Kate stared into the flames of the fire Ryan had insisted on lighting, despite the time of year, to ward off any possible chills due to, as he put it, "running around the countryside without a vest on". Although, given his broken wrist, what he actually did was supervise Esposito, and Kate had to hide a smile as she considered that if Ryan got out of this without at least one more fractured limb, he'd be lucky.
They'd finally headed back to the city, taking one of the cars and leaving Kate alone with her thoughts.
Jordan stepped inside the cabin, shaking the rain off one of the umbrellas she'd had stashed in the back of the other Fedmobile. She looked surprised to see Kate still awake. "You should be in bed."
"I'm not tired."
"Going through exhaustion and out the other side isn't the same." Jordan tilted her head slightly. "Do you feel up to answering a few questions?"
"I suppose." Kate pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders, using it like a shield where she sat on the sofa.
Jordan sat down in the armchair. "So do you want to explain things to me?" she asked, her tone surprisingly gentle.
"Goodman ordered my mother killed, and Fortunas tried to kill everyone else." Kate shrugged. "What else is there?"
"Detective, I'm not blind. Two people are dead, another is in the hospital – which is where you should be, by the way –"
"No." She'd let the EMTs redress her wound – again – and ignored their recommendations to follow Goodman's bodyguard to the emergency department.
"And both you and I know there's more than your boys let on."
"I don't know where you got that idea."
"How about the fact that your late captain was far more involved in this than anyone suspects?"
Kate deliberately took her time to answer. "He was killed trying to protect me."
"Oh, that I believe. But there's a hell of a lot more to it."
"Jordan, they're dead. They're all dead. Drop it."
For a long moment neither woman spoke, and if there was any magic left in the world their gazes should have been sparking fire where they connected.
Then Jordan sighed deeply. "Beckett. Kate. I know."
Kate studied the other woman, her veneer of cool elegance hiding a warm person who cared about the victims of the crimes she investigated, and wondered just how much she honestly knew. Maybe not everything, but enough. Still ... "I don't know what you're talking about."
Jordan nodded her head slowly, and sat back, crossing her ankles. "By the way, I thought you'd like to know – Nash sent a team to Hazel Fortunas' home – they found enough tools in the garage to keep your Chris Chan happy for a while."
"She built the bombs?"
"More than that. Nash did a little work of his own – he compared the photos of Montgomery's funeral."
"That's what she meant, wasn't it?" Kate said, understanding washing over her like a warm wave. "She was the one who shot me."
"Yes. She was quite prominent in a number of pictures so we could build up a decent timeline, then ... nothing, until after the officers started to search for the shooter."
"And the gun?"
"Cleaned and put back in her cabinet at home. She didn't think anyone was ever going to find out, so why get rid of it?"
"So she killed Hackett."
"I imagine he was getting to be a nuisance. And maybe he was trying a little blackmail of his own."
"And it was all over those damn vests."
Jordan made a non-committal face. "We may never know the full extent of their involvement, but from what I can work out, Goodman ordered Coonan to kill your mother because she was getting too close to the truth behind Armen's death, and that would have opened up a whole can of very stinking worms."
"And her colleagues?"
"A smokescreen. They were all involved in that Take Back the Neighbourhood scheme, and if anyone had noticed the similarities in the deaths, well, Vulcan Simmons could have made a decent fall guy."
Maybe Montgomery too, Kate thought but didn't say. Maybe he never shot Armen, and was just another fall guy. Instead she said, "Thanks."
"Oh, you did that all by yourself."
"So what happens now?"
Kate took a deep breath. "Goodman and Hazel are dead. You shot one, me the other. At the very least IA will want to do an investigation, make sure it was justified." Instead of revenge, her treacherous inner voice added.
"Is that what you think?"
Jordan smiled faintly. "That you killed Goodman because he ordered the hit on your mother."
Kate stared at her. "Do all FBI agents have to be psychic?"
"It's part of the job description."
Kate had to laugh at her dry tone. "Is that the secret to your success?"
"Probably," Jordan said. "And hard work." Her smile warmed. "It's okay. Leave it in my hands. You were saving Castle's life, and your own. It was a clean kill."
"Right." She knew it wasn't as easy as that, though. She might never be able to convince herself that she couldn't have just shot to wound, to disable, rather than taking Goodman's life. "An eye for an eye."
"Maybe a little bit biblical," Jordan commented.
Kate hadn't realised she'd spoken. "Sorry."
"Don't be. And in a way it's true. Just not how you were thinking." She stood up. "Anyway, my ride is waiting. And I've got a report to write."
"Then thank you again."
"No. I think we're even." Jordan gave a half salute and went to the door, picking up the umbrella again and walking out into the driving rain without another word.
Kate had to smile. Castle had been right about the weather – as usual – and the drumming on the roof was almost calming. She got to her feet and stretched, dropping the blanket back onto the sofa. She knew the inner cold she felt wasn't because of the soaking, but more because it was over. Finally. And truth was, she didn't know what came next.
Still, there was one thing she could do.
Picking up the hurricane lamp she slowly climbed the stairs, waiting outside the door to the bedroom for half a dozen heartbeats before going inside. "Are you still awake?" she whispered.
"Yes." Rick turned over and looked at her in the warm lamplight. "Hey."
"Yes. It's just us."
"Good." He coughed, wincing as it caught his raw throat.
"You should be in the hospital."
"I'll be fine."
"Rick, I ..."
"I ..." She muttered something.
"Sorry ... what?"
"I said I thought I'd lost you." A sift of heightened colour touched her cheeks.
"Kate, Kate. I told you – you can't get rid of me that easily." He coughed again, deeper this time, the effort racking his body and making him contort in the bed.
She waited until he'd stopped, ready with a tissue and the glass of water. "Here."
"Thanks." He wiped at his lips, then his eyes, before sipping gingerly. "I can't seem to get the taste of mud out of my mouth," he complained.
"You'd better be right. And I will be extremely pissed if I lose my amazing baritone through this."
She half-smiled. "I'm sure it'll be fine." She didn't mention the mauling he'd given the show tune that morning. That morning – damn, but had it only been such a short time before? "You know, you really should have gone to the hospital."
"I hate them almost as much as you do."
"Too many visits?"
"I've never exactly been a 'safe' sort of guy."
"No. I think I realised that the first time you followed me into a potential crime scene in that ridiculous vest."
"Hey, I was working!"
"No, I was working. You were disobeying orders."
He smiled, then tugged the blanket closer around him as a shiver ran through his frame. "Anyway, it wasn't always me. Alexis went through a phase when she was about eight of seeming to end up in the emergency room at least once a month."
"Mmn. She came off her bike twice, fell down the stairs at school ..." His eyes half-closed as he remembered. "... and one of her fellow pupils stabbed her in the arm with a pencil once."
"I'm surprised Child Services didn't want to take her away."
"Me too. But they must have realised it was just a natural result of growing taller and not having total control over her body yet."
"And being stabbed in the arm?"
"I think that was an argument over a boy. Or a pencil case."
Kate smiled. "Is that why you don't like Josh? Because he's a doctor?"
"No. My ... uh ... dislike is a lot more personal."
"At least you're honest."
"Better make a note of that in your diary – it's not likely to happen again for a while."
"Oh? I thought you weren't planning on hiding behind a lie anymore."
"You mean us?"
He looked down at his hands, rubbing at a microdot of mud stuck at the base of his right thumb. "Yes, well, I've given up hiding over that."
"Me too." She leaned over and put her hand under his chin, lifting his head so his mouth was at a level with hers, and kissed him. When she released him he had a look of shocked surprise on his face.
"You wanted to earlier," she pointed out.
"I know ... and I still do, but ... you mentioned Josh, so I thought ..." He pulled himself together. "I didn't think you wanted to. Not with him still being in your life."
"Yes, I mentioned Josh. And I won't do anything behind his back."
"No. No, I can see that." Sadness crossed his very blue eyes.
"So I'll tell him we're over. If you can wait."
"Wait?" His voice seemed to go almost supersonic, and he coughed quickly before shaking his head, as if trying to clear his ears because he wasn't sure he'd heard right, then repeated, "Wait?"
"For me to tell Josh."
"You mean ..."
She took his hand, rubbing the back of it with the ball of her thumb. "I mean."
The rain might still have been drumming on the roof of the cabin, and the sun still had several hours before it even attempted to push up from behind the mountains, but his face was shining so brightly he might as well have stepped into brilliant daylight. "Kate ..."
"You were right, you know," she went on quickly. "It isn't going to be easy, you and me. We're probably going to fight it every step of the way ... well, me more than you ... but it might be worth it."
"Oh, it will."
"But I don't cheat. I never have, and I'm not about to start, not even for you, Castle."
He let her get away with it, with not using his first name, because now it didn't matter. "No, and that's fine. Honestly."
"Good." She smiled. "Is it me or has it got colder?"
He grinned and lifted the blanket, letting her scoot against his side before wrapping them both around her.
Next morning Rick was having an admittedly awkward conversation with his mother. Whilst she and Alexis were overjoyed that Kate was actually alive and almost unharmed, Martha was extremely annoyed that he hadn't let them know earlier.
"I didn't know myself when you left," he insisted.
"No, you're not that good an actor. But you should have called when you found out."
"Mother, I was under strict instructions not to. From Jordan Shaw." He could imagine her surprised expression all too well. "I wasn't about to disobey the FBI."
"Why not? You've never obeyed rules in your life."
"Yes, but it wasn't my life I was dealing with."
"Are you sure she's okay?" She was concerned now, her anger deflected at least for a while.
"She's fine. We'll be on our way home in an hour or so."
"We'll be there. Hold on, Alexis wants a word."
"No, wait, you –" But he couldn't get the whole sentence out before his daughter had obviously snatched the phone.
"Dad. Are you okay? No bullet holes or knife wounds?"
"No, sweetheart," he assured her warmly. "You won't be inheriting my fortune quite yet."
He grinned. "No, I'm fine. Honestly." He wasn't about to mention the near drowning, not make them worried all over again.
"So the black clothes I bought have to go back?"
"Were they expensive?"
"Very. Gram helped."
A laugh bubbled up past his still-sore throat. "I'm sure you'll find a use for them. But you don't have to come home. Stay in the Hamptons. Enjoy yourself."
"We're coming back." Alexis could be as single-minded as himself sometimes. Or Kate. But at least Kate had an excuse.
"Is the sun out?"
"Is it hot?"
"Yes, but –"
"Is the sea cool?"
"Dad, we're coming back." She wasn't going to budge.
"Fine. Just don't say I didn't try to make you stay when you're immersed in boring school work again."
"School work isn't boring."
"It must have changed since I went."
"Besides, Ashley invited me to a concert at ... the ..." Her voice faded away.
"So that's it?" He shook his head, even though she couldn't see. "Mot really worried about your old man but wanting to go on a date with your boyfriend?" This time she could picture her sheepish yet adorably winning smile. "Okay. Have it your way."
"Thanks, Dad. We'll be home this afternoon."
"I might not be."
They chatted for a few moments more, then he broke the connection, feeling more relaxed than he had in a good long while. Getting to his feet he went to slip his phone back into his jacket, then came to a full stop. "Oh. Hi."
Kate was standing at the bottom of the stairs, smiling at him. "Hi."
He nodded. "And Mother. They send their love."
"That's nice." Still she didn't move, just stood with an odd, almost wistful expression on her face.
"Seeing you with your family. Even at a remove."
He sighed theatrically. "Then I behave like a twelve year old on a sugar rush, and undo all that good work. I know."
"Did I say that?"
"You have before."
"Castle ... Rick ... What you did for me, what you've done for me here –"
He held up a hand. "Stop."
His happiness was draining out of him like rainwater down a sewer, but he managed to keep that smile on his face. "This sounds like goodbye. You've rethought what you said last night."
Kate closed her eyes briefly. "No." She gazed back at him. "Damn it, Rick, will you let me finish? I'm trying to pay you a compliment here."
"You are?" He couldn't be more surprised.
"Yes. Just don't get used to it."
"Kate, honey, it will be engraved on my heart." He let a beat go by. "When I know what it is."
"It's ... thank you."
"Thank you for being you. I don't know anyone else who'd have been quite so zealous."
"You know, I'm not sure that is a compliment."
"Then ... determined."
"Better. Just. But don't you think Josh would have looked after you?"
"Yes. But he'd have wanted to wrap me in cotton wool, and he'd never have let me work this out. Let alone found me a murder board," she added, nodding towards where the whiteboard was leaning against the wall, ready to be put back into the dark under the stairs once more now it was wiped clean.
"That's what friends are for," Rick said.
"Except you're not. Not just a friend, I mean."
"No. I'm not." There was a pause, a pregnant moment when the whole of his life seemed to be resting on a knife edge, ready for him to either cut himself to ribbons or fall crashing to his death on the rocks of reality below.
Then she stepped closer and took his hand, his fingertips in hers. "I'll talk to him, as soon as we get back."
"Are you sure?" Shut up! the little voice in the back of his head was saying, kicking him in the brain for emphasis. She's made her choice, idiot! Don't jinx it now ...
"I'm sure." She smiled. "But there's one condition."
"No more sex with Meredith."
"You did too?"
She hit him with her free hand, only this time it was gently in the middle of his chest. "Promise."
"I promise." She was so close, so beautiful, he wanted to kiss her ... oh, what the hell. He swept her into his arms and pressed his lips softly onto hers.
"Rick ..." she managed to say eventually.
He ran his fingertip down her cheek. "Kate, believe me, there won't be anyone else."
Kate remembered a conversation she'd had with Maggie once, how Rick had never been unfaithful, not in any of his relationships, despite his reputation. "I do believe you." Still, she had to add, "Besides, I still sleep with a gun, and I don't intend sharing."
His eyes glazed a moment. "Um ... a threesome ..." This time it was a pinch and much harder. "Ow."
"Serves you right."
He chuckled, then groaned as she moved slightly against him. "You know, if we stay like this much longer I won't be responsible for my actions."
She smiled again, warm and full of promise. "We can't have that." She stepped back, and he felt ... not exactly bereft, but definitely cooler. "Come on," she went on. "We'd better get back to the city."
Outside in the clean air now the rain had finally stopped, they walked to the car, Rick dropping the suitcases into the trunk before slamming it closed with a satisfying thunk. "Ready?" he asked.
She looked back at the cabin, then around at the scenery. "You know, it's really a nice place," she said. "It would have been nice to stay longer."
"We could. If you wanted."
"We've got work to get back to. And your mother and Alexis would kill both of us if you weren't home in time for supper."
"True." He opened the passenger door for her. "We could always come back for our honeymoon. Ow."
"Just for that I'm driving," she said, walking around to the driver's side.
"So things are back to normal?" he asked.
She smiled at him over the top of the car. "Almost, Rick. Almost."
The drive back from Quarter Lake was almost as quiet as the upward journey, although at least this time Kate was awake. Not that it made her talkative.
Rick, on the other hand, tried to fill the silence, talking about the new book, what he had in mind for Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook, although in the end even he acknowledged defeat and lapsed into silence, only occasionally commenting on things out of the window.
It wasn't until they passed the turning for Dobbs Ferry that Kate roused herself.
"Sorry," she said.
"It's just ... it's done."
"I can't believe it."
"It's not surprising. But how do you feel?"
"It's been the most important thing for over a third of my life. Now it's ... gone." Kate shrugged. "What do I do now?"
"Let someone love you."
She bit her lip. "If only I could find someone ... ow."
"Serves you right."
"I could arrest you for that. Assaulting a police officer."
"Ooh, handcuffs." His face brightened. "Just remember, my safe word is –"
"Apples. I know."
"That's so cute."
"Not really. You tell me so often, I doubt I'll ever forget."
They laughed together, easy in each other's company again, and it wasn't until Kate brought the car to halt at the sidewalk that Rick realised they weren't at either his or her apartment.
"Kate?" he asked.
"It's Josh's place."
He looked up at the brownstone building. "You're going to do this now?"
"Might as well get it over with." At his surprised glance she went on, "I don't want him believing there's a future for us. It's not fair, and I owe it to him."
"You want me to come up with you?"
"No. Thanks, but no. This is something I need to do by myself."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. But I appreciate the concern."
"It's not concern," he said, taking her hand and lifting it to his lips. He pressed a kiss to her fingertips then let go, sure in the knowledge that he'd be able to do it again.
It was hard. She'd almost hoped that he'd be at work, that despite what she'd said she could put it off for a few hours, but against the odds he was there, a tea towel in his hands that he tossed away as soon as he realised who was at the door, reaching out for her. She let him hold her, but he knew immediately something was wrong.
It only took a few minutes for him to ask, "This is it, isn't it?"
She nodded, biting her bottom lip. "Yes."
"You and Castle." He thrust his hands deep into his jeans pockets.
"I didn't ... but yes."
"I love you."
"I know. And I love you."
"But not enough."
"Kate, if you're pushing me away because you think I might get hurt –"
"You're not a cop."
"Neither is he."
"He's my partner."
"And I wanted to marry you."
She shook her head, wondering why she wasn't surprised at this revelation, or whether it was just that she didn't really believe him. "No, you didn't. You don't, not really. You want to spend your life doing all those exciting things being married to a cop would stop you doing."
"You didn't have to stay in the force."
"Yes, I do. It's what I am. NYPD. It's probably engraved on my heart."
"I don't want to have to find that out, Kate. If you get hurt again –"
"Job description, Josh." She moved closer, enough so that she could smell the aftershave he used. Clean, and somehow cold. Not like Castle's, all warm and comforting. "And it's time."
"It doesn't have to be." He pulled his hands from his pockets and cupped her face. "Now it's all over, we can take time, be with each other –"
"What, when you're back from your next Doctors Without Borders assignment?" She smiled sadly, turned her head enough so that she could put a kiss on his palm. "Long distance relationships don't work."
"They do if you make them."
"You have to want it enough."
"And you don't."
"No." She stepped back, leaving his hands empty and clutching at thin air.
He closed his eyes and gulped, arms dropping back to his sides before looking at her again. "Then I wish you all the best."
"And tell Castle ... he's a lucky bastard."
"I'm the lucky one."
"You think?" He laughed, just a low rumble. "If I didn't know you had twenty-twenty vision I'd suggest you go see an optometrist." He turned away from her, going to the door. "Are you going to be okay?"
"I'll probably cry. Eat a whole pack of cookies. Something like that."
"No. Not Kate Beckett. She's too strong for that." He paused, giving her one last chance. "Are you sure? Because I'll wait."
"No." She moved closer, her hand going to rest on his. "Move on. Take that assignment in Somalia. Go be the hero."
He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "I'm not the hero, Kate."
"Yes. Yes, you are. And just you remember that." She kissed his cheek, but at the same time pressed on his hand so the door opened.
He stepped back, breaking the connection forever. "Be good to yourself, Kate."
He smiled again, just a little. "'Bye, Kate."
And she was gone, nothing left but a drift of her perfume that died as he breathed it in.
"You okay?" Rick asked, picking his way through the traffic. She hadn't even argued when he'd opened the passenger door for her.
"It can't have been easy."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"O-kay." He concentrated on getting the hire care around a double-parked delivery truck, then heard her sigh. He glanced across at her. "Kate?"
"Sorry," she said quietly. "It shouldn't take it out on you. I just ... I didn't want to hurt him."
"It happens. We hurt the people we care about, often without even realising."
"I knew what I was doing."
"And better it was now than in a few weeks or months, when you're both unhappy but neither of you wants to be the one to break it off."
"That sounds like the voice of experience."
"It's still hard."
"Hey, if it was easy we wouldn't need divorce lawyers." He smiled and was rewarded by one in return. "Okay. Where do you want to go?"
He nodded. "Okay. I can do that. Your apartment it is." He licked his lips. "You know, you could always come home with me."
"I could," she agreed, "but Martha and Alexis are going to be there."
"They'd love to see you."
"And I'm looking forward to seeing them, but ... not quite yet."
"Then ... yes, of course."
He braked for a red light. "Good?"
"Besides, what I was thinking of might be a bit awkward if your family were in the other room."
This time he turned in his seat to stare at her, only slightly hampered by the seat belt. "Katherine Beckett, are you intending to seduce me?"
She just smiled, allowing her tongue to dart out and wet her lips. Maybe she hadn't been intending that, at least not right away, but now the words were out there, even in jest, she found herself warming to the idea.
A honk from a yellow cab behind them indicated the light had turned green, and Rick quickly put the car once more into gear, his foot pressing perhaps a little too firmly on the gas.
On the pretext that she was still technically an invalid, Rick carried the garish suitcase up to her apartment.
As she straightened from unlocking and opening the door, she asked, "Do you want to come in?"
"I don't know."
She turned to look at him in surprise. "I'm asking."
"I'm not sure you're ready. I don't want to pressure you."
Kate had had enough. "Oh, shut up." She pulled him inside by the front of his jacket, her mouth locked to his.
By the time they reached the bedroom, Rick could feel passion raging through him, and it took all of his willpower to push her away, even a little, and ask, "Are you sure about this?"
Her clear eyes, now hooded with desire, gazed into his. "Am I going to be just another notch on your bedpost?" she countered.
"No. Am I? Because if this is just some kind of consolation f-"
"Rick." She kissed him again, much lighter this time, her tongue sketching across his lips, and it made the flames within him roar even higher. "I don't know where this is going, or what we'll find when we get there, but we're on the journey now, and I intend enjoying every minute."
His mouth widened into a smile, then a grin, and he reached down to scoop her up into his arms, carrying her to the bed. He placed her gently down, her hair fanning out on the pillow, then lay down next to her, the length of his body all along hers. "Kate."
"Take off your shoes," she said.
He laughed as he kicked them off, hearing them land somewhere on the floor. "Are you always going to order me about?"
"Good." He claimed her mouth, his left hand pushing under the thin t-shirt around her back, and with a snap undoing her bra.
Her eyes widened. "How did you ..."
The chuckle was deeper this time, more sensual. "Many hours practise with a pillow and one of my mother's discards when I was a lot younger." He kissed the curve of her neck where it met her shoulder. "You'd be amazed what I know. And can do with both hands."
Her fingers entwined in his hair. "Don't talk about your mother."
"She always said I should kiss you while we were both still young enough to enjoy it." That practised left hand was now at her jeans, flicking the button and gently pulling down the zipper. He stroked her belly as his tongue plundered the dip above her collarbone before pressing down.
She gasped slightly, then pulled at his top, needing as much flesh contact as possible. "All right, Richard Castle," she said breathily. "Amaze me."
So he did.
"You're right," she said, lying in his arms, her fingers tracing circles in his damp chest hair.
"I am?" He stroked her shoulder.
"I'm going to be hell to be in a relationship with."
"We already are."
"What?" She glanced up at him.
"In a relationship. Oh, not this. Before." He smiled gently at her. "Kate, we see more of each other that most married couples. I've seen you happy, sad, and everything in between. I think I can cope."
"How about working together?"
He stopped in his stroking, almost holding his breath. "Do you want us to stop? Because I wasn't planning on giving up. Were you?"
"No. I just wondered if it would make a difference."
"I'm sure it will. Mainly because I'm going to have trouble keeping my hands off you."
"That could be interesting, especially when I'm interrogating a suspect."
Much later ...
"Are you staying?"
"If you want."
"Won't Martha and Alexis be wondering where you are?"
"I'll text. They'll be over the moon we've finally stopped being stupid."
"It wasn't stupid."
"Not having what we want?"
"There were reasons."
"That now seem somewhat ridiculous in the cold light of day."
"It's not daylight, and they weren't ridiculous."
"Are we having our first fight as a couple?"
"Good. Because I hear make-up sex is the best of all ..."
As daylight filtered through the curtains ...
"Are you asleep?"
"Only I wanted to tell you something."
"Only I don't want to keep you from sleeping."
"Just tell me."
"I love you."
"I love you too, Kate."
"Not sure I can do this," Kate said quietly as they rode the elevator up to homicide. "I lied to them all ..."
Rick held her tightly. "Kate, my Kate ... they understand. They know why, and believe me, they'd have supported you if they'd been aware earlier."
She looked into his blue eyes. "You've got a lot of faith in them, Castle."
She was often going to call him that, at least until she started to forget.
"So do you. It's why you're a cop."
"Not why you became a cop, but why you are still. And a damn good one. You have faith in people being mostly good, and that they deserve to live in peace. So you chase the bad guys who threaten that peace."
She gazed at him for a long time. "Is that speech a reject from Heat Rises?" she asked, quite deadpan.
He pinched her, and for once she was the one yelping. She grinned just as the elevator slowed. "Stay with me?" she asked, suddenly unsure.
The smile was more genuine now, and as the doors opened he could see her buckle her armour back on, ready to show the world just how capable she was.
He didn't mind, not any more. He knew what was inside, and that was his. For all his money and fame, that was enough, and he'd gladly give them both up to keep it.
Applause erupted as they stepped out into Homicide, every officer – uniformed or plain clothes – in the precinct seeming to fill the floor. Above them a banner fluttered, the legend 'Welcome Home, Detective Beckett' on it in proud black letters. Right at the front stood Ryan and Esposito, clapping harder than anyone. Even Lanie was there, and ... "Perlmutter?" Kate breathed from the side of her mouth.
"He always did have a soft spot for you," Rick replied, his own lips barely moving. He gave her a gentle push in the small of her back. "Go on."
She shot him a glare – which unaccountably warmed him through with its normalcy – but moved smoothly into the crowd, shaking hands and accepting so many slaps on the back she was sure she was going to have bruises. Lanie hugged her.
"You haven't killed Esposito yet for not telling you?" Kate whispered.
"He hasn't even begun to pay for it yet," Lanie promised, keeping her voice equally low.
Kate laughed, caught away by somebody else who wanted to pump her hand.
Eventually she reached her desk, and someone shouted, "Speech!" The cry was taken up and she looked to Rick for support, but he only shrugged.
Taking a deep breath she held up her hands to call for quiet.
"No speeches," she said firmly. "No heroes. Just cops. It's enough."
Rick started slightly, hearing his own thoughts echo back to him, but he stepped forward. "Okay, people. She's back and you can be sure she's not going anywhere. So everyone had better get back to work." He added quickly, "And the drinks are on the house at the Old Haunt this evening."
There was a good-natured muttering, mostly comments about who'd made him Chief of Police, but the crowd thinned out until only a handful remained.
"Glad you're back," Perlmutter said. "Maybe you can keep this pair in line." He cracked what might have been a smile then walked out.
"See," Lanie said. "I told you, girl."
Kate shook her head. "He's just glad he didn't have to do another autopsy."
"Got that right." Lanie hugged her again. "Well, I've got a cold body getting warm on my slab right now, so I'll see you later, okay?"
"I don't –"
"Later." Lanie turned pointedly from her best friend to her boyfriend. "You too."
"You can bet on that, chiquita." He kissed her lightly then patted her on the behind as she sashayed towards the elevator.
Kate hid the smile, thinking Esposito maybe shouldn't be looking forward to the encounter as much as he was, but didn't comment.
"Jenny wanted to come but I said no," Ryan commented. "But she'll join us later down at the Old Haunt."
"She's just glad you're alive."
"Me too." Kate looked down at her desk.
"We tried to put it all back the way you had it, but it was all packed away," Ryan went on.
"Because if it needs moving –"
"Bro." Esposito stopped him. "Come on. We've got work to do." He steered his partner away.
"They care," Rick said quietly.
"I know. I just didn't expect all ... this." She gestured towards the banner.
"Hey, this was subtle compared to what they wanted to do. You have no idea how long I had to argue about not getting the male stripper."
He waited a heartbeat, then said, "Aren't you going to sit down?"
"Only it'll be tiring, standing all day."
"Not sure it's still mine."
"It's got your stuff. You might have to adjust the chair again, but ..." He picked up a stack of pink message slips. "See?" he said, waving them at her. "People want to speak to you."
"Probably telling me my pension's cancelled."
"Stick with me, kid, you'll be fine."
This time it was the eye roll. Still, she slowly lowered herself into her chair, spending some time making fine adjustments.
He waited until she was happy with the results, then sat down himself, feeling like all was right with the world. "So," he said, his natural confidence shining back through again, "now what? A juicy murder? Body found in unnatural circumstances in a cornfield? Hey, maybe it's a cereal killer!"
She fixed him with her clear eyes. "That's bad taste."
"Too soon?" He reached over and put his hand on hers. "Gotta get back on that horse, Kate."
She wanted to argue, he could see, but instead she extricated her fingers and took the pink slips. Quickly scanning them she said, "Mostly wanting to check I'm still alive. Although ..." She stilled.
"What? What is it?"
"The new captain wants to see me." She exhaled. "Straight away."
"Honestly, she seems okay," Rick assured her.
Ryan, on his way past to get a coffee, stopped. "Actually it's not Gabrielle Cleaves. She's gone back to her own precinct. This is our new new captain."
"And?" Kate prompted.
"She's ..." Ryan couldn't find the right words, and instead lifted his mug. "Coffee?"
The Irishman hurried off, leaving both Kate and Rick curious.
"She wasn't out here to say hi," the author murmured.
"She's a new captain. Probably wants to do things by the book."
"I hope you're right."
At that moment the door to the captain's office – conspicuously closed until now – was opened, and a female voice erupted. "Detective Beckett. Mr Castle. If you've quite finished ..."
Kate stood up, straightening her jacket. Rick joined her, touching her arm lightly, reassuring her as well as himself.
"Ah well, she said. "Into the lion's den."
"Together, Kate. Like always."
She flashed him a warm smile. "I don't mind at all."