Final lap. My eternal thanks to the DFMB, who had to suffer through umpteen rewrites as I tried to find the right way to tell the story I wanted to tell. Special sauce to JillianCasey for the 1001 nights building Castle theory, and to Cartographical for the commas.

To everyone who's been reading, and whom I've left hanging for a shamefully long time: thanks for your patience. I hope the wait was worth it.

This is the end of this story. The Mornings are not over yet.


Another Thing About Mornings, Part 4

There was a time when Kate Beckett had been shamelessly affectionate, when her father had called her Katie-cat because she so loved to climb in his lap and be petted, when she held her toddler-chubby arms out to any stranger who offered a cuddle (which would have made it extremely easy to walk off with her as well, but that was her parents' worry, not hers). That hadn't really changed with adolescence and the realisation that – for reasons she still can't entirely fathom – she had the power to rob sensible males of all sensible thought just by smiling at them. Fortunately, she'd been skilled enough early enough (or, as her cop mind would now tell her, just fucking lucky enough) that she'd never gone too far with the wild child act, never run into the bad boy who was bad enough to take what he wanted by force.

Then her mother was murdered and she grew careful about everything. Sex, friendship, laughter, work: every aspect of her life rationally considered, everything under control.

Nothing is under her control right now, which might explain why she's torn between the desire to purr at the simple comfort of Castle's fingers stroking her back and the desire to roll away and scream at him to stop.

'I'm okay,' she finally manages to whisper. Indeed, she's already let him go on far too long.

His fingers don't hesitate for a moment. 'I know.'

She swallows and makes herself find a proper voice. 'I mean, you don't have to stay.'

'I know. Any minute now you're just going to get up and tango right out of here.'

'That's right. And if you're not careful it will be a stiletto to the instep on my way out the door.'

The fine wisps at the back of her neck stir as he leans closer. 'Why, Detective Beckett. I would have thought you were a much better dancer than that.'

She smiles despite herself, amazed that he can still have that effect on her. She hates to let him have the last quip, but her muscles are doing that thing where each one seems to be disconnecting from the other, and this includes her tongue. It's like sliding off a cliff, grabbing desperately on to a clump of weeds, and the moment where (in the movies at least) the character finally accepts the inevitable and just lets go. Only instead of falling, she floats. Still aware of that roaring fire in her hip, but her mind is somewhere else, far enough away not to care, safely cocooned inside the web he's drawing on her back.

0-0-0

When she wakes, she knows it's time for her to go.

Downstairs, she can hear them clattering about, the cheerful sounds of dinner being prepared. She checks the clock: 7pm. She's been asleep for almost three hours. A jovial argument breaks out between Castle and his mother, then there's a sudden silence punctuated by Alexis moaning daaaaaad in a teenaged pitch only a doting parent could stand.

It cuts through Kate like a finely honed blade, so sharp she almost doesn't feel it at first. And then she recognises that savage cut for what it is: family is private and this one isn't hers. No matter how kind they might be, how effortlessly generous.

She's like her mother when it comes to that. Her mother had been the only child of elderly parents, gone before Kate reached adolescence. Family was the other side, the rowdy bunch of uncles and aunts and cousins gathering reliably at holidays and weddings, where Kate remembers her mother always standing off to one side, holding a glass of wine and smiling politely. Welcomed and wanted, but never really part of the clan. Kate was Jimmy's girl, a bona-fide Beckett, and she had liked being amongst them, but her father was so much younger than his three sisters that she was sandwiched between their children and their children's children, a gap on either side of at least ten years. And so she had mostly stayed by her mother, at first because there was no one to play with, and later because she didn't want her mom to feel alone. Only now does she truly understand what her mother endured, quietly, all those years. There is nothing so lonely as being in the middle of the family that has taken you in, knowing you can never truly belong.

0-0-0

It's an argument Castle knows he can't win, because short of tying Beckett to the bed and taking away her crutches (and even then he suspects she'd manage to undo the ropes with her teeth and drag herself out the door) he can't keep her here against her will.

'You're not in the way. We want you here. We like having you here,' he tries, turning on the charm and the puppy-dog eyes. 'I like having you here.'

'I've been here long enough.'

She says it with that look that kicks puppies to the curb, that unwavering stare she usually uses on suspects who won't answer her questions, or on him when he's crashed through her barricades and she just wants him gone. The stubborn rock-hard glare of a Beckett pushed too far. He hasn't seen it in awhile, but he learned a long time ago that he can immutable force her all he likes, nothing is going to move her when she looks like that, no amount of argument or persuasion or appeals to common sense. Even an apology won't help this time; what could he apologize for when all he wants is to be there for her, for her to be here where's she's safe and cared for? Why is it, with her, that everything he has to give is either too much or not enough?

'You're not well enough to be on your own and you know that,' he finally says. Her gaze shifts, her tell that he's right and she knows it, but she's still not giving in. That's not just stubbornness, that's some reason she won't acknowledge, a story she's not willing to share. He feels suddenly exhausted by her, ready to contemplate a conditional surrender. 'All right, fine. I can't stop you. But I can't just let you go home and not keep checking to make sure you're all right.'

'Not ten times a day. And not by coming over unannounced.'

'Twice a day. Every day. At 8am and 8pm. I am going to call you, and I swear to god, Beckett, if you don't pick up the phone I'm going to come over and break your door down. If I text at any time and you don't text back within ten minutes, I'm going to come over and break your door down. If I knock on your door-'

'And I don't answer, you will break my door down.' She shakes her head, exasperated, but he could swear he saw a flash of something else. A smile? A...gratitude? She's going but she's grateful that he's going to keep an eye on her? Then why go at all?

Castle flings his hands in the air, a gesture of supreme frustration. Every time he thinks she's ready to let him in, she slams the door in his face and a window opens onto some hidden layer, some entirely new landscape, and he'll have to start all over mapping it out.

0-0-0

Here's another thing about mornings: the way it feels to wake in your own home, to roll out of bed and into the shower, to put on the gun and the badge that makes you who you are. You've made it home, but you can't do that anymore. You'll have to develop new rituals now, drinking your first coffee leaning on your crutches, taking your shower sitting on a chair. You think maybe you'll read all the books you never had time for, catch up on all the films you've missed. Mostly you sleep to make the time pass. You wake each morning thinking this will be the day you'll be able to take that first unaided step, the end of the beginning and the beginning of coming back, and every night you go to sleep afraid that the end is already here.