Espo follows Gates, and Castle looks at Kate. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

She gives a half-nod, half-shrug, half-shake of her head.

Castle brushes her hair back comfortingly. “We’re gonna catch this guy, okay? You’re safe now.” Kate nods, though he’s not even near convincing. The only part of this that’s vaguely helpful is his steadiness: the way he holds her hands, the seriousness and sincerity in his eyes.

When they’re done with the sketch artist, an hour later by Castle’s estimation, the five of them meet back in the bullpen by Ryan and Esposito’s desks. Castle steals a chair for himself and brings Kate’s over for her. She’s only marginally recovered from the incident, as she stays closer to him than usual and keeps glancing around like she’s ready to bolt. He knows Esposito notices it too—the ex-Special-Forces man probably knows a thing or two about PTSD.

It surprises Castle slightly that she hasn’t bolted yet. First it had been a gunshot-like noise in her apartment that caused her to flee, and then something at the mall. This incident is infinitely worse than both of those scenarios, so why is she calmer in this one? She didn’t just hear shots or see a gun, she saw a man shoot it right in front of her. She saw him holding that gun to another woman’s head, knowing full well what it could do. Why is her reaction now any less dramatic? There are only two explanations he can think of. One, she’s in the precinct, somewhere she’s well aware contains criminals and low-lifes. Both of the other locations had been completely out of the blue—she never would have expected a guy with a gun in her apartment or at a mall. Here, she’s seen it before. Dick Coonan, and others. Two, she’s surrounded by people she trusts—Esposito, Ryan, L.T., and maybe even Gates as Captain. Number two hurts a little, because Castle had been standing right beside her at the mall incident. That would mean she feels safer around all of them than just him. He supposes darkly that that would make sense—they’re all cops, peacekeepers, defenders of the law. He still doesn’t like the idea that they can provide the sense of security he can’t.

Gates brings the chair from her office and joins the small circle.

“How’s the woman?” Castle asks straight off. For once, Gates doesn’t look too annoyed by his being here.

“Her name is Alanis Casparian, twenty-six. She’s a little shaken up, but the head psychiatrist, Dr. Holloway, is talking with her now.”

“Does she have any connection with the gun man?”

“Not that she’s aware of; she said she’s never seen that man before in her life. She was one of the park shooting witnesses here to give her statement. Have we managed to ID the gun man yet?” Esposito queries.

“Almost,” Ryan answers. “The video by itself was a bust—his face was always mostly shaded—but I contacted the analysts in narcotics and vice and one of them from narcotics said she could combine a sketch with the video footage and try running that through facial rec. Ah, here it is: Finn Sandler, multiple arrests, mostly for public intoxication and disorderly conduct, but the last one of those was ten years ago. Then it looks like he cleaned up his act, because we’ve got nothing on him but a driver’s license.” Ryan shows them the picture.

“That’s him,” Kate confirms.

“See if there’s any link between Casparian and Sandler in their files,” Esposito tells his partner. Ryan nods.

“Keep me apprised,” Gates says. “I want this guy caught without further turmoil. He shot an officer in my precinct. I’ve got to deal with this PR debacle before it gets out of hand.” She affixes Esposito with an intense gaze. “You’re running point on this one, Detective. Bring the bastard in.

“Yes, sir,” Esposito replies. Gates turns to go back into her office.

“Captain Gates,” Kate calls after her, standing. “I want to help with this one.”

The Captain looks back at her incredulously. “What did I tell you earlier, Detective? I cannot allow you to have your badge back until you have passed evaluations.”

“Beckett is the only one who got a clear look and talked with the man,” Castle argues, leaping to his feet as well.

Gates pauses, considering. “All right, but for this one case only. You are not here under any official capacity, Detective Beckett, and you are not to pursue this case outside of the precinct. You are here to observe and consult only.”

“I understand,” Kate replies quickly.

“The same goes for you, Mr. Castle.”

“Of course.”

“Ryan,” Gates barks, turning away from them. “Get that video tech from narcotics down here. I want to bring her in for this case.”

“Yes, sir,” Ryan agrees immediately, reaching for his phone.

“Are you sure about this?” Castle asks. She looks at him.


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