How much time?
He knows better than to ask questions he does not want to know the answer to. Or once he knew better. He once was a man who knew better than to ask, to act, to want. He once was a man.
He doesn’t know what he is now. A being—a not quite person—caught between was and aching to be. Caught between now and I’ll call.
He knew better than to ask that, at least. The man he once was knew better.
There’s no profit in wondering. He wonders anyway, just beneath the surface, but on the surface, he works the case alongside the boys. He is at the precinct with the sun each morning—all three of them are. He takes the case home with him each night when even the long summer sun is a distant memory to the sky. He takes it all home.
He stares at the digital storyboard. He burns through legal pads without number, trying to piece together theories that can give them any kind of lead, any course of action at all.
He feels hamstrung in all of it. Ryan and Esposito are diligent. They are every bit as determined and fired up as he is. But the ideas that should flow fast and furious from his mind will barely come at all. He feels as if he’s standing on one leg with his right hand tied behind his back, half blindfolded. Without her, he feels like he’s missing half himself.
How much time?
They are turning in circles before long. They are doubling back, checking and rechecking. They are coming up on nowhere quickly—the point at which it’s all ritual. They are abruptly rear-ended straight into it by the arrival of Captain Gates, whose second official act is to kick him to the curb. Her first is to shut down the investigation entirely. A stalled investigation, a waste of resources, inappropriate to begin with.
It doesn’t stop them, of course—not the three of them. He works the digital board—the only board, now—all day at home. He rends lined yellow pages in frustration, then dives for the shredded remains in the wire basket under his desk when he’s suddenly convinced he was on to something this time.
The boys come straight to the loft after work. They come with sleeves rolled up, bearing pizza and beer. They stay until the wee hours, then creep home for barely detectable amounts of sleep. They work—the three of them—but there’s nothing new. There’s been nothing new for . . .
How much time?
He won’t let himself count the days, the weeks. He wills his mind away from the reality that they have moved into months—plural—long since. He wills his mind away from the merciless, ultimate truth. But it’s there, just beneath the surface.
On the surface, he tears the book apart. He reduces it to its component phonemes, and Gina is irate. He assumes Gina is irate from the triple-digit number of voicemails that have piled up. He doesn’t speak to her, of course. He doesn’t speak to anyone, really. His mother and Alexis are away.
He’d sent them away at the very outset—We don’t know, we don’t know. I need to know you are safe. Please. He’d sent them away, and at this point, they are staying away. He knows, distantly, that they are staying, because the silence stretches out when he calls, when they call and he notices that it’s safe to pick up. He doesn’t speak to anyone, really.
The book is easy. It’s surprisingly easy once he starts knitting it together again. There’s Montrose to create. He’s come up before, in passing, but Nikki’s Captain needs to come to life in this one, and he does—his features, his mannerisms, his voice. They find their way on to the page like the lemon juice secret messages he used to leave for himself as a kid.
He’d write them out and tuck them in winter coat pockets in summer, hoping to find them at some much later date, hoping he’d forget and rediscover with the heat of a lightbulb or a match from the kitchen drawer. He’d tuck them away, hoping for some pleasant summer surprise in the grey of December.
It never happened. He was too impatient, his memory too perfect or his technique too sloppy. But that’s what happens now. Writing Charles Montrose—remembering his friend and mentor—is a like discovering a treasure trove of lemon juice secret messages.
There’s his care for Nikki. There is his mentorship and his love for her. And there are his failings. There are the terrible ghosts that haunt the man, but even writing that is easy, because there is conflict. There is a struggle, and there are warning signs. There is a a story—a tragedy, yes, and his jaw, his spine, his whole body aches when he writes the man’s death—but there on the page is a fucking story that makes sense. It’s easy, compared to the real world, and one night—one moment on a well-honed knife blade between night and morning—he looks up, and he is finished.
The book, unwritten and written again, is finished.
He closes the last chapter file just as Nikki opens a book and settles in at Rook’s bedside. He checks the manuscript folder and sees the chapters neatly, chronologically, arranged.
He’s written from beginning to end—something he never does. He’s done a handful of factual sanity checks, but he has not looked back in any meaningful way. Each chapter’s Last Opened date matches its Date Modified exactly, and each of those maps on to the date he has sent each one off for editing—for proof of life—Chapter X, Draft. And now he is simply done. He .zips the folder and sends it to Black Pawn as an attachment, all at once—no revisions, no worrying each sentence in each chapter to death. No revisions, and no looking back.
He dials Gina’s number, heedless of the time.
“It’s done,” he says flatly. He hangs up before she’s finished with her sleep-heavy Hello.
He sleeps, then. It’s not the first time since Roy Montgomery’s funeral—not the first time since the shooting. The demands of his body aren’t kind enough to have propped him up all that time. He has slept in ten thousand brief snatches and awoken with a start every time. He has awoken with the sharp, aching certainty that they days, the weeks, the months have all been an awful nightmare.
How much time?
But now, he sleeps straight through most of the day. His phone wakes him. His mother, Alexis, he registers as he fumbles the thing on. His daughter is clipped, cool, distant. His mother oscillates between high sarcasm and cautious hope that sleep—the real sleep she hears in his unguarded voice—will have done him some good at last.
The doorbell buzzes. He stumbles through the office. Alexis comes back to the phone, softened by two degrees, no more. She says she loves him. She just worries about him. He says the same and promises he won’t forget to call tomorrow.
He tugs open the door on the third or fourth try. He’s expecting Ryan and Esposito. Except he’s not expecting Ryan and Esposito. He remembers this as he blearily takes in the bike messenger holding a box of manuscript paper like a pizza. He remembers that Ryan and Esposito aren’t coming quite every day any more, because there’s no real need. Because they’re nowhere. Some of the good the sleep has done him ebbs away at the thought.
He signs for the box and tips the messenger. He slices through the tape holding the cardboard cover on and sees the angry post-it first. Gina’s handwriting, her rage rising up from every stroke of the pen. Edits. Acknowledgments. Not done.
He tosses the post-it aside, and wants to weep. He sits down hard on the stairs with the manuscript in its box between his feet, and he realizes that he hasn’t.
He recalls, for reasons a dime store shrink could fathom, her dry eyes and the absolute clarity of her words after the hangar—No one outside this immediate family. He recalls the tears on Ryan’s cheeks, glinting in even the dim light. But he has no memory of his own state of being. He can see himself there among them. He can describe his position in the room, where his hands came to rest, the angle of his head. He can say for certain that he did not weep for Roy Montgomery. He has not wept for him.
He has not wept for her. Not really, though the last tears he can remember shedding were those that fell on to her body as her shockingly warm blood pumped out of her chest and spilled over the ornate brass buttons of her dress uniform.
He has not wept for the terrible, inevitable conclusion he has put off for days, weeks, months, —plural. He has staved it off with the case, with the book, with this facsimile of a life he has been living, but now it seems he has reached the end, and he wants to weep.
He reaches between his feet instead. He grabs the stack of pages that make up the first chapter by expert feel. He wanders, back to the office and retrieves his dark blue editing pencil.
He works quickly, slapping one chapter face down and retrieving the next. Once again, it’s easy. He’s critical of the fact that Montrose feels somewhat abruptly introduced—his life requires more exposition than a third book should have—but there’s no remedy for that, other than what he’s managed to do in rendering things as impressionistically as possible.
He paces, pages and pencil in hand. He hunches over the desk. He slouches in the leather chair. He moves through the manuscript with focus that cannot be healthy, but what about this is? What about the man he once was is anything like healthy.
It’s an odd hour again when he finishes—when he decides he’s finished. He sets his worn-down blue pencil aside five or six pages before the end of the last chapter. That’s as it should be, as it needs to be, as it will stay. Nikki opens the book at Rook’s hospital bedside.
It’s morning, he thinks, though the hour on his watch dial is ambiguous and there’s a thick cloud cover over the city. The street below his glass office wall probably says morning. He feels heavy in the world. Tired, yes, but also heavy, as though he might go to the floor in an all at once heap any second.
He should go to bed. He should try for sleep, or rest, or . . . physical stillness, at least but the final pages draw him back. He sinks into his desk chair. He frames the pages with his hands and he reads. The whole of it is clear to him as the words reach inside him. He turns the final page and he sees the book for what it is—a love letter to her.
That’s what Paula called Heat Wave. It wasn’t. Heat Wave was . . . attempted seduction mashed together with a note passed all the way around a sixth grade classroom. It was the work of a boy pulling the pigtails of the girl he liked, as Beckett herself had so aptly put it. As Kate had so aptly put it.
This—these pages stacked high beside him, ending on a wounded, aching note—is a love letter. It is an elegy for a man they both loved, and it is the hell that they have rained down on one another, all this last year. It is the secrets she has shared with him and him alone, and it is his heart laid bare to her.
It is the offering she does not want.
How much time? The rest of forever. That is in the inescapable truth he has staved off all these days, weeks, months, and he has come to the end of it. Almost.
There is a page after the last—happy to read to him endlessly and then another page. It’s blank save for a single word, once again, in Gina’s furious handwriting. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS in all caps this time. His head drops to his hands. He presses his palms against his eyes and feels the weight of what he dashed off last year. The few grudging words of thanks to Beckett herself, and the sly jab of the knife—his thanks to Gina for staying on top of me. He is, amidst the wash of everything else, ashamed of that. He is sorry for it and baffled by the instinct that led him into such a cheap, pointless shot.
He sits with everything that has transpired over the last year. He knows there is anger awaiting him in the middle distance. He knows he will live in the days, the weeks, the months to come with the kind of fury born of absolute despair. And still, in this moment, with his head bowed over the thing he has unmade and made new, he is baffled by the instinct to cause her pain.
So, he decides, he won’t. He takes up his worn-down blue pencil. He scrawls in the space below Gina’s single, angry word, just her name at first, Detective Kate Beckett. Grief travels strangely down his arms at the sight of the letters there. It settles between the bones of his wrists, sending out aching pulses of longing.
He knows, in the part of himself that his not yet utterly destroyed, that he has to go on. He knows that it’s important he sketches the broad outline of what he means to say, right here and right now, but it seems impossible with tendrils of sorrow winding through his hands.
The answer, when it comes a long moment later, is one she has given him—an unhesitating, apt assertion of something true. He’s meant to steal it from her all along. He steals it now and gives it back. Detective Kate Beckett, he writes again, and just below it, how to make sense of songs.