Hey there, my lovely Jedis,
(figured you guys have definitely earned the promotion by now lol)
Well, it's great to be back, and a very merry Monday to you all :)
I know that, yet again, my absence has been far longer than any of us would like. Honestly, 3 weeks between updates (and twice in a row, too!) is simply deplorable, especially when you guys are used to a far more efficient rate from your writers (geez Emma, way to make me look bad :P), but unfortunately, it really couldn't be helped. My schedule is still as insane as ever, and I'm lucky if I have the time to stop and breathe, let alone sit down and spend hours writing.
And, in the interest of full disclosure, there is actually another, more personal reason why I've been so slow in getting this to you guys, but I'm not going to go into that now. Instead I'm just going to say that I'm sorry, and leave it at that. Except to maybe add this: have I told you guys lately that I love you? Well, I do. But let's not get all mushy about it or anything :P
Anyhow, on with the show.
(Again, I would suggest rereading at least the previous chapter before attempting this one, just so you're not completely confused about what the hell is happening…)
It was quiet in the cemetery.
Here, amongst the faintly gleaming marble headstones– each one a still, silent sentinel, faithfully watching over those who had fallen– the perpetual drone of the city seemed like nothing more than the shadow of a memory, a faded whisper of a different world. Here, the only sound to pierce the silence was the soft sigh of the breeze; winding around her body, it paused only long enough to feather the auburn strands of her hair lightly against her face before continuing on, the cool, gentle current lifting to stir the leaves of the few trees scattered around them.
And yet, there was only one sound that she was truly listening to, one so small and faint that it was scarcely audible beneath the whispering breeze; the soft, barely-discernable breathing of the man standing tall and silent beside her, the man with whom she had stood side by side almost every day for the past three years, the man who had owned her heart long before she'd ever noticed giving it away.
Listening to the gentle, even rhythm of his breath, she simply stood there, allowing the rise and fall of her chest to slowly fall in time with his. It was something so negligible, so small and simple, and yet somehow, it was everything. He was breathing. She was breathing. To her, that was all that could ever matter: because as long as that simple miracle continued, they would always have each other.
All they had to do was breathe.
Of course, they were the lucky ones. Their story was just beginning; the past three years had been their prologue, and now they had countless chapters ahead of them, each one full of hope and anticipation and promise. And just maybe– somewhere down the line– there was a happy ending that awaited them, the kind that he had always wanted her to believe in, the kind that she'd never allowed herself to accept as possible.
But now, maybe, she was beginning to.
And after everything– after all the challenges they had faced, all the battles they had fought just to be here together now, standing side by side– she felt that they had earned it, that they had already paid their dues, in tears and sweat and blood. But then, even with Castle's steady influence, she was– and would always be– a realist, and so she could never completely ignore the cold, stark truth.
She saw the evidence of it every single day; the simple, unavoidable reality that those who were most deserving of a happy end were the ones who would never get one.
Her mother and father had deserved one, but instead of happy, they had gotten quick and bloody and violent. She knew she could never give them the ending they had deserved, but she could– and would– spend her life doing whatever she could to prevent the others from suffering the same fate that they had. Of course, no matter what she did or how hard she tried, there would always be people she couldn't save, people whom she could only fight to win justice for, providing that much-needed closure for their families and honoring their memories as best she could.
Looking down at the pearly-gray headstone before her– its freshly-carved surface shining softly and serenely in the moonlight– Beckett closed her eyes briefly, fighting back the guilt and grief and regret that flowed through her veins like a slow, bitter poison, the pain in her heart still raw.
Roy and Evelyn had deserved their happy end; instead, like her parents, they'd gotten only tragedy.
As she had that thought, Castle's voice unexpectedly filled her mind, his words emerging from somewhere in the depths of her memory as if every word he'd ever said to her was somehow etched into her brain, filed carefully away within her subconscious.
"Did you know in the original Greek, tragedy literally means 'goat-song'? I know, doesn't make any sense to me either. But whatever that first story was, I can't help but think that bad things must have happened to that goat..."
To her surprise, Beckett felt the tiniest hint of a smile begin to form on her lips, a faint spark of warmth igniting deep within her.
With that spark came the sense of wonder; how could it even be possible for someone to have such a powerful effect on her, to have engrained themselves so completely into her mind and heart? How could a single thought of him be enough to draw her back from the edge of desolation and grief, and anchor her once more in the real world?
Opening her eyes, Beckett shook her head slightly, utterly bemused. Already she could feel her emotions settling, retreating back into that small, well-fortified corner of her mind– never ignored, but simply muted to a manageable level, like a radio playing on low volume in the background– and she knew that it was all because of him. She still didn't know exactly when– or more importantly, how– but somewhere along the line, he had become a part of her, and she knew that no matter how hard she tried, she would never get rid of him.
Which, in all honesty, suited her just fine.
Smiling slightly, she looked up at him, the warmth inside her continuing to grow and spread throughout her body as her eyes fixed upon his face .
Seeing that his eyes roamed constantly, checking for any danger, Beckett felt a tiny stab of guilt, her smile fading as she noticed the tension in his shoulders, the grim set of his normally smiling mouth.
She knew he hadn't wanted to come. She had seen it in his eyes the moment she'd asked him to bring her here; seen the flicker of fear that had crossed his features, the instinctive urge to refuse that had battled briefly behind his eyes. Clearly, she was not the only one who had revisited this place in her dreams, not the only one who had woken in panic, breathless and drenched in sweat, her heart pounding wildly in her ears.
Briefly she'd wondered who it was that he saw in his version; wondered which of them it was that lay bleeding in the lush grass, whether it was her heart or his that made its final futile effort to carry on, its steadily slowing beat like the dull, fatalistic pounding of funeral drums.
In hers, it would forever be him; staring blankly up at her, the light in his brilliant blue eyes swiftly fading as she clung to him, the tears streaming down her face as she'd begged him to stay.
But, whether he had nightmares of his own or not, he had still brought her here, somehow seeming to understand and accept that this was important to her– that this was something that she simply needed to do, not only for herself, but for both of them.
The trip in the car had been quiet, but not uncomfortable. They weren't nervous around each other, exactly; they were just… waiting. Preparing. It was the deep breath taken before the plunge; that final moment of peace and preparation before making the jump, before simply letting go and allowing gravity to take hold.
Whether they consciously admitted it or not, they both felt it coming, that one moment they had been slowly moving towards for three long years.
The one moment that would change everything.
She'd spent much of the drive simply studying him, and it had been a testament to the gravity of the situation that he hadn't even commented upon it, let alone teased her mercilessly for it like he normally would have done. Instead, he'd simply kept his eyes on their surroundings and she'd kept hers on him, her head resting lightly against the seat as she watched him.
Then, without the distraction of his eyes on her face, she could take a moment to truly look at him, studying him in the periodic glow of the streetlights that illuminated his features. He looked better than he had the day before, the circles under his eyes much fainter, his gaze no longer seeming hollow and haunted like it had been. Aside from the slight gauntness to his cheeks– she and the comfort food truck would remedy that one soon enough– he looked much more like her Castle tonight, a fact that was much to her relief. After the events of the day before, she had truly feared the possibility that she'd not only lost her partner, but her best friend.
It was only once she'd discovered him pacing outside her door that she'd been able to truly shake that fear, and by the time they had reached the car– where he had held the door open for her as he gently helped her in, then leaned in close to carefully draw the seatbelt around her, a tenderness to his movements that affected her breathing just as much as his proximity did – she had almost entirely forgotten her fear.
Because, no matter what he had been through, he was still here, and somehow, she knew that's where he would stay.
Eventually, as the drive had grown longer and the city began to fall away, it had been she that had broken the silence; her fingers toying nervously with the seatbelt, she spoke quietly, her voice carrying only the slightest trace of hesitancy as she asked one of the many questions that had been weighing heavily on her mind since the morning before.
"How have you been, Castle?"
There was a pause, a moment of such utter silence between them that she actually heard the almost imperceptible creak of his hands tightening around the steering wheel. Glancing towards his hands, she saw his grip tighten a fraction further– the paleness of his knuckles visible even in the dim light– before he seemed to relax, his hold loosening.
She was still staring at his large hands– wondering just how bad things must have truly been to elicit such a response from the normally easygoing Castle– when he took a deep, slow breath, her eyes immediately flashing to his face as she waited for him to speak.
"I've been doing okay," he answered eventually, but as he did so, he finally turned to look at her, letting the truth in his eyes negate his words, giving her the answer she had both needed and feared to receive. Remaining silent– her vocal cords seemed to have momentarily lost their ability to function– she simply held his gaze steadily until he turned away, once more fixing his eyes the road.
A moment later, he said softly, "You?"
The amount of concern contained in that one syllable was enough to make her throat feel even tighter, her breathing just that little bit more difficult. Watching him as he continued to stare straight ahead, Beckett felt her lips form the beginnings of a small smile, one she knew he couldn't see, but would still hear in her voice as she gave her answer.
And there it was. In less than a dozen words they had just said everything that needed to be said, conveyed a whole series of thoughts and emotions that they could have never voiced aloud.
And for now, it was enough.
The rest of the drive had passed in silence, both of them seeming to know that each mile they traveled brought them ever closer– not only to their destination, but to the place they had been moving towards ever since the first moment they'd met.
Now, standing side by side before the final resting place of their captain and friend, they were closer than they had ever been, both to that final destination and to each other.
Physically drawing even closer to his side, she felt her shoulder brush against his, his warmth and nearness providing instant comfort. Feeling the tension in his body, she nudged her shoulder gently against his, looking up at him so he would be able to see the understanding in her eyes.
"Hey," she said softly, gently drawing his attention, waiting until his gaze stopped its anxious circuit and focused upon her before continuing, "It's okay, Castle. I may be stubborn, but I'm not reckless, and there are some things I wouldn't ever risk. I wouldn't have asked you to come here unless I truly believed it would be safe. And it might not mean much, but if it makes you feel any better, I can tell you that we definitely weren't tailed."
"Unless, of course, you count that guy," she added wryly, nodding slightly in the direction of the car, which was parked almost thirty yards away, and where a dark figure also stood, his stance silent and alert.
"But, considering that he is the same man my father nodded to outside my building this morning, and also the fact that you didn't freak out each time you saw him in the rearview mirror, I'm going to make the wild guess that you know exactly who he is and what he's doing here."
When Castle didn't immediately respond, she lifted an eyebrow, then turned slightly to survey their silent guardian with a critical eye, squinting through the gloom.
"Judging by the build, the gun, and the way that he's standing, I'm going to say ex-Special Forces."
She could have sworn Castle almost smiled. "Ex-Special Forces and ex-Secret Service, actually," he corrected, his voice matter-of-fact, but with just the slightest undertone of mischief. "He was their lead agent during the Bush campaign."
Beckett turned back to look up at Castle, answering devilishly, "Then he's clearly very good at what he does."
He was definitely smiling now. "That's what I figured."
"Well, then let him do it, Castle," she said gently, her voice a little more serious now, her eyes still fixed on his face. "Let him worry about protecting us. It's his job."
Castle's response was quiet, his tone solemn.
"But protecting you is mine."
Hearing the weight behind his admission, Beckett hesitated. She knew what he expected her to say. He expected her to brush him off, or even grow angry with him, telling him that she didn't need his protection, that she was the cop and he merely the writer, and that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself.
But she did none of that. Instead, she simply sighed softly.
That got his attention. Startled, he looked down at her, his eyes meeting and holding hers.
Taking a slow breath, she explained, "We're partners, Castle. We protect each other, and we be there for each other, no matter what. It's what we do."
Dropping her gaze, she exhaled softly, then told the truth.
"I think, of the two of us, I'm the one that sometimes forgets that."
For several long moments there was silence, then, shifting her gaze to the headstone before them, she added softly, "After our… after that fight, I went to the station to see him."
She didn't have to explain who 'he' was; they both just knew. Shoving her hands still deeper into her pockets, Beckett blew out a slow breath.
"I told him I wanted you gone."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Castle wince slightly, then swiftly recover himself, his expression becoming a mask of calm seriousness once more. But she'd seen. She knew that her admission had hurt him, and that knowledge hurt her. But he had to know.
Forcing herself to continue as if there had been no pause or interruption, she spoke again.
"And you know what he said to me?" Pausing briefly, she shook her head slightly, still somewhat disbelieving. "Okay. He didn't argue, didn't hesitate. He just said that if it was what I wanted, you were gone."
For a few moments she was silent, lost in her thoughts, before she drew herself back to reality, giving a soft sigh that was part sadness, part wry acknowledgement.
"He knew me so well. He taught me so many things, not only about being a cop, but about myself." About my heart.
Shaking her head slightly, Beckett stepped forward, placing her hand gently upon the headstone. Feeling the smooth, cold stone beneath her fingers, she silently bowed her head, breathing slowly and deeply as she allowed herself to say goodbye at last; a silent farewell laden with sadness and regret, but also with gratitude, forgiveness, and love.
"Thank you, Roy," she whispered softly, opening her eyes to look briefly up at the night sky above them, dark and vast. Then, giving the headstone a small, affectionate pat, she stepped past it, moving slowly but purposefully towards a spot just a few yards away, a place that was fixed in both her mind and her heart.
From the corner of her eye she saw Castle reflexively move to follow her, then hesitate, seemingly torn between the need to stay close, and the wish to respect her space. In the end, he seemed to compromise between the two, coming to a halt several feet shy of where she stood, standing silently between two pale headstones, his hands shoved deep into his pockets, his eyes watchful.
Keeping him in her peripheral vision – he wasn't the only one that needed the reassurance of their proximity to one another– Beckett took one final step, then halted, her own hands in her pockets as she stared down at the patch of grass before her feet.
She couldn't quite explain how she could pinpoint this spot so precisely, how she could possibly know that this was the exact place where she had lain, her blood slowly soaking into the soft ground beneath her. There was no perceptible trace of that blood now, of course; even in the daylight, there would be no visible marker to show just how close this spot had come to being the location of her heart's final beat. And yet somehow, she simply knew.
Gazing absentmindedly at the crisp, moonlit lawn, she wondered briefly when it had rained, the falling liquid washing the grass clean, stripping away the dark, ugly stain borne of human violence to once more reveal the lush, simple beauty of nature underneath. The symbolism of the thought was not lost on her; like blood washed away by cleansing rain, much of the darkness in her life was slowly but steadily beginning to fade, leaving behind new brightness and life, healing old wounds and granting fresh hope.
She wondered briefly what Castle would say if she told him that he was her rain. Most likely stare at her with that focused, slightly perplexed look that he always gave her when she did or said something that he didn't fully understand– so, a lot of the time– and then wait silently for her to either elaborate or move on.
The thought saddened her slightly; she hated seeing him so tense, so serious, so lacking in that bubbly, childlike enthusiasm that she had come to love about him. Back in her hallway, he'd seemed to regain some of his old playfulness, the twinkle returning to his eyes for the first time since the days before Lockwood's escape– but with her request to come here, the twinkle had vanished once more, and he'd immediately reverted to his somber, silent alter-ego, which had only further proven the wisdom of her father's words.
Because, once again, he'd been right.
She had survived her shooting without any real damage; now, like her father, she wasn't so sure that Castle had. His wounds may not have been of the visible kind, but they lay as deep as her own– maybe even deeper– and she knew that neither of them would be quick to recover. But then, there was no need to try to rush anything; they had time, and each other.
And, little by little– one small, slow step at a time– they would heal together.
Still, she couldn't help but wish that she could see him throw off the heavy weight that pressed upon his shoulders, wish that she could tell him that he was her rain and have him simply grin wickedly and respond in typical Castle fashion, "Why? Because I'm always making you wet?"
Unable to suppress the small smile that curved her lips at the thought, she sent a quick glance in his direction, surreptitiously checking him over. His stance was still alert, his eyes still continuing their slow sweep of their surroundings, but his face was calm, his body missing some of the earlier tension. He was still serious, but he was not the haunted stranger that had frightened her so much the day before, and as she watched him out of the corner of her eye, she finally began to realize something.
This was still Castle.
Not the nine year old on a sugar rush that she'd first known, or even the seemingly carefree guy of a year ago, the one who had taken life easy but was still capable of the occasional displays of maturity and seriousness when the moment called for it. The man that now stood guard over her– the man that had repeatedly risked his life to protect her, that had joked with her, flirted with her, shared secrets and stories with her, comforted her, held her, kissed her… the man that promised her 'always' and asked nothing from her in return but a place in her life – that man was also exactly that; a man.
This was the Castle she hadn't even noticed him becoming, the one she hadn't noticed herself falling for even harder than she'd fallen for the slightly irresponsible, yet irresistibly sweet and undeniably charming pre-Hamptons version of himself. That part of him was still in there, along with the sugar-enhanced nine year old– but now they were only two facets of a much greater person, the man he'd always had the potential to be, but might never have become.
But he had, and now that she knew it, she no longer needed to worry that she'd lost the old him, the pigtail-pulling, twinkly-eyed joker that had somehow wormed his way into her life and heart. The joker had simply developed a serious side, and the wisdom to know when it was required.
Suddenly noticing that his eyes had ceased their steady sweep and were now fixed on her– watching her intently, as if he could read every thought that was on her mind– Beckett flushed slightly, swiftly dropping her gaze back to the ground. As she worked at normalizing her suddenly overactive heart rate– she really needed to figure out a way to stop having a minor heart attack every time he so much as looked at her or touched her– she chided herself on being so ridiculous, reminding herself that with only the pale moonlight to see by, he probably wouldn't have been able to see her surreptitiously watching him. He probably didn't even realize that she knew he was watching her.
Briefly she wondered what was going through his mind at the present moment, how it felt for him to be standing virtually unprotected in a place that made him nervous, waiting patiently until she was finished doing whatever it was she'd needed to do. She knew he didn't entirely understand her need to return to this place, to revisit the place that had almost been her final resting place as well as her mentor's.
Sometime soon, she would try to explain it to him; though, in all honesty, she understood her own need as little as he did. Her only reasoning was that it had felt right, and after several years on the job, she had learned to follow that instinctive feeling in her gut. Of the two of them, Castle was the believer; normally, she had no use for words like 'fate' and 'destiny', no interest in the cosmic balance of the Universe, or whatever it was that he was usually trying to convince her to believe in.
But she had to admit that something had drawn her here, a simple sense of rightness, or something else that she couldn't quite understand.
Perhaps, she wondered, it was the symmetry of it all. Making her peace with the past before she could move toward the future; making this a place of both an ending and a beginning, completing the circle that had begun with Roy's death.
Then again, she was a pragmatist. Whatever mystical reasoning Castle might attribute it to, whatever deeper meaning may exist beneath the surface, she would simply call it closure, and leave it at that.
She had unfinished business here; perhaps it was about time she stopped stalling and finished it.
Flicking another swift glance in Castle's direction, she took a deep, slow breath, then gingerly sunk into a low crouch, forcing herself to be conscious of the fact that her last dose of painkillers was fast approaching the point of total inefficacy. Carefully holding herself steady, she rested one hand on her knee and reached out with the other, brushing her fingertips lightly against the grass.
Breathing deeply, she closed her eyes, inhaling the faint scent of the lush grass and the soft earth beneath, allowing her rapid, tangled thoughts to slow, then finally settle, leaving her mind surprisingly clear and calm. As she continued to trail her fingers over the thin, slightly dampened blades of grass, disjointed images rose slowly from her subconscious, as if they had been caged somewhere in the darkest corner of her mind and that being here– surrounded by this place, by the sense of it that she could feel in her every indrawn breath– had finally provided the key.
As the images started to join and flow together, drawing her in, her nightmare slowly began unfolding itself in her mind's eye, but it was different to she remembered, as if something else– some other thought or idea– was merging with it, altering it, forming something new.
And then she realized that it was not Castle that lay on the ground, but herself, and that the tears and pleading words were not hers, but his– and in that moment, she knew.
This was not a nightmare.
It was a memory.
Caught up in the stream of images, scents and sounds, Beckett's breathing slowed, then stopped altogether as she watched Castle's face hover above hers, his desperate pleas in her ears, his final words echoing in her mind as the memory faded away into nothingness.
Slowly, dazedly, Beckett forced her eyes open. Her chest ached; whether from her bullet wound, her overwhelmed heart, or her abused lungs– or a combination of the three– it was impossible to be sure. Her mind seemed to be attempting to process all she'd just seen, but she paid it no attention. She'd wasted enough time thinking, enough time doubting and hesitating. She didn't need her mind to tell her what to do next; her heart knew that already.
Rising slowly to her feet, Beckett breathed deeply, her eyes still staring unseeingly at the ground. Then, her voice soft with quiet wonderment, she spoke the one word that both her mind and heart could agree on.
Though her voice had been barely more than a whisper, she knew he had heard. She didn't need to say anything more; she simply turned, slowly, to meet his gaze with hers.
For a single moment he didn't move, his body seeming to refuse to obey his commands. Then, he seemed to break free of the spell, his movements slow and deliberate as he closed the gap between them, his eyes still locked with hers.
Pausing just a couple of feet away from her– a distance that to her seemed vast, given their usual disregard for each others' personal space– he tilted his head just slightly, appearing uncertain, almost as if awaiting permission. She was suddenly struck by the quiet symbolism of the moment, their physical position mirroring the pattern of their relationship; Castle slowly, cautiously drawing nearer, while leaving her just enough room to decide her own move; either stay where she was, and allow him closer, or step back to maintain her distance. For the most part, her role in their little dance had usually involved the latter–something Castle had always accepted with ever-enduring patience– but finally, she knew, it was time for the pattern to change.
Dropping her gaze– the intensity of those piercing blue eyes was impossible to handle for long– Beckett took a silent step forward, her hands still tucked firmly into her pockets.
Taking a deep breath to steady herself– her heart was pounding so hard that she'd hardly be surprised if it somehow managed to break her ribs, and she could feel that same rapid rush of adrenaline that she always got whenever she was about to throw herself into a gunfight– she fixed her eyes on his chest, released the breath slowly, and began.
"You know, on the way here, I was terrified."
She saw Castle shift just slightly, the tiny movement allowing her to clearly interpret his surprise. And yet, his surprise was not about the fact that she had been afraid; most likely thinking that she was speaking of the man who'd given her her bullet wound, he would have been expecting– or even hoping– that she was at least somewhat frightened for her life. No, it was the fact that she had actually openly admitted to her fear that stunned him. But he needed to know.
He needed to know that he had been right.
You could be happy, Kate. You deserve to be happy. But you're afraid.
Swallowing, she began to explain, her voice still soft but growing steadily stronger as she spoke, determined to make him understand.
"I was terrified, not only of what I was going to say," she paused briefly, taking a slow, calming breath, then continued, "but of what it was going to mean… what it might change."
Turning her head slightly, she looked back down at the grass where she had almost lost her life, adding softly, "But being here– reliving it all– it made me realize I needn't have worried."
For a brief moment, she continued to look at the grass, drawing in another deep, steadying breath before slowly turning back to face him. But this time, she didn't keep her gaze lowered to his chest; lifting her eyes to his, she met them squarely, all evasion finished, all barriers and defenses gone.
"You told me you loved me."
For a split second, Castle looked exactly as she had felt earlier, when she had first met his eyes in the hallway outside her door; as if he'd just been flattened by a speeding freight train. Then, blinking repeatedly, he made a forceful effort to recover himself, sucking in a sharp breath as he suddenly seemed to remember the need to breathe.
As his eyes focused upon hers once more– allowing her to clearly read the fear and anxiety and the tiny, swiftly-suppressed spark of hope that glimmered in their depths– he paused, swallowed hard, and then simply gave a tiny, slow nod.
Beckett felt her own breath catch, her heart shifting up a gear as it worked to keep up.
A memory was one thing. But to have him stand there before her and confirm those three words... that was entirely different. It was… she didn't even know. There were no words to accurately describe exactly how she was feeling, no way to comprehend the magnitude of this moment.
At that very moment, there were only two things that she truly understood.
The first: Richard Castle had the greatest heart of any man she knew, and he was giving that heart to her.
And the second– for the very first time in her life– was her own heart.
Her calm expression defying the rapid, erratic pounding of her heart, Beckett simply held his gaze, her eyes meeting his steadily as she gave a slight nod.
Castle blinked, looking as though he was sure he must have misheard her. For several moments he simply stared in shock, his mouth slightly open as he struggled to process what she'd just said.
Eventually recovering from his shock long enough to remember how to speak, he cleared his throat, then finally choked out, "Good?"
Beckett simply nodded, the tiniest hint of a smile forming at the corners of her mouth. Keeping her eyes on his, she took another step forward, lifting her hands to grasp his lapels, feeling the sharp rise and fall of his chest beneath her palms. Raising herself on her toes, she brought her lips within millimeters of his, feeling his warm breath feathering against her skin, the sensation sending thousands of tiny bolts of electricity throughout her entire body.
"Good," she confirmed quietly, her voice a low, husky whisper. Then, knowing– and completely not caring– that she was now well past the point of no return, that she'd leapt over that cliff and was falling fast with no safety net to catch her– she simply smiled slightly, closed her eyes, and lifted her lips to his.
His lips were warm and soft, and god, they felt like home. She felt his body tense in shock at the contact, then relax almost instantly, his hand lifting to gently cup her face, his mouth moving softly over hers with a sense of stunned acceptance as well as something more tender, something that almost bordered on reverence, as if he were simply cherishing the feel of her.
It was in that brief moment that she first knew it, first truly felt what it was like, not simply to be wanted, but to be treasured– to be loved.
Tightening her grip on his lapels, she leaned into him slightly, her heart aching in a way she'd never felt before, a glorious kind of pain that brought a lump to her throat, the sting of tears burning behind her closed eyelids. Finally, she was learning the truth, the secret that you could never be told, but could only discover for yourself.
Love was not when all the songs made sense, like she'd once believed.
Love was when love itself made sense.
And here, feeling the flood of emotions flowing between Castle's lips and hers, she finally understood.
Acknowledging a need for air, she pulled back only long enough to ensure survival, then claimed his mouth once more, gently deepening the kiss. Lifting his free hand to rest lightly upon her waist, he willingly followed her lead, kissing her back just as deeply, with a tenderness and passion that was steadily turning her bones into water. And, as their lips moved in a slow, gentle harmony, she simply allowed herself to savor the taste and feel of him, reveling in the knowledge that this was actually finally happening and would doubtless happen more– if she had her way, a lot more– in the future.
As his lips continued to caress hers, a tiny sound rose in her throat, a quiet hum of pleasure that was somewhere between a sigh and a moan. She felt his hand tighten slightly at her waist in response, his other hand pushing into her hair to cradle the back of her head. Somewhere, in the corner of her mind that was still able to form coherent thought, she realized that he had deliberately placed both hands well away from her wound, even ensuring that there was a slight space between their bodies to prevent causing her any pain. The idea stunned her; even now, when she could barely manage to grasp a single rational thought, his first instinct was still to protect her, to keep her from any pain or discomfort.
Ironically, it made her want to eliminate that protective space between them altogether, to simply wrap her arms around him and crush herself against his chest, bullet wound be damned. As long as he kept kissing her like this, she wouldn't even notice the pain.
As if sensing her thoughts, Castle pulled back just slightly, his lips reluctantly leaving hers as he drew back to look down at her, his blue eyes clouded with both love– though she'd seen that look in his eyes many times, only now could she finally recognize it for what it was– and deep, unmasked concern.
Knowing he wouldn't be allowing her any nearer tonight, she simply dropped her head and sighed, then spoke in an undertone– more so to herself than to Castle– her voice carrying just the faintest trace of exasperation.
"God, this bullet wound is seriously killing me."
Instantly he tensed, looking down at her, his eyes stark with worry and distress.
"Are you in pain?" he asked quickly, his tone low, heavy with guilt and remorse. "Did I hurt you?"
Looking up, Beckett his eyes steadily, then slowly lifted a hand to his face, her thumb gently stroking his cheek as her lips curved in a small, wry smile.
"That's not what I meant, Castle."
Seeing his blank, concerned look, she sighed, then lifted an eyebrow, her voice dry.
"You're not going to let yourself touch me until I'm fully healed, are you?"
For a moment he simply stared down at her, his eyes wide with surprise and confusion. Then suddenly, the knot of fear and concern inside him seemed to loosen, and his expression grew unexpectedly mischievous, his eyes twinkling at her in that typical Castle way that she had missed so much. Before she had a chance to grow too emotional, however, Castle spoke, his voice light and surprisingly playful.
"Unless I am much mistaken, I am already touching you," he answered devilishly, flexing his fingers lightly against her waist as if to prove his point. Then, seemingly to be holding back a smile, he went on, "And, might I add, in a way that just a few short weeks ago probably would have earned me a bullet wound of my own."
Beckett attempted to glare at him, but she was pretty sure the effect was ruined by the elated smile that refused to leave her face.
"You know what I mean, Castle."
"Why Detective, I thought you would have appreciated my admirable sense of chivalry and self-restraint," he countered easily, and her smile grew still wider. God, she had missed this. These little games, the flirty banter and the endless, light-hearted teasing– they had always been something that was theirs, their own little exchanges that came as naturally to them as breathing. It was one of the many things she loved about him, and there had been times lately where she had truly feared that they had lost that, perhaps even forever.
Of course, as he so often did, Castle had easily proven her wrong.
Grinning wickedly, she retorted, "Castle, if there's one thing I've learned from our partnership, it's that self-restraint is overrated."
And with that, she set about proving her point; sliding her hand from his cheek to wrap around the back of his neck, she drew herself in closer once more, but not so close that he would fret about hurting her. Then, in a slow, smooth movement, she lifted herself on her toes and once more covered his mouth with hers, her lips parting as she deepened the kiss. His response was immediate and wholehearted, his grip tightening on her waist as he returned the kiss with an intensity that left her breathless.
Heat flared, a fiery wave that spread rapidly throughout her whole body, and she crushed her mouth against his, kissing him almost fiercely as she took it even further, her tongue delving into his mouth, hot and urgent. Their undercover kiss had been one of the hotter kisses she'd had, enough to leave her in need of a large glass of ice water, but this was something else entirely, something so far beyond anything she'd ever experienced or even imagined. She was fairly certain that at this point, a whole ocean of freezing water could be poured upon them, and the only result would be a vast, billowing cloud of hissing steam.
Right now, she scarcely knew how she was still standing, her knees seeming to forget their duty to support her as he kissed her hard, his tongue exploring her mouth, tasting and taking everything she had to give. And hell, she was giving it willingly.
Her head spinning, Beckett clutched him still tighter, a low moan vibrating in her throat. She knew what he was doing. He was claiming her; declaring her as his. He was proving to her that she would never– could never– have this with someone else; all because of the simple fact that she would never love anyone else but him.
And finally, in that moment, she truly understood what he'd meant back by that warehouse, his tone fraught with wonder as he had reeled over that kiss.
That was amazing.
Conceited though it may be, she'd never thought he'd been referring to her technique in incapacitating an armed guard. She knew he'd been talking about what had just happened between them, but she'd never known that for him, it wasn't just a kiss. As she was finally discovering for herself, it was much, much more.
He must have known. He must have. Even then, all those months ago, he had already known that he loved her.
The fire within her blazed higher, and she dug her fingers even deeper into his hair, kissing him back hard as she allowed everything she felt for him pass though their fused lips, a frank, silent confession of love and promise.
Somehow, he seemed to understand completely, returning the kiss with a surge of fire and emotion that rivaled hers in its sheer intensity and depth.
By the time the kiss began to calm into something a little less likely to kill them both from oxygen starvation, Beckett had managed to reclaim some semblance of control, eventually allowing herself to draw away just enough to tuck her face against his neck, still breathing hard.
For over a minute there was complete silence between them, both content to simply hold each other, feeling their chests rise and fall in unison as their synchronized heart rates slowly began to calm.
Eventually, Beckett tightened her grip just slightly, drawing in a deep, ragged breath.
"God, Castle," she whispered against his neck, her voice hoarse and more than a little unsteady. "I love you. So much."
There was a brief pause, a few silent moments in which he seemed to stop breathing entirely, his body frozen against hers. Then, seeming to recover himself, he let out a long, slow exhale before holding her just a little tighter, his cheek resting against her hair.
"Feels good to finally say it, doesn't it?" he asked softly, his voice both lightly teasing and immeasurably tender.
"Maybe. Yes. Shut up," Beckett responded dryly, absentmindedly nuzzling his neck just slightly with her nose as she inhaled his familiar, soothing scent. Then, after a moment's pause, she added, "And you can get that smug grin off your face, too."
He laughed softly against her hair, effectively proving her right, then turned to press a soft kiss against her temple.
"I love you too, Kate."
Smiling against his shoulder, she leaned into him, content to simply rest against his solid form. There, with his warmth surrounding her and his strength to support her, she could let all of her own defenses go, allowing the exhaustion– both mental, physical, and emotional– to come creeping in at last, without needing to worry. With him there, she was safe.
Because that's what Castle was to her. He was her weakness, but he was also her strength, in more ways than she would ever be able to truly comprehend. But even more importantly, he was simply hers.
And now, finally, her walls had crumbled, the armor surrounding her heart had been stripped away, and she was his, completely and irrevocably.
Without her barriers to shield her, she finally knew just how truly right he had been when he'd challenged her that night, back in her apartment. She had been afraid.
She'd spent twelve years of her life living in fear, a dozen long years of always hiding; hiding from the truth, hiding from the possibility of being hurt, even hiding from herself.
But finally, after all this time, she knew she didn't need to hide anymore.
No matter what happened, no matter who or what came for them, they would stand and face it.
So, guys, I guess this is it. This is the final curtain. Perhaps now you have a better idea of my more personal reason for not wanting to finish this chapter–because really, when I began this story, I didn't expect to love writing it so much, and I certainly never expected the fantastic response that I have received from you guys. I'm definitely sad to see the end of our little 'relationship', as I first described it, 10 long chapters ago… but this ending has been in my plan from the very start, and even though I have tried multiple times to envision where I could take this story from here, this is the only option that feels right. I've always known that I'm a 'this is how they get together' writer rather than a 'this is what happens once they're together' writer, so I guess I have to accept that this is simply where the story, both figuratively and literally, ends.
(by the way, I know that in the description this fic is still listed as 'in progress'. In order not to spoil anyone, I'll change that in a day or two, once most people have read it)
But anyway, enough of my little sob session. Since this is in fact the last chapter (because I totally haven't already mentioned that fact about a hundred times lol) I would really, really love your feedback on this one, whether positive or negative, so I can work to improve the chapter as much as I can before I finally put down the proverbial pen. So, if you have a minute, any comments or suggestions you might have to share (regarding characterisation, plot points, typos, whether the way Beckett remembered the 'I love you' was stupid, and did it all just turn into a cheesy mess at the end, etc) would mean a lot to me. Especially since I had to cut my editing short (I literally have to leave home right now if I want to catch my bus) so there's quite possibly stuff I have missed. If so, please tell me!
Speaking of comments/reviews/etc, I want to take this chance to thank you all for everything, for all your interest and support and enthusiasm. I couldn't have asked for a better experience with my first multichapter attempt, and it was all because of you guys. To those of you who have reviewed, especially on multiple chapters, I am so grateful to you, for providing both comfort and inspiration when the pressure of this story started so stress me out (as it tended to, now and then). And to those of you who are simply readers, thank you so much for following along. Now that we've reached the end of our journey, I would love to hear from some of you, if you feel so inclined. If not, well, you suffered through ten chapters of gargantuan author's notes, so I guess you've already paid your dues :P
So, to all my crackdealers/kids/padawans/jedis/other random names that I enjoyed calling you guys, it has been a beautiful journey, and thank you all for being a part of it.
Oh, and if you're interested, keep an eye out for the occasional one-shot that will be popping up now and then. I've certainly got no shortage of ideas on that front.
Anyhow, I will now end this author's note with an apology about this author's note. I honestly didn't intend for it to become so colossal, but then, since when have I ever managed to write a short author's note anyway? Yep, that would be never. But I hope you guys will forgive me all the same.
Until next time, my friends.