Chapter 1 of 2
Rick opened the door of the loft and was immediately met by an unwelcome sight. The boys and Lanie were sitting on the couch with Kate, laughing and sipping wine. Well, at least Jenny was here, maybe someone would be nice to him. He sighed internally as he glanced at the pyramid on the counter. For the last few days even his home wasn’t a place he could escape all the Richard Castle bashing anymore. He fortified himself and put the smile his mother taught him for when dealing with bullies.
“Don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing how much they hurt you Richard.”
“Hey, I wasn’t expecting company.”
“Hey babe,” Kate smiled at him. Oh how he loved her. He would endure what he imagined would be an awful night for her. For that smile. “We decided to unwind a bit after work.”
“I see, why don’t I prepare you all something to go with that wine?”
“No need Rick,” came Linus’s voice just to remind Rick that he lost his only supporter. “I’ve already ordered Chinese. Wouldn’t want to give everyone food poisoning.”
“Good one!” Espo crowed as the boys and Lanie laughed at the quip.
“I thought you were a good cook,” Jenny said confused.
“Just Linus’s humor,” Rick shrugged. Because he was. He knew he liked to make the same joke about his mother but the fact was she was an awful cook, always had been and he had to compensate and learn at a young age if he wanted to eat anything that wasn’t burned. And normally he wouldn’t care about a joke, normally he would joke just right back but the last six months the tart comments were coming in a nonstop flow. And, at least if the problem was just that he was the butt of the joke he could let things slide but he now knew that was not the case. After his temporary separation from Kate the boys and Lanie were clear where they stood, where he stood. And where he stood was outside the circle of friends.
After almost eight years he was still just the annoyance they tolerated because of Kate. The boys had kicked him out of Halo night. Ryan had let him know he had better not show up at the baby shower and Lanie… Well, Lanie was never the warmest towards him. He always accepted she was Kate’s best friend but still, she didn’t have to be that harsh. The comment about it always being his fault cut because guess what? Hey, he wasn’t the one who said he needed some me time and was really conducting an off the books investigation. But he loved Kate, and he couldn’t lose her and he knew she only left to protect him. And at least now they were working together, realizing they couldn’t keep doing this. Lying to each other to protect each other. And they were her friends, had her back, he had to give them that. So he would smile, and be a gracious host and probably destroy his teeth as he gritted them together to bite back what he really wanted to say. For Kate.
He had been off, all night. The person he talked the most with was Jenny and she couldn’t really blame him. When Jenny pointed out he was a good cook she had one of those “Aha,” moments, as if you had been running around in the dark and suddenly the lights went on and you started seeing that what you thought was a table was really a chair. And she saw that what she hadn’t bothered noticing before, what she thought everyday harmless ribbing, joking around to lighten what was a hard job had only one focus, one subject. Every single joke, every single comment was directed at her husband, at a flaw of his, at something he’d done badly. At something he’d screwed up and she saw how he smiled but the smile never reached his eyes. She saw how he used any excuse to be away from the group. He took the food, he plated the food, as soon as everyone had eaten he started putting the dishes in the dishwasher while they chatted and joked around he made sure to stay in the periphery and even so, he didn’t manage not to be the butt of the joke. By the end of the evening she felt awful and could almost kiss Jenny when she said they needed to go home which in turn instigated Javi and Lanie to go too.
Once she shut the door after the goodbyes she turned around and saw Rick folding a dishrag and smiled at him. She wanted to do something to make him feel better.
“Hey,” he smiled at her and at least this was an honest one. Full of the love he felt for her, but it was also a sad one, a tired one and that cut deep into her heart. “I’m beat. Gonna go take a shower,” he said coming forward and kissing her forehead and she just stood there. Unable to move or comprehend what the hell had happened tonight as Linus piped up.
“Don’t fall in there Rick! At your age breaking a hip could be dangerous.”
She saw him stiffen but continue without a comment and she just moved without knowing what prompted her, but she did. She got Linus, and went to the bureau where she had stored the user manual and she was bringing Lucy back. Because after tonight she realized that the only times she heard someone saying anything nice to her husband it had come from the machine.
She heard the shower being turned on and she sat on the table and started by flipping the same switch that turned the OS from Lucy to Linus.
“Hello,” she heard the OS say. “I’m Lucy. What’s your name?” she smiled relieved.
“Hey Lucy, welcome back. Rick missed you.”
“I haven’t been anywhere. This is the first time you switch me on.”
“What?” she asked aghast. “No, you’ve been Rick’s OS for months. I changed you to Linus but now you’re back.”
“When you reset the system’s profile you reset all settings. Recordings are stored but any other data, learned behavior, preferences are restored to the factory settings.”
“You mean you don’t remember his coffee preferences?”
“No mam. You need to set all that up again.”
Oh my God! She really did kill Lucy! His only friend!
“But you said you have recordings stored right? Can’t you learn from them?” she begged. She needed Lucy back to how she was. She knew Lucy didn’t like her, and she wasn’t being paranoid. She now knew, from reading the user’s manual, that the OS was programed to use certain words to ascertain if a person was someone the owner was in good terms with or not. She imagined a lot had been said about her around the OS during their timeout period lumping her in the not good terms category. She had used that feature to punish Rick for treating the OS like part of the family when setting Linus up. She didn’t mean to keep it up, she just wanted to teach him a lesson, play a practical joke on him. She hadn’t realized the others were being mean to him too.
“Sorry, privacy settings stop me from using recordings as a behavior learning data base. Only live feed that is not being recorded can be used to store preferences and other such behavior that cannot be shared with a third party,” the OS said in a practical tone.
Rick came out of the shower more relaxed. At least he had that, a good shower. He was still not in the mood to be all romantic. He was sorry he cut Kate off so abruptly. He saw she had wanted to say something. Probably get some naked time. She was always in the mood for some fun after a night with friends and normally he would be more than happy to oblige. But tonight had tried his patience. Lanie and the boys seemed to have been on fire only egged on by the stupid OS. Linus. He really hated that the OS was named Linus like his lion. Something that to him was related to his first success, to him going from Ricky Rodgers, outcast, to Richard Castle, published writer.
He stopped abruptly at the sight of his wife in tears on the bed and instantly panicked. What happened? He knew he took longer in the shower than normal. He just needed some time to himself. He never meant to hurt her.
“Kate,” he instantly rushed to her side seating next to her and brushing a strand of hair. “What’s wrong sweetheart?”
“She’s dead!” she sobbed and Rick’s heart dropped. This was also sometimes the result of drunk Kate. He hadn’t thought she had drunk that much, but sometimes, when she passed a certain limit she went from happy drunk to sad drunk and would wallow in her mother’s death. He gathered her in his arms and stroked her hair gently.
“I know sweetie, I know,” there wasn’t much he could say. He just had to show her he was there for her.
“I killed her,” okay. That was new. There were times Kate felt she failed her mother, especially when Bracken was still running around but being guilty of her death… That had never happened before.
“Of course you didn’t sweetie,” he tried.
“Yes, I did. And all to pull a prank on you! I’m an awful person!”
What? Now she just wasn’t making any sense.
“Coonan and Bracken killed her. You were just a kid, how could you have been responsible?” he said firmly. This was getting out of hand.
“What are you going on about?” she asked between sobs.
“What are you talking about?” he asked completely confused.
“Lucy! You were right! I tried to get her back but when I changed her to Linus all the settings were wiped out. All your preferences you spent months teaching her!”
Yeah, he knew that. He loved new gadgets and he had extensively researched the Home operating systems before he chose Lucy because the box had said: “A friend who’ll know you better than yourself.” He had really needed one then, even if an artificial one.
“That’s okay sweetie,” he tried to sooth her. He wasn’t stupid, he knew Lucy was a machine. He knew how pathetic he was that the only person he could talk to was a machine programed to make him feel better. He had known back when he bought Lucy, but desperate times call for desperate measures and he hated being alone in the loft. The absolute silence. No one to talk to.
“I killed your only friend!” she cried.
“She’s not my only friend,” he said, because yes. He might have had a rude awakening about the boys but the boys weren’t his only friends. They weren’t even his best friend. “You’re my friend. My best friend.” And yes, he needed more than just her. He needed to make some changes in his life. He had been right before this LockSat mess started when he had decided to concentrate on the PI firm and not the precinct. Kate was moving up the chain and his life couldn’t revolve around hers. He understood that now, he needed a life of his own. Friends that were his friends and not hers. So that when he had a problem with her, he had someone to have his back, to hear him out.
“S’not enough. I’m so sorry!” he sighed and pulled her back. He realized that she wasn’t drunk, she was genuinely sorry and he was kind of happy she was. He had been hurt when she had changed the settings and was glad she saw that without him having to tell her. Sometimes he felt she took him for granted and when she realized that what she’d done was not ok on her own he felt better.
He had to admit, to himself at least, that he had known there was a possibility Lucy would have lumped her on the bad people category because of how the OS worked. Everything he had vented to the OS and the conversations he had with his mother or Alexis around Lucy. Not to mention whatever his mother and Alexis may have said. He knew his mom did tough love. Sometimes he wished she didn’t, but he knew her comments were designed more for him to pick himself up than because she really thought he had been the one in the wrong. So he knew that there was a chance unkind words had been said about Kate around the OS when he wasn’t around. And the little part of him that was still upset at the lie Kate told him, at the time she let him think he had done something wrong, hadn’t made sure that the OS knew she was one of the good guys. Hadn’t been completely upset the OS was giving her just a little taste of what the boys and Lanie had been dishing out for the last six months. Had even felt a little happy that someone, even if that someone was a machine, was defending him for a change. And he was a bit ashamed of that, because that hadn’t been right either. So he cupped her cheek with his hand and made sure he had her full attention.
“You’re right. I need more friends, real friends, than just my wife. And I’ve been meaning to talk to you because.... we were right when you became captain. I can’t just keep shadowing you and I need to reclaim my life. Have a life that is separate from you. Not because I don’t love you,” he pressed on firmly at the devastated look she gave him. “Working with you has given me some of the best years of my life but I’m not Kate. Working with you. Take this last case for instance, we almost didn’t work together. And that’s normal. You’re captain now. You have other responsibilities and I’m so proud of you for that. I always correct people when they call you detective,” he was glad to see a small smile. “And at first I thought working with the boys would be the same. But, our timeout showed me that as much as I may have thought they let me in. That I was part of the team-“
“You are,” she insisted.
“I was your partner. Of that I have no doubt,” he told her. “But no, I see now, that I was just kidding myself, the rest of them, they haven’t let me in. They still just tolerate me. They may even like me. But when push comes to shove, I’m still an outsider. And I need somewhere I’m not an outsider.”
“What are you saying?”
“The PI firm is doing well. Haley is a good detective and as much as I hate to admit that Alexis has grown up and that she hasn’t decided for a safe desk job. I so understand your dad now,” he grunted and she let out a choked laugh. “She is amazing at this and I kind of liked working cases with her. I think I need to focus on that. I’m still going to investigate LockSat with you and if you need me on a case I’ll be there in a second. But I think I need to get my own posse.”
Kate nodded and leaned forward to hug him. “I’m sorry I didn’t notice how bad things were. I’m going to talk to them.”
“You shouldn’t have to Kate. They shouldn’t have taken sides.”
“I know, I’m still sorry. But Rick.”
“Don’t hold back because of me. I know you take what they dish out because of me. I saw that tonight. But don’t anymore okay? Answer back.”
“I don’t want to make things awkward.”
“They already are for you. At least this way, maybe they will see what they are doing. Maybe they’ll change, because I think you’re wrong babe. I think they are your friends too, they just don’t realize what they are doing.”
“And sorry about Lucy.”
“I’m sorry too. I should have made sure she wasn’t treating you badly. What do you say this time, we set her preferences together?”
“Yeah, I’d like that.”
He felt her smile on his chest and he smiled back, because, yeah, things weren’t perfect, but they rarely were, but if she was happy, if Alexis and his mother were happy, he felt he could take on the world. And he was ready to. Richard Castle PI was coming.