Summer of Light - Epilogue
Of all the times for a coffee line to take forever, it just has to be a day when she's ready to drop where she stands.
She really should have gone home right after her shift, but the call of a cup of coffee that doesn't taste like radioactive river sludge was just too great to ignore. Thus, her decision to bypass her usual subway entrance and join the longest line in Starbucks history at five in the evening. At this point, she's just hoping maybe someone ahead of her will get fed up and leave, giving her a chance to get closer to the front before the body drop she'd been called to at four AM completely catches up to her.
A devious part of her wishes she hadn't changed out of her uniform already, but she knows even if she had still been wearing her work clothes, she wouldn't have abused her power that way. Being able to move to the front of a coffee line isn't why she became a cop.
So instead she waits, allowing her eyes to drift around the room, surveying rest of the harangued crowd before scanning the people seated along the walls. Some patrons are deep in thought with headphones on, some are bent over computer screens or notebooks, some are conversing with their companions.
And some are watching her, their blue eyes wide with recognition, even though it's been almost four years – just months after Kate had been the girl's camp counselor – since they've seen each other. Since Alexis had spotted her sneaking out of Rick's bedroom the morning after his book party.
She hadn't gone to the party intending to go home with the man, but as the night went on, and their mutual flirting had ratcheted higher and higher, she'd agreed wholeheartedly when he asked her to get out of there with him. But when she'd awoken in Rick's bed, she hadn't been able to entertain the idea of staying any longer than it took for her to get dressed. He had called her later that day, leaving a message that was far too formal for someone who had pressed her into a mattress and made her moan his name, but when she hadn't returned the call, he hadn't tried again.
God, she'd been such a mess then; overwhelmed again by the ache of her mother's murder, drowning in her father's grief, her sights set on entering the police academy after graduation but otherwise drifting aimless. Totally wrong for him. For them.
She'd even opted out of going back to Camp Juniper on the off chance that the Castles might return as well, using the months between commencement and starting at the academy to take the trip abroad that she'd decided against the previous year.
Now here they are, staring at each other from across a coffee shop.
Kate breaks first, lowering her head and taking a deep breath to calm the rapid-fire thunder of her heart. She's an adult; she can be in the same room with Rick Castle and his daughter, no matter how badly she'd disappointed or confused them both back then.
There's a flash of red in her peripheral vision, and her breath catches when she glances up to find Alexis at her elbow. The girl is taller now, coming up almost to her shoulder, and Kate notes her face has lost some of the childhood roundness she remembers. But her eyes are the same, her smile just as soft and sweet, with that touch of timidity that had made Kate want to shelter her when she was her counselor.
"Hi," Kate breathes, swallowing hard. "Alexis, hi."
The girl's hesitance melts away. "You remember! Hi, Kate. Do you want to sit with us after you get your coffee?"
"I," she stumbles. "Is that okay with your dad?"
Alexis nods, her eyes brightening at the mention of her father. "He wasn't sure you'd say yes. That's why I'm asking."
Because Kate could never say no to her when she was Alexis's counselor, and they both know it.
"Sure," she says, releasing a breath. "If you guys don't mind."
"Great!" Alexis beams, taking Kate's satchel from her shoulder. "I'll take this to the table so you don't have to hold onto it. It looks heavy."
"Oh! You don't–" Alexis ignores her, already moving back to her table. "Have to," Kate finishes, to her back. Her cheeks flame when she meets Rick's amused smile. Yeah, he knows how it feels to be railroaded by his daughter.
He's still watching her when she finally makes it up to the front to order her coffee, and she sees him stand as she steps to the side to wait for her drink. Her heart stammers, but she lifts her chin instead of ducking and hiding, offering him a smile.
"Hi," he echoes, dodging the large group that had been holding up the line as they take their coffee and leave. "It's uh, been a long time, hasn't it?"
There's no rebuke in his voice, no bitterness, only delight.
"Yeah, it has," she says, drawing her lip between her teeth. "I'm–" she breaks off, unsure if now is really the time to apologize for ducking out after having sex with him. "It's good to see you."
Rick puffs up a bit. "It's good to see you, too, Kate."
"How've you been?" she asks, glancing over his shoulder to find Alexis watching them, her eyes wide and so hopeful it's startling. Is she – is her former camper playing matchmaker again?
Rick looks over, snorting at his daughter's attempts to look away and act casual. "I can't complain. What about you?"
"I've," Kate hesitates, thinking about the last few years, the difficult days and the hard work. "I've been okay."
Her companion eyes her, only glancing away when the barista calls her name and holds out her latte. Kate thanks the kid, digging in her pocket for an extra dollar and change to add to the tip jar.
"You're sure you don't mind if I join you?" she asks, nodding in Alexis's direction.
"Positive. We'd be insulted if you didn't." Rick looks like he wants to say something else, something more, but he leaves it at that, touching his fingertips to her back.
Heat floods her system, radiating from their point of contact. Oh, does she remember his touch.
He looks amused by her groan as she sits, but it's Alexis who asks why she looks so grateful to have a seat.
Kate laughs at the girl's familiar eagerness, using her first sip of coffee as an opportunity to gather her thoughts. "I had a long day at work, that's all."
"Not at Camp Juniper, though, right?"
Kate shakes her head. "I haven't worked there since the summer you went. I'm, ah, I'm a police officer now."
"No way." It's not Alexis this time. "Really?"
She glances at Rick, feeling her lips lift. "Really."
"That is so cool." He sounds so awed, Kate can't help but smirk. Most men are a bit more reserved when she tells them what she does.
Alexis jumps in again, resting her cheek on her hand. "Did you arrest anyone today? Do you have to shoot people?"
Kate exhales. "We try not to, but I have before when there was no other way to deescalate the situation. I didn't arrest anyone today, but I did break up a few fights, wrote a couple citations, and I worked a couple of crime scenes and helped detectives gather evidence for their cases."
And she'd spent some time down in archives, using her break to pour over her mother's case again.
"Where's your uniform? Is it hard being a cop? Is it gross?" Alexis asks, leaning closer. Kate has a feeling Rick would be chastising her, if it weren't for the fact that he looks as intrigued and ready to hear the answers as his daughter does.
"In my bag. And sometimes it is," she answers, keeping it simple, but honest. There's no way she's going to tell a pre-teen what it's really like to step up to a crime scene and see someone's lifeless body. She doesn't even want to describe it to the man at her side; no matter how much he thinks he knows from working on his books, nothing compares to reality. "But there has to be something else you want to talk about. How's school? How are you?"
Alexis thinks. "It's good. I have all As so far, even in math, and I beat everyone in my class in our summer reading contest. I read the most by far."
Kate laughs, remembering the girl who'd often admitted to staying up long after lights out because she just hadn't been able to put her book down. "Yeah? How many did you read?"
She blinks. "You're kidding? How?"
"One every couple of days." Alexis shrugs. "We had a super lazy summer. Dad had writing to do, so we laid low at the beach."
Kate nods, remembering a comment on the Richard Castle forum (that she doesn't frequent, just checks in on occasionally) mentioning that he'd dropped out of sight for a while, though the speculation had been that it wasn't due to writing, but a break up. "That's amazing, Alexis. I don't even think I've managed to finish two books in the last two months."
Beside her, Rick chuckles. "Yeah, but I bet you work fourteen hours a day most of the time, don't you?"
"Not every day," she defends, watching his face light up with amusement and a little bit of wonder. "But work has been busy. Summers are brutal."
He tilts his head. "The heat?"
"There's something about it that makes people weird," she confirms, sipping her coffee. "Summer, and in the winter around Christmas."
"That must be hard," he says, tilting his head. With anyone else, she might put on a brave face and dismiss it entirely, but she nods for him.
"It can be, yeah." She waits a beat, watching him share a look with Alexis. "It's worth it, though," she adds, unsure of why she feels the need to reassure them at all. "It's rewarding work."
Or it will be when she makes detective and can start working to reopen her mother's case. That isn't something she's going to tell either of them, though; Alexis might still remember the sanitized version of her mother's murder, but there's no reason to remind the girl of her personal tragedy.
"And speaking of work," Kate murmurs, needing to shift the focus away from her for the time being. "Can we expect to see a new Richard Castle masterpiece soon?"
As soon as the words leave her mouth, she recognizes her misstep. The last time they were together, the last time they talked about his books, the conversation ended with her sneaking out of his bed at dawn.
Her companion licks his lips, giving himself time to gather his thoughts.
"Dad's new book comes out in a month, Kate," Alexis breaks in, taking the liberty of answering for him. "He was almost late, but he managed to finish in time. Thanks to my excellent incentive system."
Rick chuckles, but he doesn't argue with her. "It was a pretty good system; I'd write outside in the heat and Alexis would push me into the pool after every completed chapter."
Kate laughs. "Sounds… wet."
"But refreshing," Alexis adds, grinning.
"It was that," Rick agrees, glancing back at Kate. Her cheeks warm under his scrutiny. "I can't make promises, but I could try to arrange for an advance copy to make its way to you, if you're interested. And if you promise not to sell it or leak it online."
Kate gawks. "You're kidding. You can do that?"
He lifts a shoulder. "I can try. Will you arrest me if I can't follow through?"
She laughs. "I can't arrest you for not giving me a book you've already stated you aren't certain you can give me."
"Damn, I was hoping I'd get to see your handcuffs."
Her eyes widen at the implication, at the fact that he's said it in front of his daughter, even the fact that it sends a shiver of intrigue up her spine instead of making her roll her eyes the way jokes like that usually do. And she has heard many of them since she put on her uniform for the first time.
"Trust me, Mr. Castle, you don't want to see them in an official capacity," she murmurs, careful not to look in Alexis's direction. The girl is twelve; no matter how much Castle might try to shelter her, there's no way the innuendo will go completely over her head.
Rick smirks into the rim of his coffee cup, lifting his eyebrows. "Another possibility to explore."
"Okay, while you guys flirt," Alexis breaks in, her grin a sunny blend of mischievous and triumphant as they both freeze, "I'm going to get more hot chocolate. Dad, Kate, can I get you anything?"
Kate watches the tips of Rick's ears turn an interesting shade of pink. He shakes his head after a moment, dragging his tongue over his lips as he fishes cash from his wallet.
"No thanks, pumpkin. We're okay."
Alexis nods, taking the money and grabbing her empty cup, making her way to the back of the long line.
Kate exhales, tapping her nail against the cardboard sleeve on her coffee cup. "That was–"
"She does that a lot," Rick says, backpedaling once he realizes what he's said. "Not the flirting comment. I – well I try not to – don't flirt with women in front of her. Much." He winces. "I just meant the nature of her sense of humor, keeping me on my toes. I don't know. I should shut up now."
She snorts. Taking the opportunity to look at him again. His cheeks have joined his ears in growing red, and she can feel the heat in her own face as well.
"You know, I probably should've taken you up on the friendly hug you offered that day at camp, instead of going for the special kind the night of your book party," she says, watching his eyes widen in surprise and more than a little bit of amusement at her choice of words. "But for what it's worth, I'm sorry about disappearing and not calling you back."
He sobers at that, giving his head a quick nod. "Don't worry about it; I wasn't… I didn't expect anything of you. I know the drill from both sides of the table, as terrible as that probably makes me sound."
"No, it doesn't. It's just, I – it wasn't supposed to be like that," she fumbles, searching for the right words. "I was messed up then."
Horror fills his face, twisting his lips into a frown. "Kate, did I – oh God, did I–" He looks sick. "I'm so, so sorry. Jesus, that's a pitiful response, I know. What can I do to – anything at all, I'll do it."
She shakes her head, quick to dispel his assumptions. "No, no, God no. Rick, no." Her fingers cover his, squeezing his hand. "Not messed up as in… no. You didn't take advantage of me, not even close. If anything, it was the other way around."
"Oh, no. Believe me, I was a willing participant there," he insists, tightening his grip on her hand. "Extremely willing."
"Maybe so, but I… still wasn't fair to you," she murmurs, glancing at the line to be sure Alexis is still waiting for her coffee. "I don't know how much Alexis told you when she was at camp and trying to use your hugs to make me feel better, but my mom died when I was nineteen – she was murdered – and her case was never solved. It's why I became a cop."
Rick opens his mouth to speak, halting when she shakes her head. He squeezes her hand in indication for her to continue, in promise that he's not going to interrupt.
"I decided to work at the camp that summer to get away from the darkness, from my dad's drinking and the general shit show that was my life at the time, and it helped. Meeting the kids, meeting Alexis – meeting you – it helped. But then I came back to the city and started school again, and everything just went back to the way it had been for two and a half years and I… I needed that night with you, just to feel something else, something good again. But I couldn't handle more."
"Kate," he breathes, her name seeming to spill from his lips without his consent. "God, I'm so sorry. I had no idea – Alexis never told me why, just that she thought you could use the hug."
"Instead I kind of used you," she confesses, ducking her head. "And I'm sorry for that."
She watches Rick's head tilt in surprise as his thumb slips across her knuckles, his touch simultaneously soothing and invigorating, reminding her of every spark of heat between them that night. "Apology accepted," he rumbles, as if forgiving her for bailing is the easiest thing in the world.
Nodding, Kate feels something settle in her chest, some piece of her that's been out of place finding its way back into position. "Thank you."
His lips lift in a gentle smile. "Though I do have to say, that was one of the better ways to be used. You could've taken my money or started spilling information about Alexis to the tabloids, so if you were going to use me, I appreciate that you did it in such a pleasurable way."
A choked laugh works its way from her throat. "That's horrible, Rick."
"I'm just saying," he defends. "If I had to pick how to be used, I would pick allowing a beautiful woman to have her way with me for a night over the alternatives."
Her cheeks flush, and it seems like that's all the response he needs.
"How's your dad?" he asks after a sip of his coffee. Kate lifts an eyebrow in confusion. "You said he was drinking then," he explains, taking care to keep his voice down.
She nods, flexing her fingers in his grip. Not letting go, not asking to be released, just adjusting. "He's sober now. Almost a year."
Rick exhales. "I'm glad."
"Me too," she breathes. Her dad has come a long way, but there are still times when she's not convinced it'll last, when she's sure she'll call him at the end of a rough case and hear the familiar, agitated slide of his words instead of crisp, calm sobriety.
"What about your mom's case?" he murmurs, drawing her eyes back to his.
She shakes her head. "I can't solve it until I make detective. Nobody'll reopen it, no matter how many times I ask them to. It has to be me."
Rick nods, looking thoughtful. It's on the tip of her tongue to tell him she's working it anyway, that she's doing her own research, that each night she sits on her living room floor making notes and pouring over each piece of paper she'd been able to photocopy and bring home, but she doesn't. She could lose her job over it, lose her chance at justice for her mom; there's no way she's admitting to a civilian what she's done.
"And what about you?" he continues, startling her out of her contemplation. "Is life less of a shit show now?"
Her lips twist into a wry smile. "It has its moments." And this is one of the better ones, she must admit.
"Anything I can do?" he asks. She glances down at their hands, noting the kiss of their palms, the shared warmth of their skin.
Her heart flips in her chest, the answer on the tip of her tongue. Rick's thumb slides over hers, the gesture so simple but so sweet, it gives her the push she needs to just speak.
"How 'bout that hug, maybe?"
His hand slips away from hers to wind his arms around her shoulders, drawing her into the warmth of his chest. Kate swallows hard, burying her nose in his collar, breathing in the scent of him; aftershave, detergent, even a hint of the spice of his skin.
They exhale in tandem, his arms banding around her, draining the tension from her spine, making her forget – just for a moment – why she'd needed his embrace in the first place.
"I took a guess," he murmurs into her hair, pulling a curious hum from the back of her throat. "Figured since we were in public you meant this kind of hug, not the special one," he adds, holding her tighter as mirth overwhelms her. "Though I'd be happy to provide that, too. Just say the word."
It's been so long since she's even considered a romantic interlude, she can't say the thought is unappealing to her, but she shouldn't. A one-night stand isn't fair to him, it isn't fair to his daughter – who would undoubtedly understand Kate's presence in their home during the wee hours of the morning this time around.
But God, he feels good. He feels so good, just as she remembers, and her body practically sings with want.
Her breath comes easier, too. Just by being with him like this.
"Why don't I buy you dinner sometime," she hears herself suggest, feeling his sharp intake of breath at the implication that it would be more than just indulging in something physical, "and we can see where things go from there?"
His reply comes quickly, the delight unmistakable in his voice. "Deal."
For the first time in a long while, Alexis watches him finish preparing for a date. She hasn't done this since before his first date with Gina, but tonight she's ensconced in the chair beside his bed, tracking his movements with a keen gaze.
"What's on your mind, pumpkin?" Rick asks, meeting her eyes in the mirror, his fingers stilling on his cuffs.
His daughter tilts her head, looking thoughtful. "Why didn't you and Kate date before? After camp and your book party? I thought you would – I kinda hoped you would."
Ah, that question. Since Kate had joined them for coffee and they'd spent the next few hours getting to know each other again, he'd been expecting Alexis to bring up what happened with her former counselor. She had asked him once before, the morning she had spotted Kate tiptoeing out of the loft, but it hasn't come up again – until now.
"I know you did, honey, but I think," he starts, using the time it takes to cross the room to consider where he's going with this. "I think it just wasn't the right time. We needed to be in a different place than we were then."
Alexis's brow furrows. "But you haven't gone anywhere."
"Maybe not physically," he agrees, gesturing around the room. "But in here," he taps his chest, then his head, "we're a lot different than we were back then. You're more grown up than you were four years ago; so is Kate, and so am I."
"Well," she drawls, her smile teasing. "You got two out of three."
"Funny." Rick ruffles her hair, kneeling in front of the chair. "You know what I mean, though. We've changed because of everything we've experienced, and I think that means Kate and I are in a better position to take dating seriously."
It isn't a platitude, or an excuse for his daughter's benefit. They had been too different, too disconnected from one another, when they met for the first time at Camp Juniper. Four years ago, Kate had still been in college and dealing with tragedy in her life, just trying to keep her head above water. Meanwhile, he'd been comfortable in his cushy life, telling himself that she was too young for him and he wasn't interested in more, and he'd still slept with her when given the opportunity. They'd both needed to grow to have any chance of this date turning into something that's good and right for all of them.
"Oh," Alexis says, leaning her cheek on her hand. "That makes sense, I guess."
"Yeah?" he asks, brushing her bangs away from her eyes. She's getting so big, his baby bird, but is still so innocent in many ways. "You're okay with this, right? I know it hasn't been very long since Gina and I broke up, and I don't want you to think I'm just jumping from one relationship to another."
His daughter nods, taking his arm, guiding the button on his shirt cuff through the hole. "I'm okay with it, Dad. I'd rather… this is way better than some of the girls you could go out with. The ones who make gaga eyes at you at your parties but don't even know you. And Gina was so bad for you, but Kate's great. I think she is, anyway. She made you laugh, she's smart, she likes you."
Given that he's nearly ready to go meet the woman in question for dinner, he'll take the vote of confidence, and they'll return to the subject of his ex some other time.
"Good," he says, dropping a kiss on his daughter's forehead. "Now, how do I look?"
Alexis smiles, wrapping her arms around his shoulders, her cheek mashing against his shirt. "Like a million and a half bucks," she answers.
Rick squeezes her, his arms tight in hopes of calming the nervous flutter of his heart. "Perfect."
His daughter echoes the sentiment before patting his shoulder and pushing him away. "Let's go see if Gram's on her way; you don't want to be late."
He can't help the smile that lifts his cheeks. No, he does not.
The first time she'd been here, she had barely taken the time to look around, preferring to throw off the bed covers and find her clothes, escaping without leaving a trace of herself.
Now when she wakes in Rick Castle's bed, she doesn't feel panic course through her veins the way it had after his book party. Instead she allows herself to drift, to relish in the weight of his arm around her waist, the warmth of his hand between her breasts. She's relaxed enough to listen for the catch of his breathing that indicates he's awake (and could possibly be up for another amazing round), and content enough to enjoy the peace of his slumber when that indicator doesn't come.
It's hard to believe that it's been eight months since the afternoon in the coffee shop, since she'd been able to explain to him why she couldn't stay the first time; since she'd taken an impulsive leap into what would become a true relationship with Richard Castle. It hasn't been easy by any stretch. There are days when she's closed off, exhausted from work and her off-the-books investigation, unable to handle her boyfriend's exuberance and light, and she tells him so in less than polite terms. There are also days when he's moody and stuck in his own head, and it's better if they retreat to their separate corners for a little while. But even when they're not at their best, they balance each other out; on his bad days, she tries to be what he needs, and he does the same for her without reservation.
He does so much more than that, though, and that's why she's going to slip from his bed in a few minutes, find a robe to throw on over her thin nightclothes, and get started on a breakfast feast to show her appreciation for the way he loves her. Then once their bellies are full and the day has begun, she'll dig out the bags she's been packing in secret for the last few days, and present him with an offer she hopes he won't refuse.
Kate shakes her head against her pillow, swiping her thumb over her boyfriend's knuckles. She's being silly; there's no way Rick is going to decline to go to her father's cabin after they drop Alexis off at Camp Juniper for the month. He understands what the cabin means to both Kate and Jim, knows that it has become a sanctuary for them in recent years, and he'll be amazed that she wants to share it with him.
Her heart stumbles. There's so much she wants to share with him. A week in a special place barely begins to scratch the surface.
"Kate," he murmurs, flexing his fingers in her grasp, his lips bumping the back of her neck. "S'too early to be thinking this much."
"Sorry," she breathes, lifting his hand to her mouth. "Couldn't go back to sleep."
Rick hums, staining her skin with another kiss, his hips welcoming hers as she squirms back.
"Worried about camp?" he asks, somehow already conversational despite just waking up. She's always appreciated that about him, his ability to be present so quickly.
Kate shakes her head. "No, not worried. She's going to be fine."
Rick nods, nuzzling his nose behind her ear. "Yeah she is. I can't say the same for myself," he adds, grinning into her skin when she laughs.
"Don't worry, baby," she mocks, reaching back to pat his cheek. "I'll take good care of you."
"Promises, promises," he singsongs. His mouth touches the inside of her wrist, his breath spilling hot against her skin. Kate shivers, rolling to face him, dragging his head to hers.
Her kiss is fierce, unrelenting, and his chest heaves against hers when she breaks away for air. His hand opens and closes at her back, slipping down to her hip, drawing her in for more.
"Keep my promises to you," she murmurs against his lips, glancing up at him from under her lashes. He knows how hard she tries, anyway. Even when she falls a bit short, she makes every attempt to do right by him and Alexis.
"You do," he confirms, his eyes warm with affection. "You do, Kate."
Her fingers lift, brushing his hair away from his forehead, caressing the line of his cheek. "So, consider this a preview for the weeks to come."
She pushes him onto his back before he has the chance to question what she means by that.
The rest of her plan comes together a little bit differently than Kate had anticipated, given that Alexis spills the beans about their getaway while she cooks, but as Rick surges across the breakfast bar to cup her cheek and kiss her, she can't complain about the way it plays out.
They're going to have a great summer.
Thank you all so much for the opportunity to share this with you. I started this story not intending for it to become a Mini-Ficathon entry, but I'm so glad it did! I hope you've enjoyed this. Thank you for your kind words and your encouragement.
Prompt from theunstoppableforce: AU - Castle takes his 8 year old daughter to a summer camp in upstate NY. Beckett is her supervisor (not sure that's the word). Kate has just lost her mother and bonds with Alexis.
I hope I was able to do the prompt justice! Thank you all again. Until next time!