Thanks to all who've reviewed the Morning Series. There shall be more. But till then, there's this:

(With beta thanks to the deep fried mars bars on Dustjackets.)

There's nothing she can do. Her mind knows this even as her hands keep pressing and her voice keeps shouting. She's somewhere else for the moment, in some place where she can put the bullet back in the gun, put Coonan back in his cage, put Castle somewhere over there and her mother next to her father across the scratched formica table at Paisano's, where they're having seven layer cake and coffee after a show.

Castle's hand on her shoulder brings her back. Grounds her. Reminds her that she's kneeling on the floor of the bullpen and everyone is watching and there's Coonan's blood all over her hands and the man is gone, taking whatever information he had with him. Nothing's gonna put that bullet back; what's done stays done. And she's just killed a man, not ten feet from her desk, in the one place in all the world she'd come to feel completely safe and not alone.

She leans back and makes herself draw a deep breath. And another. By the third she's managed to find her distance again. By the fourth she's rising unsteadily to her feet, Castle's hand quick to move to her elbow at the first sign of wobble. Her own hands she holds out in front of her, away from her clothes. They look like the hands of a chain-saw murderer, drenched in blood.

'Detective...'

Kate lifts her eyes to Montgomery. Gun and badge time, hand it over.

She swallows carefully, breathes, forces herself to speak. 'Yes sir, I know.'

Her gun is already on the floor. Esposito finds a pen in his pocket, slides it into the barrel to lift it up, places the gun into a baggie Ryan is holding open. He looks at her when he's done, face carefully impassive, eyes not quite so much. She nods and lifts her arm, lets him take the badge off her belt.

'You'll have them back as soon as possible,' Montgomery says. Kate nods again, retreating into the numb that's starting to work its way outward from her chest, towards her fingers and toes. Behind her, the elevator pings, signaling the paramedics have come to remove the body. A hand closes around her upper arm and she looks over to see Maureen Kelly from Vice standing where Esposito was a minute ago. 'Come on,' she says softly. 'Let's get you cleaned up.'

Kelly goes ahead of her, opening doors and shooing people off. She even follows Kate into the bathroom, as if it's her job to make sure Kate doesn't throw herself out the window, or go to pieces once she's alone. Or maybe just to turn on the taps so Coonan's blood doesn't stain the cracked NYPD porcelain.

Castle follows, too. Of course.

'Did you miss the giant W on the front door?' Kate asks, never looking up to meet his eyes. She can't do that right now, can't see him right now. Anyone, really, but Castle most of all, because when he's around she wants to say things, and the only way she's going to make it through the next fifteen minutes is to say nothing at all.

He says, 'I just want to see if you're--'

'I'm all right.' She's rinsed her hands and soaped them and watched the pink clouds go down the drain and soaped them again. She turns the taps off herself after the third round, not that her hands feel clean, but if she keeps lather-rinse-repeating Kelly's going to tell Montgomery that no, she's not all right, and maybe the obligatory counselling needs to start right now.

And then she'll have to deal with Castle. And she can't, not just this minute. She can't regret what she's done; she's been trained for exactly this kind of instinctive response. Kate has no doubt that if she hadn't pulled the trigger it would be his heart she'd be trying to restart and his blood dripping from her hands, and there's no amount of information in the world which could make standing in front of Alexis Castle mouthing the words it's about your father remotely worth the price. But that doesn't mean she wants him around right now. He sees too much, knows far too well how to make her open up and lay her secrets out for his inspection, bagged, tagged and catalogued. She doesn't know how he does it, only that he does, and if he does it right now, she's going to lose it completely and maybe never stop.

'Kate...'

It's the same plaintive note as the one that trailed her out of the precinct yesterday -- god, was it only yesterday? -- afternoon, though several levels quieter. She takes yet another deep breath (trigger breath, her helpful training supplies) and makes herself look him in the eyes. She hopes that what she sees there is not a reflection of what's in her own because the man looks awful. Flattened, devastated, crushed.

'I'm all right.' She sees the lie register on his face. 'Okay, I'll be all right. But right now, I need to go.'

'I'll see you home.'

'No.' He's hurt, but she can't help that. She can't have him around, covering her with sympathy, making her want to let him in. Her home, her heart, probably other things. Almost certainly other things, and letting him into her bed, her body, right now...that would be a disaster of unmitigated proportions. That might be something she actually would -- much as she's taught herself not to -- regret.

'You can't help with this, Castle. I need to do this alone.'

She leaves him standing there in the women's bathroom, grabs her bag and coat and leaves Kelly at the elevator doors. Everyone else is still gathered around the area where it happened; as far as she can tell she's slipped away unnoticed, shedding people as she goes.

Her phone beeps before she's even out of the building. And then again. And again, and just as she's hailing a cab, once more. The first three are from Montgomery and her boys, all saying roughly the same thing. Don't worry, got you covered, have you back asap. The last is from Castle. Whatever you need, it says, whenever you need it. Just call.

She doesn't call. Her week of administrative leave drags by, the amount of time it takes to file the paperwork, arrange the hearing, attend the debriefing and the briefing and the three obligatory sessions with the shrink. She sees her father, too, long enough to tell him the little she was able to find out, after which they finish their dinner mostly in silence, because as much as she may love her dad, they've never had that much to talk about.

It's a week of catching up on things she never has time for otherwise: sleep (red wine and hot baths help a lot), and boring life paperwork, and a couple of movies playing around the neighborhood repertory houses. Apart from her dad she sees no one, and that's by choice and largely against Lanie's will, though she knows Kate well enough not to push the point.

The numb stays, until finally Kate wakes up on Tuesday morning, the day of her hearing, and realises that she actually is all right after all. Removed from the misguided haze of wishful thinking, it's clear to her that they were never going to get anything useful out of Coonan; she would only have spent another ten years chasing ghosts. There is some satisfaction in having put down the man who put the knife into her mother and though she doubts she'll ever feel anything less than terrible about having to kill another person, she's given up trying to feel guilty about the satisfaction part. And while the errors in judgment that led to a situation in which she had to shoot Coonan or watch him shoot his hostage are legion, come 4pm this afternoon she'll have confessed to all of that, and taken her punishment, and she'll be a cop -- she'll be herself -- once more.

She turns on her phone for the first time that week, and types a message to Castle. And then turns it off again, smiling, already sure of the response.

Feedback is like chocolate: not necessary for life, but awfully yummy when you get some.