Thank you to Andy (Bugg) and Emily.
And AC, for the kick in the pants.
This, I fear, is the final chapter. Apologies on taking so long, and thank you very dearly for reading.
Without my readers, my writing would be nothing- thank you for all the support!
I want to say up here that yes, this is the last chapter, and this fic is complete, but I can assure you, the story is not.
I have a sequel planned, hopefully to be posted within the week, so please look out for it. :)
With love, and enjoy, Softer
Of Goodbyes and Courage
The car sat, waiting, patiently, on the curb of the walk. Rick walked out and sat in the driver's seat long enough to stick the key into the ignition and rev the engine to life. He turned the radio down to a soft level and turned on the heat before stepping out and shutting the door.
The fresh snow crunched happily underfoot as he made his way back to the ranch house. He kicked his boots against the brick, knocking off the white precipitation, before entering back into the warmth.
The living room was just as it was the first time he saw it. It looked odd, he decided, almost abandoned and empty now that it bore no obvious signs of them. He stared at the floor, where he, Kate and her father shuffled through hundreds of pictures. He looked at the kitchen table through the doorframe, where the Beckett's let him into their life. Where Kate showed skin, where Jim threatened him, where he witnessed the exchange of father and daughter. He looked at the couch, where he ran his hands down her back.
He was almost convinced this was a dream. A cruel, torturous, lovely dream.
But it was too real.
Too real and too raw to be anything he could write in his mind.
Kate walked into the living room, interrupting his thought. She had her coat and shoes on, her purse in one hand and a Target bag filled with pictures in the other. "Have you seen my car keys?" she asked him. He smiled, hoping she wouldn't be upset.
"I started the car, I hope you don't mind."
"No, no, that's just fine." She seemed distracted, and a little disappointed. "Thank you," she added as an afterthought, remembering her manners.
"Of course." He reached towards her, taking the bag and her purse from her. He was expecting a fight, but she let him hold the bags, releasing them absentmindedly. "You just about ready to go?" He didn't want to rush her- hell, he wasn't quite ready to leave this little haven. She was so relaxed here- so open and at ease and happy.
"Yeah, yeah," she looked around, as if she had misplaced her excuse to stay somewhere in the living room.
"Katie," Jim Beckett entered the room from stage left, and she jumped a little in surprise. He led her to the front door and then outside of it. Castle followed, and Jim didn't stop until they were standing on the curb just beside the car. "It's not like you to beat around the bush," he said, matter of fact-ly.
To this, she heaved a heavy, almost annoyed sigh. She turned around, and in the same moment, he stepped towards her.
Their bodies crashed together and her arms were around her father's neck, holding him tightly. Jim Beckett wrapped his arms around her waist, completely circling her, holding her as if she could just evaporate at any given moment. Her face was buried in her father's neck and his was lost in a curtain of dark brown hair.
Castle felt very awkward all of a sudden. He looked away almost immediately, feeling like he was intruding on a very personal moment. A voyeur he was not, so he focused instead on the laces of his shoes until after what seemed as hours, the two broke apart.
Castle looked up just in time to see her wipe a stray tear from her face with a gloved hand, and she let out a laugh that shook her whole body and left a small puff of breath in the cold air. Jim held her face a moment, tenderly, before planting a kiss on her forehead and releasing her, putting space between them.
"Wait, before I forget," Jim pulled out an ancient-looking polaroid from his coat pocket. "One more for the road," he declared, merrily. Kate looked at him with what looked like admiration in her eyes. She didn't ask how he had gotten the camera in his pocket, let alone out.
"That thing must be a hundred years old," Castle exclaimed, more amazed than anything.
"Twenty would be a more accurate estimate, but hey," Jim held his arms up. "I'm old fashioned. C'mon you two, in front of the car." He pushed them together, framing them with his hands dramatically.
"Dad," Kate said, smiling at his antics. To Castle's surprise, she wrapped both arms around his waist, her head coming to fall on his chest. He responded without conscious effort, draping his arm over her shoulders, turning his head into hers and planting a kiss on her temple.
The move was bold, yes, but subtle in the moment.
So subtle it was almost natural.
So subtle it was right.
Jim snapped the picture and after a moment, the small machine spit out a four by four photo, the colors still forming on the paper. They seemed to stay posed just a moment longer than strictly necessary, but after what seemed like an eternity and two seconds at the same time, she pulled away to accept the photo from her father.
"Wait," Castle stopped the older man as he was tucking the camera away. Castle looked him in the eye, silently asking for the camera. "One more. We have a lot of frames to fill."
The meaning was not missed by anyone of them, and Kate couldn't help but smile, shyly. Jim handed Rick the camera before stepping beside his daughter, an arm draped over she slight shoulders as she clutched the sleeve of his coat with one hand.
She stood on her tip-toes, elevating herself so she could place a kiss on his cheek. Rick snapped the picture, and when it printed, he held it a moment, watching as it developed, until two people were staring back at him.
An aging Jim Beckett smiled at the camera, wrinkles in the corners of his eyes as a side effect of the true smile spread across his face. Kate Beckett was holding onto him for dear life, her lips planted against his cheek, slightly curved into a small smile. He handed the picture to her.
"For you," he said, handing her the picture. "And for you," he handed Jim the camera.
"Thank you," Jim told him, and he didn't just mean the picture.
"You are welcome," Rick didn't just mean the picture, either. Kate wrapped her father in once last quick hug before opening the car's passenger door.
"Goodbye," she said, and completed it with a wave before sinking into the seat and closing the door. Castle was confused for a moment, but took it in stride. He grabbed Jim's hand in his own firm grasp.
"Mr. B," he said.
"Mr. Castle," Jim said back. "You drive safe now, hear?" Castle smiled a small, knowing smile and nodded profusely. He had a feeling that they weren't talking about the drive home.
"Yes sir," Rick replied. He broke eye contact and dropped his hand to hid side, making his way to the driver's side of the car. Why he was driving was unbeknownst to him, but instead of asking and having the privilege taken away, he slipped into the seat, shutting the door when he was buckled in.
He looked at Kate beside him, and she was staring absently out of her window. He placed a hand over hers on the gear shift, lightly, jerking her back to the moment.
"Castle, what are you doing?" she asked him, the edge of warning in her voice. Rick was crushed- they were only in the car and she had already called him by his last name.
"I have to put the car into drive if we plan on going anywhere," he informed her, slowly. She flushed a light shade of pink and took back her hand, looking down, mumbling an apology.
Castle shifted the car into go-mode and pulled away from the curb. And they were on their way.
Kate watched out of the window until her father was nothing but a fleck in the white countryside. She then settled for looking at the polaroid in her hands. She ran her finger down the edge of it, admiringly. They drove for a long time, passing by fields of white and the occasional barn or ranch.
An hour passed, the radio and the soft, familiar kick of the vehicle the only sounds between them. It was only then did she break the silence. "Thank you, Rick."
He turned to her briefly, surprised both by the return of his given name and the fact that she spoke at all. "For what?" he asked, forcing his eyes back to the road before him. It took her a good few minutes to answer, and just when he thought she wouldn't, she spoke.
"For everything. Really." She reached out, her hand falling on his arm, and he looked at her for a moment again. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," he told her with a soft smile. "Really."
She opened her mouth, presumably to speak, when a loud lurching sound ripped through the gentle atmosphere. The Crown Vic shuddered violently and then sputtered. Then, nothing.
"Excuse me?" Castle asked the car. The car answered with more silence. He could feel the heat flow from the ventilation system die at the mouth of the vents and the cold was taking over quickly.
"You have got to be kidding me," Kate said, sitting up from her slouched position. Castle threw the emergency brake on and got out of the car, circling to the front to prop open the hood. She unbuckled her seat belt and joined him at the nose of the car.
"The battery is shot," he informed her, matter-of-fact-ly. He braced himself for the volcanic eruption that promised to ensue.
"You broke my car," she said, simply. "Just great." She made her way back to the passenger seat, slamming the door after her. She sat in the seat, her arms folded like an defiant child. Rick shut the hood of the car, debating on the odds of survival. He could freeze out here, or he could suffer the cold wrath of Beckett inside the car. He wasn't sure why, or what possessed him, but after a long moment of contemplation, he slipped into the driver's seat.
The chill from the outside had already seeped into the car, and the heat was dissipating quickly. "Are you mad at me?" he asked her, warily.
"No," she said, and immediately her whole demeanor relaxed. "It's not your fault."
"I'd be happy to take the blame, if it makes you feel better," he informed her, only half-kidding. She shot him a look before unfolding her arms.
"Where are we?" she asked him.
"Just outside of Kingston," he informed her, remembering the last sign he saw. She whipped out her cell phone, pressing a number into it before holding it to her ear.
"Ryan." She greeted. "Yeah, it's Beckett. Yeah, no, everything is just peachy," the edge of her voice was razor sharp. "No, I know," her tone softened. "Sorry. Look, the car broke down. Yes. Yes. Just outside of Kingston. Yes. Castle's got some GPS thing on his phone, hold on," she cupped the mouth of the phone with one hand, covering it.
"Castle, I need that GPS tracker-app-thingy," she told him. He chuckled at her playfulness before handing her the phone with the coordinates. She read them off to Ryan before bidding him a farewell and hanging up her phone. "He said he and Esposito would be here in a few hours."
"Apparently the Holland is backed up to friggin' Manhattan. It's a good two hours to Kingston on a clear day."
"It won't be too bad, Castle," she told him, smiling.
"No, I think I will survive. You promise you're not mad at me?"
"I'm never going to let you forget that the one time I let you drive, you broke my car," she informed him, earning a light, nervous laugh. "But no. I'm not mad at you."
"I'm freezing," he muttered, pulling his coat tighter around his body.
How they had moved to the backseat, Castle wasn't quite sure. She mentioned sharing a thermal blanket from the trunk and it was all kind of a blur after that. The cold had filled the car completely, the heat no longer lingering, and all they had was the closeness of once another in the backseat of the Crown Vic.
He was sitting, his back against the door of the passenger's side and his legs outstretched across the length of the bucket seats. Kate was huddled beneath the thermal blanket that covered them both, laying flat, facing him as she used his arm as a pillow.
He looked down and smiled, touched not only by the absurdity of this situation, but by the adorable way she was clutching his arm, her head resting on it. It was starting to cramp up, but he didn't care. He would stay that way forever if she were comfortable.
He let both she and the blanket warm him, trying to ignore the cold by focusing on her. She was breathing softly, in, out, in out. He counted the breaths she took, and he began to realize that ever seven and a half breaths, she made a cute little snoring sound.
He stroked her hair, gently, and when he was sure she was fast asleep, he let his eyes flutter shut.
It was only then did she speak.
"My mother loved Hemingway," she said, so suddenly she startled the man she was using as a human pillow.
"Hmm?" He asked her, playing off the slight jump he made and threading his hand through her hair again.
"Hemingway. He was her favorite to read," the revelation was simple and almost irrelevant, but Rick knew that it was only a preamble for the story yet to come. Kate was about to let him in a little more. So instead of speaking, he waited for her to continue, and after a moment of thought, she did.
"My mother came in to the world with so much courage. So much bravery. Hemmingway said that the world breaks us- that the world rides even the strongest until they break. Those the world cannot break, it kills." She took a deep breath, and he felt it with the hand resting on her back more than heard he heard it.
More silence ensued, and he could practically hear her gathering her words together into sentences. She had slipped a hand between their close bodies, and was now taking an increasing interest in the button of his shirt. She twisted it between two fingers, staring at it, curiously.
"My mother could not be broken."
A long, hard period passed between them where nothing was said. What exactly do you say to that? Castle sighed himself, pulling the covers tighter around them, and consequently, she closer to him.
"The world kills everyone." He told her, hoping to god it was the right thing to say.
"I won't be broken, Castle." For the first time in two hours, she caught his blue eyes with her own green ones, and like every other time, he was completely captivated. "I won't be."
"Will you for the love of all things good in this world, please pull over and ask for directions?" Ryan asked his partner, exasperation in his voice. Esposito just gripped the wheel tighter in his right hand, a tight line forming on his face.
"I don't need directions, because I am not lost." He replied, simply, through gritted teeth. "I know exactly where I am."
"Where is that, exactly?" Ryan asked, patronizingly.
"I am in New York, New York, between a rock and a large snow bank. I know exactly where I am."
"We've passed that snow bank like 3 times already," Ryan informed him.
"HOW CAN YOU TELL?" Esposito asked him, irritated.
"Look, there's Beckett's car," Ryan pointed, a blue speck amongst the white.
"It better be in a friggin' ditch," Esposito grumbled, pulling the car to the side of the road a few yards behind the dark blue Crown Victoria parked on the shoulder. He and Ryan both exited the car, immediately wrapping their scarves tighter around themselves.
"Grab the jumper cables," Esposito told Ryan, who reached into the backseat and grapped the red and black cables before joining his partner at Beckett's car. Esposito reached forward with a gloved hand, wiping away the snow from the four-doors back window.
Both men leaned forward to peek inside.
Castle and Beckett were curled together in the backseat, a small, flimsy excuse for a first-aid thermal blanket doubled over around both of their sleeping bodies. She had both arms snaked around his waist, her face buried in his chest and he had both arms around her in a similar fashion, his head resting on her temple.
The two men were no fools, they had seen how close the two had grown over the past few weeks. Ever since the night at his loft, the two had become inseparable. Bets had gone around, the odds of them having slept together, but they knew they hadn't.
They would know if they had.
No, the couple they were looking at, snugged together in the backseat of a broken down car, they weren't sleeping together. But to say they weren't romantically involved- that was debatable, and in Ryan and Esposito's shared perspective, untrue.
They might not be sleeping together, so to speak, but they sure as hell were lovers.
"If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."