Disclaimer: The recognizable characters and situations herein do not belong to me. This story is meant solely for entertainment purposes. No infringement is intended.

Notes: This story is rated PG-13/Teen for language and main character injury (though the latter mostly happens off-screen.) I should probably also put an angst warning on it, because, well, it's me.

This is my first big foray into "Castle" fic, so any and all comments are welcome. A huge thanks to Alamo Girl, without whom this would have been a big old pile of crap.

1. The Dance We Do

He is surrounded by the desolate weariness that follows war and chaos, when streetlights twinkle from afar and understand why he is not walking among them on his way home. Instead, he's striding into the bullpen, carrying four pizzas for the detectives who have worked overtime this week, running up a hill of desperation and pain and into a maze of mayhem, families and forensics.

The exhaustion in the squad room is palpable; even the mesh barricade that separates the hallway from the detectives' desks is sinking forward with muted groans, bowing beneath the weight of having seen too much of a cruel, unordinary world.

Beckett is nowhere to be seen, but Ryan and Esposito are at their desks, shoulders slumped forward as they bear the burden of experiencing the worst of humanity day in and day out. Their faces are ashen in exhaustion, and Castle is briefly thankful he doesn't have to carry that heavy an encumbrance with him.

He approaches their desks, and can see they're looking over crime scene photos. Never deterred, he places the pizza boxes on the edge of Esposito's desk and says, "I've always been partial to Playboy myself. The articles are very informative."

Esposito snaps his folder shut at the sight and smell of the food, and Castle watches as his countenance shifts to relief, a proud smile coming to his own face. As the detective opens the box and as the smells of pepperoni and a brief, naively blinding reprieve fill the air, he says, "Dude, you are a godsend."

"You should see my statue in Athens. Although I've always felt they made my nose a little off." He looked toward a familiar desk-and-chair setup, empty and quiet in the heavy night. "Where's Beckett?"

Mouth full of food, Ryan replies, "Interrogation two. Reviewing security footage."

Castle grabs a slice of cheese and a handful of napkins and walks to the door, rapping lightly before pushing it open.

She's perched on the edge of the table, remote in one hand, chin in the other. The bags under her eyes are noticeable, the blood on her jeans from chasing the wrong suspect painful for him to even look at. He feels her ache acutely, and wants nothing more than to take it away. He sees the darkness around her; feels what it's like to be swallowed up inside it, because what happens to her happens to him. He knows everything she's going through, not because he cold reads her--like he did the first time they met--but because she's telling him.

Not in so many words, of course. This is Kate Beckett we're talking about.

Once he had regained her trust after looking into her mother's murderer--once he had been welcomed back into the fold; once he'd realized the gravity of his mistakes and apologized--she had slowly started giving him pieces of herself. They are mismatched and few in number; slivers of information he doesn't quite know what to do with. Sometimes they are painful and make him bleed; frustrate him when he can't make sense out of them. And sometimes he holds them in highest regard, as delicately as he would the greatest treasures. More often than not, they are the latter, and he thanks God or Fate or whatever that he's not too much of a jackass not to realize it this time.

He slides onto the rickety table beside her, setting the pizza on her thighs, toward her knees. "You been Rick Roll'd yet?" he asked, motioning to the TV.

She smiles, albeit a tight, tired one. "Not yet. Although," the word is separated by a long yawn, "I think we're all so delirious from lack of sleep that we'd start dancing or something."

Castle shakes his head. "Can't dance to Rick Astley. You'd ruin your street cred."

She arches an eyebrow. "What would you know about street cred, Castle?"

"Hey, I've got mad skills. Justin Beiber's got nothing on me."

She rolls her eyes, and he continues. "Yeah, if you're going to revive Cop Rock, it's gotta be something more…formal." He thinks on it a moment, and then snaps his fingers. "You could recreate Evolution of Dance. I'd pay money to see that one."

The smile returns, fuller now, and he feels complete in his assignment. He motions to the pizza with his chin. "Eat."

Obediently, she takes a tiny bite of the slice he bought her before going back to the grainy black-and-white video. He leans forward to take a closer look, but Beckett remains in her spot.

He turns around only when she speaks.

"Castle, what are you doing here?"

"Getting lessons on how to watch crappy videos on twenty-year-old VCRs. All the classes hosted by the Geek Squad were full."

She nudges the back of his calf with her boot. "Castle."

He looks over his shoulder up at her, face and voice serious. "I just want to help. But if I'm in the way--" an unwanted flashback to a little girl, a pink stuffed bunny and unresolved sexual tension between two cops races through his mind, "I'll go."

Her mouth becomes a tight line as she thinks, and his stomach sinks. Finally, she picks up the piece of pizza and takes a bit bigger bite. "Well, as long as you're in here, it means you're not out there, causing problems I have to clean up in the morning."

He sits up and gently takes her wrist, his thumb running gently over her pulse points. "Well, Detective, the night is still young. I can cause a lot of problems." He leans an inch closer. "But you can clean me up anytime you like."

She nudges him forcefully in the shoulder, and it's his turn to smile, even as he increases the space between them. "I'm so out of your league, you wouldn't know where to begin."

Oh, but how he'd like lessons. She is a question he hasn't learned how to ask yet, but is desperate to learn how.

He often wonders about this path they're trying to navigate. It's far from a yellow brick road. It's hazardous, uneven cobblestone intent on causing missteps, trying desperately to wrench them apart.

He knows he will always extend a hand to try and keep them together. He also knows she will always be reluctant to take it. It's just who she is; independent. Stubborn. Scared?

And then they will stand at a crossroads and stare at each other, wondering what to do next.

He already knows what he'll want to do next. He's been attracted to her since day one; he made that crystal clear during the first case. But now that he knows her, now that he's seen her in action, now that he has the little slivers of her heart and soul that she's blessed him with, he's looking over a cliff and wondering just when he's going to get to jump.

He just has to hope she'll want to jump with him.

In the interim, he'll hold her as closely as she'll let him, because he truly does feel honored to have received what she's given.

By the time he's finished in his headspace, she's finished her pizza and picked up the remote again. He can't help himself from getting one last jab in.

"You know, most people would constitute dinner and a movie a date."

"Most people would be appalled to know that Rick Castle brought his so-called date pizza and watched grainy security video instead of taking her to Le Cirque and In The Heights." She slides down off the table and deliberately, he's sure, across his knees as she crosses to the garbage can. "I wonder if I still have that friend at the Ledger. Maybe she can get in touch with Page Six…"

He claps a hand over her mouth when she turns back. "Quite all right, Detective. I get it."

She nods and replies, voice muffled, "Good."

He drops his hand and looks at her seriously. "You need any help with this?"

She shakes her head. "One of us should have the luxury of going home."

"Well, Alexis is away and Martha's on some kind of Sondheim kick. Might be safer for me here."

She chuckles but shakes her head. "Go on home, Castle. I'll call you if I need you."

He nods, comforted in the truth that's now the basis of this partnership, and then on impulse, rubs her back in encouragement and something else he cannot--will not--name. "It's there. You'll figure it out."

The smile turns small but serious, and the air seems to hold blue, cold shades of doubt; questions she wants to ask but cannot vocalize. Cases like this always beat her into submission; drag her to the bottom of a rabbit hole that scrapes along the very vestiges of hell.

He feels uniformly useless during these kinds of cases, and does the only thing he knows how to do: be there when she needs him. He just hopes he's doing a decent enough job.

He holds her gaze for a minute more, and then breaks the tension. "By the way, you owe me $38.50 for the pizza."

She laughs, a deflated but relieved sound nonetheless. "Fill out a reimbursement form. You should see a check before you start collecting Social Security, if you're lucky."

He retracts his hand and steps toward the door, hearing the scrape of the table legs on mismatched linoleum as she resumes her perch. The click of the VCR returns just as his hand brushes the knob.

As he crosses the threshold, preparing to return to a world she protects but never gets any credit for, she calls out to him. When he turns, her eyes shine. From what, he's not sure; exhaustion, gratitude, the lights in the room. Somehow, it warms him, and he tries to memorize the expression for recall the next time she's pissed at him. Finally, he replies, "Yes?"

She nods and says, very seriously and in a tone he's sure she's used on only a few people in her life, "Thank you."