A Heart's Haunt: Part III


. . . . . . . . . .

September 17th, 2012

. . . . . . . . . .

Kate felt the cool autumn air slowly settle around her. She held her helmet in her hands, rolling it around. Every other turn allowed her to see the writing on her helmet. Why she had chosen that particular phrase wasn't a mystery at all. It was a phrase that had resonated with her for sometime, even before Roy's death. She had said it to Rick once and the meaning behind it was only truly known after she had finally let herself fall for him.

Kate was just about to turn her helmet over again, so the words would stop their taunting, when the door of the Old Haunt swung wide and Kate was met with three knowing smiles.

"Paperwork? Ulcer, ulcer, ulcer," Lanie mumbled as she, and the two male detectives stepped out of the bar, allowing the door to close behind them.

Kate found her footing quick enough, but not her poker face.

"Forget how to open the door, Beckett?" Esposito asked.

"The trick is to turn the handle and then push," Ryan teased.

She narrowed her eyes at him before she realized the obvious, "You aren't leaving are you?"

"We have lives," Lanie countered.

"Besides, we can't deal with your boy anymore. He's a wreck. All torn up," Esposito stated, putting his hand on Ryan's shoulder for support.

"Did something else happen?" Guilt that she hadn't talked to him in almost two weeks settled in.

The three of them moved past her until they were at the top of the steps. All of them were trying to keep their faces as even as possible.

"Of course something happened," Lanie stated from the top of the stairwell. "You happened."

Kate leaned against the stairwell's railing, "I'm only a few... minutes late."

"Yeah, because that's what I meant."

"Lanie-"

"Baby, it's been too long!" Esposito exclaimed. Kate made her way to the top of the steps to join her friends, ignoring the lingering pull she felt towards the bar. Javie was walking around her 1994 Soft Tail, admiring it with Ryan.

"Beckett, you really should bring her out to play more."

The last time Esposito or Ryan had seen the bike was before any of them had met Castle. It was a habit she took up when she was involved in a tough case. She would just ride out of New York for a couple of hours to the country side. Just to get away.

"Special occasion?" Ryan asked.

"I just felt like going for a ride," Kate said.

Lanie came up beside her friend, "And how far did you get before you ended up here, lurking at a stairwell?"

"Obviously not far," Kate grumbled.

The detective knelt down to admire the details of Beckett's bike, "If I didn't know any better, I would say you're avoiding something or someone."

Her eyes narrowed, "But you do know better."

"Afraid he might bring something up?" Ryan questioned as he and Esposito were now safely behind the bike, just in case.

"Nothing happened to bring up," Kate said as nonchalantly as she could.

"You weren't the only ones in that hospital room," Ryan said.

Kate looked into his blue eyes. Damn. She thought she was alone with Castle in the hospital room and that Castle himself was on enough pain killers that he wouldn't remember what she had said.

"There were witnesses to it and they're willing to testify," the blue-eyed detective added.

"Are they willing to go into the witness protection program?" Kate shot back.

Esposito shook his head, "I don't think they'll need to, Castle remembers just fine."

Kate clenched her jaw. She was afraid of that. There was no way around it now. They weren't forcing her hand, but they sure as hell weren't making it any easier.

"You've been a great help. Thanks," Kate stated dryly.

"We got your back, don't worry," Javier said in a brotherly fashion.

They did have her back. No matter how hard she had tried to push them away, to keep all of them safe, it didn't matter. They came to save her at the warehouse anyway.

"I'm sure glad the two of you decided to forgo boy's night two weeks ago."

Ryan chuckled, "You know us. Why sit around and drink beer when we could be storming a warehouse with an unarmed writer."

"Not to mention going against Momma bear's orders," Javie added, running his hand along the bike's black seat.

"Desk duty has its perks," Kate stated, knowing that, while Gates had been furious with all of them and punished them, she was glad to see them safe.

"How long did she ban you for?" Ryan asked Kate.

"About as long as it will take you and Esposito to get through the paperwork on your desks."

"Sounds like you have time for a vacation. You remember what a vacation is, right?" Esposito lightly joked.

"You should go someplace warm. Even better, you should go somewhere sunny and warm with Castle." Lanie started to shove her friend back towards the stairs.

"We're going to get a cab. Night Beckett." Ryan stated before he and Javie walked a few paces down the street leaving the two women under the street lamp.

"Would you stop pushing me."

"I would like to throw you at him at this point," Lanie stated, "Now either go down willingly or I will be forced to get those two men over there to carry you down."

Kate looked at her two colleagues, one carrying Lanie's purse, the other texting on his phone, most likely to Jenny.

"I think the odds are in my favour."

Lanie looked, "Sometimes I think Castle is more butch."

The two women shared a light laugh before Kate looked down the stairs, "How is he, really?"

"Nuh-uh. I'm all out of chocolate, so the only way to get your heart back is to go and get it."

"And what if I don't want it back?"

"Then I would say you and Castle have a lot to talk about." Lanie nudged her friend with her elbow.

Kate gave the ME a warm expression before moving her feet to the vesper of her heart towards the entrance. Kate gripped the handle and pushed the door wide. The faint click from the Old Haunt's door echoed in the once-upon-a-time speakeasy.

It was empty.

The dim lights lit her dark figure as she made her way alongside their booth. They had one of those. The whole gang did. Tonight it was just a void.

Kate placed her helmet on the old wooden bar beside her and took off her gloves. She leaned against the structure across from their booth. Her eyes wondered over everything, taking in all the changes he had made. Ryan and Esposito had told her that he had started renovating shortly after they had broken up. The sheet that draped the far wall was an indicator of something else that was hidden. Fitting, since their whole relationship had been that way.

She focused on the small corner of the sheet. It had been flipped back just enough that Kate could make out a picture frame. She climbed onto the booth seat, clutched the sheet in her hand and hesitated. Her eyes glanced over to the exposed wall where his picture was, from his days as a young writer. His eyes seemed to follow her, taunting her to pull the sheet back. To take a chance.

It worked.

She slowly pulled the corner of the sheet back.

Her breath hitched.

It was the picture that Royce had given him from when she was a rookie. With a grand swoop of her arm the sheet fell over the booths beside her. She climbed back out so she could see an entire wall.

With wavering vision, she started to take in the sight before her. The sight of all her colleagues. They weren't just of them in uniform or on the job either. There were pictures from the Christmas party that everyone came to. A group picture from Ryan and Jenny's wedding. Pictures of all of them when they came to the Old Haunt for the first time. Pictures of anyone who had touched his life in some way.

And then there were the ones of her. From young cop to the homicide detective that she was today. Some of just her and him. Candid moments from the precinct or the Old Haunt that someone close to them had taken when they weren't looking.

Finally her eyes landed on the centerpiece. Under the slogan 'In Loving Memory' was a picture of her Mother, Roy and of anyone who had been slain at the hands of the monster who had orchestrated her mother's death.

Rick's message was clear. He had renovated the wall to make amends. Especially to her. To show her that just like Rick's world, her world now was a mixture of writer and NYPD. There was room for both if she allowed it.

It was probably his last attempt at an apology. Every other attempt she had ignored. Not because she didn't care, but because of what it would mean. That despite all the hurt, she had fallen. Deeply and hard. Kate tried to ignore it. Tip-toe. Lie. Tried to feed it with solitude only to have their familiar rhythm come thundering back. She thought she had shoved it to a point of no return and yet she was here staring at the most blaring evidence of his hopes and dreams.

She wiped a tear away before moving behind the bar. She started her descent towards the underbelly of the Old Haunt. Towards him. She didn't know what would happen, but she did know that it wouldn't be like the last time she walked down these steps.


. . . . . . . . . .

June 29th, 2012

. . . . . . . . . .

"Kate, are you alright?" Alexis asked as the three women approached the Old Haunt's entrance.

"I'm fine." Kate looked down the street again, searching for the man that had been following her all day. For the last couple of weeks she had that feeling that the shadows harbored a few more people than they should. Certain cars followed her. Never the same one, always different, but she knew they were following her.

Kate had postponed dinner with Martha and Alexis for weeks and had been distancing herself from Castle even more in fear that it was because she had a major breakthrough in her mother's case and they would be targeted.

She had the name of the sniper from the picture she took from Nurse Karen. Kate was close to finding out everything. She could feel her mother's ring grow heavier around her neck each day.

"Thanks for inviting me to dinner. The both of you," Kate said, adjusting the scarf she was wearing.

Martha waved her hand, "It was the only way to see you. Both you and Richard have been too busy, hardly have time for anything fun."

"Work's been..."

Martha nodded, but the look in her eyes suggested that she was worried about her son and about Kate.

"At least he stopped moping about my choice," Alexis stated as she started to hail a taxi.

"Oxford is lucky to have you. Your father will be fine. Though he will probably visit you every single weekend."

"Promise you will come with him? If work isn't too busy. Then he won't be as bad."

While Alexis still wasn't thrilled with her father putting his life on the line, she had come to terms with Kate. So much so that Kate was there when Alexis went off to prom and for when Alexis walked across the stage to get her diploma.

"I'll try."

"Are you sure you don't want to come with us to the show?" Martha asked.

"Rick wanted me to meet him here."

"Then maybe we will see you after," Martha conceded before getting into the cab.

Alexis followed suit, then rolled down the cab window. "We should definitely do this again, before I leave. A family dinner?"

The comment caught Kate off guard. She really was part of their family and had more to lose than ever.

"Sure thing, Alexis."

The two red-headed women waved good bye. Kate gave the area a final scan before heading towards the Old Haunt. Castle had asked her to meet him there and he was as cryptic as ever. They had been arguing a lot which resulted in either not talking for a couple of days or heated moments between the sheets and other places as well.

Tension was high and Kate knew that it was time to tell him about her mother's case. She needed him to take his family away from here. And her dad, Lanie, Ryan and Esposito as well. They all needed to go. She didn't know how she would manage it, but it was the only way to make sure they would be safe.

Kate entered the bar, and looked around. She spotted Lanie, Ryan and Esposito waiting in their usual booth. Kate was just about to greet them when Lanie practically pounced on her.

"Where have you been? !"

"I was-"

Lanie jumped out of the booth and dragged Kate away back to the front door of the Old Haunt.

When Lanie was sure the area was secure she asked her question again, "Where were you all day?"

"I had to present our latest findings to Gates and..." Kate trailed off not knowing how to explain that she had a breakthrough in her Mother's case and she was out having dinner with Martha and Alexis.

"And..."

"Something came up." Was all she could say to her best friend.

Lanie smirked, "Castle related I'm sure."

"Yes. I cuffed him to the bed and did unmentionable things to him all morning."

"'Bout time."

Kate shook her head at her friend's perseverance. "Was there a reason that you dragged me to the corner of the bar?"

Lanie practically bounced, "I found something."

"You're an ME. That's a good thing."

"A ring."

"In who?"

"No, I found a ring," Lanie nervously emphasized.

"You mean..." Lanie smiled and nodded, "Oh, Lanie!" Kate hugged her friend, "Wait, found it?"

"Javie hasn't asked me yet. We were just getting his things moved in and I found it and..." Lanie trailed off to look at Esposito in the booth.

"Are you going to say 'yes'?" Kate asked, knowing that this year had been rough for the two of them.

"He drives me crazy, but in all the good ways, you know? And the thought of waking up next to him for the rest of my life is just...I'm going to say yes."

Lanie drew Kate in for another hug.

"First Ryan gets married and now you'll be engaged soon."

"Please, if he knew you wouldn't turn him down flat, Castle would ask you in a heartbeat."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Are you telling me you haven't heard the rumor mill recently?"

"I don't peddle that type of grain on a daily basis."

"Maybe you should. I heard one about you and Castle getting cozy in the elevator."

"Not enough time to do anything in the elevator."

Lanie eyed her friend up and down, "You know, I've kept pretty quiet over these last couple of months. I figured since you are like a deer, ready to bolt at any time when it comes to Castle, I'd keep my mouth shut, but you've been different. Since Christmas even. Are you ready to confirm something has actually happened between you two which has led to the lovely elevator tryst?"

"Nothing to confirm."

"Hmmm," Lanie searched Kate's eyes like any best friend would, "I think it's time to start buying a helluva lot of chocolate."

"We feel the same for each other as we always have."

Lanie scrunched up her face, "I can take that in so many ways it is making my head spin."

Kate started to steer the conversation the other way, "So are you going to practice your expression for when Esposito finally asks you?"

"Cases of chocolate it is!" Lanie gave her friend a knowing look before allowing the change of topic, "I will just act surprised."

Kate gave her a look of disbelief.

"I am not that bad."

"You really are. Remember when the three of you came to Castle's to play poker?"

"Remember?" Lanie paused, searching her memory banks, "Sure do. It was about a month ago. You and Castle were arguing in his kitchen over something while setting out food. You knew your way around that kitchen like it was the back of your glock."

"You didn't win one hand."

Lanie gave Kate an unimpressed look. "Fine. I will work on acting surprised," Lanie looked down at where a ring would soon be, "I honestly thought he wasn't ever going to buy a ring or even move in with me."

"He'd be crazy if he didn't."

Lanie looked at Kate again, expectantly, "Of course you are going to be my maid of honor?"

"You don't even have to ask. I'd love to."

"And I will be yours."

"I'm not getting married."

"Yet," Lanie reminded, "I can only imagine the ring Castle is going to put on your finger."

"Are you done?"

"Oh, I'm just getting started."

They walked back to the booth where Ryan and Esposito were sitting. Ryan had a worried expression as he stared at his phone.

"I can't stay long. Jenny needs a few things."

"She still sick?" Kate asked, sharing a knowing look and a smile with Lanie.

"Yeah, can't keep anything down. Her whole family just got over the flu so they must have given it to her."

"I'm sure she is fine," Lanie said, "but maybe take her to her doctor just to be safe."

Ryan nodded before looking at Kate, "Where is Castle? He told us to be on time and he is the one who is late."

Kate shrugged, "I just got here."

"Maybe you left him in an elevator," Esposito chided.

"Can't believe everything you hear."

"Hear? Sure. See? Little warm to be wearing a scarf, isn't it?"

Kate started to move away from them, "I'm going to check his office."

"Put something on the door knob just to be safe," Lanie called after her.

"Too bad elevators don't have door knobs," Ryan stated.

"Nothing happened in the elevator." Kate threw the comment over her shoulder as she made her way to the corner of the bar.

"So does that mean something did happen in the supply closet then?" Lanie called after her.

Kate ignored their taunts, making her way, quietly, down the steps. After Ryan's wedding she felt herself gravitating towards a life with Rick. Kate tried to convince herself it was just physical. It was some of the best sex she had ever had, but it wasn't just that. It was breakfast with his family. It was waking up in his arms. It was the way he would murmur plot points in his sleep. It was the way he would join her in the shower or the bathtub. It was the way he put a whipping cream smiley face on her pancakes. It was everything.

She was falling.

Fast.

And falling meant that her mother's case took a bit of a side line. Lying to him started to peel away at her heart. But leads started to have end points. Kate felt that rush; she was getting closer. That led to cancelled trysts and dinners. Kate felt the distance between them turn into a haunting. Each lie lingered and floated between them and while they felt its cold breath on the back of their necks; they never talked about it.

Kate made it to the bottom of the steps and saw him at his desk, clutching Tolstoy's War and Peace. She recognized it from the library at his home and hadn't seen it since Christmas.

Kate was about to take the last step when his phone on his desk started to ring. Kate's foot hovered midair as Rick quickly answered it. No greetings were exchanged, but whatever the other person on the phone was saying made him stand abruptly, sending his chair toppling to the floor.

"What do you mean she saw you?...I know she is the best cop in New York...I hired you to keep her safe...to keep my whole family safe...you said you were the best so prove it." Rick threw his phone on the desk.

Kate felt her foot finally hit the last step causing the board to creak.

It was the sound she would always remember and hate.

Rick quickly stuffed a piece of paper in the novel before turning around. He was shocked to see her there.

"K-Kate-" He took a step towards her.

"You're having me followed?" Kate asked, not sure if the words came out at all.

"No, I-"

"I heard you," she pointed to the phone on his desk.

He couldn't look at her. So his gaze was designated to the floor, "Just a detail to make sure you are safe."

"From what?"

His features were etched in hardness, "The thing we never talk about."

"You mean, the thing you never ask about."

"I've tried. But you would shut down, or kiss me or we would end up arguing and-"

His words stung and stuck; all were out of tune, "Because I knew you would ask me to walk away."

"You should have walked away, then there wouldn't be a need for a detail and you would be safe."

She crossed her arms, "How could you think I could walk away from that? Walk away from her."

"I thought...I thought I had given you a reason to."

The past months, year, flashed across her mind. Ryan and Esposito always there when she was trying to follow a lead and even Castle. Asking questions here and there. She just chalked it up to his personality. That he cared for her. Every lead had led to a dead end. It was only after Ryan had gotten married and Esposito and Lanie started to work on their relationship did she notice that leads were actually panning out. Then the detail had started. All of it was to protect her. That almost made it worse. Roy had done that for years and it ended up in his death.

"All this time you have been standing in my way," she finally said.

He shook his head and took another step towards her, stopping when she put up her hand.

"You were always one step ahead." Her mind moved at an increased pace. And one of the thoughts that streaked across her mind made her heart draw tight.

"Have you been researching my mother's case behind my back. Again?"

"It's not like that. I just wanted you to get better after you got shot. And then you were struggling with PSTD and then therapy. And finally at Christmas I thought...I want you to be happy. I was going to tel-help you."

She caught the slip of his tongue like a faltered note during a recital. "Tell me what?"

He turned away from her and leaned on his desk. His hand resting on Tolstoy's novel. "I was always going to tell you. That's why I called everyone here tonight. To tell you. It was just...I never expected us to fall like we did." He hung his head.

"What the hell is going on?" She demanded, resisting the urge to reach out to him.

His silence got her moving. Three strides later and she was in front of him. The look on Rick's face suggested that his world was slowly crumbling down before him.

"All of it. Now."

Castle reached over and pulled a piece of paper from between the pages of Tolstoy's masterpiece. He placed it in her hand and didn't let go until she jerked it from his grasp.

Kate regarded the paper that was now shaking in her hand. She knew that hand writing. Each word came into view, formed sentences and ended with a scrawl of: Roy.

Now her world was starting to fall apart like the snapping of harp strings.

She folded up the letter and put it in her pocket. "Where are the files?" Her voice shook.

"Kate-" he pleaded.

"Where. Are. My. Files." She strained to keep her voice even.

"I-" He moved to touch her arm but she turned away from him.

"Who is he? Who hired Coonan to kill my mom?" Her voice cracked on the last word, "WHO?"

Her tone made him shudder and it seemed to shake an answer out of him, "I didn't look until a few months ago when I found that picture."

"What picture?"

"The one of Aggie getting the bear from the sniper. I found it with all of your mother's things in your room."

"You went through my things?"

"No. Not on purpose."

"All of this seems to be on purpose."

"It was when Lanie came over one night, and I hid in your room...I found a box in your closet and I thought it was just childhood pictures."

More strings started to snap. And then all the instruments started to fall out of tune.

"I couldn't put it off any longer. I knew I had to look."

"You've known for over a year and you didn't look until recently? !"

"I couldn't know and be with you at the same time."

"God, Castle..." She thought about all the times they just held each other, naked, beneath tossed sheets. All the times he could have told her and all the times that she could have told him. Kate felt sick from the Kool-aid of lies they both had been drinking.

He got to her then and grabbed her by the upper arms as she tried to take ragged breaths, "I couldn't let you. They told me they would kill you and everyone that I held dear. I had to."

Kate knocked his arms away and started to pace. Tidbits of information she had let slide started falling into place along with tears down her face, "Aggie threatened you that day at the hospital. You had the files since then and all this time we've been..." she trailed off, trying to keep her emotions in check.

"They said that if you pursued this then they would kill you and anyone that was close to you. I won't let that happen."

They were all in danger because of her. Rick and his family had been threatened because of her.

"We're done," Kate voice was firm even though the words felt like poison.

"No, we aren't." His voice was just as firm.

"There is no 'we'," she seethed.

"Like hell there isn't. There has been a we for years. Long before we got together."

"No. There isn't. Don't come to the precinct anymore. Get your family and get out of town. Go. Take Ryan and Lanie and Esposito...my dad and..."

"And leave you? Kate, please..."

"I don't want to hear it." Her back went straight. Her shoulders squared. "Give me the files. All of them."

He opened the safe and pulled the files out, "You can't just go barreling into this. He's too powerful. You don't know how far this goes." He hesitantly handed the files to her. "I won't let you do this alone. Whether you like it or not I promised to be there and I am going to be."

She snatched them from his grasp. "I'd like to see you try after this." Kate strode towards the door only to be spun around seconds later. She ended up with her back against the wall, clutching the files against her chest and staring into his guilt ridden and fear laden blue eyes.

"I won't let you throw your life away."

"And what about your life? He's already gotten to you once and he will come after you again because he knows how important you are to me. Then your death would be on my hands. How is that fair, Castle?"

He placed both hands on either side of her head. Gazes locked. "No matter the cost, I will keep you safe."

"The cost is too high and we both know it."

She went to move, to finally get away from him, but he held his position.

"I'm sorry. I should have told you. A thousand times a day I wanted to. But this can't be it." Kate tried to move; he held strong, "Just give me some sign that the image of us, grey and wrinkled, reading to each other in front of our fireplace, holding hands and watching our great grandchildren playing at our feet won't just be a fantasy."

Desperation and fear dripped from each word. Kate choked down a sob as he kissed her. Tried to kiss the lies away. A desperate man's attempt. He kissed her until she whimpered and tore her mouth from his.

She heard it then. The same words he had uttered to her when she was dying on a field of green.

"I love you, Kate."

A single tear seared her cheek as she finally looked at him, "I heard you the first two times."

Regret was instantaneous. Then a coldness set in.

She took her hand and pushed him back. He stumbled as she spun on her heals making her way to the ground level of the Old Haunt. Lanie jumped up at the sight of her.

"What happened? Are you... KATE!"

Kate didn't stop. She side swiped Lanie's hold and ran up to the streets of New York, clutching the files against her chest, covering the hole that had just been created.


. . . . . . . . . .

September 17th, 2012

. . . . . . . . . .

Kate stood on the second to last step, not wanting to hear the dreaded creak like last time. She looked across the room and saw the man that had unexpectedly changed her life. He was sitting at his desk, twirling the bottle of whiskey with his finger. He wore a simple plaid shirt over a t-shirt and his hair fell haphazardly. Rick looked tired. Worn out. She probably looked the same.

"I had the step fixed."

His voice startled her for a moment before it had its usual soothing effect.

"'Cause I hated that sound too," he said as he stood.

He turned around and his gaze clung to her. Sparks flew, try as they might to find freedom in this atmosphere that had been tainted by fractured hearts and well woven lies.

"I'm glad you came, Kate." Her name tumbled out of his mouth like going down a musical scale. He had uttered it countless times in passion, love, friendship, and most recently, anger and fear.

Kate took the final step, happy it didn't make the creaking sound. As she moved towards him his eyes grazed over her. She rewarded him with one of her patented looks.

"You've seen it many times before."

"Each march you do is novel to me." He even added a wink, trying to make it like their old rhythm, but both of them were a bit off key.

"You're an idiot."

"A charming idiot."

"You got that half right."

"Which half?"

She slid into the chair beside his desk and he returned to his seat. "Sorry, I'm late."

"Paperwork?"

She gave him a shrug of her shoulders, "Something like that."

"Gates still reading you the riot act. 'Cause my ears are still ringing from her roar."

Kate knew she would never be as close to Gates as she was to Roy. It was a shift. A needed one in a way. "She actually gave me some time off."

"Ordered?"

Kate nodded. "Forced. Needed."

"And you're freaking out."

"I am not freaking out." His blue eyes started to spark to life. "Fine, I have no idea what to do with my time off."

"Nothing," he supplied.

She gave him a quizzical look, "Nothing?"

"There is something to be said about doing nothing. On a beach."

"Nothing on a beach?"

He nodded, "With a book. Preferably one of mine."

"Then I would be doing something."

"I didn't say you had to read it," Rick countered.

Kate let their banter wash over her. Serenade her.

God, she missed him.

"A beach sounds pretty good."

"A nudist one."

Her thoughts flew to their first time together. She never wanted to see him clothed again either.

"I'm just saying, you can do nothing, naked, just as good as clothed."

"This is clearly a private island."

A few right notes were suddenly hit, "It doesn't have to be."

The image of the two of them lounging on a beach, reading, talking, being with each other, didn't sound like a fantasy anymore. It could be real.

"You'd make a good travel agent."

"Well, my day job is kind of shot."

"Not shot. Just wounded. Permanently."

"I guess that answers the question as to whether or not you want me to come back."

Kate had to dig deep to keep this conversation barb-full. Truth was, she wanted him to come back but not in the same capacity as before. Murder board junky? Yes. Situations where he wore his 'writer' vest? Absolutely not. She couldn't worry about him and do her job. Their emotions were too connected and objectivity was compromised.

"You do have a tendency to run into people's fists."

"You don't like my new look?"

The consequence of her poor choices were staring her in the face. Forgiving herself for his involvement would take longer than forgiving him. "Keep it up and we can start comparing battle wounds."

"OK...you first. I will take what's under your shirt for 1000, Alex?"

She did give him a partial laugh then. Rick seemed to be soothed by it. Both leaned back into their chairs. Neither one bent on breaking their gaze at the moment. The lament of blue and green told a story of 'I'm sorry' and 'love', but like so many times before, things were still left by the wayside and behind their tongues.

Rick waited a few beats before he tilted his glass at her. "St. Miriam?"

She gave her head a light horizontal shake, "I'm good."

The awkward tune started to play again.

"You just missed everyone," Rick said, breaking the silence.

"I saw them outside."

"Did Ryan tell you that they are having a boy?" Castle asked.

Life did always have a way of thundering on. "No, he didn't. He's going to be a ball of nerves for the next couple of months."

"Years. Definitely years. Happy ones though. I could tell at the wedding that they were lifers."

"Didn't know you had a crystal ball."

"Magic eight ball, actually. And I have been in two weddings myself and both of those were complete disasters."

Kate saw something streak across his blue eyes. Then he shifted in his seat like he was preparing himself for something.

"Remember how you shoved Lanie in front of you when Jenny threw the bouquet?"

Kate nodded and chuckled, "She was the one who wanted it anyway."

He fiddled with the glass before him, mulling, "You didn't want it, did you?"

It wasn't that. She wanted it all, with him. Their timing was just off, as always. "I haven't seen you in two weeks and this is what you want to talk about?"

Rick gave her a quick smile, "Fine. Let's talk about the hospital then. I distinctly remember a fantastic dream where you said that you lo-"

"I didn't want to catch it because I knew what it would mean and how you would take it," Kate blurted out.

As if to prove her point, it was there in his eyes, and under his breath. The 'I would ask you right now to marry me' look that she wasn't quite ready for.

"I guess it was just your aversion to catching it while we were together versus when we weren't that never sat right."

"Because I caught it at Kyra's wedding?" Kate knew she had just played into his hand somehow because his eyes were more determined than ever.

"I never did give you any reason to trust that we wouldn't fall apart, did I?"

"You told me about your relationships. We don't have to go through it again." The first time was enough. And knowing how each had failed showcased their relationship flaws. He started distancing himself, but then again so did she. It wasn't just his fault. It takes two to fail as epically as they did.

"I never told you why you are different." His voice was soft, but it had strength that could carry them both.

Kate got up and started to pace the room. This isn't really how she wanted this conversation to go. She honestly didn't know how this conversation was supposed to go. Kate hadn't done anything like this before.

Castle didn't move. He sat and just watched her. It wasn't until she ran her hands through her hair, and the sleeve of her jacket moved up her arm, did he make his way over to her. Rick took her hand and turned it over, looking at the bruising caused by Aggie stabbing her with needles repeatedly while Kate was tied up in the warehouse.

Rick took the pads of his fingers and ran them over the marks. Kate wondered if there was ever going to be a time where he didn't look guilty for something to do with her. She had decided to go it alone. He couldn't stop her. No one could. Kate knew the price and if it hadn't been for the man standing before her, and Ryan and Esposito, then she would be dead.

Kate scanned his features, wishing that she could just kiss his injuries away.

Rick gave her a weak smile at her concerned look, "Doc gave me the all clear. What about you?" He finally let go of her hand.

She tugged at her sleeves, "Nothing I can't handle."

Dark circles seemed to fall into unnerving smiles under their eyes. At this proximity they both looked closer to death than they should be. Each resulting from restless nights and nightmares. "You haven't been sleeping."

"Neither have you," she countered.

"You think I would since I don't have you sawing half a forest next to me."

"You talk in yours."

He gestured in mock horror, "I'm story telling even in slumber. I'm that dedicated."

"You also hog the sheets."

"You have that backwards detective. You hog the sheets and when I go to get them back you do a little mumble and wrinkle up your nose. It's so sexy and adorable that I'd rather freeze than disturb you."

Kate took a reprieve from his gaze, took a few paces away from him and looked about the room, looking at the bookcase. She had a feeling that he put all these books here for her. The image of them on the couch, together, just reading inched across her mind. All these renovations had meaning. Not as much as upstairs in the bar though. "The place looks really good. Especially the upstairs."

"You peeked."

"Your qualities are rubbing off on me."

"Don't worry, only the good ones."

"Ones?" she asked with the edge of wit that he loved.

"Fine. Only the good one."

They shared a smile. They shared a beat. They shared so much more.

"You didn't have to. The picture of my mom, or Roy..."

"It felt right. And I always want to remember our time together. If you want, I can take it down."

"No. I don't want that. My dad...he's going to love it."

"And you?"

"I think that it's one of the sweetest things you've ever done," she whispered.

"Gotta balance out my misgivings somehow."

They both had a few of those and somehow they seemed to balance each other out. The term soul mate could be volleyed as an explanation for that.

"Are you going to keep on renovating?"

"Keeps my mind off things."

She stared at the books before her, searching for his titles, "What about writing?"

"I bring my work here. Beats staying at home."

She smiled, "Alexis being too much of a mother-hen?"

"No, she left already to go back to school. Mother is being too much of a Mother-hen. As much as her social life will allow. At least I don't have to worry about her walking in on us again."

Kate couldn't hide her embarrassment, "We just had to christen your kitchen."

"Kitchen, office, shower, couch, floor, stairs, bed. My apartment is still blushing."

"So is mine."

"Your dining room table will always hold a special place in my heart."

Every moment had resonated with her, especially those moments of afterglow. They were both naked and exposed, talking, laughing, sharing stories.

"I guess you will just have to put up with your mother until Alexis comes back for the holidays."

Rick gave her his best lopsided smile, "You can come and visit."

"I don't want to intrude on your time with your family." She knew they were still barbing lies as if it was sugar.

He chuckled wryly then. "God, are we really that used to it? You are part of my family and you know it."

"Don't," she pleaded as calmly as she could.

"Don't what? Talk about it? Why not? What do we have to lose?" He sounded exhausted.

"I didn't come here for a deja vu argument." She looked at her exit. Her body though, was firmly rooted to stay.

"If you do leave, I will follow you," she felt his hand take hers. "And that is the difference, Kate."

She didn't even try to move her hand away. "What's the difference?"

Rick gave her hand a squeeze. "I didn't follow Kyra because I knew we were over. It was easier to let her leave than for me to break things off with her. She didn't want to be at my side and I didn't want to be at hers. I only want to be by your side. With you. Not against you. Not ever again."

"Castle..."

"With Meredith I was lonely from fame and she was wild, unpredictable. The complete opposite of Kyra. She got pregnant with Alexis and I stayed with her, convincing myself that she was the one. She wasn't. When it is the one, you know." His gaze never wavered.

"Please..." she closed her eyes, not wanting him to continue or stop. She had wanted to hear this for so long.

"And Gina? She was smart, savvy, and I cared deeply for her. Enough to marry and to even give it a second try. That's why I invited her to the Hamptons."

Kate's eyes shot open. She wasn't expecting that.

"I didn't know you had broken up with Demming. If I did, I would have never asked Gina. I didn't see it then, but she was the consolation prize. And it wasn't fair to her. That's why there was no magic. No spark."

She stopped fighting him then. She didn't really have any fight left. Her mother's case had wiped her out. She was at her barest foundation; just a single note on a page and Castle was trying to make sheet music out of it.

"I think I will take that drink now." She gestured to the bottle of St. Miriam sitting on his desk.

He gave her his glass and she downed it and then he poured himself one and did the same. The room went quiet. The creaking of the old frames and the tinkering of pipes in the secret passage ways could be heard. It was an odd beat. Fresh. Something that starts out small and then over time grows into something that would boom across the heavens in a crescendo.

Kate reached into her pocket and slid the plane ticket across the table at him. He looked at it and a bit of the weight on his shoulders floated away like an aria.

"Kate, this isn't going to be a vacation. You really should consider that beach."

"You were there when I looked the man who was responsible for my mother's death in the eye. You were there to make sure I didn't end his life."

"That was all you. Revenge, though tempting, never was your forte. Justice has always found a home in you, along with the truth. That's what makes you, you."

She looked down. The glass on the desk made the name of the book seem warped. That maybe they were somewhere in between war and peace. "I wanted to kill him, Castle. I fantasized about it for so long, especially since he had threatened you, your family; everything I..." she couldn't say it just yet.

"I never doubted you for a minute."

"Not even when I had my gun between his eyes and he was begging for his life?"

"Not even then. We have the evidence Kate. He's going away for a long time."

"Thanks to you." She said quietly, "You called Ryan and Esposito. If they hadn't shown up we would have been...I'm sorry I got you into this."

He pointed to his chest, "Side-kick. Remember?"

"Partner," she corrected.

Rick looked down at the ticket, "Are you sure?"

"He's your father. You are going to meet him for the first time. And Alexis said that you might need me there."

"She is right. I do need you." He ran his hand through his hair, "I sure made a mess of things, didn't I?"

She gave a burst of dark laughter, "You weren't the only one who lied, Castle. It was practically a form of foreplay between us."

"I am sorry, for-"

She stopped him, "I didn't come here for an apology. I know you're sorry and so am I. I think I forgave you a while ago; it's just hard to go back."

He went quiet for a moment, content just to look at her. Kate tilted her head, a gesture that made it safe for him to ask his question.

"Was there any other reason why you came here tonight?"

Kate started to pace once again. If she was to look back on her life, years from now, this moment could very well be her biggest 'if only'.

Kate looked at him and she knew he saw how lost she felt, "I've spent most of my career being haunted by my mother's death. I was consumed by it and now that it is over...I didn't know what to do. So I just drove. I got on my bike and I drove. I could have gone anywhere and I ended up here. I'm tired of being haunted, Castle. So I'm here to take a risk. The only problem is...I seemed to have misplaced what I wanted to risk."

His eyes illuminated in query, "Are you sure that I have it?"

Kate nodded, "It's a little broken, damaged and it has some definite baggage, but yes, you still have it." She walked over and stared at the shelves that were filled with books. Each story before her had a beginning, middle and end. She wished she could just write the end to this one. Old and grey, great grand children at their feet. It sounded divine to her now.

Then that faint beat came back again. Their beat. "I gave you another one in return. Though, it was broken as well and pretty useless without its companion."

"It was hard to tell what it was at the time since I never truly saw one before."

Castle came up beside her and gently, he turned her towards him.

"I'm going to try this again. And this time it is not because I am scared of losing you. I've already lost you."

"Rick, you haven't lost me so you don't have to-"

He placed his hand on her neck and forced her to stay motionless, "Let me say it. It needs to be said."

Kate waited as his eyes started to glisten and blaze all because of her.

"That first moment that I turned around and saw your badge sticking in my face, I knew that up until then that my love had been sparse, nomadic." He pushed strands of her hair behind her ear, "Now it knows no fleeting gestures or shallow depths; it swells, but never ebbs with time. I know you. All of you. Every facet, every flaw you think and do have. You may have started as my muse, but you wouldn't allow me that frivolity; you demanded that I face my own demons so I can and will stand by you."

Kate gave a ragged breath as his other hand found the side of her cheek, "No matter how this ends, no matter if we part and you go off with someone else, know that my one and true always is with you. I love you, Kate. I love you."

Tears tumbled. Walls fell. The opus of forgiveness started to play. He leaned down and kissed her. It wasn't desperate. It wasn't passionate. It was a kiss you give someone who held your heart and would take care of it for the rest of their days.

She returned it, gently with a promise, spurred on by the hint of St. Miriam's drifting around their senses. They parted and she wrapped her hands around his neck and he wrapped his arms around her, swaying to their mending hearts.

They stayed that way until she had finally found her voice enough to whisper a return in his ear.

"Falling for you was nothing compared to actually loving you, Rick. And I do." She leaned back and looked into his eyes that were wet with emotion, "I love you from..." She managed a lopsided grin, "from apples to always."

"Hey..." he sniffled a bit, trying to keep his emotions in check, "That's my line."

"Can I borrow it?"

"For how long?"

She leaned up and started to gently kiss the wounds on his face before answering, "For a lifetime?"

"Consider it yours."

They kissed again in a larghetto fashion until they finally were able to let go of each other.

"This isn't going to be easy, is it?" He asked, bewildered that he finally had a chance at making things right.

"Where's the fun in that?"

"Why Detective Beckett, are you saying you are up for this challenge?" He pointed to himself.

"I'm saying that I think we need to take things-"

He cut her off, "Slowly?"

"That sounds good."

He let that resolve settle for a moment, "Then I am cutting you off."

"From what?"

"Sex. No more Castle lovin' until we date. And I mean date...out around New York, or Paris...anywhere in the world. But I am picking you up and we are going out."

"We can still date and have sex."

He shook his head, "We are doing things right this time. Dating first, and then after an appropriate amount of time, and I ask for your father's permission, then we'll see."

"We'll see how long you last." She collected her ticket and then moved to the door.

"Despite ample evidence against the contrary, I can keep my hands off of you." He grabbed his jacket and turned off the light.

"If you say so...Rick." They climbed their way up the stairs to the bar level of the Old Haunt. She made sure she moved her hips just the way he liked it.

"How slowly are we talking here?" She heard him choke out.

Kate couldn't resist. "Another three years of slowly."

She grabbed her things off the bar and out of the corner of her eye she saw his face fall. "I was thinking a week. I guess we need to start dating, like now."

They both moved along the bar, leaving the wall of forgiveness behind them.

"Breakfast?"

"Oooh, this is definitely cause for a celebratory stack of pancakes," he added.

She took his hand and they made their way up into New York's crisp, early morning air. Castle ran towards her bike and for a moment she thought he was going to hug it.

"I've heard rumors but ...she is beautiful."

"Why do you automatically assume it is a she?" Kate asked from her position underneath the street light.

"Because the thought of you riding her is very, very hot," and without missing a beat he added, "Can I drive?"

She gave him something between a snort and scoff.

"I know how to handle a hog."

"I'll let you drive the Crown Vic."

"Really?"

She smiled as she put on her helmet, "No."

Kate turned to the side so he could read the writing on her helmet. The look on his face meant that she had gotten her desired effect.

"So since you are a 'one writer girl' what does my helmet say?"

She dug it from the seat compartment and handed it to him. His face fell once again.

"Come on, Beckett."

"You are, aren't you?"

He put it on his head and grinned. She laughed at the words above the arrow that was pointing forward.

"I will wear "I'm her bike-bitch" proud," he proclaimed.

Kate got on the bike first and he followed suit.

"PA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA PA NA NA NA NA." He bobbed his head to his beat.

"Absolutely not," her tone was definite. As definite as she could be with a grin.

"Come on. Since we both are going to be away from the precinct for a while we might end up fighting crime and we would be foolish if we didn't sing it. PA NA-"

"Castle!" She warned, "I'm driving and I get to choose the music. And I choose the city sounds."

"Fine, but I'm singing it in my head."

He couldn't see her glorious smile that was illuminated by the street light, "Hang on tight." She started the engine of her Soft Tail.

He wrapped his arms around her waist as tightly as he could for dramatic effect and whispered in her ear, "I'm never letting go."

They tore away from the street and into the night life of New York. A new beginning but with their same, wondrous rhapsody that would follow them for the rest of their lives.

. . . . . . . . . .


And that is the conclusion of A Heart's Haunt. And that is the last installment in this AU as well. I truly hope that I did these characters justice and story telling in general justice.

I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to review, alert, favourite or just read my work. I know I have a long way to go, but your encouragement, criticism and enthusiasm will only make me strive to challenge myself, strive to be a better writer. So I thank you with as much enthusiasm and gratitude I can muster (which is a whole bunch!)

If you are interested in any future work I might write then by all means put me on Author Alert. Otherwise I shall resume my twitter life as soon as S4 of that show I like so much starts. You might have heard about it. I think it's called Castle, a.k.a the best dang show on TV.

And of course, a huge THANK YOU to Tadpole24 for all her super amazing, stupendous Beta work! Couldn't have done it without her :) Any mistakes made are my own and most certainly are not hers.

Until next we meet, my wonderful readers.

Cheers,

Rini :D