For Alex.
I hope I lived up to your expectations.
& I love you.

She takes a deep breath, her eyes staring unblinkingly at the grave in front of her.

Her vision waivers as her hair whips around her face, the cool spring air weaving its way through the cemetery and making her eyes water.

She reads the name on the grave over and over again, the dates listed underneath making her heart ache as she tries to make it hurt less but it never works. Even after so many years, she can't make the pain go away; the last date on the gravestone still feels like a bullet to the heart.

Richard Edgar Castle.

She'd gone back to work a week and a half after his funeral, calling Gates and Ryan and Esposito and Dr. Burke, telling them that she needed to get back into a routine. She needed to be helping people and doing things and not sitting in their loft surrounded by the sheets that hardly even smelled like him anymore, his clothes that still smelled exactly like him, the laptop gathering dust on his desk in his office. She needed to start a new normal.

She'd woken up, gone through her old morning routine. She turned on the coffee pot while she showered after a quick yoga session. She brushed her teeth while she curled her hair with her other hand. She chose a blouse that made her feel powerful, a pair of kick ass heels that demanded respect and authority. She drove to the precinct by herself, nodded at the desk sergeant before she made her way to the elevator.

The ride up seemed to take hours, so she let herself lean back against the wall for a moment, adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder, and tried not to think about how every morning when he came in with her he would hold her hand on the way up, squeezing her fingers tightly just before the doors opened as if that would make it easier to spend the following day not touching each other at all.

It didn't.

Just before the elevator doors opened, her fingers tensed.

She walked out of the elevator and into the bullpen, the familiar sounds of phones ringing and her shoes across the hardwood floor almost making her smile. She nodded at the people who said hello to her, ignoring their sympathetic glances and keeping her head high.

She rounded the corner of the hallway, closing her eyes as she made her way to her desk, bracing herself for the sight of his empty chair, knowing it would be the hardest part. She exhaled unsteadily, slowing down and opening her eyes.

His chair was gone.

She felt the panic bubble up in her chest, but quickly tamped in down when she heard Captain Gates call her into her office to welcome her back.

They caught a case quickly that day, but they also managed to wrap it up just as fast. Sitting at her desk made her jittery, and Ryan and Esposito had already left for the night with warm goodbyes and claps on the shoulder. She tapped her pen against her paperwork, her eyes darting to the Russian nesting dolls on the corner beside her computer. She shook her head, turned and opened the top drawer of her desk to grab a binder clip, her heart stopping in her chest.

He'd put his notebook in the wrong drawer, her drawer, the lined paper filled with doodles and little pieces of dialogue for his next book, her name written in the corners surrounded by little, poorly drawn hearts.

She felt her eyes well up and suddenly it felt like she couldn't breathe. She looked at the empty space by her desk before she stood up quickly, shoving her chair back with so much force it slammed into the desk behind hers. She gasped as she grabbed the notebook from the drawer, stumbling away from her desk. She ran through the hallway. She ripped open the door to the supply closet, slamming it shut when she couldn't find what she was looking for. She opened every door, checked every room on her floor but it wasn't there, so she threw open the door to the stairwell with shaking hands, her knees threatening to give out underneath her as she flew down the stairs two at a time.

She'd search the entire building if she had to.

She finally found it in a storage room in the back corner of the basement. The cracking support beam on the back, the slight rip in the upholstery from when he tried to show her that you could definitely cut through fabric with a car key if you had one on you, and the absent layer of dust gave it away from the moment she saw it. A sob of relief burst past her lips as she moved towards it quickly, the tears finally falling from her eyes as she curled up onto his chair. She clutched the notebook to her chest, bringing her knees up and a hand to her face, sobbing violently into the empty space as she tried to desperately to get the air back down into her lungs.

She felt like she hadn't been breathing well since the day he stopped.

The day before the one year anniversary of his death, she ended up at the Old Haunt, which was still the Old Haunt. James Patterson had bought it after… after, telling her that he had big plans for the place.

She looked up, her eyes connecting with the picture from a life before he knew she existed; a picture of Lehane, Connolly, Cannell, Patterson, and Castle all lined up in a row, wearing suits and ties with a bottle of scotch in each of their hands, all smiling widely at the camera. She'd seen the picture before, at the loft. He'd told her it was at another writer's wedding and they couldn't stand him, so they bought booze before they went in a show of solidarity and didn't let up the whole night.

That is, until Lehane passed out in the hotel bathroom and they tried to carry him to the car they'd had the sense to call for after far too much alcohol and they dropped him.

Three times.

Two of them were gone now, their names etched on individual memorial plaques that Patterson had specially ordered, their names shining bright and bronze in the dim lights of the bar.

Everything else had stayed the same.

When she walked in and settled down at her familiar seat at the corner of the bar, the bartender immediately brought her a finger of scotch, his favorite scotch, the same scotch he was holding in the picture she always looked at when she was here, and left her alone like he usually did.

She'd picked up her glass in her hand, closed her eyes and promised herself just one drink before she would go home and get some sleep.

She'd set the glass back down on the bar, her hands wrapped around the quickly warming glass, staring down at the amber liquid in at and memorizing the patterns it made as it reflected off the shiny, dark wood of the bar.

Some guy she'd seen a few times before was talking about baseball, how disappointing the Yankees had been during spring trainer and she scoffed without meaning to. And then he'd tried to talk to her and she answered his rebuttals, almost smiling as she took apart his arguments like it had been an interrogation and then he'd moved closer to her and they talked about how the franchise was going straight to hell and 10 minutes later she was only halfway done her drink and still talking to a stranger.

"Do you think I could get your number?"

She'd frozen, her stomach sinking, the rings - her rings - the rings he put on her finger that she wore around her neck when she went to work to keep them safe suddenly trying to pull her to the ground like an anchor. Her eyes flashed up to the picture across from hers, his smile staring back at her and she'd stood up quickly. Grabbing her bag, she'd quickly thrown a ten dollar bill on the bar though Patterson always picked up her tab, ignored the sympathetic stare from the bartender, and rushed out of the bar without saying a word.

When she'd made it to her car, she practically ripped the chain from around her neck, shoving her rings back onto her finger where they belonged.

Two and a half years later Alexis got married, and instead of choosing Jim or her husband's father, she asked Kate if she'd do the father daughter dance with her. Alexis chose the song her father made her pinky promise she'd use as her wedding song when she was 7, and there was no twist. The song didn't cut off in the middle to something more exciting. There was no hip-hop number. Alexis put her cheek on Kate's shoulder as the Disney song played through the speakers around them as everyone watched on, and Kate let her cheek rest against her hair, holding her as they danced in slow circles in the center of the dance floor.

About halfway through the song, she felt Alexis start crying on her shoulder. Kate didn't pull away, not needing to ask just why she was crying because Kate was barely managing to control herself as it was. Instead, she held her hand more tightly in hers.

A moment passed before Alexis barely managed to whisper that it seemed stupid, but she asked Kate to dance with her because when Kate hugged her, she swore she could feel her dad, like before he died he had given all his love to Kate for moments just like this so none of them would ever be without it when they needed it.

When the song ended and they pulled away from each other, the entire room was crying; they were crying, Martha was crying, her father, Lanie, the boys - she thought she saw Meredith brush away a few tears as well. But in the midst of all the tears, she swore she saw him smiling from her seat, his eyes just begging her to yell at him for sitting in her chair.

She still slept in the same shirt he slept in the night before it happened. It was old and worn out, threadbare in some places, holes around the collar and it did absolutely nothing to keep her warm. It hung around her like she was wearing a costume, a grown-up bed sheet ghost who haunted the loft every single night.

She'd been alone for four years and she hadn't touched the Nikki Heat books since the morning he died. She hadn't given away a single piece of his clothing. When the battery in his watch on his dresser died, she replaced it. His cologne sat next to her perfume on the bathroom counter; his robe still hung on the back of the bathroom door.

There were nights, lonely nights, nights when New York seemed to go silent for only a moment and she'd roll over without thinking, expecting to see his smirking face telling her that they should make some noise but he was never there.

And there were more mornings, early mornings, mornings where the sun still hadn't come up and her phone wasn't ringing, lots of early mornings when she would wake up clutching at the sheets on his side of the bed like she was fisting his t-shirt.

She wasn't the loft's only ghost.

Five years to the day and she takes a deep breath, her eyes staring unblinkingly at the grave in front of her. Her eyes water as her hair whips around her face, the cool spring air weaving its way through the cemetery.

It's sunny but chilly, just like the day she had to put him in the ground. There are fresh flowers on the ground; she's never seen a time when there weren't a handful of them there left by old friends and good fans and people who just wanted to see where a famous person was buried. She kneels down in the empty space next to his grave, where one day she will join him (though he made her promise not to rush), reaching out with the tips of her fingers and brushing across his name reverently.

The wind dies down for only a moment before it picked back up again, and she lets her fingers trail over the words he'd had inscribed on the center of the headstone.

"The writer and the muse."

She murmurs her love for him towards the stone, the words barely making their way into the air but at that moment the wind blows again, moving a piece of hair and it tickles her ear and she smiles warmly down at the stone, the words as clear as if he had spoken them from right beside her.

It doesn't surprise her. Not anymore. She doesn't look around anymore when she thinks she hears it. She doesn't do anything but smile because he's here, he's always been here with her.

He never really left her to begin with.

"And I know I'm just an echo of a man I used to love
even though that was long ago.
He's all I'm made up of."
- Made Up Of, by Barnaby Bright

(go listen to that song and weep)