Disclaimer: They're not mine. I'm only borrowing them for the summer. Andrew Marlowe is doing a spectacular job. Way better than I could ever do.

And All The Mornings Ever After

Chapter 80 – Live To Fight Another Day

A/N: Sorry this took so long. I finished it in New York, but now I'm on vacation in Florida so the beach kind of got in the way of editing. Enjoy!

"Castle, what do you think of this one?"

He handed her a mug of coffee, and went to sit on the edge of the bed to enjoy the floorshow, openly leering at her sheer, floral pattern blouse; the olive and khaki colors perfectly complimenting her skin tone.

"Mmm," he growled, "Sexy!"

"Sexy? What do you mean by sexy?" she snapped, her eyes narrowing as she eyed him suspiciously.

He tilted his head to the side, pretended to consider her question as he examined the see-through shirt even more closely, with her permission apparently, admiring the clear view of her bra that the sheer fabric afforded him.

But…nope, epic fail on finding a better adjective.

"I mean…well…sexy. Yeah, sexy. What's wrong with sexy?" he shrugged, honestly baffled.

"God, Castle. It's my first day back at work," she complained, heading back toward the closet with a huff of frustration. "I'm supposed to look normal."

She was antsy. He understood that, expected it even. She felt way behind the eight ball as far as the case was concerned after two weeks away, despite her failed attempts to prize much of any kind of update out of the boys.

They had a meeting with ADA Coutts-Martin at the precinct that morning, so yeah, how she looked today really mattered to her.

"Kate," he said, rising up off the bed to follow her into what was rapidly becoming 'their' closet.

The winter half of his wardrobe was now in storage in the basement of his building, along with half of her gorgeous coat collection, to make room for the rest of her clothes and the sexiest collection of shoes and boots he was sure he'd ever seen. But, he didn't care. In fact, if he was honest, he loved it. Looking at their clothes hanging together in his closet was a solid reminder of how far they had come. He could lose whole chunks out of his day just rifling through the fragrant, tissue-softness of her dresses and shirts.

So he placed his large hands on her shoulders and gently turned her around to face him, the offending 'sexy' shirt now dangling from her fingers in a tangle of discarded, diaphanous silk.

"Don't overthink this, hmm?" he counseled, tucking her head beneath his chin as he pulled her up against his chest.

They stood in silence for a few seconds, breathing together, the rise and fall of their chests perfectly in sync, while Castle rubbed her bare back with warm fingers, skipping over her bra strap with each sweep across her spine.

When he pulled away from her, with the soft press of a kiss to her forehead, he turned to his left, lifting a crisp, white shirt off the rail above them, and held it out towards her.

"This," he said, letting the brass hook of the padded hanger dangle from the end of his finger, "will look perfect on you. Everything looks perfect on you, Kate. But for today…you should wear this," he said, sincerity spilling warmly from his eyes, all hints of teasing or humor gone.

She took the shirt from him, rising up on her tiptoes to press a grateful kiss to his lips.

"Sorry I'm such a mess today," she said, curling her fingers around the back of his neck, stroking the fine layer of hair and smooth, tan skin. "You're too good to me."

"Hey," he said, snagging her hand as she made to walk away. "You're not a mess, okay?"

When Kate nodded, dropping her eyes from his to the item of clothing in her hands, he added, "But you can make it up to me tonight," with a cheeky grin and a wink.

"Oh, it's like that, is it?" asked Kate, her beautiful smile firmly back in place, eyes twinkling with humor.

"Like what?" asked Castle innocently, taking a step closer to her.

"Bargaining for everything," she replied, holding him at arms length before things got out of hand and she was late on her first day back.

"Hey, I have to sit next to you all day, Kate, all day, not looking, not touching, keeping my mouth and my hands to myself. So, if I have to bargain to get you into my bed tonight…" he shrugged, "then bargain I will."

Kate listened to him with amusement that quickly morphed into amazement.

"But you don't…" she said, her voice laced with confusion, eyebrows knitting into a frown. "You don't have to do anything to get me into bed, Castle. You did it already," she explained simply, eyes clear, bleeding honesty. "It's a done deal. So quit working it so hard," she said, fingers tripping lightly over the front of his shirt.

"Are you trying to say," he asked, delight crinkling his eyes at the corners, "that you're a sure thing, Detective? That you're easy?" he teased, as he tugged on the front of her black dress pants until she collided with his chest, squashing the white shirt between them.

"Wrinkle this and the deal is off the table," she responded dryly, pushing off his cotton-clad chest, and whirling away to the bedroom to finish getting dressed.

Castle fist-pumped the air behind her retreating back, knowing that regardless of what she said, it was indeed a done deal – he'd be taking Kate Beckett to bed tonight.

The bullpen looked exactly the same as when they'd left two weeks ago, and yet subtly different. There were a couple of new posters in the hallway outside the elevator, one advertising opportunities within the NYPD for applicants with certain foreign language capabilities.

Castle tugged on Kate's sleeve as they headed for her desk asking her if she could speak Wolof or Twi, because both languages were included on the list and he'd never even heard of them. He thought they sounded like something they would speak on the planet Kashyyyk, and if anyone could speak something that exotic it would be his partner.

Kate threw him a seductive look over her shoulder.

Lowering her lashes and smirking a little, she said, "Любовь является единственным языком, что мне нужно," the raspy, guttural tone of her Russian accent shooting straight through him, and sparking an instant tightening in his pants.

He stood immobile beside her desk just gaping at her, while she calmly took off her jacket and draped it over the back of her chair, bewitching and completely in control.

"Rick, close your mouth," she said quietly, laughing at his shocked, aroused expression as she calmly opened her top desk drawer and pulled out her black leather folder.

"What was that? Say it again," he begged, still rooted to the spot, vividly remembering how the outline of her black and cream bra had looked against her milky skin that morning before she'd slipped into that fitted white shirt he was currently staring at with unconcealed lust, trying to work the buttons free with the power of his mind alone.

"Love is the only language I need," she whispered with a smile on her lips, her warm breath grazing his ear before she brushed past him en route to the break room for the first coffee of the day.

He trotted after her like an eager puppy, dancing around her to open the door for her, then getting the coffee machine going to save her the trouble.

Kate hip-checked him out of the way when he lined up to pour some sugar-free vanilla syrup into her cup. Catching him by the wrist she said, "Done deal, remember? Stop trying so hard. Go catch up with the boys," she added, giving him a soft look and a nudge towards the door to stop him hovering.

Captain Gates appeared in the break room doorway just as Castle was leaving, her timing impeccable as usual. Castle threw Kate an apologetic look over his shoulder, but she nodded for him to keep walking and leave her alone with her boss.

"Welcome back, Detective," said Gates, crossing her arms over her chest after flicking the kettle on to boil for a cup of green tea.

"Thank you, Sir," replied Kate, tidying up the spillage Castle had left on the countertop.

"I trust you are well rested and raring to go?" she asked, her hands migrating to her hips.

"Yes, Sir. I understand the case is progressing well?" she asked, trying to display a level of knowledge that she knew Gates would expect from her, despite knowing far less than she'd like.

"Your sources are reliable. I'll say that," she added, obliquely, with that trademark purse of her lips. "Your team has made good progress in your absence, working alongside ADA Coutts-Martin. You should be proud, Beckett. They are a fiercely loyal, diligent, little group."

"Thank you. That's good to hear," replied Kate, nodding thoughtfully at her Captain.

"If a little unorthodox at times," added Gates, always needing to have the last word, her compliments forever tempered for fear the praise would go to her team's heads.

By the time the two women exited the break room, the aforementioned ADA had arrived for their meeting. To Kate's extreme annoyance, she was currently lounging in the detective's very own chair, at Kate's desk, her long legs crossed, one shiny red stiletto dangling from her foot as she regaled the boys with tales of a weekend trip to Fire Island with her gay best friend, Rob.

Castle was standing frozen nearby, a petrified look on his face, firsts clenched by his sides as if he wasn't sure what to do with his hands or if they could even be trusted. Because, frankly, he knew that he'd be the one to get the blame for the seat stealing incident despite being just an innocent by-stander.

"Melissa," said Kate warmly, her voice heavily laced with faux bonhomie.

"Detective. You're back with us. That explains a lot. I was surprised to see you'd let your handsome side-kick out on his own," she laughed, jerking her head towards the spot where Castle was still hovering with a guilty look on his face that said, 'I never laid a finger on her, honest'.

"So, I hear the case is going well," said Kate, sidestepping the young woman's catty remark about her partner.

"Why don't we all retire to the conference room and I'll explain just how well," she suggested, rising up off Kate's chair in one fluid movement that involved the uncrossing of her legs and an arching of her spine that thrust her breasts skyward in fractions of a second.

Esposito looked like he was about to lose his breakfast, while Ryan was steadfastly staring at his computer screen, the little flicking motion he was making with his eyes totally giving him away. This woman had them both wrapped around her little finger.

Melissa smoothed her black pencil skirt down over her hips, picked up her briefcase and sashayed off to the conference room with Esposito hot on her heels, dogging her every step like the lost cause he was.

"Did you see that?" Kate hissed at her partner, nudging Castle in the ribs.

"See what?" he asked, trying to play dumb, his coffee cup raised to his lips, deliberately shielding his mouth.

"She took my chair, Castle," Kate protested. "And now she's stealing Lanie's boyfriend."

"Don't think that charge would hold up in court," said Castle, watching Esposito swoop around the ADA to open the door for her, an eager, cheesy grin on his face. "Not a hint of unlawful control going on there. In fact, I'd say he looks more than willing."

"He is in so much trouble," muttered Kate, grabbing her folder and following them across the bullpen.

Ryan looked at Castle and shrugged.

"Wouldn't wanna be in his shoes when Lanie finds out," said Castle.

"You think Beckett will tell her?" asked Ryan.

"Totally," said Castle, gleefully. "He's a dead man."

Melissa Coutts-Martin walked towards the head of the table, only shifting one seat over when Captain Gates asserted her authority with one of her steely glares, taking up the prime spot herself.

"So," began Gates, taking control of the meeting, "we're here to bring Detective Beckett and Mr. Castle up to speed on the Gaggini case, since one or two important developments have come to light in your absence."

Kate looked at Ryan and Esposito, who were both seated on the opposite side of the table from her and Castle, sneaky little self-satisfied looks on their faces. There was obviously something they hadn't told her, and depending on what that something was, she was quite possibly going to kill them.

"Gaggini pled to the first degree murder of Bonino Lucese, right? We got him on that, fair and square. No way he could deny it with all the evidence we had," said Kate in one breathless rush, her voice a little higher pitched and shriller than normal.

She scanned the faces sat around the table in front her, looking from one to the other, her heart beating erratically, because if this guy got off after everything…

Castle sat still beside her, the quiet sound of his even breaths calming her, tethering her to the moment.

"Tell me he at least copped to vehicular homicide?" she added, when no one replied immediately.

"Oh, we did one better than that, Detective," purred the ADA from off to her left, drawing Kate's attention back towards the head of the table as she opened a file in front of her and drew out some papers.

"Well?" asked Kate, her eyes drawn to the printed pages in front of Melissa, determined not to beg or even ask what they contained, utterly frustrated by this drawn out version of show and tell that seemed to be all show and no tell right now.

"When we searched his place," began Esposito, snagging her attention, "we found some interesting stuff we weren't expecting."

"Such as?"

"Well, it was Ryan really," said Esposito, making a great show of giving the credit to his partner.

"What was Ryan? Come on guys, you're killing me here," muttered Kate, her frustration bubbling over as she lost her cool.

"He found the uh…"

"I found the files hidden under his floor…in the…eh…sauna," said Ryan, flicking his eyes up to meet Kate's.

"He had a…why does that not surprise me?" said Kate, shaking her head.

"And he hid files in there? Isn't a sauna a little…damp for keeping paperwork?" asked Castle, getting a long look from Kate that told him he should just shut his mouth right now.

"Just what were you doing searching the sauna anyway?" asked Kate, rounding on Ryan.

He blushed, bright pink from his neck to the tips of his pale, Irish ears.

Everyone seemed to be waiting on an answer though, so he sighed loudly and muttered, "I wanted to get a picture for Jenny. That place was just so over-the-top crass, so…gross, and I knew she wouldn't believe me when I told her, so I…" he flicked his eyes to Gates and then back to Kate, looking for a way out of this.

"So you…?" prompted Kate, a little evilly, her eyebrows raised for him to continue.

"I snuck in to take some pictures on my phone," he confessed. "But then my boot hit this loose panel in the floor and…" he shrugged, dropping his head down in shame.

"So, Gaggini had files hidden under the floor of his sauna…? Cool," said Castle, nodding, his eyes lighting up with childish delight.

Kate glanced at him again, her lips tightly pressed together at his off-point comment.

"And are you going to get to the part where you tell me what was in these files?" she asked archly. "Or am I just supposed to start guessing?"

Captain Gates took over at this point since no one else was rushing to.

"It seems he kept records. Substantial, deeply detailed records, of every deal and every bribe, every rotten twist of the amoral knife that he shoved between the ribs of Manhattan's legal and political communities. We got his contacts in the FDA, and it saddens me to say it, but there was a good number of cops listed in there too."

Kate sat quietly while the Captain continued.

"He maintained two sets of books for Draco, the Private Equity vehicle he had Mason front for him – the set the SEC got to see, and the set that showed they bought and sold businesses at a loss just so they could have access to their research facilities, thus defrauding Draco's investors out of substantial profits."

"What about the judiciary?" asked Kate, a hopeful, tender eagerness written all over her face.

"That's the best and yet the trickiest part. He had three judges in his pocket, on retainer actually, standing by to 'fix' things should any of his people get into trouble."

"But how'd he guarantee that their cases would wind-up before one of his three judges?"

"He couldn't. Didn't have to. Most often he'd get cases pled out, work out a deal with a bent ADA to drop the charges or cop to a misdemeanor. Failing that he'd simply get one of 'his judges' to do him a little favor. Get his honor, whoever was supposed to be sitting, to recuse themselves, claim conflict of interest or whatever for a backhander. Seems they do it all the time to manage their workloads, vacation time, whatever…this just allowed them to side-step anything that might prove…messy when reelection time rolled around."

"But this is huge. Massive," said Kate, her heart beating fast as her mind ran away with the potential for a political shit storm.

She was still trying to take it all in when Captain Gates broke the silence.

"I'm afraid we couldn't find anything on your mother's murder, Kate," said the Captain, drawing Kate's gaze back to her, the words like the stinging grit of salt in an open wound. "In his files…hits are the one thing the mafia seem reluctant to record," she said, with her trademark dry sense of humor. "Can't think why."

Kate nodded, disappointment momentarily swamping her, visibly deflating her, tying a bowline tight around her throat.

"I see. Well, we never really…I mean we hoped, right? But…"

She felt Castle's hand come to rest on her thigh under the table as she floundered, a touch of comfort to anchor her, let her know he felt her pain while her colleagues watched her battle this disappointment. Because he did feel her pain. Four years of chasing this down alongside her, and he loved her so much, wanted to give her everything. He just seemed unable to give her this.

"We'll keep trying, of course," said Gates, snapping her out of her slide into gloom.

Kate let out a hollow little laugh. "Yeah, sure," she croaked, trying to get a control over her emotions. "Live to fight another day, right?" she said, giving everyone a watery smile.

There were choruses of 'Hell yeah' and 'You got it, Beckett' from around the table, and then she smiled genuinely for the love and support on offer in that room, the countless times these men had put their lives on the line and their relationships under strain just to try to get justice for her mom.

"So," said Kate, dropping her hand to rest over her partner's on top of her thigh and giving it a squeeze of reassurance. "Let's nail him on what we have got. By the look of what you do have, he's going nowhere for the rest of his life. So we have time on our side. The fat lady's just warming up."

Castle caught her outside the ladies restroom ten minutes later, pinned her to the wall with one had either side of her waist and the width of his stance.

"You were amazing in there. I'm so proud of you," spilled from his lips, just as concern for her swam in his eyes.

"Couldn't do any of this without you, Castle. You're giving me way too much credit."

"Partners," he said, holding out his closed fingers for her to 'feed the birds', the concern draining away, morphing into a shared, goofy smile. Because she really did seem okay with this result.

"Partners," nodded Kate, tapping her fingers against his and then resting her hands on his forearms.

"We will get him you know," he promised needlessly.

"Rick, we already got him. He's going to die in jail. It's time we move on. Let this go."

She was looking at him with such compassion and understanding in her eyes, so calm and dignified that it stole the air right out of his lungs.

"You really mean that?" he asked, not so much disbelieving as surprised.

"Never meant anything more. We're finally meeting out justice against the man who ordered my mom's murder, Castle. So the charges won't detail those actual specifics," she shrugged. "This guy has been free to do whatever he wanted for years; to wreck lives, steal from innocent investors, corrupt officials in this city and spread his poison, and we are the ones who finally stopped him. We get to hold him to account, Castle. I'd say that's a result, wouldn't you?"

When Castle nodded solemnly, a playfulness entered Kate's eyes; a wonderful light that drew him back to the surface.

"So…I seem to recall you promising me a trip out to the Hamptons, Mr. Castle. I've been waiting two long years to take you up on your offer. Your ex-wife is out of the picture, your daughter has gone off to college. No more stalling my man. It's time," she whispered in his ear, and he had no recollection of her ever getting this close at work before.

"How much vacation time do you have saved? Think Gates would give us a week?" he asked eagerly, all sorts of plans for her already forming in that crazy, romantic brain of his.

"Why don't I ask her? The boys and Missy seem to have this thing pretty much sewn up, everything seems under control. Would be nice to flee the city, just the two of us," said Kate, walking her fingers up the placket of his shirt from button to button, a teasing sparkle to her eyes.

"Get to know you better?" added Castle, with a smirk.

"Oh yeah," moaned Kate, ghosting his ear with her lips. "So many layers to the Beckett onion you've still got to reveal."

"Like that thing you do with ice cubes?" he asked, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down.

"Yes, there is that, and your house has a hot tub, right?" she asked, slipping her finger in between two of his shirt buttons to stroke the soft, bare skin below his breastbone.

"Mmm-hmm. Hot tub, of course. What do you…?"

Kate's lips smothered the question, her tongue robbing him of the rest of the thought, and then she ducked, spun out of his arms, and before he knew what was happening she was already halfway to Gates' office with the vacation request on the tip of her tongue.

They got news as they were tidying up for the night that Senator Randall Stinson had been found dead in his apartment. First responders on scene said it looked like a suicide - top of his head blown off with his own Browning hunting rifle, though a note had yet to be found. Karpowski and Valasquez caught the case just as they clocked on for the nightshift. Kate warned them to look for signs that the suicide had been staged. The Senator had been a sitting target since the day he'd met with them and shared Michael Mason's terrible secrets. Another casualty in this long drawn out war that seemed to have no end - a beast with an insatiable appetite for evil, corruption, and retribution.

But they would live to fight another day, just like Kate had said. She would make sure of it.

After throwing her jacket on, Kate grabbed her purse from her bottom drawer, and then turned to look for her partner.

She found Castle over by the water cooler regaling Ryan and Esposito with a story about a baseball game Kate had dragged him to when she was still on suspension. He swore he'd almost caught a foul ball at Yankee Stadium when Kate had conveniently gone to get them popcorn, nudged out of the way at the last moment by a train driver from Pigtown, Baltimore, wearing an orange Orioles hoodie. Chants of 'Home Depot' had been ceaselessly aimed at the unfortunate guy all night until he pulled a Matt Wieters in the bottom of the sixth and caught the aforementioned foul ball, knocking Castle to the ground in the process. From then on he was everyone's best pal, Castle aside, whose bruised ego Kate had spent the rest of the game repairing.

Kate listened for a moment from the sidelines, out of Castle's line of vision, just watching her boyfriend entertain their friends with his dramatic, embellished tale, an almost overwhelming wave of love for him and his childlike enthusiasm suddenly threatening to overwhelm her. He was a beautiful sight to behold - a strong, generous, masculine man, with such a soft heart. A heart he had taken to freely exposing to her over these last few wonderful weeks together.

When Ryan spotted her watching them, she rolled her eyes at how embroidered his story had become. She shook her head behind his back so that the boys could see he was making at least half of it up. But as she continued to observe him interact with the detectives, how close a little family they had all become, she found her sentimental side coming out again, her love for her partner always such a sudden and powerful thing, catching her off-guard as it had continued to do since the night she made the best decision of her life, and showed up at his door determined to give them a shot.

When he turned to find her watching him, finally sensing her presence, he looked like a little boy who'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. But Kate just gave him her most beautiful smile and held out her hand to him.

"You coming, Castle?" she asked, waiting for him to respond.

He dashed to her side, grasping the hand she offered enthusiastically, nodded inanely at her; so clearly besotted it made her heart flip.

"Then I think it's time we go inspect my bikini collection, don't you? Because we have some packing to do," she whispered, her lips pressed together to contain her delight as he bounced by her side all the way to the elevator.

"Gates said yes?" he asked, tugging her round to face him.

"Turns out she's a fan after all. I got us a week, starting tomorrow. So let's make every second count."

"No arguments from me on that one."

"Thought you might say that," she beamed.

The doors slid closed on the homicide floor, their achievements not left behind, so much as carried with her, surrounding them; all that they meant to one another now, all that they had become, formed in and around that dreadful, costly case.

Kate brushed the side of Castle's hand with her pinkie and then allowed him to take hers in his as they descended towards the lobby.

"It's time to start our happy ever after, Castle," she said, suddenly filled to the brim with optimism for the man by her side.

"Happy ever after with you sounds...amazing, Kate," he agreed, squeezing her fingers.

"It's how all the best stories end, right?" she said, turning to look up at him, her eyes soft and glowing even in the harsh light of the elevator car, the warm blush blooming on her cheeks only adding to her beauty.

"Only our story is just beginning. So I say we turn convention on it's head, start with happy ever after and take it from there. What do you say, partner?" he asked, tugging on her hand as the doors opened, the couple walking shoulder-to-shoulder, out into the Precinct's bustling lobby.

"Well, we never did do anything the conventional way," Kate conceded.

"Conventional is overrated. Conventional is boring, Beckett," he declared dramatically. "Let's not start now. So...once upon a time, they both lived happily ever after, and then...dot dot dot?" he suggested, pushing open the glass doors that led to the street, ushering Kate out ahead of him.

Kate could only nod and agree, her chest tight with a swell of emotion and the fast, excited beat of her heart for all that lay ahead for them.

The time had come to honor her mother in a new way. No longer with her singleminded, ardent quest for justice, but with the rest of her life. And she intended to start right here. She was moving on, but she was moving on with her soulmate by her side, every step of the way.

A/N: And so we come to the end of this tale. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did. Your reviews and PMs have kept me going over the last five months of writing. So a big thank you from me. I thoroughly enjoyed your company. This chapter was written in New York, which is a fitting end, I think.

I've already started tinkering with an epilogue to cover their trip to the Hamptons, so keep an eye out if you're interested in reading that.

Until we meet again, best wishes to all. Liv x