The Western Way
A/N: So, here it is, the final chapter in the Wild West journey. I hope you all enjoyed the ride! Look for the sequel, City Slickers, coming soon!
I would just like to thanks IdaKnight, melindaWRITER, crazy4castle, and LadyAilith for their constant reviews and support. You don't know what it means to me. :)
Kate smiled as Alexis sat down next to her on the top step of the jail, the hem of her pale pink dress brushing the dusty ground. The young woman had been even more quiet than usual since they had returned from the reservation and Kate had been worried. Rebecca had whisked Alexis away upon their return to town and the girl had just followed along, shoulders slumped in defeat as her nanny had scolded her on her wardrobe and for refusing to act like a proper lady.
Alexis sat quietly for a moment, picking the dirt out from under her previously perfectly manicured fingernails. Kate sat silently alongside her, watching the people pass by from under the rim of her hat, which was pulled low, shading her hangover raw eyes from the too bright sun. She sat patiently, waiting for the girl to say whatever was on her mind. Alexis reminder her so much of herself it was scary. She knew she had give the girl time to get her thoughts in order, so she waited and her heart broke at the words that finally came out of the girl's mouth.
"Dr. Davidson said that you only liked me because I reminded you of your daughter. I know I shouldn't believe him, but before we go I just have to know if it is true or not."
Alexis looked down, scuffing her ankle boot in the dirt as Kate looked away from her, staring down the road. The pause was awkward, filled with spoken and unspoken fears and heartaches.
"I did have a baby, Alexis, a beautiful little girl. She died at birth, so I never got to see her grow into the extraordinary young woman I know she would have been. I know she would have been strong and smart and every bit as amazing as I had imagined. She would have been like you. Sarah would be thirteen now and when she was born she had this flaming red hair, just like yours. God, it was so beautiful." Kate reached out and touched Alexis's head maternally, pushing a patch of pumpkin hair that had fallen out of her braid behind her ear.
"But no, sweetie, I don't like you because you remind me of her. I like you because you are an amazing girl: so strong, sweet and smart," Kate paused, debating her next words. "Just promise me one thing, Alexis. No matter what happens in your life— what people tell you to be or how to act— make sure that you do exactly what you want to do, because in the end it is worth it. If you want to marry Ashley, then marry Ashley. If you want to go to college, then go to college. If you want to jump on a train and explore the world, then just go and do it. Never give up on a dream because people tell you it's not what you should be doing. Only you know what is right for you. You are worth everything and trust me; your father feels the same way. He only wants you to be happy."
Alexis turned in her seat on the step and wrapped her arms around Kate's neck. "I'm going to miss you, you know."
Kate's arms came up to squeeze the girl's back and let a soft smile grace her lips when she felt the knife still strapped there beneath the floral print dress. "I'm going to miss you too, but you have to go. The train will be leaving soon."
After a few more seconds, Alexis released her arms, letting them fall to her sides for a moment, before pushing herself off of the step and made her way towards the train station, Kate following behind her.
Kate smirked at Castle's wrapped hand as he walked up next to her on the platform and Alexis excused herself, with one last hug with Kate, as Rebecca called her away. "I saw Josh earlier this morning, he was sporting a pretty nasty black eye and broken nose. You wouldn't happen to know where he got that from, would you?"
"Me, no," Castle answered, innocently, holding up his hand in display, before glancing down at Kate's, which was wrapped in a bandana. "I just thought you and I should match."
Kate chuckled as their bruised hands brushed against each other. The silence that hung between them was comfortable as they stood facing each other, the chattering travelers and townspeople mixed with the puffs from the restless train filling the gap.
"You deserve to know— as trite as it may sound, you did change my life," Kate's eyes drifted to meet his, as Castle began to speak. "Before I came here, before I met you I thought the west was full of uncivilized heathens, that New York City was the only place in the world worth being. I was wrong. This place, these people are more amazing than anyone could ever imagine. Stronger, smarter, braver than any others I know. I thought… I thought women were just something to have on my arm, which was wrong to begin with, because I want so much more for my daughter. But you— you showed me different. You are more extraordinary than any single woman— person— that I have ever met. I would stay but I can't— not with Alexis and everything. She wants to go to college and the schools in New York will get her there. Also, she won't say it out loud, especially to you, she admires you too much, but she needs time to heal. I have to do what is right for my daughter. But I wish you would consider coming back with me."
Their eyes locked, a torrent of emotions spilling between them. He leaned closer to her, tilting her chin up gently with his hand, guiding her mouth to his as he slowly brushed her jaw with his thumb. He felt her shudder and paused as the tears began to spill down her cheeks. Too much, it was too much. Everything that had happened in the past month came tumbling down on her, once again, as she stood there staring into his eyes. She was damaged and he deserved better.
"I'm sorry, Rick. I can't. I am so sorry."
Castle pulled himself back and let his head fall briefly before he looking back up at the extraordinary woman standing in front of him. His heart broke, but not just because of the rejection, but because he had never heard Kate Beckett apologize for anything before. Somehow, he had been bestowed that honor.
Rick nodded slowly, caressing her neck one more time before he let his hand fall to his side. "It's a pity. We would have been great together."
Kate looked up at him, sadness dancing with mirth in her eyes as she let out a soft laugh, wiping at her persistent tears. She took a slow step towards him and lifted her hand up to his cheek, mimicking his pose from a moment earlier.
"You have no idea."
With out further statement, with out any parting words, she dropped her hand, grabbing his quickly and pressing something into his palm before turning to leave the platform. Rick reached out and grabbed her arm as it fell. If this truly was the last time he would ever see her, there was one more thing he had to know.
"Kate, what really happened with Lockwood?"
Kate looked up with him and this time there was no humor in her eyes. She considered him for a moment; the man who had made her laugh and cry, who she had bared her soul to. The man who had saved her life; who's life she had saved. Richard Castle had put his life on the line for her more times in the last month then she could remember anyone ever doing for her. If he deserved one thing, it was the truth.
"He raped me, Castle. That night in the saloon, when we captured him, I told you that the boys came in before he was able to do it, but I lied. He had already finished. The boys don't even know; I didn't tell them. I should have been stronger, faster. Then, he wouldn't have gotten the upper hand," Kate looked down, in shame and Castle's fist clenched at his side as he fought the urge to pull her into his arms and scream at her that it wasn't her fault.
"Every time he would look at me from inside of that cell it felt like he was doing it all over again," she continued softly. "That morning, I got back from the reservation and I was exhausted but I went to take over for Montgomery anyway. Lockwood just stared at me from inside the cell, a predatory grin on his face, like he would do it again if he ever got the chance.
"He would talk to me, you know, when there was no one else in the jail house he would taunt me, tell me what he would do to me if he ever got out. How he would torture me for hours, make me beg, make me want to die. That morning, standing there, I had had enough. He didn't deserve a trial, a chance at justice. He deserved to die. So, I put a rope around his neck, lead him out back and stuck a knife in his gut. He never said a word, never fought. Sometimes, I get the feeling that he still won, like he got what he wanted."
She looked up to see Castle staring back at her, a mixture of pity, understanding and horror in his eyes.
"Say what you want about me, Castle. Write what you want. Send the authorities out here to arrest me, but know this. I would do it again, in a heart beat, to rid the world of something as vile and cruel as Hal Lockwood."
With that, Kate Beckett turned and walked slowly off of the platform and back into the town of Colorado Springs, leaving Richard Castle to watch her retreating form. He glanced down at his open palm as held up the tiny wooden figure of a wolf. It was the piece of wood she had whittled while they were sitting in the woods together outside of the army camp only days before. The train let out one final warning whistle and Alexis called to him from the train car. Turning slowly, he hauled himself onto the steps with one final glance at the retreating back of the extraordinary Katherine Beckett.
They had been right; the winter was a cruel one. Snowstorm after storm battered the town of Colorado Springs. Only days after Richard and Alexis Castle boarded the train back east, the first of the storms hit. Kate Beckett, once again, found herself traveling between the reservation and the town making sure the little supplies they had were well distributed. It was a way to keep herself occupied and not let her dwell too harshly on the life changing events she had just gone through. She tried not to think at all about Richard Castle and the flutter in her stomach that arose anytime her mind would wander to him. Instead, she teased Lanie about her and Javier's budding relationship and talked to Jenny's growing baby belly. She helped her father tend bar and refrained from drinking any of the whiskey herself. It was time for her to clean up her life and she was doing the best she could.
General Johnson and Colonel Maynard were on the next train that arrive in the town, two weeks after the Castle's had left. The boxes of supplies they brought with them were cause for celebration, along with the loss of the criminal the general took back with him when he left a couple of days later. Colonel Maynard was a fair, if gruff, man and Kate finally had confidence that the Cherokee would get the treatment and attention they deserved. She received a telegram a couple of weeks later, informing her that Bryant's court martial date was set for spring and she was invited to attend if she saw fit. She crumpled it up and watched it burn as she lit it with the end of her cigarette. Ethan Bryant could go to hell.
Three month after the train carried Rick and Alexis away, winter was in full swing, a thick blanket of snow lay on the ground and the jail cells were both empty. Kate leaned back in her chair with her feet propped up on the desk and her hat tipped down over her face to keep out the cold afternoon light.
Kate pushed up her hat with a finger as Esposito dropped a package unceremoniously on the desk next to her. Slowly, she picked up the brown paper bundle, untied the twine, and peeled off the wrapping. She withdrew a fresh copy of the New York Times. She unfolded the newspaper and a wooden doll fell out; a loose piece of paper fluttering to her lap. The newspaper was dated for two months prior and the battered wrapping told her the package had been bouncing around, lost, for a while due to the unkind winter weather.
Her feet fell to the floor as she put the newspaper and doll, carefully, on her desk and plucked the small piece of paper out of her lap, holding it gently at the sides, letting it dangle from her fingertips.
The best thing about having layers is being able to peel them away and find the wonders that await you inside. Take this Matryoshka doll for instance; no matter what you see on the outside, there is always something better waiting for you if you dig a little bit deeper.
According to the New York Times, Hal Lockwood died from an influenza outbreak while being held in custody in Colorado Springs. He won't be missed."
P.S. New York truly is a wonderful city and I know a great place you could stay if you ever decide to visit. I have it on great authority that the door is always open and the people are friendly.
Kate bit her bottom lip as she read the letter for the third time. That man was going to be the death of her. It had been months since Kate had walked off that train platform and had refused to turn around to watch Richard Castle be carried back to New York City. She shook her head at the fact that she hadn't stopped thinking about him, wondering if she would ever see him again. She had tried. Really, she had.
Folding the letter carefully with a single crease in the middle, she placed it on top of the newspaper and moved to pick up the Russian Nesting Doll instead. Kate twisted the doll open slowly and smiled softly as a smaller doll came into view. She kept going until she had five of them in total: each one of them painted in vibrant colors, telling a different beautiful story. Before she knew it, she had pushed herself up out of her chair, gathered up her new belongings and was making her way towards the swinging door.
"Yo, boss, where are you going?"
"I gotta take a trip, Javi. I trust you and Ryan can keep yourselves out of trouble for a few months."
"A trip? You? Wait, months?"
"Yeah, it's called a vacation, Esposito. You should try it some time."
Javier Esposito smiled as leaned back on the wooden bench and propped his hands behind his head. He watched as Kate Beckett pushed her way out into the snow-covered streets of Colorado Springs; the afternoon sun forming a halo around her silhouette. Richard Castle didn't know what he was getting himself into.
A/N2: So, you all looking forward to the sequel? ;)