Ad Finem (lat.) to the end
It has been four days since Kate Beckett got to finally snap the livid metal bracelets of her handcuffs around the wrists of Senator Bracken and push him into the back of the police cruiser, her heart soaring at the look of absolute defeat on his face.
The way Bracken had stumbled over his words when she appeared in the doorway as the realisation smacked into him was worth waiting fifteen years for. It was over; she didn't even need to say it but oh, she took great pleasure in doing so anyway.
"Morning, sunshine." Castle grins as he rounds the kitchen island, coming up against her back and planting his hands at her hips to draw her body in close. "Smells amazing."
That makes her smile and she turns her head, nose brushing his cheek as her lips flirt with the corner of his mouth. "If you're good, I might just share."
"Yes ma'am." He says sharply, standing up to his full height and offering her a salute. He's so goddamn tall, especially when her feet are bare, and Kate takes a moment just to admire the breadth of his chest, the powerful ripple of muscle in his biceps.
He carried her to the waiting car with her blood coming in rivulets between them and her body a heavy, mostly-unconscious thing that was slack and awkward in his grip. Not for the first time, a frisson of pleasure erupts in her guts at the knowledge that Castle can keep her safe.
It isn't often that he has to, but when it counts, he more than delivers. "Go sit, babe. It's almost done."
Castle slinks away to settle on a barstool, pillowing his chin in his hands and offering her an adoring smile. It's been this way so much with him over the past few days. She keeps catching him staring at her, wistful and proud in equal measure.
"You look really good. Relaxed. I mean, I like to think I've seen you relaxed before now, but this. . ." He trails off, looking to her for guidance.
Flicking her wrist, Kate plates up the bacon and passes it over to him, grabbing the stack of pancakes from the warmer and fruit salad from the refrigerator as well before she comes back around to join him. "It's different, you're right. I feel like-"
"Please don't say a weight has been lifted." He frowns at her in mock-consternation, leaning back in his bar stool so far that he's precarious, ready to tumble. "I'm a writer; you can't use such a cliché in front of me."
Kate swats at his arm, her indignation melting away when he draws her in close to his side in an almost embrace and brushes a kiss to the top of her head. It's still a little tender to the touch, but his mouth is so soft, he's so careful with her that all she feels is joy.
"It's like a watershed moment in my life. I don't have to be afraid anymore, I'm free to live. Make a life with you." She shrugs, spearing a rasher of bacon on the end of her fork and holding it out for him to eat.
He accepts gratefully, chewing his food and actually taking the time to swallow it before he tries to speak, for once. "We've already been making a life, Kate. The difference now is that we don't have to worry that it's going to be snatched away from us."
"Right." She grins, still ridiculously giddy with it. The night after they arrested Bracken, when they finally made it home from the precinct and Kate had broken the news to her father over the phone and promised to meet him for lunch the next day, she hadn't been able to stop trembling.
She and Castle had taken a bath together and he'd broken her apart underneath the water, but even the shock of arousal couldn't stem the flood of fifteen years' worth of adrenaline leaving her body. And then the tears had come and he'd held her in the middle of their bed, smoothing her hair back from her face and telling her over and over that it was okay to grieve.
Her mother has justice, and now Johanna's memory can live in peace. After she'd cried herself out the emptiness had hit and she'd paced back and forth in front of the bed, ignoring Rick whenever he opened his mouth to ask her to just come lay down with him.
What do I do now? She had growled at him, eyes dark and violent when she caught sight of herself in the mirror. It startled her enough, at least, that all of that pent up energy fell out all over the floor and she let herself crawl between the sheets with him.
There had been a long pause, a kiss pressed to each of her eyelids as if to weigh them closed, and then he had breathed whatever you want. Her life is hers again, finally, and even days later she's still trying to recalibrate around that notion.
"Sexy, badass, kind, smart, funny and an incredible cook?" Castle checks off on his fingers, making his eyebrows dance at her. "My wife is perfect."
"Not your wife." She hums back, but there's no weight behind it. In truth, she loves hearing that moniker from him, beyond excited for it to actually be the truth.
He kisses her for that, his tongue coming out to slick along her bottom lip until the touch of their mouths crumbles apart around matching grins. Castle has just opened his mouth – to say god knows what – when a knock rings out on the front door of the loft.
It makes Rick startle and then he whines, poking his tongue out at her and probing at the underneath of it. "Bit my tongue. Ouch."
"Shall I get the door then, while you're laid low with your life-threatening injury?" She lifts an eyebrow at him, but he's suddenly sombre, his tongue retreating back inside of his mouth.
"We'll go together. We don't know. . .what this is, Kate."
He looks apologetic, to still be so paranoid, but she knows he's right. Bracken's crooked fingers eased their way inside dozens of different places and there's no telling who might still be out there, waiting to pounce on them. "You're right. Shall I get my gun?"
"No, no." Castle splutters, standing up from the barstool and drawing her up with him. "No need. It's Saturday morning; I'm sure it's nothing. Just don't think either of us should be getting the door alone for a while."
Kate smoothes a hand over his cheek and hopes it can assuage some of his guilt. He hasn't talked about it much with her, but she knows he blames himself for going to get them a car and leaving her at the mercy of Bracken and his heavies.
She follows him across the loft, a surge of gratitude tearing through her when he checks the peephole before he opens the door. The man on the other side is older than the two of them, although most likely younger than Kate's father.
Tipping his head, he wrings his hands in front of him, so flustered that Kate can tell her fiancé is already warming to the man. "Uh, hi?"
"Hello. I'm so sorry to disturb you like this, but I went to the precinct and they told me I'd be able to find you here. I'm Alex Murray, my brother was Scott."
"Oh, yes of course!" Kate says, opening the door wider and ushering the man inside of the loft. "We've met, I remember now. I'm sorry, I wasn't. . .easy to be around, when we first met."
That gets a laugh out of this relative stranger and he shakes his head at her, clasping one of her hands in both of his. "Don't be silly, Detective Beckett. None of us was on top form back then."
Kate first met Alex at the precinct, when he had just lost his brother and Kate her mother. She has a hazy recollection of this man fixing coffee for everyone, all of the relatives crowded in the break room. All of them seething at the proclamation that their loved ones had been snatched away from them through random gang violence.
"Rick, Alex's brother was another of Bracken's victims. Scott Murray, the documents clerk who worked with my mom." Kate says, showing Alex to the couch. "Would you like a drink?"
"No, thank you. I'm not looking to intrude on your morning." Alex says, hands clasped together and pressed between his knees.
Kate settles into the armchair opposite the older man, catches Rick in her peripheral vision looking as if he's about to make himself scarce. Curling a hand in her fiancé's pocket, she tugs until he's perched half on the arm of the chair, his arm around her shoulders.
"My fiancé, Richard Castle." She offers to Alex, turning a smile up to Castle a moment before she refocuses her attentions on this man who has felt so much of the same grief as she has, dealt under the same hand.
Alex smiles at the two of them and fixes his glasses, pushing them up the slope of his nose. "Yes, I know who you are. I've been. . .keeping tabs on you, Detective Beckett. Especially since you were shot."
"Please, call me Kate." She says, wanting to draw her legs up underneath her and curl up in the chair. She won't do that now, though. Not in front of this man.
"Of course. Kate. The reason I'm here is to thank you. They told my family and the families of Jennifer and Diane everything that you've done to get justice for the people the senator killed."
His careful avoidance of Bracken's name doesn't go unnoticed, but she doesn't dwell on it. Instead, she can't help but feel guilty. Her crusade was never about Scott or Diane or Jennifer. It was about her mother, about closing off the gaping hole inside of herself that ripped open the moment Johanna was snatched away from her.
"That's my job. To put away the people whose sins shouldn't go ignored." She shrugs, Castle's hand coming to her shoulder so his thumb can rub soothing circles against her neck.
Alex is shaking his head at her now, rubbing his palms up and down his thighs. "No, Kate. You went so far beyond your duty as a cop. You risked your life countless times, and I know I speak on behalf of the other victims' families as well when I say that we are forever indebted to you."
The thick clog of tears catches in her throat, but Kate swallows it back. She didn't cry in front of Bracken and she won't cry now. Not for this. "I'm just glad that it's over. That we can all have some closure."
Alex must sense the perilous cliff of Kate's emotion because he stands up from the couch and offers his hand for Castle to shake, before he heads to the door with Kate at his heels.
She opens the door but halts the man with a hand at his shoulder, meets his eyes. "Thank you for coming to see me. I really appreciate it."
"It was the very least I could do. You know, I met your mother a couple of times? I often accompanied my brother to Christmas parties and the like at the law firm."
"You knew her?" Kate breathes, taking a stumbling step backward and coming up against the wall of Castle's body.
Alex smiles, wringing his hands again. Kate can't help but wonder if the nervous trait is one he picked up after the loss of his brother, or whether it has always been there. "Yes. Not well, by any stretch of the imagination. But do you know? Whenever I did meet her, she always enthused to me about how wonderful her daughter was. Still is, evidently."
"She spoke to you about me?" Kate manages, fumbling for Castle's hand and squeezing tightly.
"She spoke to anyone who would listen about you. I've never seen anyone so proud of their child than your mother, Kate. Trust me when I say that would only increase a hundredfold because of what you've accomplished now."
And then she really is crying, hot tears that spill right out, but she manages a trembling laugh as she swipes at them and Alex at least has the good grace to look embarrassed for her. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to upset you."
"That's just. . .so good to hear."
He nods, reaching out to pat her arm before he steps out of the loft. Turning back to face her, he smiles again and dips his chin. "You have a good life, Kate Beckett. You've more than earned it."
And then he's gone, and she's crying into the skin of Castle's neck but for the first time, her grief isn't a rabbit hole, doesn't threaten to drag her down to drowning. Rick's palm cradles the back of her head, mindful of her injuries, and his mouth skims the shell of her ear.
"For what it's worth. I'm so proud of you too, Kate."
She kisses him instead of trying to find the words to explain that it's worth everything.