"Is this where Mommy is, Daddy?"
The two of them were sitting in front of Kate's grave, Rick sitting cross-legged on the hard ground, Nicholas sitting in his lap, the book bound in plain brown leather pressed tightly against his chest, a small bouquet of flowers clutched in his other hand.
Rick had walked hand in hand with his son into the flower shop, where Dimitris behind the counter greeted them with a large smile. Rick told him with a smile in return that they were going to need some of the best flowers he had. The old man could tell that this was for something special, what with the boy nearly jumping up and down by his father's feet. Dimtris immediately let them back behind the counter, telling the young boy that he could pick out whatever he wanted, providing guidance and tips whenever the boy looked overwhelmed.
They had ended up with a small bundle of white, yellow, and orange Gerbera daisies, dotted with some greens. It was simple and understated, but beautiful just the same.
As the old man brought the flowers back up towards the front counter, preparing to wrap them up, he had asked Nicholas who the pretty lady was that was going to be getting such a lovely bunch of flowers.
Nicholas looked up at the old man, and with a broad smile proclaimed that the flowers were for his Mommy.
Rick didn't think it was possible, but the old man's eyes softened even more.
"Well then," the old man had said, "I guess I need to use my really pretty ribbon that I only reserve for really special people."
The old man wrapped up the flowers and walked around the front of the counter, squatting down and handing Nicholas the small bouquet. Nicholas immediately dug his head into the petals, inhaling deeply, before he looked up at the man with a shy smile.
"Thank you, sir."
Dimitris reached out to pat Nick's cheek.
"Anytime you need flowers," he said sincerely, his Greek accent strong, "you come to me. I'll get you whatever you need."
Rick had paid the old man despite his protests, giving him a genuine smile and thanking him for everything, before leaving the store hand in hand with his son once again.
They had caught a cab, and ended up here.
Rick took a deep breath and nodded, "Yes it is, bud." Reaching out he pulled the book out from against Nick's chest, laying it gently on the ground beside them. He gestured to the vase on the top of the headstone, which had been emptied since his flowers he had brought for the one year anniversary of her death had wilted, "Why don't you give your Mommy her flowers?"
Nick nodded and leaned forward off of Rick's lap, using both hands to place the flowers gingerly into the vase, making sure the prettiest ones were at the front before leaning back again.
"They look beautiful," Rick said as Nick settled back against his chest.
"Mommy was beautiful… wasn't she, Daddy?"
He chuckled lightly, "Your mother was the most beautiful woman in the world, Nick." Rick reached around his son and chucked his cheek teasingly, "It's where you got your good looks from."
Nick giggled slightly at Rick's touch, sinking even further into him.
Reaching out a hand, Rick performed his ritual, tracing the engravings on the stone with his fingertips before lifting his fingers to lips, bringing them back down against her name etched into the marble.
"Did you just give Mommy a kiss?" Nick said curiously, his head cocked to the side.
Rick hummed his affirmation.
"Can I give Mommy a kiss?"
Rick smiled, "Of course you can."
He watched as his son once again lifted himself off of his lap, placing his lips to his palm and then placing it flat against the marble stone. Nick stayed there for a minute, staring at his mother's name carved against the stone, before leaning back into his father's chest once again. Rick tightened his arms around him, and they sat in comfortable silence for a moment.
"Do you miss her?" Nick asked quietly as if he was afraid of the reaction such a question might receive.
Rick couldn't control the way his heart clenched in his chest. He doubted he would ever be able to.
Rick swallowed, pressing his lips on the crown of Nick's head, "Yeah, Nick. I do. Every day."
He sat there for a moment, just breathing in his son.
Nick whispered, "I miss her, too."
Rick pressed his lips harder against Nick's hair, his arms tightening around him, completely surrounding his son.
"I know you do, bud. It's okay to miss her."
Another comfortable silence enveloped the two of them, both father and son lost in the memories they had of the woman who was so important to them in such different ways.
After a few minutes, Rick looked up from the top of Nick's head and looked back towards the stone in front of him.
There she was, sitting directly in front of him, just behind the vase of flowers.
It was the first time he had seen her since his breakdown three weeks ago. Looking through all the old pictures of happy memories had been hard without her there with him, but he had managed to get through it.
He took a deep breath, his shoulders sagging in relief at having her so close again.
Her face softened, and she smiled at him.
Her smile confirmed what he had always been so afraid of.
This was the last time he'd ever see her.
He felt the familiar panic settle into the bottom of his stomach at the thought of never seeing her again, but it surprised him when the panic quickly subsided into something that felt an awful lot like acceptance. After a quick assessment of himself, he found that he was no longer afraid.
So he smiled back.
Kate's smile grew until she couldn't possibly smile any bigger, a sound that sounded like a half-sob, half-laugh bursting past her lips.
He understood now.
She didn't want him to be afraid. She wanted him to be safe and healthy and happy even if she couldn't be there with him.
She wanted him to be living with her memory, not her ghost.
"I love you," he whispered, his voice barely audible to even his own ears.
"I love you, too," she whispered back just as softly. Her eyes glanced down quickly to their son, before she tacked onto the end, "both of you. More than anything in the entire world."
Releasing one of his arms from around Nick's torso, he brought his fingers slowly to his lips, kissing them softly before blowing her a kiss.
She caught it in her hands and pressed it against her own mouth, before blowing him a kiss back.
He mimed catching it, and pressed it gently to his lips before glancing down at their son and pressing his fingers softly against his cheek. He looked back up to where she had been sitting, his eyes shining.
She was gone.
Nick looked up at his father's touch, his eyes questioning what he had just missed.
Rick took a deep breath and smiled at the boy in his arms.
"Did Mommy and I ever tell you the story of how we met?"
Nick shook his head.
Rick gasped, "We didn't? Well that's just unacceptable…" He moved his hand out, grabbing her book that was lying on the ground, and flipping it open to the first page, laying it across Nicholas's knees, "Mommy didn't like me very much the first time we met…"
One day, when the wounds still weren't so fresh, he'd sit down with Jim and document Kate's life before he had entered the picture. He'd shut down The Old Haunt for a night and take Ryan, Esposito, and Lanie out for unlimited drinks, and they'd sit down and share memories that all of them had with the Senior Detective who was much more like a sister than a boss. He'd tell Nicholas how his mother was one of the most hard-working people he had ever met, that she was the youngest woman in the history of the NYPD to make Detective, and she had one of the highest clearance rates in the city even before Rick had come along.
Nicholas wouldn't grow up without knowing his mother.
He would grow up knowing that even if she wasn't there, his mother loved him, and she was someone worth remembering.
He couldn't promise that it would be easy. In fact, he was certain that it wouldn't be. He was sure there would be days where the pain of living without her became so unbearable that it hurt to breathe. He couldn't promise that he wouldn't cry the day he could no longer smell cherries in his sheets. He wasn't sure there would ever come a day when he didn't think about her, that there would ever be a day when he didn't miss her. He couldn't be sure that he would be able to be the mother and father that he was going to need him to be, but he was going to try his hardest to give his family everything he possibly could.
He smiled, finally understanding what Kate had been trying to tell him all along.
They would be okay.
deficit omne quod nasciture
autem amor vincit omnia.
I Can Almost See You, by Hammock
(that Latin translation is probably wrong. But I tried.)
(So that's the end.
No twist, no coming back from the dead.
Just... life: Realizing that there are things worth living for even when your world comes crashing down,
Sadness can be beautiful if you know what to do with it,
& that it's possible to live with memories rather than ghosts.
I hope you're not disappointed.
[if you are, then I'm sorry.]
I hope you feel a sense of closure.
But this was always the end.
Thank you for sticking with me and this story.
I know it wasn't easy.
I hope it was worth it.)