A/N 1: Well, it's about freaking time! Hi (waves sheepishly) I know I said last time I wouldn't be late, and here I am even later *sigh* Between writer's block, procrastination, and technical issues, I'm sorry I'm so late.
Anyhow, final full chapter. I've considered this one to be my 'epic'. I guess because it was put on the backburner for so long that even pulling it up again to write it was a big deal to me. Words can't express how grateful I am to you guys for not only putting up with me, but embracing this story and encouraging me by telling me I use good words. :) You guys are the best!
And thank you to the writers of Castle, for creating a world that's so much fun to play in.
I hope you enjoy!
To Rick's surprise, Kate closed out the drive and pulled it out, handing it to him.
"You don't want to continue?"
"I think I'm done at this point," she replied, slumping back against the cushions. Then, before Castle could say anything, she hauled herself up, taking their empty plates.
"You want some wine?" she asked, putting the dishes in the sink, and pulling out containers to store the leftovers. Screw the stupid Styrofoam.
"Kate…" Rick began.
"Castle, just let me…" Kate took a breath. "I need to think a minute, okay? We'll get back to it, I promise."
Kate *almost* wished he wouldn't look at her like that. She wouldn't call it hangdog, but that expression like she hung the moon made her feel like a fraud. She blushed and ducked her head shyly, which only made Rick fall a little farther and harder.
"So, while you do that, how about I take care of the wine?" He strode into the kitchen and pulled the corkscrew out of the drawer without her reminding him which one.
He remembered which drawer.
Damn it, Kate stop acting like a lovestruck teenager!
Menial chores finished, Kate took the proffered wine glass from Castle's hand and led him back to the couch. She curled in the corner, to stop herself from snuggling him.
Not yet, Beckett. Maybe not tonight. But maybe…
The evening had gone well so far, Castle thought. Yes, they'd argued, at one point he was afraid he was going to lose her to her stubbornness, but all in all – it wasn't a bad night.
"So, um…" Kate spoke up, leaning forward to place her glass on the coffee table. "I haven't completed my homework." She looked up at Rick, smiling a little at the confusion on his face.
"Dr. Burke – my psychiatrist – sometimes he'll tell me to do something out in the real world, whether it's at home, or at work, or whatever. He calls it homework."
"I'm certain you've aced every essay," Castle teased, still a little bewildered at the term.
That made Kate laugh, then she grew serious again.
"Will you tell me in a nutshell what's in the rest of the file? Don't go into detail, just the gist of it."
Rick frowned. She was jumping from subject to subject, and it was making his head spin.
Reading his mind, Kate clarified.
"Just to get it out of the way. So it's not hanging over me – us – when I get to the homework part."
Rick blew out his breath.
"Okay, um… It's been awhile since I've looked at it myself. It's kind of a life preserver – you don't need it if you're not in the water. Let's see…"
He leaned back into the corner of the couch. Kate mirrored him.
"Your mother's case – " He rushed on, even though Kate hadn't said anything, her eyes widened, that was all. "I admit, I never deleted it after I convinced you to take me back after…"
This time she did interrupt.
"I figured you kept the info, Castle."
"You…you did?" he stammered.
"The Dick Coonan case? Remember that one? You, Lanie and that other doctor…Murray, I think his name was?"
"Yes, Dr. Clark Murray."
"Now, I know that Lanie is the one who reached out to him during that case, but you said that you'd met him, and I recall the look you gave him and then me. You had an idea what was coming."
"How on Earth do you remember that from that long ago?" Rick was incredulous.
Kate scooted a little, bringing her legs onto the couch and crossing them.
"Castle, not only were you nearly shot at the end of that case, I found out more about my mom's case than I ever had before – including the person who actually killed her. That case is burned on my brain. It's the one case I could probably give you a rundown on what was said during Coonan's interrogation without looking at transcripts."
Castle looked at his wine glass, avoiding Kate's eyes.
"I'm still sorry you had to shoot him because of me," he said in a hollow voice.
"It wasn't your fault, Castle. Yes, I'm sorry I wasn't able to get more information out of him about my mom, but I'm not sorry I shot him. It was the first time I had an inkling of what you are to me, and what it would mean if you weren't there."
"You said I made your job more fun."
The expression on Rick's face suddenly made Kate think of a little boy with her dark hair and Castle's bright blue eyes, so pleased with himself over some small accomplishment.
Oh my God Kate. Definitely NOT the time!
She cleared her throat, hoping that little vision hadn't somehow showed on her face.
"I did," she continued. "And you do." She reached for her glass and took a healthy sip. After getting herself a little more under control, she went on.
"I remember Lanie giving you a look as well, you'd told her what you'd found when you first dug into my mom's case didn't you?"
She gave him a raised eyebrow.
"Um…" Rick looked a little panicked.
"Relax, Castle, Lanie confronted me about that after Coonan's case, reaming me out about having to hear the details about it from you instead of me. Anyway, that was when I figured you still had the info. You're you. You wouldn't get rid of it, even if I asked you to. It was too important. I suppose if I'd told you to give all the info you had to me, you would have, though I have no doubt you'd make copies."
She held up a hand to stop Castle's protest.
"Water under the bridge, Rick. You didn't bring it up to me again, and I was grateful. You did make things more fun around the precinct, as crazy as you made me, and you did give good insights – sometimes, Castle, don't get a big head about it."
Rick parted his hands in a 'What, who me?' gesture.
Kate smirked. Even though the conversation was serious, she didn't want to get too heavy with it. At least not yet.
"The point is, I'd forgiven you and I didn't want to bring it all up again and fight. I know we've been saying that if you'd told me sooner we might be in a different place with each other now, but at that point… It's not the best phrase, but you hadn't worn me down enough to get to a place to discuss it."
"Have I done so by now?" Rick asked.
Kate pondered the question seriously.
"I think so. I mean, what are we doing now? I think a lot of it is hindsight talking, though. 'If' I'd called you sooner from the cabin. 'If' I'd confronted you about what you said in the cemetery. The Coonan case was the beginning of my window murder board, though I didn't actually set it up then." She nodded toward the shuttered window. "We both had the same information at the time anyway."
"True," he replied.
She nudged his leg with her foot.
"Besides, you brought a crap ton of food that time too."
Rick laughed aloud. He took another sip and placed his wineglass on the table.
"So," he went on, still leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "Did you look at anything else on the drive, or just Smith?"
"Well, no," Kate answered thoughtfully. "I mean, I clicked on my picture first, but that was just entering into the thing. I made a mental note of all the icons – my mom, Coonan, the mayor – which I thought was weird at first – but I think it was because there was no photo of Smith that it piqued my curiosity, so I clicked on it. Well, that and the name seemed an obvious alias."
"Okay, let's see…" Rick leaned back again, eyes closed, remembering. "All the information about your mother, which I believe you have," he indicated the window as well. "And everything we have about your shooting. We can go through it some other time, just to get everything to mesh, but I think Smith is the only material you didn't know about."
Kate nodded, seeming to curl even further into herself.
Somehow Rick understood. He didn't know what she was thinking, or where she was going in her mind, but he got it anyway. He stood and took Kate's wineglass and his own and moved to the kitchen. He placed both glasses in the sink and opened her pantry, pulling out a bag of coffee and a package of biscotti. He moved then to her coffeemaker and filled it with water.
"No, you stay sitting," he admonished Kate when she stood to help. "You work out what you need to work out to prepare yourself to tell me about your homework."
Kate huffed. It was a good thing Castle was a writer, he could read her like a book.
"It's just that – that thing is temperamental," she pointed at the coffeemaker.
Castle gave her a passable rendition of her 'Look'.
"Beckett, you know that I'm the coffee whisperer."
"I got this," he turned back to what he was doing, and Kate sat.
He's got this.
Yeah, he does.
Even using her one-maybe-two-steps-up-from-basic coffeemaker, Castle still managed to go overboard. He even pulled out a small saucepan and heated milk, using a whisk to froth it. When he handed her the mug, she saw that he'd put a heart in the foam.
"Thanks, Castle," she told him, with a big smile leaning forward to take a cookie from the plate he proffered.
He placed the snack on the coffee table and sat back on the couch.
"All right, Kate," he took a bite of biscotti. "Homework."
How did he do it? Take her anxiety and turn it around into something fun. It wasn't that she hated Dr. Burke's 'assignments,' but she did tend to drag her feet with them.
She was hesitating now as well, but this time the hesitation felt more like a tease. She had something she wanted (needed) to say, but she was having fun making Castle squirm.
Okay, there were the nerves – hello, right on schedule.
"Beckett, do I have to resort to whining?"
That broke through her apprehension and she laughed, taking a sip of coffee.
Mmmmm. Coffee whisperer indeed.
"All right, Castle."
She paused for a few more seconds, dipping her cookie in her coffee and taking a bite.
"So, therapy…" she began.
Castle sat up straighter and turned to face her more fully on the couch.
"You know I needed to be cleared mentally to go back to work."
Rick nodded without interrupting.
"And at first that was the plan," she continued. "Get in, get out, get back to work. In and out, satisfy the brass, I wanted nothing more to do with it."
"What changed?" Castle asked. "Was it you freezing when that suspect had his gun on you?"
Off her look he clarified.
"You're not the only one who has traumatic images burned into their brain. I'd just gotten you back – so to speak – and to see you in the crosshairs again… Sorry, go on," he trailed off sheepishly.
"No, you're fine, Castle. I never realized it had such an effect on you. Freezing might have been part of it, though I didn't admit that at the time – even to myself. I was still in denial about having PTSD, and it wasn't until the sniper case I even considered it."
She grew silent again. Sipping her coffee contemplatively, her brow furrowed.
Rick sat, giving her the space to figure out where she wanted to go.
"Guilt…" she said, then broke off. "Well… no? I guess… Okay, not the right word, but I'm not the wordsmith so we'll go with that."
Her grin at Rick was pained.
"Dr. Burke was the first person I told I remembered my shooting. And I told him that at the end of that case…"
"Did he tell you to keep it secret?" Rick couldn't help it. It still rankled, and if a shrink told her to…
"No," she replied, not ignoring his biting tone, but recognizing it and accepting it. "In fact, he warned me what would happen if I didn't tell you. 'If you don't tell him soon, it will blow up in your face,'" she recited in a deep voice that Rick assumed was an imitation of the doctor.
"'No,' I told him, 'I need to fix myself; I need to reach that point.' What that point was I wasn't sure then and I'm not sure now. But I somehow knew I would know it when I got there."
"And have you?" Rick asked. "Reached that point?"
"That's the question of the century, Castle," she replied. "I don't know. Dr. Burke has been helping me. Through my PTSD, and my never really working through my mother's death. He's made me see that finding justice for her is all very well and good, but if I don't work on mourning her in a more healthy way – if that makes sense – justice could turn into revenge and that would hurt me more than never finding the people behind her murder."
Castle nodded in understanding.
"There's no timeline on grieving though," he said.
"True. And I'll always mourn my mother and the things she has missed and will miss and what I've missed with not having her here."
"I wonder what she would have thought of me?" The question was rhetorical, but there was never a wrong time to lighten the mood, and even though this discussion was going to continue to be serious, making his detective smile was an important part of his job.
"Oh, she would have loved you."
"R-Really? Did she read my books? Was she as big a fan as you are?"
"Castle," she cut him off with a grin. "I'm not sure how much of a 'fan' she was, but I remember seeing a couple of your books lying around the apartment. I didn't discover you until after…"
Kate grew silent and Rick didn't interrupt at first. He understood what she meant and let her be for a moment. But of course he couldn't be silent for long.
"So what else have you and the doctor discussed?" he asked.
She looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
"Ever hear of doctor/patient confidentiality, Castle?" she questioned him right back with a smirk.
"Well," he shrugged. "I'm not a doctor and you're certainly not my patient – unless you want to be. He waggled his eyebrows, she rolled her eyes. "But I am kidding, Kate," he said earnestly. "You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to."
She smiled then, a soft smile Rick hadn't seen directed at him since the Coonan case.
"Anything, and everything," she decided to answer. "You, my current cases, you, my mom, you, my shooting, you… I'm surprised your ears weren't burning after a few of our sessions."
"That's what that was?" Castle exclaimed, grabbing his ears and making Kate laugh out loud. "I was wondering, especially since after looking in a mirror I couldn't find anything wrong with them."
"Well, there you go," she giggled, making Rick look twice, he would never have dreamed Kate Beckett would giggle.
"What about me?" he asked, trying to get himself under control. He vowed he would make her laugh like that every day for the rest of her life if she let him.
Her smile faded a little, which made Castle sorry he asked.
"Mostly how annoying you were being on whatever case we were on. Remember the Fist of Capitalism?"
"That monstrosity that was stolen from the Cosmopolitan Art Museum? Where the guy was killed on the Statue of Liberty's crown?"
"Ah, yes. Serena Kaye helped us with that one."
Kate's smile faded completely, replaced with a disgruntled look.
"Yep, that's the one," she said dryly.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Dr. Burke and I talked about her. Specifically her and you."
Rick looked confused, and Kate rolled her eyes.
"She got on my nerves right from the start, and you fawning all over her didn't help."
"But she helped…"
"Yes, and after 6 months, I can admit that. But at the time…"
She shook he head and continued. "Your kissing her did not help my opinion of either of you."
"Now, wait that's not fair," Rick protested. "I was doing what you asked me to do – distract her."
She raised her hands to calm him.
"I know you tried to tell me that 6 months ago, but I wasn't listening. I saw green and I went straight to Dr. Burke to complain about the two of you."
"You were jealous?"
"You're one to talk, Castle," Kate snorted. "What was the first thing you asked me about Colin Hunt when I told you about the op at the British Consulate?"
Rick had the good grace to look a little sheepish.
"I asked you if he was handsome."
"Now why would you ask something like that?" Beckett sat back, folded her arms and smirked.
"Fair point," he sighed. "Neither of us had any reason to be jealous, but we both were anyway."
"At least I didn't kiss Colin," Kate couldn't resist.
"All right, all right," Castle recognized the tease for what it was.
"Anyway," Kate went back to the subject. "I vented to Dr. Burke about her. I was upset. He – eventually – made me see what you had been telling me the whole time. And in time he's made me see that the 'annoying' things you do aren't necessarily meant to be annoying. You do those things to break the tension, to encourage the team to think outside the box, to…"
"To make you smile," he interrupted.
They both grinned at that. Kate dropped her head shyly.
"Yeah, I guess you're becoming more endearing than annoying," she said in a low voice.
Both heads shot up and the two looked at each other in shock.
Kate hadn't meant to say that out loud. At least not yet.
But there it was.
Rick once again read her mind and didn't tease.
"I'm glad," was all he said.
"I guess that's something else out in the open," Kate said, a little sarcastically, then backtracked. "That's not… It's something I've wanted to say, but I've never been sure how to say it."
She looked Rick in the eye.
"I never thought I'd just spit it out like that."
"Well these last few days have shown us that ripping the Band-Aid off in one fell swoop is sometimes the best way."
"Wow, I feel like I'm at a therapy session right now," Kate said. There's so much I want to tell you, and for some reason I think I might be able to."
"You can always tell me anything, Kate."
The look on Castle's face was so tender that Kate wanted to fall into him and never let go. She decided to give him a little more of herself.
Maybe not a part of the homework, she thought. Call it extra credit.
"So," she began. "I've never told you – and yes, it's because you had a big enough ego as it was…" she broke off with a laugh at Castle's affronted look. "But, Rick, I think it's time you did learn what your books meant to me then – and still do." She bit her lip and continued. "Castle, do you have any idea how much you help people?"
"I don't understand," he looked a little confused. "I mean, I help you, but you're the cop…"
"I mean your books, Castle. I know you don't care for your early books, and I might concede Hell Hath no Fury isn't one of your best, but the point is, the good guys win and the bad guys always pay the consequences for their crimes. And I needed that, Castle. After my mom was killed, I was drowning. Both my dad and I were, albeit in different ways. And the case was written off as nothing. Gang violence. Unsolvable. So when I discovered your books, you pulled me up above the water and gave me the strength to help my dad."
Rick was stunned silent.
"In fact, it was Kissed and Killed that inspired me to join the academy.
This time Rick's jaw dropped.
"Oh, yeah. Alexandra Jones? Huge influence for me." She gave a self-deprecating laugh. "I know, it sounds kinda dumb. You write fiction, real life doesn't work that way, but it helps. It really does."
"I never knew my work meant that much to you, Kate," Rick said with a soft smile. "I'm pleased I was able to help you in some small way whether we'd ever met or not."
Kate smiled at his expression. This Rick was real. It reminded her that his playboy persona was exactly that. A persona. He'd toned it down at the precinct after his initial glee at being allowed to follow her around – which she appreciated no end – but seeing him like this, or with Alexis or his mother, she understood how she fell for him.
Which she still had to tell him.
"I could use a break," she said. "Could you use a break?"
Castle was a little discombobulated as Kate stood and took the empty mugs and plate to the kitchen then disappeared into the bedroom.
Another one? What was this, three?
Then he remembered something Ryan had said a long time ago that still popped in his mind from time to time.
"Beckett isn't exactly what you'd call a 'sharer'."
She was sharing now, and Castle wouldn't begrudge her the time to regroup.
Rick decided he needed to keep busy while Kate was out of the room. He washed the dishes Kate had left in the sink, and used that as an excuse to snoop a little.
'I had to figure out where everything goes, Beckett!'
Just in case she caught him and asked him what the hell he thought he was doing.
Then he texted Alexis, telling her where he was and letting her know that progress was being made. He also asked a favor.
You're not doing anything else tonight are you?
No, Dad, I'll take care of it for you.
He then perused the books on the staircase, frowning when he didn't see any of his books,
Maybe she keeps those somewhere else.
Then he chose a classic Agatha Christie mystery, settling down to wait for Beckett to return.
Kate for her part, was sitting on her bed, trying to get the courage to head back out after powdering her nose. She'd already told Castle more than she planned, and she hadn't even told him how she felt about him yet.
Come on, Beckett, suck it up and get back out there.
Yes, Katie listen to yourself.
And there was Mom again.
Well, what do you expect, Katie? You have a guest, and you've abandoned him.
And you know he's going to snoop, Beckett.
I was referring to the rudeness in leaving a guest hanging, Katie.
Well, whatever gets her out there again, right?
Kate rolled her eyes at herself. It was bad enough she was thinking to herself in different voices, her brain and mother having a discussion without her involved was just ridiculous.
She looked at her watch. Shit she really was being rude now.
She thought she heard a knock at the door. Who the hell would…? Unless Castle ordered something again.
Jeez, how much food do we need, Castle?
She stood and left the bedroom.
Castle was snicking the door shut when Kate came out. He was holding a cloth grocery bag.
"Whatcha got there, Castle?" Kate asked.
"Sorry," she continued, not sounding sorry at all. Just a making him squirm gave her pleasure, it was also fun to make him jump. "Did you order something?"
"Yes and no," Rick replied, hand over his heart. This was not the way he wanted her to get his heart racing. He took the bag to the kitchen and opened a couple of drawers. He knew where to find what he wanted, but since he hadn't been caught snooping, he didn't want to out himself.
"Why are you rummaging in my drawers?" Kate asked, curious.
Rick froze at her words. He straightened, trying not to laugh. She made statements like that from time to time and he never could figure out if she was messing with him or not. He turned to her and replied, "That's what she said..."
Kate's eyes widened. So she hadn't realized what she had said this time.
"Shut up, Castle."
Grinning, he pulled two pint-sized containers out of the bag.
"I thought we'd have cold coffee this time. Alexis was there this evening with friends and I asked her to pick some up for me. She brought it over on her way home."
He handed her a spoon and held up one of the containers.
"Caffè Latte ice cream from Morgenstern's."
"Ooh!' Kate lit up. "Gimme."
The two walked back to the couch and sat, Kate savoring a bite of the ice creamy goodness. Castle could bring this kind of food any time.
"So, where were we?" Castle asked.
Kate took a deep breath.
"I was telling you how much your books meant and mean to me."
"Is that all your homework?"
"I guess it's leading up to it in a roundabout way. What I really need to say is about you meeting Smith."
Rick sat up straight on the couch.
"I thought we were finished talking about that for now."
"Yeah, we are. I just… I guess telling you about all of that with your books is me trying to tell you what you've come to mean to me, personally and professionally. No, don't interrupt, let me get this out."
Castle swallowed what he was going to say, nodded and sat back.
"It's not really so much that you met with Smith at all – which is bad enough with… never mind. It's that you went alone. No backup, no gun, probably not even your vest. Even going through it with you tonight makes me shake. And I don't mean with anger, though that's there too. How do you know he's not working with the people after me? Yeah, I know you said he wants you in the precinct to help protect me – or save me from myself, but is that really true? I'm skeptical of Smith's motives. He may have lied to you. Keep you in the precinct so he can keep an eye on me to monitor how close I'm getting to whoever is in charge of all this."
"Or, he is telling me – and by extension you – the truth, Kate," Rick cut in. "I know you're suspicious, I get why. You know, you talk about my having no training and if you're talking formally, that's true. I've never enrolled at the police academy…" he paused, thinking. "I'm not even sure I know where the academy is."
That brought a small smile to Kate's pensive face.
"But I'd like to think that I've learned something from following you, Ryan and Esposito around for four years. Not to mention I'm a pretty good poker player. I can read tells; I can read body language. I concede it was dangerous, I had nightmares for weeks after meeting him the first time, but I never got the sense he was lying even then. He never came across as a real danger to me. I think that's why I felt comfortable meeting with him the second time, nightmares or not."
"But what if he was armed?" Kate was trying to not project her fears, but it was a losing battle.
"He may have been." Castle shrugged. "I never saw any weapons, though. If he had a gun, he wasn't planning on using it on me."
"Kate, stop projecting," Rick admonished. "It's over, I'm fine. I made it through. Would I do it again? If it would protect you – yes I would. In a heartbeat. I love you, and whether you feel the same or if you just want friendship, that fact remains and will never change."
Tears filled Kate's eyes. She didn't deserve him, she was still broken, but somehow she still had him. And she never wanted to let him go. It was time to go all in.
She stood and took two steps to his side of the couch, reaching for his hands. Pulling him up she laid her hands on his chest.
"I don't want you to meet Smith or anyone else involved without me," she said.
"Kate," Rick began, confused with the detective's actions.
"I don't mean let's go hunt him down and interrogate him right now, I just mean that if there's a time when all this comes to a head, you won't do anything alone. I can't lose you Castle. I've made the decision a long time ago in my heart, and now my head is catching up. I don't want friendship, I want you."
She placed her hand on his cheek, smiling at the stunned look on his face.
"I love you, Richard Edgar Castle," she put her arms around his neck, pulling him closer. "And I don't want to talk anymore."
She reached up and kissed him, a slow, sweet thing that Rick deepened immediately. They parted for a breath, and Kate led him to her bedroom.
The ice cream melted.
A/N 2: Thank you for reading, epilogue to follow. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one!