Convalescence

Epilogue

"Matt, have you seen my briefcase with the case files in it?"

"I think it's by the couch!" her husband calls from another corner of the house. After a few moments he appears, dark hair half-combed. "Why, are we stopping by your office on the way?"

"Yeah, I just need to drop off some files for Dean," Sienna replies. "His witness's deposition is tomorrow, so..." Matt nods and disappears back into their room while Sienna locates her briefcase, which is indeed next to the couch. She loads it into the trunk of the car, dusting her hands off before heading back into the house. "Charlotte! Johanna!" she calls up the stairs. "Time to go!"

"Coming, Mom," one of them responds. "Jo's just taking forever in the bathroom again."

"Am not!" Johanna replies indignantly, and the sound of a small scuffle drifts down the stairs. Myka, their fluffy golden retriever, appears at the top of them and pads downward with her teenage daughters in tow. Johanna's carrying a large stack of textbooks, which Sienna raises an eyebrow at.

"Finals are in two weeks," Johanna tells her.

"Fine, but put them away when everyone else arrives," Sienna instructs. "Charlotte, leash up Myka and get her in the car. Your father and I will be there in a minute. And put on a jacket, it's January!"

"'Kay," her youngest daughter agrees amicably. Sienna turns to see Matt emerging from their bedroom. After one last check-over of the house to see if they’ve forgotten anything—it won’t be a true trip into the city if they haven’t—she grabs the apple crisp from the kitchen and heads out with it, while Matt locks the door behind them.

The car ride into the city isn't that long, and for once it's relatively quiet in the car. Johanna has her Econ book opened on her lap and Charlotte's intent on her phone while a quiet deluge of pop songs drifts over the radio. Sienna pets Myka's head absentmindedly as the dog puts her nose on the center console, keeping her from disturbing Matt while he's driving.

About an hour and a stop at the firm later they pull into a parking space near Dylan's apartment and Matt hands her the keys. "Everybody out," he says. Myka hops out first, eagerly sniffing about at the unfamiliar smells of the city and dragging Charlotte out with her. Johanna emerges third, hefting her books in one arm while attempting to close the car door with the other.

Sienna leads the way up to her brother's apartment carrying the apple crisp and knocks on the door. Dylan opens it moments later and invites them all in with a gentle smile, and Sienna can hear the delighted shrieks of his kids in the background. In the kitchen Dylan's wife Katrina takes the crisp out of her hands and greets her with a hug. After they close the door Charlotte lets Myka off the leash, causing Oliver the white house-cat to hiss and streak off for the bedroom.

"Ready to go?" Sienna asks Dylan. He nods, grabbing his coat. “Is Alexis coming this time?”

“Don’t think so,” he replies, bidding goodbye to Katrina. She gives Matt a quick kiss before she leaves, jingling the keys as they head for her car.

“Another year gone,” Sienna comments as she starts the car.

“Hard to believe, isn’t it?” Dylan agrees. “I remember being Caleb’s age playing laser tag with Dad at the loft. That couldn’t have been thirty years ago, could it?”

“And I remember Mom not letting me read the first Nikki Heat book until I was sixteen. Said it was ‘inappropriate.’”

“It was inappropriate!” Dylan exclaims. “Will page 105 ever not be gross?”

“Probably not. I caught Johanna reading Derrick Storm the other day when she was supposed to be doing her homework.”

“At least she does her homework. Caleb? Katrina and I have to look in his room every five minutes to check that he’s actually in there. We keep threatening to borrow some police cuffs and handcuff him to his desk until he’s done his math, but he’s smart enough to know they’re all retired.”

“He might be a future Richard Rodgers in school then, better warn his teachers now,” Sienna laughs.

“Nah, we told him if he ever gets kicked out of school the next one we’re sending him to is a military bootcamp.”

“Didn’t go for that?”

“Nope,” Dylan grins.

“Here we are,” Sienna says as she parks the car. They both get out, zipping up their jackets because it really is quite chilly. They head in through the high arch on a small paved footpath weaving through the tombstones of the cemetery. As they round the curve, they can see two other figures standing on the soft green grass. “How long have we been coming here?” she asks in a low voice.

“I think the first time they took you was when you were nine,” Dylan says. “For the ritual, I mean. Obviously you’d visited before.”

“Mmm,” Sienna acknowledges, lifting a hand in greeting to her parents. Her mother smiles as they approach, embracing first her daughter and then her son.

“Thanks for coming,” she tells both of them.

“Of course, Mom,” Sienna says. It’s a ritual they’ve kept for a long time. Sometimes Sienna missed it, sometimes Dylan, but too much time would never go by before they found themselves at the cemetery on January 9th again. On occasion Alexis would join them as well, but far less frequently. This was something mostly shared by the four of them.

All bundled up, they take their seats on the frigid grass in a semicircle around the two tombstones. As always, they let their mom start. "Hi, Mom, hi Dad. It's me, Katie."

"And Rick," Castle adds.

"And Sienna."

"And Dylan," her brother finishes. It's a fun remnant from when they were kids and did this, and it's just stuck all these years.

"We miss you," Kate begins. "Rick and I just got back from a trip to the Caribbean. Mom, you would have loved it there—beaches and palm trees everywhere you looked. Besides that, everything's good for me. Nothing special to report." She nods for Sienna to go.

"Hi Grandma, Grandpa," she says. "I'm doing well, and so is Matt. I'm still working at Morgan & Tuft, still doing environmental law. Johanna's a senior this year, and I swear she jumps straight up in the air every time the mail comes. College acceptance letters and all that." She pauses. They’ve been doing this since they were kids; talking to the open air doesn’t feel odd in the slightest. "Also, I think there may be a guy at school she's hoping will ask her to senior prom in a couple months, because she's started taking a real interest in her appearance. She takes almost an hour in the bathroom getting ready for school in the morning and it's driving Charlotte up a wall having such a bathroom hog in the house. I don't know where that comes from; I was never as bad as that." Kate makes a small snorting noise which she quickly covers with a cough as Sienna turns her indignant blue-eyed gaze on her. "Charlotte's a sophomore now, and school's finally catching up to her. The bookworm might have have met her match with the English assignments this year. And it looks like the boy-band days might finally be over, thank God." She looks to Dylan, who pats the grass with his hand before beginning to speak.

"Katrina and I are doing fine as well. She just started a new job at Stuyvesant this fall teaching Russian and freshman English. I'm still at Microsoft developing software. Let's see... Caleb's in fifth grade now. Almost starting middle school, which we're not all that psyched for. He's finally let go of the dream of being Jedi when he grows up and has now decided he wants to be an astronaut." Across from her, Castle is grinning like crazy. "He's still really into his Little League baseball though. And he's actually getting pretty good. How many runs did he get last game, two?"

"Three," Castle says.

"Three," Dylan nods. "And Anna's in second grade now. They did this creative writing unit in school and she's always bringing home these little stories for us to read. Oh, and if you thought the Star Wars Legos had gone by the wayside with Caleb's move away from it, no, they've just migrated to Anna's room now. She's already added and set up the bajillion sets she got for Christmas and now positioned on her desk are entire armies of droids and clone troopers. But at least with her we're not stepping on them on the floor all the time; she seems to like setting up elaborate battle scenes." Sienna laughs inwardly and makes a mental note to check out Anna's room later. Dylan gestures to Castle. "Your turn, Dad."

"Hey Jim, hey Johanna," Castle says. "Alexis says hi too; she couldn't be here today because she and Ashley couldn't get plane tickets until last minute. They're doing well—Ashley's still a professor at the university and Alexis's nonprofit is hosting benefits all over the world now. Adrian just joined Abigail in the sphere of the engaged, so it looks like there'll be two weddings to go to in the next year or so. As for me, I'm doing just fine. Still very much in love with your daughter." Kate smiles at him. "Next week I'm taking Caleb out for his first golfing lesson, so that should be interesting. But yeah, I think that's it."

Her mother nods, glancing at Sienna and Dylan. "Bye Grandma, bye Grandpa," Dylan says. "We'll bring the kids to see you sometime soon." Sienna repeats his farewell.

"We'll join you at the apartment in a few minutes," Kate promises. Sienna nods and Dylan lays his hand on top of Kate’s for a moment before they stand up to leave. They head back to the car together, respectfully waiting until they're out of earshot before beginning to talk again. At this point in their cemetery visit when they were kids, Castle used to take them back to the car to give Kate some time alone with her mom. Now that they're grown, their dad stays with her for the ending bit. Sienna doesn't know what she says, but she imagines it's not all the happy, cheerful stuff they tell in their yearly report.

They would visit Martha as well while they're here, but she's buried in a different cemetery, the first in the Castle mausoleum. Besides, from the extravagant productions Martha liked to put on for her when she was a child, Sienna knows her grandmother would rather have her visit her famous eponymous acting school to remember her life than any cold crypt. As for her paternal grandfather, well, had her mom not sworn to it, she would never have believed her father's fantastic claim that he was a CIA spy. But if it was true—and there was still a little nagging doubt to her that it wasn't; what were the odds of having an elite spy, a Broadway actress, a best-selling author, a precinct captain, and the organizer of a huge nonprofit all in the same family?—he could be buried anywhere, perhaps not even in a cemetery at all. Jackson Hunt's final resting place would remain a mystery, much like the rest of him. The last time they had seen him was at their wedding, and that had been a huge shock all on its own.

Maybe that's what her parents talk about to Grandma Johanna and Grandpa Jim when they're gone. The past, their fears. Even in their childhood there were unspoken rules about certain things that would not be talked about in their house, things that she understands now were too traumatic to relive in front of young eyes. Sienna understands that her parents haven't always had the easiest lives. Things like Alexis's kidnapping to Paris, back when Sienna was one. Like William Bracken before he'd died in prison.

A few things have made it off that list over the years, though. Events that make interesting stories or teach a life lesson. The time when Kate was pregnant with her and had accidentally stepped on the trigger plate for a bomb while on a case, which finally caused her to tell her captain about her pregnancy. The time when they'd met with Agent Jordan Shaw to get her opinion after Kate had been offered a job in D.C. as a federal agent, only to get caught up in her investigation and Castle get deathly poisoned by an unknown toxin. The time when Kate was forced to jump off a boat into the ocean just before it exploded with Sienna strapped to her front and survive there for an hour before Castle and the rescue crews found her. The time a creepy stalker fan of Castle's had threatened to kidnap Dylan if he didn't meet him somewhere and acknowledge his "loyalty."

Yes, for the first couple years of her life she had had an interesting childhood. Too bad she doesn't remember it. Or, perhaps, it's a good thing. Now what she remembers are laser tag and board game tournaments and lazy Saturday mornings and smiley face pancakes and kite flying and ice cream and book dedications.

Sienna and Dylan are quiet on the way back to his place, each lost in their own thoughts. Upon arriving, he lets them in and suddenly they are surrounded by chatterbox children, the ferociously wagging tail of Myka, and the scents of lasagna and fresh breadsticks wafting in from the kitchen.

"Down, Myka," Sienna tells dog. "Yes, I'm back, I know." She ruffles her ears before moving further into the living room, Myka padding along behind her. Johanna dutifully puts away her textbooks upon sight of her mother.

Before she can greet anyone else the doorbell rings again, and Myka's trotting toward it expectantly. It's too quick to be Mom and Dad, she thinks. Sienna opens it to find Alexis on the other side, her husband Ashley a few steps behind her.

"Hey, it's great to see you!" Sienna greets her sister and brother-in-law. "Come on in, sit down. You must have made good time from JFK? We didn't expect you so early!"

"There was absolutely no traffic on the roads; it was amazing," Alexis explains. "And we hit every green light. Our taxi driver said he sees something like that once in a blue moon."

"It was pretty extraordinary," Ashley agrees.

"Can I help you with anything?" Sienna asks Katrina, who's come to say hello to the new arrivals. Ashley hangs their coats up on the rack.

"No, thank you, everything's nearly ready to go," Katrina replies. "Just about ten minutes more, twenty at the most."

Nodding, Sienna takes a seat on the couch next to Dylan and Alexis. Anna comes running up, skidding to a halt in front of them with brother in tow. “Tell me the story of Grandpa and Grandma!” the dark-haired girl says, seating herself on the floor in front of her father and her aunts. Sienna looks to Alexis as the others slowly gather. Her own girls, Johanna and Charlotte, join Anna and watch the adults expectantly.

“Don't you want Grandma and Grandpa to tell it to you?" Sienna asks her niece. "They'll be here in just a little while."

"No, now!" Anna demands. She makes a face. "Plllleeeaaaasssse?"

"You want to take this one?” Sienna asks Alexis.

“Nope, “ Alexis replies. “I’ve told it more times than I can count. It’s your turn.”

“Okay,” Sienna says. “Well, there was this one time when Grandpa tried to save your Grandma’s life.”

“Wait,” Dylan interrupts, giving her an incredulous look. “What are you doing? You can’t start there.” Alexis's two adult children, Abigail and Adrian, are nodding in agreement.

“Where do you want me to start? Their first kiss, that time when they were undercover trying to save Uncle Kevin and Uncle Javi?” Sienna asks.

“No, no, no,” Dylan shakes his head, exasperated. “You have to start from the beginning, when they met!”

"Yeah!" his son Caleb, ten, vocally agrees. "Auntie Sienna, you're telling it all wrong!" He says it with such great despair that Dylan can't help but smile. Anna is the youngest and the drama queen, but her brother has his moments as well.

“But the story’ll be so long!” Sienna points out. “A ton of stuff happened between then and their getting together! It’ll take hours to tell. You could make an entire TV show out of it with all the hemming and hawing they did!”

“That’s where great love stories are supposed to start, from the beginning,” Dylan admonishes and his son nods solemnly in agreement. “Come on, listen closely, Anna. You’ll have to tell this story to your children someday and maybe you’ll have to prevent your cousins from ruining it by jumping in in the middle as well if they've been hearing Auntie Sienna's version all their lives.” He gives Sienna a pointed, yet utterly brotherly, look. “It all started at Grandpa’s book release party. He’d just killed off his bestselling character, and he was looking for something new…”

THE END


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