"There's so many wars we fought,
There's so many things we're not,
But with what we have,
I promise you that,
We're marching on."
- One Republic, Marchin' On
She stood before the window, her eyes slowly scanning over years and years of work. It was almost surreal that after all the time she'd devoted to this struggle, this fight for justice, that it was finally over. She'd spent countless nights pouring over all her notes and research, scouring and hunting for clues. Years had been sacrificed, lives lost, to bring her mother's murderer to justice. She could only hope that Castle was right, that her mother was proud of her. Kate wasn't too sure. Sure, in the end, Johanna Beckett would have been proud of her daughter's conduct and determination to see this to the end and find the truth, but would she have approved of Kate putting her life on hold to do so?
Because, in truth, that was what she had done.
She'd blocked her heart around an impregnable wall, keeping it safe from hurt, unwilling to love or be loved out of fear of loss. The fight she had with Castle almost three years ago sprung unbidden to the forefront of her mind. He had been right… so very right… about so many things. She had hid in nowhere relationships with men she didn't love, reluctant to make herself vulnerable and risk her heart to the potential of being torn apart like it had when her mother had died. And she was afraid; afraid of whom she'd be without her mother's death to define her.
It had taken getting shot, hearing a desperate declaration of love, and countless hours of struggle and self-reflection, but eventually Kate had worked herself out of that dark hole of grief and hopelessness. She had spent far too long dwelling in the past, and was tired of watching life pass her by. She had finally decided that she wanted to be more than her mother's death. And a lot of the credit for spurring her forward to that realization went to Rick Castle.
Roy Montgomery had been right about him. Before Castle, she wasn't having any fun. Castle brought back that sense of joy and wonder in life, of living in the moment, and just marveling about being alive, that she had lost with her mother's death. And almost despite her wishes at the very beginning of their force partnership, he had become everything to her.
She'd never loved anyone the way she loved Richard Castle. He made her believe in magic and in the everlasting power of love again, that the heart wants what the heart wants, and that it was worth the risk. And somehow, along the way, bringing Bracken down started to become about more than just getting justice for her mom. It had become about preserving and protecting the future she wanted to build with Castle. Because, like it or not, the threat of Bracken was always going to hang over their heads.
But it was over.
And being the one to take Bracken into custody meant so much to her. In a way, it helped to justify the years she'd spent hunting him down, even when he was just a shadowy figure with no face or name. But what made it all the more sweeter was the fact that Castle was there with her. It wouldn't have been right if he hadn't been there in some form or another. Sure he might not have gone into the building for the actual takedown, but he was still there with her, in his own way, always supportive.
It had been far easier than she'd expected to pass the murderous bastard off to Ryan and Esposito. And when she had, a weight of fifteen years of grief seemed to lift right off her shoulders. It had been so easy to then just relax into Castle's embrace and thank him for being there for her, for helping her get justice for her mother, because she wouldn't have been able to do it if it hadn't been for him.
"Would you like some help?"
Kate blinked, retreating out of her ruminations and back into the present. She turned her head to see Castle leaning against the doorframe, his eyes watching her with an ever-present love and admiration. She looked back at the make-shift murder board covering her window before shifting her gaze back to him.
"Yeah, thanks, that'd be nice," she answered him with a slight nod. If it had been anyone else, she would have declined. But with Castle it was different. He'd been a part of this. Been effected by it. And without him, Bracken could very well have gotten away with it.
Castle offered her a soft smile and pushed off from the doorframe, striding over to join her by the window. He lightly skimmed his hand down her arm as she turned into him, his head dipping down to press a tender kiss on the top of her head. "I'm so proud of you, Kate," he murmured. "So very proud."
Kate hummed in response, and tilted her head to press a quick kiss to his lips. "Thank you," she said, and by the look in his eyes, she knew that her gratitude was for far more than just his offer to help dismantle the murder board. She reached forward and grabbed Montgomery's photo. They both stopped for a moment and gazed down at it, saying a silent thank you to a man who'd worked so hard to overcome the sins of his past.
"I think, in the end, he redeemed himself," Castle asserted in a quiet thoughtful voice.
Kate found herself nodding her head in agreement. She'd been upset and angry for a longtime at him for hiding his involvement, but in the end, as Castle had said, Montgomery had found his way to redemption. She could never hate this man who'd seen her potential, and helped to nurture and encourage it, driving her to become the best she could be.
"Thank you, sir," Kate said softly, looking down at his photo. "You were a good mentor and an even better friend. I'll never forget what you did to help me." She then flicked her eyes up to Castle before amending her statement, "to help us. Thank you."
Castle placed his hand over hers, and together, they lowered the photos into the box on the floor by their feet. And then, they dismantled and took apart the murder board that had consumed so much of her adult life, and a good chunk of their life together. They worked methodically, taking it down piece by piece, moving in a comfortable and companionable silence. And it just felt so very right that Castle was helping her remove every scrap of paper and photograph. Kate found it all very cathartic.
Lastly, Kate plucked her mother's portrait off the wooden window frame, and paused to stare at it for a long beat before she closed her eyes and let the last bit of grief slip away. When she opened her eyes, she felt the last bits of mortar crumble away, freeing her heart completely. All final remnants of that wall of isolation were gone. She lowered the portrait into the box, placing it on top of the pile with tender care. She kneeled down on the floor and slid the lid over it. It was done. It was over. And she felt free.
Kate slowly stood, and looked at Castle with large expressive eyes. She had something she needed to tell him, now that it was all done. "I never told you this before, but… I once stood in line for hours just to get your autograph," she confessed softly, a little shyly. "I'd never done that before, gone to a book signing like that. But it was important to me. I had to meet you. Because…," she choked up and looked into his eyes. Castle reached up and brushed back some loose strands of her hair, caressing her cheek in the process, encouraging her to continue. "Because your books helped me get through my mother's death." She raised a hand and cupped the side of his face, her fingers gently stroking his jawline. "Even before we met, you'd been helping me. It's always been you, Castle. Always."
Castle swallowed, and his eyes grew watery with emotion. "Oh, Kate," he murmured, pulling her into a hug and kissing her soundly in response. "I love you. I'll always be there for you."
"I know," she smiled, kissing him back, looping her arms around his neck as she leaned into him. "I love you, too. I can't imagine my life without you."
"Same here," he replied with a smile.
Kate pulled away from his embrace and bent down to pick up the box. She lifted it up and walked out into the living room, adding it to a pile of boxes already there. She put it down and sighed, brushing her hair back from her face as she looked around at her now semi-empty apartment. Most of her things had been packed and were waiting for the movers in the morning. But this box wouldn't be joining them. No. It was going into storage. It felt right to finally move out now that the case was over. That chapter of her life was over, and she didn't want it following her into the next.
Castle stepped up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her back into his chest. He nuzzled his nose against her temple. Kate bit her lower lip, suppressing a smile as she heard him breathe in her scent. She dropped her hands to his arms and slowly turned in his embrace until she was facing him. His fingers danced up and down her sides until they settled comfortably on her hips. Kate sighed and tilted her head up, seeking out his mouth. They kissed, long and slow. She closed her eyes and wiggled in enjoyment as she deepened the kiss, relaxing into his arms, free to be happy with the cloud of her mother's case no longer hanging over her.
"We're getting married next week!" she exclaimed, giddily, smiling broadly when they pulled back for air.
Castle gave a waggle of his eyebrows and cocked his head towards her bedroom. "Hey, what do you think? One more time… for old time's sake?"
Kate giggled, squeezing her arms tighter around his neck as she canted into him, pressing her mouth against his neck, before bobbing her head in agreement. He grinned and she grabbed his hand, leading him through the towers of moving boxes. Kate smiled to herself, as she looked forward towards a future open to possibilities.
They'd stay here one more night, celebrating their accomplishment, but when the sun rose tomorrow morning, it was time to move on.