Disclaimer: Castle isn't mine. And neither is Beckett. I know, it is sad.
For my sister and her abused lip and her sprained foot
They watch meaningless TV for a while longer; the voices all sound the same, blend into an indistinct stream of noise that does nothing to slow down or divert the flow of Kate's thoughts.
She saved Bracken's life.
She, Kate Beckett, saved William Bracken's life.
The man who had her mother killed.
She might have found reassuring words for Castle earlier, might know that she'd never have forgiven herself had she not done her job, but it still leaves a sour taste in her mouth.
She never wanted it to be like this. Most of her adult life, ever since she made it into the NYPD, Beckett has yearned for clear lines, for black and white. Good and bad. Castle is the one who gets to see the grey, to understand and sometimes empathize with the criminals; Kate is the one to put them behind bars. There's no space for doubt, no room for compassion. Only justice.
But with Bracken-
She hates that the lines are blurred. Hates that he can be a murderer one day and a victim the next, and that her job - the very foundation of her being - is to protect and serve.
She wishes someone else had caught that case.
The TV is off, she realizes as she looks up, a vague sense of surprise in her chest. The night is dark at her windows, the lamp casting a pale glow over the living-room, and Castle is now sitting close on the couch, his body tilted towards her.
"What are you thinking about?" he asks, but if she looks at the tight line of his mouth, the concern that darkens his face, it's obvious he knows already.
Affection surges up in her throat, makes her lean in and touch her mouth to his, her fingers finding the strong cord of his neck to wrap around.
She feels him sigh against her lips, warm and close, before he opens to the stroke of her tongue; she kisses him slowly, languidly, lets the day recede as the heat builds up. It's all she wants, to drown in him and think of nothing else, forget that case ever happened. She slips her hand under his shirt, relishing the long frisson that runs through him, and nibbles his bottom lip, waits for that little sound he makes whenever she turns animal on him.
But instead his hand runs though her hair, fingers curling around her head in a rhythmic, soothing motion, and his mouth gentles to soft brushes that are just not enough.
She shifts and raises her knee so that she's straddling his lap, goes for his lips again, but this time he catches her, framing her face with his palms and holding himself away, stroking her cheekbones until she reluctantly opens her eyes.
"Kate," he murmurs, and even the glow of the lamplight is too much when he looks at her like that, so honest and raw and breaking her heart.
"He killed my mother," she rasps, the unending grief hitting her like a stone. It's stupid, ridiculous really, because there's nothing she can do, nothing. It's all over and Bracken is alive and the son of a bitch even had the guts of thanking her for it.
"I know," Castle says, such sorrow in his voice. "I know."
"I saved his life," she growls, can't believe herself. What the hell is wrong with her?
"You did the right thing." The strength, the conviction in his tone makes her heart curl. "You did the right thing, Beckett. The only thing. You chose justice over revenge, and your mom would be proud of you."
Oh. Oh. Her mother.
Tears well up in her chest and she presses her lips tight against the swirling nausea, the knowledge that without her Bracken would be dead. Finished.
"She would be proud of you," Castle repeats softly, his lips ghosting her jaw. "Just like I am." Kate gives in, buries her face into the crook of his neck, lets a tear leak out before she takes a shuddering breath.
"Take me to bed," she asks, brushing her mouth over his skin. "Please, Rick."
He's a little wary of her using sex as a way to distract herself from the black hole that is her mother's case, but there's something in her voice - a kind of soft pleading he's never heard before. He experimentally trails his hand down, lets his thumb graze over the curve of her breast, and he watches the startled need that pools in her eyes, the way her chest rises on a breath.
This isn't about sex, is it? Or at least, it's not just that. It's - more.
Castle sits up so he can press his lips to the column of her neck, feel the aroused thud of her blood underneath the smooth skin.
"You're beautiful," he says, and a little sound vibrates in her throat, a kind of trembling moan that is absolutely devastating.
He puts both hands at her waist, slowly rucking up her shirt; when his fingers reach her bare sides she arches fiercely, her hips rocking against his. Wow. Wow. He's not sure he's ever seen her so - responsive before.
"Not on the couch," he decides suddenly, his heart clenched at the sight of her, eyes closed and cheeks aflame, the dark tumble of her hair down her shoulders. "I'm not doing this with you on the couch."
"You have before," she points out, the lilting amusement in her voice doing more for his spirits than anything else could. Without answering, he slips his hand underneath her shirt and splays his fingers at her abdomen; her body stiffens and then melts, a long ripple of awareness that ends with a tiny sigh.
"You're so strong," he says. Her lashes flutter, her mouth falling open, and he'll be damned if this isn't gratitude right there on her face.
"Come on," he says, the words coming out harsher than he meant them. He nudges her nose with his, an unspoken apology, and sighs. "Show me your bed, Beckett."
She smiles, slow and delicious, and finally opens her eyes.
"I love you," she says, and she takes his hand to lead him off the couch.
"You're brave," he says when he works her jeans down her legs, brushing the back of his hand to the soft skin at her knee. Her breathing is a quick staccato, her chest rising and falling so fast; she throws her head back at his words.
"So brave," he repeats, his lips at the crease of her thigh. "Didn't think twice about that bomb, about the danger you were in."
She mumbles something that sounds roughly like doing my job, and he grins against her hip. "That's why you're so good at it," he says, moving his lips along the edge of her underwear. "So very, very good at it." He darts his tongue out, relishes the supple undulation of her body, the soft curse he can barely make out. He curls a finger under the black lace of her panties - she does that a lot, he's noticed, wear lace when she knows she's got a hard day ahead and needs a confidence boost - and he drags them down inch by inch, kissing the skin he reveals.
He can hear her breath hitch, can feel the rhythmic clench of her fingers on his hair, but he's a little surprised at how quiet she's being. Kate Beckett is an assertive woman in every aspect of her life, and she's usually more...vocal about this. He abandons her underwear at the foot of the bed, runs his hand up the toned, graceful line of her leg as he moves back and looks-
He freezes, forgets how to breathe. She's not sobbing, no, not gasping for air, but maybe it's worse. Her cheeks are wet, glistening in the dark, her mouth firmly shut over whatever sound might try to come out, and the tears keep coming, steadily running down her face.
His hand is still poised at her abdomen. He moves to take it back, but she's faster than him, catches his fingers and squeezes tight.
"Don't." Her voice is raw. "Don't stop."
He opens his mouth in protest, but her hand comes up to cup his cheek and he's forced to look into her dark, shimmering eyes, to see the familiar determination burning there. How deeply she loves him - it makes him breathless.
"I need this, Castle," she says, and he believes her.
Words won't come, so he aligns his body with hers and he kisses her mouth, tastes her tears, welcomes the hot flare of her tongue. She hums into his lips, rising up to meet him, and he strokes her neck, her breast, the jut of her hipbone. She's so much more than her mother's murder or Bracken's manipulations, so much more than a knife in an alley and a bullet on a sun-drenched day.
"You're extraordinary," he rasps, wishing he could find a new, a better word - but language invariably fails him where she's concerned. Kate sucks in a sharp breath, doesn't seem to mind his lack of imagination. Her eyes close for a moment, her face relaxing at last, and her hands are warm and sure when they move down his body and guide him home.
Pleasure fizzles through her blood at the weight of him inside her. He paints her neck with his lips and she arches, takes him deeper, feels the hot glide of tears down her cheeks. It's just so good, too good, and she's obviously messed up enough that the triumphant song of her body makes her want to cry.
She gives up on wiping her cheeks - there are so many better places for her hands to be. Tracing furrows in his hair, digging her nails into his shoulders, sliding down the almost non-existent space between their bodies-
"Fuck, Kate," he hisses, slamming into her more forcefully, less control to it. She smirks up at him and she can tell he sees her, because in the next moment he has his teeth at her bottom lip, ruthless and irresistible. She finds the swell of his ass under her fingers, eggs him on; he twists his hips in a way that makes her blank out.
She's pulled back to the moment by something wet and warm at her cheek, startles before she realizes that Castle is lapping up her tears, pressing soft kisses to her face. It's inexplicably arousing, the confident press of his tongue, the hot fan of his exhales; it makes her moan and curl a hand at his neck, wanting more, wanting-
On an impulse she rolls them over, managing the awkward maneuver with long-practiced ease. Castle's gasp makes her grin and lower her mouth to his collarbone, nip until she has him groaning against her. She undulates her hips, just a little, just enough to tease, but apparently tonight he's not in the mood for games: he sits up, propping himself on one arm even as the other wraps around her waist. Kate bites her lip at the change of angle, but a little moan escapes anyway.
"I love you so much," he says, his voice so intense in the dark, so beautiful. She closes her eyes, couldn't speak to save her life; the only answer she has is to rock in his lap, rest her forehead to his cheek.
"Castle," she breathes, feels him move with her, for her.
"So much," he repeats, mouth open at her hair. "You have no idea, Kate."
And those are her words, her own words reflected back at her, and somehow the realization of the long way they've come, the torturous path and the ultimatums and misunderstandings - how he's her life now, her whole life - it all spins until she's dizzy with it, wound so tight that the only way out is to let go, let go, let it all wash away as she calls his name.
Castle wakes to the murmur of lips at his shoulder blade, the warm, drugging feeling of Kate's body pressed to his. "Hi," she breathes, her nose cool against his skin, making him shiver.
"Hey," he mumbles back. He feels so heavy, anchored to the mattress by gravity and Beckett both; he just can't move. He slits an eye open, notices the pale stretch of winter sun through the curtains. Huh.
He cranes his neck to look at the clock, wincing at the crack of bones, and alarm trickles lazily into his blood. "Kate," he croaks, dropping his head back to the pillow and attempting to roll over. She's not moving, though, the length of her steady at his back, her arm firmly wrapped around his waist. He surrenders and sinks back into her embrace. "It's almost nine," he points out dutifully, even if he wants nothing more than to spend the day in bed with her.
Mmm. A long day curled in the sheets with Kate Beckett, holding her and kissing her and listening to her stories.
"I took the day off," she says quietly, the curve of her smile brushing his shoulder, and he's so distracted by his lovely daydream that it takes a moment for the words to sink in.
She laughs, little puffs of air against his neck, and her mouth lands at his nape, so warm and rich he has to close his eyes. Wait, wait. Last night-
"It was a tough case," she admits. He's not quite sure whether or not he's dreaming. "Having to protect my mother's murderer, pretend like it wasn't-" she pauses, presses her lips together. "Like it was no big deal. I need a day to myself, Castle. A day to just breathe and remember who I am. Why I'm doing this."
A long silence echoes her.
"I want to see your face," he requests eventually, can't disguise the eagerness, the need in his words. Kate loosens her hold with a little sigh, scooting back, and he's finally free to roll over, look into her hazel eyes. They're clearer in the morning light, liquid gold staring back at him; there's no hesitation, no vulnerability in her open mouth or the way she holds her chin.
He thinks again of last night, the tears on her cheeks and the desperate grip of her hands, and he's struck silent. "You believe me now?" she says, a hint of tease that sparks indignation in him. But she's so beautiful, lying in bed with him, sheet drawn over the appealing curves of her body - so beautiful and comfortable and he just can't bring himself to ruin that.
"I do," he says, annoyed at the gruff sound of his own voice. He clears his throat. "It's perfectly understandable, Beckett. You want to spend the whole day in bed with me. No shame to it, really - you can just say the truth."
Her smile widens, spills from her eyes to her mouth. "The truth, huh?"
He grins back at her, doesn't even attempt to get his floppy hair out of his eyes. "We all know how irresistibly attractive I am."
"How incredibly self-conceited, you mean?"
"I think the words ruggedly handsome-"
"-have been used so many times they're now completely worthless?"
He huffs a laugh, gratitude swelling in his chest for how easy this is, just a normal morning finding them in bed together. Of course, he knows better than to trust appearances, knows that the darkness of the night before is all but gone - still. It feels nice that they're able to move past the heaviness together.
She's watching him with those dancing eyes, her mouth a provocative curl, so he leans in and kisses her, once, twice, soft brushes until he feels her respond.
"I'm not spending the day in bed with you," she warns in between kisses, the sheet rustling as her body cants closer. His hand finds the curve of her waist, settles there for a moment. "I have plans for you, Castle."
"Uh-huh," he breathes, stroking his fingers down. "So do I, Kate."
He loves that he can make her react just by calling her name like that, low and purposeful, loves the way her breath catches and her eyes darken and her hand clenches.
"I'll bet you my plan's better than yours," he whispers, and before she can raise an objection he's already captured her mouth again, pressed her down against the sheets.
Ah, yes. Heaven.
"Stop that," she hisses as they walk into the museum, swatting his insistent hand away. It makes no sense to her that he can be so needy and demanding after everything they did this morning. In her bed. And in the shower.
Might have happened on the kitchen counter too, if she hadn't put a stop to it.
Oh, that's the reason behind all the touching, isn't it? He's frustrated because she didn't let him-
His fingers hook into her back pocket, breaking her momentum. "Castle," she warns, spinning on her heels with a stern look on her face.
He pouts cutely, his blue eyes wide and pleading, and she huffs in annoyance.
Weak. You're weak, Kate Beckett.
"Fine." She gives in and grabs his hand, lacing their fingers and squeezing tight in punishment. Nothing doing, though; Rick is grinning like a little kid who's just been told about Santa Claus and presents. She bites her lip to contain her own smile and heads for the ticket counter, where a forty-something amber-haired woman sits, looking bored. The Whitney Museum of American Art isn't exactly teeming with people, but then again it's eleven thirty in the morning on a Thursday.
"Hi," Kate says, and the woman metamorphoses before her eyes at the friendly greeting. Her shoulders straighten, life flowing back into her grey eyes, and she gives them a very professional smile.
"Welcome to the Whitney," she says warmly. "I'm Clara. How can I help you today?"
"We'd like two tickets for the museum, please," Kate replies, digging into her bag for her wallet. It takes a little longer than it should, because Castle is still holding her right hand hostage, but she shakes her head sharply when he offers cash of his own.
This is her day. Her treat. And even if it's not about money, she wants-
Oh, to hell with what she wants. Kate stops struggling with her wallet and shoves it back into her bag, takes the required amount from Castle's proffered hand. There's a flash of surprise in his eyes, the hint of a pleased smile on his face, and she feels stupidly proud for it.
"Thanks," Clara says as she takes the money, managing to look both dignified and amused by the exchange. She hands them change and tickets, explaining that the entrance fee includes admission to all current exhibitions. "We have several exhibitions going on at the moment, but if I had to recommend one it would be Blues For Smoke. It's about the way blues as a musical genre touched a variety of other art forms, and it's just fascinating."
"Thank you," Castle says, smiling. "We'll give it a try."
Clara is very nice, but the museum is tugging at Beckett in a way she didn't expect; she starts moving to the door, pulling Castle after her. It's been years since the last time she came, but there doesn't seem to have been any massive changes. The lobby is as wide and luminous as Kate remembers, the wooden counters offering a nice contrasting touch to the severe grey stone that gives the building its peculiar look.
A young man in a dark blue suit scans their tickets – that's new - and invites them to proceed. She can feel Castle's curiosity at her back, hot and pulsing, but she ignores it a little longer, takes a moment to herself first. She walks slowly, occasionally stopping in front of a painting that she likes, that intrigues her, knowing all the while that this is not the painting - it's not the room yet.
The anticipation is delicious, almost an actual taste in her mouth, and Rick doesn't ask questions, doesn't try to push. He just follows her around, stopping to look at things that have caught her eye, pointing out a few of his own. They're not completely alone, but the other visitors are quiet and the atmosphere is church-like, full of reverence and contemplation.
They move through the fifth room, the sixth one, and Kate's heart is pounding when they finally cross the threshold to the one room she came for. Her eyes instinctively seek the right wall, where the painting used to hang, and disappointment trickles in her chest. Of course, it's not exactly surprising that the museum people would move things around-
But then she looks over at the left wall and there it is, there he is – The Trapper. Slightly smaller than in her memories, but the colors are the same, those beautiful shades of blue and the pale afternoon light shining off the snow, the crescent of the moon high in the sky. Kate moves closer, drawn to the solitary silhouette of the man on the right, and for a breathless suspended moment her mother is with her, has never left, her light hand on Kate's shoulder and her voice low as she murmurs, Isn't it amazing? How that man just…belongs there.
Castle feels like a voyeur, intruding on her private moment, but no matter how hard he tries he can't make himself look away. Kate's face is transformed, emotion shining in her eyes; she looks like he imagines a fervent nun would look after hearing the word of her God directly spoken into her ear.
It takes everything he has to not ask, to stand back and wait not-so-patiently for the moment when she will turn to him and include him into her world.
But that's the good thing about their relationship now: he doesn't doubt that she will.
"My mom loved this painting," she says after a while, and yeah - he's kind of guessed that by now. "She loved the Whitney, but I think it was mainly because of this guy." She nods at the painting. "The Trapper. She would sit in front of it for a time that seemed infinite to me when I was a child, and I'd go through the rest of the rooms with my dad, come back and find her still sitting here. We came once when I was a teenager, and I was so impatient. I couldn't understand what she saw in that painting, what fascinated her so much. To me it was only a bunch of pretty colors and a guy with his dog, nothing that special, but she saw something in it."
Castle looks at the painting, really looks for the first time, trying to see what Johanna Beckett found so extraordinary. "I like the light," he says, but the words come out flat and empty, and he feels inadequate. He's a writer, darn, and even if he doesn't know that much about art he should still…
"She said to me once, Isn't it amazing? How that man just…belongs there." A small, wistful smile plays on Kate's lips. "She said she wanted to slip into the painting and ask him how he did it. And I still didn't understand. Not really."
Oh. Oh, yeah – he sees it now. "Because it's so peaceful," he says, voicing his realization. "Everything in harmony. The colors, the sky, the man, the land. They're all part of the same."
Kate hums her agreement. "And do you see the way he's looking at the land, his pose? It's not – conquering, it's not proprietary. He's just looking at the beauty around him. Just grateful that he's there at all."
She's right. Wow. If he'd been on his own, Castle isn't sure he would have even stopped in front of the canvas, and now his throat is tight with emotion."Do you come here often?" he asks for the sake of saying something.
Kate shakes her head. "I came once, about…a year after? The psychiatrist I was seeing suggested it might be a good idea, a sort of memorial walk, you know. But it was too overwhelming. The only reason I didn't start crying right there and then was because the gallery was packed. It was the first time I saw why she loved that painting, mostly because, well. Because I felt like I'd lost that feeling forever. That peace and belonging and contentment."
He's hardly breathing. It's not the first time she confides into him, not the first time she trusts him with the most secret pieces of her soul, but he doesn't think he'll ever get used to it or take her for granted. "And now?" he asks, shamelessly fishing for a reassurance.
She turns to him, her eyes soft and smiling, and she presses their joined hands to her chest. "Now I think that maybe at twenty I was a little overdramatic."
He huffs a breath. "You definitely had reason to."
She smiles and rises on tiptoe, rewards his words with the lightest of kisses. "Maybe so," she sighs. "But my mom would never have lost hope like that. She was – more like you."
"Mm, yeah. She was…hopeful. She saw the good in people, and she always believed things would end well."
"I don't see the good in Bracken," he can't help but growl, and he regrets it the moment he feels her body tense against his. There's a second when everything hangs between them, the injustice of that case, the man's infuriating smirk, but Kate lets out a long sigh and relaxes into him again.
"Can't blame you for that," she says, trying to be light, and he firmly resolves not to bring up the senator for the rest of the day.
They eat lunch at this Italian café that Castle knows – she's lost count of the amount of restaurants and ice-cream shops he's taken her to – and although the place is dark and small, the food is absolutely amazing. Her surprise must show because he gets that proud, adorable look on his face that lingers even after he's finished his plate.
"Told ya," he says softly, and she finds his knee under the table, gives it a little squeeze.
"Fine, you were right. Maybe next time I'll trust you a little more."
He shakes his head at her, his eyes laughing. "No you won't." She opens her mouth to protest, but he really doesn't seem to mind. "It's just who you are, Kate. An NYPD detective. You need hard evidence, and I get that."
"You know I do trust you, when it matters," she can't help saying.
He smiles, covers her hand with his. "I know. You've proved it more than once."
She nods slowly, but she's off-balanced by his innocent comment. There are still times when it surges up in her, the need to prove herself, demonstrate the extent of her love; she remembers all too clearly the look on Castle's face when he said he loved her, begged her not to throw her life away, and she resolutely ignored it all. She recalls the devastating hurt in his eyes, the way his face closed off, and – even now – she's not sure she can ever completely make it up to him.
"Don't," he says, stroking his thumb over the back of her hand.
"Whatever makes you look so sad. Don't think about it."
Don't think about it. If only it were that easy. "Do you think it would be very different?" she asks in spite of herself. "If you and I - if we'd been together earlier."
Rick looks genuinely surprised by the question. "Well, yeah. Of course. I mean, how early are we talking here?"
She shrugs, chewing on her inside cheek and toying with her fork. If she hadn't wasted her time on Josh - but then there was still the issue of the wall, and she was hardly aware-
"Kate, what is this about?"
She runs a hand through her hair, shakes her head. She's not usually one to look back to what could have been; she doesn't do regrets. But there was something about that case with Bracken that got to her, unsettled her, and even the peace of that moment at the museum hasn't completely dispelled the feeling. "I don't know," she says. But it's not exactly true. She knows she hasn't been able to shake the picture of her mother's body crumpled in that alley; she knows she wonders how long exactly Bracken's so-called 'protection' will last when she starts going after him again. "I just-"
Her voice trails off again, words leaving her, and after a moment Castle says, "You know what a big romantic I am. I'd love to tell you that whatever happened in the past, we would still have gotten here somehow. But..."
She looks at him with her eyebrows knit, tilts her head. "But?"
"Let's be honest - if you'd slept with me after that first case, I doubt we would've gone anywhere. I've pictured it a hundred times, you know. Waking up with you, the sun streaming in the windows, limning your short hair, the sheets tangled around your waist." There's something almost nostalgic to his voice, like he's remembering rather than imagining.
"And?" she presses when he doesn't go on.
"And then you would've woken up and I'd have said something stupid, because I would have been exposed and confused and unable to deal with my feelings, and I would have made you run away. And you'd never have let me close again."
She chews on her lip. It does sound terribly like her. And him. The way they were then. "Alright, well. What about the Hamptons? What if I'd said yes before you asked Gina?"
He stares at her for a long time. "Did I ever tell you that I wanted to be a playwright?"
She blinks at the sudden change of topic. "What?"
"I mean, it felt like it was meant to be. Ever since I was two or three, I spent every free moment I had hanging out with actors behind the curtain, playing with backstage with all the props I could find, watching as my mother brought a character to life. I saw the audience boo, saw the audience clap, and I saw them stand up at the end of a performance, some of them with tears in their eyes. How could I not want to be a part of it?"
Kate has forgotten about everything else; only his story remains. "So why - why weren't you?"
He smiles, a little sad, a lot self-deprecating. "I tried. My plays were terrible. And I'm not being modest. They were bad, Kate. Really bad. I pretended for a while like they weren't, pretended I couldn't see, but I knew all along. The dialogue - the action - it was all overdone, too much. I couldn't make it real." He pauses and for a second she sees the disappointed little boy, staring in frustration at a crossed-out page. "And then I met Damian Westlake, started writing for the school paper, and - wow. The difference was phenomenal. The words just flowed out of me, came out right. It was so easy, when the plays had been excruciating, the lines ripped from me one after the other. I was so self-conscious when I wrote for the theater - but short stories, novels, they just seemed to wait inside of me for the moment I'd decide to tell them."
She lets out a breath of relief, a tentative smile curling her mouth. "So you wrote novels."
"So I wrote novels," he echoes, his eyes soft. "Writing was never a peaceful experience for me – it's more like voices clamoring in my head, characters saying and thinking things and I have to type fast enough to keep up. But the moment after I finish a scene, and I know it's good, I know it's doing exactly what I wanted…Yeah. It's that same feeling, belonging and contentment, like I'm doing what I'm meant to be."
She nods slowly. "I feel that way when I've solved a case. When the murderer has confessed and I watch them being taken away."
Castle smiles, more eyes than mouth. "I know you do."
She considers. "Did you ever try it again?" she asks, curious. "Writing theater plays."
He shrugs. "Why? Writing plays never gave me that feeling. It made me furious and unsatisfied, left me wallowing in misery. I felt like a failure because I couldn't get a simple scene right."
"Maybe it would be different now."
He purses his mouth, gets that I'm trying to explain look on his face. "But why would I try again? I've found the thing that makes me happy, that gives me that sense of completion. Why go back to theater?"
Yeah. Okay. She sees his point. "You're saying I shouldn't dwell on the past when we finally have this great thing going."
His eyes crinkle. "You said it, not me."
She exhales slowly, tries to let it all go. The feeling clings stubbornly to her chest. "Sometimes I wish we'd had more time," she admits quietly.
He reaches for her hand on the table. "Why? We have now. Here and now, Kate. It's all that matters, don't you think?"
She looks into his blue eyes, the lines around his mouth when he smiles. "Yeah," she says. "Yeah, you're right."
Because that feeling from the painting – she doesn't just get it from the cases anymore. There's this moment after they've made love, whether it's in her bed or in his, or even on the couch, and it's cool and quiet and she's curled into him, listening to the slowing beats of their hearts, and she thinks yes.
This is where she belongs.
She parks carefully and kills the engine, sits still for a moment. He knows where they are – at least, he thinks he knows – and because he's not sure what exactly is supposed to be his role here, he simply waits on her. There's a light wind blowing; he can see the trees swaying lazily through the window, the clouds playing hide-and-seek with the sun. It's turned out to be a beautiful, almost-spring day.
When he turns his attention back to her, Kate is looking at him, a kind of resolve on her face. She reaches out and takes his hand – a lot of touching today, but he's certainly not going to complain about it.
"Come with me," she says, and the nervousness in her voice makes it sound like a question.
He lifts her hand to his lips, skims the fine skin at her knuckles. "Anything you want, Kate."
They walk out of the car and she leads the way into the cemetery, the gravel path creaking under their feet. The place is neat, very well kept; there are long stretches of grass between the graves, trees marking every fork of the path. Kate doesn't stop to look at the signs, of course – he can see how fourteen years of visiting would have sculpted the way in her mind, more indelible than any ink could be. The thought makes him swallow.
Kate stops a few steps ahead of him and he unconsciously mimics her, pausing against a tree and watching her walk slowly to her mother's grave. She curls her fingers around the grey stone for a moment and then lets go, her hand brushing against the engraved name before she steps back.
Everything is quiet. There's only the rustle of the leaves, the faraway sounds of traffic reminding him that they're still in New York City; when Kate starts speaking the words travel to him as clearly as if they were being broadcast on national radio.
"I'm not giving up," she says. "Never. But Castle's right. I have to do it your way. Truth conquers all," she sighs, and even from where he stands Castle can see the latin words on the gravestone, the sunlight making them shimmer.
Kate folds her arms on her chest and he's struck again by how slender she is, how delicate her body for so strong a mind.
"I'm not letting him die a hero, Mom," she says darkly. "Way too good for him. No – everyone should know what he's done."
The tormented look on her face when she told him about the letter suddenly comes back to him. How upset she was at having almost tampered with evidence on the case - oh, Kate. Anyone would have been tempted, really, but what amazes him is how well she resisted, the actual guilt in her voice when she confessed to him. She's such a good person, far better than Bracken could ever hope to be, and that's what kills him.
"Love you." It comes out as a rushed, breathless whisper, and it slices his heart in two.
She takes a deep breath and turns to him, her eyes too bright in the afternoon light; she comes to him and he can't move, nothing, his body turned to stone as she leans against him, rests her cheek to his.
Finally he manages to raise a hand and thread it through her hair, freeing a couple strands from the collar of her coat. She sighs and melts into him a little more, so warm and solid and real. He wants to promise her the world, wants to swear that he'll never leave, that he'll be at her side as long as she needs him, wants him – but he can also tell promises are not what she needs right now.
She just needs him to be there for her; she needs his actions, not his words. So he holds her in silence, brushing his lips over the silk of her hair, supports her until she's strong enough to stand on her own.
And when she does, there's a calm, a serenity in her eyes that he doesn't remember ever seeing there.
"Let's go," she says.