She awoke in her bed, looked through puffy lids at her bedside clock. Four AM.
There was a hole, grief and anger still burrowing deep into her gut.
He had told her. Took her into his office and turned on the board, and there it all was. Months of betrayal and untrue statements. He'd started to explain, but somewhere in the middle of Mr. Smiths and threats of murder and needing more than anything to protect her, the outrage and the disbelief bubbled up. She'd yelled. She'd left. And he hadn't followed.
She was replaying it in fitful dreams. She had been ready, or almost ready, to let herself love him. That was why he must have wanted to tell her.
At least there was that. At least he hadn't let her allow him inside only to let her down after.
He was her constant: the thing she counted on every day to keep her on the right path, the one she trusted most of all, in a world where she had learned to trust sparingly. And now he wasn't.
She was thirsty. Her head ached in the droning, vague way that can only come after a crying jag. These things, at least, she could fix. She rose, got ibuprofen, went to the kitchen. She filled her water bottle from the pitcher in her fridge and downed the pills, chugging back the cold liquid and hoping some numbness would come.
It always had before, eventually. But then, she had thought he was different.
She turned to go back to bed for an hour until her alarm went off.
And then she saw her. The water bottle fell from her hands and clattered to the floor, splashing freezing drops on her feet and shins.
She was just standing there, one hand on her hip, the other balancing on the counter of her kitchen island. Her hair was streaked with gray and her mouth and eyes were framed with a few more lines than she remembered.
Her mother was standing in her kitchen. And she wasn't smiling.
"Mom?" Kate almost didn't recognize her own shaky, cracking voice.
"Katherine Houghton Beckett, just what the hell do you think you're doing?"
She had heard that low, menacing tone directed at her exactly two times in her life. Once when she was ten and had made it a block away from the front door of their building in a half-hearted attempt to run away, and once in high school when she had been at a party with alcohol.
"I... You can't be here."
She took a step forward, but her bare foot kicked her bottle, which clattered against the leg of the table. It drew her attention for only a split second, but when she looked up again, Johanna Beckett was gone.
She blinked, shook her head. But the tears had already welled up.
Her eyes opened and she sat bolt upright in bed, beads of sweat cooling on her back, goose bumps covering her skin. A chill went down her spine. She looked at the clock-4:10 AM.
"It was a dream. Just a dream." She said it aloud to convince herself.
But the tears were back. She didn't care if it was a dream. For one split second, she'd had her mom back. She'd heard her voice.
She got up on slightly shaky legs and walked to her kitchen. Her empty water bottle still sat on the counter. With a heaviness in her heart so profound she had to breathe to push it aside in order to keep moving, she repeated her earlier actions, filled he bottle, closed her eyes, and turned. When she opened them again, she was alone in her kitchen. The disappointment was as ridiculous as it was palpable. She crossed to her bathroom, found Advil for her achy head, and started to get back in bed. She wouldn't sleep again. Not now.
She went to her couch instead, wrapping a throw around her and pulling her knees to her chest in the corner. Her alarm would be going off soon enough.
She laid her cheek on her knees and shut her eyes, tried to focus on her memory of the dream. Maybe she could at least hold on to the image, tuck it away to pull out when she missed her. Her subconscious must have plucked the image from somewhere deep in her memory: some forgotten moment. But why had she looked so much older? And why had she sounded so furious?
"Katie, why are you doing this to yourself?"
Her eyes shot open. Her gut clenched when she saw her mother, sitting on the chair across the coffee table from her.
She couldn't breathe.
She lifted her head, but the rest of her remained frozen. She was afraid if she moved, the spell might be broken again.
"How are you here, Mom?" Some part of her rational mind knew she must have fallen asleep again.
"I don't care how you think I got here or why you think you can see me. I'm here because you are making the biggest mistake of your life. That man loves you." She wasn't angry so much as incredulous.
"I'm supposed to believe you're here, talking to me in a dream or a fantasy or whatever this is, and instead of telling me you love me, or that you're proud of me, you're here to criticize me about my relationship with Castle?"
"I'm here because if you have ever needed a mother, you need me right now." That hadn't sounded angry. It sounded sad and resigned. But she couldn't wrap her brain around it.
"I can't understand-"
"This is your problem, Katie. You've stopped listening to anything other than what you can categorize and put on a board. Stop trying to dissect how I'm here and start listening to your heart. Does it say that I'm here? Does it say that you need me? I know you still have that girl I knew somewhere inside, the one who believed in fairy tales and ghost stories and happy endings. What would she say?"
"That girl disappeared a long time ago."
"Let me guess, right about the time she lost me. Well, you'd better find her, because she's the one I'm here to talk to."
Her eyes jerked open as the alarm on her phone sounded from the couch cushion next to her.
She looked up, and of course, she was alone.
Between the case, her lack of sleep, and trying to avoid a detailed explanation to her team for their lack of Castle that day, she hadn't had the luxury of time to think about her dreams. She'd had just enough time to think about her argument with Castle the night before. Enough time to see his murder board flash before her eyes. Enough time for her heart to sink all over again, so far down she wasn't sure it would ever rise, warm and beating and whole, ever again.
She loved him, she could admit that now, and he'd hidden her mother's case, maybe even her murderer, from her. The single most important person to Kate, the one she'd spent so much of her adult life chasing and defending, the one he should have known better than to conceal, was going to be the end of them.
Why she had thought he would be different, why she had thought she could push her mother's murder aside, she couldn't even fathom now. This was who she was. She was the daughter of a wonderful woman who had been killed wrongfully by a human being, and that person could and would be found. She would do it. It was what her whole life had led up to. No matter what the cost, her mother deserved justice.
As Kate unlocked her door and stepped into her apartment, she saw an envelope on her floor. It was labeled with her name, and it was in his handwriting. It looked like a plain white security envelope, letter-sized. She didn't even bend to pick it up. This was not something she could do at midnight after the day she'd had. And he'd already told her everything she needed to know.
She changed her clothes, took off her make-up, brushed her teeth and told herself that what she needed most was sleep. She tried not to admit how much she was hoping for another dream. No matter if it was just her subconscious talking out of turn, twice the night before she really had felt her mom there with her. Even a memory, when that memory sat with you, talked to you, was better than nothing at all. She couldn't explain it, but she wanted it so desperately.
Unfortunately, her brain was conspiring against her. She stared at the clock for the tenth time since she lay down. 2:07 this time. She couldn't turn off the images of Castle, standing in his office, face lit only by the blue of the screen, watching her as she yelled, his eyes withdrawing from her even as she backed away toward the door.
But he was the one keeping secrets. He was the one going behind her back. He was the one who could have done something stupid and gotten himself killed and ruined any chance she ever had for happiness. For answers. That's what she meant-happiness in finding answers to her mom's case.
"You don't think you should at least give him a chance to explain?"
She turned to find her mom sitting at the end of her bed. She was leaning on one hand against the mattress.
"Why? He told me already. He was 'protecting me.' Between the two of us, I'm not the one who needs protecting."
"That's not the way I see it at all. You're the one who they've already tried to kill. But in the end, the one you really need to be protected from is yourself." It wasn't an accusation, just a matter-of-fact assessment. The kind of statement only a mother can get away with.
Kate sat up, scooted back against the pillows and gave this image, this hallucination, this figment of her imagination, a stony look.
"Whose side are you on?"
"Yours, always. But you can't use that look on me. I invented that look. Ten years in a courtroom and it took you becoming a teenager for me to develop a death glare."
Kate smiled in site of herself.
"God, I was afraid you'd forgotten how to do that." She sounded so genuinely relieved.
Kate didn't answer, just let the silence, the calm of sitting on her bed with her mother, seep into her bones.
"You're not even going to read what he wrote to you?"
"Not tonight. It's too much. I need time to think." She was tired. She didn't know what she wanted anymore.
"You mean time to stew and get even more angry and have the fight all over again in your head without giving him the courtesy of participating?" Her mom had always had this way of weaseling herself into Kate's head and spouting off exactly what she was thinking.
Kate fell back on her tried and true response, and just glared up through her lashes.
"I feel like I'm a teenager, here."
"No, but you are my daughter."
Her eyes stung with that, so much so that her vision began to blur. She didn't want to lose the image of Johanna sitting on her bed; no time for tears. She swallowed hard.
"I miss you." Her voice didn't break this time, but she had to almost whisper to accomplish it.
"So make the most of me while I'm here." Her mother smiled sadly at her, tears pooling in her own eyes.
Again, Kate had no words. For a split second, she wondered what would happen if she reached out, tried to hold her mom's hand. But fear overtook her. She wouldn't burst this bubble of comfort, no matter how much she craved the contact.
"Will you just hear me out on something? Please?"
"He's trying to keep you safe. It's exactly what I would do if I could. He's trying to take care of you. I wish you would let him." Her voice spoke of regret, of her own life's failures. But she took on the steely tone she'd used the night before when she spoke again.
"And I'm not going to take responsibility for breaking apart the best relationship you've ever had."
"Don't even try to tell me you're not in a relationship with him. Your father may let you get away with saying things like that, but I won't be lied to. Not when it matters this much. And don't try to say you aren't blaming me-or some misguided mission to solve my murder and find justice for my memory-for ending this. I won't have it. My legacy, what I want to be known for in this world now that I'm gone, is you-your life, your happiness. And if you go off and get yourself killed trying to find answers I don't need, I will never forgive you. What a waste of everything I ever did for you, ever said to you, ever taught you."
Her mother was crying now. Tears were running down her cheeks. Kate had never been able to handle seeing her mother cry. It made her insides turn out, her heart twist and drop from her chest.
"But how am I supposed to trust him again?"
"Tell me something. Why did you let him follow you? Not at first. I mean why did you let him keep following you, let him be your partner?"
"Because he's had my back."
"Because you trust him."
She just waited. She couldn't refute it.
"Why can't you trust him to keep you out of the biggest trouble of your whole life?"
"It's my trouble." About this she was resolute. He shouldn't bring himself or his family into this fight. The odds were not in their favor.
"Yes, but you're his. He chose to make you his trouble. You let him in, and he took some of your burden. That's how real love works."
"If that's true, then why should he keep it from me? Why couldn't he let me help?" When it came down to it, it was this that hurt most of all. He didn't trust her.
"Because he knows you. He knows you wouldn't have been able to step away right after you went back to work. But he's telling you now. He's letting you help. You proved you could put it aside, and you told him you loved him."
She'd forgotten that, almost, in the midst of everything else. She told him right before he hauled her into his office. And she told him she knew he loved her, too. He said he already knew she remembered. So much for her secret. And rather than take his secret with the acceptance and the grace he had afforded her, she had screamed and stormed out like a petulant child.
"How do I do this? How do I share you, Mom?"
"Haven't you already shared me with him?"
She closed her eyes, pressing her fingers tight against them for a moment. When she opened them, her bed was empty. And she wasn't sitting against her headboard, she was curled under the covers, lying on her side, facing where her mother had just been.
She rose, blinked hard, saw her clock read 2:27, and walked to her door. The envelope was there on her floor, right where she'd left it.
She reached down, took it up in her fingers. Crouched down in her entryway, she slid a finger under the flap, unfolded the page inside.
He'd hand-written the note on plain white printer paper, but from the way the ink had soaked into the grain, little smudges on a few loops and edges, he'd been using his favorite fountain pen.
"If you can say to yourself that you don't want me in your life, then I can accept that.
I don't think you can.
I think you need me-maybe almost as much as I need you.
And if you're still reading this, it means you want me, too, at least a little.
See me. Talk to me. Tomorrow, if you can.
I miss you. I love you.
But you know that already.
She sank down to the floor.
A part of her wanted to call him right then-two thirty in the morning be damned. But she leaned back against her wall, felt her ribs expand against it with her breath. She liked the firmness. She knew what was behind her. She felt each vertebra as it pressed against the hard surface. Predictable, clean, uncomplicated. One surface to reflect off of, one texture to learn, one plane to fit herself against.
That was when she remembered the feel of chest, pressed against hers, his arms wrapping around, stroking and clinging, the stubble from his five o'clock shadow scruffy against her cheek. Nothing about him was one-dimensional. He had curves and planes, at once firm and pliant, soothing and supporting, always changing but ever the same.
She missed him.
She loved him.
Need and want and desperation all swirled inside her and she saw with a sudden confused clarity, this wouldn't be easy, but this wasn't over.