Title: Stand With Me

Disclaimer: In real life, you get fired if you don't write the next episode.

Summary: Shot, hospitalized and confused, Katherine Beckett wakes up to a changing future. Richard Castle wants to protect her, love her, save her. But there are things she must face, and she can't make him the promises he needs. Post-Knockout continuation.

Author's Note: I'm sorry for the delay, my dear readers. There's a lot going on in my life, and I had a lot of trouble getting this chapter to work. I'm also working on a new story, Of Finding Innocence, and it's kind of consumed me I will finish this story, I promise you that, but it might not be as regular as it's been. But, I have this, and well…no more disclaimers. Here it is.

Emma


Chapter 12:

Alexis abandoned Kate for homework an hour later, and Kate sat there, staring at the door to the office. Rick knew things she didn't, and her restraint was wearing. She deserved to be kept in the loop. He should have woken her when Javier arrived, wound and healing be damned. This was her life, and her case.

Slowly, she lifted herself from the couch, pausing once she was standing to grip at the back of the it, her breath coming in short gasps. But she'd stood up alone; that was something. When the pain had dulled from a stab to its ever-present ache, she shuffled one foot in front of the other and made her way to the office. It was slow and painful and part of her was keenly aware of the fact that any argument she made to be included could be voided; she could barely walk seven feet alone. How would she catch criminals?

But she ignored the reason and reality and pushed the door open, leaning heavily against the door frame, staring at the man behind the desk, his eyes glued to the laptop suspended on his knees.

"Tell me," she said quietly. She didn't want to beat around the bush—didn't want to give him time to avoid it. He owed her answers.

"Kate," he replied, jerking his head up to look at her. "Hey. Alexis leave you for the books?"

"Tell me," she repeated.

"Wait, did you walk here alone? Kate, you're not supposed to be up without someone there," he continued, shifting the laptop to the desk and standing quickly.

She glared at him, but then her energy betrayed her and she swayed against the wall. Her damned body. He was at her side in an instant, wrapping an arm around her waist and taking her weight as she began to crumple. Her God damned body.

"Come on, let's get you back to bed."

"No," she hissed. She wanted her answers. She didn't want to let her stupid injury get in the way. "Tell me."

"Tell you what, Honey?"

"Don't you 'honey' me, Richard Castle," she replied, even as she had to lean into him and clutch at the back of his shirt. Her body may be weak, but she wasn't. "Tell me what Esposito came and told you this afternoon, when you didn't wake me."

She felt him stiffen against her side and then he let out a sigh against the crown of her head. He was silent for a minute, before he took a resigned breath. "Let's get you into bed, and then you can grill me within an inch of my life, okay?"

"Castle," she growled.

"And we're back to Castle. Okay, come on, Kate," he said, his voice heavy and low. "Just let me get you back into the bedroom."

"Castle…"

"No," he said. "God, don't you get it, Kate?" He gently tugged her from the doorway and forced her to shuffle toward his bedroom. Her feet followed willingly. Her God damned, treacherous body. "You're hurt. You're really hurt, Kate. Give up just that control. I'll let you yell. Hell, you can punch me, but just…You can't go backward just because you're mad at me," he continued as they crossed the threshold to his room.

"Let me?" she replied, hearing the sting of her own voice. But now she was angry. "I'm not some marionette. You don't let me do anything." They got her to the bed and she collapsed, his arms lowering her down as she breathed heavily. This was unfair. It was all so God awfully unfair.

They settled her against the pillows at the head of the bed, his jaw tight, and her breath ragged in anger and exertion. He stood and they stared at each other. But there was no interrogation table in the room. Rick wasn't a suspect. Kate wasn't a Detective. Here, she was broken and he was whole. She was in the dark, and he had the only light in the room, but he hadn't turned it on. He knew things he hadn't told her; he'd kept things from her.

"No," he expelled it on a soft, reserved, restrained breath. "I don't let you do anything, Kate. You do it all on your own. You always have. You pushed me away, but I came back. And damned if you're going to do it again now. You cannot do this on your own," he said, his eyes hard.

"You're keeping things from me," she countered. She had to keep control of this conversation.

"You can't even walk from this bed to the living room!" he exclaimed. "God, Kate. You're hurt. There's more important things for you to focus on right now."

"No," she shook her head vehemently, ignoring the pain. "I want to know. I deserve to know. This is my mother, Rick. This is my life you're keeping from me."

"I'm not keeping it from you! Esposito came over to tell me that they'd found a record for files taken out of the stacks 17 years ago."

"By whom?"

He met her eyes. "Kate, please."

"No, Castle. Tell me! I want to know. I'm stuck here. You've got me here. I'm not able to leave and do it alone. So at least keep me in the loop. I'm not comatose. I'm here, and awake and alert. Tell me," she argued, her voice sharp. She needed to know. She needed to be part of it, whether or not he thought she was ready. "You know. I know you do. I can see it."

"I want you to get better," he replied, his voice suddenly soft and pained. "I want you to heal. If I tell you, you're going to jump on it. You're going to want to go out and take him down."

"You know who it is?" she gasped. "You know, and you haven't told me?" Something had broken. Was it trust? Was it her faith in him? Was it her heart? Something. He'd just broken something, but it hurt too much to try and figure it out, not when she had answers to find.
"I was waiting until you were stronger," he told her. "We've already got the FBI on it. Jordan's doing what she can."

"You got Jordan officially involved?" When had the wool been pulled over her eyes?

"That was today, Kate. All of this was today. It hasn't been weeks. I haven't been hiding it from you."

"The hell you haven't," she growled. "How long have you had a name?"

He sighed, his body deflating, and he sat down on the edge of the bed. He was silent for a moment, his hands clenching into fists in his lap. He looked up and met her eyes. "About a week ago, I got an envelope in the mail, addressed to me from Roy Montgomery," he began, wetting his lips. "Inside, there was a simple note that gave me the name Alfred Stinson. With it were the bank statements that Roy had signed, sending him checks every year—blackmail."

She blinked. "Alfred Stinson?"

"He was an assemblyman at the time of your mother's murder. Before that, he worked on the former Mayor's campaign. That was when he found out about the kidnappings."

"What is he now?" It sounded so familiar, and Kate found that her anger had given way to rampant curiosity.

"He's the Secretary of State," Rick replied. "He's got his hands in everything, Kate, down to the Precincts. There's someone watching everything that happens to you, to the 12th, to the boys."

Kate took a breath. A name—she had a name. "And, did he? Was he the one who…?" she couldn't finish the question.

"He took out the hit on your mother, and her colleagues, yes," Rick replied quietly. Why didn't he sound triumphant? "But he didn't act alone, and we're not…we're not sure that he's the head of it."

"But he's the point guard," Kate shot back. "And we can't take him out?"

Rick sighed and placed a heavy hand on her foot. "We…Kate, I talked to Jordan, and we're not sure what happens if we do."

"What do you mean? Why?" He looked troubled and worried and Kate felt foreboding settle in the pit of her stomach, taking place of the small well of hope that had begun. The name wasn't a victory. The name wasn't the end. It was just another piece of a puzzle.

"Kate, his connections…you were shot at Roy's funeral. Jordan's trying to get a track on his financials and associates, but it's like punching a concrete wall. He's protected. He's running the State, for God sakes."

"So that's it? He wins?" It felt like she'd been socked in the gut. Was he giving up?

"No," he shook his head. "We just…Kate, if we take him out, it might set something in motion that's bigger than even Jordan can handle on her own."

"Rick," she breathed, "Tell me."

"I don't know, Kate," he whispered. "I don't know, and Jordan doesn't know yet. She's looking into it. That's what Javi came to tell me. She's been in contact with them; they found the records that validate the letter Roy sent me, but that's as far as they've gotten. Raymond's got them working three cases."

"And Raymond?" she asked, feeling that tingle—the tingle of evidence, proof, information dancing at the edge of her fingers.

"We don't know," he replied. "We just don't. She replaced Roy on the day of, like it was already cued up."

"So you think?"

"We don't know," he repeated wearily. "And I was going to tell you as soon as I heard more, but…I'm guessing Alexis mentioned it?"

Kate nodded. "She wanted me to convince you to talk about it around her," she told him. She wasn't angry anymore. She wasn't anything. She felt numb. He looked defeated and tired and so unlike himself, and it just pushed the fight out of her.

"I can't," he murmured. "I can't let her know more than she does. We're all in danger. The less she knows, the better." He met her eyes. "And it's killing me, Kate."

"Why didn't you tell me sooner?" she whispered, watching as he let his head fall forward, looking down at his lap.

"To protect you. To let you heal. To keep you safe—lots of reasons, Kate. But it doesn't even matter," he looked up and met her eyes again. "You can't do anything. I can't do anything. All we can do is wait for Jordan to call again."

"When was the last time she called?" she asked, going for the information, rather than battling about his skewed priorities and the 'protection' he felt she needed. They could duke that out later. Maybe they wouldn't even bother. She knew now. And he looked so very ragged that she barely had the will to bring it up.

"An hour ago, while you were watching TV with Alexis," he replied. "Nothing new. Her Tech team is trying, but it's slow going, and they have to be very careful."

Kate suddenly had an image of Jordan sitting on her daughter's bed, tucking her in. "How much danger does this put Jordan in?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. God, Kate, I don't know anything."

"Hey," she watched as he screwed his eyes shut. "It's not up to you, Rick."

He opened his eyes and the pain there made her lose her breath. "I couldn't keep you from getting shot. I had to run us away from Roy. I have to let Esposito and Ryan run around with marks on their heads. I can't guarantee Alexis' safety. I can't keep Mother locked up. I can't promise that Jordan won't end up dead for this. Kate, I need to be in control of something."

"You don't have to do this alone," she managed. He looked trodden, and low, and guilty, like it was all somehow his fault. "And none of this is your fault, Rick."

"I opened the case," he whispered.

"What?"

"I opened the case back up," he replied, his voice stronger, yet weaker and broken. "If I hadn't opened it, none of this would have happened. Hell, if I hadn't started shadowing you, none of this would have happened."

No. He didn't get to regret the last three years. He didn't get to sully them that way. "Rick," she whispered, waiting until he raised his head to look at her. "This. Is. Not. Your. Fault."

"But I…"

"Did you really think that I never would have touched it again?"

"You said…"

"I know. But you know me, Rick," she told him. He did. She'd lied the night she'd sent him away. He knew her. He knew her better than anyone. "I would have opened it. Maybe it would have taken years, but I would have. And I would have figured it out. Raglan would have contacted me regardless."

"But…"

"And where would I have been then?" she asked him. "What if they'd just shot me instead? What if Coonan had gotten away? What if Lockwood had killed Roy anyway? You can't think that none of it would have happened, Rick."

"But you can't know that it would have," he countered. "You could have just let it go, gotten on with your life. Roy would still be alive. And you'd be whole, and I…"

"I don't regret the past three years." She held his gaze and tried to show him what he needed, whatever it was, whatever she could give him. "I don't regret meeting you. I don't regret having you shadow me. I don't regret any of it. And if you do, I don't want you here," she finished.

His eyes widened. "No, no, Kate." He considered her for a moment before he was moving, coming to sit near her hip, his hands coming to cradle her cheeks, his breath erratic. "I don't regret you. I just…this thing we opened, Kate, it could get us all killed."

"You better not be giving up on me, Castle," she whispered. "Because we're going to win," she added, throwing his words back at him. She wanted that back. She wanted his confidence back. Without it, it felt like the world was starting to crumble, and she needed it to be whole. Otherwise, how would they survive?

"Kate," he breathed.

"No. I need you to believe in it, Rick. Come on. What about magic and prophesy and fate?" she begged.

"I thought you didn't believe in magic," he replied, his eyes searching hers.

"But you do. And that's enough, right? Magic works for both of us as long as you believe," she said, smiling, trying, hoping.

"I don't…Kate, I…"

She brought her hands up to cover his. "If you give up now, how the hell am I supposed to boss you around from the couch and solve this? I need my Partner, Rick."

"Kate, you can't help m…"

"Yes I can," she cut him off. They could do this. They'd done it before. "We stopped a bomb, Rick," she told him. "We stopped a bomb, and caught Scott Dunn, and stopped a government conspiracy. We've done a lot, Rick. We can do this."

"I want to believe that," he replied. "But I just…This is why I didn't want to tell you."

She blinked and searched his eyes. "What?"

"Because when you didn't know, I could not know too, you know? I could just put it all away and tell you everything would be okay, because I…I was hiding, and I'm sorry."

She squeezed his hands. Her anger was gone, replaced by a very deep ache at seeing him so defeated. Part of that ache was fear, because if he, Richard Castle, the man who believed in UFOs and had a crazy theory for everything, didn't think they could win, maybe they couldn't. And a world in which they lost was bleak. Hell, in a world in which they lost, they were all dead.

"Don't be sorry," she murmured. "Help me fight."

"Kate," he sighed. "You can't fight. Honey, you can't even walk," he whispered, his voice hoarse.

"Your laptop and phone work just as well on this bed," she argued. "I don't need to walk. I don't need to leave. We can do this right here. Jordan can come here. The boys can come here. But I'm fighting this, Rick."

"Kate."

"You said always," she whispered. "I said always."

"I meant it," he rasped.

"I did too. So help me make sure we get that always." She squeezed his hands, waiting, hoping. He needed to want to fight. He needed to want to win this with her. She needed him. She knew that now.

"Okay." It was faint, and small, but it was there.

She let go of his hands and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pulling him to her. He came willingly and pressed his mouth to hers. It was desperate and primal. It wasn't tender. It was a promise, a need.

When they broke apart, he rested his forehead against hers, running his fingers over her cheeks.

"You will tell me when you're tired," he whispered. "You will tell me when you hurt." They weren't questions, or suggestions. They were statements. "You will let me help you."

"I promise," she replied. "You will tell me everything. You will let me talk to Jordan."

"Kate."

"Promise me," she demanded.

"I promise," he sighed. "But you have to promise to heal, no matter what. Even if he shows up at our door, gun in hand, you have to stay down."

"What? Rick, how can you…"

His gaze stopped her. "I watched you die once, Katherine Beckett. I can't do it again."

"Rick, I…"

"Promise me," he asked her. His voice was hoarse and tight. "I can't lose you again."

"But if I'm down, who's going to protect you?" she asked. God, how could words seem so inadequate? She had to protect him. He was her responsibility, hers to protect.

"I may have your gun," he replied, his face cracking in a tired smile. "And we both know I'm a good shot."

"This isn't funny, Rick," she snapped. "I…"

"Am going to collapse and hurt like hell tomorrow if we don't stop fighting," he told her. "I protect you. You solve this case. And after that, I promise, you can beat up anyone who comes within ten feet of me."

That wasn't good enough. "That's not…"

"Kate," he cut her off and she resisted the urge to pinch his ear. "We cross that bridge when we get to it."

"No. You don't get it, Rick," she tried.

"Oh, Honey, believe me," he leaned in and captured her lips in another kiss, this one passionate and hungry. "I do get it. I get it so much," he whispered as they pulled apart. "Because if it would hurt you even half as much as it hurt to watch you fall, I get it."

Kate felt herself nodding even as she wanted to scream and kick and cry and fight for the right to be healthy. But she wasn't. She was wounded. She hurt.

She gasped. Oh, God, she hurt. Now that they weren't fighting and she was focused on more than their words and his eyes and his hands, she felt it again. It burned and the bandages pulled and her breath was coming in short gasps again.

"Okay, Kate, breathe," he whispered, pulling back to get a clear look at her. "Tell me what hurts."

"Wound," she hissed. "The bandages."

He nodded and rubbed his hands up and down her arms as she tried to regulate her breathing. "We can take them off and use the normal ones now," he soothed. "I can do it right now."

"Please," she replied, not caring that she was hoarse and pleading. It hurt. How had she ignored it for so long?

He stood and closed the door quickly before striding into the bathroom to get the medical kit. Kate watched him, trying to focus on his movements and not the pull of the adhesive and the sting of the pain. She could do it. She grit her teeth and he came out of the bathroom, carrying a wet washcloth and the kit. He placed it on the nightstand and then sat back down.

"Let's get your shirt off," he murmured, laying the wet cloth in his lap, ignoring the water that seeped into his pants as he reached for her.

She leaned forward into his arms as he unbuttoned the few buttons of her shirt that were closed and then slid it from her body, his lips pressed to her temple. Then he shifted her back and she sank into the pillows.

"Hopefully this will loosen the adhesive," he told her as he laid the warm cloth over the bandage. "I'm sorry we didn't do this sooner."

"Too busy fighting," she replied, giving him a small smile. "We're good at that."

He chuckled and ran his fingers up and down the top of her thigh. "Yeah, we are."

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Kate just watched him. He was relaxed, but still not fully comfortable. He might never be, not until they solved the case and everyone was safe. She hoped he'd talk to her—hoped that she wouldn't have to fight him to let her fight for them.

"Ready?" he asked, removing the cloth. She nodded and took a breath as he pulled the first bandage from her skin. It still hurt like a bitch, but the cloth had helped it. "I'm sorry," he whispered as she gripped at the sheet and clenched her jaw against the pain. "Only one more, and we never have to do this again," he told her. "Ready?"

She gave him another jerk of her head and he ripped it off, clean and fast. She did cry out at that, biting her lip afterward as her eyes glistened. But it was over. They didn't have to do it again. She looked down at him. Thank God they didn't have to do it again; His eyes were moist.

"I'm okay," she whispered, reaching out to cover the hand that had fallen to her side. "Really."

He met her eyes. "You're not. But you will be."

"There's the man that believes in Santa Claus."