Chapter 1: Prologue
Love without shadows stirs now
beginning to awaken
William Carlos Williams
He stands just to the side of the podium, listening as his partner speaks kindly of their lost friend. The words are lies; a choice she made because the truth would devastate a family and ruin a good man's reputation.
His heart is breaking just a little bit more for all that she's lost. It seems so unfair that a life marked by such painful losses has to endure one more, but he admires her more for how she's handling it.
He catches the glint of light reflecting off metal out of the corner of his eye. His eyes scan the crowd, the trees beyond, searching for the source. What he sees makes his blood run cold. A gun, pointed at his partner.
He doesn't stop to think, because he knows he might choose differently if he does. He dives for her, grabbing her shoulders as he pushes her out of the way, just as the crack of the rifle being fired reaches his ears.
Searing pain tears through his chest as he lands inelegantly on top of her. He can't move, can barely breath, as the pain fills his consciousness.
One moment he's staring at grass, and then the next gentle hands turn him and he can see the sky. Then her face swims into view. Her lips are moving, but it's like his ears are stuffed with cotton, so he can't quite make out what she's saying. And things have started graying at the edges.
He knows he should be worried, but this is so surreal that he's finding it hard to concentrate. The cold of the grass begins to seep into his bones, and he wishes briefly that he'd known that sooner. It would have made all the death scenes he's written so much more real. The cold steals over his body, and he knows it's because he's dying.
His heart fills with regret. There's so much he wishes he'd done, but right now, his only thought is her. He wishes they'd had more time. He wishes he'd told her how much she means to him. And then her words filter into his pain-fogged brain.
"Don't die, Castle," she's begging him, tears welling in her eyes. "I love you. You can't die."
It's a supreme irony that she says the words before they can even form in his mind, but he's glad he heard her say it just once. He loves her, too. He knows that like he knows his own name. He just wishes he had told her sooner.
The world starts to fade around him, and he can feel her tears on his face as she leans over him, but he can't hear her over the sound of blood rushing in his ears. And as the world goes dark and he slips into that blessed peace of death, he's glad it's her face that's the last thing he sees.
Chapter 2: Despair
The gurney slammed through the ER doors, surrounded by people shouting instructions even as Lanie Parish still rode on top, pumping life into Richard Castle's motionless body. Kate Beckett ran beside them, still holding his hand as she'd done ever since they'd all piled into the ambulance at the cemetery.
"White male, age 38, single GSW to the chest, probably from a high-caliber weapon," Lanie shouted as she continued to work on her friend. "Flatlined once in en-route. One amp of Epi already in. You may have to—"
"We've got it, ma'am," one of the nurses said to Lanie, tugging on her arm as the phalanx of doctors and nurses guided the gurney deeper into the hospital.
They paused at the doors to the trauma wing, and Lanie climbed off, taking Kate by the shoulders as the two women watched the group guide the gurney further into the hospital. Just before they disappeared, a familiar face swam into view. Kate locked eyes with Josh Davidson, her cardiologist boyfriend. The two exchanged a look full of meaning, a nod confirming that the message had been understood. Don't let him die.
She turned to her friend, pale as a sheet, mascara streaked tear tracks on her cheeks. Pain reflected in their eyes as they sought to comfort each other. Both women were aware of one clear fact: Castle had taken a bullet meant for Kate. If not for him, she'd be the one on the gurney, bleeding, maybe dying…
Kate shook her head. "He'll be okay," she whispered, her forced certainty tinged with fear.
"Damn right," Lanie said, reaching up and tucking a stray lock of hair behind Kate's ear, offering silent support. "He's young and healthy. No reason he won't survive."
"Oh, God, Lanie," Kate whimpered, practically crumbling into her friend's arms. They stood there for long moments, clutching each other desperately as the pain raced through them.
Kate caught movement over Lanie's shoulder and glanced up to see Ryan and Esposito charging into the ER, both men shouting into their phones as the ran down the hall, followed closely by Castle's mother and daughter. She squeezed her eyes shut for just a second, then pulled back from her friend, giving her a grateful if watery smile.
"How is he?" Esposito asked as he disconnected his call. As a detective, Javier Esposito was trained to focus on the details, and from what little she had heard, both he and his partner were already working the shooting.
All eyes turned to Kate, but she couldn't speak, nearly paralyzed with pain and fear. Lanie stepped in front of her, squeezing her arm as she turned to the group.
"He took a bullet to the chest," she explained. "He crashed once in the ambulance, but we were able to revive him. Josh is in with him now. He'll take good care of him."
"Oh, God," Martha Rodgers whispered, pulling her granddaughter close.
Esposito put his arms around Lanie, dropping a kiss onto her forehead. Kevin Ryan dropped his head, but Kate had seen the pain cross his face. When she looked over at Martha and Alexis, she saw similar pained expressions on their faces. She stepped forward, feeling like she had to say something.
"I—I'm sorry," she said, voice trembling as much as her hands as she faced the two most important women in Castle's life. "I'm so sorry. It should have been me…"
"Yes, it should have," Alexis said, pulling out of her grandmother's arms. She advanced on Kate, but Ryan quickly stepped behind her and tugged at her shoulders. It didn't stop her from giving voice to her thoughts, nearly shouting through all the pain and worry. "It shouldn't be my dad in that hospital room; it should be you. Why isn't it you?"
Kate winced at her words. Alexis Castle had always been honest; she knew no other way to be, but just this once Kate wished that she didn't understand as much as she did.
"I don't know," she whispered. "I wish I could change it. For your sake, Alexis, I wish I could."
"Yeah, well, if he dies, it'll be your fault," Alexis said, venom in her tone. She pulled herself out of Ryan's grip as the rest of the group gaped at her.
Lanie cast a sympathetic glance at her friend, then pulled away from Esposito and went to Alexis. "He's gonna be a while yet. Why don't we go get something to drink while we wait?"
Alexis looked like she was going to refuse, but at an encouraging nod from her grandmother, she relented and walked off with Lanie, the ME's arms around her shoulders meant not only to comfort but also to guide.
Kate breathed a sigh as the two walked away. An uncomfortable silence descended on the group. Ryan was the first to break it.
"I think I'm gonna head back to the station house, see what kind of progress they've made on finding the shooter."
Kate looked up, hopeful, but Esposito shook his head. "They scoured the cemetery, but came up empty. He left the rifle, so we might get lucky with prints or a serial number."
"Okay," Kate said, twisting her hands in front of her. "That's good."
Esposito approached her and laid a hand on her shoulder. "He's gonna be okay," he said quietly. She looked up into his eyes, helpless as more tears pooled in them. "You should think about going home, getting changed."
Kate looked down at her uniform. What had once been crisply pressed was now hopelessly crumpled. The dark color hid the copious amounts of blood—Castle's blood, she tried not to think—but she could still feel the dampness against her skin.
"I can't," she whispered. She didn't want to leave and miss something.
Esposito just squeezed her shoulder, then dropped his hand and moved over to where his partner stood, just beyond their little group. He cast one last glance at Castle's mother, who gave him a nod and an encouraging smile. She could see that he didn't much like the idea of leaving them alone together, but they had little choice.
Just then, one of the nurses appeared at the double doors, catching Martha's attention. Kate turned, and the rest drew closer, desperate for news.
"Mr. Castle is on his way up to surgery," she said. "The doctor was able to stop the bleeding, so now it's just a matter of stitching him up. You'll probably want to wait upstairs. The surgery waiting area is on the third floor."
"Is he—" Martha started to ask.
"He's stable for now," the nurse said, anticipating the question. "They'll have more news for you upstairs."
"Thank you," Esposito said.
They watched the nurse disappear back behind the doors, each one letting out the breath they'd begun holding the second she appeared.
"Well, that's something," Ryan said. "What about—"
"I'll go tell Lanie and Alexis," Esposito said, then tapped his partner on the shoulder. "Meet you back at the house."
"Yeah," Ryan said. He paused, then hugged Martha, who shot Kate a surprised look over his shoulder. He pulled back, resting his hands on her forearms. "He'll pull through. He is Richard Castle after all."
"Thank you, Detective," Martha said, her own voice a bit watery.
Ryan nodded to Kate, then headed for the exit.
The waiting room just outside Surgery was deathly quiet. People had come and gone in the hours they'd been there, but Kate, Lanie and the Castle women were currently its only occupants.
A few hours ago, one of the nurses had taken pity on both her and Lanie, handing them each a set of scrubs to put on. She'd resisted at first, but finally relented when Lanie had pointed out that Martha and Alexis really didn't need to see Castle's blood soaking her uniform. Even if they couldn't really see it for the dark fabric, they still knew it was there.
Kate's eyes drifted across the small room, watching Alexis as she slept curled up into Lanie's side. The ME had brought her back, calmer if no less emotional, to join the vigil for news on Castle's condition. Kate felt a stab of regret at being the cause of so much pain, though she knew she couldn't have changed Castle's mind, even if she had known someone would try to kill her.
"You couldn't have known," Martha said quietly, brushing her hand down Kate's arm.
Kate turned surprised eyes on the older woman, who smiled ruefully, chuckling as she shook her head.
"You and Richard are a lot alike. Always willing to take responsibility even when you don't have to."
"But it's my fault he got shot," Kate said, shaking her head. "He was standing there supporting me—"
"By choice," Martha interjected forcefully. She sighed, taking Kate's hand in her own. "My son is loyal to a fault. Once you become part of his world, he'll stand beside you come hell or high water. He could no more have left you standing there alone than he could have done it to Alexis. Or me. And you had no way of knowing that there was someone else out there waiting to finish the job. If you'd known, I'm sure you'd have taken precautions."
Kate sighed, looking at Martha for the first time since they'd arrived at the hospital. The woman's face was pinched, tired, but there was a wellspring of inner strength that Kate latched on to in that moment.
"Thank you, Martha," she said, her eyes welling with fresh tears.
Martha reached out and brushed her fingers along Kate's cheek, her hand drifting back to tuck the strands of hair that had escaped her bun behind her ear. "Hang in there, kiddo. Detective Ryan wasn't wrong: if anyone can survive this, it'd be Richard. He's too stubborn to die."
Kate chuckled. She heard an answering chuckle, and glanced over to see Lanie's eyes dancing with mirth. A retort was on the tip of her tongue, but just then the doors to the surgery wing sprang open, and Kate caught sight of Josh striding into the room.
All four women stood, Alexis instantly wide awake as she stepped to her grandmother's side. Kate wanted to demand he tell them what was going on, but she held her tongue. It wasn't her place; he wasn't hers, and she didn't want to make Alexis any angrier than she already was.
"How is he?" Martha asked as soon as Josh was clear of the doors.
"He's stable," Josh said, looking between the four women.
"That doesn't tell us anything," Alexis said, and Kate had to silently agree. "He was stable when you brought him up here three hours ago."
Josh sighed, running a hand through his hair. Kate could see the exhaustion in his eyes, and her heart went out to him. They'd been seeing each other long enough for her to recognize when he felt he'd fallen short, and her heart constricted in her chest at what he might not be saying.
"Once we got the bleeding under control, we were able to repair the damage," he explained. "The bullet really did a number on him. No major organs damaged, but it nicked his aorta; that's why he crashed in the ambulance."
Lanie sucked in a sharp breath, and Kate turned worried eyes on her friend. When she looked back to Josh, he was shaking his head. "What does that mean, Josh?"
"He lost a lot of blood, Kate," he said quietly. "I'm surprised he made it to the hospital, frankly. He coded once in the ER, and again on the operating table. Like I said, he's stable now. We're working on replacing the blood he lost, but it's really just a waiting game."
"When can we see him?" Martha asked.
"He's in recovery right now," Josh said, turning his attention to his patient's mother. "I'm going to keep him there for a few more hours, then we'll transfer him to the ICU. If all goes well, you should be able to get into his room later tonight." He held up his hands when it looked like Alexis would protest. "I know you want to see him, so I'll let you have a few minutes while he's still in Recovery. We've got him heavily sedated, so he won't be awake, but I can't give you any more than that."
"Is it that bad?" Kate asked in a small voice.
Josh turned understanding eyes on her. "If he makes it through the night without any more complications, I'd expect him to make a full recovery. But the next few hours are going to be critical."
"Thank you, Doctor Davidson," Martha said, reaching out and squeezing his arm. "I know you've done all you can."
"You're welcome," he said sadly. "I wish I could have done more." He took in the group once more. "I'll have a nurse escort you to Recovery in a few minutes. Then she can walk you down to the ICU; the waiting room's a bit more comfortable down there."
"Thank you," Martha said again.
Josh looked at Kate, shifting his eyes back towards the doors before returning his gaze to her. Kate nodded, getting the subtle message. She turned to Martha, laying a hand on her arm.
"I'll be right back."
Martha nodded, and Kate turned to follow Josh back towards the surgery wing.
"Okay, what aren't you telling us?" she asked when they were out of earshot.
Josh sighed, hitching his hands on his hips. He looked down at the floor before meeting her eyes. "I wasn't kidding about the damage. His major organs are intact, but that bullet pinged around in his chest for a bit. Nicked several arteries, including the aorta. He bled into his pericardium, too. That's why he crashed in the ER. I'm honestly surprised he didn't die at the scene. Your friend probably saved his life."
Kate's eyes sought out Lanie, talking quietly with Martha and Alexis. When she looked back at Josh, she found that same sadness in his eyes. "Will he make it?"
"I don't know," he said, shoulders slumping a bit. "He's healthy and strong, so that works in his favor, but the blood loss…" He trailed off. Meeting her eyes once more. "I honestly don't know. If he makes it through the night, I'll be more optimistic." He eyed her critically, and she felt herself squirm under his gaze. "Will you go home and rest?"
"I can't," she said, shaking her head. "I need to be here. Just, keep us posted, okay?"
"Yeah," he said, gusting out a sigh. He stepped in closer, and cupped her cheek in his hand, placing a gentle kiss on her forehead. "Let the nurses know if you need anything, okay?"
"Yeah," she agreed. "Thank you. For everything."
Josh gave a tight smile, then disappeared through the doors. Kate took a deep breath, trying to release some of the pent-up tension inside her. The look on Josh's face had almost killed her, but she wasn't going to pretend that Castle wasn't important to her. She'd just have to explain it to him later.
Chapter 3: Interlude I
The hiss and beep of the machines is a constant din in the background, but Kate takes comfort in the fact that the steady noise means Castle isn't dead yet. And with each passing hour, that hope becomes a little stronger.
It's been two days since the shooting. Two days, and he has yet to wake up. She's been a constant fixture at his side, as much as the case and her new boss will allow. Victoria Gates is a hard-ass, and she's been pushing them to find the shooter. All of New York knows who Richard Castle is, but it grates at the Captain that he's also a Police Consultant—ostensibly one of their own. Not that she wants him back, but it wouldn't look good for them to give anything less than their best effort to find the shooter.
Kate's exhausted. She's hardly slept, can't really eat. Not until he wakes up and she can yell at him for jumping in front of that bullet.
She's angry, angrier than she's ever been. He had no business doing it. She knows that he did it to save her, and part of her is pleased that he would do that for her: sacrifice himself to keep her safe. But the rest of her knows that that was her job; she's the cop, she's the one trained for this kind of thing. She's the one that took the oath, promising to serve and protect. He isn't supposed to protect her, but it seems like he's been doing that since the day they'd met.
He's wormed his way into her heart, past her carefully erected defenses, and she's heartbroken that it might cost him his life. Not only because he isn't a cop and he isn't supposed to do things like that, but because if he dies—she can feel fresh tears roll down her face at that thought.
She's sitting alone in the dark ICU, watching his chest rise and fall. She reaches out and tucks her hand in his, squeezing tightly. She's stopped trying to stop the tears; they come whether she wants them to or not. Josh had said that the longer he hung on, the better the chance that he'd pull through. And she's decided that he has to pull through.
She'd bared her soul to him, there on the grass in the cemetery, told him she loved him even though she'd been planning to take that secret to her grave. But knowing that he was slipping away, she had to say it. She'd felt the cold fingers of fear constricting her heart as she'd watched the life slip out of him, and she'd known in that moment that this would be her only chance.
She doesn't regret telling him. She doubts he'll remember, and even if he does, well, she'll deal with that when the time comes. Because she refuses to accept that the time won't come. And there's Josh to think of, despite her near desperate need to see Castle recover. She knows he knows something is up. She could see it in his eyes the last time he came to check on Castle, and the guilt flashes through her at the memory. She knows she'll have to face that sooner or later. He deserves that, at least. But those are thoughts for another time.
She reaches up and dashes away the tears that have been running down her face. She hasn't cried this much in…she can't remember how long. She doesn't even remember crying this much when her mother died. She knows she survived her mother's death, and that she'd probably survive Castle's, but a large part of her heart would die with him, and she just doesn't know how she'd cope with that.
Chapter 4: A Reversal of Despair
"Don't die," Kate whispered as she sat vigil at Castle's bedside. She knew it was futile. He was unconscious, probably in a coma and couldn't hear her. But she felt like she had to say it anyway. "Don't die. I don't want you to die, Castle. Do you hear me? Don't leave me."
Her head fell, forehead leaning on his hand. She lifted her head a little and dropped a kiss on his knuckles, rubbing her thumb over his hand. It was warm and alive, and she tried to take comfort in that, but it was hard.
She heard a whisper above her, and her head popped up. She must have fallen asleep at some point, because the raspy voice startled her. She pushed her hair out of her face and watched his face, waiting to hear it again.
"I'm here, Castle," she said, moving to sit beside him on the bed and the nurses be damned. "Can you open your eyes?"
She reached out and brushed the hair off his forehead as she waited. She thought maybe she'd imagined it, because he wasn't moving, not talking, and not opening his eyes.
Then, slowly, his eyes slit open, wandering until they came to her. She could see they were muzzy, unfocused, but they were still that unbelievable shade of blue that always stole her breath when he turned them on her.
"Hi," she whispered.
"Shot…" he said quietly, barely a whisper. "Gun…"
"Yes," she said, nodding even as fresh tears fell on her cheeks. "You stopped the bullet. You saved my life."
"Yeah, well, we're going to talk about that when you feel better," she said, trying for a frown.
His eyes fell closed again, and she reached across his body for the call button, summoning the nurse as quickly as she could.
"Later…" he whispered, just as the nurse entered the room.
Kate jumped up and stumbled back. She stammered out what she hoped was a coherent sentence. "He just woke up."
The nurse checked his vitals, making notes on the chart before turning kind eyes to Kate. "He'll probably do that a lot in the next few days." When Kate didn't say anything, the nurse crossed over and laid a hand on her arm. "That's a good thing," she said with a small smile. "I'll let the doctor know."
Kate watched her go, then she returned to her chair and the vigil she'd promised herself—and now Castle—that she'd keep. At least until she was sure he'd pull through. Everything else could wait.
"Mother, will you please stop!" Castle barked out, wincing in pain as the too-deep breath pulled at the stitches in his chest.
"Are you okay, sweetheart?" his mother asked, completely ignoring his outburst.
Castle closed his eyes, counting to ten as he tried to calm himself down. "I'm fine, Mother. Please."
He reached out his hand, trying to get her to just sit down instead of fuss over his pillows, the positioning of the TV, arranging and rearranging the flowers and balloons that had sprouted in his room almost every night. Everything and anything that kept her attention focused away from the fact that he'd been shot. She gave him one final look, then dropped into the chair pulled up beside the bed.
"I'm sorry, Richard," she said, all contrite now. She took his hand, squeezing tightly. "I'm just—"
"Worried. I know," he said, sighing softly.
She'd been like this since he'd been moved from ICU four days before. He suspected she'd been like that the entire time he'd been in the ICU, but since he'd been in and out of consciousness the whole five days, he couldn't say for sure.
"I'm going to be fine, you know," he tried to reassure her.
She pursed her lips. "And when you're back on your feet, you're going back to the precinct, aren't you? Back to working with Beckett."
"Yes," he said, not even needing to think about it.
"Richard! You almost got killed." She was shaking, he could feel it in her hand, but he couldn't muster the strength to still the tremors. "It isn't your job to be Beckett's body guard. You're not a cop. You don't have to do this."
Castle sighed, closing his eyes briefly. How did he explain this to his mother when he couldn't even explain it to himself? When he opened his eyes again, he saw the worry in her eyes. It broke his heart, but he knew no amount of begging on her part would change his mind.
"I have to," he said. When she made to argue, he lifted his other hand just a bit—as much as he had strength for—which stilled her. "I promised Kate a long time ago that I'd always be there for her. That hasn't changed."
"But you've been shot," she protested weakly. "I don't know if I can go through this again."
Pain sliced through Castle's heart at that, pain that had nothing to do with the gunshot wound. He hated that this caused his mother so much pain, and he wasn't looking forward to having this conversation with Alexis for the same reason.
Still, he loved Kate, even if she didn't know it. And knowing that she loved him made the choice easy. Not that he'd share that with his mother, especially not since he hadn't told Kate herself.
"I still have my Kevlar vest, Mother," he said, trying to reassure her in the only way he could. "And I promise to be careful. Just, please don't ask me to give it up."
He could see her struggle, and he felt guilty for doing this to her, but he knew there was no other way. He wasn't giving up the precinct unless they threw him out.
Finally, she deflated. Patting his hand, she gave him a wan smile. "All right, sweetheart. I promise."
Castle deflated back into the pillows, the fight having taken more out of him than he'd expected. "Good."
"Sleep now, Richard," Martha said, brushing the hair off his forehead. "I'll still be here when you wake up."
He nodded, his eyelids falling closed. And as sleep claimed him, a pair of warm brown eyes and a soft smile floated through his dreams.
"So, are you blowing off your homework to come visit me?"
"Dad." Alexis rolled her eyes.
"I'll have you know Alexis has been very vigilant," Martha assured her son. "She's been working on her homework every day after she visits you." She leaned over, whispering in his ear. "Not even I can distract her, and Lord knows I've tried."
Castle chuckled, wincing as his abused chest protested. Martha rubbed his arm consolingly, but otherwise didn't fuss, much to his everlasting relief. It had been nearly three weeks since the shooting, and true to her word, his mother had stopped fussing. But he could still see the shadows behind her eyes. He supposed they'd be there for a long time, but the stronger he got, the closer he got to going home, the easier it got, for all of them.
"Well, I'll be out of the hospital soon, so it'll be my turn," he said, winking at her. "She won't be able to resist watching old movies with her convalescing father."
"Maybe I'll see if somebody can put me up for a while."
"Don't you dare," Castle said, weakly wagging a finger. "I'll still need someone to bring me juice and warm up my feet."
"You could buy him a mini-fridge, but I'd draw the line at the feet."
All three turned toward the new voice, Castle's face breaking into a huge grin as he saw Esposito and Ryan walk through the door.
"Castle," Ryan said, reaching out and shaking his hand. "It's good to see you."
"Yeah, man," Esposito said, echoing his partner as he shook Castle's hand. "You look better than the last time we saw you."
Everyone froze. Castle's eyes flicked over to his mother and daughter, on the other side of the bed. He was acutely aware that they hadn't really talked about what happened, despite his conversation with his mother.
"Yes, well, death on a Triscuit always looks bad," he joked, trying to break the tension.
"I thought it was 'death on a platter'?" Martha asked.
"Don't you know, Gram?" Alexis said, looking over her shoulder. "On the 'West Wing' they used to call it 'death on a Triscuit'."
"Ah, Martin Sheen," Martha said, a knowing smile crossing her face. "Do you know he used to get the worst case of stage fright just before he went on stage? Used to puke his guts out, then dash out there. God it was horrible, especially if you had to kiss—"
Martha smiled, waving a hand dismissively. "At any rate. Alexis, we should really be going. I've got to stop by the studio this afternoon before I run a few errands."
"And I've got homework," Alexis announced. She leaned over and kissed her father's forehead before gathering her stuff.
"Good afternoon, Detectives," Martha said, squeezing her son's hand.
"Bye, guys," Alexis said, waving briefly before they slipped out the door.
"We didn't chase them off, did we?" Ryan asked.
Castle waved a hand, drawing a smile from the two detectives. "They've been here a while. Besides, Alexis wasn’t kidding. She's determined to keep up with her homework. I don't know where I went wrong."
Esposito shook his head, but there was a smile on his face. He and Ryan sat in chairs on opposite sides of the bed, leaning back as they settled in for a while.
"So, how are you, really?"
"Tired," Castle said, exhaling loudly. "I hate being sick."
"Jenny says I whine when I'm laid up," Ryan said.
"You whine when you get a paper cut, bro," Esposito said, earning a scowl.
Castle chuckled softly. "I miss this, you know?"
"Yeah, well, take your time," Esposito said. "The precinct isn't going anywhere. Besides, you don't really want to be in a rush to meet the new Captain."
"That bad, huh?" Castle asked, frowning.
"They call her 'Iron Gates'," Ryan said. "She came over from IA. Wants everyone to call her 'sir'."
Castle's eyebrows brushed his hairline. "'Sir'?"
"Yeah," Esposito said, and Castle could tell from the look on his face just how he felt about that.
"Well, I have yet to find a woman I can't charm," Castle said, smiling. "After all, I charmed Kate, didn't I?"
"You just keep thinking like that," Esposito said, shaking his head.
"How is Kate, by the way?" Ryan and Esposito exchanged a glance before refocusing on him. "What?"
"She's…fine," Ryan said.
"You know, for a cop, you're a bad liar," Castle said.
Ryan shifted in his seat, but it was Esposito that spoke. "She's pushing, man. She wants to find this guy so bad—I'm not sure how much sleep she's getting, but she's stayed late every day this week."
"Hasn't she been here at all?" Ryan asked.
"The nurses tell me she visits late at night," Castle said quietly. "I've woken up and found her napping in that chair. I don’t think she knows that I know she's here."
"Well, she is pushing herself pretty hard, trying to find the shooter," Ryan said, and Castle could hear the attempted reassurance in his tone.
"Any luck finding him?" Castle asked. "What about the gun?"
Esposito shook his head. "According to the DOD, the serial number matches a weapon that was issued to one Martin Holst, a navy seal who was killed in action seven years ago. His body was recovered on a subsequent mission, but the weapon was not."
"And now we know why," Castle said. "Prints?"
Ryan shook his head. "It's clean for prints. Lab's running a trace right now for DNA."
"We're working up the eyewitness statements," Esposito took up where Ryan left off. "Half the guys we talked to said they remember seeing a grounds keeper taking cover from the shooter behind a tree, but according to the grounds staff, none of them were in the area."
"He blended in during the chaos and then disappeared," Ryan said, finishing Esposito's thought. "If this guy's some pro for hire, he could be halfway to Cuba by now."
"It just doesn't make any sense," Castle said. His energy was flagging, but he wouldn't put off this conversation for anything. They needed to find the shooter. It was the only way to unravel who killed Kate's mother. "It was supposed to be over. Montgomery sacrificed himself, killing Lockwood and all his guys. He said he was ending it. He said he was doing it to keep her safe. So, if the plan was to keep her safe, then why the hell are they still coming after her?"
"Unless Montgomery told someone," Esposito said, brows creasing. "Maybe he passed on what he knew, and whoever is behind this found out."
"Yeah, but why take a shot at Beckett?" Ryan asked. "She said he didn't tell her anything."
Both detectives looked at Castle, who shook his head. "As far as I know, she's still as much in the dark as we are." He frowned, running the case through his mind one more time. "What if whoever ordered the hit thinks that Montgomery gave what he knew to Kate?"
"Makes sense," Esposito said. "He'd think that if he took her out, the knowledge would die with her. She didn't say that her place had been ransacked. Of course, I doubt she's been there much in the last few of weeks."
"If I didn't want someone to know I'd been in their place, I'd search carefully," Castle speculated. "And because Kate hadn't been home much before the shooting, they'd have had the time."
"True, but even if someone did search her place, I doubt they left any prints behind," Esposito said.
"Yeah," Castle said. He thought about what they knew, an idea forming. "What if we look at this from another angle?"
"How so?" Ryan asked.
"Well, we know that Montgomery had partners," Castle said speculatively. "What if we look into everyone's financials. Maybe they used the money they earned from the ransoms to pay off the guy they hired to kill Kate's mom."
"That's not a bad idea, Castle," Esposito said. He looked to Ryan. "We'll have to run it past Gates, see if she'll back us on the warrant."
"Gates is going to love this," Ryan said, a sick smile on his face. "Right up her alley."
"You can't do this officially without implicating Montgomery," Castle said. "We don't want anyone knowing he was involved in this, so you'll have to watch yourselves."
"We'll be careful," Ryan said, laying a hand on Castle's arm.
He shrank back into the pillows, fatigue finally getting the best of him. He saw the two detectives share a look, but he was too tired to care.
"We should get going," Ryan said, standing up.
Esposito followed suit. "It's good seeing you awake."
"Yeah, well, I'll try to stay that way."
The detectives chuckled. "Take care of yourself, Castle," Ryan said.
"And behave for the nurses," Esposito said. "They don't need you making their life miserable."
"And where's the fun in that?" Castle said, smiling and winking.
"Right," Esposito said, shaking his head. "It's Castle. What was I thinking?"
Ryan chuckled, and the two men bade him farewell as they moved out of the room. Castle settled back into the pillows, content to drift for a while. It had been good to feel useful, even if it was just talking over the case as they knew it. He knew he had a long road ahead, but as long as his friends kept him in the loop, he thought he could handle it.
Two days later, Kate walked down the hall, intent on making her first daylight visit to Castle's hospital room. She'd avoided this visit until she felt like she couldn't anymore. Ryan and Esposito had told her that Castle was asking about her, so she knew the time had come to suck it up and stop by. She checked her phone one last time to see if one of the boys had left her any messages. They'd been working the financial angle, but hadn't found anything yet, and it had her frustrated and tired.
She rounded the corner and almost ran into a man coming out of Castle's hospital room.
"I'm sorry," he said, grabbing her elbows to steady her.
"It's okay," she said, shaking her head as she held up her phone. "I wasn't really paying attention."
She stepped aside, intending to head into Castle's room, when she was stopped by a hand at her elbow.
"You're Kate, right?" She raised an eyebrow, wondering just who this guy was and how he knew her name. He didn't look like a doctor—he was wearing slacks and a blue button down under a sport coat. His expression was open, friendly, his obsidian eyes meeting hers easily.
"Yes," she finally said. "And you are?"
"I'm Carter Burke," he said, holding his hand out for her to shake.
She took it, noting absently that he had a strong grip. "It's nice to meet you, Mr. Burke."
"It's Doctor, actually," he said, smiling at her.
Kate's eyebrow rose. "You don't look much like a doctor."
He was handsome, older but not too much, with skin the color of her favorite coffee drink and close cropped hair that lacked any white. She still didn't think he looked like a doctor.
"I get that a lot," he said amiably. "I'm actually a psychiatrist. I'll be working with Rick during his recovery."
"He needs a shrink?" she blurted out, then cringed.
Burke chuckled. "I've been working with the department for a number of years, helping officers who've been wounded in the line of duty. Since Rick was shot while working with the NYPD, the Chief of Detectives asked me to step in and lend a hand."
Kate nodded. That, at least, she could understand. "Is he—I mean, how's he doing?"
"Rick is resilient," Burke said. "Everyone who's ever been shot has at least some residual stress from the event. But, that's what I'm here for."
Kate noticed that he hadn't really answered the question, but then again she hadn't expected him to. Still, if Castle needed someone to talk to, someone who understood what was going on, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing."
"I'm glad you're going to help him, then," she said, moving once again towards Castle's door.
"Kate," Burke said, calling out to her before she stepped inside. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. "Stop by my office later. I'd like to talk to you."
"I don't need a shrink," she said, "but thanks for the offer."
Burke smiled. "I'm talking to everyone who'll be involved in Rick's recovery. It's important that we're all on the same page."
Kate took the card, her mind already spinning. Everyone involved in Rick's recovery. Suddenly, she wasn't sure being there was such a good idea. She wasn't sure she should be involved, especially since it was her fault he was in the hospital in the first place.
She nodded absently and watched as the doctor made his way down the hall. Fingering the card, she stood outside the room for a moment, wondering if she should just leave now. He'd never know she'd been there, and he probably needed his rest anyway. But, she was painfully aware that she hadn't visited while he was conscious since he'd been brought in, and she was feeling guilty about that, too.
Sighing, she tucked the card into her pocket and pushed the door open, pasting a smile on for Castle's benefit and her own.
"Kate!" Castle said, his face lighting up as soon as he saw who his visitor was.
"Castle," she said, smiling as she approached the bed.
He looked better than he had all week. There was some color returning to his cheeks, and he was sitting up a bit more than he had been. She breathed a silent sigh of relief.
He smiled at her. It was tired, but it still held a glimmer of that Castle charm she missed. "I was wondering when you'd stop by."
"Yeah, well, you know me," she quipped as she settled into the chair by the bed.
"Yeah, I do know you," he said, sighing. "Kate, you need to stop working so hard. You look like you haven’t slept in a week."
"What did you expect, Castle?" she barked out. "The guy that shot you is in the wind, and we're no closer to finding him than we were they day you were—" She stopped mid-rant, cringing. She stood up, sending him an apologetic smile. "Maybe I shouldn't have come."
Castle's hand shot out, grabbing her wrist in a surprisingly strong grip. "Stay."
She melted at the pleading look on his face. She couldn't take the puppy dog eyes, not from him. "Okay, I'll stay."
She resettled in the chair, looking everywhere but at him. She saw all the flowers and balloons scattered around the room and had to chuckle.
"It looks like you're starting a flower shop in here," she said.
He chuckled. "Yeah, well, I've sent a lot of them to other patients. The nurses keep telling me how sweet I'm being. I don't have the heart to tell them they're bugging my sinuses."
Kate smiled at the teasing, her eyes finally meeting his. She sucked in a breath, then coughed to cover it up. There'd been such love and longing in his eyes that it almost took her breath away.
"You didn't send my flowers out, did you?" she asked, trying for a teasing tone.
"Yours are right here, Detective," he said, definitely teasing as he pointed to the other bedside table.
She leaned out, finally noticing them sitting there beside him, within easy reach. She turned a smile back to him, once again struck by the genuine affection in his gaze. She knew she owed him an explanation for why she'd stayed away. She didn't want to talk about it. It was the last thing she wanted to do, but she felt she owed him that much.
Kate and Castle both turned to the door, seeing Gina Cowell sweep into the room in a swirl of perfume and designer everything.
"Gina," Castle said, giving a weak smile.
Kate smiled at her as she rounded the bed and leaned over to peck him on the cheek.
"Detective," Gina said, fake smile failing to reach her eyes.
Gina turned her attention back to the writer, stroking her hand down his cheek. "Oh, my poor, poor baby. Shot! And me in London and not able to be here for you."
"I'm fine, Gina," he said, giving another weak smile even as she scoffed. "Well, as fine as a man can be after being shot."
"And I suppose there's no chance now of getting a final draft of Heat Rises anytime soon," she said as though she hadn't even heard what Castle had said.
"I'm not going to be doing much writing for the foreseeable future, I'm afraid."
"And you're sure about that?" Gina asked. "I mean, what are the doctors saying? Maybe I could bring you your laptop?"
"I don’t think Castle's going to be up to any serious writing for a while," Kate said, jumping in before the woman could ramble on any more. She got a glare in return.
"It's just that Armand will be all over me," Gina said, stroking her hand down his arm. "I know you're still in the hospital, but if you could just give me what you've got—"
"That's it," Kate said, standing up. She moved around the bed and gripped Gina by the arm, turning the editor to face her. "He's just been shot. Shot, do you get that? So, no, he won't be writing, he won't be sending you what he's got. He won't be working at all in the foreseeable future!"
Her voice had steadily risen until she was shouting at Gina.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Tiger Mom," Castle called out when Kate stopped for breath. "Calm down."
Gina glanced between the two before tugging her arm free. "I think I'll check in with you later, Ricky," she said, turning and pecking him on the cheek again.
She swept from the room, not even stopping to say goodbye. Kate watched her go, truly shocked by her own behavior. She had to get out of there. Now. She practically raced around the bed, grabbing up her coat and bag before turning to Castle.
"I think—you need some rest," she stammered out, barely looking at him.
And then she ran.
It took a couple more days of digging, but they finally found the bank that Montgomery and his crew were using. Unfortunately, it was a victim of the banking meltdown back in the early 2000's. And just to add insult to injury, all the records that the bank had stored in a warehouse burned when the warehouse caught fire.
"Report says the warehouse burned three weeks after your Mom's death," Esposito said as they drove over to talk to the arson investigator.
"That can't be a coincidence," Kate said, shaking her head. "It just seems like a lot of effort to go through just to destroy a few records."
"Not if those records could tie a bunch of cops to a ransom scheme that had the potential to bring down the department," Esposito said. "The fallout on this would have been huge."
"True," Kate said. She nibbled her lip as she waited for Esposito to finish perusing the report. "Cause?" she asked when she got tired of waiting.
"Says here electrical fire."
"It's an old building," Kate said. It was kinda flimsy, but coincidences had been known to happen.
"Yeah," Esposito said. He paused, eyeing her critically as she pulled into the fire station.
"What?" she asked. She killed the engine, then turned to face him.
"Are you gonna be okay in there?" he asked. "'Cuz I don't have to tell you that we need to be careful. If this guy knows anything—"
"He's not going to tell us if I pop off at him," she said, finishing his thought. "I know." She shifted her gaze, staring out the window, watching the activity bustling around the fire house. "I need to find out who did this, Javi," she said, turning back to him. "But I’m not going to apologize if I go at it hard. Somebody knows something they're not telling. I need to know what that is."
"Fair enough," Esposito said.
The two detectives exited the car and found their way to the office in back. The lettering on the door simply read 'Arson'. Kate pushed through, knocking on the already-open door. The man behind the desk looked up, and she could see his gaze flick between the two of them, curious.
"Can I help you?"
"Rod Halstead?" Kate asked, stepping into the room.
"That's me," Halstead said, standing up and offering his hand.
Kate shook his hand as she made the introductions. "I'm Detective Kate Beckett and this is Detective Javier Esposito, from the Twelfth. Can we ask you some questions?"
"Sure," Halstead said.
Kate handed over the report. "We're investigating a shooting, and this report came up. Do you remember that fire?"
Halstead riffled through the file, quickly refamiliarizing himself with the case. "Warehouse in Union City. Yeah, yeah, I remember this fire."
"You didn't notice anything unusual about this fire?" Esposito asked. "Was there anything that you didn't put in that report?"
Halstead shook his head. "Not that I recall."
"And this report hasn't been altered in any way since you filed it?" Kate asked, still pressing.
"I don't think so," Halstead said. "If there was anything suspicious Detective, it'd be in the report. Power surge in the junction box, one in a million event."
"That warehouse contained records from a failed bank," Kate said. "And it burned down less than three weeks after a woman was murdered by a group of individuals using that bank to launder their money. So, I have to ask, were you paid off? Did someone pay you to falsify that report? To leave something out?"
"You are way out of line here!" Halstead exclaimed. "I'm not crooked, and I resent you implying that I am."
"I'm not implying anything," Kate said, stepping closer. "I'm saying that if you got paid to help these people cover up their crimes, then you'll go down. I promise you that."
"Beckett," Esposito said quietly, laying a hand on her arm.
Halstead's eyes flicked to Esposito. "Get her out of here. And don't come back."
"I'll prove you're in on this," Kate ground out even as Esposito started dragging her to the door. "You can't hide it from me."
"Beckett," Esposito said forcefully as he tugged on her arm. "Let's go."
Finally, she relented. Turning on her heel, she stalked out of the office, Esposito trailing in her wake. He gave one last apologetic glance in Halstead's direction, then followed her out. Jogging to catch up, he grabbed her elbow, pulling her to a stop just a few feet from the car.
"Hey, what was that?"
Kate's gaze scanned the fire station, the street, anywhere but at him. She knew she'd crossed the line, but this was their only viable lead, and she was frustrated that they seemed to be hitting more walls than breakthroughs.
"I told you I was going to go hard at him."
"There's hard and then there's accusing an innocent man of a crime he didn't commit," Esposito said.
"We do it all the time in interrogation," Kate shot back. "How's this any different?"
"It's different because he's one of us," Esposito said. He pressed in close, forcing her to look at him as he went on in a quiet voice. "Going at him like that makes us no better than the guys we're chasing. And you know that."
Kate looked down at her feet, shoulders slumping minutely. "Yeah," she whispered.
"Hey, I get it," he said, laying a hand on her arm. "If it was my Mom, I'd want to know, too. But this isn't the way."
"Yeah," she said, gusting out a breath as she dragged her hand through her hair.
"We'll get 'em," he said confidently. "I promise you we'll get 'em, eventually."
"Just not today, huh?"
Esposito smiled gently. "Not today."
"Okay," Kate said, returning the smile. "Let's go."
Kate looked up as she set her gun inside her desk drawer. Gates was standing in the doorway of her office, looking stern. Which wasn't a different look than any other day, but somehow today it made her gut twist.
She headed across the bullpen, Esposito and Ryan tossing her a sympathetic glance as she entered the Captain's office.
"Sit down, Detective," Gates said.
Kate settled into the chair in front of the desk and waited.
"Where are you on Mr. Castle's shooting?"
Kate took a deep breath. This she could handle.
"The gun's a dead end," she said. "No prints. They found DNA, but it's not in the system. The serial number checks out, but it belonged to a SEAL who was KIA in Afghanistan."
"So no way to track how many hands it's been in since then," Gates said. "What about the eyewitness reports?"
"Nothing," Kate said. "Dogs had a scent, but they lost it. And no luck on a discarded uniform. If he was dressed as a groundskeeper, he took the clothes with him."
Gates nodded. "Where were you this morning?"
"We were running down a lead on whoever's behind all this."
Kate sighed. "And as far as I can tell, it's a dead end."
"Anything else?" Gates asked.
Kate cringed. They didn't have any more leads, and unless something broke soon, they wouldn't have anything left to go on.
Gates eyed her critically. "Then I suggest that you move on."
"Move on!" Kate nearly shouted. "Castle's still in the hospital. He almost died. We owe it to him to find whoever did this."
"And I would be all for that if you had any new leads," Gates said. "But since you don't, there are other cases that need your attention."
"And what about this one?" Kate shot back. Arguing with your new boss wasn't exactly a smart career move, but she wasn't about to let this go.
"I'm not saying we abandon this," Gates said. "I'm saying that we're in the business of solving the cases we can solve. If new evidence comes to light, I'll authorize you to pick this case up again. Until then, I'm putting you back in the rotation."
Kate sat quietly, fuming. She couldn't believe that they'd just move on, despite Gates' assurances. Montgomery would never have pulled them off the case. But just the memory of her former boss made her heart clench painfully, so she shoved those thoughts away.
"Yes, sir," she said instead.
"Dismissed," Gates said, picking up her glasses and returning her attention to the paperwork on her desk.
Kate got up and left the office, barely restraining the urge to slam the door. She marched back to her desk and sat down forcefully in her chair, huffing out a breath.
"So?" Ryan asked quietly as he and Esposito approached her desk.
"So, we've officially suspended the investigation," Kate said angrily.
"So, that's it?" Ryan asked. "We just give up?"
"No. We don't just give up," Kate said forcefully, causing Ryan to wince. She offered an apologetic smile. "We do as much as we can off the books. I'm not willing to just give this up."
Esposito nodded. "We'll get 'em," he repeated, this time for Ryan's benefit as well.
Ryan nodded, offering a supportive smile to Kate. "We will. It may take some time…"
"Yeah," Kate said. Glancing down, she collected herself. Getting angry at the boys wasn't going to help, and it wasn't their fault. Wasn't Gates' fault, either, really. She needed them working active cases, cases they could solve. But Kate would find her mother's murderer—and Castle's shooter—one day, with or without the Captain's help. "So, anything new drop while we were gone?"
Chapter 5: Interlude II
Kate thinks her life was easier before she met Richard Castle. Back then, she did her job, had boyfriends occasionally, and still believed her mother had been just another victim of random violence.
Now, her life is infinitely more complicated. She's become dissatisfied with occasional boyfriends and shallow relationships; she knows now that her mother was murdered to cover up a ransom scheme being perpetrated by cops. The job's still the same, with the exception of a new partner.
But it's the subtle ways that her life differs now that make it so much more complicated. Castle isn't just her partner; he's her soulmate. He's the other half of her that she hadn't realized was missing. When put like that, it seems like it should have come straight off the pages of one of his books, but that doesn't make it any less true.
And while chasing criminals and solving crimes doesn't change much year to year, she finds that the twists and turns the cases take now that Castle is with them make the days pass more quickly. It's more exciting to solve mysteries with him as he spins wild and complex theories that sometimes actually turn out to be true.
She's given up the boyfriends. She knows none of them can compare to Castle, and she can't say she's upset about that. Josh had taken it well, but she thinks maybe he'd known it was coming. They hadn't been together since the shooting, and while she could pass it off to just about everyone else as worry for a friend, she hadn't been able to tell him that lie.
So, she'd let him down as easy as she knew how. He'd gone quietly, and for that she's grateful. And while she doesn't normally cry over lost boyfriends, she has to admit to shedding a tear or two over Josh. He deserved so much better than she'd given him, and she's just now realizing that. But, what's done is done, and now she has to look to the future.
She's still a mess, and Lord knows that's not going to change anytime soon. Alexis won't speak to her and she doesn't blame the girl. She still carries the guilt of the shooting with her, and probably always will, and every time she looks at Alexis, she remembers that it was supposed to be her. It doesn't help her to move on, but she's not sure anything will.
And, to be honest, she's not sure she really wants to. She's sure there'll come a day when she doesn't wake up in the middle of the night, gasping for breath as her whole body shakes at the memory of a nightmare in which they don't get him to the hospital in time. There are things she can do to keep herself from thinking about it, but she knows that won't last long.
She doesn't want to go see the shrink because she doesn't want him to call her on any of it, but then again, she knows she can't avoid it forever. If she's going to stick around—and really, at this point that's not up for debate anymore—she's going to have to face it all: the shooting, Alexis, Castle. Her own demons. She's not looking forward to that at all, but then she remembers what her life had been like before she'd met him.
She's not going back to the person she used to be, before Castle. So, the only way she can go is forward. She'll do anything for Castle, up to and including visit a shrink. If that's not love, she's not sure what is.
Chapter 6: New Objectives
Two weeks later, Kate finally worked up the nerve to visit the shrink. She didn't want to, but she'd finally come to the conclusion that she couldn't simply walk away from Castle, no matter how much she might want to. Admitting that she loved him was the hardest thing she'd ever done, and now that she'd said it out loud there was no going back. She didn't know if he'd heard her—in all the weeks since he'd woken up in ICU, they'd never actually talked about it—but that didn't change the fact that she'd said it.
She was alone in the waiting room, alternating between pacing and fidgeting in her chair. She hated the idea that she might need a shrink, but she just kept telling herself that this was for Castle's benefit.
The interior door swung open, and another man emerged, the Doctor following behind. They shook hands, and then the Doctor turned to her, smile at the ready. She was struck again by how much he didn't look like a shrink. Shaking herself internally, she stood, offering her own tenuous smile.
"Detective Beckett," Doctor Burke said, offering her his hand. "I'm glad you could stop by."
Kate shook his hand. "Yeah, well, this is all for Castle, right?"
If Burke noticed that she was avoiding his eyes, he didn't call her on it. Instead, he ushered her into his office, grabbing a folio off the desk as he held out his hand, directing her to the chairs in the center of the room.
It was a nice office, Kate decided. A large window overlooking Manhattan, warm wood and lots of soft, masculine fabrics. Wall-to-wall bookshelves. She was surprised to note that there wasn't a couch in sight. Smirking at herself, she shook her head once more and took a seat facing the doctor.
"So, how does this work?" she asked him, watching as he opened the folio to reveal an iPad.
He tapped a few buttons on the screen, then turned his open gaze to her. "As you know, I'll be working with Rick, helping him deal with the shooting and the after effects. I wanted to talk to you because you and Rick are close." She snorted, drawing a smirk to his face. "I've already talked to Martha and Alexis at length, and I've spent a few minutes talking to your fellow Detectives, Ryan and Esposito. You're all part of Rick's life, and going forward he's going to need all the support he can get."
"You said it yourself, Doctor," Kate said, shifting uncomfortably. "He's a survivor. He's probably already chomping at the bit to get back home and get on with his life."
Burke tipped his head in a half-nod. "He's eager to go home, yes. I'm more concerned with what happens when he gets there. Leaving the safety of the hospital is going to be hard for him. He'll probably have a panic attack or two. So will Martha and Alexis. And I'd expect it'll be difficult for you, being the person he's closest to."
"I'm not—we're not—" Kate struggled to explain what exactly they were to each other. They hadn't taken any steps forward in a good long while. Of course that could be because she was avoiding him at all costs. But really, she'd already accepted that they weren't going back to whatever they were before the shooting.
Burke chuckled at her discomfort. "Whatever you are—or aren't—are just labels. The fact remains that, of all the people in his life, Rick most values his relationship with you. And he wasn't the only one the shooting affected. He took that bullet for you. How you feel about that is going to dictate your relationship going forward, whether you like it or not."
Kate shifted uncomfortably. He was getting too close to all the things she'd kept inside since that day.
"How do you feel about him being shot instead of you?" he asked into the silence.
Kate's eyes speared into his, anger flaring. "How do you think I feel? I almost got him killed. I'll never be able to forget that. I hate that he got hurt because someone was trying to kill me. And there's nothing I can do to change that."
Burke simply stared at her, and she looked away, embarrassed that she'd lost control. This was the point where she should just get up and leave. It's what every fiber of her being was screaming for her to do, but something was keeping her in her seat.
Burke leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees, spearing her with his gaze. "I know you feel guilty about the shooting, Kate." She flinched at his directness, but it didn't stop him from going on. "But feeling guilty isn't going to change what happened. You can't take it back, so all you can do is move on from here."
"But how?" she whispered. Tears began to pool in her eyes, and she angrily swiped at them, willing herself to hold it together.
"By accepting the things you can't change."
Kate barked a laugh. "That sounds like a greeting card."
Burke shrugged, leaning back and crossing his leg over his knee. "Maybe, but it's true nonetheless. Rick's going to need your support. And you need to be there to give it to him. The question is, do you want to?"
Kate's gaze wandered to the view as she chewed her lower lip in thought. Did she want to bail on Castle? In her heart of hearts, she knew she wasn't going anywhere. But she hadn't done a very good job of being there for him over the last few weeks. She'd visited after dark, when he was sure to be asleep. And the one time she'd visited in the daylight, she'd run Gina off and then run herself.
She shifted her gaze back to Burke, who was still sitting there, waiting patiently for her to answer. She sighed, scrubbing a hand through her hair.
"I'm not going anywhere," she said quietly. "I just…I don't know how to be there for him."
"He told me you've been visiting late at night, when he's not awake."
Her eyes went round. "He knows that?"
Burke chuckled. "Yes, Kate, he knows. And even if he didn't, the nurses do. I checked."
"I just don't know what to say to him," she said, shaking her head.
"Have you tried being honest?" Burke asked. "You were afraid you'd lost him. Have you told him that?"
"No," she said, shaking her head again. "We haven't talked about that day at all."
"I suggest you do," he said. "It affected you as much as it did him, and the reality is, it's always going to be between you until you do."
Kate nodded. She looked down at her hands, rubbing against her thighs as she took a deep breath. "I told him I love him."
"Did you mean it?" Burke asked. "Or did you say it because you thought he was dying."
"Yes, what, Kate?"
Screwing up her courage, she looked him in the eyes. "I meant it, but I said it because I thought I was going to lose him. And now I don't know what to do. I'm afraid to get too close, afraid I'll lose him. He came this close to dying, and it almost killed me. I don’t think I can lose him, not after losing my mother."
"My mother was killed to cover up a ransom scheme being run by a bunch of cops," she explained, surprised at how calmly she could talk about it. She stood up, pacing as she talked it through. "Ever since she died, I've had this wall around my heart. I don't let people get close. I can't. But Castle—" she paused, breath hitching at the memory. "Castle figured it out. He's the one who helped me figure out that she was killed to cover up the ransom scheme. And he's been with me every step of the way. I don't think I could have faced this without him."
"He's been supportive?"
"He's investigated," she said, "even when I didn't want him to. He's uncovered so much, and we've come so far. But whoever it was that shot him was gunning for me. They were trying to stop me from looking into her case. And that's never going to happen, but he almost paid the price for my—"
"He was beside you willingly, Kate," Burke interrupted. "Wasn't he?"
She turned, looking at him, surprised by his comment. She hadn't thought about that, not really. He'd stood by her. Even when she'd tried to send him away, he'd always come back. She dropped into her chair, bracing her elbows on her knees.
"I still feel responsible for him getting shot," she said quietly.
"As does every cop at that funeral," Burke said. Her head popped up, surprised. "You didn't know?"
She shook her head. "No, I guess we haven't really talked about."
"Your teammates feel just as guilty as you do," he said. "And I'd imagine that's true of every cop there. One of their own was shot at the funeral of a good cop—their friend."
"He wasn't one of us," she whispered.
"Insofar as he's been working with your team as a consultant for the last three years, he's as much 'one of you' as you are," Burke insisted. "The work is getting done and you're taking the bad guys off the street. And he's not taking credit for doing it. That's earned him some support among your fellow officers. Did you notice the flowers in his hospital room? Do you know who they were from?"
She shook her head. She hadn't really thought about it, and because they weren't hers she hadn't looked.
"Rick's got a lot of friends, people he can rely on, and they're all going to want to help," he said. "Even the cops. I just want to be sure you're flowers were in there somewhere. I want to be sure you're prepared to let go of whatever is holding you back so you can be there for him."
She huffed out a laugh as she leaned back. "Let me guess: you want me to come see you regularly."
"It can't hurt," he said, smiling at her. "But only if you want to. I sense there are some issues that you might benefit from having an outside perspective on. I'm not going to force you to come see me. But the offer's open."
Kate gave a wan smile. "I'll think about it."
"That's all I ask," Burke said. He stood up, and she stood as well. "In the meantime, if you notice anything going on with Rick that sends up a red flag, feel free to call me, day or night."
"Thank you, Doctor Burke," she said, extending her hand.
He shook it, smiling once more. "You're welcome. And please, call me Carter. Doctor Burke was my father."
"Your father was a shrink?" Kate blurted, then clapped her hand over her mouth.
Burke laughed out loud as he ushered her from the office. "No, my father was a general practitioner. I'm not a fan of sick people, so I stuck to treating the mind and let him treat the body."
Kate smiled. "Makes sense. And thanks again."
"Anytime, Kate," he said, giving a slight wave as she left the office.
Once outside in the hall, she took a deep breath. It hadn't been as bad as she'd expected, although Burke had given her some things to think about. And much to her surprise, she found herself thinking about making another visit to the good Doctor.
"I can walk," Castle insisted, slapping the orderly's hands away. "I'm not an invalid, Frank."
Frank—a large man with dark skin made even darker by the white of his uniform—only smiled and extended his hand. "Hospital rules, Mr. Castle. You don't walk inside these walls unless you haven't been our guest. No exceptions."
"I'd listen to him if I were you."
Castle looked up from where he was perched on the edge of his bed. His eyes lit, and he couldn't keep the grin from his face. Not that he'd try. He hadn't seen much of Kate in weeks, not since that day Gina had blown through. The memory of that day made him cringe, which drew her into the room.
"You okay?" she asked, dumping her bag and coat on the chair by the bed as she circled around to lay a hand on his arm.
He waved her off. "Yeah, just more than ready to get the hell out of here."
"That can be arranged, Mr. Castle," Frank said, voice reasonable despite the twinkle in his eye.
Castle scowled at the orderly, but finally acquiesced. "Fine. Anything to get out of here."
Frank looked at Kate and winked. "You'd think he didn't like our hospitality or something."
"Trust me," Kate said, smiling at Frank, "he's a lousy patient when all he's got is a cold."
"Hey!" Castle exclaimed. "I'm right here, you know."
"Come on, Castle," Kate said, smiling indulgently as she shook her head. "Let's get you out of here."
She offered her hand, which he took amid much grumbling. Finally settled in the wheelchair, he sagged with relief. It had taken him half an hour, with a nurse's help, to change from the hospital gown into the sweats his mother had dropped off the day before.
"Where's Mother?" he asked when he realized she wasn't there. "Is she waiting downstairs?"
Not that he wanted to experience his mother's driving, not when he'd just been released from the hospital, but he had to get home somehow. He watched as Kate collected her jacket and bag, then scooped his duffel off the bed and followed the wheelchair out of the room.
"Your mother is waiting at the loft," Kate said as they made their way down the hall to the elevator.
"Who's driving me home, then?" he asked, though by now he figured he didn't need to.
"I am," she said, "if that's okay with you?"
"That's fine," he said, smiling. "I'd rather not take my life into my hands by getting into Mother's car, anyway."
"You know, she told me you'd say that," Kate said, drawing a chuckle from Frank. "She also told me to tell you that you'll pay for that remark. When you're better."
Castle raised an eyebrow. He shuddered to think what exactly his mother had planned. Though, knowing her it would involve his credit card, and the pain of a bill that might just stop his heart for good this time.
They passed the rest of the journey to the car in silence. Castle wasn't at all sad to be leaving the hospital. He'd grown tired of the place in a relatively short time, mostly because he couldn't get anyone to let him have his laptop. It had started with Kate throwing Gina out, and it only went downhill from there. He was dying to write, but had to concede that for most of the past month or so just sitting upright had been a challenge.
And he knew he was in for more mother-henning when he got home. His mother would probably turn into a drill sergeant, and Alexis would probably watch him like a hawk. The doctors were telling him it would be a couple of months at least before he felt like himself again. He sighed. It was going to be a long summer.
"You okay?" Kate asked as they approached the front doors.
"Yeah," he said, offering her a small smile. "Just thinking about how much fun it's going to be with two hovering nurses at home."
Kate smiled but didn't say anything. Instead, she jogged ahead and opened her car door. Frank pulled the wheelchair up next to her car, then put the brakes on.
"Okay, Mr. Castle," he said, coming around to crouch in front of him. "I'm going to help you stand up, then we'll turn you around. You're going to sit down on the car seat and swing your legs into the car."
Castle nodded, then put his hands on Frank's arms, pushing up at the same time the orderly placed his hands around his ribs and lifted. Castle winced as his scar pulled, but he gritted his teeth instead of complaining. It was going to get better eventually, or so his doctor had said.
Slowly, Frank lowered him onto the seat, and when he pulled back, Castle spun on the seat and tucked his legs into the car. Kate moved in to replace Frank, settling a blanket over his lap and buckling his seatbelt.
"I'm not five, Kate," he grumbled.
"No, you're not," she said, winking at him. "But you do act it from time to time." She laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "Just relax. We'll be home before you know it."
He nodded once again, feeling oddly tired after just that short exertion. Suddenly, walking from the elevator to his loft seemed nearly impossible.
Frank poked his head into the door once more. "You take care of yourself, Mr. Castle."
Castle shook his hand, smiling. "Thanks, Frank. Say hi to your lovely wife for me."
"Will do," Frank said. He backed up and smiled at Kate before steering the wheelchair back inside.
Kate climbed behind the driver's seat and looked over at her new passenger. "You ready to go home?"
"Past ready," he told her, drawing out a chuckle. "Thanks for doing this, Kate."
"You're welcome," she said.
She started the car and pulled into traffic. Castle leaned his head back on the headrest and closed his eyes, storing up some strength for the long walk ahead.
"Okay, Castle," Kate said as the front door swung open. "Just a little farther and you can collapse for a while."
"Can't believe I'm so winded," Castle struggled to say as they walked through the front door, leaning on Kate's arm as he shuffled along.
"Oh, darling," Martha said, sweeping into the room to take his other arm. "We could have gotten a wheelchair for you."
"Mother," Castle snapped. "I'm not riding a wheelchair into my own home."
"Alright, alright," Martha said, holding up a hand as they helped him across the room.
Alexis appeared at his other side, and he noticed Kate take a step back at the slightly less than friendly glare from his daughter. That exchange worried him, but he couldn’t spare any energy to think about it. It took all his concentration just to stay upright at this point.
Finally, after longer than he'd have liked, he was able to sink into the couch cushions. He gave a sigh, relaxing back into the pillowed softness under him.
"Sorry, Mother," he said quietly when she settled down beside him.
Taking his hand, she patted it gently. "It's okay, kiddo. We're all just glad you're home."
"Don't worry, Dad," Alexis said, sitting on his other side, as far away from Kate as she could get, he noted. "If you ever start feeling like you've aged a hundred years, we'll invite Mrs. Martindale over. If an eighty year old woman can't make you feel young, nothing can."
All four of them chuckled at that before they fell silent once again.
He let his eyes wander the space, feeling a little giddy at finally being home. Nothing had changed, though he didn't expect it to. They had a maid service come in once a week to do the major cleaning and Alexis was ridiculously tidy for a girl her age, so it looked as though no time had passed.
His eyes caught on a suitcase near the stairs and turned a questioning gaze back to his mother. "Somebody going somewhere?"
Martha raised her eyebrow, then followed his gaze back to the suitcase. She turned, looking at Kate who stood at the end of the couch, chewing on her thumbnail.
Castle frowned, glancing between the suitcase and Kate. "You?" Kate nodded. "Where are you going?"
"Nowhere," she said.
"Then what's with the suitcase?"
Martha rolled her eyes. "What she's trying to say is that she's going to be staying with us for a while. Just to help out until you're on your feet."
Kate sat down at the end of the couch, as far away from him as she could get and still be sitting on the couch. "If you're not comfortable with that, I can go back home. I just—I want to help."
"Was this Carter's idea?" he asked.
He wouldn't put it past the shrink to suggest this to Kate. He was a closet romantic who thought Castle didn't know. What concerned him more at the moment, though, was Alexis. She was holding herself tightly at his side, and he could feel the anger radiating off of her, as if she hadn't liked the idea but had been overruled. He'd thought she and Burke were making progress, but maybe not. But, knowing his daughter, she'd talk to him when she was ready and not a moment before.
Kate quirked her eyebrow, bringing him back to the present. "Carter? You mean Doctor Burke?" At Castle's nod, she smiled. "No, he didn't suggest this. I want to do this. I want to help as much as I can."
"Will you tell me why?" he asked. He knew she probably felt guilty for him being shot, and he honestly didn't think she'd tell him, but he had to ask.
Kate looked away, then returned to meet his gaze. "I need to do this for you, Rick. Isn't that enough?"
He melted a little at her honesty. It wasn't the answer he was hoping for, and he knew it wasn't the whole truth, but it was a start. "Okay. But don't think this subject is closed."
"Never with you," she said, smiling ruefully.
"Well, now that that's settled, how about some lunch?" Martha asked, rising off the couch. Castle made to get up, but both his mother and Kate waved him off.
"You stay there until lunch is ready," Kate said, rising to join Martha in the kitchen.
He sank back into the cushions, closing his eyes as Alexis snuggle deeper into his side. He listened to his mother and Kate putter around the kitchen, getting lunch together. He could hear their voices as they chatted, even if he couldn't make out the words. It was oddly domestic—his mother and his whatever-she-was in the kitchen making lunch while he and his daughter shared some quality snuggling time on the couch—drawing a contented sigh from him. He thought perhaps having Kate around all the time might spoil him, but he could live with that. He loved her, after all.
Kate pushed through the front door, exhaustion making her steps slow. She'd only been gone a few hours, but it felt like she'd run a marathon. She chuckled ruefully, thinking that perhaps that's what she'd been doing. It was tiring, dredging up all the emotional baggage and laying it out in front of her. But, after careful consideration, she'd decided it was worth it. She didn't want to stay the person she'd been before she met Castle. She wanted to be different, better. If not for herself then for him.
She dropped her bag and jacket on the bar stool and glanced around. She'd expected to find Castle crashed out on the couch, watching old movies, but he was nowhere to be seen. He'd still been asleep in bed when she'd left, but she didn't think he'd still be there. Of course, with a TV in his room, it was entirely possible that that's where she'd find him.
She debated with herself for all of a moment before she headed for his room. She'd been in there more than once during the last week, so there was no mystery left. Still, it felt somehow altogether too intimate for her tastes. This was his domain, his one private space in the loft, and she didn't want to take that away from him. But, she wanted to make sure he'd eaten and had enough to drink.
She stepped over the threshold of his office, intent on passing right through into the bedroom when she saw him. He was sitting behind his desk, staring at his laptop, eyes tracking back and forth on the screen. Her heart leapt in her chest at the familiar sight. It was as if no time had passed. He was hard at work, and she was stopping by to talk about a case.
Except she wasn't here about a case, and he wasn't supposed to be working.
"Castle, what are you doing?"
His head popped up, guilt flashing quickly across his face. "Kate! I didn't hear you come in."
"I can see that," she said, pushing through the door. She reached out and slammed his laptop closed, spearing him with her gaze.
"I was reading that," he protested mildly.
Standing this close to him, she could see the fatigue around his eyes. He was rubbing absently at his chest, just where the scar from the bullet rested over his heart. She felt her own heart clench at that knowledge, but she quickly shook it off.
"You aren't supposed to be sitting up like that and you know it."
Castle sighed. "I know, but I'm going crazy. I need to get back to it."
"Did Gina put you up to this?" she asked, narrowing her eyes. She wouldn't put it past the editor to have called him up and laid a guilt trip on him.
"No!" he exclaimed. "I haven't talked to her in couple of weeks. She knows she's not going to get anything from me for a while." He glanced away before meeting her eyes again. "I'm a writer, Kate. I need to write."
Kate softened, straightening up as she watched him slump back into his chair. She could understand about needing to be doing something, especially something you love. She'd had no qualms about denying him the laptop because she knew he'd get lost in the story and push himself farther than he was capable of going. It was the one thing that she and Alexis had agreed about, which had been weird given the teenager's continuing hostile attitude towards her. But maybe they'd been too harsh. Clearly, he was at loose ends, and they needed to do something before he hurt himself.
"I tell you what," she said, leaning over to brace her hands on the desk. "If you'll go back to the sofa and take a nap, I'll let you have your laptop back for a couple of hours tomorrow."
"Can't I have it this afternoon?"
She stood up again, shaking her head, barely restraining herself from rolling her eyes. "You're tired, Castle. I'm going to fix us a snack and something to drink, and we're going to lose ourselves in a movie. And tomorrow," she said, holding up a hand when he made to protest, "you're going to stay on the couch where you can lean back, and I'll let you work on your laptop. Those are my terms."
"When did you get so good at negotiating?" he asked, giving her a lopsided smile.
"The day I met you," she retorted. She moved around the desk, spinning his chair so he was facing her. "Come on, I'll help you back to the couch."
He gave her a disgruntled scowl, but offered his hands anyway. Between the two of them, they got him up and into the living room in no time. He settled back into the couch cushions, relaxing almost the instant he sat down. She knew he wouldn't admit it, but she could see the relief on his face at having left the desk chair behind.
She moved into the kitchen and fixed them some popcorn and a couple of glasses of iced tea. By the time she got back to the couch, Castle had already picked out a movie on his hard drive and had it playing on the big screen.
They sat in companionable silence for a bit as the movie started, but she could sense his eyes moving to her every once in a while.
"What's up?" she asked gently, nudging his shoulder with her own.
"Nothing," he said, She frowned at him and he smiled ruefully. "I was just wondering where you'd gotten to this morning. I thought you'd taken some time off."
Kate sighed. She'd known he would ask sooner or later, once she'd told him that she was taking a couple of weeks of vacation to stay with him. She wouldn't be able to use work as an excuse to go anywhere she didn't want him knowing about. But maybe she didn't have to keep this a secret from him. She wasn't ashamed that she was seeing a shrink, per se, she just didn't feel the need to broadcast it.
"I went to see Doctor Burke this morning," she said quietly.
"Is everything okay?"
"I'm good," she told him, and surprisingly she was. "With everything that's happened, especially with my mother…I think I just needed somebody else to talk to. It helps, talking to him."
Castle smiled. "I'm glad. You know I'll support you, no matter what."
She looked at him and her breath caught. There was such love and tenderness in his gaze that she wondered idly why she'd never seen it before. Still, she knew she wasn't there yet. There was still too much unsettled in her life and she didn't want to dump it all on him when he was just out of the hospital. Someday, but not today.
"Yeah, I know," she said instead. "Thanks."
"Anytime," he said.
He took her hand and squeezed it. She squeezed back, then let their hands drop to the couch between them. He didn't let go, though, and for once, she was okay with that.
The doorbell ringing woke Castle from a light doze. He stretched, his breath catching as the scar on the side of his ribcage pulled. He couldn't wait for the day when he didn't have to move like he was made of glass.
Martha flitted across the room, swinging the door open, giving an excited cry when she recognized their visitor.
"Jim! How good of you to come!"
"Hello, Martha," Jim Beckett said, smiling as he allowed himself to be pulled into the loft.
"What brings you by?" she asked.
Jim glanced over her shoulder, his eyes seeking out Castle's on the couch. "I actually came to see Rick? Is he up for a visitor?"
"Of course I am," Castle said, waving him over. He pushed up on the pillows behind him until he was reasonably comfortable. "Have a seat."
Jim settled into a chair next to the couch as Martha patted his shoulder. "Can I get you boys anything?"
"Some water would be nice," Jim said.
"Alright," she said, winking at her son. "I'll be right back."
She swept into the kitchen as Castle's eyes followed her. He swung his gaze back to his visitor. "So, what brings you here?"
"I hope you don't mind," Jim said, leaning forward. "I thought I'd check in and see how you're doing. Katie doesn't say much when I ask about you."
"Kate is understandably tense about it all," Martha said as she handed him a glass with sparkling water and a slice of lemon. "But she's been a tremendous help, so we tend to forgive her."
"Mother," Castle admonished her.
She set a glass of plain water beside her son and patted his shoulder.
"It's okay," Jim said, chuckling. He settled back and sipped at his water. "She's always been a bit—"
"Tightly wound," both Castle and Martha said at the same time.
All three chuckled at that.
"It hasn't been hard on you, having her here?" Jim asked.
Martha, perched on the sofa arm next to Castle, exchanged a look with him. "I'm not sure what we'd have done without her, actually," she said.
"It's been nice, not having to lean on Mother or Alexis so much," Castle added. "I worried, before I left the hospital. Alexis has school, and Mother has her studio, and I didn't want either of them to have to sacrifice those things just to take care of me."
Jim smiled. "I was glad when she told me she'd be staying here to help out while you recover. I think she needed to help."
"Yeah," Castle said. "She still feels guilty. Like it was her fault I got shot."
Martha patted his shoulder once more, then rose. "Well, you boys must have things to talk about that don't involve the ladies of the house. I'll leave you to it."
She swept from the room, up the stairs, and disappeared into her room. Jim turned curious eyes on Castle.
"Was it something I said?"
Castle chuckled. "No. We're all still a little—it's hard to talk about the shooting. I mean, it's there, like the elephant in the room. I think she just feels better when she doesn't have to confront it every day."
"I'm sorry," Jim said, honestly contrite. "I shouldn't have mentioned it."
"It's okay, really," Castle said. "She's still talking to Burke—all of them are. It helps, but sometimes it's still hard."
Jim leaned forward, setting his glass on the coffee table. He braced his arms on his knees and took a deep breath.
"I didn't come over here to check on you and talk about the shooting," he said. "Well, I did, but—"
"What is it, Jim?"
Jim looked up, meeting Castle's eyes. "I wanted to thank you. For what you did for Katie. If you hadn't pushed her out of the way, I might have lost her. I'm not sure what I'd have done. After her mother—"
He cut off, taking a deep breath as his gaze darted away.
"You don't have to thank me, Jim," Castle said.
"Yes, I do." Jim looked back. "It nearly broke my heart when Katie told me she wanted to be a cop. I knew she'd taken her mother's death hard, but I had no idea that it would drive her to join the force. I'd hoped that she did it because she wanted to be like her mother—fight for those who can't fight for themselves. I think it was more that she wanted to find out who killed her mother; make sure they paid."
"Kate's a good cop," Castle said. "She's put a lot of bad guys away. She's better than anyone else at getting justice for the victims and their families."
"I'm glad to hear it," Jim said. "But I still worry. She's out there every day, and there are people that want to kill her just because she wears the uniform. Sometimes I wonder if today will be the day I get the call." He took another deep breath. "And then she called that day and told me that someone had tried to kill her, and almost killed you instead."
Castle watched Jim try to collect himself, the pain of that moment obvious on his face. He hadn't really thought about Kate's father when he'd shoved her out of the way that day. Honestly, he'd only been thinking that he couldn't lose her, now that he'd found her. But he could imagine that, if their places were reversed and it had been Kate that had taken a bullet for him, his mother would have been sitting there thanking Kate. At least, he hoped so, anyway.
"I love your daughter, Jim," he admitted quietly. "There's nothing I wouldn't do for her. Up to and including getting shot."
Jim's eyes locked with his. "I can't think of a better man to be at her side. You're good for her; I'm glad she has someone in her life that'll go to the wall for her. She needs that."
"And I promise that I'll be that guy for her. She doesn't have to do this alone anymore."
"Thank you for that, Rick," Jim said, smiling.
"Always," Castle assured him.
Their conversation drifted then, touching on topics far and wide. After an hour, Jim excused himself, and the two men bid farewell. Martha floated down the stairs to show their guest out, and Castle settled back into the pillows on the couch, utterly exhausted, but in a good way.
It had been nice to talk to Kate's father, though the topic had been something of a surprise. Still, he was glad they'd been able to talk through it. Burke had told him early on in his recovery that the more they talked about the shooting and its repercussions on his life, the easier it would be. He wasn't breaking out in a cold sweat anymore when he thought of the shooting, which he considered a victory of a sort.
He had no idea what would happen the first time he heard a gun go off, but he figured that there was plenty of time to worry about that. Right now, he'd settle for not having to take a nap after sitting up for an hour.
"Kate, do you mind if we talk?"
Kate's head popped up from the file she was reading to find Alexis standing near the far end of the couch, shifting from foot to foot and wringing her hands nervously. Kate glanced around at the chaos she'd imparted to the living room. She'd simply taken over when she'd moved in to help out during Castle's recovery.
"Sure," she said, grabbing a pile of folders and shifting them to the floor. "Sit down."
It wasn't lost on her that she was basically welcoming Alexis to sit on her own couch, but the young girl's only response was a wan smile. Kate set aside the file she'd been working on—she'd brought home a box full of cold cases, hoping to at least make some progress during her quasi-vacation—and gave Alexis her undivided attention.
"So, what's up?"
Alexis glanced around the room as Kate sat quietly waiting for her to start. She knew there'd been some tension between them ever since the shooting. She also knew that Alexis blamed her for the fact that her father had been shot.
She couldn't blame the girl for feeling that way. The gunman had been aiming for Kate, trying to stop her from pursuing her mother's killer. The fact that Castle stepped in front of the bullet was hardly material. The fact remained that he'd never have had to do that if it weren't for the fact that she just couldn't let it go. She was trying; she'd been seeing Burke fairly regularly, but she wasn't sure she'd ever really give up on the idea of finding out who killed her mother.
And she wasn't going to give up on Castle, either. He'd taken a bullet for her. That counted. It might be hard for Alexis to accept or understand, but she wasn't one to give up on people when they showed their loyalty to her in blood.
"It's—I just—" Alexis started and stopped, clearly unable to figure out how to say what she wanted to say. She was too far away for Kate to touch, so she sent what she hoped was an encouraging smile. Alexis took a deep breath. "I'm sorry I was so angry with you."
Kate smiled softly. "It's okay. I understand. He's your father and he got shot because of me. If I were you, I'd be angry, too."
Alexis just stared at her, and Kate worried that maybe she'd said the wrong thing.
"How can you be so nice about this?"
"Because your father got shot trying to protect me," Kate said. She looked down at her hands, resting in her lap, before looking back up at Alexis. "I know what he did. I know I shouldn't be alive. No one's ever done that for me before; that's supposed to be my job."
"It's just, I keep thinking, 'what if he hadn't pushed you out of the way?'" Alexis said, her voice small. She looked down at her hands, still twisting in her lap. "But when I try to think about it, all I can see is you being shot, and I don't think—"
"I know," Kate said. She scooted down the couch until she was close to Alexis and put a hand over hers, stilling them. Alexis looked up and met her gaze, and Kate could see the pain there. She reached out and caressed her cheek. "I know. I think about it, too. But we can't change the past. All we can do is keep going."
"I yelled at you," Alexis whispered. "At the hospital. I blamed you for my dad getting shot. I'm sorry, so sorry. It wasn't your fault, I know that."
Kate watched the girl's eyes fill with tears, and tugged her in, enfolding her in her arms as she sobbed quietly. Kate rocked her back and forth, stroking her hair and whispering nonsense as she waited for the storm to pass. At length, she felt Alexis begin to stir, pulling back and wiping at her eyes as she tried to restore some dignity. Kate reached out and tucked a slice of hair behind her ear, a soft smile tipping her lips.
"You going to be okay?"
"Yeah," Alexis said, nodding. "And thank you. For looking after my dad."
"I'll always look after him," Kate said, completely honest. She'd stuck it out this far; she wasn't going anywhere, whether he liked it or not. A smile tipped her lips. "Lord knows he can't look after himself."
Alexis chuckled. "True. He gets into more trouble than a man his age should."
Kate smiled. "That's why he has us."
"Yeah," Alexis said, beaming.
"It's getting late," Kate said. "Why don't we go get dinner started? Your grandmother should be home soon, and I suspect your father will wake up from his nap hungry."
"I was thinking spaghetti," Alexis said, rising and heading for the kitchen.
Kate followed. "With meatballs? I think we still have some from last week. And that bread I got the other day. We still have half a loaf left."
"Well, this sounds positively lovely," Martha said as she entered the apartment.
Kate could see her eagle eye shifting between the two of them, and she knew she'd see something different between them. They'd probably talk about it later—she and Martha had developed a habit of ending the day with a few minutes conversation, just to check in, but also to get to know each other better. She knew Martha would be pleased; she hadn't missed the tension in the loft, but had known better than to get involved.
"Gram!" Alexis greeted her as she raided the fridge. "We're cooking dinner. Want to help?"
"How about I pick out the wine, kiddo?" Martha said, smiling. "That's about the best I can do when it comes to the kitchen. Unless you'd like me to order some Duck a L'Orange."
"How did you three eat before?" Kate asked as she set a pot on the stove and set about filling it.
"Dad's actually a pretty good cook," Alexis said. "When he's doing better, I'll have him make his famous Carbonara. It's to die for."
"It's also Alexis' favorite," Martha said, and Kate didn't miss the significant look she sent her way.
As the conversation ebbed and flowed while the three women worked on dinner, Kate had to smile. The tension seemed to have dissipated as she and Alexis made their peace. She knew there'd be other hurdles in the future, but for right now things were perfect.
Alexis wandered into the living room, dropping onto the couch with a dramatic sigh. Castle looked up from his laptop, frowning with concern.
"Yeah," she said, sighing again. "I'm trying to finish my research paper, and it's just not coming together."
He set the laptop aside and settled back into the cushions, putting his full attention on his daughter. It was long past time he should have stopped working, anyway. He'd kept going because Kate wasn't around, and he thought he might get away with more than a couple of hours if she weren't closely monitoring his laptop time. But now that he'd stopped, he could feel the fatigue pulling at him.
"You know, you didn't have to take the hardest class on the Summer School schedule," he said, his smile taking the sting out of the admonishment.
She smiled back. "No, I suppose not, but I really wanted to get a jump on my college credits. If I'm going to get into Stanford, I need to have classes like this on my transcript."
He frowned. She'd been talking about getting into Stanford all summer, and when she wasn't talking about Stanford, she was talking about Ashley. He hadn't said anything, but he was worried. Worried that she was missing out on so much by focusing on her boyfriend and getting into the school he'd chosen.
"Hopefully the other colleges you apply to will think so, too."
"Dad," she said, that slightly whiny warning tone letting him know that she wasn't going to make the argument again, but that he should know by now that she wasn't going to change her mind.
"Okay, okay," he said, holding up his hands. He knew when he was beaten. He'd just have to figure out another way to attack the problem. Setting that aside for now, he decided to steer the conversation to safer ground. "So, everything else is going well?"
"Yeah," she said. "Why?"
Castle shrugged. "No reason. It's just, I noticed that things with you and Kate seem to be better."
Alexis smiled. "Yeah. We talked a few days ago. We're good."
"Care to share?"
She shifted uncomfortably on the couch, nibbling her lower lip for a moment. "I was really angry at her. Like it was her fault that you got shot."
"Oh, honey," he said, heart breaking just a little. "You know that's not true, right?"
"Yes," she said, the sharpness of her tone stinging just a little. She glanced over and smiled softly, easing the sting of her words. "I know, but you got shot. I didn't know how to deal with that. It was easier to just blame someone else. I mean, if you hadn't been with her at the funeral, you might not have gotten shot."
"That's true," he conceded, "but it's not like I would have let her face that alone. I care about Kate. She was hurting and I needed to be there for her."
"I know, Dad," she said. She scooted closer to him, taking his hand. "I know, and it's okay. I like Kate; I honestly do. And you wouldn't be the man you are if you didn't want to be there for her. We all were, and really, it could have been any one of us. I'm just glad she has someone to lean on. It's got to be hard for her sometimes."
Castle shifted a bit. "Sweetheart, you know that I'm going back to the precinct as soon as the doctor gives me the all-clear. Kate needs me to be there for her, and I don't want to let her down."
Alexis reached up and stroked his cheek. "I figured. It's okay." At his disbelieving look, she smiled. "No, really, it is. I know you'll be careful, that you won't take any risks you don't have to."
"You're being awfully understanding about this," he said suspiciously.
She shrugged. "Gram and I have you. Who does Kate have? I don't think her father really understands, but you do. She needs that, and I can't be selfish."
"You really have come a long way," he said. He was surprised, but maybe he shouldn't have been. His daughter had always been mature for her age. And while it had been difficult getting there, he finally felt as though things were going to work out after all. "Thank you."
"For being so understanding." He smiled, squeezing her hand. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Then isn't it good that you won't have to find out anytime soon?" She grinned cheekily.
His answering smile stretched nearly off his face. "Can I interest you in playing hooky for the rest of the afternoon? I'm sure there's a movie here that we haven't watched in a while."
"Sure," she said, shrugging, smile still aglow on her face. "I'll make some popcorn while you have a look at our choices."
"Deal," he said.
He was a little surprised when she pulled him into a hug, but he leaned into it, holding her close as he breathed in her scent. He wasn't ready to let her go yet—metaphorically speaking, anyway—but he knew she was growing up. This conversation was just one more piece of evidence. He was so proud of her, though, that he didn't mind so much. And relieved, too, if he were honest. Given a choice between Kate and his daughter, it would be Alexis every time, but that didn't mean he'd be happy about it. He was just glad he didn't have to choose.
She pulled back, then bounded up and headed for the kitchen to get their popcorn started while he pulled out the remote and began calling out possibilities.
"Come on, Rick," Pete said, crouched down so he could be at eye level with his patient. "You can do it. Just a few more."
"You're a sadist," Rick grunted out as he pressed his elbows together, eyes squeezed shut and sweat pouring off his head.
Pete chuckled. "Yeah, yeah, I've heard that one before."
Castle pushed himself to swing the arms of the exercise machine together one more time before he fell back against the backrest, his arms limp at his sides. Pete Donahue was a good physical therapist, but he was young and some days Rick just wanted to wipe that youthful enthusiasm right off his face.
"You okay?" Pete asked as he handed over a towel.
Castle toweled the sweat off his face, grimacing as he flexed overused muscles. "Yeah, I'm good."
He'd been in reasonable shape before the shooting, but his idea of a good workout was a swim in the gym's Olympic-sized pool. Spending the summer lifting weights light enough for a child to pick up had been embarrassing at first. He got that the weightlifting would get his muscle tone back, he just wished it didn't feel like being strapped to a medieval torture device.
"You think this is torture?" Pete asked, grinning wide. "You should see what I do to clients I don't like."
Castle grimaced. "Sorry. Didn’t realize I'd actually said that out loud."
"You wouldn't be the first person to call me Torquemada, you know," Pete said.
"Yeah, but at least I do it behind your back," Castle said, charming smile firmly in place.
"So, how are you boys doing?"
Both men's heads swung around, and a huge grin broke out on Castle's face. "Kate!"
"Detective Beckett," Pete said, turning to face their new visitor.
"Hey, Pete," Kate said, sauntering into the room, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee floating up from the two cups she was holding. "He behaving himself today?"
Pete glanced back at Castle and flashed a grin. "Not bad. He only called me a sadist once."
Kate raised an eyebrow as she met Castle's impish gaze. "Wow. You're off your game."
"Nah," Castle said, standing up. "He's just getting soft."
"Hey!" Pete exclaimed, but there wasn't much behind it. "Just for that I may make you do another ten bench presses."
Castle held up his hands in surrender. "I promise to keep the name-calling to a minimum."
"You two about done?" Kate asked, smiling at the easy banter between the two men.
Castle turned to his physical therapist, who shrugged and smiled. "I think that's enough for today. He's doing pretty good, so I don't want to push it." He turned back to Castle. "I'll see you on Monday?"
"Yep, I'll be here," Castle said. He hooked the towel around his neck and gave Pete his most winning smile.
"Yeah, yeah," Pete said, shaking his head as he slapped Castle on the back. "Don't think that smile is going to get you out of extra reps on Monday." Castle's smile fell, causing Pete to chuckle. "Have a great weekend!"
"Take care, Pete," Castle called out. Pete waved at both of them, then disappeared into his office. He turned back to Kate and ogled her coffees. "Are you just desperately in need of coffee today, or is one of those for me?"
Kate rolled her eyes, but handed over a cup. "I figured since you've been making such great progress lately you might like a little reward."
"Aw, Kate, that's so sweet," Castle said, winking as he took a sip. His eyes closed in bliss. "That is so good."
"Yeah, just don't tell your doctor," Kate said.
Castle waved a hand. "He said I could have coffee."
"A quadruple Venti latte?"
"Probably not," Castle muttered into the lid of his cup. "But I won't tell if you don't."
"And face his wrath? No thanks." Kate glanced around the room before looking back at him. "You ready to go?"
"Yeah, just let me grab my stuff," he said.
He walked over to the far side of the room and grabbed his duffel off the bench, then rejoined her. They walked out together, heading around the block towards her car in companionable silence. They'd gotten good at that over the last several weeks, being in the same space without feeling the need to fill the air with mindless conversation and small talk. It was nice.
They'd reached an equilibrium that felt good. He knew she'd be leaving soon. She couldn't stay forever, no matter how much he might wish she could, but he was grateful that they'd had this time together. Whatever doubts either of them had about whether or not they could live with each other—literally, not figuratively—had been answered. It had been surprisingly easy to adapt to each other, and just the knowledge that she'd be leaving made the loft feel emptier somehow.
"So, when are you leaving?" he asked as they walked.
She glanced at him. "Probably Sunday afternoon. I've got to do some laundry, run some errands. I have absolutely no food in the apartment at all."
He grabbed her elbow, pulling her to a stop beside him. "Listen, Kate, I want to say thank you for helping out. I'm sure Mother and Alexis could have handled it, but I appreciate that they didn't have to do it alone."
Her smile softened at his words. "I wanted to do it. And it's been fun, hanging out with your family. I'm going to miss them."
"Not me?" he asked playfully.
"Well…" she said, her grin going sly before she relented. "Okay, you too."
Castle chuckled. She'd only planned to stay for the two weeks she'd taken off of work, but when it had come down to leaving, she hadn't felt that she could go. He was still weak, and she'd said that she really didn't have a good reason to go home, so she'd stayed. He liked to think it was because she was enjoying staying with him, but he wasn't going to ask. He was just grateful. But now, a month later, he knew it was time to let her go. He just hoped that they'd find a way over the last hurdle of their relationship that would make her moving out temporary at best.
His face slid into a serious intensity as he reached up and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "Thank you. For everything."
A faint blush crept up her cheeks as she smiled shyly. "You're welcome."
He took a deep breath, mostly to recover from that smile, then turned and resumed their walk to her car. Yeah, he'd miss her, but he was looking forward to getting back to work and back to the precinct. He'd still get to see her every day, which was good. He'd just have to bide his time for the rest.
Chapter 7: Interlude III
Castle looks in the mirror, inspecting his appearance critically. He's not wearing a shirt, so the scars on his chest stand out an angry red. He knows they're there, even when he can't see them, but looking at them like this brings the whole thing into stark relief.
He fingers the bullet hole, just above his heart. His finger traces the raised edges of the scar, and he can feel both the roughness under his finger, and the press of his finger against the newly formed skin. His hand skims over his chest to run along the scar under his arm. He follows the line of his ribs, gently running his finger along the indentation the scalpel left in his skin. This one's less obvious, and his doctor told him it would probably fade in time until it was barely visible.
These scars are part of him now, and he's not afraid of looking at them like he'd expected to be. They're reminders now, that life is for the living. Not that he'd been a hermit before the shooting. He liked living large; had taken advantage of the things his wealth and notoriety could bring him. Fast cars, beautiful women, the Capitals of the world. Adoring fans and movie deals. He likes the life he's built, but he's also aware of what's really important.
Alexis. His mother. Kate.
He's not surprised that she's made it onto that very short list. What surprises him is that before he met her, those dearest to him were just there, orbiting him, and he could pull them in whenever he wanted to. But after Kate his priorities had changed. He spent more time at home, anchored himself to a job he loved as much as his paying gig.
Responsibility had never been one of his strong suits, unless it was getting his manuscripts to Gina on time. He was slightly better at it than his mother, but slightly worse than Alexis. But now, with Kate, he showed up. He didn't run. It was satisfying in a way that he hadn't expected.
He flattened his palm against his chest, over the bullet hole. This was his reminder to live life, to embrace what was important and to let the rest go. He wasn't guaranteed any more time in this world, so he wanted to make the most of the time he did have. He isn't going to go on a crazy spending spree—he already had all the things he thinks people buy when they have a brush with death, so what would he buy?—but he is going to embrace his future.
And the first step on that path is getting back to work. Work with Kate and Ryan and Esposito. Putting the bad guys away; finding justice for the victims. That he can do, and he wants to do it. He wants to be back at Kate's side.
He picks up his shirt from the bed and shrugs it on, buttoning it up as he watches the scars disappear under the blue fabric. They might be covered up, but he can still see them, and now that he knows what they mean he won't ever forget.
Chapter 8: A New Awakening
"Well, look who the cat dragged in!"
Castle flashed a huge grin as he sauntered into the precinct, loaded with coffee cups.
"I'm back," he said, approaching Kate's desk. Esposito and Ryan crossed the room to join him as he handed out the coffee. "For you boys."
"Thanks, Castle," Ryan said, smiling.
"Only the best for my favorite Detectives."
Esposito smirked, but accepted the cup and took a long sip. Castle turned and handed off the last cup to Kate, whose soft smile warmed his heart. He'd missed that smile over the last few weeks. They hadn't seen much of each other since she'd gone back home, and he missed her smile around the loft. But, he was feeling stronger every day, and he was hopeful that he'd be ready to come back and work cases before long.
He still had her pillow—the one she'd used in the guestroom—only now it was in his room, where he could surround himself with her scent as he slept. He recognized that he had it bad, but he wasn't going to apologize. Getting shot had crystallized so many things for him, and his feelings for her were just part of that. He missed her, but he'd also missed the precinct and the guys. He was looking forward to getting the all-clear from his doctor. Cabin fever had started to set in, so it couldn't come soon enough for him.
His eyes darted over to the murder board, taking in the miscellaneous details of the end of someone's life.
"Hey, isn't that that socialite? You guys caught that one?" he asked, turning back to look at the team.
Esposito and Ryan glanced at Kate, then both wandered off with mumbled excuses. Castle turned to look his partner, raising one eyebrow in a silent question.
Kate sighed. "Look, Castle, we've been getting along just fine without you. There's no reason for you to rush back."
"Ouch," he said, laying a hand over his heart. "You wound me." He tilted his head as he gazed at her, noting the stress lines creasing her brow and the shadows under her eyes. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, waving off his concern.
He shook his head. "Not buying it, Kate."
She sighed again, her eyes glancing around the room. Finally, she met his eyes. "Come on."
Without checking to see if he'd follow, she headed for the break room. Once inside, she shut the door, leaning back against it, keeping a certain distance between them.
He started to worry. He'd thought they were making progress. All the time they'd spent together during his convalescence, they'd gotten very close. He still hadn't told her that he loved her, but he suspected she wasn't ready to hear it even if he was ready to say it. So, he held back.
Still, their time together was easy, not awkward, full of laughter and conversation. He knew so much more about her now than he'd known when they'd first partnered together. And the more he knew, the more he liked what he saw. He knew that she was still troubled by her mother's murder, but she seemed to be letting go of the obsession. She still wanted to find who did it and make sure they were held accountable, but he thought that this need wasn't as all-consuming as it might have been at one time.
"The thing is," Kate started, then stopped, chewing on her lower lip.
Castle sighed. "What is it, Kate?"
She took a few tentative steps into the room, setting her coffee on the counter. "You can't come back."
"What do you mean I can't come back?" he asked, taking a few steps toward her.
"Captain Gates won't allow it."
Castle smiled. "I can fix that." He pulled his phone out of his pocket and was halfway through dialing the mayor's office when she laid a hand over his, stopping him in his tracks.
"Don't," she pleaded softly.
He looked up, and could see the pain in her eyes, the tears beginning to pool. She blinked several times, taking a deep breath to try to regain control. He looked at her hand where it rested on top of his phone, then raised the other one to sweep the lone tear to escape her control off her cheek.
She shook her head, dislodging his hand. "I can't lose you," she whispered. "You got shot because of me. Because of me, Castle. This is the only way you'll be safe. Don’t ask me—"
Something snapped, and she turned and fled, leaving him standing in the break room alone.
"Everything okay, bro?" Esposito asked a few moments later as he entered the break room.
Castle shook his head. "I don’t know." He looked at the Detective, seeing the concern in his dark eyes. "She said Gates doesn't want me here."
"She runs a tight ship, Castle," Esposito said. "I'm not sure she'd even listen to the mayor if he called. She's not exactly his biggest fan."
Castle looked out the windows, seeing Kate return to her desk and settle in. "Then maybe it's for the best that I stay away for a while." He turned and smiled at Esposito. "Besides, I've still got a book to finish. Gina would kill me if I came back here without at least a first draft finished."
"Yeah, well, doesn't mean we don't want to see you around here," Esposito said. "And if you happen to stop by and see something on the board…"
"…I'd naturally want to lend a hand to my favorite crime-fighting team," Castle finished, a grin spreading over his face. "I'll try to keep the saves to a minimum, though. Wouldn't want Gates feeling bad for kicking me out."
"No, of course not," Esposito said, chuckling. "It's good to see you, man."
"It's good to be seen," Castle said.
Esposito held out his hand, shaking Castle's. "Don't be a stranger."
"I'll try not to be," Castle assured him. He headed for the door, turning at the last minute. "Let me know if she needs anything. You know she won't call, but…"
"Yeah, I'll keep you posted," Esposito said, smiling.
Kate glanced at her phone as it vibrated merrily on top of the pile of paperwork she'd been ignoring for better than a week. She knew it was Castle—she could see the caller ID on the screen—and debated answering for a moment. It wasn't like she hadn't talked to him just the night before, in bed before she turned out the lights.
It had become their pattern. On the nights they couldn't get together for dinner or just drinks, one or the other would call just before bed and sit up for a bit, just talking through the day. She spent most of these conversations trying to dissuade him from prying into her latest case. But she didn't try very hard, honestly, because it was just so damned good to see—and hear—the spark coming back. For as much as she wanted to keep him safe, she wouldn't squash the man he was for anything.
Sighing, she reached for the phone, thumbing the answer button as she settled it against her ear.
"Why is it that you're always so eager to help solve a case, but when there's paperwork to do—to wrap up said case, I might add—you're nowhere to be found?"
He chuckled in her ear. "I write for a living, Kate. I don't need to do your paperwork and mine."
"That's so not fair," she grumbled, drawing another chuckle out of him. "So, are you just bored, or was there a reason for your call today?"
"I'm escaping," he said.
"Escaping?" she asked, sitting back with a frown. "From what?"
"My mother," he said, sighing. "Or, more accurately, from my mother and my banker attempting to work out a loan."
It was Kate's turn to chuckle. "Why don't you just loan her the money?"
"Tried that," he said, and she could hear the exasperation in his voice. "It's for her studio. She wants to do this on her own." He paused. "I mean, I'm proud of her, but…"
"You'd rather be anywhere but there this morning."
"Yeah," he said. He paused again, then huffed in her ear. "Huh."
"What?" she asked.
"I think this bank is about to be robbed," he said quietly.
Kate smiled. "Really? Are you that bored?"
"There’s a man and a woman, dressed in scrubs, and both of them have suspicious bulges in their jackets."
"Castle," she said, sighing. He always did have an overactive imagination. "I think your writer’s imagination is getting away with you."
"Everybody get down on the floor!"
It was muffled, but she could hear the demand through the phone. She sat up straight, eyes scanning the room, looking for someone she could tell to get the ball rolling.
"It’s not my imagination," he whispered into the phone. "It’s definitely not my imagination."
"Castle, what’s happening?" she asked, clutching her phone in a white-knuckle grip. She could feel the cold fear wrap around her heart, even as she listened to his breathing over the line. "Where are you?"
"I’m at the New Amsterdam Bank and Trust on Lex," he whispered.
The shouts in the background were muffled, but she could still hear the fear in the voices of the bank customers. Her only saving grace right now was that the bad guys didn't know Castle was on the phone with a cop. It wasn't much of an advantage, but she'd take it. She scanned the room one more time, finally spotting Esposito and Ryan headed back to their desks. She snapped her fingers, waving for them to come closer.
"Esposito, there’s a 1030 New Amsterdam Bank and Trust on Lex," she rushed out, barely pausing to make sure he complied. "Call dispatch."
"1030?" Ryan asked, a small frown crinkling his brow. "Since when are we handling bank robbery calls?"
Her grim face said more than any words, but she said them anyway because when it came down to it, Castle was one of them. "Castle’s there."
"Are you okay, kiddo?" Martha asked when Castle retook his seat with the rest of the hostages.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said, sighing.
It hadn't surprised him one bit to find it was Kate coming in with the gurney instead of a paramedic. She'd have wanted a closer look at the tactical situation inside, hoping to figure out some way to get everyone out that didn't involve body bags. He admired her courage, but just for once, he wished she wasn't so brave. It had been hard to see her there, in the bank, with all the guns pointed at her and her without her own gun to fight back. But he'd been able to pass her the note, and he just had to hope it would help.
Castle's gaze sharpened, and she cut off whatever she was going to ask, though the question hung in the air anyway. "Yeah. I did."
"Good," she said, nodding. "Beckett will handle it. Don't you worry."
She patted him on the arm, and he knew it was supposed to be reassuring. And it was, sort of. He still couldn’t help but wish that his mother hadn't been in the bank that day, that she'd allowed him to loan her the money to make repairs on her studio. But she hadn't and she was, and he had to deal with it.
He reached up and rubbed at his chest, thinking about how he always seemed to be between his loved ones and a bullet. It wasn't some sort of conscious choice on his part, but it said something about the life he'd chosen that, even though he was a civilian, he was still in harm's way, even when he wasn't consulting for the NYPD.
Martha sighed, drawing his attention. He didn't miss the flick of her eyes down to where his hand rested against the bullet hole in his chest. He smiled wanly.
"I'm fine, mother," he said, dropping his hand over hers where it still rested on his arm. "Kate's going to get us out. I have no doubt."
"I know," she said, flashing a small smile. "I just can't help but notice that you seem to find trouble wherever you go."
Castle smiled. "I don't do it on purpose."
"You never do, Richard," she said, her smile growing. "You never do."
She moved closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder. He turned his head, dropping a kiss into her hair before refocusing on the problem at hand. It had been a while since he'd worked through a mystery, but just because his skills were a little rusty didn't mean he couldn't figure it out. There was something about this whole affair that was bothering him, something he was missing. He just had to figure out what. And let Kate know.
He smiled. Easy-peasy.
Kate tossed the headset onto the desk in the Mobile Command Center. The guy was really starting to piss her off. It wasn't the demands that were getting to her. She knew from experience—and watching police procedurals on TV when she was young—that the bank robbers asked for things they knew they had no hope of getting. But there was something about this guy's demands that unsettled her, like he was asking for things in order to stall for time. Which was odd, because he'd given her a tight window that she'd had to practically threaten him out of.
She shook her head, running her hands through her hair.
"Why don't you take a break?" Captain Peterson asked. "Step outside for a moment."
She lifted her head, glancing back at him. He hadn't wanted her there in the first place, and had flat told her that she'd probably made things worse by threatening their suspect over the phone. But when the suspect had said he'd only deal with her, he'd relented. It had been a small victory for her, but an empty one because it still didn't get her what she really wanted, which was her partner out of the bank, alive and unharmed.
"I can't," she said, more tired than she'd ever remembered being.
"I'll call you when we're ready," Peterson said, his voice gentle and his eyes soft.
Finally, she nodded and left the van. She didn't go far, though. She couldn't. That van was her only lifeline to Castle and getting him back alive. They were so close, and she couldn't just walk away now, even if it was just for a bit, just to get some perspective.
She leaned up against the van, just breathing—in, out, in, out. Ryan and Esposito were still running down the connection between Agnes Fields and their bank robbery, and Alexis was placated for now. She had no idea what else could possibly go wrong today, but just thinking that made her cringe, as if by thinking it she'd invoke some sort of bad karma.
At least she'd seen Castle for herself and knew he was okay. It was a small consolation, because he'd given her the note that said the bank robbers had C4, which was bad. Epically bad. They couldn't storm the bank, even with the intel they'd gathered, because they couldn't risk the C4 detonating with the cops and hostages still inside.
She let out a frustrated growl. What else could possibly go wrong today?
She shook her head. Thinking like that wouldn't get Castle back, and she was going to get him back. She wouldn't allow for any other possibility.
The explosion ripped through the midday air, rattling the buildings and shaking the Mobile Command Center. Kate looked up from where she'd been talking to Ryan on her cell, eyes wide with terror.
Castle said the bank robbers had C4.
They must have detonated it.
She hung up, not even concerned that Ryan might have more information for her on the Fields' and their connection to this whole ordeal. Her hand automatically moved to her gun as she practically jumped out of the van, hard on the heels of Captain Peterson.
The street had descended into utter chaos, screams mingling with the harsh sounds of the sirens being set off by the blast wave. She scanned the area, but she really wasn't sure what she was looking for. There wasn't anything to see out on the street. Everything they needed to see was inside the building.
The building that had blown up.
Someone pressed a Kevlar vest into her hands, and she looked up to find Peterson giving her a hard look. She looked back, eyes never wavering as she pulled the vest over her head and secured it around her middle.
This wasn't her fault, and she'd be damned if she'd take the blame for it. Something had to have gone wrong. And if Castle was dead—
She couldn't complete the thought. Instead, she followed the entry team, gun drawn in case the explosion was a diversion. She moved through the bank, her flashlight out and scanning over the remains of the bank interior. She couldn't help herself; she called out his name, almost desperate to hear him answer.
She heard his voice, faintly, around a corner, and followed it to the back of the bank. What she saw took her breath away. The hostages were sitting on the floor in the safe deposit box room, huddled together, looking panicked and a little the worse for wear. But they were alive, and that was all that mattered to her.
"They’re here!" she called out to the SWAT team as she moved forward, holstering her gun as she made a beeline to Castle, her only thought to get to him.
"I told you!" she heard him say, laughing at his victory. "Huh!"
She shouldered her way into the room, dropping to her knees in front of Castle. She knew she had a stupid grin on her face, but she couldn't help herself. He was alive! Reaching up, she pulled the knife out of her tac vest as she met his eyes, seeing the same joy reflected there.
"Here we go. Ready? Okay." She cut the ties holding his wrists together, never taking her eyes from his. "How are you?"
They stared at each other, the seconds sliding by as they soaked in each other's presence. She'd almost lost him—again—and she was acutely aware of that fact. Acutely aware of the fact that he hadn't consulted on a case in months and he'd still almost died that day. She'd tried to keep him safe, and it hadn't done a bit of good.
She knew they'd have to talk about this. There wasn't any getting around that now. But just for this moment, she wanted to bask in his smile, in the warmth and alive-ness of him. She reached out, smoothing her hand over his jacket, seeing the same thoughts she'd been having parade across his face.
Yeah, they'd talk. Probably tonight. It was long overdue, and she finally felt ready for it. She'd almost lost him, and she wasn't going to spend another day wondering and waiting. She was done with that.
"He’s not the only one here, you know."
Kate turned, finally realizing that she and Castle weren't the only people in the vault. Her gaze turned apologetic. "I’m so –"
She glanced back at Castle as he let his head fall back against the safe deposit boxes, his exhaustion leaking around the edges of the façade. It was over, and he was safe, but there was still work to be done. Not least of which was getting the rest of the hostages out of the bank. Turning back to Martha, she put on her most apologetic smile.
"I’m so sorry, Martha."
Martha smiled in understanding, flicking her gaze to her son, who sat still, eyes closed for a brief moment. Kate's gaze followed hers, and she softened for just a moment. With a flick of her knife, Martha's ties were cut. It seemed to spark something in Castle, because once that was done, he scrambled to his feet, helping his mother up once he'd gained purchase.
"How’re you doing?" Kate asked Martha as she stood up.
Martha smiled. "We're all fine, dear. Just glad to be out of here. Or almost out of here."
Kate glanced around, seeing the SWAT guys freeing the other hostages. She could help, she knew she could, but her priority throughout this whole ordeal had been Castle—and by extension, Martha—and she felt like she'd done as much as she could.
"Let's get you two out of here," she said, smiling gently. "There's somebody outside who'd like to see you."
Castle's face lit up. She knew he'd be anxious to get to Alexis and reassure her that they were alright. As they crossed the bank, she could see the excitement and determination fade away, replaced by weary exhaustion. Once they were outside, she was going to place a call to Burke, just to have him on standby in case Castle needed someone to talk to.
They'd almost reached the doors when Castle stopped. Kate turned, looking at him with concern. Martha stopped as well, just as she was going to push through the doors, turning a concerned frown on her son.
Castle turned to Kate, taking her elbow and pulling her close. "Thank you," he said.
She looked up into his eyes, getting lost in their shining blue depths. She could see it all swirling there: love, relief, the sheer joy at knowing you had one more day in this world.
"You're my partner, Rick," Kate said, stepping closer still. "I'll always be there for you."
She watched as the full import of her words hit him, the radiant smile stretching across his face. He pulled her into his arms, holding on as if his life depended on it. She wrapped her arms around him and just stood there, letting the activity swirl around them. She knew they'd have to separate at some point. The scene had to be cleared and the aftermath dealt with, but for right now, she was right where she wanted to be.
Dinner had long since ended, the leftovers put away and Martha and Alexis had quietly retreated upstairs for some girl-talk and commiseration over the dumping of Ashley. Kate and Castle had settled on the living room couch, a fresh wine bottle and a fire in the fireplace.
They'd talked over dinner, Castle and his mother regaling Kate and Alexis with stories from inside the bank while Kate told them about what she'd been through with Peterson and the van. By unspoken agreement they'd kept it light, laughing over some of the more audacious things Castle had done, and the outrageous things Kate had said to Trapper John to win his freedom.
They'd laughed until they were hoarse, though they all felt the reality hovering just at the edges of the table. Castle and Martha could have died, and there'd been nothing Kate would've been able to do to stop it. But each time one of them had drifted off into a maudlin moment, the others would reel them back in, chasing away the grim reality with more laughter, more wine, more of this feeling of family and safe and home.
Finally, it was just the two of them, and Castle wasn't sure where to begin. He hadn't been scared all day, not really. He'd known that Kate would come through in the end, had been utterly convinced of it right up until the moment the C4 went off.
He remembered feeling relieved to see her coming around the corner, gun drawn, face tight and all business. But as soon as she laid eyes on him, a grin slid into place that had nothing to do with finding him alive.
Well, she'd smiled because he was still alive, but that was only part of it, and he knew that now. She'd smiled because she loved him and she hadn't lost him. He knew because he'd felt the same way when he'd first laid eyes on her. But neither of them had been brave enough to bring it up in the hours since the robbery had ended.
Of course, the fact that one of the supposed hostages had actually been in on the heist in order to find out where his wife and son were hiding—from him it must be noted—had put a crimp in any plan he might have had to talk to her about it. Not that he had a plan, per se. It was more of a mandate: talk about it. How he was supposed to do that was still a mystery, but he was willing to try; he'd said as much to Burke when he'd talked to him as they waited for word from Ithaca on Tanya and Connor.
"Penny for your thoughts."
He looked up, meeting Kate's gaze in the low light. "Just thinking about today."
"Good thoughts, I hope," she said quietly, a tentative smile on her face.
He smiled. "Yeah. Good thoughts." He tipped his head, going over the events of the day in his mind. "I suppose it's the height of irony that I stop consulting for the Police Department, and a few months later I get caught up in a phony bank heist that we end up solving together."
Kate chuckled. "Only you, Castle."
"Still, I'm glad we were able to catch the real brains behind the bank job," he said, resting his hand on her shoulder as he played with the loose tendrils of her hair falling over her shoulders.
"And we got to Tanya and Connor in time," she reminded him. "They're safe, thanks to you."
"No, thanks to you," he said, smiling. "You're a homicide detective, not a hostage negotiator. If it weren't for the fact that you can't let go of a mystery, we might never have found out about them and Ron would have gotten away with the bank robbery and kidnapping Connor."
Kate nibbled on her lip as she glanced away. Castle sighed, running a hand through her long hair, loving the way the silky locks flowed over his skin. He watched as she closed her eyes, leaning into his touch as they just reveled in the moment.
"What is it, Kate?" he asked at length.
She opened her eyes, meeting his gaze, her brown eyes liquid in the light coming off the fire.
"What are we doing, Castle?"
He frowned, not sure what she was talking about.
"I could have lost you today," she whispered, and he could hear the pain behind those words. "I almost did lose you that day you were—that day you were shot."
He could see the tears pooling in her eyes, and his heart broke for the pain she must have been in. He slid his arms around her, pulling her close as he buried his nose in her hair, breathing deeply as she clung to him.
"It's okay," he whispered back. "I'm right here and I'm not going anywhere."
After a long minute, she pulled back, swiping heedlessly at the tear tracks on her cheeks. "I told Burke it was my fault you got shot. They were aiming for me and you got shot instead. I don't—"
He laid a finger over her lips, effectively halting her rambling. "I was there to support you. If I had to choose, I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat."
More tears spilled over Kate's lashes. "But you shouldn't have to. You're not a cop; you don't have to do this."
"I do," he said. He cupped her cheek, looking deeply into her eyes. "This was never going to be a normal partnership. At the beginning I thought we'd be friends, that you'd let me shadow you for a while and that would be it. But time passed and I didn't want to stop. I found myself looking forward to seeing you at a crime scene."
"What does that say about our relationship that you like going to crime scenes to see me?" she asked, a giggle welling up in her chest.
He chuckled. "Nothing good, I'm sure." He paused. "Look, the bottom line is that I haven't needed to shadow you in a long time. I have enough material to last me ten books. I do it now because I like working with you. I like the mystery—don't get me wrong—but that's not what gets me out of bed in the middle of the night in January anymore." He paused again, and this time his words had weight. "You do."
Kate glanced down before meeting his gaze once more. "I—" She swallowed, then tried again. "I love you. I told you that when you got shot."
"I know," he said, smiling softly at her. "I heard you."
"Why didn't you say anything?" she asked, frowning.
"You might have said it, and you probably meant it, but you weren't ready to do anything about it, so I just let it go. I knew you'd come back to it when you were ready."
"I don't deserve you," she whispered, looking down at her lap.
He shifted his hand, tucking a finger under her chin to tip her face up. "You deserve to be happy. No matter what, you deserve that."
She met his gaze, nibbling on her lower lip once more. "I love you, Castle. That's what makes me happy; being with you makes me happy."
His smile nearly stretched off his face. "And I love you, Kate. Never doubt that."
"You jumped in front of a bullet because you love me," she said solemnly. "I don't think I'll ever forget that."
"Hey, I'm still here," he said. He reached down and took her hands in his, laying one on his chest, where the bullet hole rested over his heart. "I survived being shot; I have the scar to prove it. But it isn't who I am, it's just part of my history. I'm not fragile, Kate. I'm not going to break."
She took a deep breath, looking at her hand where it rested on his chest. "I know that. I know it intellectually. But—" She paused, taking a sharp breath. "You almost died. You did die, in the ambulance. I don't know if I could survive losing you."
"Is that why you won't let me come back to the precinct?"
Her head popped up. "You were shot. I can't let that happen again."
"I was almost shot today, too," he said quietly. "You can't always protect me. Unless you want to start following me around all day. That's a fulltime job, and you already have one of those."
She squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them to meet his gaze. "I know. But I don't think I'll ever not be afraid you're going to get shot."
"Which is why I have a bullet-proof vest," he said, smiling.
"It's not bullet-proof, Castle," she said, her voice sharp. She gentled it, gazing intently at him. "Plenty of cops have been shot right through theirs."
"So what do you want me to do, Kate?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "Stop going out? Clearly, today's events have proven that I can't even go to the bank without running the risk of being shot."
"I know," she said, letting out a sigh. She glanced away before looking back at him. "I miss you. At work, at the crime scenes. I miss the way we used to talk through the cases. As selfish as it seems, I want that back."
"It's not selfish," he said, smiling warmly. He could feel her letting go of some of the tension of the day. Some of the tension she'd been carrying around for months. "We work better as a team, we always have. It's not wrong for you to want to work with the best."
Kate smirked. "Are you implying you're better than an entire precinct full of cops?"
"No, but we did clear a hell of a lot of cases together."
"Yes, we did," she said, smiling. She sobered, glancing back down at their hands, still entwined on his chest. "If we do this, you have to listen to me. Do what I tell you, when I tell you. Be safe out there."
"Of course. Don't I always?" he asked. She smirked at him, and he chuckled. "Point taken. But this time I promise to stay safe. If you'll do the same."
She opened her mouth to protest, but one look from him silenced her. "Yeah. I promise to be safe out there." She paused, glanced away and then back at him. "You know I'm not going to drop my mother's case, right? I still want to get these bastards."
"And I wouldn't expect you to," he assured her. "You wouldn't be the Kate Beckett I fell in love with if you gave up easily."
Her face softened. "Say that again."
He smiled. "I love you, Kate Beckett."
She leaned forward, kissing him softly, just the barest brush of her lips against his. He sighed into the kiss, pushing forward to claim her lips in a gentle kiss. He ran his hand up into her hair, tangling his fingers in those locks as his tongue brushed against her lower lip, seeking entrance. It was her turn to sigh into him, her lips parting under his allowing him entrance. He spent long minutes exploring her mouth, their tongues tangling, evoking memories of the one kiss they'd shared not so long ago. This one was much better, if for no other reason than because there was a world of meaning behind it that had nothing to do with anyone but them.
He finally pulled back, the sight of her kiss-stung lips and slightly mussed hair causing his blood to heat. He ran a thumb along her lower lip, his eyes gazing deeply into hers, seeing all her love and longing shining back at him.
"Will you let me make a phone call tomorrow?"
She tipped her head slightly. "To who?"
"The mayor," he said. "I don't want to wait."
She nodded. "Yeah. Me either."
His grin nearly stretched off his face. He pushed up off the couch, tugging her up with him. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close as he kissed her deeply and thoroughly. When he pulled back, he cupped her cheek.
"Stay with me?"
"Yeah," she whispered, nodding her assent.
He laced his fingers through hers, drawing her through the apartment toward his room. He had no idea what might happen, but just having her near was all that he really needed. It had taken them a long time to get to this point, and he wasn't wasting one more minute.