Unvanquished - Epilogue
Kate brushed her fingers slowly over the edge of the stone bridge, listening to the water slide smoothly over mossy banks. It wasn't a dream, wasn't a fairy tale. She lived - now - in a castle.
With a Castle.
Rolling her eyes at herself, she walked carefully back up the path, her breathing measured out against her steps. Her toes, her fingers - sometimes they blanched white with blood-loss and then burned as the sensation came back, all without reason. But today, so far, had been good. A warm day spent under the trees along the creek, the sounds of gurgling water and smooth stone and calling birds.
Alexis was supposed to stop by later in the week; she'd finished her overseas rotation in a London surgery, but she was leaning back towards medical examiner. To Castle's perverse pleasure. She'd be able to spend the next three months with them, hopefully be here for the big event.
Kate felt her fingers trembling against her thigh as she mounted the last ridge, green spread out around her and rolling down the gentle slope towards their home. The Kremlin, he liked to call it.
Russian for Castle.
It wasn't really; it was a beautiful, remote stone-worked house with arches and a windowed turret on the Black Sea near Sochi. The weather was gorgeous and amazing, their home was solitary and lovely and calm, and Kate never thought she'd be living in Russia with Richard Castle, never thought her job would include editing his first draft of a novel about Russian spies, never thought any of this would happen quite like it had.
And then he appeared, ambling down the path towards her with a clouded look; his flight had just gotten in. She waited, grateful for the rest, pressed her hand against her chest as she struggled to breathe deeply. Her lungs were still not at full capacity, and they both worried over it, especially now, but there was nothing to do for it.
He met her just under the shade of the last tree, brushed his fingers at her jaw, his eyes grateful. "I never thought it'd be that hard."
She lifted into him, a gentle kiss to his mouth, sharing the grief that slowly unwound from around him. "I'm sorry you had to do it alone."
"I couldn't face Madison. And Captain Gates - God, Kate - it was terrible. It was - it was like a terrible anniversary memorial - they gave me your flag, and then I got on a plane and flew to Russia, and here you are." His eyes cleared a little more, fingers skimming her cheekbone, the side of her neck. He stepped in closer and slid his arms around her waist.
"Thank you," she murmured. "My Dad-"
"I gave it to him. And I told him - he was - he's going to fly out and visit. He promised to make it in time."
She gave a relieved smile to him, leaned in to press her closed eyes against his neck, squeezing out the last of the darkness. His arms raised and wrapped around her shoulders, holding her as close as he could get her.
His mouth feathered at her temple, hands stroking her back. She had thought the funeral was bad; he'd come back to the place he'd hidden them upstate with a cloud over him, and it took a month to get him to laugh without a shadow behind his eyes.
They'd been in Russia only a few months when his publicist had messaged him that the NYPD was having a fallen officers memorial service; it was in his best interest to stop mourning, show up, and do his duty.
"How was your speech?"
"My voice kept cracking. Because all I could think about was how you looked yesterday morning in bed before I left, how amazing, what a miracle this is-" He stopped, his voice breaking even now, and brushed his hand down her belly, snagged her hip.
"Rick," she sighed softly.
"I'm okay," he rasped. "More than okay. But they were all there to pay their respects. So many. Lanie and Esposito kept running interference, answering questions. I'm sure I looked a mess. I overheard a woman saying she didn't think I'd ever get over you."
"Better not," she laughed softly. "I may have no real legal standing-"
"Yes you do," he huffed back at her, fingers tracing patterns against her shirt, her stomach fluttering in response. "You're Kate Castle. You have papers and everything."
She grinned at him and he sighed.
"You're messing with me."
"You used to be able to take it." She came up on her toes and kissed the corner of his mouth. "Shake it off, Castle."
"I will. Come inside with me and you can help cheer me up."
She laced her fingers through his, tugging his hand away from her waist. "So long as you don't stop to talk to my stomach instead of-"
"That only happened once, Kate. One time."
She pressed close to his side, nudging him up the path. "The baby doesn't need sweet nothings whispered in its ear. Only me," she said, her voice low, guaranteed to get to him. "And I'd rather they be a little more naughty than that, but hey baby works for me too-"
He growled at her, ducked his head to nip at her ear, tongue and teeth. Warmth slid through her body, a flash of heat that made her stomach flip.
Just her stomach. Baby was too little to be showing off. Still.
"Come on, Castle. I'm not doing this out here. Not without pillows."
He laughed, his voice right at her ear, the sound rich and blessed and healing, and then he straightened up and crooked his elbow at her. She slid her arm through his, peering up at him in the brilliant, warm sunlight, this man who had broken her out of jail so that they could have all of this.
Broken her out of jail, faked her death, gone to her funeral, and then faced everyone she'd ever known and perpetuated the myth.
"Yeah? Hey, maybe we can go to the beach after-"
"Castle." She squeezed his bicep to get his attention. "More than I thought possible, more than ever before - I love you."
He swiveled his head to stare down at her, and then that beautiful, all-encompassing smile stretched across his face and lighted up his eyes.
"I'd do it again, Kate. In a heartbeat."
It was all the answer she needed.