Snow crunches underfoot as they pad silently amongst the headstones, row by row, haphazard column by haphazard column, until they reach the one marked 'BECKETT'. Kate's mother. Johanna Beckett had been young, Rick notes, and he remembers with a pang the deceased woman's nineteen-year-old girl daughter sobbing her heart out to him on a plane. It's been a full year since, and Kate has changed a lot; he watches as she bends, solemn and reverent, to place flowers on her mother's grave, and he realizes all at once that she is not the same college girl who had fallen apart inside an airborne cabin of seventy people.
"Hi, Mom," she begins, calmly and quietly. "You've probably been wondering how I've spent my time so far; I haven't been back since the funeral. It's been a year."
A tear rolls down her cheek. Kate reaches out slowly, ignoring the drop of liquid that quivers unattended at the curve of her jaw, and brushes tender, gloved fingers across granite façade. It's such a small gravestone. He wonders whether she would mind if he bought her family a new one. Probably—but he can't bear that this is all Kate has left of her mother.
"It's been hard." Her voice trembles. "But, uh, I've tried to move on. I know you'd want that. There's a therapist I see—Dr Burke—he's been talking to me a lot about my nightmares and guilt and stuff…. I am sorry, Mom. I'm sorry you died. I'm sorry I didn't visit you until now. I'm sorry I … changed the course of my life. I didn't go back to college after the funeral. I stayed to—I'm training to become a cop now. You'd probably disapprove; Dad does. But then you were always the one to hold him back when he tried to stop me from doing what I wanted….
"Dad and I don't get along now," she continues sadly. "We haven't since you weren't there to keep the peace. But I'll try to reach out to him; he's been taking your death hard, and I think I just had to figure myself out first, y'know? And speaking of that … um, guess who I have here? It's Rick Castle, your favourite author. He—he helped me a lot after—. You must be so jealous that I got to meet him before you did, huh?"
Rick absorbs that with surprise. He never knew that Johanna Beckett had wanted to meet him. He never knew that he had been her favourite author.
Kate beckons to him with a tired smile, arm outstretched and fingers crooked so as to take his hand, and he laces his digits around hers as he squats down next to her.
"Hi, Mrs Beckett," he offers feebly, but his mind is blank. He feels a little silly, staring at a tablet with Johanna's name inscribed into it. It isn't that he doesn't believe she can hear him—though Kate would laugh at him, he likes to think that Johanna is out there, somewhere, watching over them—but he's never met the woman before, and he has no clue what they could possibly talk about.
He could tell her about her daughter. About how overwhelmingly smart and beautiful and tenacious her Kate is. But he assumes that Johanna must have been the same, so what could he share with her that she wouldn't already know?
"Say something," Kate urges, nudging her elbow into him.
He squirms away with a pitiful whine and stutters, "U-um, I met your daughter. She's great. I, uh, I met her on a plane ride."
Kate stills a little beside him, so he pauses; reorganizes his thoughts and veers quickly onto a different course. Taking a deep breath, he adds, "Kate told me you liked my stories. She told me a lot about you, actually—about how you taught her to sing and how you used to go ice skating together and how you had a weird thing for daytime soaps. I'm sorry, Mrs Beckett, but Temptation Lane? You could've done better."
Beside him, Kate chuckles and buries her face into the shoulder of his coat.
"My own mother was on Temptation Lane, though," he continues reflectively, "so maybe it wasn't that bad. Then again, knowing how eccentric my mother is….
"But that wasn't what I wanted to talk to you about." He hesitates. There's been an idea brewing in his head for a few days now, but he's yet to put words to it. "What I wanted to talk to you about was, um … I've been thinking of starting a new series. My contract for Derrick Storm is nearly up—I'm in the middle of writing the last book they signed me for—and they've shown inclination to draft me a new one, but I could put him to rest and start over with a new character. Go in a completely different direction, if you will. I was thinking … that the new protagonist could be a civil rights attorney who took on the difficult cases in a tireless fight for justice. Sort of like Atticus Finch—except within a modern setting."
Kate lifts her head. Rick can feel her eyes boring into him. He's never mentioned this possibility to her before—that he wants to base a book series on her mother—but it's something he feels really strongly about. He thinks it could be a way to remember Johanna Beckett; a way for Kate to simultaneously forget and yet remember, move on into a new future and yet stay tethered to her past. He knows she's been feeling guilty and afraid of reconstructing her life too drastically: If only he could help her ease the conflict within herself a little bit, he would not hesitate for a single moment.
"That's a lame tag line, Rick," she murmurs to him, and he laughs, knowing that it's her way of saying he has her interest.
"I'll work on it if need be," he promises her before turning back to the gravestone. "But for now … I just wanted to let you know, Mrs Beckett. Or ask you. Not that I was expecting a divine sign or anything. But it felt right to tell you first. You're the inspiration, after all."
Kate squeezes his fingers.
"I'll take good care of Kate," he says finally. "You're probably gonna tell me she can take care of herself, and I agree. But I think we could all use the company sometimes. I know she's the best company I've ever had, and I will never make her feel like she can't think the same about me.
"So, um … yeah. It was nice to meet you. Don't take this the wrong way—but I hope that you're resting in peace."
The ending might have been a little awkward, but he thinks he's done alright. He moves to stand and give Kate her space again, but she keeps a tight hold of his fingers, refusing to let him budge an inch.
"He's a good man, isn't he?" she whispers, her voice strained and brittle in the wind. She's not looking at him, but he can still see the wet glimmer of her eyes. "You would've loved him, Mom. You would probably have told me that you couldn't believe the rebellious teenager that I was could ever hang out with your favourite author. But … things change. I'm not the kid you knew me as anymore—but I hope you can still be proud of me."
A lump grows in his throat as he watches her press leathered fingertips to her lips and then to the gravestone. Her hand grazes across the smooth, cold surface before dropping away.
"I gotta go now," she says. "But I'll have better news when I come back next time. I'll try and reconnect with Dad, and I'll—I'll try and find a way to make us a family again. I love you so much, Mom."
A sob catches audibly in her throat; Rick blinks back his own tears and stands, helping her up and drawing her into his arms once she's risen.
Here, in this white graveyard that is overcrowded with tombstones but sparse of the living, she seems as fragile as the bared branches of the nearby tree that cracks under the weight of the snow.
But then she tucks herself into his embrace and clings tightly to him for a heartbeat or two, and when she releases herself from his shelter and tilts her head back to look at him, her gaze is determined beneath the crystal droplets that rim her eyelashes.
She is stronger than he has ever seen her.
"C'mon, Rick," she says softly—the most striking contradiction. "Let's go find somewhere you can tell me about this book series."
She turns and leads them back to the car.
He lets her, because he knows she needs to prove to herself that she's capable not only of standing on her two own feet, but also of keeping others close while she does so. When she holds her hand out for the car keys, he passes them to her willingly and steps around to the passenger's side without a word.
They've come a long way, he thinks.
He would never in a million years have expected the girl on a plane who refused to even look at him to end up side by side with him in his car. (In the driver's seat, no less!) But she's here, resilient despite her vulnerability, smiling faintly at him despite the tear tracks on her cheeks, making her way through her grief—he's content.
Content that he's witnessed her healing; content that he's the one who's gotten to stay with her through the journey.
She's changed his life without knowing it.
A/N: Yup. That's the end. I hope you've enjoyed this journey, and thank you, everyone, for all the support and reviews you've given me. Please do drop me a line to let me know what you think of the overall story, even if you've never done so before! Before I go, I'd like to express my full appreciation for everyone who's made this story much easier to write. It's not my first Castle story, but it is one that, I think, more people have read and engaged in, and I'm grateful to even have been given the opportunity to write for you at all. So, for always, thank you.