Back to Where We Have Never Been
Kate huffed as she pushed a finger into one ear to dampen the sound of the murmuring voices and screaming children as she pressed the phone harder against the other. The wheels of her suitcase whirled along behind her as she made her way through the terminal at JFK, the sound only broken by the uneven ground and the bumps in the walkway. Her heels clicked on the tile floor, tapping out a familiar staccato pattern as she dodged milling patrons and small families, surpassing the people mover in favor of walking down the corridor. A businessman stepped out in front of her, his cell phone pressed against his ear as he negotiated animatedly with the person on the other end of the line. His briefcase swung out and Kate let out an exasperated huff as it came inches from her. The man turned to glance at her over his shoulder and she glared in response to his casual half-hearted shrug of apology.
"Yes, Mom, I'm still here," Kate replied into the receiver of her phone. "No, some idiot just cut me off. No not tonight. We'll be there tomorrow, I promise. Yes, we would love to have the pot roast. Yeah, Alexis and Andrew will be there. I got to go, we are almost at the baggage claim. I love you, too. Bye."
Kate slid her phone into her pocket and glanced over at the red head keeping pace beside her. Her lips flickered up in a smile as Alexis whispered into the receiver of her phone and blushed as she murmured her own "I love you" and hung up, mirroring Kate's action by sliding the phone into the back pocket of her jeans.
Alexis blushed again as she adjusted her carry on bag over her shoulder. "Fine."
Kate hummed knowingly in response and opened her mouth to reply when her phone chirped and she pulled it from her pocket with a small smile and a sigh.
"Is that Dad?"
Kate shook her head. "No, it's your grandmother. Your dad is still at his signing. It got held over."
Alexis bit back a smile. "Oh, okay, well in that case…"
Kate bit back a chuckle as she shook her head. "Go on, tell Andrew I say hi. I'll let your father know that he might see his daughter for dinner tonight."
"Thanks Kate," Alexis replied, her cheeks which had dulled to a pink flaming red once again.
She reached down to swipe her bag off of the carousel and was out the door with a wave and in the taxi line before Kate could even form a response. Kate shook her head once again as she glanced down at the address Martha had texted her for the signing. Her bag appeared around a bend in the conveyor and she bent over to pull it off.
The past eight months had gone by in a blur. She could still remember the nervous expression on Castle's face when he told her that Gina and Paula wanted him on another book tour over the summer and how she had countered with her own offer to go back to Moscow for the same months. She remembered that nervously excited expression on Alexis' face when she had asked if the girl had wanted to go to Russia, too and Castle's panic at the idea.
She was exhausted but she didn't care. They weren't supposed to have even arrived until the next day but she and Alexis had conspired to get themselves an earlier flight, because even with how amazing it had been to be back in Moscow, teaching in her second language and wandering the streets of a city she loved, she couldn't wait to get back.
Kate smiled at the attendant as he held open the door of the cab for her before pulling her suitcase around to shove it in the trunk, closing the lid with a couple quick slaps of his palm to signal to the driver it was safe to leave. The car took off with a murmur of her directions and the driver's grunt in reply. Kate suppressed a laugh, there was nothing quite like New York City cab drivers to let you know that you were home.
She could still remember that mirroring cab ride from two years before, her mind riddled with happiness, doubt, hope and loneliness as she was carted down the streets of The City. She could remember how foreign the city felt to her, how she itched to get out, to be anywhere else in the world. Now, all she could think was that this city was home. This is where she had grown up, where she belonged. Yes, she had strayed for a while. She had traveled the planet, gallivanting from foreign world to world, trying to find the right fit. She had set up roots across the country, attempting to make herself feel at home there, anywhere other than this city. But it had been wrong, it was always wrong. This was where she belonged. This was where she had dreamed about the last three months she had been in Moscow, this was to where she had wanted to come home.
The cab pulled to a stop in front of the building and Kate stumbled out of the door before leaning back in and shoving a couple of bills through the slot in the plastic divider. The doorman helped her pull her suitcase out of the trunk and she thanked him with a smile as she made her way through the lobby and up the elevator to the loft.
It had been a strange few months. The relationship had taken a turn, one that was strange yet comfortable at the same time. They had been the same as they had been before: the banter, the looks, the coffee, dates and sex but there had been an unspoken agreement: no talk about weddings, about babies, about the future. They were just enjoying being together. So, when Castle had handed her the palm sized package with a nervous look on his face, shifting from foot to foot as he stuttered through an incoherent explanation, her breath had caught in her throat. When she had finally forced herself to flip up the lid of the small box and found the key inside she couldn't explain the mix of emotions that had gone through her. Relief and disappointment jumbled together in her chest, making her chest clench as a smile flickered across her face and she pressed her lips against his with a murmured thank you.
She made quick work of her shower, pulling a clean outfit out of the closet with a quick sniff to make sure that the three months of hanging, stagnant, hadn't caused any strange smells to develop. A quick swipe of make up and a new pair of boots she was back out the door and winding her way down the sidewalk, dodging more pedestrians and happily breathing in the steaming smell of the city: a swirling cloud of garbage, exhaust, hot dogs and the occasional whiff of coffee. Her hand clutched the brass handle of the heavy wooden door and she smiled as the smell of paper, coffee, chocolate and vanilla wafted towards her.
It was good to be home.
The line was long, still winding through the stacks and Kate grabbed a book off of the table, giving a wink and short wave to Gina as she slid around the side of the store, making her way to the back of the queue. Gina gave her a small smile and wave in response before turning her attention back to the bookstore manager. They had reached a stalemate, they weren't exactly friends but they could be cordial. Kate rounded the corner to the end of the line and peaked around the stack, biting her lips gently as she smiled as he came into view, smiling pleasantly, if a little forced at the woman standing in front of him.
"What do you think the dedication means?"
Kate's head cocked to the side as a voice from behind her pulled her out of her thoughts and blatant ogling of her boyfriend.
"I don't know but if that statement were dedicated to me, I would be like anywhere any time."
Kate turned slightly to glance slyly over her shoulder. Two girls in short skirts and tank tops were crowded behind her, staring at the first page of the book. With a small smile, she opened the book cradled in her arms and read the dedication line of Stalemate. Her eyes grew big as she read the line again and couldn't help the small gasp that escaped her lips.
I'm ready when you are.
Her eyes darted up as he smiled at another fan, handing the book back with parting words of thanks and she was forced to take yet another step forward. The girls behind her twittered again, oohing and awing over the first page and the photo of him on the back cover. She could feel the weight of the spine of the hardcover book pressing into her arm and she took another step forward, her mind racing, the world flashing by in a series of small step until she found herself at the front of the line staring at him over the desk as he stared at her book, her hands. He hadn't even looked up and she heard the small tired sigh that escaped his lips; the shadows under his eyes. No one else have noticed the fatigue, the way he was completely drained and wanted nothing more than to go home and crawl into bed; no one other than her.
"To whom should I make it out?"
Her lips tilted up at his use of proper grammar, something that he would even get on to her about every once in awhile and she would combat by purposefully using the wrong words and ending her sentences with prepositions.
"Kate. You can make it out to Kate."
He froze at the sound of her voice, his pen posed over the cover page as his eyes swiveled up; the look on his face one of awe and disbelief. "You aren't supposed to be back until tomorrow."
"Surprise," she murmured through her smile as his lips broke into a wide grin, mirroring hers.
Their eyes locked as they stayed lost in their own little world, untold moments passing as they were caught up in their own. A throat cleared somewhere behind her in line and her head ducked as she pushed a clump of hair behind her ear and Castle shifted in his chair, his pen still posed over the page. He flipped to the dedication page, slowly, and his eyes darted back up to meet hers.
"What should I write?"
She didn't need any clarification— no grand speech or declaration. She could see it in his eyes, that silent question awaiting an answer.
She took another step forward, glancing around the bookstore, her eyes stopping momentarily on the literature section, the same shelf where they had met two years before in that very store. The front of her thighs pressed against the edge of the table as she leaned forward. "Well, we are back at the beginning and, from there, the only place to go is forward."
Castle stared up at her, his grin unable to grow any further across his face. "Forward?"
He looked down, writing something in the book carefully, with a delicate swirl of the pen before closing it and handing it back to her.
"Wait for me?" He asked as she turned to step back from the table.
Her head dipped down into a nod as she smiled back at him. "Always."
She rounded the desk, making her way to the far stacks, her section— their section. She placed the book on the floor gently before lowering herself down also, pressing her back against the shelf, crossing her legs in front of her. She ran her fingers over the cover gently, memorizing the details before flipping it open and allowing her eyes to roam over the four words written there.
Will you marry me?
She let out a laugh; the smile on her face threatening to break her in half as she leaned her head back to rest on the row of books behind her.
Despite her hesitation and worry, the arguments and battles. Because of the silent conversations and whispered confessions, the way he knew her better than she knew herself; the answer was yes. The answer was always going to be, and would always be, yes.
A/N: Thank you.