A/N: There are two reasons to the existence of this story. One, I've always wondered whether Beckett has relatives other than her dad, and this is my attempt at picturing what it would be like if she had. And two, I've been meaning to write something that would take place after Countdown. This starts about ten days later. Expect a fairly slow pacing, and ten chapters at the most (though I actually don't have the ending in mind yet). This first chapter is quite long, but length probably won't be a constant. I just couldn't break this one into two parts.

It took me some time to find a title I liked for this... And after I did, I realized that there is actually a Castle episode wearing that name already (1x10, if you were wondering). I still kinda want to call the story that, because it fits. But if any of you have better suggestions, feel free to share them with me :). I hope you'll enjoy this!

Disclaimer: Castle belongs to the wonderful Andrew Marlowe & Co.

When Richard Castle walked into the bull pen that morning, he looked entirely too cheerful for Kate Beckett's taste – especially considering the soft but relentless rain she'd had to face when she had left her apartment, and the uniformly grey sky that only let a dim, gloomy sort of light into the precinct. The weather, in fact, matched her mood perfectly.

But as she watched him make his way to her, stopping to exchange cheerful greetings with a young detective from Vice, the dark-haired detective couldn't suppress the small smile gracing her lips. There was something about the man that simply… lifted her spirits. She wasn't sure how exactly he managed that, but there was no question he did.

"Why, if it isn't my favorite detective," the writer exclaimed as he handed her a large cup of coffee, distracting her from her thoughts. "Good morning, Beckett," he added with a genuine smile that she found herself responding to.

She was about to thank him when he took her in. She was wearing a white blouse that she never wore at the precinct - the neckline was lower than what she usually allowed, and under a certain lighting, it was even a little see-through. She just hadn't had time to do her laundry, and had been feeling too down this morning to really care, but... she did care now. Castle wiggled his eyebrow appreciatively; torn between blushing and snapping at him, Kate narrowed her eyes and chose to remain silent.

"Looking good this morning, aren't we?"

"Don't I always?"

He grinned in appreciation of her comeback, but didn't stop there.

"Going on a date later?"

Beckett's green eyes met his before she could think better of it. It was hard to tell whether he was fishing for information, or showing interest like any good friend would. His acting skills were really a match for her own.

She briefly pondered her answer. She could lie and say 'yes'. He would assume she was meeting Josh, and hopefully stop this line of questioning.

"No," she replied, surprising herself.

A wide grin spread on Castle's face, and she winced inwardly.

"Am I to assume, then, that your dress efforts are directed at me?"

Kate rolled her eyes. Of course.

"Oh, Castle. Haven't I warned you about assuming things? Besides, it's not like I'm dressed up or whatever. Jeez, you make it sound like my usual clothes are terrible."

The writer immediately backpedaled, blabbering about how he had meant nothing of the sort and how she looked great no matter what she wore, and Beckett had to hold back a smile. She knew him well enough to steer the conversation away from his attempts at knowing what was going on with her personal life.

She had not yet decided how much she wanted to share with him on that particular subject.

Over the last week, she and Josh had done a good deal of talking. Kate didn't want to take Doctors without Borders away from her boyfriend – it was too much a part of who he was. But she also knew that she couldn't build a relationship with someone who was gone half the year. Not when her own job already consumed so much of her time.

Her mind drifted back to their last, and long, conversation.

"I'm ready to change, Kate. I'm ready to make an effort, to be as present as I can," the handsome surgeon had told her, dark eyes holding hers, confident yet pleading at the same time. "But I need you to meet me halfway."

They were having breakfast in her apartment, sitting on opposite sides of the pine table, and it seemed to the dark-haired woman that the piece of furniture between them made for an allegory of everything that stood in their midst. Josh's tanned hand came to rest gently on hers and Kate's gaze lingered over the pretty contrast offered by their skin colors.

They looked good together. And they felt good, too. Things between them had been easy from the start – Josh was good-humored and uncomplicated (it also didn't hurt that he was fairly amazing in the bedroom department). Due to the demands of their jobs, they (or rather, she) had laid basic rules for their relationship – no complaining about cancelled dates, no possessiveness, and no heavy talk.

In their early days it worked brilliantly. Fun and light-hearted, their first months together had provided the distraction that Beckett so desperately needed. But as they grew more serious over time, Josh had started to overstep on their third rule, sharing more and more of his past, and his job at the hospital.

Kate let him, but she didn't reciprocate. Oh, she tried to. She did recount some anecdotes about life at the 12th precinct – Ryan and Jenny's engagement was one of them – but every time she tried to open up and tell him about her mother, the words would just fail her. She told herself that she didn't want to burden their relationship with her pain and her doubts. Castle was seldom mentioned as well (no other reason than self-preservation instinct was needed on that account).

As for the future, neither she nor Josh had ever felt bold enough to broach on the subject.

But here she was now, wondering what 'meeting him halfway' would entail, wondering how he pictured their life together – wondering if she really was ready to dive in with him.

"Josh, I just… How can you be so sure it'll work? You can't give up on Doctors without Borders missions. I know how much you want to help. And it's not like I can really take time away from my job. I can't do it part-time. It's just not how I work. We'll always be facing the same issues. What about kids? I mean, we never even talked about it. It just seems so unrealistic with our schedules –"

At this point she looked up at the dark-haired man, read the shock on his face and stopped in the middle of her sentence. Her words seemed to echo endlessly in her living-room as they stared silently at each other.

Was it too early to even mention it? He wanted serious, didn't he? This was as serious as she got.

"Do you want kids, Kate?" her boyfriend asked slowly.

The detective gaped at him. Oh. Apparently, this was a bigger issue than she had thought.

"I… don't know. Part of me does, yeah. I know that being a cop wouldn't make it easy, but-"

She paused, noticed the crestfallen expression on Josh's face, and found it hard to swallow. Yet her mom's joyful smile – the smile she had given her daughter every time she saw her – pushed Kate to go on, to force the words past her tight throat.

"I - I love children. So, yes, I would like some, one day."

"I never figured you for a kid person," he murmured, standing up and running a hand through his dark hair.

Cold dread slowly seeped into Beckett's bones as she mimicked his motion – she couldn't help feeling at a disadvantage if she remained seated. Taking a step forward, she met his eyes, but the question that burnt inside her couldn't seem to get past her lips.

For some absurd reason, the memory of Alexis and Castle playing laser tag together emerged, hitting her with unexpected force: and suddenly she knew that children weren't something she was ready to sacrifice.

How strange. Until this moment, she had never been so sure she wanted kids – but Josh's disbelief caused her to wonder whether she had sent him the wrong signal. They had never mentioned it, she realized; and the rare times when they got to spent time together outside their apartments, it was in restaurants and movie theaters. They had had little contact with tiny humans, if any at all.

Damn her, she thought, damn her for avoiding serious issues and keeping a foot out of the door.

She finally found her voice.

"Don't you want kids?"

He looked absolutely torn as he answered, hesitatingly at first.

"Not really, no. It's not that I don't love them – because I do. But like you said, I'm not sure I could give up on humanitarian trips. And my job matters so much to me. I always thought… I always thought it would be selfish to have kids if I wasn't sure I'd be able to put them first. Being a surgeon is who I am, Kate. I decided years ago that it mattered more than being a dad to me."

His eyes met hers pleadingly. His girlfriend stood absolutely still, disappointment and surprise and pain and anger twirling through her in a dizzying ballet. Kate mentally replayed his words, desperate for something to cling onto.

"So," she stated quietly, trying very hard to keep the anger at bay, "you don't want kids because you wouldn't be able to put them first. But it's okay to have a girlfriend even if she always comes second?"

"Kate," Josh said gently, "it's different. You're an adult. You chose to be with me, knowing who I was. And you can change your mind, walk out. I don't want that, but you have a choice. A child doesn't get a choice. He's stuck with you, no matter what."

That made sense, even though the detective wished hard that it didn't. Taking a deep breath, she turned to the real reason why her heart was throbbing painfully in her chest.

"You decided that years ago, you said. How do you know you won't change your mind?"

Her voice was a brave attempt at steady, despite the fact that she was fiercely blinking back the tears that were struggling to find an access to her cheeks.

Dark eyes looked at her with infinite longing and sadness and regret, and she knew what he would say before he even opened his mouth. Beckett felt the childish urge to put her hand over his lips, to stop the words from coming out. She had wanted to believe that she and Josh had a chance, that they could make things work. That they could be happy. But the bright and vivid mental picture she had constructed shattered with his next words. And maybe it had never been meant to be more than an illusion.

"I just know, Kate. I wish I didn't, but I do. Think you'll change yours?"

She bit her lip, hard, and closed her eyes. Unable to resist her obvious distress, the surgeon closed the space between them and wrapped her into an embrace.

"I'm so sorry, baby," he whispered against her hair. "I should have talked about it before. I just assumed... Because of your job ... I can't believe I was so stupid. I wish I could lie and tell you I'll consider it, but you deserve more than that, Kate. You deserve the truth."

His deep voice soothed the dark-haired woman, shook her out of her stock-stillness. Kate slowly put her arms around Josh's waist, enjoying his familiar smell, his warmth – and knowing with absolute certainty that this was goodbye.

"This is not the only issue we have," he murmured, apology and sorrow mingling in his tone. He remembered the urgency in Rick Castle's voice when the writer had woken up after the freezer ("Where's Beckett?"); but maybe that wouldn't have mattered so much if Kate's first sluggish words to Josh when she had opened her eyes hadn't been, Is Castle okay?

The words he could account for - she had been stuck in a freezer with her partner, and thought they were going to die. The sheer terror in her voice, however, had left him wondering.

"No, it's not," Kate acknowledged with a sigh.

Josh backed away a little, cupping her cheek with his right hand. Leaning in, the surgeon kissed her lips lightly. Beckett gave a soft response – it tasted bittersweet. Some time passed before he spoke again.

"I guess we should end this, here, now. Before we both get our hearts broken."

She knew he was right, but the words wouldn't come. She nodded instead, and gathered enough courage to look him in the eye. He was smiling, albeit sadly, and Kate tried to mirror his expression. Josh took both her hands in his, and he squeezed gently.

"You are an amazing woman, Kate Beckett. I hope you find what you're looking for."

She wanted to find some memorable words, to make some sort of grand declaration, but the only thing that found its way out of her mouth was:

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be." He stared at her, determination lacing with affection on his handsome features. "I loved every minute I got to spend with you. That counts for something, Kate. I won't forget you."

Her cheeks were wet, some part of her brain registered, but it didn't matter so much now. She smiled at the man she had hoped to love; smiled with all her heart.

"You'll tell me when you leave?"

He wasn't really surprised that she knew him well enough to guess he would jump on the next mission, both because he would need something to take his mind off her, and because he was free to go. The thought pleased him, and yet his heart tightened.

"I will."

Then he had turned, and left without a backwards glance (she looked so beautiful, so vulnerable, that he wasn't sure taking a last look at her wouldn't break his resolve, wouldn't bring him down to his knees in front of her, promising a swarm of things that he knew he wouldn't be able to keep).

Kate's green eyes, on the contrary, had remained fixed on the door for a long time after he had closed it – until her thoughts had quieted a little, until her body had stopped the imperceptible shaking that made her seat down – until she felt less pathetic, and more like herself.

And then she had left for work.

It had been five days. Kate had gotten a text the night before – Josh was about to board a plane to Japan. She'd told him to be careful, and wished him good luck. No one knew about her break-up. Not even Lanie.

The detective wasn't sure how she felt about it herself. She was hurt, and disappointed. And she couldn't help thinking that she really, really sucked at this whole relationship thing. She had screwed up. By refusing to talk seriously with Josh from the start. By not telling him about her mother. By not letting him in, and letting Castle back into her life (though, in truth, she couldn't bring herself to consider that a mistake).

Kate Beckett wasn't okay with screwing up. She didn't like to admit failure, even to herself.

Her other reason for being silent about the state of affairs between Josh and herself was her fear that, the moment the news would be out, everyone – Lanie, the boys, maybe even Castle – would look at her expectantly, wondering how long it would take for her and the writer to get together.

Okay, Castle wouldn't. He had been so sweet lately; giving her space when she needed it, and even trying to control his staring (the results weren't very convincing, truth be told). But still – he would know she was single, and he would probably ask her out, in time. Was she ready for that? And what if he didn't ask her out at all?

So she had kept quiet.

And then Aunt Lily had died.

Kate had gotten the phone call early the morning before. It was her cousin Emily at the other end of the line. Emily had never been Beckett's favorite person, and the clipped, cold voice in which she had delivered the news had definitely not changed that. But the detective had been fond of Lily when she was young and naïve enough to ignore the complicated family policy that ruled the Fields household.

Her death was an unexpected blow, and it hit with unexpected strength.

Shaking her head, the dark-haired woman came back to the present moment, only to find Castle's curious glance surveying the bull pen. By the way his eyebrows arched slightly, Beckett could tell he was about to comment on something.

"Where's Ryan and Esposito?" Rick asked, clearly unsettled by the two detectives' absence. They usually got there before he did.

"Uh, they're helping Johnson out with her case. Seems like it's a pretty tough one, and Velasquez came down with the flu so, you know. She needed help."

Piercing blue eyes bore into her thoughtfully, and Beckett wondered briefly why she was withholding information from him. It wasn't like he wasn't going to find out anyway. And if he didn't, she would have to tell him at some point. True, Kate reflected amusedly, but it was fun to watch him try and figure it out.

"But they're your team, aren't they?" Castle asked tentatively, his eyebrows knit together. "What happens if you get a body right now? Do Ryan and Esposito come running back to you and leave poor Johnson on her own?"

"First of all, if you had ever seen Johnson take down a suspect, you wouldn't be using the adjective 'poor' in relation to her. And second, well… I'm taking three days off, starting this afternoon. The Captain's just reassigned the boys for the time being."

The writer stared at her blankly. After a minute of silence, Beckett made a face at him, slightly worried. "Castle?" she started to say, but he held a hand out theatrically as if to silence her. He raised expectant, fearful eyes towards the ceiling, and the detective had to refrain from rolling hers.

"It doesn't seem like the end of the world is coming," he whispered in mock astonishment. "So, is this an alternate universe? Because there is no way that I just heard Kate Beckett mention the words 'days off'. Days in the plural; as in, several days. Not just one."

"I believe I've even mentioned the number three. I know it's a long way to count up to that, Castle, but I'd have thought Alexis would have taught you by now," Kate quipped, half-amused, half-irritated by his little act.

He smirked, then looked as if he wanted to ask a question but somewhat feared the answer. His partner arched her eyebrows, wordlessly inviting to go ahead.

"Did, uh, Doc – I mean, Josh" he corrected, "manage to convince you to jump on a plane to Haiti for a quick escape?"

"No, nothing that fancy," she quickly assured, once again omitting to tell him that Josh wouldn't be going anywhere with her in the near future. Or in any kind of future. "One of my aunts just died. I'm going to be driving upstate for the funeral, and I'm staying there for two days."

The writer's blue orbs filled with surprise and compassion.

"I'm sorry to hear that. I didn't know you had any close relatives other than your Dad."

Beckett parted her lips to explain – but really, it would have taken more time and more courage than she presently had to tell him how her mother was the second in a sisterhood of three, but that Johanna's independence had always irritated everyone in her family (first when she had decided to go to university, then when she had married Jim Beckett); that Kate's contacts with her mom's family had lessened over the years, and it had only gotten worse after Johanna's death. Her daughter couldn't stand the pity-filled looks she invariably attracted, nor could she stand the comments along the lines of "find a good husband and settle down – you saw what good being independent brought to your mother".

Instead she settled for, "Yeah, well. Now you do. We're not very close, though. They're my mom's family, but I don't get on very well with them."

Kate had no idea why she was even telling him this much. It wasn't like he needed to know that. But somehow, as Castle looked at her with mute understanding, she felt warmth tingle inside her. He gave her a kind, soft sort of smile that found its way straight to her heart.

"Still, I'm sorry."

"Thanks," she answered quietly, unsure what else to say. Her unwillingness to dwell on the subject drove her to say with an energy that she didn't feel, "At least I'll be rid of you for a little while. And you finally have a chance to get some more writing done. Because really, Castle, I don't enjoy having your ex-wife call me in the middle of the day just because you're too much of a coward to answer your own phone."

He winced at that.

"She did it again, didn't she? God, that woman's impossible."

Beckett chuckled.

"Coming from you, that's saying something."

He playfully narrowed his eyes, delighted to see her brighten up.

"I'll pretend not to know what you mean by that, detective," he said, feigning hurt.

Kate shook her head in amusement; her dark hair moved in a soft, silky rustle and it was everything Rick could do to keep himself from reaching for it. Clearing his mind with some effort, he asked more seriously, "Are you going alone?"

"Yes," she answered honestly.

She had called her dad to let him know, and he had offered to come. But she knew that it was only out of affection for her; Jim Beckett had never been welcome among his wife's family, and he had long ago stopped trying to get into their good graces. Kate, therefore, had declined.

"Why, Castle?" she asked, with a strained attempt at smiling, "Are you dying for an outing to the cemetery?"

Too many emotions crossed the writer's gaze for her to identify them all, but there was hesitation somewhere in there, and concern too. Usually, Beckett didn't like people to worry about her – she wasn't a weak little thing who needed protection. She could handle whatever was thrown at her, and she had proved that repeatedly.

But it was different with Castle. His concern didn't spring from his questioning her abilities (no one who had read the Nikki Heat books could ever accuse him of questioning her abilities, she thought with a smile) but from his affection for her. This much was obvious to her, and strangely it only made him endearing in her eyes - except, maybe, when he decided to sleep on her couch to protect her from a serial killer.

He didn't like to see her miserable; no more than she liked seeing him hurt. At some level, Kate was aware of this – but she was still utterly taken aback by the next thing he said.

"I could come with you, if you want."

There was a moment of silence.

The dark-haired detective gaped a little at the unexpected offer; and from the look on Castle's face, he himself hadn't quite planned what he was going to say. She was quicker to recover her balance, though, and proceeded to refuse as gently as she could (even if a small part of her was actually tempted to accept, Kate realized with no small amount of shock).

"That's sweet, Castle, but I'll be fine. I don't need a babysitter. Besides, Alexis and Martha need you. I'm sure your daughter would rather have you here with her."

A small smile played on the writer's face, and Beckett felt a sense of dread. He knew something that she didn't.

"If Alexis is your only concern, you can brush it off. She's gone on a school trip to Washington – won't be back until Friday. As for my mother, she can very well do without me. Especially when she has her acting school to occupy herself with."

Well, there went her objections. Kate had some more ammunition, though.

"Don't you want to use the time to write? I thought you were behind with your next book?"

He simply shrugged.

"I'm always behind. And then I write ten chapters in a row and meet my deadline. I can't exactly command inspiration, you know. And I can take my laptop with me in case it strikes when we're there."

We. The small word gave his offer a new reality, and for a dizzying moment Kate imagined facing her family with Castle by her side; imagined having him to lean on and to make her laugh in the worse moments. Oh, tempting it was – but she could think of at least a dozen reasons why she should say no. For example, the fact that she wasn't quite sure where she wanted their relationship to go.

He must have sensed it, because he leaned forward, blue eyes earnest and pleading.

"Kate. If you want to be alone on this trip, that's fine. If you think you can do without my stunning wit and wonderful sense of humor" – she snorted lightly, which was sort of the point – "then say the words. But please don't say no out of pride, or because you think it wouldn't be proper."

The detective sunk her teeth into her lower lip, considering. He was serious about this. He hadn't even asked where exactly they would be going – he was just offering to be her back-up. Her partner. And the idea was a rather pleasing one.

"Unless you think it would upset Josh, of course," Rick added suddenly, as an afterthought. He sometimes felt guilty for forgetting so easily that Beckett already has someone to lean onto.

Kate tilted her head, unable to make her mind. He was serious. She couldn't quite wrap her mind around it. What point was there to his going to the funeral of someone he never even knew existed before now? Unless he cared for her. Unless he wanted to be there for her.

This was ridiculous. And dangerous. She had to say 'no'. She had to.

"Josh doesn't have a say in the matter," she said absentmindedly. "And...okay. Yeah. You can come."

Castle expected her to say no. Since the very moment his lips had issued the offer without warning him first (though he didn't blame them for the initiative), he had been waiting for her to wiggle her way out of this. He had even given her an easy out.

But Kate Beckett was a woman full of surprises, no doubt.

Wonder and excitement rushed through his body, and he beamed at her like a little boy in front of a new, shiny bike. Beckett eyed him somewhat warily, and he tried to tone it down. The result must not have been very convincing, because his partner rolled her eyes and even laughed softly.

"Okay, Castle. Now, I've got to wrap up this paperwork before I leave. So go home, pack a bag, and meet me at my place around one?"

"You got it," he answered a little too enthusiastically, and he bounced up, grabbed his coat and turned to leave.

And then turned back to face her.

"Do you want to take my car?"

The offer took her by surprise when, in fact, she should have seen it coming. Putting down her pen again (he really made it impossible for her to get any work done), Kate sighed.

"Castle. You just invited yourself along, and now you want to invite your car, too?"

"Hey, I'm not saying you wouldn't be driving, because obviously you would. I have no doubt you'll issue several very impressive threats, give me that scary I'm a cop look and force me to give up the wheel in no time. So really, you would only be doing a favor to those legs of mine, which suffer so badly whenever I ride shotgun with you."

He raised his eyebrows and made a cute pout, tilting his head in a way that reminded Kate of the puppy Will had tried to get her for her birthday once (after spending three nights crying at their door, the puppy had been duly returned to the store it came from). How was it that she was more sensitive to Castle than to that adorable puppy?

Probably thinking that she was taking too long to decide, Rick decided to defend his case. He bent his legs a little, trying very much to make them move like they had a life of their own (it looked to Beckett as if he was having a stroke of some kind), and said in a high-pitched voice:

"Please, Detective Beckett – we poor legs don't want to be cramped! It's so painful, you know?"

He didn't have to go any further. The dark-haired detective couldn't help a laugh when she realized what he was doing. Her brow furrowing, she looked at him, her expression a mixture between amusement and concern for his mental health.

"You know what, fine. But I'm telling you, Castle – the whole making your legs talk thing? Next time I might just have you committed to a mental facility."

The writer nodded good-humoredly.

"It was a one-time thing, anyway. Too good for an encore, you know."

He fled before she could quip back or rescind her agreement, only stopping at the door to exclaim "Pick you up at one"! That attracted everybody's attention and the detective suddenly found herself staring at the report in her hand with utter fascination.

That man. The way he had moved his legs played in her memory, and Kate bit her lip to keep herself from laughing again. He was nuts.

And just like that, the prospect of driving upstate to go to a funeral among people she hadn't seen in years became a little brighter.