Unvanquished: Redux


Epilogue


Kate stood on the balcony of their Versailles apartment, letting the breeze touch her cheeks, scatter her hair. It was cold but the morning sun was warm on her skin and she'd wrapped Reese in layers upon layers.

The couch was supposed to arrive sometime today, and the chairs a few days after that. She'd gone to Ikea with Castle a few times this past week, bought one or two things, and the place was slowly becoming their own. The broad and open expanse of the breakfast room was her favorite so far, and the balcony doors leading off of it were a constant draw.

Reese squirmed in her lap and she looked away from the pink-tinged sky to the baby yawning in her lap. Four months old today. Pudgy knees, a hand up by her face, eyes still closed to the morning.

"Sleep, peanut," she murmured, drawing Reese against her chest for warmth.

When the doors opened from the apartment, she turned her head and smiled at him.

"Hey, Dad."

Jim stepped out onto the balcony with her and held his hands out for his granddaughter, taking her effortlessly, cradling her stocking-capped head in one broad palm. "Wondered where you went."

"Everyone else still asleep?" she murmured. Every muscle in her body ached, those in her smile most of all, but she wouldn't stop. Everyone from home, and the daily treks, all of them like tourists. . .

"All asleep. Well, I didn't personally check on your friends, but their doors were closed."

Castle hadn't told her, back when they'd been looking at the Carré des Siècles apartments, but he'd planned on buying two - the only two on their floor. He'd sent contractors ahead of them and created two suites out of the apartment next door, sharing that kitchen, with connecting doors to their own.

Now Esposito, the Ryans, and Lanie were sharing it while her father, his mother, and Alexis all had their own rooms here.

Everyone.

"You look good, sweetheart."

Kate lifted her head and took the kiss he aimed at her cheek, hugged him around his neck as he settled next to her with Reese in his arms.

"I feel good," she said quietly. "I'm not the same. But I don't want to be the same."

Her father was stroking his finger down Reese's nose, startling her awake just to watch her drop back into sleep again. He spoke to Kate with his eyes on the baby.

"Rick asked me to move in."

Kate stilled, her breath caught by the admission. "He - he did?"

"That's what the place next door is for. His mother - well, we'd share the kitchen but there's plenty of space."

Her heart was pounding.

"Everyone in New York knows Rick is. . .looking after me," Jim continued. His voice was scratched with morning, just as it always was when she was a child, that rough awakening to his daughter's too-early risings. But he'd always been the one to get up with her. "They all think I'll slip right back into the bottle."

She reached out and snaked her arm through his.

"I might have," he said quietly. "That's the thing about it. I can't say I wouldn't."

She knew that too.

He cleared his throat. "But here."

"You'd come?" she startled, drawing away to look at his face. "Dad. It's. . .France."

"I - well. I'd have you to translate. I'd have you. You and Reese. That's what matters. Family."

She couldn't even. . .she had nothing to say that wouldn't be please, Daddy, and she wanted him to make this decision because he really did-

"If you'd rather I didn't-"

"Oh no. No," she said in a rush, wrapping her arms around his neck and holding on. "I want you here. Please. Castle didn't tell me that he-"

"I think it was meant to be a welcome home present," her father said with a soft chuckle. He was hugging her back with one arm, Reese held up against his chest.

"Like all of you being here wasn't welcome home enough," she muttered, shaking her head and tilting back from him, swiping tears from her cheeks even as she laughed. "He's crazy." Her friends were spending the month in Paris.

"He is. A little bit," her father agreed. "Exactly what you need."

Kate glanced down at the baby, stroked two fingers over the soft forehead. "Have to agree with you there. So you'll stay?"

"I'll stay. You know Kevin and Javier are working on getting your name cleared, back in the city?"

She went still, felt the quick-hard start of her heart in her chest whenever she thought about that murder, that case, that whole snarled, tangled knot of lies and death and corruption. How she'd been framed, arrested, taken away before she even had a chance-

"I didn't know," she said quietly. She kept her gaze on Reese and let out a breath, carefully approached her center, let the calm eye surround her. She lifted her eyes to her father. "If they do. . .then they do. If not, Dad, I'm not dwelling there. I'm living here."

"I'm glad for that." He gave her a twitch of his lips. "And maybe I'm living here too?"

"Maybe?"

He shrugged. "Definitely."

She let out a relieved breath. "Definitely." Her smile came freely, her knees pressed to his, her father. "Thank you."

"Thank me? Thank Rick. Thank. . .you. Katie. You're. . .and look at this little thing. How beautiful she is."

Jim was stroking the furled edge of Reese's fingers, his thumb fitted into her palm, and cradling her so close, so awed.

Castle had done this.

"I'm - can Reese stay with you for a little bit?" she said quickly, standing up.

Her father didn't even look at her. "Of course. Yes. It's cold out here; we'll follow you in."

She opened the balcony door and watched him step over the threshold, his eyes still on the baby. Yeah, she knew the feeling.

"Reese and I will get to know each other," her father said softly, heading immediately to the lone, sagging chair they'd sent over from Russia. Jim didn't seem to mind its tattered shape; he sunk back into it, eyes only for Reese.

Kate pressed her hand to his shoulder and kissed the top of his head as she passed.


Castle woke to the feeling of fingers in his hair, smooth and cool.

Kate was smiling over him, perched at the edge of the bed, dressed for the day, her hair still wet but beginning to curl.

"Kate," he murmured, lifting his lips for a smile and shifting into the warmth of her thigh.

She huffed a little laugh and kept trailing her fingers along his scalp, her thumb rubbing over the ridge of his eyebrow. Felt good; he could fall back asleep so easily.

"My dad says he's moving in next door."

His eyes popped open.

Her thumb brushed across his cheekbone, skimmed his lips. He drew in a quick breath and gathered himself to explain-

"Thank you, Rick."

She was already moving to slide into bed with him, her mouth at his collarbone, his bare shoulder, her fingers still trailing in his hair as she straddled him.

He didn't know what to say. She should have her family, all the family that was left to her. "We'll be careful about family outings," he said finally. "I won't go if there might be photographers - just you and Reese and your dad-"

"No," she murmured, shaking her head as she leaned over him. Her hair brushed her shoulders and he reached up to stroke it back over her ear even as she settled. Her forearms were propped on his chest, her mouth hovering close. "We won't hide. We'll go wherever we want as a family."

He blinked slowly, mesmerized by her mouth, the dark, deep love in her eyes.

"Did you know Javi and Kevin are trying to exonerate me?"

He nodded.

"I thought so," she murmured, and her fingers played at his chin, stroked his lips. He wrapped his arms around her back, slid a palm under her shirt to the warm skin.

"Kate-"

"I love you," she said quietly, intently, and put her mouth on his.

Their kiss was everything - tender and aggressive, the battle of her tongue against his, the slow strokes that made his hips follow, the paradox of love and need. He slid his fingers through her hair until he could touch her cheek, stroke the soft skin.

When their lips parted, it was only a moment, a mingling of breaths, the rhythm of each other.

She trailed her kiss to the corner of his mouth, down along his jaw, settling deeper into him, over him, her body warm and attentive.

"Everything you did for me, the way you loved me enough to risk everything, lose everything-"

"I know you'd have done the same for me," he finished, couldn't let her even start. He found the edge of her mouth and waited there a moment, felt her breath slow and steady. "That's gone, Kate. Over. Let me show you all the ways I love you now."

"Or."

He watched her smile spread slowly, surely, seductively across her face.

"Or?"

"I could show you."