Chapter 36: Coming Full Circle

Over the next couple of days Castle manages to more or less avoid all contact with Kate. He concocts urgent meetings with Paula and even Gina. And though she doesn't actually ask for his help in clearing her old apartment, he gets these excuses in first, via a note left on the kitchen counter, or a text message to her cell phone. He meets up with some of his old poker buddies the first night, and goes out to dinner with Alexis and her roommate on the second one, only coming home when he knows Kate will already be asleep in bed, rising the next day before she wakes to go out for a run.

Yes, he's definitely running, and for once she doesn't blame him.

Kate is pretty sure the terrible memories returning to her apartment would stir up if he accompanied her back there would be completely counterproductive to his recovery. So she never even contemplates asking for his help. She has to grit her own teeth to handle the task, and she can see what he's doing and why – the case is over, he is safe, Tyson is dead, and so her time in New York, her very reason for being back there, has reached an end. He's hurting, he's afraid of asking for more at the risk of having her break his heart all over again, just as Martha has said.

But she has this last task to perform and he needs time – time to see Burke, time to come to terms with the fact of having taken another human life, no matter how unworthy of regret that life might be, time just to think. And she can be patient, she can wait; it is her turn to do so after all.

So she asks her dad for help, which he's only too eager to provide. She uses the clear out as a way to spend time with her father, to fill him in on her life in DC before she came back - the job, the city, the characters she met - and to confess to the long litany of personal mistakes she has made where her relationship with Castle is concerned and seek out a little fatherly advice in the process.

Alexis drops by late morning on the first day, surprising both of them with take out coffee and fancy sandwiches from the deli down the street. She peers curiously around the apartment as she talks to Kate, her eyes wandering warily as if she expects Tyson to leap out of a closet at any second.

"Dad's sulking," she confesses eventually, and Kate's detective brain smells the real reason for her visit. "He's talking about going out to the Hamptons for a long weekend. Just the two of us. He called a couple of hours ago. Wants us to leave on Friday morning."

"No. Alexis, no, you have to tell him you have a class or something. Stop him leaving until after Friday," insists Kate, panic rising in her voice.

"You mean lie?" asks Alexis, wide-eyed and unblinking.

"I…eh…" stammers Kate, glancing over at her dad, who's smiling at both of them.

"Yes, Katie? Are you encouraging this lovely young woman to lie to her own father on your behalf?" he asks, innocently, until his smirk and the twinkle in his eye that he's aiming at Alexis gives them both away and they burst out laughing.

"Seriously? You're choosing now to gang up on me?" asks Kate, her frown making way for a smile of her own. "Just make sure he comes for drinks to the Old Haunt on Friday night. Please? Everyone is going to be there. Tell him the Hamptons can wait, okay?"

"Okay," grins Alexis. "I'll do my best. Now, can I help?" she asks, a little shyly, looking around at the boxes and rolls of packing tape strewn everywhere.

And if Castle's daughter can forgive her enough to be here for this, Kate has some hope that maybe there is a chance for her and Rick too.

"Sure. Help me wrap these throw cushions to give to Goodwill," replies Kate, gratefully accepting the girl's offer of help.

By the time Friday rolls around they've spent almost no time in each other's company. Two nights spent sleeping in the same bed with no physical intimacy, and just a cool silence stretching between them on the rare occasion that they find themselves alone at all. If Kate tries to engage Castle in conversation of any kind, he avoids, or he finds someway to physically put himself out of reach – his office, a coffee shop down the street, or far across town.

Martha is Kate's cheering squad, urging her at every turn to stick with it, not to give up on her son. His behavior is so heartbreakingly obvious now that Kate finds herself unable to take offense at his avoidance in a way she might have in the past. She has to prove that she'll be there for him no matter what. That he will accept this promise eventually is her only hope.

So, she finds herself preparing for the get-together at the Old Haunt alone. She texts Castle when she's dressed and ready go to remind him that they are supposed to be going out with friends tonight. His reply is curt.

'Still in meetings. Will get there if I can. Not sure I'll make it though. Have fun.'

She could scream, but she won't. Instead, she does something she's never done before. She calls Castle's shrill and slightly scary agent, Paula Haas, and she asks for her help.

Turns out he does have a meeting, but it's one that he himself has arranged. Paula has a date lined up Friday night and so she doesn't want to be there any longer than Kate wants Castle to be there. So she promises to use her considerable influence over him - not to mention her foghorn of a voice, Kate imagines – to get him down to his own bar as soon as she can.

In the course of the conversation, Paula lets slip that he referred to the event as 'Kate's leaving party', and that this might be the reason he's refusing to go.

"I've had enough of his moping, quite frankly," she tells Kate, accompanied by the smacking sound of chewing gum. "No offense or nothin', but you need to marry the guy or move on, honey. Because right now, he's a freakin' train wreck," Paula declares.

Having successfully bit her tongue, since Paula does have a valid point for once, Kate checks her appearance in the mirror one last time, zips her wheeled case closed, and then she heads for the door.

"Call me," pleads Martha, giving her a tight squeeze and a watery-eyed smile.

"Don't worry," assures Kate, kissing Castle's mother on the cheek. "And thank you for everything," she adds sincerely.

Rachel hovers by the nurses' station chatting to the night supervisor while she waits for Kelly. Her girlfriend is stuck in a patient conference with the lead Oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the hospital where she works.

"So, we're fully up to speed with the Williams, Sanchez, Klein and Ramirez cases. What about Winters?" asks the doctor, checking the final set of patient notes he has in front of him.

"Eh…yeah, Eric Winters was a no-show for his appointment this morning," confirms Kelly. "That's the second one he's missed."

"Okay, call him first thing Monday, and let's see if we can't get him in to have a face-to-face with Suzie. Get him to talk through his fears. Some people have a hard time accepting a terminal diagnosis," the doctor points out. "Or they need extra support understanding all their treatment options, such as his were."

"I know he wasn't answering his cell when I called today. But I'll try again next week," agrees Kelly. "Accounts have actually put a flag on his file. There are some outstanding charges for the MRI he had a month ago and the blood work we did before the first round of chemo was due to start. Might just be a hitch with his HMO. Don't worry, I'll chase it up."

"Going somewhere nice tonight?" asks the doctor, admiring Kelly's dress as they stand, finally wrapping up the meeting.

"Thanks. Yeah. My girlfriend's picking me up. Little get together with some of her cop friends at a bar downtown, so I thought I'd make an effort."

"Well, have a good night," says the doctor, as Kelly leaves his office with a wave.

"Hey, babe," she says, kissing Rachel on the cheek when she finally makes it out to the nurses' station.

"You all done here?" asks Rachel, while Kelly hands her patient files over to the care of the nursing supervisor.

"Yeah, all done. Let's go have a good time," replies Kelly, taking her girlfriend by the arm.

The Old Haunt is jumping by the time Kate arrives – a mixture of the regular Friday night crowd, and over in the back corner, her own little gang. Her face lights up when she sees them, and it feels so good to be welcomed back into the fold again for nothing more than a night of fun.

Jenny is sitting in a corner booth with Ryan standing right next to her, hovering like a clucky mother hen. Kate is surprised to see how pregnant she actually looks. She's glowing and beaming, and she has that look of a special secret locked away inside that pregnant women often have; as if they have an inner conversation going on with their unborn child already. Kate feels a little prickle of envy when she sees the two of them together; so solid, happy and so loving.

"Jenny, look at you," she gushes, helping her up from the booth when she insists on standing to greet Kate. "Not long now, huh?"

"Still three months to go, can you believe?" corrects Jenny. "just imagine the size I'll be then," she grins, smoothing her hand over her firm belly, though Kate can tell by her excited face that she's loving every second of her pregnancy.

"Where's Castle?" Ryan asks her, looking over her shoulder expectantly, and her face clouds slightly with the anxiety that's been churning her insides all afternoon.

"He…uh…he had a meeting," she nods, trying to hide her disappointment that he deliberately left her to come to the party alone. "I'm hoping he'll be here soon," she adds, giving Ryan a forced smile.

"Hang in there, Beckett," chips in Esposito, not missing a thing. "Guy's had a lot on his plate lately, what with Tyson and the whole DC thing," he points out, somewhat bluntly.

"Yeah. That's what everyone says," she agrees. "I know this is my own fault. But I'm determined to fix it if I can."

Kate hears a squeal off to her right and a shimmying Lanie appears carrying two large, chilled Mojitos.

"Girlfriend, where the heck have you been hiding yourself?" she scolds, handing Kate one of the glasses.

"Sorry, Lanie. Things got a little hectic there for a minute," Kate says, with massive understatement.

"So I heard. And where is Castle?" she asks, looking around the bar, too small to see over most of the heads nearby, so she bobs and weaves instead.

Kate doesn't even have to look around to know that he's still not here. She can feel the lack of his presence without checking.

"I was hoping to have a word with both of you before I get too buzzed on these things to make any sense."

"What's the problem?" asks Kate, sipping at her own drink, thinking that feeling buzzed sounds pretty good right about now.

Lanie leads her over to a corner, out of the hubbub of noisy, jostling people.

"I completed the autopsy on Jerry Tyson this morning," she tells Kate, keeping her voice as low as she can so that they won't be overheard.

"And?" asks Kate, a knot of something nasty tightening inside her.

"I found something…strange."

"Do I have to beg or could you please just tell me. He is clinically dead, right?"

"Oh, he's dead alright. But even if Castle hadn't shot the guy, my best guess? He'd have been dead in a matter of months."

"What are you talking about?" asks Kate, feeling her stomach drop.

"When I removed his internal organs to weigh and record them, which is just standard procedure, I found a mass attached to the hepatopancreatic ampulla. A pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas to be precise."

"In English, please, Lanie?" begs Kate.

"He had a sizeable tumor at the juncture where the pancreatic duct and common bile duct meet. The mass was attached to a major artery, Kate. Now, I'm not an oncologist or a gastrointestinal surgeon, but the chances of being able to remove that thing surgically looked slim to me."

"Are you saying he was going to die anyway?" she asks, feeling as if the floor has just been ripped out from under her.

"I went back and reexamined the rest of the organs after I discovered the primary tumor. When I looked at his lungs, I found signs of fluid – inflammation in the membranes. It's called pleural effusion. It's a common symptom of secondary lung cancer. The pancreatic cancer had obviously metastasized. There would have been no way he didn't know that he was sick."

"So he was going to die anyway?" repeats Kate, suddenly feeling nauseous.

"I'm so sorry, sweetie," says Lanie, nodding sympathetically.

"How am I going to tell Castle that Tyson engineered all of this…this entire nightmare just to get him to end his life? That evil bastard. That…that coward. He knew that he was going to die and so he forced Castle to do it for him? To carry that burden for the rest of his life? How do I tell him that, Lanie?"

"Honey, I wish I could help you," soothes Lanie. "I'm so sorry to give you such bad news," she adds, hating that she is the one to cause her friend so much distress. "But I'm afraid you might have to come up with an answer sooner than you'd like. Guess who just walked into the bar?"

Kate's spine stiffens, and she feels the hair on her arms and the back of her neck rise up as if electrically charged.

When she finally gathers herself enough to turn around, Castle is making his way through the crowd towards Rachel and Kelly. His avoidance of her is deliberate, she can tell, since she knows him so well - can read his body language: the steel in his eyes and the pitch of his jaw - and it stings.

He glances over at her while throwing himself into a jovial, artificially lighthearted conversation with the two women, and Kate has to dig deep this time not to just walk out of the bar and never look back.

But her past mistakes anchor her, along with Martha and her dad's own wise words – that if she loves him and she trusts him and she missed him as much as she says she did when they were apart, then there is hope. There is reason enough to fight. But she has to make a choice: to tough it out, put her heart on the line like never before, and make a stand.

"Things not going well at home?" murmurs Lanie, turning Kate back around so that the two of them can talk.

"He's been so distant the last couple of days. He comes to bed so late that I'm already asleep, he's had this raft of meetings all of a sudden that he says he simply can't get out of… Even Alexis came to see me to tell me he was planning to take off for the Hamptons this weekend. I've tried getting him to talk to me, but he avoids taking my calls. I've apologized so often the words just sound meaningless now."

"I know things look bad right now, Kate," soothes Lanie. "Just promise me you won't give up? You two were meant to be together, I'm sure of it. Hang in there, sweetie," she says, giving her girlfriend a squeeze.

"Hey, how's my girls?" leers Javi, coming over to wrap his arms around Lanie.

"We ain't yo' girls," Lanie throws back at him, voiding her argument when she starts dancing with him anyway.

Kate drifts away from their silly happiness to say hello to Jordan Shaw, who's hovering by the door looking a little lost.

"Hey, you came," she says, managing a genuine smile for the FBI Agent.

"Yeah. I wasn't about to let you leave without saying goodbye. As ever, it has been a blast, Kate," says Jordan, making her way over to the bar with her. "Where's your boyfriend?" she asks, looking around for Castle.

"Deliberately avoiding me in that corner over there with Rachel and Kelly," replies Kate, tipping her head in the direction of the trio.

"Things not straightened out yet?"

"Nope. And I don't have long. Flight leaves at ten."

"Gee, you're cutting it fine," says Jordan, checking her watch. "I'm staying on for another couple of days. There's an international arms fair in town. I promised my boss I'd go. Keep an eye out for America's most wanted - the guys with serious money playing in the big leagues. Won't hurt to check out some of the new hardware either."

"Never a dull moment," says Kate, dryly, clinking glasses with Jordan.

"We make a good team, don't we?" says Jordan, surprising Kate a little with this slightly sentimental remark. "But then so do you and Castle," she muses, raising her glass to the man in question when he looks over at them for the umpteenth time in the last few minutes.

"I always thought we did," sighs Kate. "Now I just have to find a way to persuade him that that's still the case."

"Well, judging by the way he keeps staring over at you in that dress, I'd say you won't have to try too hard," grins Jordan, giving Kate a nudge.

Kate blushes and then ducks her head to look at the floor.

"Oh, please," teases Jordan. "Don't pretend you slipped into that little number for Rachel and Kelly's benefit."

Kate laughs this time.

"Still telling it like it is," she nods.

"Oh, I'm too long in the tooth to stop now. Here's to a tough case finally closed," adds Jordan, raising her glass to Kate.

"Actually, there's a sting in that particular tale I just learned. Remind me to tell you about it sometime. But first, I do need to talk to that man over there, since time is getting on. Would you excuse me?"

"Of course. Good luck. And remember, sometimes the direct approach is the best one," she tells Kate, with a wink. "I'll call you when I get back to D.C. and maybe we can meet up."

"I'd like that. Take care, Jordan. And thanks for everything."

Castle can feel Kate's approach before she reaches him, is aware of her wending her way through the noisy throng to get to him. His stomach churns anxiously and he has a desperate urge to duck out the back door into the alley before she can make it to his side. But just as he thinks about getting his feet to move, her cool hand lands on his arm, fingers curling around his jacket, and there is suddenly nowhere left to go.

He's been dreading this moment ever since he overheard her speaking on her cell phone in the break room, has done all he can to avoid her the last couple of days. He even planned to duck out of tonight's party altogether until Paula interfered, pulling up in a cab in front of The Old Haunt and practically ejecting him out on the sidewalk while the vehicle was still moving with the parting words, 'And don't be a jackass', still ringing in his ears.

"Hey," he hears Kate say to Rachel and Kelly. "Great to see you again, Kelly," she adds, accepting a kiss on the cheek from Rachel's girlfriend.

"Mind if I steal this guy away for a second?" Kate asks, holding on firmly to Castle's arm.

"Be our guest," replies Kelly, adding, "His jokes are lousier than usual anyway."

"Remember you still owe me a drink," Rachel calls after her, winking, and Kate smiles, raising her glass to the detective as she propels them all the way to Castle's office at the back of the bar without stopping.

"What is it, Kate?" snaps Castle, once they are enclosed behind the frosted glass door. "There's a party out there. Aren't you the guest of honor? Don't you have to—"

"I need to talk to you," she says, calmly, cutting across his bitter, pained little rant. "We don't have long. The flight leaves in—"

"Yeah, DC. So I heard," he mutters, finally sobering up. "Shouldn't you be out there saying your fond—"

"Castle!" barks Kate, finally overcome with exasperation.

"What?" he growls back.

"Please, for once, would you just listen to me?" she pleads.

For some reason these words or her tone seem to grab his attention and he falls silent.

"Thank you," she replies, quietly, when he sinks down onto the edge of his own desk to face her. "The flight departs in two hours," she tells him, and he tips his head forward, dropping it into his hands.

"Kate…" he sighs, shaking his head when he looks up at her again. "I can't do this anymore." He sounds so broken and defeated.

"Alexis should be meeting us out front in ten minutes," she adds, swallowing hard and trying to stick to her script without reaching out to him.

"What?" he asks, again, frowning in confusion, as Kate ignores his rejection and carries on talking.

"I packed you a bag. Paula cleared your schedule. Castle, I'm not leaving without you again," she adds, before slipping her fingers down the front of her dress to remove the chain on which her mother's and her own engagement rings still hang.

Castle watches her, eyes wide, swallowing as if his mouth has suddenly gone dry.

"You told me this was mine to keep when I left for D.C. the last time, after I was too selfish and cowardly to give you an answer. I've been wearing it ever since you went missing to keep you close to me. And now you're back, and you're safe, thank God. But I haven't earned this," she tells him, unfastening the chain to slide the ring off.

She holds it out to him, his silence for the last sixty seconds so total that it's actually unnerving her. But she pushes on.

"I want to earn the right to wear this ring on my finger, Rick. If you'll give me another chance to do that."

He stares at her, his dazed expression almost uncomprehending.

"I love you more than I ever thought possible. You're all I want. I hope you'll let me prove it to you, let me earn back your trust and the faith you've always shown in me."

She places the engagement ring in his hand, closing his palm into a tight fist, wrapping his fingers around the ring, since he seems incapable of doing it for himself, and then she looks back up at him.

"There's something else I have to tell you," she starts to say.

But there's a sharp rap on the rippled glass of the office door before she can add anything more. Lanie pops her head around the frame.

"Alexis is here with the car, Kate," she says, giving Castle a sympathetic smile. "She says she'll wait for you out front."

"Thanks, Lanie," replies Kate, thankful that her friend retreats immediately.

"So? What do you say?" asks Kate, knowing that this is it - now or never, do or die.

She's been as plain as she can, as honest as she can, she has admitted her mistakes, and maybe Tyson was the catalyst that brought her back here a little sooner. But she also knows in her own heart that she couldn't have shut him out of her life for much longer – the pain in her chest every minute of the day was too great for that, her longing to be near him far too strong.

"What do I say?" repeats Castle, clearing his throat and then shaking his head to clear that too, as he stands from his seated position on the edge of the desk.

"Yes," says Kate, boldly reaching for his hand. "Your daughter's waiting outside with our bags. Just say the word and our future starts tonight with a plane ride down to D.C." she tells him, leading him back out towards the bar.

Castle is sorely tempted. Her hand, so warmly wrapped around his, feels like her love wrapping around his heart again.

"But how is this even going to work?" he asks, just as they exit the office to be met by a loud clamor of cheering, the noise drowning out his question in the process.

Kate sees Rachel and Kelly approaching. Kelly's fingers are held to her lips as she whistles loudly. Ryan and Esposito are clapping and laughing.

"You still owe me a drink, partner," calls out Rachel, just as Esposito taps his badge against the neck of his beer bottle to get people's attention.

"A little hush everyone, please."

The crowd whistles and jeers a little longer, trying to drown him out, and the regular patrons turn to watch this impromptu speech with baffled amusement, before most people fall silent to listen to what Esposito has to say.

"Tonight our sister, and one amazing detective, leaves for D.C.," announces Esposito, to a loud, comical chorus of awing and booing, which then has several people dissolving into giggles. "We send her on her way after a job well done. Since you sneaked off without a goodbye last time, I'm going for maximum embarrassment quotient tonight, chica!" Esposito tell her, giving her a wink, and Kate tightens her fingers around Castle's hand in reassurance, since she knows that he too will be thinking about her wordless departure three months ago.

"But, she won't be gone for long. Oh, no," he says, reveling in the limelight, as people start to hoot and holler again. "Because we won in the end. Yes, folks, she finally saw the light. So here's to one of the finest damn detectives the Twelfth Precinct and this city has ever seen. Raise your glasses to the former and the future, Detective Kate Beckett!" he declares, and their little gang goes wild - cheering, clapping, tapping their glasses, happy smiles all round.

Except for one overwhelmed Richard Castle, who stands docilely by Kate's side trying to take everything in.

"Thank you, Javier," replies Kate, once the noise dies down a little. "I will get you back for that, don't think I won't," she tells him, smiling, her hand still firmly wrapped around Castle's. "I'm going to be taking a little time out. But I will be back in the Fall to partner up with this amazing lady," says Kate, raising her glass to Rachel McCord. "And now, I'm afraid…" she turns to look at Castle, expectantly, giving his hand a quick questioning tug. When he gives her a slight nod in return, her heart floods with utter relief. "Now, I'm afraid that we have a plane to catch, guys. So take care, and we'll see you all in a few weeks time."

Castle remains uncharacteristically quiet all the way out to the airport. Alexis and Kate exchange worried glances up front, while Castle rides in the back, staring out of the window the entire journey.

They say their goodbyes curbside. Alexis gives each of them a tight hug of farewell. Kate quietly promises to call her and tell her when they'll be coming home.

They're in the line for security when Castle finally speaks up.

"You kind of ambushed me tonight, Kate, and only because it's you, and you don't do stuff—"

"Stuff?" she asks, lifting one amused eyebrow at his inarticulate choice of words.

"Because you don't do anything without a plan," he corrects, "I'm coming along for the ride."

"Just for the ride? I see," she smirks, quirking her eyebrow a second time, only with more than a hint of suggestion in her voice.

"What I mean is, I have no idea what's going on here, why we're going to D.C., what Javi was talking about…you packed my bag?" he says, in disbelief. "I have no idea about any of it. All I know is that you've been working so hard since you came back, trying to prove yourself to me. I get that. I can see that. Don't think I didn't notice. But…what the hell is going on, Kate?" he blurts, his face finally breaking into a crazed, relieved smile.

"We're going to Washington so I can formally resign from my job and pack up my apartment, Castle. I'm sorry, I thought you understood that."

"And then?" asks Castle, shaking his head to indicate that no he didn't get that at all.

"And then I thought we could take a short vacation, maybe checkout the Fall colors. Virginia is supposed to be very pretty this time of year."

'Virginia is for lovers', so goes the tourist board slogan – though she thinks it's maybe a little too soon to remind him of that.

"Fall colors?" he repeats, as if she's just said something like: 'alien abduction', moving obediently up the line with her towards the X-Ray machine.

Kate is still wearing the clingy, midnight blue dress that she wore to the party, her hair is twisted into an elegant chignon and her heels…well, he can't figure out how on earth she can walk in those things, but he simply loves what they do to her ass.

Several TSA agents obviously appreciate her assets too from the obnoxious way they gawp and stare as she pads through the metal arch in her bare feet. Castle finds himself sticking close behind her, his body already spinning back into her orbit as if he has absolutely no say in the matter.

They're on the airplane before she gets a chance to tell him everything – that she's resigning from her Federal role, having left without permission to come and find him anyway, and that Captain Gates has offered her a detective position back at the Twelfth once the new budgets come through in the Fall.

They're still in the climb, around twenty thousand feet above a pitch-black and twinkly New York State, when he quietly reaches across the armrest in the darkened cabin to take her hand.

She thinks they may have reached cruising altitude by the time his lips finally meet hers. She barely suppresses a moan and a whimper when she opens her mouth for him and his tongue strokes hers. His hands come up to gently cradle her face, and she strains against the pull of her seatbelt to wrap her arms around his neck.

And after all they've been through over the last few months, this – finally being here alone with him, kissing him, loving him, and being granted another shot at a future with him - finally feels like coming home.

A/N: And so, as with all good things, there has to be an end. I'm heading to New York myself in a couple of days, and this seems like a fitting place to end (especially since I still have to pack my suitcase).

I have had the best and the toughest time writing this story, and I want to thank everyone who left a review, everyone who cheered and encouraged along the way, and those people who helped with information (fbobs), chats about storyline (CB), and generally held my hand (girls you know who you are). I know not everyone likes angst, so thank you for having enough faith in me to see this through to the end when the going got dark and tough.

Writing for this fandom has been a pleasure and an honor. We now only have one week left before we get Caskett back for real! We made it through the hiatus, and I hope this going to be a great season for all Castle fans. Love to hear your thoughts on the ending, if you can spare a minute.

My best wishes to all of you. Thank you for reading, Liv xx