AN: A nod of thanks to the author of the prompt that helped to shape this story, to V for her kindness and faith in sharing the prompt with me, to DeVotchKa for providing the title and years of happy ears, and to AWM for filling my heart so full it continues to spill over in words.


Chapter 1

Never had the distance of a single foot felt more like that of a mile than in that moment, Kate realized, seated there behind her desk that evening at the precinct, Rick in the chair he'd long ago claimed as his own beside it, at once that close and that far away.

And as though the ache of that awareness in her permanently scarred heart wasn't crushing enough already, rather than working to help her build a bridge between them-one, incidentally, she still didn't yet understand the impetus of need for-he seemed to be willingly showing up every day with a fresh match to burn her side of it down.

It'd been weeks of it, days filled with cold despite the warm air of summer's approach. Rick had begun to breeze into the 12th late, to disappear for hours at a time in the middle of the day without a peep, often not to return at all. Kate couldn't recall the last time they'd had an actual conversation, one with more words than were absolutely necessary or without a sharpness she'd also unintentionally come to adopt.

She couldn't recall the last time he'd looked at her like he loved her. Or a time she'd more wished he would.

She glanced up from the paperwork she was feigning had even an ounce of her earnest attention when he snickered, and found, unsurprisingly, it wasn't she that had his, but rather his phone, and though she attempted to avert her eyes as quickly as she'd given them, he managed to catch her at it.

"What?" he asked with all the care of someone who didn't really care.

On her thigh beneath the desk, Kate's fingers tensed into a fist.

"You don't have to be here for this, Castle. I'm sure you have somewhere else you'd rather be."

When her brain rewound it and played it back, it hit like a punch. She didn't want him to go. She didn't want him to be anywhere else. Or with anyone else. The week before, she'd overheard he and Javi talking, heard him mention a woman's name, and even without context she had to fight to catch her breath over it.

"Maybe I'll see you tomorrow," she inexplicably doubled down, playing calm. And it most certainly was playing.

In what felt akin to him dripping gasoline on the day's flame, Rick smiled once more at his phone and got up, tossed her a "Yeah, maybe" as he walked off, and even through the crackle of the active bullpen, she heard his every step to the elevator, his jab of the button on the wall, the slam of the elevator doors between them. None of them, though, compared to the thunder of the newest tear in her heart.

"What's going on with you two?" Captain Gates snapped her fingers in the air when neither her question nor her presence was acknowledged. "Detective? Am I talking to myself here?"

She had been, it appeared. Kate's body was there, but her mind was elsewhere.

"I'm…sorry, sir." She didn't know what more to say.

"With you and Mr. Castle. I asked what's going on. I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear I couldn't care less about what is or isn't his problem, but if he's bringing it into my unit and making it my detective's problem, that's something I won't stand for. I can have that pretty boy of yours out of here so fast, his head'll spin."

Kate knew she could too. For that reason, it might've drawn a smile, were it not for her captain's choice of labels, which kept it in check.

"Mine," she muttered with the inadvertent sting as she gathered her papers into a pile, as though busy hands might somehow counter its burn. They didn't. "Is there something you needed, sir?"

"Make some time for me tomorrow morning, Detective. There's a matter I'd like to discuss, one-on-one. I know you have your hands full with this Ashford matter, so make it early, huh?"

She strolled back to her office without awaiting any acknowledgement.

Kate didn't have the first idea what it was about. Even after their many months together, she still found Gates a tough read. Whatever it was, she decided it wasn't worth stewing over, so she slid her paperwork into her bag and headed home for a cold beer and a hot bath. Merely Band-Aids to be sure, but Band-Aids, nonetheless.

xxxx

Kate popped open one eye and let out a huff when she heard the ring not five minutes after she settled beneath the scented bubbles in her tub. Rolling onto her side and peering over the porcelain's edge, she saw it was Lanie calling and answered, set it to speaker so she could resume her position.

"Have I ever told you how perfect your timing is?" she posed sarcastically, knowing her dear friend would read her tone like a book.

"Baby, I've got so much perfect, it's coming out of my ears. Now what you've got is attitude. Let me guess. I interrupted you working and having absolutely no fun. Again."

Kate reached for the bottle of Yuengling she had sitting atop the bamboo tray that bridged the tub's two sides, swallowed a sip. "I'm in a hot bath after a shitty day. I've never had more fun. It's like a damn party over here."

"Yeah, it sounds like it," Lanie snickered. "Giving up on Castle already? Trying to paint me a picture of you naked so I'll hit on you?" The seconds of silence that followed ticked by in the slowest of motion. It clearly wasn't the right time for jokes of that flavor. "Tell me why it was shitty. Vent, girl, come on. Get it out."

"Oh, I don't know, let me see. My suspect's lawyer burst into Interrogation this afternoon and shut him up just when I thought I might actually be getting somewhere, I spilled a mugful of coffee all over my desk and now have to redo my case paperwork, my boss asked to have a chat with me about god knows what before the start of tomorrow's no doubt shitty day, and my partner continued to treat me like he barely knows me and doesn't care to. How was that? Did I do venting right?"

Lanie cleared her throat, bought herself a couple of extra seconds to come up with a retort.

"Okay, but I'm sure your hair was crushing it as usual, right?" The won giggle was mutual. "Are you going to try to talk to him again? Castle, not the suspect. I mean, he is still showing up. That's something."

"Castle's always enjoyed torturing me," Kate offered dryly, her fingers clenched around the neck of the bottle. "How many times can I try, Lanie? Should I try? At what point do I just leave it? Clearly, I did something, and he thinks I should already know what that something is, because he hasn't felt the need to tell me. And now I have Gates asking me what's going on with us, the guys are tiptoeing around, it's just…"

"Love isn't just anything, Kate, not for most people. I know damn sure not for you, and don't even try to pretend that isn't what's going on here. We both know it is."

"Lanie-" Kate's instinct was to object, but she was immediately cut off.

"You ask me if you should keep trying. That's an answer I can't give you. What I can say is this: four years is a very long time to care about someone as much as you care about Castle-as much as he cares about you-and it's also a very long time to feel like you have to keep that inside. Just one best friend's opinion? It'd be a hell of a shame if something that beautiful and that rare stayed locked away forever."

A warm tear rolled down Kate's cheek and dropped from her jaw into the bubbles below. "Dammit, I was so close, Lanie. I worked so hard to get here, to get to this point, for myself and for him. What happened?" she pondered aloud for not the first time.

"I'm sorry, girl. You know I'd march right over to that fancy penthouse of his tonight and pry it out of him myself if you wouldn't wring my neck for it." She took a deliberate pause for a breath, allowed Kate the same. "You know I'm here for you. Call me, text me, whatever, whenever. Even if it's just 'cause you want me to hit on you," she added with an audible grin.

"Shut up." Kate rolled her eyes. "I'm glad you called, Lanie. You always…I'm lucky to have you as my friend."

Lanie hummed sassily. "Damn straight," she said and was gone.

Because she already knew what would come of it-or wouldn't, as it were-Kate allowed herself no deliberation, rather immediately angled her body against the side of the tub and reached down to the floor for her phone, pulled up Rick's number in her contact list, and clicked it to dial.

Her heart thumped against the porcelain as one ring became two, as two became four, and then there was his voice. His voicemail.

"Hey, it's Kate," she told the robotic version of him she'd grown all too familiar with of late. "You didn't answer again. I guess you did have somewhere else to be. Or maybe you're just avoiding me," she tacked on without intending for the words to actually come out of her mouth, a notion that so pained her she could barely get out the rest of what she had to say. "I'd really like it if we could talk, Castle. I'm sorry, I know I keep saying it." For a brief moment, she got lost in how many times. "Okay, good night."

She let her eyes slide shut, propped her chin up on her arm. That was where the second tear that fell came to rest.

xxxx

"There's no need to slink like some sort of burglar, Richard. Alexis and I are already up and at 'em, thank you very much." Rick settled his full weight back into his feet, shuffled across the loft's foyer toward the kitchen, where Martha, wearing a robe speckled with leopard spots and the brow of a curious mother, stood munching on a triangle of toast. "Lovely to see you up with the morning crowd for a change," she remarked, giving him a conspicuous once-over.

Several gulps of orange juice straight from a carton he pulled from the refrigerator preceded his reply, which he little more than grunted. "Do you have to shout, Mother? I'm standing right here." Using his free hand, he guided his way back around the counter and parked himself on one of the stools at the bar.

"Given you smell as though you bathed in a barrel, I'm guessing you aren't returning home from a night of NYPD business with Beckett?" She gave her hands a rub, shook off the crumbs, and Rick winced like she'd fired off a cannon. "Tell me, is this the complete cliché package? Are the sunglasses hiding a blackened eye, too?"

His mother reached across the bar to try and lift the glasses from his face and Rick nudged her hand away. "No, they're not." He might as well have stuck out his tongue at her to punctuate it. It would've fit right in with the whole bratty vibe he had going. "The sun is bright, okay, in case you hadn't noticed."

Martha opened the dishwasher and pulled out a fresh mug, filled it only halfway with coffee, assuming he'd end up wearing it otherwise, and set it in front of him.

"It's raining, kiddo." She folded her arms across her chest. It would've amused her how sad he looked, if only she hadn't understood how sad he was. "Must've been some night." His head lifted slowly, and though she couldn't see his eyes behind the shades, she could feel the aggravation shooting from them. "Your flight attendant…friend in town again?"

"I like my coffee with milk and without meddling, Mother." When he shifted to get up, she put up a hand, went to retrieve the milk for him. "Thanks," he said, appreciative yet still bothered. "And her name is Jacinda."

Martha handed it off before her arms weaved together once again. A definitive mark of disapproval then. "Is that really a name I need to remember, a name I should care about? Honestly, Richard? You know, as a mother I'm thankful I don't have to ask this question often of my son, but exactly what in the hell is it you think you're doing?"

"I don't need this right now," Rick snarled, driving his fingers through his hair.

"That's just something we're going to have to disagree on then, my boy, because it has been painfully clear for weeks to me, to Alexis, and I'm sure to everyone else who knows anything about the man you are that you do need this. You were hurt, Richard. You were hurt to a degree you've never been hurt before, and instead of facing that and dealing with that, you have taken a dive into a deep and dangerous pool. As the person on this earth that loves you more than any other, I can't bear to watch as you drift further and further from the ladder."

Without a word, he pushed off the stool and turned his back on her to go.

"Save your metaphors for one of your plays, Mother. I'm dealing with it the way I want to deal with it."

"Smart-ass won't work on me, Richard," she responded as he moved off but stopped with her voice, "so I suggest you save it for someone else. All this nonsense might well be part of some plan to send the pain you're feeling Katherine's way, but all it's going to do is blow up in your face. It's not going to bring your heart any peace. You need to leave-"

"Hey, Dad." They both looked up to find Alexis at the top of the stairs with her backpack in hand. "Isn't that the same outfit you were wearing yesterday?" she observed as she descended and neared, tacked on with a dash of amusement: "It's raining. What's with the sunglasses?"

Rick finally slid them off, masked his resulting discomfort just enough to avoid a follow-up. "Morning, sweetie." Even the simple greeting was a tough pull. Surprisingly, Martha stepped in with a helping hand.

"Darling, your father and I were just discussing dinner for tonight. What do you think about a roast chicken?" Rick turned over his shoulder, met his mother's eye. "Don't worry. He'll be the chef for the evening, not I."

"Right, yeah," he chimed in, willing his boozed brain to catch up. "I was saying I should make those little potatoes you like."

Alexis swiped a slice of Martha's toast and offered a parting hug in exchange, came back around to Rick and gifted the same, his fragrance unmistakable yet left without comment. It wasn't the time, for either of them.

"Sounds perfect. I love how you make those. And I love you," she told her father with a second squeeze of affection. "I'll see you guys later. Bye, Gram."

"Good day, kiddo," she called after her before Alexis was out the door for school. "You know I love you, too, Richard. And you love Katherine, and simply because you're pretending you don't won't make it so."

Rick pulled the sunglasses back out of his pocket, shoved them onto his face. "Why should she be the only one who gets to pretend?" he said after unclenching his jaw, and then headed for his room.