A/N: Had a rough time with this chapter. Got about halfway done before deciding what I'd written didn't work, so I had to start over :-/ I hope I got it to a coherent state. I hope you enjoy!
To say Rick was surprised would be understating things.
"I'm sorry, Castle," Beckett pushed past him into the loft.
Rick shut the door quickly and turned to Kate; who was looking around in much the same way as she had the first time she'd entered four years ago. A little bemused, a little in awe – even though she'd been there quite a bit since then, most recently for Martha's one-woman show after the fairy tale case.
She stood nervously by the couch, fiddling with something in her pocket.
"Kate?" he asked, afraid that maybe her 'sorry' was her way of saying goodbye – of kicking him out of her life.
But it didn't seem to be that way, she was here after all.
Kate bit her lip, not sure if coming over was appropriate; not sure her needing to process what she'd learned hadn't pushed him too far.
Lanie had been right, and Kate was embarrassed that it needed to be spelled out to her.
"Kate?" Rick asked again.
She jumped a little, coming out of her contemplation.
"I know I said I'd call, but I thought it would be better to do this in person," she paused. "I owe you an apology, Castle."
Rick was speechless now, and Kate was grateful for it.
"I've done some stupid things this year," she began. "And I've explained my reasons why."
She pulled a small case from her pocket and struggled with the zipper until Castle took it from her.
"Kate, you don't have to…"
"Yes I do, Castle," she watched as he unzipped the case and handed it back to her.
She walked to the kitchen counter and put it down. She opened it and Rick noticed that it held several flash drives.
"Most of these are work related," she mentioned, pulling one Rick recognized out of its slot with one hand.
She gave it to him.
Rick accepted it with a quizzical look.
"You need to keep it, Castle. I want you to keep it."
"Why? I don't understand."
"I know me," she replied. "I haven't been home yet, or I would have tried to pack up the murder board in my window to bring over here too."
Kate looked him in the eye.
"It's on my to do list."
Rick gazed at her, not quite knowing how to respond.
Kate continued with a derisive laugh. "It might be awhile," she indicated the cast on her arm. "I've got this thing for at least six weeks."
She put the case back in her pocket without zipping it up and continued.
"My only defense in why I told you I didn't remember what you said – and I know it's not much of one – is I was healing, and I wanted to fix myself."
"Kate," Rick interjected, "You explained this in the hospital."
She looked at him blankly for a second.
"Oh, God, I'm doing it again, aren't I? Justifying my actions without acknowledging my part in the repercussions. Yes, I wish you'd stayed long enough to confront me then, but knowing the whole story now, I can't blame you for leaving. I'm actually amazed you came back."
"I couldn't stay away with you being held captive in the precinct," Rick returned. "Love isn't a switch. My mother told me that. You can't just turn it off no matter how hard you try."
"I'm so sorry I made you try."
The two gazed at each other, eyes saying what words wouldn't. Kate was the first to look away.
"Where do we go from here?" she asked.
"What?" she laughed.
"I think we've pretty much hit rock bottom, don't you? The only way to go is up."
Kate gave him one of her puddle inducing smiles.
"I like that."
"In the meantime," Rick went on, "I don't understand why you're giving this back to me." He indicated the flash drive he'd placed on the coffee table.
The smile grew pensive – then left altogether.
"I want this information to stay in a safe place." she replied. "But I. Am. Tired. Tired of this thing ruling my life."
"But your mom's case…"
"Is still there… obviously. But –"
She paused, trying to gather her thoughts into coherent words.
"My mom was a fighter. Justice for everyone was always of deep importance to her. Even a dirty cop like McAllister or a crook like Pulgatti was worth her time."
"You're a lot like her," broke in Rick.
"I'll take that as a compliment," she returned, then continued.
"You once told me I don't back down. That I don't let go. I learned that from my mother. She saw someone who needed help, and she would help them. You call me extraordinary? You should have met her."
Castle listened, enraptured.
"I've been told – more than once – that she wouldn't want me to do this; that she would want me to let go of this vendetta and live my life. But my dad, who does want me to back off and let it go, told me she wouldn't say that."
Castle hadn't meant to interrupt, but that statement surprised him.
"Really. Johanna Beckett would not have backed down. She didn't back down. And she wouldn't have let me do it either, which is why I got into trouble when I was a uniform, going down to records to search my mom's file."
Kate looked down at her feet.
Rick put the drive in his pocket and lifted Kate's chin so she was looking at him.
"Then? Therapy. Now? Therapy again, and a lot of other things. Not least was my being shot."
Rick nodded. That would be a big one. If Alexis had been shot… No he didn't even want to think about that.
"Even if she hadn't died, I still don't think my mother would have told me to completely break from it," Kate continued. "Just slow it way down and put it on the back burner. And then there's you."
"And it took being taken hostage and a conversation with Lanie for me to pull my head out of my ass to see it myself. Like I said, Castle. My mother didn't back down. And look where it got her."
Kate's eyes glistened as she looked at him.
"I don't want that to happen to me. And I'm amazed that I not only survived the shooting, but the year following. No one has come after me."
"You weren't actively looking into it," Rick broke in. "That was the deal Montgomery made."
Kate looked at him, acknowledging what her former captain had done, and went back to her train of thought.
"But, still… why not? Why didn't my shooter come after me? Talk about being in a vulnerable position, especially after I went up to the cabin. My dad couldn't stay with me the whole time – not that I wanted him to – I needed that alone time – but I was certainly in no state to defend myself, the people behind this whole thing could have sent someone to finish the job…"
"Kate!" Castle interrupted. "Stop. Don't put yourself through it all again. You're here, you're alive. You have backed away," he held up the thumb drive. "You're giving this to me for safekeeping, you want to bring your window board over as well. But I would like an explanation for the 'then there's you' comment you just made."
"Just…" Kate blushed again. "My dad thinks you're good for me. That's why he had no problem dropping me off here after I was released from the hospital. I'll be staying with him for a few days so I can be waited on hand and foot."
She made a face. The loss of independence bothered her more than the cast on her arm or the continuous headache did, even though it was temporary.
"I'll call my service to get you home once we're finished."
She smiled again.
"Thanks, Castle. I'm sure a cab would be fine, but if you're offering, I'll take it."
"I'm offering. Will you need to stop at a pharmacy? Maybe I should drive you."
"It's fine, Castle. My dad's taking care of all that."
"What about now?" he asked. "You don't seem loopy, are you on pain meds?"
"I'll probably need to take some as soon as I get home, but I needed to not be whacked out on drugs for this conversation."
"Kate, we can postpone if you need to. I don't want you to be in pain."
"No, I need to do this now – I want us now."
Rick blinked, but Kate didn't seem to realize what she said, so he let that go for now. She still hadn't answered his question.
"Kate? 'Then there's you'?"
She took a deep breath.
"Right. My dad thinks you're good for me, and I think my mom would think that too."
Kate sensed Rick was going to say something and raised her good hand to silence him.
"I think she would have told me to put one of the most important things in my life – the biggest case of my career – the whole reason I became a cop on the back burner. To put it on a possibly indefinite hold for something bigger… You."
She had stunned him speechless again.
"But as I said before, I know me," she went on. "Even after that year of therapy I got just before I made detective, it's still been flying around inside me – this desire – this need – to find the bastard who killed her."
Rick closed his eyes in guilt. If he hadn't looked into it after she first told him about it, or stopped after she first told him she told him no and why…
"Stop it, Castle," Kate scolded him. "Yes, you opened the cage. But I've always been just on the edge of jumping back into it, and if it wasn't for you, I would have done it long ago anyway. I told myself I'd let it go, but deep inside I knew I hadn't."
He still had a miserable expression on his face so she put her hand on his cheek.
"Not. Your. Fault. Please, Rick. Stop blaming yourself. In fact…"
Her hand dropped and she began rummaging in her pocket again, this time pulling out her keys. She handed them to Rick.
"I'd like you to go to my place and pack the board up for me since I can't do it right now with my broken elbow."
Rick was nonplussed.
"You want me to go into your apartment? By myself?"
Kate poked his chest. Hard.
"Do not abuse this trust, Castle." She grinned then turned serious. "I do need your help with this, Rick. And not just because of my arm. I don't want to take one thing off the window, look at it, and then get caught back up in the whole thing. Just… you know… stay out of my underwear drawer, okay?"
"Well now that you said that, I'm going to have to do it," he teased, waggling his eyebrows.
She glared, though it wasn't very potent. Rick could see she was starting to hurt.
"Kate, I'll do it. I'll get your murder board. Right now I think we need to get you home so you can take your meds."
"So," Rick began. "If the only way to go is up, where do we start?"
Kate bit her lip again. She knew what she wanted to ask him, but would it be too forward? Would it be…?
No. They were past 'forward'. She wanted both feet inside the door. To be there for him and for him to be there for her. It was time to dive into it together.
"Could you…? Castle, could you say it again? I'd like to hear it again – that is – if it still applies."
"Still applies? Kate, don't forget what I said my mother told me."
"Love is not a switch," they said it together and laughed.
"That's right," Rick smiled. "As much as I've tried, I can't turn it off. And if you're willing, I don't want to. I love you."
Tears spilled over Kate's cheeks, but she smiled her biggest, most beautiful smile and touched her lips to his.
A/N 2: And so it ends. This has been such a fantastic ride, and I'm still floored by how many of you followed and favorited. Most of this story was very dark and it was a challenge to turn it around to find a happy ending. You all give me confidence, and that's something I have trouble with. Thank you for reading. K