Monday, May 31, 2010

The same river twice

Kate watched them walk out of the station and into the sun-filled Perfect Summer Days the Hamptons always promised and often delivered. She could feel her--no, she couldn't feel anything. Inside her chest was a single congealed mass like stale Play-Doh, not moving, not beating, not breaking. It wasn't rational, cerebral, verbal; not 'This is not happening.' It was very much like a blow to the head or a car accident. The last thing she had expected. No, of all things she might have expected, Gina would never have occurred to her. Gina with her arm around Castle and Rick snuggling with his ex-wife. She watched them go and could not move. Lanie finally came out of the party room and took her to sit down.

“Well, that was a surprise. I thought he'd stay longer,” said Montgomery. “Should I know who she was?”

“The second wife, not Alexis's mother,” said Ryan. “Blood-Sucking, not Deep-Fried.”

Montgomery made the face of one who would not criticize without walking the requisite mile, but was at a loss to understand. “Good thing you have Demming.”

The other three sentient persons in the room looked at him.


Kate just sat there, emotionally concussed. She went through the motions and took the weekend off. Not drinking, not crying, not thinking.

This was a place she had been before. This was the ringing emptiness she had met with as she collapsed exhausted over the unbreakable case of her mother's murder, which had helped her hide from the immovable truth of her mother's death. Letting go of her mother's case had meant finally letting go of her mother, some crazy hope that if the puzzle was solved the problem would disappear, like unknotting a piece of yarn. But the yarn was broken, and she had to get the ends worked in and secure enough to go on somehow. It took a long time.
If her mother had lived longer, Kate might never have realized how much Johanna's fire had sustained their family. She had lost both parents. Her father drifted farther from fatherhood, from any kind of responsible personhood. Then, a few years after her mother's death, her father announced he had 'loved her too well;' he had 'hit bottom' and was going to 'make amends.'

Despite her father's embrace of 'powerlessness,' he continued to mouth that remark about 'life never giving you things you could not handle,' which seemed to Kate to be the opposite of AA's radical helplessness. She wondered if he had noticed the contradiction. She understood her father had decided to live a smaller life, because he needed to if he was to live at all. She forgave him, she knew better than to challenge him, but he was no longer the dynamic man she had believed in. He could not shelter her and he could not spur her. He was alive and he loved her and he was coping, by now somewhat better than she was, if you called his sensible, pedestrian life living.

While Kate was intensely grateful for his sobering up, the philosophy repelled her. Love-- you can't love too well. You can't throw too much after it. Love makes the world go round. Love is its own reward. Love seeketh not itself to please. Love never ends. Didn't you and Mom used to believe that?

Passionate, take-charge, kick-the-world's-ass was the only way young Kate had known how to live. Kate took risks in college; did illogical things as college kids are supposed to do; went to Russia, for pity's sake-talk-about-messed-up-countries; realized she could not put her mother's death behind her at all; went headlong into becoming the best cop ever. After all, 'life never hands you anything you can't handle,' right? So she could handle this, right?

“I know you love your mom,” her therapist had said, “But if she saw you and your dad lose her so suddenly, would she said that? It's too glib. Life hands everyone things they may or may not be able to handle, and some people, for one reason or another – good ones-- may not be able to 'handle' things very well. There are things we cannot 'handle'.”
“Like my dad's thing from AA? 'Powerlessness?' That seems bogus,” Kate had said.
“Well, I don't think it's the right answer for everyone, particularly women. We get told we ought to be powerless so much of the time anyway. But some events in our lives 'handle' us, and we have to change to survive.”

Kate had changed.

“Love does not not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, never fails.” That was Love: Divine Love. People were... people. Sometimes some of them touched that kind of inhuman perfection, but it was hardly the standard. People failed, they envied, they boasted and snarked and cried, they hoped... she had seen enough women hoping or trusting or persevering in the wrong men to know human love was a problem (okay, some men were dragged into trouble by their women friends, true. It was less common in her experience and right now, this this was about her).

“Love has no end.” But people did. People died, people got tired, people ran out of resources. No wonder they let alcohol, or, more or less destructively-- differently-- let work, avocation, kids fill the void. Accept a small dream, seek more self-contained joys.

It took her a long time to learn why anyone would do that, to accept limitations in her own passion for life and integrity and high ideals. The part of her who was 'the girl single-handedly going to change the NYPD and track down her mother's murderer' almost killed all the rest of Kate. The person she found when her head had come back together, was someone stronger, deeper, and much more focussed. And dry. It was the strength of cast iron rather than an ocean. Her college self didn't much like the person she had had to become. But she was alive, she was effective – very effective-- and duty was more reliable than joy. Learning to live with imperfection and uncertainty and smaller goals had not been intended to shut down the spirit of her youth, but that seemed to have been the cost of saving herself from obsessive despair.

Play it safe, Katie, play it safe. It worked, consistently. It gave her one unshakeable place to cling: You did the sensible thing. So play it safe. Don't get dragged under by passion. Play it cool. Don't love inconvenient men. This often amounted to not loving anyone. Well, not that way. Play it safe. He looks sweet, but love is like the lemon tree. He says he will give you everything, as long as your everything is more inclusive, as long as you will leave town, friends, career for him. Because he loves you: but his everything is more important than your everything. And Sorenson never saw the problem there. Kate had tried to love sensibly, and be loved sensibly in return, and without noticing, Sorenson had offered her his sensible life in return for her own. Kate had noticed one day as she thought about leaving New York. Apparently even sensible men were too risky.

Then into her perfectly rational and realistic world came someone who laughed at danger. Who sneered at convention (though innocents rarely came to harm in his books), and set society on its ear with his callous disregard (Kate did wonder about the horse. In the nude? Ow). Who loved his daughter with madcap, annoying abandon. Alexis was used to being annoyed, but she took her father's tendency to ruffles and flourishes and fake blood as evidence of the depth of his affection, which was exactly right. Kate suspected Richard Castle's eventual grandchildren would have regular bedtimes and never taste beer until they were 21. (Or were left alone with their grandfather).

Having Castle around had stirred things up. Not just in Kate's depths, the places she didn't want to go; but in her shallows, where it turned out she had ignored bright colors and light-mindedness, the beauty of the world that did not tear your heart, but even mended it. A clownfish? Safe despite the stings of New York's violent side? Someone with a different way of getting through the hard stuff? She had thought he had no hard stuff in his life; Castle liked to give that impression. Castle could have chosen to play his bastardy, his choppy childhood, his hurt from Meredith entirely differently, bearing them on his 'strong but burdened, poor brave injured male' shoulders.

Instead, he wore them on his sleeves, made the scars on his own heart into a patchwork coat and asked people to laugh. Stuffed silk (not just a cushion of ready cash, though that certainly helped) rather than plate steel; warm and soft and actually even moderately protective. No secrets, unless you counted not admitting to a foundational myth for his interest in writing murder mysteries. Or unless you counted pretending to have no depth.

She had seen his heart sometimes, and it worked better than hers. Even though she was a cop and needed some armor and some cynicism to do her job, she had to admit that joy was not an occupational liability. She saw it in her colleagues' faces sometimes, and knew she was arrogant to call them simple-minded. The world and too many of its people sucked. There was still baseball. The perfect Crab Rangoon. The crazy birders in Central Park who loved Pale Male. Kate had started to notice happiness all around her and she thought it might be all right if she had some too, without denying the real presence of frustration, heartbreak and human failure. It was doable.

She thought she had begun to get better at juggling them when her apartment blew up.

It was hardly the first time someone had tried to kill her, but the cold-blooded method was new. Say 'psychopath' all you like, it was more deeply scary than a gunfight. She told herself this was true, and therefore it was okay to be kinda traumatized. She ignored herself because she was Kate Beckett. Her insides congealed. Everyone thought the heart of Castle's home would be a perfect sanctuary. Castle hoped it would be more than that – well, she thought he did. Hard to tell. He was playing cautiously, trying not to scare her, realizing on some level that the candy-colored whacko functionality of his family was as frightening as any bomb.

Maybe if she had stayed with the Castle-Rodgerses while her apartment house was getting its elevators fixed--some other 'normal' disruption, with a nest she could go on believing safe and solid, of her own, waiting for her to come back to it--she could have seen it more calmly: people of privilege who knew they were privileged, valued it. People of emotional honesty who had dug the foundations for years.

As it was, for a woman in shock, it was like living on the set of Star Trek. Particularly when they played laser tag. She had no experience in parents congratulating their child for killing them repeatedly. Or grandmothers who sniped unexpectedly from the staircase and beat all of them. Or men who made souffles as easily as pancakes and muttered about their daughters' folding the egg whites vindictively (“They're not your guidance councilor, be gentle”).

Whatever. Something about the easy-looking love in that kitchen sent Kate to a real estate agent before the sheets in Castle's guestroom needed changing. Even before Montgomery (and his weightier friends) had suggested to the insurance company that delay in paying out to the tenants of her building would be a really bad idea, she was in a new place. “IKEA Tower,” Alexis had called it, biting it back too late when Kate had a small housewarming. In her new, rather sterile, really tidy apartment, Kate had time to think about why she needed out of Casa Castle so fast, and she didn't like what she found. Apparently the visceral Kate Beckett did not trust Castle to see her in sweatpants, in dirty hair, in exhaustion, in pain.

Though of course he already had. He had courted her in her pain and offered to go with her into tribulation. He thought she was strong enough to fight demons. She was very tired and new ones kept showing up. It took her a week before she noticed how upset she was that one of them wanted to play Nikki Heat in the movies, and in Castle's bed.

Of course it was his bed and he was free to let anyone he wanted lie in it. Kate knew she didn't want to.

“You know what I think.”
“Yes, Lanie, I do. And you know what I think.”
“If you don't care about him why are you so torn up about a little Hollywood good time? I know you're not worried she broke his heart.” Lanie had looked at her across the restaurant table and searched her face. “Are you?”
“No. He doesn't have a heart, anyway.”
“Wow, look who's talking.” Lanie watched Kate's calm, even face twist. “Oh, hon.”
“He flirts with me all the time and then he goes to bed with a floozy.” Kate clamped her voice down against rising to a howl.
“Yeah, he's a guy. Honestly, the fact he still bothers to flirt after all the encouragement you've given him--”
“I haven't given him any encouragement!” Kate said, with perhaps a little more force than was necessary.
“But he still wishes you would.”
“I don't want to be one of his conquests!”
“I think he would be happy to be one of yours. And if that worked for both of you, he might be willing to settle into something more permanent.”
“I don't work like that! And we work together! It would be awful!”
“Or maybe not. Look, hon, have you ever had two beers with him and told him what you just told me? That you don't want to throw your friendship under a bus, that it means something to you and you worry that having a good time would make it impossible to pick up as friends or sidekicks or whatever again?”
“I bet he'd be interested to hear it.”
“Maybe.” Kate thought about it. The next time Castle batted his eyelashes at her, she could grab him by the necktie and say something like, “Listen, you idiot--” The thought made her sweat. Sweating was good. She went to the gym to work off some of her nerves and met Tom Demming.

Demming was like a warm bath. With a massage after it. And chocolate. He thought she was wonderful. He thought she was the bees' knees. She thought he kissed rather nicely. Her body was more explicit, but she had to admit it was not very particular after no touching for so long. She was glad she had let it happen with someone nice, and kind, and decent. “You are so wonderful, Kate. I would never hurt you,” Demming whispered in her ear. “I can keep you safe.”

How different could you get from a man who admitted he had an appetite for a deep-fried Twinkie once in awhile? From someone who fell into bed with any slutty manipulative movie star who happened to be passing? From someone whose idea of loving gifts began “It's about your mother”? From someone who took risks, and respected her enough he assumed she did, and respected her enough to apologize for taking them without her permission? Kate was no man's deep-fried Twinkie. She shied away from wondering if Demming was hers, and threw herself into his arms in gratifying response to his decency. Also, it felt really good.

When they went out, people looked at her, not him. It was she who waved back to the mayor one night in a small restaurant, and introduced him to Tom. If Tom thought she was strange for choking and leaving the next place when she recognized somebody who wrote for Page Six, well, let him. Nikki Heat was off-duty. (What a skank.)

Her toes curled when Demming held her, but somewhere she could see Castle's lips' curling (that would be every time he saw Demming). No, but a part of her that she hadn't realized looked and sounded like Castle, a part of her that danced in the moonlight and laughed loudly and sometimes wore impractical clothes, a part of Kate she had only allowed to come out and play under the strictest supervision (a part of her that was very reasonably hiding under a heavier psychic vision of the new couch she had not bought from Pottery Barn, damn it) – kept thinking bad thoughts. Kate ignored them.

It didn't help when Ryan said “Sorenson, I mean Demming, sorry --”
“Well, it's great you were able to find the same thing but not upholstered in Fed.”
“You like good, steady, white bread men,” said Esposito. “Nothing wrong with that.” He and Ryan continued their routine.
“Consistent taste.”
“Key to happiness.”
“Or making the same mistake several times,” Ryan admitted.
“Says Honey Milk.”
“I know now I don't like Goths.”
“They were attracted to your Irish pallor. You were attracted to their attraction.”
“Hey,” said Beckett.
“What? I'm picking on Ryan now.”
“We can go back to giving you advice if you want.”
“Thanks anyway, but no.”
“Right,” said Ryan, “Because men don't know anything about how relationships work.”
“You should talk to Lanie,” said Esposito.
Kate closed her eyes. “I don't need to,” she said. “She's been very clear.”
“Then you're in good hands,” said Ryan.

They were nice guys. They were more than that, they were her partners, and they wanted to cover her back. Which she appreciated, of course, but it was her life. And it wasn't as though they knew her all that well, really. They had the decency to keep it light. They would never have made her feel uncomfortable. Like Castle did. When she got caught having lied to him in the middle of the Spycation case. Castle's announcement—as far as she could tell right out of the blue-- that they were taking a break came as a complete shock. Like coming out from under nice warm water and having a bucket of icy slush poured over your head. As soon as there was a quiet moment, Kate went and found Lanie.
“What kind of reason did he have to do that? It was only a little white lie, and I really ought to be working this weekend.”
“Exactly. What you said,” Lanie told her, busy at a desk.
“And I didn't tell Tom I was going away with him, I said I'd look into it.”
“Of course you are. You're going to make a reasonable decision and Castle isn't in the running. Because his house isn't as nice as a motel in Asbury Park.”
“He knows I feel bad. I told him I didn't want things to be awkward between us now that Tom and I are together. I didn't want it to be an uncomfortable situation for any of us.”
“You put it that way? You actually said the words?”
“Yeah, well, Tom and I are together, so?”
Lanie looked up from her paperwork. “And that doesn't make any difference between you and Castle. You want all of you to be good friends.”
“Well, yes, I think that would be nice, but then he goes and says he's going to the Hamptons for the summer and taking a break from helping out here. Running off like a sulky kid.”
“You can't see what all the fuss is about? Are you turning into a man? Kate, you can lie to Castle, even if you used to be one of the most honest people I've ever met. And you can lie to yourself because it's human nature and we live in a fallen world. But don't try to lie to me and tell me you honestly think everything is going to be like one big happy family.”
“I don't see why not.”
“Leave. My friend Kate has been kidnapped by aliens.”
Lanie hardly ever lost the undercurrent of amusement at her life, least of all when discussing aliens, but Kate saw nothing humorous in her face. “You are out of your mind. You are ignoring anything you ever knew about human nature, about men, about friendship. I assume you're exhausted. I hope you're not getting sick. And I think you're contagious because I don't feel too well myself. Go back to Homicide, Kate.”

Kate wanted to say, it shouldn't have to be one or the other. All she and Castle did was rub their brains together, not … body parts. Right? After that it was like a cascade. Esposito came and spoke to her about a going-away party for Castle. Away from Ryan he was often more serious. (Like her and Castle? Well, Castle was never more serious than she was. Smiled and tried to dance away from the awkwardness, make light of things, smooth them over... no big deals...) And he told her in his plainest words that he didn't think Castle was leaving for the summer, to write his book. Kate tried not to hear him but felt her familiar precinct fade out of color into monochrome like the end of The Wizard of Oz.

She was so quiet at dinner Demming took her home to IKEA Tower and left her to get some sleep. He always knew when she wasn't in the mood. He didn't press. Being pushed made her uncomfortable, and Castle was always pushing. Demming thought she was a goddess. One did not tease goddesses. Or worshippers, she realized. It had seemed nice to be placed on a pedestal, but it sure got boring up there (although boredom was an underrated commodity). But it was like living with a stuffed animal. Maybe one with a purring function. Kate felt bad, literally, a Bad Person, one who did not belong with someone so purely Good, because … she was bored. And Lanie was angry with her, usually a sign Kate had messed up. How safe was safe? Had she been underwater for the last few weeks?

Kate wasn't sure what she wanted, but it wasn't an endless Asbury Park summer. She scratched and scrabbled inside her head all night, trying to figure out what she needed to say, to whom. All the times she had considered taking what Castle offered--the warmth and the sparkling possibilities, the fear of only becoming a notch on his bedpost—one of the risks she had wanted most to avoid would have been to upset their comfortable working relationship. It was good for both of them, she would have sworn. Although apparently he'd been having trouble with the new book, something she couldn't recall having heard him mention. But the awkwardness she had wanted to prevent by not dating him had apparently bloomed when she told him she was part of another real couple. Her head ached. Couldn't Rick see he was not her type? That she wasn't his? That what they had was more real than sexual attraction?

But it seemed like Rick could not take it if she was settled and unapproachable. He wouldn't flirt if she belonged to another guy. And that was, for him, a deal-breaker. Lanie had made it clear the ball was in her court; if she wanted the cleverness, the fun, the ideal complementary help to her own flashes of insight, she had to be open to more from Rick Castle.
And that meant?
Kate wished that just for a few minutes the roaring in her head, that had been there in varying volume since the explosion in her home, would quiet down. For a second she realized she really did need a vacation, badly. But her head worked just fine on a homicide, so why take a vacation from that? Tom Demming was a vacation; he was warm white noise. And that was an awful thing to say about someone so sincere and so loving.

She knew what she had to say to him, and she said it. And then he had to realize she did not just mean for the weekend, and he had to spell it out. And again, Kate had the feeling life was running faster than she was. But it was true that the person she liked to be, the one who had been growing stronger before her apartment blew up, would not be satisfied with Tom's sweetness forever. Wasn't than something like what she had been trying to do: have Castle as her work boyfriend and Demming to go home to? Lying to Castle, pretty much taking Demming for a ride: was this who she wanted to be?

She was sure of that, anyway, and despite the part of her that kept saying what a great, safe bet Tom Demming was, she had ended them. Felt good enough to swagger a little as she picked up her beer. Almost confident enough to speak to Castle about the things she had been trying not to tell even herself.

She had been in this state of shock and ruins before, but, as is the way things go, she had changed from the person she had been that earlier time. She knew about going on and she would. And she would see him in the fall. Kate picked up the phone and called Lanie. “If I say you were right, and I was wrong, can we go to the beach?”
“Can I say it a bunch more times?”
“Could you maybe hold off on that a while?”
“I think so,” said Lanie. “You know where your towel is?”
“For the moment.”
"That'll have to do."