Monday morning. As Lanie Parish examined the latest corpse, she heard them talking.

"I saw it on Star Trek," muttered Ryan. " The captain and this crazy chick switch bodies and Spock has to figure it out."

"This is New York, not the Enterprise. While it's plenty weird --" Esposito muttered back.

"You have to admit it would make sense."

"Only in your world." But Esposito and Parish could see what he meant. It was strange enough to see Beckett smiling and relaxed at a murder scene, her usual contained tidy energy expansive. If she had stopped walking and begun to leap through the air like a gazelle or a perfume commercial, it wouldn't have looked out of place.

Then there was Castle. While he wasn't pale, and certainly didn't keep his mouth shut, he was a ghost of himself. He seemed to be thinking before he talked, and his eyes kept darting around. Mostly toward Beckett: nothing new, but he looked surprised. Maybe horrified.

In between assessments of the corpse (who had been known to sell illegal powders and annoy a long list of his associates: Now with added gunshot wounds!), Lanie drew her own conclusion. "Well, well," she murmured to them as the mortuary people moved in. "I believe one of you owes me a drink."

"You think? I'd expect him to be all cocky. He looks like a trauma victim."

"See how they aren't touching each other?"

They agreed that she had a point. Lanie found herself thinking of dance. Beckett had never been so graceful, and Castle...not jerky, but hesitant. Like he was afraid of breaking something, possibly himself; as if his arm, sweeping to point out a chip on the couch and a hole in the wall, might snap.

"That scene last Thursday might have something to do with it," said Ryan. "I showered for forty-five minutes and then I threw up."

"About right," agreed the ME. She watched Beckett and Castle for another moment, so much the alphas in their little flock. "I can trust you two gentlemen to behave yourselves? It's really great to see her like this."

"For sure," said Ryan.

"But you want details if we get any?" said Esposito.

****

Last Thursday night: Once they had appeased the immediate formalities of administrative mop-up, Castle and Beckett headed toward their homes, sharing a taxi. Their ears were still ringing with gunshots, shouting, breakage, screaming, sirens. Cordite and much worse smells clung to their hair. Despite their exhilaration at having survived, the washout of the adrenaline left them silent. The cab drew up to Beckett's address. Surprised, but not as far he could tell unhappy, to find Castle's arm around her waist, surprised to find herself snuggled into it, Kate pulled away to pay the driver.

"I'll get it," Castle told her. She ignored him.

"Come up with me," she said, handing the money through the portal.

He wasn't shocked, but he was serious when he asked. "You sure?"

"I don't want to send you home all PTSD." He didn't argue. He wouldn't have put it that way, but it was a fair description. "We should eat. But you have blood on your face." Kate licked a fingertip and rubbed it against the streak along the side of Rick's face. "Flying glass. We'll get a sandwich."

The deli-bodega near her building never closed. It was a normal place: no one was shooting from behind the chips rack or falling over the counter, covered in blood. Kind of amazing. Castle left her side for a moment as the counterman prepared their food; then he returned, paid, and led the way back to the street. He waited for Beckett to invite him through the doors and the lobby, into the elevator, up to her apartment. It was quiet, as an old New York building went; the only sounds came from the street, muffled by walls and windows, echoed in elevator and air shafts. No cordite, no broken glass. The slightest smell of some perfume. Castle looked around, on his toes and his best behavior, his nerves still strained for danger. "You're trying to be extra polite," Kate said.

"What's the etiquette for After The Gun Battle?" Rick asked.

Apparently it included a very quick hug. Then Kate walked him to the kitchen, put water on to boil and a couple of plates on the old wooden table. "I get to shower first. Give me your coat. Sit down. Eat."

"Yes, ma'am. Do you want me to make the coffee?"

"I'll make cocoa when the water boils. I won't be long."

Kate left a set of ancient sweats on the chair next to him. She was long in the leg: they would probably fit. Rick could hear the water run, the shower turn on, the kettle beginning to boil. He washed his hands in the sink and tried to eat. By the time she came back, bringing a whiff of clean steam with a touch of mango, he had found the vinegar and his French fries were history. "I was afraid they'd get cold," Rick explained.

"Good enough. I think it's important to eat, if you're not throwing up. You want cocoa?"

"Yes, please. So-- this is your ritual: 'After surviving a firefight'?"

"Pretty much. Let me see your cut." She pulled him into the light by the sink and touched the source of the blood gingerly, pinched. "There it is, just a splinter. Do you want to eat your sandwich now, or wash?"

Rick came back from the shower wearing the sweats, feeling cleaner than he had known he needed to. It had grown fully dark outside now; she had lit a candle on the table and killed the overhead lights. There was a mug of cocoa next to his plate. Kate smiled at him. "My fries were getting cold." She preferred ketchup. He would have liked to watch her eat them.

They unwrapped their sandwiches, "To staying alive," he said. They touched cocoa mugs and drank.

The lights of the city flickered over the walls and ceiling. Beckett's quiet confidence across the table helped Castle find his appetite. She could use silence like a pair of pliers, wringing words out of reluctant witnesses, but this was kindly. Slowly, he found himself relaxing. The cocoa was rich and warm, laced with something even warmer. He could feel the alcohol loosen his knees and he sighed. Kate waited for him to speak.

"I will never write a shoot-out the same way again. They were hardly even aiming at us, but I..." he lapsed into speechlessness.

"We were lucky," Kate said. "They were angrier at each other."

" 'A room covered with blood.' I didn't know it really looked like that. And only eight guys."

"Four of whom still have blood in their bodies. Circulating, I mean. Not pooling. Were you scared?"

"Not right away. I've seen doors kicked open before before."

"We had every reason to believe it was an empty warehouse. I wouldn't have gone in if I had known there were eight of them holed up."

"Then that guy came out from behind the car. Esposito told him to stop right there -- and then it went insane, more and more guys with guns were coming out of the woodwork. Seemed endless."

"Cinder blocks," she corrected.

"Metaphorical woodwork. The whole thing lasted what, ten minutes, from the time we went inside?"

"Maybe not even that long," Kate said. "So if you weren't scared when we went through the door, when did you get scared?"

"Probably not till we were hiding behind the crate. I hadn't had time before. It was so loud."

" You did really well. Really well, for someone who isn't trained."

"I'm trying to learn how to stay out of the way."

"You're getting better."

"At least my phone didn't ring."

"No, really. When that gun fell by you, I never expected you to pass it to me."

"I figured you'd be in less trouble if I didn't shoot anyone. And it's your job. I know you're better at it than I am." He held her eyes for moment. "You really are."

She looked like she was going to laugh just then. "I wish I had that on tape. Thank you." Her expression sobered again. "I'm happy to have you just shooting at targets. I know you could shoot someone if you had to, but you don't need to become a killer."

"You're saying you value my innocence?"

Kate did laugh."What there is left of it." She hesitated. "For me, part of being a cop is trying to keep the blood off other people's hands. It means sometimes people look at us funny. I think it's good to remember 'shooting people is not normal.' Being shocked and horrified and sick at heart is the right reaction."

"But you all play it so cool. And I've heard some officers talk like they're Marshal Dillon, cleaning up the streets with a six-shooter."

"That's one way to handle it. There are different ways to be what we are; I don't think you beat monsters by becoming one. I like it that Alexis's father doesn't have to think about killing other people's children, or their fathers."

Rick was quiet for a moment. "Trying to take care of me."

"And your mom, and your daughter. As well keeping you alive and not full of holes, which saves paperwork."

"Do you think about killing people's fathers?"

"Today? Not so much. We were outnumbered and surprised."

"Hot blood."

"But I feel bad when I meet some coked-up kid's parents. Or his wife: even though she's probably better off without him, I recognize the pain. And I'm glad; if even scum have people who love them it's harder to forget they're people too. Killing them is not a shortcut to justice."

"You choose the pain, so you can remember they're human. Which keeps you human."

"Don't make it sound noble, Castle. I wouldn't be very popular if I put it that way at the station." He wasn't trying to make it sound noble. He was trying to make enough sense of what she said to remember. Not just for Nikki Heat; she was an excuse for him to try to see more clearly. Rick liked understanding and he yearned to know why other people's eyes saw. And Kate Beckett's eyes more than most.

She asked, " Do you want more cocoa? Or Scotch?" He didn't. Kate put their cups in the sink and threw away the sandwich wrappings. "Come look out the window; you can see about fifteen blocks from here. Sometimes I just watch the traffic, until things stop flashing before my eyes. I like look at all the people going on doing whatever they're doing – NOT shooting each other, not screaming obscenities."

"Well, not most of them."

"It's still New York," she agreed. There were sirens in the distance, but the part of the city they could see was untroubled, traffic broken into glowing beetles stopping and starting with the lights. Kate was standing very close to him; Rick put his arm cautiously around her, and she drew closer. He was intensely aware of the warmth of her body through the old, slightly scratchy cotton, her taut muscles. Sometimes – for a few moments – he would forget her body and just enjoy the lively intelligence he felt as different from his own. If he thought of her as a hunting animal, a gaze-hound with her fine bones, or a cheetah, it might sound like an insult; but he admired her single-mindedness. He was stuck forever on two slow legs, sniffing after interesting irrelevancies, while she bounded ahead with the prey clear in her sights. But they both admitted their talents made an good team. And his unawareness of her body never lasted long. They had hugged more than once, and sometimes leaned against one another for comfort or support or sometimes, if she wasn't paying attention to him, just because he wanted to be touching her. He tried not to think about how much closer they could be; this was as romantic? intimate? as far into her space? as Kate had let him come, and Rick tried to savor the moment. It was quite tasty, he realized. "Thanks for bringing me up here. Helping me unwind. It's peaceful."

" Like I said, I didn't want to send you home to your family all shocky and covered with blood." She opened her lips, closed them, looked more like her usual self: a little dissatisfied, pressure under the grace.

"What?" Rick asked. "What aren't you saying?"

She wouldn't look at him, but a certain joy and a certain ruefulness seeped into her words that he could hear clearly. "I didn't want to send you home at all."

Rick was, he thought, thunderstruck. Or maybe just wrong, hallucinating. The woman who regularly suggested his death or dismemberment would not have said that. "I think that's the least threatening thing you've ever said to me."

Kate shook her head. "Come and hold me. You can even pretend I need it more than you do." A little tremor in her voice, a little more laughter.

"I think we may be about even...?" His arms went around her waist, shoulder, his face in her hair. They stood like that for a long moment, breathing one another in, tasting the solidity in their arms, against their legs. Softness against his chest. He touched her face and they kissed, tentatively. Less tentatively. Sighed and drew their mouths apart. Rick could feel Kate's strong shoulders relaxed against him, very close, then she looked into his face.

"Stay here awhile. Stay here, with me, tonight."

"Kate, are you sure?"

"You keep asking; are you worried you're going to compromise your inside source?" A sound like she had gut-punched him; he pulled away. "No, Richard, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it that way. I really didn't mean that the way it sounded." She did sound contrite.

Rick shrugged. "I probably am worried about that. And about Esposito killing me. And about you hating me in the morning, if a morning is ever involved." He quirked a smile. "I've told you how shallow I am and I hope to God you don't believe me. But if this is just your surviving-a-shootout ritual I don't want to go any farther."

To see the the stillness on Kate's face as she looked at him, she knew he meant it. Apparently he had hit a nerve in his turn; her face went cold, blank, professional. But he needed to reach that part of her, too: not just the soft tired woman, or even the triumphant, cleaned-up hunter being careful of her civilian friend. "It's not. I assure you. Are we even now?" Kate asked. "Have we talked enough about using each other?"

"I apologize, too. But I've acted like a jackass with women so often I really didn't want to do that again. Not with my 'muse,' not with one of the city's finest, not with my friends' boss...not with you. I respect your common sense more than my own, but, Kate..." he stumbled over her name, which he used often enough in his thoughts but rarely where anyone could hear it. He wondered why his voice was breaking. Rick wondered how to say what he meant. What the hell was he about to say? He trusted her with his life, but that had never seemed real. Or at least, not important. All his life, sex had been for fun; this was as serious as the firefight. "This, being here, being closer seems too important to let you – to let either of us think we're just good friends, with an achey feeling in the midsection and a moment's opportunity. You're so much more to me than a good time."

It seemed that she might be aware of how deep he wanted those inadequate words to reach; her face softened again. "We're being honest – the only thing surviving a shoot-out means to me right now is that I need to say things that need saying while I can. What if I am sure I want to be with you for more than a moment?"

"It would have been a long moment, lasting several hours," Rick put in, part of the ache in part of his midsection being an urge to break the tension. Kate rolled her eyes and continued.

"If I admit that you actually help with my job? that I notice my friends—who are not easy people to impress-- like you? If I said you had let me see past the Castle who sleeps with his interior decorator and the starlet ex-wife and the damned Social Register, see past that far enough that I was pretty sure neither of us is as shallow as you said you were?" She laid a finger on his mouth to keep him from speaking. "That I had thought about you -- with and without your clothes-- when I was sad, or angry, and also when I was happy? When you were next to me eating ice cream or keeping your head or being a smart ass, and also when you weren't within a thousand miles of me? That I thought it might be worth my pride and my professionalism, and the, the -- " her voice wasn't so steady either, and she was talking to the collar of his sweatshirt – "back story stuff that keeps me from wanting to get to close to anyone, to say nothing of the men I've dated who made me wish I were only a talking head, nothing below the neck? If I say it would be worth all these things to risk holding you, and have you hold me? And kiss me?"

"With and without – your clothes, too?"

Kate nodded, a little shy. Which was strange, considering where her hands had wandered. Just for a second Rick noticed, with delight, that she was not about to twist his nose, arm, or ear. He raised her face to see into her eyes. He wanted both of them in their right minds. "Then I wouldn't want you to send me home at all." Kate came back into his embrace and he treasured her. They stood there, acknowledging the walls they kept raised most of the time, melting through them. "Aw, Kate. Beckett. Kate."

"I won't break, Castle. Or change my mind." She turned her face up to him, moved his head down and kissed the tiny cut. Traced his eyebrow with her hand, moved across his lips and kissed his mouth. He moved his thumb across her nipple, laughed as she gasped, kissed her mouth lightly. They moved slowly, entranced, precise, careful. Fierce. "I need to breathe," Kate said. They stepped a little apart. Castle could see the lines of her face in the half-light and she smiled to see him studying her. "Are you all right?" she asked into his shoulder, rustling closer.

"I think so. This is an entirely different kind of terror from the one you get avoiding bullets in a warehouse."

"You don't feel scared... in the midsection, anyway."

"My body," Rick said, feeling a little cheerier, "I generally have no problem with. I am very fond of it and I hope you will be, too. My mind, however... You have no idea how stupid I can be, Kate, you have no idea how many times I've been a fool. You deserve better – you're not a toy."

"Neither are you." Kate moved her hand onto his bare skin, caressing his waist, his ribs. "Will you play with me anyway?" They got less careful then, and fiercer. Hands moved across buttocks, breasts. Castle found his tongue moving up along her throat as his hands traced up her thigh. How sweet to see her waiting for him, trusting him, wanting him. Her hands were no strangers to a man's body; he heard her laugh when she drew a moan from him. "The floor? Or the bed?"

"The bed, please." He wanted to make some remark about protecting his bruised elbow but he found he he wanted to see her naked much more, raised her arms to pull off her sweatshirt. To see her face above her own skin instead of cloth, to rub his face against her. He hardly paid attention as she stripped his clothes off, pulled him down on top of her. "Not just yet," he told her. His hands were all over her, touching places he had never seen, stroking her like his hands were thirsty.

"Soon?"

He lifted his mouth from her breast—his hand taking its place, giving her no peace there or... just... between... her legs... "Not just yet. I'm not going to last thirty seconds once I'm inside you." She moaned, or maybe it was him; he could feel his heart pounding, or maybe it was hers.

"You think—I--will?" Kate panted.

"Just let me, Kate, please," and his fingers went deeper, and his thumb, and his lips, and she felt it crash over her like waves filled with rocks, filled with pleasure, tearing her breath out in great sobs, and his body close alongside, pressing and holding and teasing. She caught her breath and his hand moved again and a second wave caught her completely by surprise, and she clung to him so hard her arms hurt. After a minute or so she could stretch and breathe without feeling like she might come all over again, and she raised his face to hers and kissed him and shuddered. Pulling her mouth aside she said, "Now."

"Oh yes. One second." He reached for something next to bed and tore the packet open. "You don't know where I've been."

"Let me--" she reached and caressed his lovely cock, smiling at his arousal and the way his eyelids flickered as she rolled the condom on. "Let me," and she gasped as he entered her and touched her deeper yet.

"Yes-- oh, Kate," and his humanity flickered in and out as he tried not hurt her and she tried to pull him harder and deeper. Her body was as strong as his and her hands squeezed his butt outside and she squeezed him within as well, it was like being held by a giant, it was like fucking the sun, and Castle fell like Icarus but so much better, and shattered... .

His eyes were wet and he couldn't breathe. She was stroking his hair. Her collarbone was wet. Drooling or crying? Crying. Wonderful. Way to look macho. "Kleenex?" he asked quietly. He blew his nose and raised his face so she could see him. "I'm okay," he told her. She blotted his face. He blotted her collarbone and rolled off, disposing of the evidence with another tissue. Kate looked anxious and Rick lay back down alongside her, overlapping her side. He held her tight as another sob came up from somewhere in his chest. "I am okay, just a moment of vulnerability here. Damn it." The arm not involved with Kate felt around for the sheet; she pulled it up with one foot and held him close and quiet.

Richard Castle, Stud About Town, tried to get his breathing back and tried to let his shoulders go and held his friend and accepted Kleenex. "I would have thought that would be me," Kate said.

"No, you're the hard-boiled one." He was holding her as though she might leave anytime, disappear in a transporter shimmer.

"Anything in particular?"

He shook his head. "I don't think so." Another throb of sorrow filled his chest, along with a truly perverse throb of remembered pleasure. "Don't leave me, Kate," he whispered.

"What?" she asked.

"Nothing. I'm stupid. I really like you--that part's not stupid." He was falling asleep.

"I won't leave you, Castle."

They awoke in the night and made love again, no tears on either side. Half the thoughts that came to Rick's mind he didn't say: I never thought you'd be so confident, I never thought you'd be so bold, where the hell did you learn that? But he knew she sensed his amazement and it made her laugh. Sometimes laughter can be bad for erections, but Kate's happiness had the opposite effect on him. The bedroom's darkness began turning to gray as they lay together, recovering. "What time is it?"

"Not quite six. My alarm hasn't gone off."

"Oh, Christ, I should get home. I make breakfast before Alexis leaves for school."

"Do your dates always end like this?"

"I don't usually spend the night."

"You're not moving."

"I like it here." He traced the side of her body, ear to ankle, with his hand. Not even a grope, just an appreciation. "And we're going skiing this weekend. Come with us?"

"I can't." Beckett hugged him brazenly. He enjoyed it, gasping. "Go home or you'll get grounded, Castle."

"You're not throwing me out or calling me a date rapist, are you?"

"No." Kate looked deep into his face. Hers was glowing. "No regrets and no prosecutions. You?"

He kissed both her hands as he sat up, and went to dress and start the coffee for her and came back and kissed her goodbye. "Will you call me?"

"Would you like me to? I don't want to interrupt you on a black diamond or something."

"So call after dark. I'll be back Sunday night."

"I'll see you Monday."

Castle was beating up eggs when his mother staggered into the kitchen, followed by the perky, tidy school girl. "The contrast is too much," he told them.

"She has her youth," said his mother. "I am not a morning person. Weren't you wearing that yesterday?"

"Ah, I haven't showered yet, woke up late. Clean shirt deserves a clean body."

His mother filled a battleship-class coffee mug and went back to her room to wake up with America.

"I hope you slept well?" he said to Alexis cheerily.

"I did, thank you," she answered. "Don't you want to cook those onions before you put the eggs in?"

"Umm. Yes."

Alexis gave him a look she had learned from him, used when one's interlocutor is putting something over on one. Somehow she seemed to use it a lot more often he did these days. "Dad."

"Yes?"

"I got up early to study for my French test."

"Admirable."

"You weren't here."

"Um. No."

"I'm glad you know better than to drink and drive."

"How often would I drive in New York, anyway?"

"That was the excuse you gave me last time. Just make sure you get that shirt off before Grandma sees the lipstick on it."

"It's not lipstick, it's blood."

"Like that's better?" Alexis won that round. She continued, "Yours or someone else's?"

"Mine. I think. See? Little tiny piece of broken glass." He indicated the tiny cut near his forehead. (Flashback to Kate's hand, her tongue, oh God.)

"Bar brawl or gunfight?"

"Alexis!"

"Well, Dad!"

"I'm all right. If I were not all right I would have called."

"Like you could have."

"Ryan and Esposito and Beckett and the captain all have your phone number, I promise. There was a lot of sorting out to do, that's all."

"Are we still going skiing?"

"The limo and I will meet you at school, I hope you're packed."

"So whatever it is you got it sorted out."

"They sorted themselves out, pretty much. But yes. Except for the paperwork. Which we sorted out."

"Am I going to see this in the paper?"

"I doubt it. It was not all that important."

"I hope I lie better than you do."

Omelets occurred. They ate them. Alexis stood up. "Hug me goodbye." Her shoulders were not that much lower than Kate's had been, but she felt small and frail by comparison and Castle's newly touched heart twisted again.

"Please be careful on the way to school. And have a good day. And look out for Voltarrians."

"I will, Dad," she promised, picking up the vibe and looking at him twice. "By the way, you smell like mango body wash. See you at three."

*******

Monday morning again. "Mr. Castle?" Lanie asked. The formality struck the right note. She want to scare off the witness.

"Dr. Parish."

"You don't look like yourself today."

"Hard weekend on the slopes."

Okay, he admitted he was in an altered state. "Uh-huh. There was some concern about last Thursday's bloodbath. I know Detective Ryan found it... unusually disturbing."

"I would say he was entirely justified."

"But that doesn't seem to be your problem." She stared at him, polite but drawing on her full powers as a physician, the oldest sister in a family of four, the aunt of nephews. He stared right back at her, but Castle, bless him, was hard to shut up and his natural openness was looking for a friend.

"Detective Beckett was kind enough to show me her ritual for coming back to a more, ah, settled, state of mind. Shower. Food. Cocoa. Debriefing, I guess."

Lanie gave him several seconds of level stare. "Is that what the kids are calling it nowadays?"

He blushed down below his collar. Score. "Lanie!"

"I imagine you know you've got a death marker on you if you so much as bruise her smallest fingernail."

"I would beat anyone else to the reward."

"That sounds promising. I would so hate to do your autopsy."

"While I was still conscious, right?"

Lanie smiled. Never was such an elegant therapod. Her first loyalty was quite clear now and she could afford to be a little more humane. "But you do look like someone's put a fast-food restaurant on your grave. Was it that bad?"

His color went from pale to flushed again and back to pale. "Oh, God, no. But. I don't know how to put this."

There was a lot to be said for being a doctor. People had a predisposition to open up. It was not always something Lanie welcomed but she really liked Rick. He also needed to talk, more than usual. "I could try to guess, but you're usually good at description. You're happy about this... debriefing?"

"It was more romantic than that, honest. Yes. I am happy. And scared as hell."

"That's something new for you."

Rick shrugged one shoulder. Close but not the problem. "Lanie, I could be reasonably supposed to be in love."

"It's not an uncommon feeling, sex can do a job on you."

"Years past, I've had some mighty good days, weeks even, when I would have used the L-word and other people might have added 'infatuated,' or 'out of his mind.' "

" 'Twitterpated.' "

"You got it." He looked genuinely distressed, staring into the space behind her. "This is not the same. Lanie, I was holding her... and I felt my heart break. Into five or six big pieces. I cried. I hate it."

"Not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of you. How did she take it?"

"Handed me a Kleenex and stroked my hair. Hasn't said a thing."

"She really is a good woman." Damn it, I'm gonna need a Kleenex myself.

"I didn't cry when they handed me Alexis. I know, it's a different kind of love, but I... I don't know, I feel like it could happen any time. Kate hands me a cup of coffee and I'll have to go lock myself in the men's room till my eyes empty out." He added hastily, "And it's not just the effect of traditional station coffee, either."

"Oh good, you're going to live."

"I'm still not sure." Shadow of his usual perkiness, "I hope so."

Lanie was not one for witnessing (she was Episcopalian, after all) but Castle talking about his heart was holy ground if ever there was any. "There is something they read in my church. You mind?"

"No, go ahead."

"Something about how God will take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Castle thought for a little. "Isaiah?"

"I think Ezekiel."

"Huh. I wouldn't think it would happen like that. In bed," he added defiantly. Small flush. That boy's adrenals were working overtime.

"I think it would happen exactly like that. I can't think of a better time. So what are you going to do with a real heart, now?"

"I don't know. Feel stuff?"

"Mmhm."

"Love people?"

"I believe that's what these hearts of flesh are for, yes." Rick gave her the look of a dog in a deep hole. "It's not always pleasant but they say you get used to it eventually. You going to tell her about this, by the way?"

Castle went from merely 'stuck in a hole' to 'up to his neck in quicksand.' "Not before I get some kind of handle on it."

"It might make her happy."

"Castle! I'm leaving!" Kate shouted from across the room.

"I gotta go," Rick said. "Thank you very much, Doctor. I will think about your advice."

"Don't think too much." She rejoined Ryan and Esposito to the side. They watched as their dear boss and their strange civilian, not-inconsiderable pet celebrity walked off toward a cruiser. "He'll be all right. I Magic-Negroed him."

"What?" asked Esposito.

"Do you have to say things like that?" implored Ryan.

"All right, I Wise-Womaned him. Or I Old-Family-Doctored him. Is that better?"

"He looked better. Did you cure his his hangover?" asked Esposito.

"He spent the weekend skiing." They all knew Beckett had been in town on Saturday.

"He looked like that from Thursday? I didn't think he would take it that hard," said Esposito. "He writes about piles of dead bodies often enough."

Lanie shook her head. "Not the shootout. The debriefing, as he put it. Rather delicately. I think he was surprised that ' he got his foot caught in the door.'"

"What?" asked Esposito.

Ryan looked at her in doubt. "The Music Man?"

"Very good."

"Well, for goodness sakes," said Ryan, flashing back to his previous life as a clean-cut high school boy. " I always wondered how that worked out. At least they're not in Iowa."

"I hope it does work out," said Esposito.

"If we're lucky, we may get to see. If they're lucky." If nobody gets shot, if she doesn't scare off, if he doesn't screw up …. a lot of ifs. "Can I get a ride back to the morgue?"

21