Kate stood at her window, looking at it, not through it. She had every detail of every photograph, every indentation of every handwritten note, every comment of Castle's etched into her brain. She tried not to stare at this window too often. She tried to move past this. She'd moved past it once before, but that time she didn't have her own bullet scar to memorize and carry as a constant reminder.
Between her eyebrows crinkled as she studied her notes for the millionth time. She chewed on her lip as the sunlight shined through the jewel on her mother's ring.
She wondered if Rick had been able to tell she wasn't wearing that necklace anymore. When she decided she wanted to be more, that she needed to move forward, she had no idea what steps to take. Except for the first one. She arrived home, and as she changed into stretchy pants and a baggy tee, she broke from her years-long ritual. She lifted the delicate necklace over her head, placed the ring in her palm, then walked into her living room and opened the shutters. With a deep breath to steel herself, she hung the chain from the window's latch among the photos and notes. Light hit the ring at just the right angle, refracting into dozens of tiny rainbows. She remembered something from her childhood about the rainbow being a promise. A promise to Noah about a new life. She took it as a good sign, that her step forward was the right one.
More little steps were taken, toward Rick and away from her personal tragedies.
And today, she thought she was ready for a bigger step.
For the first time in months, she put her mother's ring back around her neck. She tucked it into her shirt. Unseen. A silent goodbye. All day she wore it. It felt natural and foreign and wrong and right. Castle asked what was up with her. She'd gotten flustered when it bounced against her scar. She'd forgotten it did that. She shook her head, unwilling to say it was nothing – it was not nothing – but also unwilling to share. Not then, not at the precinct.
Alone, she walked into her apartment. She liked her home. It was nice, stylish, spacious enough to entertain in. Not like she ever entertained, though. But tonight she would.
She walked into her room and took off her dad's watch; placed it in the jewelry box. She took her mother's ring from her neck and placed it in the box, too. She shut the lid and stared at the picture.
"I miss you," she whispered.
She lifted the box from her nightstand and stepped to her dresser. She sat it down amongst some framed photos. Her brain knew that she'd only moved the mementoes a matter of feet, but her heart knew she'd made a pact with herself to change her patterns, to not let the sadness of her past be part of her morning routine. Over here, the box would be more of a decoration.
She changed clothes and walked to the corner market for some fresh vegetables and fish. She kicked off her shoes inside her door and sat the reusable cotton grocery bags on the counter. Maybe she should have already invited him. Maybe he had plans. She couldn't expect him to be at her beck and call all the time, could she?
She pulled her cell out and spoke his name; the phone automatically dialed his number.
"Hey. You okay?" He answered on the second ring, sounding concerned.
"Yeah. Wanna come over for dinner? I've got fresh tilapia."
He paused, and she worried her lip between her teeth. She though she heard a kiss on his cheek and a whispered Bye.
"I'd love to."
"If I'm keeping you from something else, it's okay. If you already have plans." Did she sound insecure? She was trying not to sound insecure.
"No plans. Alexis just hugged me goodbye. She's sleeping over at Buttons Dutton's house. I'll be there in twenty?"
"'Kay. See ya."
Kate shook her head at the fear that struck her at the sound of Alexis telling her father goodbye. He wouldn't have a secret date. He had let her know, in his own way, that he was waiting for her.
She ran her fingers through her hair and grabbed a recipe she'd torn from a magazine months ago when she began searching for a way to get her appetite back.
Once the veggies were in a steamer pot and the butter and herbs and fillet were quietly sizzling in the pan, she dug through her closet for a small plastic tub. She'd bought it intending to restock her Christmas ornament collection after hers was lost when her last apartment blew up, but she hadn't done it. So many of the old ones were from her childhood, irreplaceable. Buying some packs of generic baubles had no appeal, so she had a tree with lights and tinsel and an empty ornament storage box.
She sat the box on the coffee table and checked on the fish. He knocked, the same rhythm he normally used. Opening the door, she met his eyes, then looked at the floor. "Hey, Castle."
He stepped in then stopped, studying her. "Hey. You really okay?"
She nodded, met his eyes again, and smiled shyly. He offered a bottle of wine.
She took it and retrieved two wine glasses.
"Don't sound so surprised. 'S almost ready." Her lips quirked in a half-smile.
She was making him a little nervous. She was a little nervous. He wondered if this was a date, and he didn't realize it. It felt like a date. He hoped it was a date.
The wine helped. She loosened up a little, so so did he. But she only had one glass, so maybe it wasn't the wine. Maybe it was him. Maybe it was that she took this step and it was going well.
They finished their meal, smiling, talking. He refilled their glasses and carried them to the couch. She followed. He sat, so did she, much closer than he expected. She took her glass in one hand and propped her head with the other, with her elbow on the back of the couch.
He obviously was struck with the same memory.
She chuckled. "So… Buttons Dutton?"
He laughed and told her about Lex's new friend.
Then he took a breath and swallowed in the way she knew meant he was trying to hold back a flood of questions. Why'd you invite me here? Since when can you cook so well? Is this a date? Can I kiss you? Do you remember? Is something wrong? Are you really okay?
His eyes flicked to the empty plastic bin, prompting another question. This one, he voiced. "What's the box for?"
She looked shy again, but then straightened up, determined. "The box is why I wanted you here."
His brows knit in confusion, but she didn't explain. She took a deep breath, sat her wine down, picked the box up, and walked over to the window. She slowly opened the shutters and stared for a minute. Then she very slowly and carefully pulled a note off. She folded the scotch tape that had held it to the window for so long, sticking the adhesive to the back of the note. Then she placed it tenderly in the box. She peeled a second note off, then a third.
Rick watched, stunned into silence and immobility.
Once all the notes were removed, Kate moved to the photographs, treating each one with reverence.
Finally the window and shutters were empty, and she stared at it again. It was all gone. She put the lid on the box.
The snap of the lid sealing made Rick flinch. His lips were parted in wonder, his eyes transfixed in awe.
He rose up and went to her. She stood, leaving the box on the floor, eyes pooling with tears.
He reached toward her and she stepped to him and he enveloped her in his arms, wrapping her in a cocoon of love and appreciation and safety and understanding.
They stood like that for a long while until his heartbeat against her cheek calmed her and stopped the tears from forming. She pulled back and picked up the box and turned, still silent, and slowly walked to her room. He followed.
He'd never been in her bedroom, but his thoughts at that moment had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with being invited to witness her taking these monumental steps, putting her mother's case, her case, to rest. She lifted up onto her tip toes to push the box onto the top shelf of her closet.
She turned back to him, eyes filled with something new. Peace. She smiled and stepped back into his embrace.
To anyone else it would look like nothing. She put some papers in a box and stuck it in the closet. But they knew it was momentous. She'd taken the steps she needed to take. Now they could hold hands and take a leap.