Disclaimer: Never owned 'em, never will.

A/N: I never intended to write this story. pkl made me do it. No, really. I got a lovely comment about the "Grief" entry in my drabble series that essentially asked if I'd ever consider expanding on it. Since it was 3 a.m. when I got that message and I was, like most normal people, in bed at the time (A quick peek at my phone to check the time revealed a waiting message. My curiosity got the better of me.), my first thought was, "Thanks, but no." Literally five minutes later, I was wide awake and this story was EATING MY BRAIN. (Am I the only writer that this happens to? Inquiring minds want to know.) So I got out of bed, snuggled up on the couch with a blanket and my iPad, and finally finished about four hours later. I'd like to blame, um, that is, thank pkl for the idea.

This story does contain a character death, although I'd like to think that it's essentially life-affirming.


A Burden Shared

She's used to the phone ringing in the middle of the night. It's an occupational hazard. She picks it up, mumbles her name, and waits for an address so that she knows where to find the body du jour. What she doesn't expect is for the voice on the other end of the line to be filled with so much goddamned pain.

"It's..." She can hear the effort it's costing him to hold the tears back. "It's my mother."

Kate's already out of bed, grabbing whatever clothing she can find scattered around the room. "I'll be right there."

Since Martha never made her wishes known, Castle and Alexis decide on cremation instead of burial. Even in death, it's not as though Martha Rodgers would ever have been content to be confined to something as mundane as a box. Her ashes are scattered throughout the gardens of the house in the Hamptons. The send-off party is spectacular, and the guests are forbidden to wear black. Kate's dress is red, slinky, and covered with sequins. Martha would have loved it.

Two days later, Alexis goes back to school and Castle comes back to the precinct.

"You sure you don't want to take a little more time off?" she asks gently.

"I'm sure," he says. "The writing's not going well right now anyway. I'm better off here."

She hands him her case file. "Look through this and tell me what you think. I'm going to grab a cup of coffee. You want one?"

He nods and looks up, giving her a wan smile. "Thank you." They both know he's not talking about the coffee.

She can tell that he's not sleeping when he begins beating her to work in the mornings. Not only is it disconcerting to come in and find him with his feet propped up on her desk and his writing all over her murder board, it's getting downright annoying to find that the coffee he so thoughtfully brings her every day has gotten stone cold before she's even taken her first sip. She could tell him to take better care of himself, but she remembers how well-meaning friends told her the same thing, and she also remembers how little it helped. So she simply sets her alarm for an hour earlier than usual, starts beating him to the precinct again, and is able to enjoy a hot cup of coffee more often than not.

Another week passes. The first five pounds that he dropped would have looked good on him if their loss hadn't been accompanied by the dark smudges below his eyes. The next five just make him look too damn thin. She insists on eating whenever they're together, using her own feigned hunger as an excuse to haul him with her to hot dog stands and delis. She gains three pounds. He doesn't gain any, but, by the look of him, he at least stops losing.

A month after he called her in the middle of the night, she returns the favor. To her surprise, he declines to meet her at the scene in favor of getting a few more hours of sleep and offers to meet her at the precinct later. She thinks about him as she gets dressed and realizes that he's looked fitter, stronger, and more well-rested in recent days. He's light-years ahead of where she was a month after her mother's death. The circumstances were different, of course, but she still feels a little thrill of accomplishment at how well he's coping.

The case is relatively cut-and-dried, and Castle comes in just as she brings their suspect into interrogation. The victim was a sometime model and aspiring actress. She had an eight-year old son. Kate senses the precise moment of the emotional shift that occurs when Castle identifies the victim with Martha. Logic has nothing to do with it, but he sees the dead actress with the son who survived her, and it brings the grief spilling out all over again. Two steps forward, one step back. She hustles the suspect out of the room and has the guys take him back to holding.

"I'm sorry about that," he says when she comes back in.

Instead of sitting next to him, she takes the suspect's chair across the table. It makes it easier to take his hands and hold them between her own.

"You shouldn't be," she says. "Sometimes a little extra time in a cell to think things over is just what low-lifes like him need. We'll get a confession out of him later."

"I thought I was over this." He pulls his hands gently out of her grasp and wipes at his face disconsolately.

"There will always be things that remind you of her," she says softly, "but sometime soon you'll find that the memories bring more smiles than tears."

He takes her hands again and squeezes them gently. "Thanks. I feel like I've been saying that a lot lately."

"Yeah, well, I'll let you know if it gets old."

He doesn't come in the next morning, and she finally calls him around ten.

"Can't talk now," he says with a note of excitement in his voice. "I'm writing."

She smiles, somewhat relieved, but, if she knows him, he'll forget to eat. Again. "How about I bring you some pad Thai tonight? Celebrate your progress."

"Sure. Come by...whenever. I'll be here."

She's not sure which kind of wine goes with Thai food, so she finally settles on champagne. He's writing again, and they're damned well going to celebrate.

He answers the knock on his door and motions her in before rushing back to his office. "Make yourself at home," he calls over his shoulder. "I just need to finish this paragraph before I forget what Nikki was going to say."

She rummages through the kitchen and manages to find plates, forks, and champagne flutes before he comes back, looking sheepish.

"Thanks for waiting." He takes the champagne from her and uncorks it expertly. "It's been so long since I was able to write, and I didn't want to lose my train of thought."

"No problem." She scoops the food out onto their plates. "So tell me what Nikki's up to these days."

He doesnt need much prompting. By the time the food is gone and the conversation starts winding down, big, fat flakes of snow have begun to fall outside. The snowfall quickly gets heavier and thicker.

Castle gazes at it thoughtfully as he carries their dishes to the kitchen. He picks up the nearly-empty bottle and raises his eyebrows at her, but she shakes her head, so he empties it into his own glass instead.

"You know," he says, "it wouldn't be the worst idea to stay here tonight instead of trying to make your way home in this. And it's not like I don't have the space."

She looks out the window at the street below. The snow is sticking already. "I think you're right."

He looks surprised, but relieved.

She stifles a yawn. "Do you mind if I turn in early?" she asks. "I'd like to be able to go home and change before heading in."

"Not at all." He leads the way up the stairs. "Take your pick." He gestures at the three empty bedrooms: the guest room, Alexis's room, and, finally, the one that used to be Martha's.

She fights down the butterflies that are swarming inside her stomach and ducks under his outstretched arm and into his bedroom. She's spent the night in his loft before, eaten breakfast at his table, but now she feels as though she's crossed some previously inviolable threshold. They've always been friends, but maybe it's finally time to see if they can be more.

"This one will work." She turns to face him and starts unbuttoning her blouse. Most men that she's known would have been at her side in an instant, helping with eager hands, but he just watches with bright eyes that reveal surprisingly little. By the time she steps out of her shoes and slacks, she notices the ghost of a smile lifting the corners of his mouth. When she's finally divested herself of every last stitch of clothing, the smile is noticeably bigger, but it's not without a hint of concern.

"Is this pity, Kate?" he asks. "Because, if it is, I'm pretty much okay with that. I just need to know how much self-respect I should expect to have left in the morning."

"It's not pity, Castle."

"What is it, then?" He's still holding his glass, and the surface of the champagne is roiling now, agitated by the trembling of the hand that's clasping it so tightly that she fears that it might shatter between his fingers.

She stares into his eyes, needing desperately for him to understand the truth. She came up those stairs fully prepared to sleep with him, but she didn't realize that she'd have to say the words, too. Fortunately, they come a lot more easily than she had expected.

"I know how different, and how difficult, things have been for you with your mother gone and Alexis away." He breaks her gaze and drops his eyes to the floor. "But Castle," she steps toward him, drawing his attention again and forcing him to really see her, "they're not the only ones who love you."

"Oh, Kate." The flute tumbles from his hand and bounces on the carpet, showering her with a myriad of tiny droplets. He looks at her bare, glistening skin for the space of three heartbeats before swallowing hard. "My bad. I'll just grab you a towel—"

"Like hell you will." She steps into his arms. "I'm sure that fertile imagination of yours can come up with a much more enjoyable way of dealing with this."

As it turns out, he's even more imaginative than she'd dared hope.

Later, when they're both spent, he pulls her tightly against his chest and she listens intently as the beating of his heart finally slows into a normal rhythm.

"I still feel her here sometimes, you know," he says. "Turn a corner and expect her to be there. Think for just a second that I hear her voice from the other room." He plants a kiss on the top of her head. "She would have been thrilled to see us together like this. Except maybe with more clothes on."

"You think so?" she asks, tracing her fingers idly across his chest.

"She once told me, and I quote, 'You should kiss that girl while you're both young.'"

"And I was the girl in question?"

He chuckles. It's odd how different, how much richer the sound is when it comes from someplace below her cheek. "You were."

"I think that's great advice," Kate says as she rolls her body to lie atop his. "I hope you're planning on taking it. Often."

"Most definitely," he agrees as he tangles his hands in her hair and draws her face closer to his. "It may be the best advice anyone's ever given me. Beats the hell out of 'Don't run with scissors' or 'Wait an hour after eating before—'"

She shuts him up by kissing him. It's a tactic that's likely to be extremely useful in the future, and she experiences a sudden feeling, no, more than that, a certainty, that Martha would have approved.

fin