And so, the last chapter.
Thank you Emily and Andy, for always being there.
IMW, you are the best BETA a person could ask for- this fic would not be half of what it is without your help. Thank you.
Readers, thank you for taking the time to go on this journey with me.
Reviewers, thank you for encouraging me to finish this, and for your kind words.
Look out for the third and final installment of this series, 'And Love Again' to be posted soon.
She felt as his hands fumbled over her chest, tugging at fabric, struggling with the buttons of her blouse before losing patience. He yanked, sending buttons skittering across the floor. For some reason, the little ping-ing sounds they made as they skip off of surfaces were all she could hear. His hands were cold on her waist, shaking with apprehension as they traveled up to her chest and then back down, his touch firmer that she expected.
When his hands met her lower back she gasped for oxygen, her lungs feeling empty. She choked on air- or rather, a lack of it- desperate to breathe. She felt him tug her blouse closed, suddenly conscious of her modesty, followed by the weight of his head on her stomach. As the reality of the situation sank in, she reached down, threading his hair with her fingers even as his warm tears stained her shirt.
Her free hand found the vest he had tossed carelessly aside, fingering the hole in which a bullet was trapped between layers of Kevlar. She felt her own tears slid down her temple, mingling with sweat and disappearing into her hair.
Suddenly, the ringing ping of her shirt buttons turned into the metallic clink of falling shell casings. Even after the gunfire stops, the sounds ricocheted around in her mind. A new reality sank in, and she used the hand tangled in his hair to pull Rick up to her, forcing his eyes to meet her own.
His hand found her waist again, holding himself steady, no doubt. Kate's fingers slipped from his hair and met his shoulder, pushing him up. "Go," she commanded him, as firmly as she could manage. "I'm fine. Go."
He didn't need telling twice.
He left, falling to his knees in front of his daughter, and Kate was momentarily distracted by the swarm of paramedics. She tried to push them off, to tell them they were fine, but the medics insisted.
"Go to Alexis," she choked out, pushing herself first to her elbows and then slowly standing straight, as if to prove she was okay. "I'm not hurt."
"She's being taken care of," one of the younger medics assured her, and sure enough, when she looked over, Rick was fighting to keep a hold of Alexis's hand as they moved her on to a stretcher.
She herself was whisked away- wrapped up in a blanket and ushered out of the warehouse.
She smelled like gun smoke and tasted like copper. She touched her cheek where it had become rather acquainted with the warehouse floor- the inside of her mouth stopped bleeding an hour before, but there would be a bruise to remind her of it later.
After she was poked and prodded with the cold, flat, metal of a stethoscope and cleared, she sat on the end of the ambulance, her feet dangling over the edge, she arms holding a black Police jacket around her small frame.
She watched everything unfold in the same manner as the past few days: silently. So surreal, it was like she was watching rather than living it. Compared to Castle and his family, she was only feeling a fraction of the pain. But even then, she knew she was lying to herself. She was too close. She was so far tangled in his life and his family, that when they were lit on fire, she got burned.
And the part that really got to her? She didn't even care.
Kate forced herself out of her headspace before she got lost in it, concentrating instead on her surroundings. It was the picture of a post-shoot out; she'd seen it all before.
There were a cluster of cops, working quickly and efficiently. For a lot of them, she knew this was just another day's work. For some of them, it was just another case. For others, it was that first clean-up, the one they would never forget. It was always messy when a kid was involved.
A few yards away, Alexis was laying in the back of another ambulance, a doctor on one side of her and her father on the other. He held her hand to his cheek, his elbows resting on his knees, his face hiding behind their clasped hands.
Castle was always affectionate toward his family, his daughter in particular. There were the casual head kisses and the frequent bear hugs. It reminded Kate of herself and her own father. Suddenly, she was hit with the urge to call him.
She was just reaching for her phone when someone came up beside her.
"Martha," she greeted, unable to keep the surprise out of her voice. After seeing the look on the older woman's face, she rushed to explain: "I thought you'd be over there," she nodded to Alexis' ambulance.
"Four's a crowd," she explained, earning a nod from the detective. When Kate's gaze fell to the middle distance, staring but not seeing, Martha dropped a hand to her arm, getting her attention.
"Detective Esposito told me what you did. Diving in front of that bullet to save my granddaughter." The actress stated plainly. Kate opened her mouth, unsure of what to say.
She wanted to tell Martha that she was just doing her job.
That she was just being a cop.
But she was tired of lying.
To herself and to everyone else.
Sensing this, Martha continued. "Thank you." Grateful for the out, Kate covered Martha's hand with her own.
"You're welcome." The two traded smile smiles before Kate tore her eyes away. Sensing someone behind her, she turned, finding Sorenson approaching.
"I don't mean to interrupt…" he began, awkwardly. Sorenson was a lot of things, but never was he ill at ease.
"You're not, dear," Martha told him, before Kate could open her mouth to respond. "I was just leaving." With that, along with another small-but-loaded smile, she made her exit-stage-left. She watched the woman migrate to her son and granddaughter, leaving Sorenson to hoist himself up beside her.
"That could have gone better," he began.
She snorted in response, unimpressed by his opening. She was determined to concentrate on anything but him- the flashing police lights, the stitching of the police jacket draped across her shoulders, the man she loved hunched over his broken daughter- anything but the conversation she knew they had to have.
"Do we have to do this now?" she asked him. She knew she was being whiney, but she didn't care. She was tired. She wanted a shower and cold one. She wanted everything to be okay. She wanted to go home. It struck her that an image of the loft floated into her mind, rather than her empty apartment.
"Would you rather do it later?" he asked, the jest faded completely from his voice, leaving it gravelly and cold. She hated how well he knew her, even now.
She sighed and shook her head, prompting him to continue.
"The shooter was tucked into the corner of the upper level. They had cut a hole in the wall, were completely hidden. The shooter was Robert Shilling. With him, apparently orchestrating the entire operation, was Julie Tibbett."
"Tibbett," Kate echoed, her face falling into her hands. "I remember that case. Hanna Tibbett had killed her boyfriend, his mistress, and his dog. Her sister, Julie, claimed that her sister was unwell, that she needed to be in a hospital, not a jail cell. Castle disagreed, and frankly, so did I. We were both called to testify on behalf of the prosecution."
"They called Castle to the stand?" Sorenson interrupted.
"They called everyone that worked the case. Well, everyone that had a direct interaction with Tibbett. You know how they handle those insanity cases over there."
Sorenson nodded, urging her to continue.
"We both testified, but it was Castle who really sold the jury. You know how he is, he knows how to work the people like nobody else I know." There was a brief pause, and again, Kate took exceeding interest in the yellow letters of her jacket. "Three days into her incarceration, she hung herself."
"Goddamn," the man beside her breathed.
"So why didn't they try to shoot Castle? Why Alexis?"
"Julie said it herself on the phone; she wanted Castle to suffer. She wanted to take what matters most to him. She wanted to lure him in, to give him a false sense of security before killing his daughter right in front of him."
"Goddamn," he repeated.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Pearlmutter, zipping up a body bag over the face of a woman.
"Guess we don't have to worry about going through a trial," she said, lamely, hating the words and the true relief they brought her even as they tumbled out of her mouth.
"Ryan is a better shot than he looks," Sorenson replied. Not knowing how to respond, she simply nodded, her brows knitting together. "I know that look," he told her, and for the first time of the entire conversation, she looked up at him, her eyes questioning. "You're thinking to hard about something."
The laugh that escaped her was made up of everything but happiness, and her eyes fell back to gaze into nothing.
"Go to them," he told her. Again, she looked at him inquisitively before realizing where her eyes had rested. "You want to be there. They want you there. Hell, I want you there." His hand fell to rest on her back, high enough to be friendly and low enough to be familiar. She leaned into his touch, wishing it was Castle's.
"It's okay, Kate," he assured her. "Everything is okay." She nodded as if to accept this. Part of her even believed it.
"I have a family I need to get back to," he looked over to the ambulance housing two redheads, a distraught father and an overworked medic, pointedly. "I think you do, too."
The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.