Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I used to watch the show.
Throughout the day she swings from euphoria to anxiety, triumph to exhaustion, rage to relief. "I feel like I'm stuck in a loop of the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities," she says when they sit down to dinner. " 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.' Again and again. I'm sorry, Castle, I must be driving you crazy."
"It takes a lot more than that to drive me crazy," he replies, reassuringly. "You drove me totally crazy for four years, you know, until that night you turned up at our front door last spring. Of course it was my front door then, not ours, but I was ready to ask you to move in the next morning when you walked into the bedroom in my shirt, all sex on legs, carrying coffee."
"Four years, eh?" she says, spearing a stalk of asparagus. "Every day? Did I drive you crazy every day?"
"You did, but you drove me much crazier at night."
"Oh, definitely hmmm. That's when I invented Beckett Fantasyland."
"Yeah? What's that?"
"A very adult theme park, with the wildest rides imaginable. Not open to the public, just to me. But I closed it down, because Beckett Reality is so much better."
She adores him for doing this. She owes him more than she can ever pay. "Now that you mention it," she says, as if it had just sprung to mind, "I might have had a Castle Fantasyland."
"Only might have? I'm disappointed."
"Okay, not might. Did. It had some rules, though."
"You know I hate rules."
"You'd like these."
"I would?" He leans across the table until his nose nearly touches hers. "Try me."
She puts her fork on her plate. "How about this? No clothes allowed at any time. Wait, not true. No clothes allowed, but underwear was on occasion, because there were a couple of rides that required the tantalizing, slow removal of said underwear."
"You're right, I'd have no trouble with that one. What else?"
"You had to try every ride. Visit every attraction."
"Well," she says, holding up one finger, "there was Slippery When Wet. Very popular." A second finger joins the first. "Cops and Rubbers. Ladies' Choice. Double Down." She grins. "Double Down was a favorite of ours. Then there was Ride 'em, Cowboy–"
"What about Ride 'em, Cowgirl?" His breath is hot on her face.
"Of course. And there was a food court."
"I should hope so. Did this food court have a name?"
"It did. All You Can Eat." She can see his Adam's apple bob as he swallows hard, and she whispers against his neck. "The meat was incredible. And fantastic fireballs. I was a sucker for those."
He reaches out and wraps his hand around her wrist. "God, you're good. Let's forget dinner."
"I already did."
It takes him maybe five seconds to get to her side of the table and scoop her up from her chair. Some time later in bed, she doesn't know or care when, with her head resting on his bicep, she says, "Thank you."
"And thank you."
"I meant thank you for doing what you were doing at dinner. Trying to distract me, getting me to stop obsessing."
"I'd say it worked." She can feel him laugh silently, his arm vibrating beneath her cheek.
"You're right." She's quiet for a long time after that, turning things over, assessing them from every angle and in every figurative light. She suddenly sits up straight. "I don't want to do it tomorrow."
"You don't?" He pulls himself up next to her, clearly surprised. "Why?"
"I waited a long time for this."
"I know. That's why I figured that at one second past nine tomorrow morning you'd be out of here with your handcuffs in your pocket, headed to wherever Bracken is."
"That's just it. I don't want it to be wherever. Like Washington, which is where he is a lot of the time, probably most. Or some other city, giving his heroic, good-guy stump speech that makes me want to throw up. I want it to be here, Castle. Here. New York. This is where he killed my mother and her colleagues and Roy and God knows how many other people. This is where I grew up and this is where I'm going to take him down."
"Do you have some place in mind? I bet we could get a hold of his schedule."
"Are you hungry?"
"Am I hungry?"
"This isn't the food court at Castle Fantasyland, but I happen to know that there's a delicious dinner on the table out there that's almost untouched, and while we eat it I'll tell you my idea."
"I can reheat it in two minutes."
"Which is about how long it will take me to get up from here and out there."
He jumps out of bed like a kid who just heard Santa coming down the chimney. "This is fantastic," he says. "I feel like we're back at the precinct."
"Except it smells a lot better and the food doesn't come from a vending machine."
"Plus we can eat in our underwear and I get to kiss you."
"Should I get out a murder board?"
"I'm not planning to kill him, Castle, just put his ass in prison for the rest of his unforgivable life."
While they're having their meal she lays out her plan. He stops her a few times with a question, but that's all. She's utterly calm. "I'll talk to Gates tomorrow morning, but I don't see a problem, do you?"
"It's simple and it's perfect. I can't wait to see you in action. You're positive he's going to be there?"
"We'll check, of course, but I am. He's not going to miss the chance to preen. Bright lights, big city, all that. Besides, he automatically gets an invitation, not because he's a Senator but because he's a member of the board."
"And you don't mind waiting another ten days?"
She shakes her head."Ten more days for him to think he's gotten away with it. Ten more days for me to get stronger. And figure out what to wear."
One morning a week later her physical therapist is on the way over and Castle is on the way out. "I didn't think it was possible for you to work even harder than you have been," he says as he grabs his keys from a bowl on the table. "I have a couple of errands after my book meeting, so if I'm not back before Mark leaves, say hi from me."
"I will. Come here," she says, reaching for his elbow and pulling him towards her so she can give him a kiss. "Mmm, you taste of strawberries. See you later."
After his meeting Castle stops in a diner for a late lunch, pleased to find a tiny, two-person booth in the back corner. He sits on one side and puts his package on the other. While he eats a BLT, he thinks about the fact that he and Kate have been together virtually 24/7 for close to three months. Even when they're apart–he's writing, she's doing PT–they're under the same roof. It's all but a miracle that they've had so few cross moments, and most of them are a result of her exhaustion and pain. She gets a pass on those. He'd be the worst patient in the world; he has stamina that matches hers, and could go head-to-head with her on determination in some areas, but not in this one. Both her orthopedist and her physical therapist–and probably Burke, but he's not privy to those conversations–have said how far ahead of schedule she is in recovery. He wonders if part of her motivation is to have to rely on him less. She hates that she can't clear the table or make the bed or take a turn grocery shopping. She apologizes for it at least once a day, despite assurances that it's nothing. And it is. It doesn't matter to him a bit, except that he hates that it bothers her.
"More coffee?" the waitress asks, appearing at his elbow with a thermal jug.
"What? Oh, sorry, my mind was a million miles away. Thanks, yes, I'd love a refill."
His mind wasn't a million miles away at all. More like fifteen blocks. He's been in love with Kate for a long time, way longer than he'd ever been in love before. Longer, deeper. He loves what a complex person she is, yet how simple his love for her is. He stares into his coffee. This is for keeps. He rejoices in everything in their relationship, but it wouldn't be where it is, they wouldn't be where they are, he wouldn't be where he is, if she hadn't suggested–pleaded, actually–that he see a psychiatrist. What astonishes him is that his therapy, which had been very brutal at the beginning, has made him more of a realist without in any way diluting his optimism.
He hadn't noticed that the waitress had at some point slipped the bill onto the table. Today is a great day, he thinks, looking across the table at the package that he'd collected before lunch. An amazing day. Not as amazing as the day that will dawn in roughly 57 hours, the day that Kate will finally arrest Bracken, but an amazing day. He takes a $50 bill from his wallet, slips it under the edge of his plate, and gets up. Time to go home.
When he unlocks the door he knows that Mark has gone because his jacket is no longer on the coat rack. "Kate?" he calls. No answer. "Beckett?" He's a little concerned. He drapes his package, a garment bag, over the back of a chair and heads for the bedroom. The door is open but the bathroom door is closed. "Kate? You okay?"
"Yes." She opens the door a crack. "Would you sit on the bed, please?"
"And wait there."
"And shut your eyes."
"Roger, ten four."
He wants nothing more than to peek, but he doesn't. He hears her clear her throat.
"Okay. You can look."
It's one of the most beautiful, thrilling things he has ever seen. She's wearing an ancient, faded tee shirt of his that's much too big for her. The neck is frayed in two places, there's a hole in a seam, and a large stain of something vaguely green spreads out a few inches above the hem. Her hair is half out of its pony tail. She has no make up on. Her pale face is sweaty. And she is standing on two feet, with no crutches. "Look, ma," she says softly, "no hands."
His newly opened eyes flood with tears. He rises up on his own two feet, which feel as shaky as her voice sounds, reaches her in four strides, wraps his arms around her, and sobs into her hair. "Thank God. Thank you, God." He pulls his head back so he can see her. "Sorry, sorry. You are incredible."
"Thanks," she says, huskily. "Surprise. This is my surprise present for you."
"Best present I've ever had."
"Better than the one I gave you at midnight on your birthday?"
"Memorable as that was, and always will be, yes."
"Want to see me walk across the room?" Her voice is half shyness, half pride.
"Damn right I do."
She goes ten steps across and ten back, with just a slight limp. "How do you think Bracken will react when he sees me coming at him like this?"
"I think he'll die from the shock, God willing. No, I take it back. I'd rather he died in prison after at least two decades of misery." He sits on the end of the bed and pulls her onto his lap. "I can't believe you can walk on your own."
"I've been working on it for a couple of weeks but didn't want you to know until I could really do it. Really walk, not like some old lady tottering fifteen inches. Doctor Rosen said I should be able to start running in a couple of weeks, probably less."
"Your turn to wait," he says, sliding her off his thighs. "I have a surprise for you. No peeking."
"I never peek."
"Oh, yes you do. I've caught you peeking at me plenty."
"True, but it's always when you're naked."
He's back in an instant, the garment bag dangling from two fingers. "You can look now."
She claps her hands. "Oh, my God, that's from Jason Wu. You brought me something from Jason Wu?"
"Ever since we watched the inaugural ball in January and you kept exclaiming over Michelle Obama's dress, I've thought about it, and this seemed like the perfect time. I know you were trying to decide what to wear when you face Bracken, so, voila." He passes her the bag. "Want to try it on?"
He's never seen her open anything as fast as she does this. "Ohhh," she says, pulling out the red silk confection. "Ohhh, this is the most gorgeous thing ever."
"If you'll allow me a correction, you in that dress will be the most gorgeous thing ever."
She yanks off the tee shirt, lets it fall to the floor, and pulls the dress on over her head. Standing again she asks, "Could you get the zipper, please?"
"With indescribable pleasure," he replies. When he's done, he kisses her in the middle of her spine. In front the décolletage is sexy but relatively modest, but the dress leaves her entire back bare, dipping below the waist and stopping a few inches above the tailbone. "Come with me." He takes her hand and walks her into the bathroom, where she can see herself reflected innumerable times.
"Thank you," she says, turning to engulf him in a hug. "Thank you. I've never had anything like this in my life."
She lets go and looks down at her bare feet. "Can't wait until I can wear this in heels. It'll look so much better in heels."
"There are plenty of flats that will do for now. Why don't you look online? You've got three days and practically anyone can deliver overnight."
"Did anyone ever tell you," she asks, dipping her head to press her forehead against his chest, "that you're the best?"
Three days later, at 6:30 p.m., she calls her father to let him know what's about to happen. At seven on the dot, she and Castle leave the loft. She's in The Dress and he's in a tux, pushing her in the lightweight wheelchair she had been using on occasion during her recovery. They had agreed that it would be the best way to get her very close, very quickly, as well as maintain the ruse that she's not yet mobile. People can usually be depended on to move out of the path of a wheelchair.
Castle's Mercedes is at the curb; Esposito and Ryan are parked directly behind and they're waiting by the door.
"All set, Beckett?" Espo asks.
"The biggest. Thanks for being here, you two. It means everything to me."
"Wow," Ryan says as she settles into the car. "You look great. It that a Jason Wu?"
"Wu who?" Espo asks, the wrong side of snide.
"Jason Wu, man. He's a designer."
"You're such a girl, bro."
"Yeah, well, Jenny has a picture of one of his dresses on her if-I-won-the-lottery poster board. If you knew anything about fashion you might have landed a beautiful woman by now."
"Let's roll, guys," Castle says, neatly collapsing the wheelchair and putting it in the trunk. "If we hit a lot of traffic you'll do lights and sirens, right?"
"Right. That's why we're going in front of you."
Their two-car caravan heads uptown. At 75th and Madison two more unmarkeds join them, and at 79th they pick up two patrol cars. They all turn west on 86th Street and then south on Fifth Avenue. The massive Metropolitan Museum of Art looms ahead of them on the right, lights blazing inside and out. There are mobs of onlookers, most behind barricades; limos and town cars are lined up headlight to taillight, disgorging A-list passengers at the majestic staircase on 82nd Street. Paparazzi are everywhere, and every media outlet has someone, or several someones, covering. It's the museum's annual benefit gala for their Costume Institute, and every fashionista, every card-carrying member of the glitterati, assorted other celebrities, and hangers-on, are on hand. The biggest names stop on the red carpet to show off whatever it is they're wearing. Fashion stakes are higher at this feeding frenzy than at almost any other event anywhere, any time, on the planet.
The six cars pull over to a stretch of curb that the NYPS had blocked off for them hours earlier. Just as Kate gets into the wheelchair they hear a scream from the crowd that ordinarily would have them reaching for their guns. "It's Kim Kardashian," Officer Hastings explains. She had requested and been granted duty here this evening: it was she who had let Beckett into the hotel where she'd confronted Bracken in the kitchen a year ago. "She and Kanye West just got out. She looks like she's gonna give birth before they finish dinner."
"Gonna be plenty of excitement without that," Castle says, his voice pitched low. "Should we get in position now?"
"Yes," Beckett says. "There's that sheltered place about fifty feet ahead. See it?"
"That's where you and I will be. All the guys will be right behind. He's due in fifteen minutes, and they keep a pretty tight schedule here or it's just chaos."
"You're sure the security detail is totally briefed? So they let you through at the right moment?"
"Yes. Castle, don't worry. They've got five undercovers in there with them."
He's counting off seconds in his head. She's silently rehearsing what she'll say.
Her phone chirps. The text message is the shortest and most important that she's ever received. One word, one syllable, two letters:
She nods at Castle and can't find her voice. He squeezes her shoulder, kisses her on the cheek, and wheels her to the spot from which she'll make her move. When Bracken comes into view, she gets up.
She's alone. Alone with Bracken. There's him, there's her. It's like the kitchen of the Widmark Hotel, except it isn't. Because he's standing on a red carpet, not a tiled floor, and they're not alone at all. It just feels that way, because to her they're the only two that matter at the moment. No one sees her, of course, they see only him. Cameras are flashing and whirring. "Over here, Senator!" "This way!" "Who designed your tuxedo, Senator Bracken?" He's posing. It's what he does best. He's a permanent false front over a rotten interior. A human Potemkin village. When someone shouts, "Will you come back when you're President?" and he nods and beams, she takes it as her cue, and moves towards him.
"Senator Bracken." She says it again, louder, her voice as steely as the barrel of a gun. "Senator Bracken!"
His head whips to the left. He's one of the slickest politicians ever, but this time he's unable to act quickly enough. His shock is evident. "You can't be here," he hisses. "And how can you be walking?"
She'd already opened her clutch and the cuffs are in her hand. "I found the tape. I found it. It's over."
Even though her focus is completely on him, she's aware that camera operators have shifted to cover her as well as him.
"Senator William Bracken." Physical therapy has actually sharpened her reflexes, and her upper body strength is even greater than before. In one quick move she has his arms behind his back. She feels the cuffs snap around his wrists, hears the satisfying click. She hopes all the light is glancing off the metal. "Senator Bracken, you are under arrest for conspiracy, fraud, and the murder of my mother, Johanna Beckett."
The undercover officers with the museum's security detail have peeled away to stand at one end of the staging area–a term she takes a moment to appreciate–and Esposito, Ryan, and a dozen NYPD officers have materialized at the other. Bracken is anything but stupid, and he keeps his mouth shut. He doesn't fight her as she takes him by the elbow and leads him away.
She hears a voice in the crowd say, "Who's that woman with him? His wife?" She has seldom been so grateful for comic relief, but she doesn't laugh. Most of the crowd is still gasping.
When she reaches Ryan and Espo, she says, "He's all yours. I have to go home and take a shower." As she lets go of Bracken she tells him, "I'm afraid the handcuffs tore the sleeve of your jacket. Ripped a button off, too. If this is a rented tux–and I bet it is so you could write it off on your taxes as a business expense–don't expect to get your deposit back."
She knows there's a mountain of paperwork to be done, but she's officially on leave. Even if she weren't, the mountain could wait until tomorrow. She can see Castle in the shadows, waiting, and she moves into his welcoming embrace. "You were spectacular. Your mother is so proud of you. I'm sure she's here."
"I couldn't have done it without you." She hangs on to him for what seems like a long time, and then tilts her head back. "Let's go home." One of the undercovers has taken care of the wheelchair for her. As she and Castle walk to their car she catches sight of Captain Gates, standing quietly near a barricade, two uniforms with her. She's not really surprised that Gates is there, but she is by the sight of her with her hand over her heart, eyes glistening. She nods in acknowledgement and mouths, "Thank you."
When they're in the car, Castle says, "Your cheeks are as red as your dress." He reaches for her hand and holds it all the way home. Neither one of them says a word.
"Could I sleep for a week?" she asks, as they enter the loft.
"Absolutely. But wouldn't you like something to eat before your hibernation? You haven't had anything since lunch."
"Okay." She follows him into the kitchen. "You know what I want? My mother's go-to snack."
"Do we have what you need for that?"
"We always do. Because it's the same as my go-to snack."
He smiles as he fetches a spoon from a drawer and a jar from a cabinet. "Here you go," he says, handing them to her. "I never knew that."
"A tablespoon of chunky peanut butter," she says, unscrewing the lid. "Nothing better in the world."
"Unless maybe a tablespoon of peanut butter in bed just before I conk out on your chest."
"Thanks for not asking if I want to talk about it," she says a few minutes later from bed, where she's licking PB from the bowl of a spoon.
"I know better than that now."
"I know you do. Doesn't mean I shouldn't thank you."
He picks up the TV remote. "Do you want to watch the news?"
"Is it already on?"
"Not for at least an hour, but my educated guess is that we don't have to wait. I bet there's live coverage on every channel except the sports and movies ones, and maybe the one that shows reruns of Perry Mason, M*A*S*H, and Full House."
"Okay. But mute it, please."
She hates ABC, so he hits the button for NBC. There's a BREAKING NEWS! banner on the screen. A correspondent is reporting from the sidewalk outside the Met. Cut to the news room, where the anchorman asks her a question. About 30 seconds later a replay starts. Bracken is smiling, and then turning his head sharply. The footage is slightly wobbly, but quickly steadies.
"Want the sound on now?"
"…it's over. Senator William Bracken."
"Oh, good," she says. "You can see the cuffs on the bastard."
"Senator Bracken, you are under arrest for conspiracy, fraud, and the murder of my mother, Johanna Beckett."
She rolls onto her side and puts her hand on his chest. "That's enough for me. Unless you want to watch."
"Don't need to. I was there." He clicks off the TV and puts his hand on top of hers. "The last thing I want you to hear before you fall asleep is this. I love you."
"I love you, too."
A moment later he gently takes the spoon from her hand, puts it on his night stand, and turns out the light. He doesn't move at all for hours, except to shift his head from time to time to make sure that she's there. That this is all true.
Two full, very full, days have passed since then. They haven't left the loft, but cops and the DA have come to them. The media are still camped outside the building. "Do you want to go to the Hamptons?" he asks after a late dinner. "Or some place else where we can hole up for a while? An island? A farmhouse in Ireland with sheep in the yard?"
"That sounds wonderful, especially the sheep part. Maybe in a week or so, but not just yet. I'm gonna get ready for bed." She pushes her chair away from the table, and trails her hand down his back. "I promise I'll do the dishes tomorrow."
"I'll make sure you have something that's as much of a pain in the butt to clean as a lasagne dish."
"You're on." She wiggles her fingers in a wave and he starts to stack the dishes.
It takes him seven or eight minutes to finish. After turning off the overhead light, he heads for the bedroom, surprised to see that it's dark. She must have been more tired than he'd realized. He tiptoes in, only to find that the bed is still made. He checks the bathroom, but she's not there, either. Had she gone upstairs for some reason? He hurries to the bottom of the staircase. "Kate? Kate?" He feels a chill on his neck. Something's wrong. When he hears a series of sharp knocks on the door, he freezes. Should he get his gun? Who's out there this late? Who got past the doorman?
"Who is it?"
He yanks the door open. "You scared the wits out of me. What are you doing out there?"
She doesn't come in. Instead she looks seriously at him and asks, "Do you know what day it is?"
"Wednesday. Although in about an hour, it'll be Thursday."
"Not the day, the date." She still hasn't moved.
"Right." She looks severe. Her voice is a little darker as she leans on those two words. "May seventh."
Oh. Oh. Holy shit. A year. It's been exactly a year. Now she's looking up at him through her lashes. He puts on an exasperated expression. "Beckett, what do you want?"
She vaults through the door and latches on to him. "You," she says, before kissing him even harder than she had last May seventh. She pulls back. "I just want you. Permanently. Forever. I want you forever, Castle. Will you marry me?"
"Yes. Yes, I will. Permanently. Forever."
A/N Thank you all so much for hanging in with this story during a tough time for everyone. I hope that you and your families are safe and well. Special thanks to Madelynn one for the excellent medical advice, and to Roadrunnerz for her inspired prompt, "Beckett gets hurt when she saves Bracken from the car bomb." I'm going to return to Eliot now: I need a stress-free story for a while! Hope to post a chapter later this week.