Kate had been ignoring the man, as much as anyone could. He’d come in with Agent Shaw’s bunch. They were cluttering up her precinct again, and she was trying not to respond the way she usually did to Feds. They hadn’t scooped one of her cases away. They were not even being high-handed, and now that the NYPD had broken out for a few of those giant touch-screens she felt less like a poor cousin being patronized at Christmas dinner. She wanted to release her prickliness, feel actually hospitable.
This man, she thought, could use it. Common human decency. He was one of the spookiest of the spooks, with dark hair and a scruffy reddish beard: less ordinary, less perfectly groomed than the rest of the FBI usually was. Some kind of undercover operative, then. He had removed his sunglasses only after being indoors for an hour, revealing a half-healed shiner and the wrinkles of a man with a nasty headache. After watching him wince she turned to the coffee machine and the big bottle of ibu, pulled three tablets and a double Long Black.
“Here,” she said. “Your suffering is distracting me.”
He looked at her and wow! now _that_ was distracting. Ice-blue eyes (puffy) raked her, somehow without the sexual sizing-up she was used to (and resented). Only then did he accept the tablets, swallow them dry, and take the coffee. He took a cautious sip, then a larger one, watching her. She watched him. “Better?”
“Better than I expected. I’ve never had coffee like this in…”
“A cop shop?”
“Trying to be polite.”
“It’s okay. I’m Detective Kate Beckett.”
His accent was strange, all the details sanded down. “And you’re from where?” Kate asked.
“The FBI, of course.”
“It’s like that, hm?”
“Sadly, yes. But you’re from New York, born and bred.”
She held up her hand. “No cold reading, thanks.”
“Sorry,” he said. “Bad habit. Although I might say that turnabout is fair play.”
Kate blushed. “Sorry.”
“You might explain about the coffee, that seems safe.” Looking into her seemed to be amusing. “Or not… Agent Shaw will be delighted. Shall I be meeting your writer? And you really do need to stop blushing or everyone will know.”
“Agent Shaw …”
“Briefed all of us that one of this precinct’s detectives works with a non-professional, a writer, whom she considers valuable. I don’t believe she intended to convey anything else.”
“But she did.”
“And you have just confirmed any suspicions I might have had. He’s competent as well as rich, then.”
“Sometimes, honestly, I’m not sure. But we work well together; I’m happy to hear of Agent Shaw’s confidence in him. I know it’s strange to have an amateur around—“
“I have great respect for some amateurs,” he said. “Particularly ones who write about detectives. Is his stuff any good?”
“Do you like murder mysteries? I’m not saying they’re accurate—“
“They never are. Would hardly sell.”
“They’re good stories,” Kate said, “as long as you know they aren’t really about me.”
“They really are about her,” said Rick, appearing next to her. “Except the slutty parts of Nikki’s character. Detective Beckett is entirely professional. I’m Rick Castle; are you with the Feds?”
“Jerry Sigerson. Thank you for the excellent coffee.”
“Esposito must have shelled out for the good stuff,” Rick said.
“My standards are not high. Tea would be a different matter.”
“Interesting guess, Mr. Castle.”
“How’s Arcady doing?”
Sigerson’s eyes shifted to Castle; Kate felt his attention leave her entirely. “Better, now that the circumstances of his fiancée’s death have been made clear. I understand he plans to participate in a match in San Francisco.”
“That’s really great,” Rick said. “So they put away the bastard who killed his fiancée?”
“I wasn’t privy to the details of the case, only to the parts that were made public. But I don’t imagine anything involving a member of the Canadian Parliament would go smoothly, particularly if any of his colleagues were involved.”
Kate had heard a little from Rick about his friend Arcady Balagan, a chess master holed up in a hotel for months after his fiancée’s car was bombed. She hadn’t heard anything about a politician being involved, and she knew why. Rick’s eyes, and then the FBI man’s, rested on her face for a moment, seeing more there than she wanted to discuss.
“So you are from Vancouver?” she asked. “Despite being ‘from’ an American outfit?”
“My identity is more flexible and less important than that. Agent Shaw will tell you I’m consulting for her on a human smuggling ring based in California. I might say the FBI is helping me dissect a worldwide criminal network, and we’d both be correct.”
“Worldwide?” asked Rick.
“Sorry, ‘first-world bias.’ Europe and North America, for the most part.” Kate enjoyed the mocking precision of the worlds, even as she suspected Sigerson could be a bitch to work with. “I consult, and I move on. And I’m not from anywhere.”
“How long have you been on this case?” Kate asked.
“It depends on where you begin… three years? I haven’t been travelling that long. Thanks for the coffee, Detective Beckett.” Sigerson turned his back and walked over to the small group where Agent Shaw was discussing their operation, before the formal briefing.
“I guess he’d had enough,” Rick said.
“I think he’s had more than enough,” Kate said. “The thing Lanie says, ‘rode hard and put away wet’? Over and over.”
“Yeah, well, you’d know about driving yourself too hard.”
“I’m doing better!”
“Extended bed rest,” Rick said darkly, warmly, and she tried not to blush. It still felt new. They indulged in a few moments’ eye-sex, and he brushed his knuckles against the back of her hand. “You think Agent Shaw will let me sit in on the briefing? I’d love to know more about a ‘First World’-wide criminal network. I’ve been thinking Nikki really needs that trip to Venice. And I’d need help doing the research, of course.”
“Wait till I have more leave saved up, okay? Gates says we’re in on the operation; Agent Shaw likes us very much.”
Agent Shaw really did. She smirked at Kate when she saw Castle sitting next to her among the rest of the police detailed to help. It wasn’t the first time the New York force had been asked to help the FBI by any means, though every case was different. For a consultant, Sigerson seemed unusually reticent, leaving almost all of the presentation to Shaw and her agents. The courtesy made Kate think he really was Canadian, trying not to upstage the home team. But the details of the actual smuggling operation, involving a circus, a zoo, and a lion act in Las Vegas were hard to take.
“Tell me you’re kidding about the lions,” asked one of the other New York detectives.
Shaw shook her head. “Nope. Sorry. No worse than the scheme in San Diego was, with the clown cars.” Everyone had seen the video on the news. The Shriners had a lot to live down after that, although they hadn’t had people trying to crash their parades very often.
“Why go to all this trouble? Why not use vans like everyone else?”
“Because smuggling people in vans and freight trains is becoming harder,” Sigerson said. “Even in America surveillance is becoming more commonplace, so they use methods everyone knows are impossible—“
“Apparently just improbable,” said Rick, earning a sharp look from Sigerson. “Sorry.”
“No. You’re quite right. Either way, people are less inclined to look closely.”
“These guys must be insane,” said the other New Yorker.
“That does not preclude their success,” said Sigerson.
A day later, the EyeCandy! Circus set up in Flushing Meadows and Rick found himself stuck in a car on the outskirts of the cordon, still invisible, set up around the caravan of trailers, cages, sideshows, and midway materials. “I want in on the action. We’ve had experience with tigers,” Rick complained to Kate. “It should count for something.”
“Yeah, and that’s one reason I’m fine being here,” Kate told him. “I’m happy to have Animal Control in charge of that part.”
Sigerson, apparently napping in the back seat, spoke up. “The lions in Las Vegas were ornamental rather than effective deterrents. The people are far more dangerous.”
“See? We should be allowed to play with the tigers. Why aren’t you out there up front, Agent Sigerson? It must be making you impatient too.”
“My death wish has been sufficiently fulfilled for the foreseeable future,” Sigerson answered. “I’m satisfied with Agent Shaw’s provisions. Short of an army, and I was impressed by the numbers New York was able to call upon. I’ve been forced to learn to rely on the help of others.”
“Better than working alone,” Kate said.
“I liked working alone, or almost alone,” said Sigerson. “This turned out to be much bigger than I believed when I began working on it, bigger than my—my allies in tracking it down had suspected either.”
“Three years, you said--do you think you’re anywhere near done?” Kate asked.
“I’ve thought so several times. I’m hoping that some of the men arrested tonight will lead to the leaders of the North American efforts. Cells. I’m not certain how many pseudonyms they use; I’m not certain there’s more than one man in charge.”
“Men?” asked Kate, mildly.
“So far they have all been men, yes, Detective. I don’t believe the person who coordinated all these efforts trusted women enough to delegate much power to them. Though he worked with at least one who was very capable. And a surprising number of his IT department, for lack of a better word, have been women or female-identified.”
“That was in Belgium, about four months ago,” said Rick, with surprising confidence. “About thirty sysadmins and programmers were indicted in Brussels for cyber-espionage; I remember being surprised how many women there were. They didn’t say anything about a larger network. Although I suppose, with network engineers involved—“
“I’ve been indiscreet,” said Sigerson, no longer sounding remotely sleepy. “I deny knowing anything about the group you mention. I hope you will be kind enough to forget it, too; it’s enough for the national agencies to be aware of it.”
“Wouldn’t you want more people, not fewer, knowing this network was out there?” Rick asked.
“They went to a great deal of trouble persuading the public at large that they did not in fact exist, and until I— until the network is destroyed I think it’s better not to try to argue with that perception.”
“Until you destroy it,” said Rick. Kate thought for the hundredth time how much he admired doomed crusades undertaken by lone wolves. Idiot.
“It seems that way to me, sometimes; but far better for the local law enforcement agencies to take the credit. The higher up we reach in this network the less I want it known I’m involved.”
“They’ve threatened you personally? Your family?” Rick asked. “That’s why you can’t go home?”
“If that were the case, Mr. Castle, then surely the less said the better, wouldn’t you agree?”
“He has a very lively imagination,” Kate said, wanting—she knew it was irrational, unwanted—to offer the agent some comfort. “I’m sure you’re just a regular operative on loan.” Both the men snorted and let it go.
The radio cracked to life. “We’ve secured the packages. A-Team, report.”
Good. The victims were safe, rescued; the men holding them were now prisoners themselves. The A-Team was supposed to be, rather selectively, arresting the…ringmasters. Ringleaders. Criminals. “A-Team reporting. We got almost all the fish we wanted; one managed to get away.” Sigerson had been emphatic; one of the suspected smugglers, Art Moschato, was linked to suspects in both the San Diego and the Las Vegas raids. Sigerson wanted him free to react, to believe he had escaped rather than allowed to run, in hope he would report to his superiors. Use of the word ‘fish’ indicated success. It was to be hoped Moschato, and his boss, wouldn’t know he was bait.
“YES!!” hissed Rick. “Did they get a trace on him, I wonder?”
“There are eyes everywhere,” Shaw’s voice said calmly. “We’ll get him sooner or later.”
Kate spoke into the microphone. “This is Beckett. Do you need us any more tonight, Agent?”
“No, thank you. NYPD, you may stand down. Thanks for a flawless support tonight.”
All three of them relaxed. “End of Act One,” said Rick. “Back to headquarters to see where he goes?”
“I imagine his superior will be well aware from other sources that the circus is blown,” Sigerson said. “The FBI will monitor his movements; you can stand down for the moment, as she said. Just take me back first. There should be some information from the seizure tonight.”
Rick glanced at Kate. She shrugged. “We could pick up some Chinese, maybe tag along?” Rick asked.
Sigerson picked at an egg roll. No wonder he looked scruffy, Kate thought. “Most people celebrate a little harder,” she said, when he returned her gaze.
“It’s not over,” he said.
“It is for those kids. And their parents, the ones who have parents.”
“And I am glad of it,” he agreed, plainly to be polite. “But it isn’t what I’m after. I need the minds who planned the smuggling route. I need their employer.”
“Do you have an idea who their employer might be?”
“Past experience suggests a former military intelligence officer, one of the lower echelon, who felt insufficiently appreciated or overly supervised. Someone who knows he’s at least a little bit brighter than his associates and thinks having fewer scruples demonstrates his cleverness. Someone whose mind rebels at stagnation. But not so clever as he thinks he is, or someone else wouldn’t have been able to pull his strings.”
“That would be you?” Kate asked. “I didn’t mean that the way it came out, sorry. Someone who can catch him?”
He looked at her with pale, tired eyes. “I hope I am the more clever, of course. But I meant the man who was behind all of this in the first place, who worked the smaller operators into a larger whole.”
“I hear a past tense,” Rick said.
“Not a small mercy, but not an adequate one.”
Someone came up to Sigerson. “Agent? Moschato has sent a ciphered email. We’re tracing the recipient now.”
“Is the encryption any good?”
“It will take time, sir—“
Sigerson headed over to the requisite desk, hovered over the computer. Kate and Rick trailed behind. “Send the whole package to this address,” he told the agent, commandeering the keyboard.
“Clearance—“ protested the agent.
“Ask Shaw. Shut up.”
“Just do what he wants,” Shaw called across the room. The agent sighed, zipped as much of the file as he could, and sent it.
Kate watched Sigerson pace around, stopping to look over people’s shoulders as they searched through confiscated possessions, sorting significant things from insignificant as best they could; and she watched Rick watching him. “Not such a glamorous life being Double-O-Seven. At least not for him,” she said softly.
“Who needs glamor, when you can have heroism?”
“You, most of the time.”
Rick shook his head. “I write fiction to sell in airports. Not even ‘literary’ fiction. Not very many people want to read about quiet desperation. And I don’t really want to write it, either.”
“He’s not desperate, though,” Kate said. “Quiet resolution. He’ll get more done than someone desperate, if he doesn’t keel over.”
A few minutes later, Shaw’s phone and the computer from which the message had been sent sounded at the same time. Sigerson appeared to come into a sharper focus as he read over the agent’s shoulder. “Good, good, GOOD,” he said. ““Moschato’s made an appointment at the ‘usual place, same time tomorrow.’ I want to see who he’s meeting. And the IP address he contacted— I want everything sent to or from there and the location.”
“Working on it, sir—everything?”
“Since June of 2012 at least.”
“We’ll play hell getting authorization, even if the ISP even keeps the information for that long—“
From the other side of the room: “Yes, sir, of course. We will.” Shaw put her phone in her pocket—Kate paused to admire a skirt that looked that good but still had functional pockets—and walked over to Sigerson. “We have the authorization now, Herb—this just tied into a terrorism investigation in Scotland. It’s in the file; the ISP shouldn’t give you any trouble.” The agent over whom Sigerson was hovering nodded and moved to a different keyboard.
“I owe you an apology,” Shaw said.
“Waste of time,” said Sigerson. “But you agree it’s bigger, now?”
“When a message you send wakes up MI6 and gets us the information in clear, I have to agree. And the expedited warrants say a lot you wouldn’t before.”
“Friends in high places,” said Sigerson. “For a given value of friends, at least.”
“The IP address is in SoHo,” Herb said. “Do you want it staked out, Agent Shaw?”
“Not really her manor, is it?” asked Sigerson. They looked at him. “Soho? London?”
“SOuth of HOuston Street,” Kate said. “New York City.”
“I live there,” said Rick. “Where in SoHo, Agent Herb?”
The agent gave the address. “Two blocks from your house, Mr. Castle. And it’s either ‘Herb’ or ‘Agent Tomlinson.’”
“Put it under tight surveillance,” Shaw told him. “Find out whether anyone who fits Agent Sigerson’s guidelines is known to live there, but put tabs on everyone. How many people live at that address?” They scrambled for the information, put surveillance in place. The FBI moved smoothly, deploying agents and police officers with quick precision.
“Would I find anything if I Googled ‘terrorism in Scotland’?” Rick asked quietly as things fell into place around the building.
“No,” Sigerson answered. “But twelve people died.”
Rick stood back, not pushing the way Kate expected; he checked something on his phone; then he stood, almost blankly, staring at Sigerson. Kate saw him start to speak and stop, more than once, and she raised her eyebrows at him. “What?” she asked quietly.
“Something impossible,” he said. She watched him, and he began to grin. But he said nothing.
At midnight a fresh crew of FBI agents came in. Agent Shaw briefed them, and told everyone else to go home and sleep. “That includes you, Castle. I’m sure there will be plenty to watch tomorrow.” She smiled at Kate.
“Thank you, Agent Shaw. I really appreciate your letting me sit in,” Rick said.
“I’ve tried getting you to sit things out, and this way I can have at least some control over you.”
Sigerson hadn’t moved since the huge data-bolus of activity from Moschato’s contact’s computer had become accessible. He didn’t move now. Rick gestured toward him. “I guess you don’t have any control over him?”
“No,” Shaw said. “He’s too macho to worry about common sense. He’ll sleep when he’s dead.” Sigerson either didn’t hear or was ignoring them.
“Funny she should put it that way,” Rick said to him softly. “Have you slept any since June, 2012?”
Sigerson spoke without looking up. “I don’t care what you’re implying, Mr. Castle. I need to work.”
“Your bloodshot eyes say you’re well past the point of efficiency. Can’t you send that stuff back to England and let them sift it while you get some rest?”
“They won’t… I need…I can’t be certain they’ll catch the patterns.”
“This is what you’ve been doing?” Rick asked. “Don’t they have some idea how you work, how these patterns work, by now? Can’t you at least let them have the first run through, take the night off?”
“I love how he’s dismissing the FBI,” Shaw murmured to Kate. Kate didn’t answer, caught by the depth of feeling her Rick was showing this stranger. She chimed in.
“Agent Sigerson, I don’t like to admit it, but Castle’s usually right when he tells me I’m running myself too hard. If the data’s that old it can wait another few hours.”
“How long has it been since you’ve slept somewhere that wasn’t a hotel?” Rick asked. “I have tea. In a teapot. With real boiling water. And a respectably secure computer. Come back to my place. There’s room, my daughter’s at college.”
“You should take his offer. If I could, I would order you. I’ll be in touch if anything changes,” Shaw said. Sigerson wavered.
“If anything changes. If Moschato leaves his room, I want to know—“
“I promise,” Shaw told him. “But I don’t trust anyone who sleeps less than I do. I’d appreciate knowing you’d be safer around my agents.” Sigerson finally gave a short nod and stood away from the monitor.
“Thanks, Rick,” Shaw said. “Can you try to feed him, too?”
“Exotic pets,” Rick said. “You really shouldn’t have one if you aren’t prepared to take the right care of them.”
“If Mr. Castle lives in the same neighborhood, we could go past the location of that IP address,” Sigerson said to Beckett as they piled into her car. Sigerson took the back seat. It wasn’t far to Rick’s home.
“What part of ‘off the clock’ is obscure to you?” she asked. “Shaw didn’t send this shift home because we were at the top of our form. Moschato will be there tomorrow; I trust the people guarding that building.”
“You’ve allowed yourself to leave the office,” Rick said. “This case is over, the rules say you eat and sleep. Anyway, benzene ring, remember?”
“This snake does not eat its own tail. Not generally. Though I have managed to persuade it to do so on occasion.”
“That must have been satisfying,” Rick answered. Kate wondered what they were talking about, but Rick’s intensity was sexy as hell. She loved it when she could hear his mind leaping around. “Make a good story.”
“I’d enjoying reading it,” Rick said. “Particularly if you put all the sensationalism in.”
“I leave that to others, Mr. Castle. I spend my time trying to avoid seeing what isn’t there.”
“Rick would write it for you,” Kate said lightly and the air in the car congealed as neither Rick nor Sigerson said anything at all, loudly.
“I thought I wasn’t supposed to have any muse before you,” Rick said, covering.
“Well, I know you’ve always wanted to do something about a British secret agent—“
“Who says he’s British?” Rick asked.
“Vancouver isn’t close enough?” She turned into the underground garage, waving her key fob at the gate.
“Don’t put him in a position where he has to kill us, Kate. It would be rude.”
Kate put her car into Rick’s ‘guest’ space and turned off the engine. All three of them sat for another moment, eyes flickering around the surrounding cars and pillars for anyone that might be trying to conceal himself. If someone had, Kate thought--someone patient—they were easy targets. The security of Rick’s building was better than most; she usually didn’t worry about assassins. But Sigerson did, she could tell.
“It should be safe,” the agent said after a moment. “No one could reasonably expect me to come home with you.”
“And yet you’re looking,” said Rick, as they left the car and walked, still more cautiously than usual, to the elevator.
“I have found his agents hidden among law enforcement more than once. But I’ve been with Agent Shaw’s cadre for several weeks now, and unless someone’s playing a very long game—“
“Wave to the security camera,” Rick said, doing so. The elevator rose toward his apartment, and then they stepped out into the hall and Rick let them in. “My mother’s in Chicago and my daughter has exams, Agent Sigerson, so it’s just us. Make yourself at home—I’m gonna get some towels.”
“We should have stopped at your hotel,” Kate said, heading for the kitchen. Sigerson was hardly any less wary than he’d been leaving the car; she saw him looking, calculating, sizing up Rick’s domestic life. He had already correctly characterized their relationship, so she had nothing else to hide. “But I’m sure he can lend you sweats if you want to put your clothes in tonight.” She waved at the stacking washer-dryer in the corner of the kitchen and turned to the refrigerator. “In here, there’s more Chinese, some Korean, and some very good chicken piccata Rick made; what would you like?”
“Whatever you don’t want for yourselves,” Sigerson said. “I’m much more interested in Mr. Castle’s offer of tea.”
Kate filled the electric kettle. ‘You’re supposed to be getting some sleep—“
‘They don’t believe it keeps you awake,” Rick said, coming into the kitchen. “A nice cuppa when you get home from the pub, right?”
“So I’ve heard—“ Sigerson’s almost relaxed voice broke off as Rick put something next to him on the counter. It was a violin case. Kate thought it was strange but less arresting than Sigerson did.
“My mother’s given up on trying to learn to play this; I thought you might want it.” The two men looked at one another. Rick looked calm, though Kate saw he was full of an inner excitement; Sigerson was completely still.
“ ‘Rick’, please; but I’ll go on calling you ‘Agent Sigerson’ for as long as you like.”
“Rick, would you mind—have you blown this man’s cover?” Kate asked. “How would you—?”
“The conclusion you seem to have drawn is neither convenient nor safe for any of us.”
“No one outside this room will hear about it,” Rick said, his calm shattering into what looked like his purest fanboy happiness. “You are ‘Aragorn son of Arathorn, and if by life or death I can save you, I will.’”
Sigerson stood where he was. Kate wondered whether he had any better idea what Rick was talking about than she did, but Sigerson’s face finally eased, slowly, into a smile. “Writers.”
“And geeks,” Rick said. “He mentioned once you’d been unable to delete the books you read as a child.”
“He was unbearable for half a week when he found we did have some popular culture in common. You twisted the quotation.”
“But the sentiment remains, umm, intact,” Rick said. “Though I hope it won’t come to that.”
“If you can be more discreet that I apparently have been—“
Rick shook his head. “I don’t know how many people over here were following…your story. It didn’t make the American newspapers. I have an interest in people who write about detectives. You might want to avoid any of the rest of my poker group, though I don’t think Patterson would take a ride on the Infinite Improbability Drive as far as I would.”
“I only really enjoyed the first one of those books,” Sigerson said. They stared at one another for a long moment: the agent impassive, tired, weighing the plainly joyful writer. “We should eat some of the food Detective Beckett has warmed up for us. Your chicken comes highly recommended.”
They moved onto the stools around the counter; Sigerson at the end, Kate across from Rick. Rick was still staring at Sigerson around his fork; Sigerson was doing a better job of eating than he had at the station. Kate thought he was acting elaborately carefree, but it wasn’t a very good act. Kate watched them both, leaving the matter between the two men. Rick would fill her in later and dismantling someone’s cover story—someone on her side—someone whom she recognized both as being damn good at his job and driven by demons—felt neither fair nor professional. But she liked seeing her lover as happy as he was now, and she did wonder.
“You wanted tea,” said Rick. “Assam, Darjeeling, or Earl Grey?” He put down his fork, rose and reached into the back of one of the cabinets for a plain green teapot, rinsed it with hot water. “Do you want to make it?” he asked.
“Assam,” Sigerson said. “You seem to know the drill. About half again more leaves, please.” Rick added more tea and put the pot and an NYPD mug next to Sigerson’s plate; then he took the milk carton out of the fridge and set that down too. Sigerson stirred the teapot and set it aside while he finished the chicken. Then he poured milk into the mug and, finally, tea. Kate knew what the dive into a long-desired cup of coffee was like. Sigerson didn’t quite sigh, but more of the tension eased from his shoulders. Rick looked delighted.
“I did it right?”
“As well as anyone on this continent. But I fear I must repay your hospitality poorly,” he said. “You have questions. I won’t answer them.”
“I won’t ask them,” said Rick. “At least, I’ll try not to. I take it Agent Shaw doesn’t know who you…were?”
“No. I have impeccable credentials from Interpol. Among other places.”
“You said your friends and family were threatened—do they know—does your blogger know you’re alive?”
“No one,” said Sigerson.
“Your friend in Scotland Yard—“
“No one,” Sigerson said again. “Their safety depends on my being dead, until the rest of this network is taken apart.”
Rick digested this, discarding several remarks before he made them, his mind racing. Sigerson watched him over the rim of his mug of tea, and turned to Kate. “You have the gift of silence, Detective,” he said.
“I’ve never seen Castle like this before,” she answered. Well, not since Sophia, anyway. she thought. And he was broken then, sort of, not happy, not exhilarated.
“I have an impolitic question of my own,” Sigerson said. “And not upon a topic in which I claim any expertise.”
“It seems all of us have matters we don’t discuss publicly,” Kate said. His speech patterns were contagious, she thought. “And I don’t have to answer.”
“If I may ask, then? How do you manage between your job—your life— and the one you have together?”
It verged on over-personal, but Sigerson was so formal, almost clinical. And it was a way to turn the conversation from himself, where he was plainly uncomfortable. Kate went along. “I yell at him a lot. And sometimes he yells at me. But what makes us possible is that he respects my work. He gets upset when he thinks I’m taking unnecessary risks. But he knows me well enough that he accepts what I can’t give him; I can’t guarantee I won’t get hurt. He hopes I’ll balance my work and our… our life together—“ Kate could feel Rick’s eyes on her— “that sometime I’ll be able to balance then a little differently. But we’re managing for now. Better than we were, right?”
“Much better than we were,” Rick agreed. “Better than before we had a life together together, certainly. It’s not that I like knowing she puts herself in danger—“
“You would have HATED it when I was a uniform cop, Castle, this really is safer—“
“I know, I really do—but she is who she is; she is what she does, and I have no business saying I love her and demanding she change. She lets me be involved as much as she can. And she likes my books, so that helps.”
Sigerson looked at them. His gaze was impersonal, Kate felt, but still unsettling. “Seven, eight months now? And the ‘together together’ improved matters, rather than making them more complicated?”
“Well, not so much at work, since we’re trying to keep it very quiet,” Kate said.
“But at home, much better,” Rick said. His smile at her warmed the places Kate kept covered up. “It’s a way to let her know I worry that doesn’t sound like I’m nagging. At least I hope not, right Kate?”
Kate reached across the counter and squeezed his shoulder. It was a way to tell him she appreciated his care. They wandered off for a second into one another’s eyes. Sigerson poured another cup of tea and Kate came back to the room with a start, feeling gauche, but he was absorbed in his own thoughts. She cleaned her plate; it had been hours since that Chinese at the station, and food made up for lack of sleep, to a point anyway.
Rick asked if they had eaten enough, and took their plates to the dishwasher. “Should I make more hot water? I can get you digestive biscuits, if you’ll stay more than just tonight,” he told Sigerson. “I meant what I said—if there’s anything I can do, while you’re here—I hope you’ll stay here while you’re in New York, of course—“
“I know. But after this is mopped up, if there’s something you need, maybe something that you don’t think your cover ID should want—I can do or get pretty much anything without anyone finding it unusual. It would be an honor to be of help, any way I can.”
“Your hospitality is very welcome, and unusually comprehensive,” Sigerson said. “I told you I’ve been forced to learn to accept help from others. I don’t know whether I shall need to accept yours, but I’m much less inclined to dismiss your offer than I would have been this time last year.”
“I hope you won’t need it by this time next year,” Rick said.
Sigerson shrugged, a man who had had to pretend it didn’t matter for so long he didn’t care how transparently it did. His hand touched the violin case. “Will this—?”
Rick shook his head. “My bedroom’s down here, you can barely hear it coming from upstairs. Throw your clothes down, I’ll put them in the wash.”
“You’re trying to keep me away from that IP address.”
“I’m trying to make it easier for you to go back to work tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” said Sigerson, hesitating as he turned toward the stairway. “I set out on this knowing I would have help from law enforcement of one kind or another. I could not have expected yours. It will please John very much, if I am ever in a position to tell him about you.”
“When, I hope, rather than if,” Rick said. “And my publisher would like to know if he ever decides to go more old-school. Tell him that too.”
Sigerson’s clothes came down the stairs a few minutes later, and Kate heard the shower start, then finish, as she checked her email on the laptop. Rick came out of the downstairs bathroom and put in a load of wash, looked quickly at his own mail and logged off. “My lady, shall we retire?” he asked, kissing the back of her hand.
“Definitely. I should be back at work in seven hours.”
“I could wear pajamas to indicate the purity of my intentions,” Rick said as she was getting under the sheets.
“Give me six hours’ sleep and we may need to re-evaluate those intentions. No, come here.” They wrapped their arms around one another, still surprising though now familiar, and Rick kissed along her collarbone slowly. “You’re very thoughtful, there in your head,” Kate said, stroking through his hair.
“It’s … I don’t know what to say. I never… he’s so far out of context, and he’s…alive. And you haven’t asked me any questions.”
“It seemed pretty much to be a ‘need-to-know’ kind of thing. Do I?”
“From what he said, the fewer people the better.”
“You can tell me when it’s all clear.” Kate thought of the exhaustion and the sorrow on Sigerson’s face. “It looks like it’s pretty tough on him. And you were so happy for a few minutes, I could see, but now… Rick, I don’t know if I even want to know.”
Rick shook his head. “I’m just… amazed. It’s going to be hard not to tell anyone.”
“But you won’t,” Kate said, leaving no question in her voice. “He’s doing important work.”
“And they’re after his people, he’s gone so far to do this thing… I won’t, of course I won’t. But it was the strangest thing today, realizing who he was.”
“One of your heroes.”
“Something like that. I wanted to meet him the last time I was in London, but they weren’t in town, and the next thing I heard—he’s supposed to be dead. It was…I can’t think of a word that isn’t ’shitstorm.’ And I’m good with synonyms.”
“And he has a blogger. You identify with the blogger.”
“Well, of course. Poor guy came into it backwards, though, not like me. I knew what I was getting myself into with you.”
“I thought I did. I can’t say it hasn’t turned out to be much, much more than I could have hoped for…” He snuggled her closer, but his mind was still on Sigerson. “Christ, poor John.”
“His blogger? Were they, um, more?”
“Nobody knows. You heard what he was asking tonight; I don’t think so. Does it matter?”
“I don’t think so,” Kate said. “It must be awful for all his friends.” She thought of Montgomery, bleeding out under her hands. To have him back—to have his death a cover for some deeper action—oh, God, to have him back again— awful for Sigerson’s friends, but oh, the reveal-- Her heart ached again for Roy, and she couldn’t speak.
Rick went on. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for ‘Sigerson’. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to be that person, who needs to do this and has to do this and has to—die. And be dead, stay dead; it’s been months. I hope to God he gets home, but it IS going to be like The Lord of the Rings, whether anything he’s left will still be standing…it was much grimmer in the books than the movie…” He was falling asleep, Kate reflected; rambling into free association, creative and funny and weird. She kissed his scalp, urged him to turn his mouth to her. He woke up.
“I love you so much, Kate. I’m so glad you are here and I am here and we can be together,” Rick said, between their mouths, among their sudden gasps.
“I love you so much, Rick, don’t ever pull this on me, you hear—don’t ever be dead—Derrick Storm is such an asshole--“
“Rook would never do this, will never do this,” he promised. “Neither will Nikki, I swear—“
The dull mechanical murmur of the washing machine ceased as Rick shuddered and settled above her. Kate could hear only their breathing as her pulse calmed. And then, from far away upstairs: an elegy, a coin into a fountain, the sound of a violin.