Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or the recognizable characters who appear in this story. Any other names, for characters or businesses, are fictional, uncompensated, or are in the public domain.


"Uh," Beckett fumbles, checking the key card to make sure she's at the right room. "I'm looking for the Moriarty-Pym wedding party?"

With a nod, the woman steps back and motions Beckett forward. Entering a room identical to the one they had on their previous visit, Beckett's eyes are drawn to Castle. He's lying atop the covers of the bed, shirtless, with a blond woman standing directly beside him.

"You're late for the wedding, Beckett," Castle tries to tease before gasping in pain as the blond probes at his chest.

"Which one's Moriarty?" she asks with perched brow as the door to the room is closed behind her. Stepping forward, Beckett's able to see the bandages have been removed from where Castle was impaled. The wound looks horrible – angry and red, with tight stitches that follow a jagged line. Scabbing mars the area, along with what's either salve or pus.

"You've looked better, partner," Beckett admits as she draws near.

Of its own volition, Castle's hand reaches out to her, though he's careful not to turn lest he get another prod from the blond. "I've heard chicks dig scars. And I've always been an overachiever."

"You've got more than enough scars, Romeo," the blond huffs at his nonsense before turning to face Beckett. "I'm Stephanie Gallagher, an old friend of Rick's. And his back-alley doctor and seamstress. I'd shake your hand, but…," she trails off, looking down at her gloved hands.

"Nice to meet you," Beckett replies. "I'm Kate Beckett. I'm usually the one who keeps Castle out of trouble, though I'll confess that I didn't do such a good job yesterday."

"Do I need to take a look at you, too?"

"No, Castle took the hit for me while I ended the threat. I'm tired, but I don't need any stiches."

"Good to hear," Gallagher replies before turning back to her patient. "See, Rick? It's possible to exist without racking up life-threatening injuries."

"Boring," he replies, before wincing at the poke his comment deserved.

Movement in the periphery catches Beckett's attention. Turning to address the woman who admitted her to the room, she finally remembers her manners. Releasing Castle's hand to offer hers to the stranger, she introduces herself as "Kate Beckett, Castle's friend."

"Maggie Gallagher," the Asian woman replies warmly, nodding toward the blond to affirm their connection. "Steph's the Internist, while I do Pediatrics. You can guess which of us is the more appropriate physician for your friend."

The three women laugh, drawing a pout from the invalid on the bed. "Outnumbered again," he grumbles. Moving to cross his arms produces a flinch, though, so he puts them back on the bed and forgets to keep complaining.

"Poor baby," Beckett coos, turning to him and rubbing his hand before letting her attention wander up his arm.

"I think that's our cue to leave," Stephanie Gallagher offers, punctuating her statement with the snap that results from her pulling the surgical gloves from her hands. Then, while her partner packs up the medical bag, the doctor levels a fierce look at her patient.

"This will not be like your recovery for your back. You'll lay in that bed for the next two days. The only travel you're allowed is from here to the restroom. No running around, no heroics, and absolutely no drinking. Those'll wreak havoc with your meds and you're damn well taking the pain pills this time. Understood?"

"Yes ma'am," a cowed Castle offers from the bed. The sight makes Beckett smile, which is a mistake.

"And you!" Stephanie growls, rounding on the detective. "You'll keep him safe and immobile or you'll have hell to pay. I don't appreciate people screwing with my friends or my handiwork. He's both," she claims fiercely, pointing at Castle. "You said you're the one who keeps him out of trouble? Well, do your job."

"Yes ma'am," a cowed Beckett replies.

Warnings delivered, Stephanie moves to the restroom to wash up. Maggie chuckles about the dressing-down and casts and admiring look at her partner.

Minutes later, Stephanie is back and Maggie's got them ready to leave. "Detective, it was a pleasure to finally meet you. Rick, I'll see you soon. Or earlier, if you call. Take care and behave," she finishes by waggling a finger at them both.

Maggie steps beside Stephanie and makes her own goodbyes before offering an elbow and escorting her partner out of the hotel room. The door has barely closed behind them before Beckett releases a breath she didn't realize she was holding. "She's a bit… volatile?"

"Always has been," Castle chuckles. "Tearing you up one minute and being sweet as light the next. Unless you're Alexis," he ponders, eyes going distant in recollection. "Maggie was Alexis' doctor when we arrived in New York. The Gallaghers have always had a soft spot for her, so she can get away with anything."

The reference to his daughter clearly shows where Castle's mind has wandered. His injuries, his exhaustion, and the drugs he's taking all collude to make him more obvious and open. Being careful not to abuse the situation, Beckett figures it's safe to ask some general questions. Besides, with his energy already flagging, it's clear that Castle isn't going to be up for a long conversation for a while.

"When will you get to see her?" Beckett asks gently, ready to soothe her partner at his extended separation from his family.

"I leave in a few days," he replies, shocking his partner. Before she can object, though, he offers a few details. "It's not easy to get to her without being noticed and my main ride leaves in three days. That's why Steph said she'd see me soon – I'll get a pre-flight checkup from her before leaving the country. It'll take another five days or so to get to Alexis, but that's fine. She's coming to the end of term and would never forgive me if I interrupted finals of her senior year."

Not sure how to process this change and whether she should prevail upon Castle to get more rest before departing, Beckett walks to the door and flips closed the security lock. Just to be cautious, she retrieves the angled doorstop from the restroom door and jams it beneath the door to their room, providing one more meager means of defense from intrusion. Only then does she pull off her boots and carefully crawl into bed next to her partner.

"You'll be safe?" she asks, getting a nod in return. "And you need to leave so soon?"

Castle turns his head and, despite the pain, squirms sideways enough to move his head close to Beckett's. "It's not easy to get to her and I can't turn down this chance." Then, tracing her ear with the tip of his nose, he whispers. "I don't want to lead anyone directly to Lucerne."

Lucerne! How in the hell did Castle find a place to hide his daughter away in Switzerland?! Staring at the ceiling, Beckett puzzles over this development and decides that it makes more sense than she initially thought. Alexis is in a region marked by a focus on economics and banking, so it's not unlikely there are schools that cater to the wealthy with a focus on both security and discretion. Her accent might give her away as an American, assuming she spoke English while at school. Then again, there are probably other Americans, and Alexis would probably enjoy the opportunity to learn French or German. Knowing the girl's drive, Beckett wouldn't be surprised to hear that Alexis had treated the whole think like a language immersion camp.

"It was that or Johannesburg," Castle whispers after clearly noting his partner's wandering mind. "Good options there, but it would've been harder to keep her attendance confidential. The other nice thing," he continues, a little hesitation creeping into his voice, "is that Marlowe Prep will treat her time away as an exchange program, if she wants to come back."

Wait, what?! If she wants to come back?

"Hold up, Castle, what do you mean, 'if she wants to come back'?"

"It's a good school," Castle offer, turning his head to join her in staring at the ceiling. "It gives her a lot of options. Plus, I don't know how she's handled her college applications. I've worked a deal with her old headmaster where her time away will be treated as time abroad, so she might've applied from Marlowe. But if she said she was a student of her new school, she might need or want to stay there until the end of the year."

Beckett knows that if that were the case, Castle would move to be near his daughter. She also knows that his reticence isn't really related to how Alexis chose to fill out her college applications.

"Come on, Rick," she cajoles lightly while carefully tucking into his side. "We're past the brave words and false front stage, aren't we? Why are you really worried about her coming back?"

"She wasn't very happy about leaving," he offers quietly after a few moments. "And I didn't ask for her opinion. She was pretty upset about being separated from mother, too. For all of her looking forward to college, she wasn't quite ready to be on her own."

"When did you last speak with her?"

"About a week ago," he replies with a sigh. "She's been a bit reserved on the phone. It seems like things were getting better, but that could easily be an act. I won't know what she's really thinking or feeling until I show up. If then."

Beckett takes note of the slurring of Castle's words. Clearly, some of the medication dispensed by Stephanie Gallagher is starting to take hold, so he'll not be lucid for much longer. And, if his pain meds are anything like the ones she endured, he's likely up for strange, unsettling dreams once he drops off. Perhaps she could do something about that?

"I need to study," she mentions as she lets an arm carefully drift over Castle's chest, cuddling in and holding him in an embrace. "For the sergeant's exam. I could do it from anywhere. And no one would fault me if I took a leave of absence after what we've been through. So, if Alexis wants to stay in Lucerne, maybe we could rent a place nearby?"


Castle awakes slowly. It's dark, though the city light trickles in through the open window. His shoulder wound aches and itches, but that's nothing new. Same with his back. No, the novelty of this situation is on his other side, where his partner is still cuddled into his side.

He's pretty sure she offered to move in with him should he need to remain in Lucerne. It might've been the drugs affecting his recollection, but he doesn't think so. The experience with his back taught him that pain meds tend to make him morose, not optimistic.

Slowly, he starts the process of slipping out of bed. He'd like to claim that the stealth is about not waking Beckett, but that's a happy side-effect. Instead, the slow movement minimizes the pain. Incrementally, he extracts himself from Beckett and slowly turns in place to lower his feet to the floor as he levers himself up. The blood rush from his head nearly knocks him down again, but he waits until the room stops spinning before trying to stand.

"Stubborn man."

He hadn't noticed Beckett wake, arise, or move around the bed. That doesn't speak well of his operational skills right now. Still, he offers a chagrined smile as he accepts her help as he rises from the bed.

Using her own recovery experience as a guide, Beckett offers him privacy while he uses the restroom. In return, he calls her back as soon as he's done with any embarrassing bits, welcoming her presence as he stands before the sink and tends to the more mundane aspects of brushing his teeth, taming his hair, and drinking about six glasses of water.

"It doesn't go away," Beckett says quietly as she watches him in the mirror. Reaching for the bottle of lotion, she pumps a large amount into her palm before setting the bottle down. Spreading the lotion to both hands, she starts to work it into his back while keeping eye contact with him in the mirror. "The aftertaste of the pain meds. I hated it, too."

Castle nods, remaining quiet and still to soak in the quiet intimacy of the moment. Bracing his arms on the counter and lowering his head, he slowly realizes exactly how far they've come, how good it feels to have her with him. The understanding amplifies what he felt upon waking and confirms his course of action.

Any further thoughts are literally blown away. For Beckett's finished rubbing the lotion into his scarred back and is now gently blowing air across his back. Chills run up and down his spine and radiate through his arms and legs. And lest any extremity feel left out, he raises his head to look into the mirror to meet his partner's eyes as she lavishes more attention on his back. It's one of the most erotic things he's ever seen. Probably not worth incurring the scars in the first place, but close.


"What about Martha?" Beckett asks from where she's sitting cross-legged at the foot of the bed, the fruit plate on her lap now empty.

"Colorado Springs," Castle answers after finishing a bite of his own breakfast. "Unless they've tricked her onto a bus and pointed her toward the border."

"Seems a little extreme," Beckett laughs.

"I think they'll miss her once she's gone," he admits with a chuckle, "but I think she's been a bit of a handful. If the emails from the facility administrator are any indication."

"Really? I would've thought that your mother would've warmed up to the administrator."

"That's why he was complaining!"


"Lanie misses you," Beckett finally remembers to tell him, later in the afternoon after they've awoken from another nap.

Stretching very slowly so as to avoid pulling any stitches, Castle makes a fond rumble. "I miss her just a bit more than I miss Perlmutter."

"That's not kind," Beckett chastises, her words matched by a gentle elbow nudge to his side.

"I'm serious. You have no idea how much I look forward to seeing Perlmutter and getting a rise out of him," he chuckles, remembering some of his better shots at the curmudgeonly ME. "But Lanie's more fun to talk to and look at."

"Oh, really?"

"You can't be surprised. Would you be happier if I told you that your friend wasn't fun to look at, that I should avert my eyes?" he asks facetiously while shaking his head. "That wouldn't be very nice."

"I think the best course of action," Beckett returns a little primly, "would've been to say nothing."

"Say nothing?!" Castle replies. "You do know who I am, right?"


"Do you want to call your dad?"

Beckett, lowering a towel, asks him to repeat what she'd missed while rubbing her wet hair. Hearing the question again, she cocks her head and knits her brow.

"We can do that?"

"Of course," her partner replies before making a light fist and rapping himself on the head. "Sorry, I should've thought of this earlier. The pain meds make me a little loopy."

"Forgiven," Beckett replies, gently pulling his hand away and kissing where he'd knocked himself. "So, how do I reach him?"

Castle directs her to his bedside table, where yet another odd-looking communication device awaits. Receiving the phone, he talks quietly while typing in the access code. "We can bring him back as soon as you like. Just work it out with him. I'll step into the bathroom so the two of you can have some privacy."

"No," Beckett says quietly but firmly, causing Castle to pause while typing in the number to reach Jim Beckett. "I'd rather you stay. I want to tell him what happened – all of it. I'd like you to be here."

"Need someone nearby to take the blame?" he jokes, trying to hide the effect her request had on him.

Taking some pity on her partner, she decides to play along. Though she can still play with him a little.

"You know very well my father likes you and will be happy to hear how well things went, all things considered," Beckett replies. "He'll be your biggest fan. At least unless I tell him what you did to his baby girl in this hotel room…"


"I've never spent this many consecutive hours in a bed," Castle sighs, tired of immobility (even with the abundant distractions at hand).

"Really? I bet Page Six would be disappointed to hear that."

"I'm just talking about the bed," Castle replies after huffing a laugh. "Nothing wrong with staying in it, but it can be a little… limiting."

"Sounds like something we should test once you're hale and hearty again," Beckett whispers in his ear, prompting a low hum of agreement. "As for me, this isn't a record-setter."

"Oh, really?" Castle nearly growls in reply. "Do tell."

Shifting in bed a bit to get a little more comfortable, Beckett pauses a moment to collect her memories before dropping into the same tone Castle often uses to tell stories.

"We haven't talked much about my year at Stanford," she begins hesitantly. Castle's indrawn breath and the arm he tightens around her instantly convey his agreement and interest in the topic. "It was hard to fit in at first. Palo Alto was so different from Manhattan, and as much as I thought coming from a cosmopolitan city would help, I was in over my head. The worst, though, was that my RA saw through my act and recognized my discomfort. She suggested joining some clubs as a way to integrate faster."

Anxious to hear more about a young Kate Beckett, Castle restrains himself from interrupting but cuddles in a bit closer.

"I surprised everyone when I turned up for volleyball try-outs. I'd played a bit at Stuyvesant, but not a lot. Certainly not enough to challenge the gifted scholarship players. You think I'm tall and athletic? I had nothing on those women. Still, I managed to make the practice squad. And, after a long, bruising semester, there was the chance of rotating in during games where we were well ahead."

"You should've seen us, Castle," Beckett continues, voice lost in reminiscence. "Eighteen women, each taller, leggier, and more athletic than the next. And our uniforms, especially the shorts… let's just say they helped encourage attendance at our matches."

"I can imagine."

"From the tone of your voice, I'm sure you can," she chuckles in response. "Now, try to imagine this: we're all on a bus, heading toward a high school tournament in Lake Tahoe to help coach and work with the girls there the weekend after finals, before heading home for Christmas. A snowstorm in the mountains cancelled the tournament, but, since we weren't a competing team, they forgot to notify us. We barely made it into town, the bus slipping and sliding the whole way. We made it about two steps into the crappy hotel before the power went out. So, what was a group of young, nubile women to do to keep warm? Aside from the rotation we worked out to keep the coaches occupied and distracted, the rest of the time was spent in bed and keeping ourselves *hot*."

After Castle's inarticulate gurgle, she laughs again and brings the conversation full circle. "So, no, this isn't the most time I've spent in bed in one go. But, perhaps if you act on those thoughts racing through your head, it could be the most satisfying?"


"I'm not sure I'm ready for our quiet time to end," Beckett admits in the stillness of the pre-dawn morning. "I suppose I'll wake up tomorrow morning and you'll be gone?"

After releasing a sigh that confirms his concerns about what he has to face, Castle shakes his head slowly. "Later today, actually. Easier to slip away unnoticed in the afternoon rush. Plus, I still need to see Steph for my check-up before I take off."

"How long do you think it'll take before you know what'll happen next?"

"Well, some of what happens next is already set. As for Alexis, it'll take me two days to get to her, then it'll depend on how she'd like to handle things. I'll leave you my device so we can talk."

"Okay," Beckett nods, still disappointed in their looming separation but happy he's anticipated a way for them to stay in contact. As much as she'd like to be part of his trip, it's better that he work things out with Alexis on his own before Beckett enters the frame. Plus, she's got things to run down here. Maybe more than she thought…

"What do you mean, 'some of what happens next is already set?' You holding out on me, partner?"

"Absolutely," Castle confirms with a small, maddening grin. "And there's nothing you can do to make me confess."

"I don't know, Castle, I'm a pretty good interrogator."

"Really?" he asks in cheeky disbelief. "Never heard about that. You'd think, after spending a few years at the precinct, I would've seen some evidence of your skills."

"Trust me, Castle," she replies in a sultry voice, sitting up and kicking a leg over him so that she straddles his waist. "The people at the precinct have never seen my most effective skills."

"Bravado," Castle bravely dismisses. "Perhaps they've never seen them because they don't exist?"

"You show a stunning lack of imagination for a writer, lack of faith for a believer," she chastises as she lets a lazy finger draw whorls across the skin of his chest and lower. "With your shoulder out of commission, I'm afraid some of my techniques aren't available to us now. But I don't need 'em to break you."

"More bravado," Castle replies, his brave words belied by his low, gravelly voice and the gulp that preceded them.

"Lay back and be still, Castle. I'm going to make you sing."


"Ready for your sponge bath?"

"Beckett, if I ever offer anything besides an enthusiastic, affirmative response to that question, shoot me. I'll probably already be dead, but shoot me anyway, just to make sure."

"So, is that a yes?"


"Let me help."

Worried that her partner's difficulty in buttoning his shirt shows that he's clearly not ready for his next adventure, Beckett bites back those thoughts and slowly does up his buttons. She'd delay, or maybe even reverse course, but she knows the timing is delicate. He needs to get moving and she needs to return to her responsibilities as well.

For his part, Castle stands quiet and placid, apparently drawing strength before his departure. His compliance is the best sign of his anxiety.

"There," Beckett says gamely before walking behind him and holding his blazer. Helping him slip his arms into the sleeves, she rounds to his front and gently pulls on the lapels to get the jacket into place.

"Role reversal," he says quietly. "I remember when I helped you don your coats. I look forward to doing it again."

"Soon," she answers thickly, lifting her chin to drop a kiss on his cheek. "Now," she says a little more firmly, "no sappy goodbye scenes. You need to get moving or your doctor will kick my ass."

"Only once she's finished with mine," he agrees with a smile. Then, bracing himself, he looks around the room one more time to commit it to memory. Needless to say, he's enjoyed their time here. Others might think his hotel memories are tawdry, but they both know that the intimacies they've shared here go far beyond a simple (though divine) physical connection.

Shaking his head to refocus, he reaches into the pocket of his jacket and extracts his communication device, which he hands to Beckett. "Same combination as before, your badge number twice."

She accepts the device and lets a thumb rub across the top. As much as she's glad to have the means to communicate, it still feels like they're moving backwards. Plus, she knows things are never this easy with Castle. There's got to be a curveball, whether it's one thrown by him or karma bending one his way.

"Hey," he interjects quietly, a gentle finger beneath her chin lifting her face so they can look each other in the eye. "Just for this trip. We'll be back together soon. I'll work things out with Alexis while you get your dad resettled. And tend to your other projects."

"What other projects?" Beckett asks with a perched brow, recognizing the curveball already.

"Use that to contact my attorney. No, not Samuelson," he laughs, recognizing Beckett's look of consternation following her earlier interactions with that lawyer. "This guy's name is Tom Rutkowski. He's got some things for you to review if you have time before my return."

"Any hints?"

"Fun stuff," he assures her. "At least I think so."

"'Cause that's not ominous at all," she teases, pulling laughs from both of them. "Now, you need to scoot. Let's make sure you don't forget me while you're gone," she whispers as she reels him in and lays a blistering kiss on his lips. The hunger in his eyes when the break apart reveals the success of her plan.

Mindful of the time, Castle slowly wraps his arms around her, mindful of aggravating his shoulder injury. Resting his forehead against hers, he takes a quiet moment to create another memory to get him through his upcoming travels. Speaking of memories…

"Beckett?"

"Yeah?"

"You never played volleyball, did you?"

"We went to a game once. Does that count?"

"Bless you."

"Tell you what. You hurry back and I'll have the uniform ready for your arrival."


"Detective Beckett, a pleasure to meet you!"

While shaking her hand, Rutkowski pulls gently to guide her into his office. Leading her towards his desk, he releases her hand in order to scoop up a pile of manila folders and a poster tube. Beckett stifles a chuckle as the young attorney's excitement prompts him to bobble his load, folders and tube jostling precariously in his grasp. Stepping forward quickly to help the young man secure his cargo, she receives a beaming smile of thanks. Then, with a nod towards a side door, Rutkowski nearly skips as he leads Beckett out of his office and down an interior hallway.

Neither he nor his office is at all what she expected. Castle, after all, knows many people and commands a certain level of service from those who provide him with editing, promotional, or legal assistance. Plus, Samuelson was ruthlessly competent and boasted an office that's opulent in the way she'd expect her own would have been had she followed her earlier educational path and pursued corporate law. Rutkowski's office, on the other hand, is a rental from a temporary office leasing firm. He must either be an old friend of Castle's, or maybe Rick is looking to help a new attorney get his bearings in private practice.

"So," Rutkowski beams excitedly as he dumps his load a little too exuberantly on a folding card table that serves as a conference room setup. Barely stopping the folders from sliding off the edge, he blushes while he looks quickly at Beckett before straightening up his piles. "Rick's got me running a few projects for him," he explains as he swells slightly with pride, "and he thought you might like to help."

"I'm happy to take a look," Becket offers gently, worried that too boisterous a response on her part might send Rutkowski into potentially fatal paroxysms of delight.

"Excellent!" the young attorney beams, again knocking down the pile of folders with his giddy handclap. "Where would you like to start?"

"Castle's teased me by not letting me know what you're working on," she explains with what's meant to be a frown, though a grin still slips through. "So, why don't we start with whatever's in the poster tube so we can clear the table afterward?"

Chagrined but still smiling, Rutkowski sweeps the folders from the table and onto a folding chair before opening the tube and extracting a set of blueprints. Unrolling them across the table, he spends a comically long amount of time failing at keeping the prints from rolling up again. Meaning to take pity on the poor guy, Beckett extracts the handcuffs from her belt. Rutkowski suddenly looks concerned, raising his hands in supplication. His motion causes the prints to roll into a cylinder again, setting them back further. Shaking her head, she unrolls the plans and uses the cuffs to anchor one corner.

"Do you have anything else we could use? I'd rather not pull my service weapon," she explains, biting back the smile at the thought of Rutkowski fainting had that happened.

Finally, with the aid of a stapler, a doorstop, and a can of Diet Coke (and after nixing the offer of his shoe), the four corners are finally secured and Beckett allows herself to view the plan. To say she's surprised is a bit of an understatement.

"Are these the plans to his new beach house?" she asks, letting a finger trace the outline of house even more beautiful than its predecessor."

"Yes," Rutkowski chirps happily while coming around the table to stand next to her. "Rick wanted to make sure you approved of the designs. This one on top," he says while pointing, inadvertently knocking over the can of soda, "is his favorite, but the other three options are further down the pile. And if you don't like any of them or want to make some changes, we can meet with the architects."

Whatever she expected, it wasn't this. Castle's inviting her to help design a house for the Hamptons? She's never had to worry about more than a one-bedroom apartment! And that doesn't even get into the deeper connotations of him offering her the opportunity to make sure the beach house is somewhere she'd feel comfortable. It might not be hearts and flowers, but the intent behind this offer is obvious.

Her partner, she realizes once again, really is a clever guy. He didn't take her on a hot air balloon ride and ply her with champagne, he didn't get down on one knee in public or in front of her work colleagues, he didn't do anything that might trip any latent insecurities on her part. He simply offered her the opportunity to craft a part of their future that would be welcoming to them both. The magnitude of the gesture, and the fact that it hasn't caused her to backtrack in fear, is amazing.

"Can I take these home?" she asks quietly, finger still tracing over the design.

"Of course! Rick thought you might want to take some time with these," he confides, head bobbing. "I'll just roll them up again," he offers as he tugs the plans and tumbles the stapler and doorstop onto the floor. Then, after managing to get them back into the tube, he culls out one of the folders and sets it on a different folding chair along with the tube. "The folder has some notes on amenities they hope to include in the new house, along with some guides from the architects about styles, options, and general timelines."

"Thank you," Beckett replies before giving her head a little shake to get recentered. "Right. Moving on. Let's do this. Why don't you tell me what the other projects are, then we'll figure out how to move on from there."

"Sure!" the unflappable young man replies happily, turning back to the folders. "There's just three left, and only one of them is as big as the beach house. This one," he says while pulling a folder to the top, "has the details of his new condo. We've already closed and have the builders engaged, but he wanted to see if you had any thoughts or ideas."

Another anxiety addressed. She'd worried about where Castle might go now that the future looks unencumbered and was worried that without the loft of the Haunt, he might permanently relocate to the Hamptons. But it looks like he's already secured someplace in Manhattan, too. It makes sense, with Alexis (hopefully) and Martha (probably) needing a place for a bit, but it's still welcomed news.

"Back in Soho?" she asks while flipping through papers in the folder.

"No," Rutkowski replies, "but not too far. He lucked into a top-floor place in a small building a stone's throw from the High Line. The old Meatpacking District, I think, but pretty posh."

Says the attorney wearing sneakers and a knit tie, Beckett notes. No wonder Rutkowski is so zealous in acting on Castle's behalf.

"From one loft to another," Beckett agrees to keep things moving along. "What's next?"

"Well, you'll have to take this folder home with you, too, since it also involves your father. Rick said he was working on a project for him, something about contracts?" he asks, fishing for information from Beckett.

"Castle had dad working on something for him, but I'll confess that I don't know specifics," she admits and is surprised that she'd overlooked this detail. Honestly, she'd wondered if the work Castle had for her father was nothing other than busywork to get him out of the city until it was safe to return.

"Looks like some investment stuff," Rutkowski replies while flipping through the papers in the file, many of which are spreadsheets. "Why don't we set this one aside and let your dad take it from here?"

"Sounds like a plan," Beckett agrees. It's just one more reason to be anxious to see her father when he returns in two days. "That just leaves one project, but you've still got a bunch of folders there…"

"Yeah," Rutkowski replies, blushing slightly while he rubs the back of his neck. "I'd really like to help here, but this stuff is kinda out of my wheelhouse, aside from the contracts," he admits. Then, after a fortifying breath, he reaches for the remaining folders and starts identifying them as he stacks them. "Florist. Caterer. Venue. Photographers. Musicians. Guest list. Travel arrangements."

Okay, maybe Castle isn't so clever. The beach house might not have set her off, but if he left a stack of wedding planning materials without even proposing…

Wait a minute, there's no way Castle would do that, Beckett realizes. Not the old Castle, and not the craftier incarnation born while she was away recuperating. That must mean these materials are for…

"The Ryan wedding?" she asks, getting another round of bobbing nods from Rutkowski. "Castle wants me to plan a wedding?!"

"It's mostly planned already," Rutkowski jumps in. "After their time away, they need to… uh… make sure the wedding happens while the bride can still fit in her dress," he explains while a radiant blush blossoms on his cheeks and neck.

Well, Beckett realizes with a smile, sounds like Kevin and Jenny found a way to keep busy while they were away from the city. Lanie will be so happy to have a young one to spoil and dote upon.

"So, the plans are set?" she asks, watching him nod yet again. "When's the wedding?"

"Three weeks," he replies with a flinch. "Invitations go out as soon as you review the guest list and identify anyone you think should be added for Mister Ryan's career considerations."

"That's not much time," Beckett states the obvious. "I'll look at the list today and get back to you with any additions. Or should I just call Kev?"

"You can call Mister Ryan or the wedding coordinator – her contact information is in the top folder," he explains while sorting the blazingly labeled "MASTER" folder to the top. "Everything you need is in there, including…," here Rutkowski blushes again, "… a request from Rick."

With that, Rutkowksi offers to pop down the hallway to get a bag so she can carry all the folders. Before he's even left the room, Beckett's opened the master folder in search of the familiar dove grey envelope.

She's only a little disappointed this one's not hand written, but it looks like Castle must've texted his message to Rutkowski to have it printed and ready for her arrival.

Beckett,

Help! You're my partner, right? You've got the training, experience, and instincts to protect and serve. And I definitely need your protection.

As you've heard, the Ryan wedding is a go and on an abbreviated schedule. Even with a friend coordinating, it will be a challenge to ensure that our friends have the wedding they deserve. I feel a bit of personal responsibility here, too, since Kevin refused most of the money I offered for his time away, taking only what he needed to replace his leave time. But he and Jenny grudgingly accepted help with their wedding. (And honeymoon, though they don't know about that part yet.)

As for Espo and his role, we've reached an alternative arrangement, but more on that later.

So, what do I need from you? I'm hoping for two things:

Will you please take a look at the wedding plans? Everything should be well in hand, but you've always had an uncanny ability to identify problems and solutions at only a glance. Anything you can or want to do would be a big help. And while I hope to be back in time to join these efforts, that depends on how things go with Alexis.

Will you please attend the wedding with me? It's been years since our last dance together and I would very much like to hold you in my arms again.

I'm going to assume you're on board with the first request, but I'm going to hope you'll accede to the second one, too? I'll reach out once I've reached my destination and you can let me know. If you are unable to be my 'plus-one' can you at least help me come up with a way to protect me from Victoria's invitation?

Love, Castle

[Insert funny symbol here]


Taking another glance at her watch, Beckett releases a long sigh. Castle and Alexis are cutting it close. It's been three weeks since she's seen him, though they've spoken frequently. Now, they're racing home from Lucerne to attend the Ryan wedding. And while Beckett's thrilled to not be a bridesmaid this time around, she's more excited to see her partner again. She knows he's in town – he called her from the hotel into which he and Alexis have moved while awaiting the completion of the construction work on Castle's new condo. But, even though she's not a member of the wedding party, she was called upon to help Jenny stay calm and to keep Lanie under control in the pre-ceremony scramble.

The wedding's not due to start for another hour, but Castle had thought they'd be here by now. And, oddly, she might not be the one who's most anxious to see her wayward partner. No, that distinction doesn't go to Captain Gates, regardless of Castle's ridiculous note about the wedding. Instead, it's Ryan who looks uncharacteristically nervous and could use some encouragement. Needless to say, his commitment-phobe partner Esposito is hardly the right one to calm his pre-ceremony jitters.

The low rumble of a high-performance engine pulling up in front of the church breaks Beckett from her ruminations. She's unaccountably happy to see the cherry-red Ferrari prowl to a stop in front of the valet station. (A valet station at a Catholic church! That wedding coordinator thought of everything.) She'd thought the car was lost like the beach house, but Castle must've taken steps to protect it in the midst of all his other planning. Ready to see her partner again, Beckett descends the stone steps to meet him at the curb.

But it's not Castle who emerges from the vehicle. Instead, looking dapper in his best man's tuxedo, Esposito steps out and speaks briefly speaks with the valet. From the spotty young man's paling face and bulging eyes, she'd guess that Espo just described what would happen to him should anything happen to the precious car. She hopes he didn't flash his weapon, though he'd hardly be the only one attending this wedding while armed.

"Nice wheels," Beckett offers as Espo saunters towards her.

Stopping in front of his colleague and pausing while taking off his mirrored sunglasses, Espo's all smiles. "Castle's alright. For Ryan, he helps him get shackled to Jenny in style," he says with an expansive sweep of his arm that takes in the church and arriving guests. "But for me, he gives me somethin' to help me with all the ladies."

So, this must be the alternate arrangement Castle reached with Espo as a way to thank him for his assistance. A sports car and, in all likelihood considering the dumpy neighborhood in which Espo lives, a place to part it. Not a bad deal.

"From an invitation to meet the parents to out the door in 3.2 seconds?" she asks facetiously.

"Exactly! No chica can keep up with me in this machine."

"Charming. I'm sure your 'chicas' appreciate hearing you talk about it that way, too."

"Lanie didn't seem to mind when she helped me christen it."

"That's something I really didn't want or need to know," Beckett replies with a scrunched nose. "And probably not a good thought for the steps of a church. Though the confessional booths are probably open."

"Nah, I'd just have to come back later tonight," Espo fires back with an eyebrow waggle. "Now, where's my boy? Knowin' him, he probably needs backup by now."

Privately wondering if Espo's advice is the kind that Ryan needs right now, she provides directions to the vestibule in which the groom is likely pacing. Shaking off an offer to enter with him, Beckett resumes her vigil as she awaits her partner's arrival. Castle had mentioned a surprise for his arrival, but she doesn't think he was talking about the Ferrari. Frankly, she's a little worried about the surprise – given everything that's happened in the last few months, she's grown a little weary and wary of unexpected developments.

That's got to be him, she thinks as a black car-service sedan makes a U-turn and stops in front of the steps to the church. Sure enough, Castle is the first one out of the car, though he exited from the front passenger seat. Sending her a blinding smile, he lifts one finger to ask for a moment while he opens the car's rear door and holds out a hand to help Alexis from the car. She looks beautiful – older already than Beckett recalls, more sophisticated. Her green dress looks gorgeous and plays well with her complexion. Her hair has been done up in elaborate braids and her jewelry accentuates without ostentation.

Rather than approach, however, Alexis stands to the side while Castle helps another passenger out of the car. A sandy-haired young man with dark eyes emerges. Not quite as tall as Castle, the young man looks dapper in a smart suit and tie with threading that matches Alexis' dress. Suddenly, Alexis' reluctance to return to New York looks like it might have a different reason than Castle expected.

"Kate," Castle says gently as he approaches and wraps her is a gentle embrace. "It's so good to see you again."

"Welcome home, Castle," she whispers into the crook of his neck. She holds their hug long enough to let him know she's glad he's back, though social conventions require that she break away for introductions.

"Alexis, it's so good to see you again," Beckett offers warmly, curious and a little wary of the young woman's response, which might range anywhere from genuine delight to cold indifference. It's been a long time since they've spoken, with many intervening, life-threatening events in the interim.

"It's good to see you again, Kate," Alexis replies before emulating her father and embracing the detective. "Thank you for coming back," she whispers to the older woman. "And thank-you for helping him."

"Of course," Beckett replies, thrilled with this reception. "Now, why don't you introduce me?"

Pulling back, Alexis reaches out for her friend. "Detective Kate Beckett, please meet Andras Klein, my dearest friend from school. Andras, Kate is my father's partner, the youngest woman to make detective at the NYPD, and the inspiration for my father's Heat books."

"Mademoiselle," Andras offers while lifting Beckett's hand and kissing her knuckles. It's a very refined and courtly gesture that will be even more effective when he can master his nerves and keep the warble from his voice.

Looking at his watch, Castle gestures towards the church and prompts the group into moving along. Once they reach the doors, he delivers Alexis and Andras to an usher and asks them to hold seats while he and Beckett visit the wedding party.

But before she can return to help Jenny, Castle pulls her into a hug after shuffling her over to an out-of-the way alcove. "Castle, we need to…"

"I know," he assures her. "I'll go counteract Espo's terrible advice in a few minutes. I just need a little time with you."

"Missed me, eh?" Beckett replies as she cuddles into him. "I don't suppose this has anything to do with your daughter bringing a date to the wedding and worrying about what's to come?"

"Don't tease," Castle pouts as he holds her tight, still being careful not to mess her hair though he'd love to nuzzle in. "I did miss you. But Alexis is freaking me out a little. As you've already figured out, I wasn't quite right about why she sounded like she wanted to stay in Lucerne. After everything we went through to keep her safe, I might be losing her in a way I didn't expect. Which is stupid, of course. Everything I did was to ensure she'd have the chance to do things like this."

"It's not stupid," Beckett replies while lifting a hand to rub his chest. "It's exactly the kind of thing you should be worrying about. It might not feel like it, but this is the happy ending you fought for, right? Regular concerns like college applications, boyfriends, living arrangements – all the mundane and wonderful aspects of a good life. Isn't this how you would've written it? The faceless enemy vanquished, the victims avenged, and the hero celebrating life by attending a new union…"

"Heroes," Castle interjects. "You were there, too. And you're here with me now," he says in wonder as she nods against him. "So, if celebrating is part of our reward, we'd better get to it, right?"

"Right," she agrees reluctantly before pulling away from him. When she does, she catches the eye of a little old lady who's awaiting the services of an usher. The lady offers a wink and a cackle before caning her way down the aisle to a waiting seat on the bride's side. There's something about a wedding that makes everyone a romantic. But, given how things have turned out, she's not going to complain. In fact, embracing the spirit sounds like a damn fine idea.

"Go rescue Kevin," Beckett suggests. "I'm looking forward to dancing with you, so we need to make sure Espo's advice doesn't torpedo the wedding."


"You have learned well from your mother," Beckett offers quietly hours later when she and Castle are returning to the dance floor. The wedding was beautiful, the most touching ceremony she can recall. And the reception has been a perfect complement, the warm, inviting chaos of an exuberant party to match the serene, sedate wedding mass. Both Kevin and Jenny have large families in attendance and both sides have worked hard to welcome each other and the guests. Espo and Castle helped set the tone with their speeches. They played against type to great effect; Espo led with a humorous, borderline inappropriate best man's speech that had the audience alternately laughing and blushing. Then, after a few other people took their turns with the microphone, Castle provided a short speech that ruminated on love, provided some insight into the new couple, and ended with a blessing. There weren't many dry eyes when he reclaimed his seat at their table, though Beckett suspected that she and Alexis fought tears of pride rather than sentimentality.

And then they danced. Sure, there was food, drinks, and good conversation, but it was the dancing that she'll most remember. Whether slow or fast, refined or loose, they kicked and twirled together as if they'd been doing it for years. And, in a way, they had. But their turns on the dance floor showed everyone else how in-sync they were. It was something Andras mentioned to her while Castle was taking a turn with his daughter.

But while their comfort with each other was obvious to all in attendance, only Beckett knew Castle well enough to pick up on the merest hint of disquiet. After considering how far they'd come, how much they'd invested and worked to reach this point, she decided to ask him about it, even at the risk of marring their evening.

"She'll appreciate hearing that the dance lessons she forced on me were appreciated," he laughs in reply before twirling Beckett again.

"I'm not talking about dancing," Beckett replies as she pulls him close, moving from coordinated dance steps to the more common 'sway-in-place' style of dance, "I'm talking about acting. Want to tell me what's bothering you?"

Castle sways in place for several long moments while mulling a reply. He can't really be surprised she's seen through him, but he's worried about how to proceed. "I don't want to ruin our evening, Kate. There'll be plenty of time to worry about this another day."

"Except it's bothering you now," she gently replies. "Rick, I've had a wonderful day with you and nothing will ruin that. We can talk about it here if you like, or we can go home and talk about it away from the reception if you'd like some separation. But we've worked too hard to let quiet troubles undermine our gains."

Again, Castle sways a bit before answering. "I like the reference to 'home,' even if we don't quite have one yet. But maybe we should talk here before we head back to our suite at the Plaza, where I'm hoping you'll join me?"

"Of course," Beckett replies. "I was hoping you'd ask. I've even got a bag here at the coat check with a change of clothes."

"So bold," Castle laughs. "Okay, let's talk here so we don't rain on Alexis and Andras' night. I've just been mulling over what you said earlier and I don't like where those thoughts are leading."

"What did I say?" Beckett wonders aloud, trying to recall what she'd said earlier that's got Castle in a tailspin.

"About our happy ending," he says with a nod to their surroundings, "about how this is the way I'd write it. That's the thing," he confesses, "this isn't the way I'd write it."

She knows she should be happy that he's thinking about writing at all. After everything that's happened since Bracken moved against Montgomery, she doubts Castle has written a word that wasn't related to his plan for justice. But now she's feeling uneasy, too. She remembers well how often their brainstorming in front of the murder board included pulling threads that unraveled stories and identified gaps in their investigation.

"How would you write it?"

"It's too pat," Castle answers quietly. "Too easy. We never really saw the ending, did we? We had our hands full with Bracken, then with getting me to the hospital, then with getting you to cover. How do we know what really happened?"

Damn it. These are thoughts she doesn't want to entertain. This is supposed to be *over.*

"I see where you're going," she acknowledges quietly. "We have a conspiracy that lasted more than a decade, players who stretched from the DA's office to the NYPD to the halls of Congress to wherever Bracken's master was hiding, and a team of highly-trained operatives who adopted you and made inconveniences like the death of a senator in custody disappear without any outcry before fading into the ether themselves. It does seem a little ephemeral. So, what next – we start dredging the river to find the chopper and the bodies?"

The music has ended but their conversation has not, so they continue to sway together on the dance floor. Others that have held on for the end of the reception send them indulgent and sometimes envious looks, all expecting that it's romance that has them still on the floor. The band indulges them and announces one last song.

"You want to know what really bothers me?" he asks once the sounds of music again provide cover for his quiet words. "Why do we assume there would be multiple bodies?"

Beckett mulls his question quietly before turning to him to prompt his theory.

"If I were writing this, if there was a body to be found, it would only be the pilot. If I were writing this, there would've only been one other person in the chopper – Jackson."

"But what about Bracken's master?" Beckett asks before the horror of Castle's meandering thoughts starts to bloom on her face. Sadly, Castle's next words confirm his theory.

"We never saw the man who was pulling Bracken's strings. Who found me when I was looking for the man behind our misery? Who was it that identified Bracken's master? Who was it who set the trap for him? Who was it who was able to single-handedly apprehend Zoltick, the money man behind Bracken's operation? Who was the only one who supposedly saw the big bad guy in the chopper?" Castle cringes as the questions end and he turns toward a terrible potential answer.

"Jackson. At every step, it was Jackson. If I were writing this story, he'd be the big bad guy. And in that tale, the only thing our adventures and pain and suffering would've provided was a way for Jackson to eliminate his protégé, retire his identity as Bracken's boss, and walk away free and clear."


Blessedly, Alexis and Andras seem to be so wrapped up in each other that they've failed to notice any preoccupation during the trip from the reception to the Plaza. Castle and Beckett stay in the lounge area long enough to supervise the young couple's chaste goodnight kiss and their retreat to their individual rooms. Obviously trying to capture a sense of playfulness and put their gloom behind them, Castle holds up a finger to gesture for quiet before reaching into a bag on the nearby sofa and extracting two seasonal jingle bell bracelets. Quietly slipping one on the knob of each teen's door, he smiles at his late-night solo sleeping insurance measures.

"A little hypocritical, don't you think?" Beckett asks while rolling her eyes.

"Of course," Castle replies with a shrug. "But it's a parent's prerogative to fight the tide. Besides, if two brilliant teens attending a Brainiac boarding school can't defeat a few jingle bells, they don't deserve any amorous activities."

"So, if getting past the jingle bells allows a little kissing, what have our travails earned us?"

"Why don't you follow me and find out?" Castle asks with a voice suddenly two octaves lower. "As much as I've missed you these last three weeks, there was one silver lining to being apart."

"Oh?"

"My shoulder's much stronger," he brags slightly while windmilling his arm slowly. "Might open up the playbook a bit…"

"Nothing too adventurous," Beckett teases as she starts following him into the master bedroom of the suite. "There's no way your shoulder is fully healed. Besides, while you've got fantastic accommodations, I doubt the walls are sound-proof," she reminds him as she turns to close the door behind them. The heavy thunk of the closing deadbolt accentuates her words and accentuates the feeling of locking them away.

Surprised by Castle's lack of a reply, she turns to see him turning stock still. Had he been looking at her, it would've been flattering. But, instead, he's staring at the bed. No, not at the bed. At the pillows. Or, more particularly, the dove gray envelope resting on top, awaiting their arrival.

After turning to share a quick look during which they confirm that neither of them left the envelope, Castle slowly walks to the head of the bed. Moving the pillows carefully and peeking to ensure there was nothing else hidden, he drops to his knees and peers beneath the bed before standing again and slowly reaching for the envelope.

Looking again at Beckett to see if she'll suggest waiting to open the envelope or calling for the CSU team, he instead receives a nod. They both suspect who left the note and how unlikely it would be that any evidence would be left within. Returning the nod, Castle flips the envelope over before decisively sliding a finger beneath the edge, opening the envelope, and extracting the letter within. After pressing out the creases, Castle turns and holds the missive where both he and his partner can read it together.

Son,

It's good to see you aren't an idiot. You're the only one besides Lynch who figured out what was going on. With more training and experience, you might become a competent operative.

One of the skills you still need to learn: when to walk away. This op is done. The people you sought will not be seen again. Learn to take it as a win and move on. Worrying over loose ends will not end well.

Now it's time for you to stand down and get right. When you're healed and my granddaughter is protected, I'll contact you about furthering your education.

Do not look for me before then.

Whether you include your detective or not is up to you. But she's your responsibility. It would be unfortunate if she were to be caught in the crosshairs again.

Dad

I originally thought these notes of yours were a sad indulgence, but I enjoyed writing this one. I like the farewell symbol, too. I think I'll be making use of that.


A/N: And, done! Nice to finish on a definitive upnote, right? There are many different paths for the story to take from here, so I think I'll leave that to your imaginations.

This story took much longer to complete than I expected, so many thanks for hanging on until the end. It stayed pretty true to where I wanted it to go, though the long delays between some chapters meant that I spent more time that I'd like rereading earlier chapters to provide some consistency through the story.

As for what's next: when I started writing fanfic, I had a goal of a million words (yeah, I know that's just a few stories for some of my friends). I'm closing in on that goal, but I'm also finding it more and more difficult to set aside writing time. I've still got ideas (the third in the Season 4 trilogy, my long-neglected Halloween story, and a few others). The uptick in my professional responsibilities has me wary of longer stories, though, or of starting to post before I've got a fair bit written.

So, I think the next story will be a bit of a deviation from my norm. It'll be short (probably on the order of Goddess or Overshot), but with a dissimilar tone. In different ways, it draws some inspiration from Muse of Apollo and Madcrafter72. I've got it outlined, but probably won't post until the whole thing is written, assuming I can get to it.

And now, finally, an apology: my count of unread chapters for which I've got email notifications just reached triple digits. Pathetic, I know. So some writing time will have to support reading, too.