A/N: You survived the crazy. Thanks so much for sticking with me through this admittedly bumpy ride. And one more big thank you to Alamo Girl for being the goddess of the red pen.

8. The Way We Fall

If it didn't feel like there was a ragged, gaping hole in her side, she'd be inclined to believe the past two years--specifically, her partnership with one Rick Castle--had never happened.

But she's not one for hyperbole. There was a Kate Beckett before Rick Castle, and there will be one after. In the interim, the city's summer landscape is hazy brown with memories and possibilities unrealized. She just has to make it through without going insane from second-guessing herself.

She finds her fingers itch to press speed dial one and send more often than not--she still hasn't had the heart to reprogram her phone--but something indefinable stops her. Perhaps it's the knowledge that both of them knew he should leave; that it was the right thing to do.

But as in so many lessons, what is right is not necessarily easy, and it's been a much harder transition than she'd anticipated; the life in her lie that she wanted to do this without him was starting to fade, being strangled by truths and tequila, which had been her confessor more than once lately.

She finds it ironic; he was forced on her, and here she wanted to choose him.

But she can't find the right words, wishing she had access to the thesaurus in his brain. And his behavior of late has made it difficult; in the few times that they've talked, he's been rushed and distracted. As the days bleed into weeks and she burns beneath the sun and the scorching pain of indecision, Castle hasn't initiated much contact, and the once closely woven knit of their relationship is pulling apart at the seams.

It's all the confirmation she needs, and she tries to start letting go, even as she feels pieces of herself falling unabated into endless crevices below.

So when she receives a hand-delivered courier packet and immediately recognizes the handwriting as his, she's both confused and intrigued. She rips through the adhesive on the manila envelope and pulls out a thickly bound manuscript, her heartbeat deafening her as the blood rushes to her head.

The title page confirms it's the next Nikki Heat book, which surprises her into stillness; she hadn't expected any new material from him for a long while.

Guess he doesn't need me after all.

Or maybe he was just overly inspired…

The weight of both the book and the cascade of everything she'd tried to put out of her head comes rushing back like a broken dam, and she sinks onto a couch, feeling a fool for not realizing his attention was so sharply divided between two worlds.

Then again, she realizes as she eagerly flips to the next page, thankful he's not here to tease her about it, he straddled that line better than anyone she'd ever seen. Father, son, writer, friend…whatever he was to her…

It was a balancing act she never really gave him credit for; a routine that took monumental efforts of dedicated energy. She finds herself smiling, running an index finger along the binding as she swells with pride.

And then she sees it.

Two messages for her, clear as day.

She has to read them twice for the meaning to even partially sink in. A shaking hand comes to hover in front of her mouth, and she inhales a ragged breath.

Oh, how she wants to believe this.

But it doesn't change anything. She still can't guarantee his safety.

Then again, she can't guarantee much in this world. And he's not asking to be let back on cases.

He's just asking for her.

Now or never, Katie. Time to jump. What--or whom--do you choose?

As she sprints towards the door, the dedication page flutters in the downdraft of her air conditioning vent.

For Kate--who, while I wasn't looking, became my other half--and the best part of me.

On a blue Post-It, in his handwriting, very simply is, I miss you.

She's not sure why she knocks when she arrives outside his apartment, rather than use her key, which still rests comfortably on her key ring. Perhaps it's one last request for confirmation that he can admit what she's been denying all along: she wants to be let in.

He answers the door after an eternal instant and looks her up and down as he leans against the jamb. His eyes are incomprehensible; a mixture of emotions swirling too quickly for her to read.

She understands, because she's got no idea what to say.

It doesn't much matter, though.

They are here together.

They are whole together.

They are electric together.

They are alive together.

They have fallen together.

The rest they'll figure out along the way. It will be messy. It will progress and regress.

It will be called life.