Dulce Et Decourm Est


...on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

'Dulce Et Decorum Est', Wilfred Owen


Don't let Castle walk in on this.

Just let me die before he gets here.

"I don't want him," she snarled at the senator. She let the gleam of darkness flare in her eyes. "I want you."


Rick Castle rubbed the back of his neck and gave the guy a tight smile.

"You sure you want this one? You wait like - gimme four hours, Ricky, my man, and I can get you top of the line-"

"This one's fine," Castle said tightly. There was a catch in his voice he knew was from not getting a deep enough breath. He'd planned this, but the moment he'd told Kate he was getting them a car and he'd be back...

He didn't like the look on her face when he'd left.

He shouldn't have left.

Bad idea, Richard. Get back. Get back to her before-

before she leaves you.

Castle rapped his knuckles on the desk impatiently, and his friend Vic handed over the keys to the mid-sized Buick. Free, for now, and no paperwork, and Vic had his hands clean. Castle nodded and followed Vic out to the parking garage, his skin crawling with urgency.

He had to get out of there. They had to get out of here.

Back to Kate, get on the road, regroup. He would call his mother and have her send a money order when they knew what they needed. He'd already created an off-shore account, after Beckett had refused to go away with him, and he'd added a substantial amount to it after being framed by Tyson.

He hadn't told her; he hadn't wanted it to be necessary. He'd been playing around, honestly, and yet now he was so grateful he could sink to his knees.

Later. After he got Beckett out of here.

He started the ignition and Vic saluted him; Castle eased the car out of the parking space and turned towards the exit. The arm went up and he was out into the slick city-night. Too many lampposts, too many neon signs, too much brilliance spilling out into the streets.

How the hell where they going to do this?

No, he was not thinking like that. He had a car and Beckett would dye her hair (God, he loved her hair; he was going to-)

Dye her hair. Stuff the baseball cap over his head. Her sweatshirt would hide her shape, but he'd just hustle her into the backseat and make her lie down until they were clear of the city. Of the state. And then she could crawl up front, take her turn behind the wheel.

And then they would make a plan. There would be a plan. This wasn't over. He wasn't okay with running away from this life they had carved out for themselves. He wanted to marry her. Two weeks and this wasn't how it ended.

If she's still there waiting for you.

She was; he knew she was. She wouldn't leave him.

She left you for three months.

She wouldn't.


Castle parallel parked in the first space he found, and he jogged down the three blocks to the motel, his heart in his throat. It wasn't nearly as dark and anonymous as he'd first thought; there were street walkers not a block down, and any moment now a cop car would come by to clear them out.

Could they have been followed?

No, not possible. He had taken three different taxis. He had learned the art of ditching a tail from Sophia Turner herself, the double agent, someone who knew about shaking a tail, and there was no possible way Castle had been followed to that swing set, and no way they had been followed to the motel.

No way.

So why was his heart thrashing in his throat like a dying thing? She would be there; she wouldn't do that to him. Not now.

Castle pushed open the front door and dashed through the narrow lobby, hurtled up the stairs towards their floor. His knee flared on the second landing and he cursed his damn need to do tricks like an ass so that now his own body was failing him the second he absolutely needed to step up. Castle ignored the pain and hauled himself up the last flight with a punishing grip on the railing.

He smashed open the stairs door and his heart stopped dead.

A trail of blood led jaggedly to Beckett sinking to the floor.

"Kate!"

He raced towards her, came up on her from behind, swinging around to catch her the moment before her head could hit the floor. Her eyes rolled back and his fingers felt the thick, warm blood, sharp fragments that cut, and suddenly it was a too-bright cemetery and grass tickling the back of his hand and the smell of blood-

"Kate? Kate, honey, look at me. Kate?"

He scooped her up against him, carrying her like an infant against his shoulder, hustling her towards the room. She reeked of cheap whiskey, her shirt was soaked with it. What had happened? The blood streaked the wall from a head wound that even still he could feel gushing, her body too thin beneath-

Holy.

"God," he croaked, staring at the dead men in the room.

He jerked into action, slamming the door shut and leaning against it, gripping the back of Kate's skull like his mere fingers could stem the tide of her blood. He stared at the men shot dead, saw the chair toppled over, smelled the alcohol burst from a broken bottle.

They had followed him. Bracken's men had followed him straight to her and then they'd waited for him to leave.

Oh, God.

He swallowed past the choked sensation and moved carefully to lower her to the bed. He kept her head wound away from the sour-smelling bedspread, slid under her himself to put her in his lap. He skimmed the oversized sweatshirt from her body, working it slowly, and then he bundled the material up under her head.

He pressed his fingers to her neck and counted, his eyes on his watch until it hit thirty. Slow heart rate but steady, no missed beats. She was breathing. The blood was still thick but it wasn't gushing. He was finding slivers of glass now, but he wasn't sure he had time to worry about that right now.

If these dead guys didn't check in, someone would come looking for them. They were supposed to have-

He was never going to forget the long smear of her blood down the hallway, her knees buckling. Never. He was never-

Castle growled and clenched his fists, eased out from under her. He kept the sweatshirt bundled behind her head and he let out a slow breath, trying to collect himself. It was up to him to get her out of here.

Her gun.

Where was her gun? He was not leaving that behind for more frame-jobs.

Castle scanned the room. Two dead guys. Two dead guys that she had most definitely shot. Two against one and Beckett obviously handicapped. She was amazing. She was amazing and it looked like she'd gotten a bottle smashed over her head and yet still.

He was in love with her. He was never going to get over her. Not any part of her.

Castle stepped over the nearest guy on the floor and pulled the sleeves of his shirt down over his fingers, patted him down. He found two weapons and a phone, but Castle tossed the cell on the floor and smashed it with the heel of his shoe. A few more times because he wanted to beat the crap out of something and the phone was getting the brunt of it.

Then he resumed his hunt for Kate's gun, finally found it between the two men on the floor. Castle checked the clip and found it empty, but he pushed it into the pocket of his jacket anyway. He glanced at the dead guy sprawled before the bathroom and whistled softly.

Kate. Wow.

His eyes caught something in the light spilling out of the bathroom and he froze.

Her mother's ring was on the edge of the sink, the chain spilling into the bowl.

Castle sucked in a breath and vaulted over the body, clutched the door frame as he slammed a shoulder into the door. He caught the ring in his trembling fist even as he knocked the box of hair dye into the sink. At the end of the chain hung her engagement ring.

She'd taken the chain off to dye her hair, but she'd been interrupted. Each ring now swung from the chain, striking each other.

She'd taken them off.

Castle turned woodenly in the too-small room and he went back for her on the bed, sank to his knees beside her.

"Kate," he rasped. "Kate."

She didn't stir, and Castle found the pale slash of her hand through the stinging in his eyes. He cradled her palm with his and brought her bare fingers to his mouth for a kiss.

She had fought off Bracken's goons alone. She hadn't had his engagement ring or her mother's ring on her when she'd been fighting for her life. She'd been completely alone and she'd taken on two killers; she hadn't had either one. Not the strength of either of those beliefs.

Castle palmed the rings and pushed the chain into his pocket for safe-keeping.

When she woke.

Castle slid his arms under her neck and behind her thighs, and he scooped her up against his chest, regardless of his knee. He took a second to adjust her against him and then he left the room.


Castle navigated the Buick through city traffic, his heart pounding, his hands clamped on the wheel. Kate was a heap on the passenger seat, passed out, but he thought the blood had slowed. He needed to check; he wanted nothing more than to stop the car and skim his fingers over every inch of her and just make sure, make sure. But they needed to get far, far away from here.

When he'd gotten onto I-95 North and had crossed from the Bronx to Pelham, Kate suddenly jerked upright with a choked cry. She groaned and scratched at the door handle, wrenching away from his outstretched hand.

"I can't - I'm going to-"

Castle crossed two lanes of traffic and skidded into the gravel on the side of the road - even as Beckett was opening her car door and leaning out. He stomped on the brakes, yanked the keys from the ignition, and then he had to lunge across the console and catch hold of the back of her shirt just to keep her from falling out of the car.

She vomited twice, her whole body violent with it. Castle gripped her harder, straining to hold her back, and then she sank down against the doorframe, unable to hold herself up.

Castle couldn't let go of her or she'd fall; he could barely see her face in the dark. The interstate traffic was rushing past his door and the flares from headlights let him see the ragged outline of her body.

She threw up once more and choked, and Castle caught a tighter fist of her shirt, leaning in.

"Kate?"

She groaned but didn't move, and Castle crawled over the center console and half into her seat just to pull her back into the car. Her eyes were closed, but her lids fluttered. She made a weak fist against his arm.

"Kate. Kate, honey, wake up. You can't pass out right now. I need you to wake up."

Her eyes opened and closed again. She slumped back into the seat and he tried to give her some room but the handbrake smashed into his knee and the pain splintered right up into his groin. He grunted and went still, glanced at Beckett, and then out the windshield to the dark night beyond.

A breath to get past it and then he turned his head back to her.

"Kate?" he called again. "Kate, wake up. Gotta stay awake if you're going to throw up. Hey, Kate, come on."

She coughed and groaned, and then she rolled towards the door again. This time he had a grip on her shoulder and could keep the force of her retching from throwing her forward. He used his free hand to scrape the hair back from her face and winced as she gagged.

"Good girl, get it all out. Giving me flashbacks of my first wedding here, Beckett. You're not pregnant, are you?"

Kate groaned and her hand came around his wrist and clutched tightly, like she was a little more with him - and she didn't find that funny - and he let out a shaky breath, relief spilling through his guts.

"I spit it out, Castle," she mumbled.

"Yeah, Kate, you really did."

She grunted and eased back into the car, her body splayed out limply against the seat. She opened her eyes and turned her head to him. "Where'd you come from?"

"Your dreams," he whispered, trying to give her a smile.

He got a flickering corner of her mouth turning up for him, and then her eyelids sank and she was gone.

Castle leaned across her and got a finger hooked in the door handle, slammed it closed. He sat in the dark car for a moment, his heart still jackhammering into his ribs, cracking all of his bones, and then he started the car again, praying it still worked.

After a few unsuccessful starts, he realized the Buick was still in drive and he shifted it into park, tried again.

The engine caught and turned over and then rattled under him before settling into rhythm. He let out a breath and then another, realized he was the one still shaking.

He needed to find a rest stop and see if he could get Kate conscious long enough to tell him what was wrong, what had happened, determine if she needed medical attention. There might still be shards of glass in her hair.

Castle inched the car up the gravel shoulder and checked his mirrors, and then he pulled back onto the interstate, heading north, resolutely north, heading away from the city.


When he parked under a burnt-out security lamp in one of the rest stop's narrow spaces, Kate gasped and came rising out of unconsciousness like a mythical creature from the deep. "God, no-"

"Kate," he said sharply, calling her back to him as he had from nightmares in their own bed.

She stared into the darkness, unmoving, unbreathing, for a second longer than he liked, and then she sagged back against the front seat, covering her eyes with a hand. "Castle?"

"Yeah. You okay?"

"Head's killing me," she slurred. "Still not... sober."

"You're drunk?" he said carefully, reaching up to turn on the dome light inside the car. Kate winced and slumped into the corner, but he needed to see. "Sorry. Let me look at your head. It's been bleeding."

"He smashed it over my head."

"Okay," he agreed. He'd had some idea that she'd gotten hit with that bottle, but the way her eyes were pinched together left him no doubt. But he wouldn't expect much coherency until she'd slept off some of the alcohol.

"I spit out the pill," she mumbled. And then her head jerked on her neck and those dark, too-aware eyes were boring into him. "I didn't swallow it. I wouldn't do that to you. I spit it out. I pretended."

"Good girl," he murmured, angling her jaw away from him so he could see her head again. "Hold still, Kate. Trying to get these shards of glass."

She grunted when he used the edge of his thumbnail to pick them out of the blood, and she hissed in a breath and went rigid when he had to comb her hair back to check the wound. It had closed together at the bottom in a ragged, loose scab, but the top where the glass had been was weeping afresh.

"I'm going to go inside the rest stop and get you some paper towels, cool water, okay? Clean this up a little." He unbuckled his seat belt and moved for the door but her fingers reached out and clutched his arm.

"I don't feel good."

"I know," he said with a sigh. "Probably won't for a while. See if you can sleep, Kate. I'll be right back."

He didn't love leaving her again, but the rest stop was deserted and he'd be faster this time.

Kate had closed her eyes, her body sinking back against the door, and Castle got out of the car, making sure to remote lock it as he left. He hurried up the sidewalk in the darkness, stepping into a pool of light as the security lamp caught his form. The glass doors of the rest stop showed him his own image and he yanked one open and jogged into the men's bathroom.

No paper towels.

He grimly headed out of the men's and crossed the lobby into the women's bathroom, completely not caring. He found a paper towel dispenser and yanked out most of the bottom wad, and then he put it under his arm and turned on the taps.

Castle rubbed the blood off his hands, not stopping to bother with soap. Mechanically, he got a few papers towels wet, damp enough to use to clean her off, and then he gathered the rest of them for good measure. He made the mistake of catching his reflection in the mirror and froze.

No. No, no. Faster.

He swallowed and hurried back out to the car.

Only to find Beckett halfway down the sidewalk, leaning hard against the security lamp, hair spilling around her face.

"Kate," he barked out, rushing towards her. "What the hell are you doing? Back in the car."

She groaned when he propelled her backwards, tried to shiver out of his grip. "No. Wait. The ring," she gasped. "We have to go back. We have to go back, I left the ring-"

"No, no," he quickly, his panicky heart starting to slow. "It's okay-"

"It's not okay," she wailed.

"I have it," he said over her. "I have it in my pocket."

Kate swayed on the sidewalk, her eyes unfocused, a line of dried blood down her neck. "You have it?"

"I have it in my pocket. Come over to the car, Kate. We'll get you cleaned up." She stared down at his pants pocket and then lifted her gaze to his eyes again, but he was already nudging her back down the sidewalk, half carrying her.

"You have my ring," she murmured.

"I found it; I have it," he reassured her. Castle propped her up against the car and cupped the side of her face, but her knees were buckling. He caught her before she could sink to the ground, found himself crouched over the pavement with her body trapped between him and door.

"Kate."

"Sorry," she slurred, swaying forward until her forehead crashed into his cheek.

"Don't be sorry," he murmured, easing his hand into her hair and gently cupping the back of her head. "Don't be sorry. You're alive."

"I didn't want you to come back."

"What?" he croaked.

"See me like - like that. I wasn't going to let you think you'd left me only to die."

"Never leave you," he choked out, pressing his cheek into hers, trying to breathe. "I shouldn't have left you. Should never have-"

"I'm glad you weren't there," she whispered. Her body was leaning hard into his. "Bracken would have killed you."

"Bracken was there?" he cried.

"He came to... yes." She seemed to be sinking towards the ground. "Castle, I can't-"

He cursed and reached past her for the door handle, yanked it open just in time to maneuver her into the seat before she crashed down hard. He was on his knees before her, felt the shiver of that old injury travel up into his leg, but he ignored it to focus on Kate.

Her palms were up on her knees and fingers curled, body slack. "Castle."

"Here," he said, laying the paper towels onto the seat. "Let's get you cleaned up, Kate." He was having a hard time getting his heart under control, hard time making his fumbling hands work.

"Castle, I want my ring."

"Right," he got out. He was still propping her up on the seat, but he managed to get two fingers in his pocket and pull out her mother's ring, the chain snaking out and tugging her engagement ring with it.

She reached out and curled her hand around his wrist and took a gulping breath, and he knew she was having trouble keeping it together.

Well, he was too.

"Not that one," she scraped. "Mine. I want you, Castle." Her face twisted and Castle let out a sighing breath, rose up to embrace her.

She was heavy against him, but he worked the clasp with steady fingers and slid her engagement ring from the chain. When he glanced up at her, she was leaning against the seat and watching him intently.

"Would you marry me in two weeks?" he asked, the ring waiting for her.

"More than ever," she rasped.

He circled her knuckles with his thumb and then slid the ring on her finger, settling it right where it belonged. Not on a chain around her neck, an albatross, but a promise for the future.

"And this?" he murmured, holding up the chain. She had clenched her fist around his hand, didn't seem to want to let go.

Kate shook her head. "You keep it. For now."

He stared at the ring as it swung in the darkness and then he lifted it over his head and placed the chain around his own neck. He could carry it for now. Until she could take it up again. Kate leaned forward and trailed her fingers down his collarbone until she could tuck the ring under his shirt.

"Thank you for saving it," she murmured.

At least that was one thing he was good for.

But then Kate was easing out of the car and sliding down into his lap before he could react, her arms twining around his neck, burying her face in his shoulder. "I don't know what to do now. I want you, Castle. Not this. I just want you."

Castle wrapped her up, pressed a kiss to the sharp expanse of her cheekbone. "We'll figure it out. Right now, we'll just drive. We'll drive until we think of something."

She mumbled into his jaw words that he didn't hear it, didn't understand, but he cradled the back of her neck and tried to remind himself she was alive. She was alive and that was all he really needed.

"We can still save it," he promised. "It's not hopeless. Remember when we made our list of what we absolutely had to have at our wedding? You and me, Kate."

She curled her hand at his nape and laid a kiss against his cheek.

"I believe you," she murmured. She took a deeper breath and gingerly reached back to touch her head. "Okay. Help me back in the car and... can you go get me a Sprite from the vending machine? Might settle me."

"Of course." He eased her into the car and shut the door on her; she was already wadding the sweatshirt up against the window and leaning into it.

When he got back, she'd fallen asleep.

He saved the Sprite for her in the cupholder and resumed driving north.

If he had to, he'd never go back there again.