"Castle," she murmurs, presses her lips to his throat, brushes her nose against the rough stubble at his jaw and breaks the wordlessness between them, the long stretch where nothing could be heard but the sound of their breathing. His palm is gentle at her cheek, hand firm on her back and being back in his arms feels like a dream after the living nightmare of the last few days. She wonders if she's dead, for a second, if she'd just imagined her attack on Neiman and this is heaven. He's her definition of it, after all. "Rick."

"Kate," his voice cracks as he hums her name with reverence, a shattered prayer spilling into the dank cellar. The love in his tone shines a ray of light, a stark contrast to the dark, twisted, narrowly-avoided purpose of the makeshift operating room.

"You're here."

"You're alive."

They speak at once, desperate relief mingling tangibly in the meagre space between them. She's safe, and her fingers unfurl from around the cold, steel handle of the bloody scalpel in her fist, the surgical tool dropping to the floor with a clatter. It's mere centimetres from her bare foot that it lands, tiny droplets of still-warm blood from the blade splashing against her skin in its descent.

Shuffling closer to him, trembling hands find his jaw, thumbs mapping his face. Her hands are bloodied, imbrued by both Neiman's and her own, spilt in her escape efforts, and her caresses leave smudges of red that purple the blue-black of the bruised bags beneath his eyes, stain his cheeks crimson. Exhaustion is etched soul-deep into his features, fear present even now.

Despite it all, she doesn't think she's ever seen him look more beautiful.

His own hands drop from her face and shoulder, band around her back and draw her impossibly close. For a second, the restraint suffocates her, two days of being secured helplessly to an operating table making his embrace too much, but it passes as she pulls his cranium down to rest his forehead against hers. She can't tear her eyes from his, the dark blue of his irises an arresting tangle of shades that leave her breathless with her love for him. She will never feel anything but safe in his arms.

"Come on, Kate," he tells her, his voice a hushed whisper and his breath hot against the shell of her ear. "Let's go home."

She panics slightly as he releases her, darts her hands down to grip his arm. Fragile fingers curl around his bicep, the other hand tucking into the crook of his elbow. Words are hard to find, his name echoing around the chamber of her skull and not much else, the flash of silver metal and the hot spill of blood all she can recall from her fight with the surgeon. Everything else is distant, and she feels like she's dreaming, her only reassurance the solid mass of his body beside her. "Castle," she croaks.

"It's okay, sweetheart," her husband promises, words shivering into existence, quaking with emotion and love and pain and relief. "You're safe now." He pauses, shaky breath rattling into his chest as he shuts his eyes for a moment, guilt like gravity pulling at the corners of his lips. "I'm sorry I took so long."

"You're here now," she manages, Really, that's all that matters.

He guides her towards the door, the crowd of police officers dispersing so that by the time they reach the exit only Ryan and Espo remain.

Her boys.

Kevin makes the first move, steps forward tentatively. There's no hesitance in his hug though, both arms wrapping around her neck, and his cheek pressing against hers. He smells clean and fresh and friendly, citrus soap and sunshine, and she can't help but smile. "So glad you're okay, Beckett."

"Thank you, Kevin." Beckett returns his embrace one-armed, maintaining her hold on Castle with the other. She can't let go of him yet, isn't sure she'll ever be able to again. Over Ryan's shoulder, she makes eye contact with Javi, his hard face softening as his lips flicker upwards. As soon as Kevin releases her, his partner replaces him.

"Beckett." It's all he says, but all the years she's known him have taught her that this stoicism is his way of keeping it together. He squeezes her shoulder tightly before letting go completely, his relief that she's okay felt in the gesture.

Outside, there's an ambulance waiting. The paramedic cleans away the blood, disinfects the places where her skin's been scraped away with antiseptic wipes, but she's otherwise fine. Castle has clothes for her in his car, but his offer to retrieve them is met with a involuntary whine, strangled in its emergence as she closes her fist tighter around his sleeve. Ryan goes in his place, returning with a hoodie and a pair of sweats, fuzzy socks and a pair of tattered sneakers.

"Sorry," Castle says, smiling sheepishly. "I grabbed them in a rush."

Beckett slides her hand down his arm, fingers tracing the fabric until she reaches the cuff when she flips his palm and laces their knuckles. "No, they're perfect." He's perfect.

"Home or precinct?" He asks her, once she's changed, releasing her hand long enough for them to settle into either side of his Buick. "Nobody would blame you if you want to go back to the loft before you give your statement.

"Precinct," she affirms. Castle nods, lips turning up slightly as if he'd expected her to say it. He probably had. He starts the car, and she settles her hand on his thigh as he drives, still craving contact.

The elevator ride to the fourth floor has never been so long, the trip to the bullpen stretching endlessly. There's a scratch on the metal in front of her and noticing it for the first time, she absently wonders how it got there as the floors creep by one by one. There's eyes on her back, and she tries to prepare for the stares she'll receive as she steps out into the homicide floor, but it's difficult. Having to be strong after her capture has left her fragile, feeling tiny next to Castle's bulk. She's tense, anxious, jittery, but he's by her side, and when the steel doors slide open, one look to him is all the reassurance she needs.

He's all she needs.