Title: What Pales in Comparison

Disclaimer: To my chagrin, I do not now, nor will I ever, own the Castle cast, characters, or anything related to the show.

Summary: Rick Castle, who kept her from freezing to death and held her hand in front of a bomb, prepared to die with her, wasn't who she was going home with. Kate's night after the end of Countdown.

Author's note: Okay, so, I really should have put out a chapter of Rock Foundation instead of writing this, but this idea has been swimming around in my head for a few days, and I got the opportunity to put it to print, so I thought I would. It's a one shot (for now?). I'm sure that it won't resemble anything we see in 3X18, but this is how it panned out for me:

Kate sighed and sat down at her desk. Josh was in the bathroom, and she let her head fall into her hands, staring at his chair. He'd looked so crestfallen when he'd left and she felt like something had been taken from them in that moment. She had wanted to hear whatever he'd wanted to say, even if it had just been a joke.

She heard the men's room door shut and looked up as Josh approached, holding her coat out for her. "Do you need to stay, or are you free to go relax?" he asked.

Kate gave him a tired smile. "Montgomery wants us to take the rest of the night and tomorrow off."

"Do you want food?" he asked as he held her coat out to her.

She stood slowly and shook her head. "We had pizza," she gestured into the room where the guys and Captain were cleaning up and getting ready to head home. She gave the team a wave and smiled as they waved back.

"So, movie? Bed? Bath? You must be exhausted."

He guided her to the elevator and Kate suppressed a sigh. "A bit, yeah," she conceded. He still didn't know the full extent of what had happened. She'd told him that there was a terror scare, but he didn't know that she'd been in front of the bomb, a second from a horrible death. He just knew that she'd been running full tilt, and was probably still suffering from the hypothermia.

"Why don't we go back to your place and relax? I bet you could do with a bath and some sweats." He kissed her temple and wrapped an arm around her.

She nodded absent-mindedly and let herself be put into a taxi. They were silent in the cab and Kate let her mind wander, reliving the past few days, past few hours. They'd been so happy that they weren't dead that everything had seemed rather light, but now the reality of how close they'd come was crashing back down on her and she felt heavy. Josh's arm around her shoulders and his face in her hair felt like a straight jacket. The cab seemed small. The noises of the traffic were too loud.

"You okay?" Josh asked quietly a few minutes later.

"Oh, yeah," Kate brushed him off. "Tired, you know. Hell of a day." The words had slipped from her mouth without a second thought and she instantly felt a piece of her resolve begin to crumble.

She kept it together as they got to her building and rode up to apartment. She let them in and hung up her coat. "Do you mind if I take a shower? I just…I need to feel clean."

Josh smiled. "Of course. You sure you don't need some, ah, help getting clean?" he asked lightly.

Kate resisted the urge to roll her eyes and shook her head. "I need a little quiet," she offered.

He seemed to accept this and sprawled himself on her couch. Kate all but hurtled herself into her bedroom and through to the bathroom. She collapsed against the closed door and leaned her head on the wood, her arms wrapped around her body. Her breathing was coming in short gasps and she felt tears sliding down her cheeks. She scrubbed angrily at her face until she gave up and realized that she would just have to ride it out.

She turned on the shower to scalding and stripped out of her clothes, leaving them in a heap on the floor. She got in and let the water hit her body, allowing herself to double over and sob, knowing Josh was probably watching TV, and the shower would muffle her breakdown.

Things very rarely had this much of an effect on her. Her mother's case, certainly, but most other cases didn't even penetrate the neatly organized boxes in her mind. But this, this was just too much. Facing death twice in the past 24 hours, afraid that she'd die without doing everything she'd planned—without telling the people who were important how much they really meant, was too much. That she'd leave her father alone in the world. That Castle would have left Alexis and Martha alone in the world.

Suddenly she was gasping, a new wave of post-terror washing over her. Castle! What if? What if she'd been responsible for taking him away from his daughter? What if he was gone and she couldn't be there for the girl, like she'd promised she would be? His family didn't deserve that. He didn't deserve that. She sank to the floor, still sitting under the hot water, her body simply giving way.

The amount of emotions they'd shared in that final 15 seconds could have filled a thousand books and a million pictures. There was so much that she'd wished she'd had the time to say, the time to do. Standing there, thinking that they'd never get to do any of them…

And then he'd saved them and the first thing she wanted to do was wrap her arms around him and never let go. No one had ever held her as tightly as he had in that moment, before the joy burst through them and they were laughing and doing victory dances.

Her mind wandered back to the moment in the hallway. What was he about to say? Would he have asked her to get dinner? Would she have said yes? Would he have taken them somewhere and just held her? If she was honest with herself, that was all she wanted to do: Just hug the living crap out of him until she was sure that they were well and truly safe, since she certainly didn't feel safe now.

But Josh had shown up and Castle had just left, bowed out. She knew that was exactly what he'd done. She hugged her knees. He was respecting the relationship she shared with Josh, and giving them the time to spend together. But…she had so many buts to add to the end of that situation.

Josh was in her living room, instead of in Haiti. Yesterday, that had seemed a marvel. Today, the novelty had worn off and she'd been faced with a fate much worse than her boyfriend being across the world. Sometimes you could only get perspective through something drastic, and she was fairly certain that nearly being blown up counted as 'drastic.'

How long would he be here? They hadn't gotten the chance to discuss exactly what his 'staying' entailed. If he'd been gone, she had no doubts that she'd be with Castle right now, laughing over Chinese food and watching a movie on the shower-curtain-projector she was sure he hadn't put away yet. And she wouldn't be alone in her shower sobbing like a mad woman.

That she was sobbing quietly in her shower, alone and broken, while he was on the couch watching a game said something very important about her relationship with Josh. For him, the murder board behind her shades didn't exist. A bouquet of dried flowers from a few weeks earlier sat on her dresser, and he never asked about them. If they talked about work, it was because something funny had happened. They didn't ever speak about the feelings or the issues dealing with death—something they both did—created.

She liked him. She did. But she didn't love him. She hadn't let herself get attached enough to even consider it. One foot out the door, that was her motto. But, hunched over in a shower, reeling from a near-death experience, she desperately wished for a relationship that wasn't superficial.

A voice in her head, which sounded suspiciously like Lanie, told her to call Castle. Told her to tell Josh to go home and give her space. Told her to do that, and then call Castle and have him come over, or go over there, or go and get his family…to just be with him.

She stood slowly and went about actually showering, washing her hair, scrubbing her face. She knew it must have been at least 30 minutes since she'd entered the bathroom. Reluctantly, she turned off the shower a few minutes later and got out and dried off. She threw her hair up in a wet bun and put on the sweats and hoodie she'd worn last night. Then she looked in the mirror.

Her face was red and blotchy. Her eyes were puffy and there were dark circles on her cheeks to rival a corpse. Sighing, she reached for her concealer and abruptly stopped moving. Was she honestly about to put on make up to hide the fact that she'd been crying from her boyfriend? She shook her head and walked out into her bedroom and through to the living room, her feet cold on the wooden floor.

When she reached the couch she looked down at Josh and found him snoring, his body stretched out. He'd had a shift today that started about four hours after they'd been picked up at the freezer, so he'd gotten as little sleep as she had. She covered him with a blanket, feeling empty at the gesture, and then grabbed her phone from her jacket. She had a text message.

Detective Beckett, are you okay?

It was from mini Castle. Kate smiled and slid the keyboard out, before she stopped. What should she say? How much did Alexis already know? How much was Castle planning to tell her?

She grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge, knowing she'd need the hydration after her stint in the shower, and retreated to her room. She closed the door and sat down on her bed, taking a swig before staring at the phone in her hands. She didn't want to ignore Alexis, but she couldn't very well decide what she could tell her. She felt a small part of her mind rejoicing at the thought of having a real excuse and she rolled her eyes.

She pressed speed dial 3 and waited, ignoring the fact that she was holding her breath.

"What's the matter?" came the reply.

"Nothing's wrong, Castle, calm down."

She heard him take a breath. "Sorry, I just…"

"I know," she said quietly.

"So, if nothing is amiss, what can I do for you, Detective?" he asked regally.

No matter what, she could always count on Castle to provide levity. "I got a text from Alexis asking if I was alright. I didn't know how much you wanted to tell her, so I wanted to check with you before I replied," she explained.

"I called them about an hour ago, told them we were okay, and that the crisis was averted. She didn't get all of the details out of me, but that kid, I swear, she's psychic. She knew it wasn't a normal case, and she managed to get me to tell her that we'd found the bomb. I left out the part about us being a second from being blown to pieces," he gave a feeble chuckle and Kate felt her heart constrict. "But she's smart, you know?"

"I do," she told him.

"So you can tell her that you're fine, and that everything's okay."

Kate nodded. It took her a few moments to realize that he couldn't see her moving through the phone. But his voice broke her out of her thoughts.

"Thank you," he said quietly.

"For what?" she lay down, cradling the phone to her head and grabbing a pillow to pull to her chest.

"For asking, about Alexis. I didn't even think to mention it, but thank you."

"It's no problem," she replied just as softly.

There was silence for a pause. "Are you alright?" he asked.

Kate let out a small laugh. "I thought you just said to tell your daughter that I was fine?"

She could practically see him sighing at her. "Well, yeah. She's my kid, and since you're physically unscathed, it's not really a lie. But how are you?"

"I've had better days," she said. "But I'm alive, you know?"

"Yeah, I do."

"I didn't get a chance to, to thank you," she continued. "You saved my life, Castle. You saved a lot of lives, actually."

"Anytime, Kate," he replied, his voice hoarse. "Anytime."

Kate huffed. "I hope you don't have to do it again," she said.

She heard him chuckle on the other end. "I don't plan to need to diffuse a bomb any time soon, but I mean…I would if I needed to. You don't think we'll find ourselves in that situation again, right?"

She giggled, feeling tension leave her body as they talked about it, even if they were starting to make light of it again. "No. I don't plan to be up against any more explosives."

"I'm starting to worry, you know," he said, causing her to wrinkle her brow. "You seem to attract explosions, and I gotta say, I don't really like that part of your job."

"No one likes being up against that," she replied, shrugging into the pillow.

"I don't like that you keep being up against that."

She closed her eyes, ignoring the nagging part of her that wanted her to remember the doctor on her couch. "I know. I'll do what I can to avoid it."

"Thank you," he murmured.

They were silent for a long time, but neither was much inclined to hang up the phone.

"Where's Josh?" Castle asked tentatively after a few minutes.

Kate sighed. "He's asleep on the couch. He fell asleep when I took a shower."

Castle made a noise of acknowledgment. "It's a lot to take in, for a guy, to hear that his girlfriend almost blew up. I can see that knocking me out."

Kate hugged the pillow tighter against her chest. "No, he picked up a full shift from early this morning. I…I didn't tell him about what happened." What compelled her to admit this was lost to her.

He was quiet for a moment. "Are you sure you're okay?"

Kate was confused. "Yeah, I am, I promise. Why?"

She heard him fidget a bit on the other line. "Just…you know, human companionship makes stuff like this easier, and I assumed you'd have that. I mean, I…"

Kate felt herself smiling at his concern, and the ensuing awkwardness he seemed to be feeling. "Thanks Castle. I know what you mean, and yeah, I…it's…" she couldn't find the right words. "While I'm not happy about it, it's not his fault, really. I didn't tell him anything that would make him assume I needed to be comforted. And I mean, I can't possibly be cold; I took a shower that would boil potatoes."

He laughed. "You too? I'm pretty sure I used up all the hot water in my building."

"Be glad Martha and Alexis aren't there to beat you up for it," she replied easily. "When will they be back?"

"Tomorrow. It was getting dark and Mother doesn't love driving at night. It's better, I think. I don't know how much I want Alexis to see me until tomorrow afternoon."

It was her turn to be concerned. "Are you alright?"

He gave a soft chuckle. "Yeah. I am. Had some soup, burrowed into my couch. I'm just…I doubt I look great right now."

"That makes two of us."

He snorted. "I highly doubt that."

Kate arched an eyebrow. "Puffy isn't a great look for me," she retorted.

There was a pause. "Have you been crying?"

Kate slapped a hand to her forehead. "I…no?" When had she stopped being able to hide things from him? She heard him let out a loud sigh. "What?" He didn't answer. "What, Castle?"

"I don't like thinking of you alone in a shower having a meltdown, Kate."

"You prefer the image of me having a meltdown with someone in the shower?" she joked feebly.

She could practically feel him assessing her with that look— the look that felt like it pierced right through to her soul. "I prefer thinking that you went home with someone who would let you be you, the real Kate, not Beckett, the extremely strong super cop."

The answer was candid and honest, and it took her breath away. "I'm okay, Castle, really."

"I know you are," he sighed. "But there's okay, and then there's good, and then there's taken care of. They're all very separate."

"I'll be okay," she assured him. "I've done this before, a few times."

"You've nearly been at the center of a dirty bomb explosion before?" he sounded incredulous and she rolled her eyes.

"No, but the near-death thing? I've done that a few times."

"You shouldn't have to do any of that alone. Don't you guys ever go out after a shootout?"

"Of course. You've been with us on a number of those 'to life' celebratory pub-crawls. We had one this afternoon, as a matter of fact."

"No, not at the Precinct. I meant before me. When I'm not around. When you tell me to stay in the car and something happens and you come out all smiles…but you've just nearly had your head blown off."

"Oh, well, yeah, we've been out those times too. And sometimes I've had a guy, but you know I can take care of myself, right?"

He gave her a very put-upon sigh. "I know. You can do everything alone, and do a damn good job. But there's no reason for you to do it alone if you don't have to."

They lay in silence for a few long minutes. He truly and honestly cared about her, and she was positive that at this moment, there was nothing sordid about what he was saying. This was the Rick Castle that she had been seeing for the past few months— the Rick Castle who kept her from freezing to death and held her hand in front of a bomb, prepared to die with her. She realized that she was deforming the pillow she was holding and forced herself to take a deep breath. "Thanks, Castle."

"For what?"

"For not making me do this alone."