Disclaimer: Still don't own 'em. I actually started working on this a few weeks ago and got derailed when one of my kids ended up in the hospital for a week. I couldn't seem to focus on working on "Fallout" today until I got this out of the way, so here it is. One-shot for now, but I may add a little to it when "Fallout" is done.


There's a no-man's-land between waking and dreaming, and Rick Castle can't decide which side he's on. His world is a dark, hazy grey, full of muted colors and muffled sounds. He blocks it all out and focuses his attention on the woman sitting beside him.

He finally decides that he must be dreaming, because this isn't the Kate Beckett that he knows (and loves, although he can't quite figure out when he started admitting that to himself). Her hair is mussed and her eyes are dark and wild. Her mouth is slightly open and her breath is coming fast. She's so damn hot. His fingers twitch with wanting to touch her.

A low, ripping sound penetrates the silence, and his shirt buttons fly through the air like confetti on New Year's Eve. He thinks about protesting, but he notices her look of determination and decides that he doesn't really mind buying a new shirt. She puts her hands on his chest to steady herself. Or maybe it's to steady him. He can't bring himself to care about her motives as long as she keeps touching him like this.

Castle thinks about asking her to slow down; this is all happening faster than he'd ever expected. He'd like to be able to relive this moment again and again, and he doesn't want to miss a single detail. Then she leans forward and claims his mouth, and he stops thinking about anything but the way her lips are pressed firmly against his. She runs her hands across his skin, encouraging him, silently urging his body to keep up with hers.

Just when he thinks he can't hold it together for even one more second, his heart lurches abruptly as Kate does something he's seen her do only once before—she starts crying. He can't figure out why. This was her idea, not his. She's still moving over him, still stealing his mouth whenever she likes (and she seems to like it a lot). He does the only thing he can think of to stop this. He reaches up shakily and wipes a single droplet from her cheek before taking a deep, shuddering breath, and whispering, "Don't."

"Yes," she smiles through the tears, "again. Just like that."

He struggles to understand just what she wants. Is it the way he's kissing her, the way he's touching her? Is it the way he's trying to tell her that he loves her, even though he's having a hard time finding his voice?

He takes another deep breath, and, oh, it hurts like a son of a bitch. He coughs the air back out and then sucks it back inside him with a great, whooping gasp. She pulls away from him and gets to her feet, and the early afternoon sun haloes her dark hair for a few long moments. Then she stalks away and turns her back to him, taking up a stand beside what looks like a heap of crumpled clothing.

Esposito takes her place, looming over him and blocking out the light. He's holding up Castle's WRITER vest and fingering two holes in the midsection. "Time for a new one, bro. You get shot in the wrong place, sometimes you stop breathing for a couple of minutes."

Ryan bends down and grabs Castle's forearm, helping him to his feet. Castle's head spins for a few seconds as he recognizes the alley that they chased their suspect into earlier.

"You okay, man?" Ryan asks concernedly. "EMT's are on their way." He points out the suspect, who is still lying at Beckett's feet. "They're not going to do him much good, but you can have them check you out."

"No, I'll be fine," he manages to choke out.

"Good." Ryan punches his shoulder gently. "You started to turn sorta purple, so Beckett started rescue breathing. Personally, I would have waited at least until you were blue. Guess she likes you more than I do."

They both look over at Beckett, who's still standing stiffly over the body of the man who shot Castle.

"Who killed him?" Castle asks softly.

"All three of us shot him." Ryan seems to notice for the first time that he's still holding his gun. He holsters it carefully. "No way of knowing whose bullet it was until they run ballistics." The detective walks away to meet the ambulance and the squad cars that are beginning to clog the mouth of the alley.

Castle finds an empty crate, sits on it, and takes several deep breaths that are tainted with a miasma of rotting garbage, cigarette butts, and the sharp, coppery scent of fresh blood. He breathes it all in anyway, sucking in great lungfuls until the coughing and the tightness in his chest and behind his eyes gradually vanish.

Much, much later, when the statements, including his, have all been taken and the official vehicles have dispersed, Kate comes back to where he's sitting.

"Come on, I'll take you home."

He gets to his feet and follows her back to her car. She drives him back to his place in silence, and he's surprised when she parks her car instead of dropping him off out in front. "I figured I'd better walk you to your door in case you have an urge to pass out in the elevator or something," she explains.

When they get to his apartment, she waits for him to put the keys in the lock before saying, "Get some rest, Castle."

She turns to leave, and he touches her arm. "Kate, I wanted to tell you—"

"Forget it," she shrugs. "It's part of the job. If it will make you feel better, I would have done the same for Ryan or Esposito."

He reaches toward her and gently runs the pad of his thumb over the faint trace of mascara on her cheek. "Would you have cried for them?"

She ducks her head nervously. "Of course. Think of all the extra paperwork I'd have to do."

He smiles wryly. "I just wanted to say 'thank you'."

He approaches her slowly, careful not to spook her, and kisses her cheek softly. He's been lucky all day, so he decides to tempt fate one more time. He places his hands on her shoulders and leans in even closer. She trembles in his arms as he lowers his head and kisses her lips. Her mouth is soft and yielding at first, but within the space of just a few seconds, it becomes urgent and demanding as she lifts her hands up to the back of his neck and pulls him tightly against her. This time, instead of giving him her breath, she takes his away. His head spins dizzily, but in the very best way imaginable.

Kate eases away from him slowly and tries in vain to piece the ripped halves of his shirt back together. She finally eyes him accusingly as she says, "Don't ever do that again, okay?"

He's used to her keeping him guessing, but this is ridiculous. "Do you mean just now when I kissed you, or the part where I got shot?"

"Don't be obtuse." She glares at him and grabs a fistful of his shirt before pulling him back to her and kissing him hard. A moment later, she releases him so abruptly that he literally rocks back on his heels. "And don't show up at the precinct until you have a new vest."

And with that, she turns away, walks down the hall, and disappears around the corner.

He lets himself in and heads to his bedroom. It takes only a few seconds to find the box buried under his comic books. He opens it and savors the new bullet-proof vest smell for a moment before trying it on for size. Good thing he ordered a spare.

End of Chapter 1