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Whoa, anomalymona, that's some dedication right there! :D You are awesome for that...and Kenwoody? Oh, you KNOW it. ;D Sorry this one took a while, guys. Had to momentarily regroup. In other news: Am I seriously already at chapter ELEVEN on a story that's not separate oneshots? GASP! Oh well, I'm not gonna question it. ^^ Have at it, people. Oh: and get ready for some surprise returning characters. Don't say you haven't been warned… ;)

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Adrenaline still coursed through his body, his mind; the passage of hours had done nothing to stop it, no matter how hard he willed it away. There were some things he just couldn't will away anymore. Resolve had its talons in him now, and he shut himself in his study, going over details again and again and again. He would replace the veins in his eyes if he had to. This ended here.

-Richard Castle, 'Deadly Storm'

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"Did you spook 'em?"

Demarco paced back and forth, his form intermittent in a strip of shadow between windowlight. His profile faded in and out with the rhythm: darkened, illuminated. Darkened, illuminated. He likely wouldn't stop until he got an answer, if even then.

Hector set to work putting the black kerchiefs back into their hiding place under the closet floorboards. "F'you ask me, you know you coulda solved all this trouble f'you'd just had us aim for the gas tank." He made an explosion noise and mimed a mushroom cloud with his hands.

"I didn't ask you." People were getting a little too free with questioning him lately. It was unsettling for him. "I said answer me - is it done?"

"Ay, tranquilo, si. Yes. We fired on the car like you tol' us."

"He fight back?"

"Took cover behin' the car with the chica."

Demarco sneered to himself. Ain't that just like the coward. Ladies first.

"Butchyeah, he fired back. A lot."

The sneer vanished, replaced with a scowl.

His cousin stood up, stomping the loose board back into place as he dusted his hands. "Anyway, we wiped down the truck like you said, boss. Left it 'cross town by the marina so's nobody'll connect it."

"An' what about the driver?"

Hector used an index finger to draw a line across his throat.

"Good." He turned another tight pivot in place before forcing himself to stop. If he was going to go around telling his boys that Esposito wasn't a concern, then he couldn't stress it either. The man was an insect. A busybody with a Superman complex. He'd have done better getting blown to shreds by Jihad. But no, just couldn't make it easy - he was a cop now. A suit. It was harder to exterminate the turncoat when the rest of the suits had eyes on him.

So fine. For Demarco's buisiness, that just opened the door to get creative.

"He won't move now," he told Hector, sounding much more positive of it when the words were out loud. "He knows a warnin' shot when he sees it. We're clear." He straightened up, shrugging his shoulders straight, flipping his collar forward.

His cousin was the one who hesitated. "…But…boss, I seriously don' think - "

In the flash of a half-second, Demarco moved face-to-face, his switchblade at Hector's throat, pressing his wrist hard against the wall. He knew the murder in his eyes sold well enough that Hector was too afraid to act afraid.

"I said, we are clear. Am I clear to you? 'Cause I gotta tell you Money, I'm a little fed up with your crap right now, a'right? Ronnie. Vreeland. Is going. To die. Before. He talks. Comprende? I said do I make myself clear?"

"Y-y-yeah boss, a'course you do. I gotchu, man, you don't worry 'bout nothin', okay? I'll even take care'a Jav if you want. Tie that all up for you."

Glaring warily, Demarco slowly stood down, slipping the concealed blade back into his belt. He didn't look back as he walked away, not even to answer, letting himself be swallowed by the shadows. "No. It comes to that, that privilege goes to me."

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Javier kept a tight grip on the wheel, the ashy skin at his knuckles going white. On his right hand, at least. His left lay on his knee, wrapped in gauze he kept in the glove box to try and suffocate the bleeding from his palm, and he only used it when he had to for a turn.

If anyone living in the area thought it was strange to see the gold Crown Victoria with its back windows busted out, a couple of shells emptied into its side, they wouldn't bring it up. That kind of damage was commonplace, anyway. The most ironic part was that Javier couldn't even get it fixed at the neighborhood body shop, the very place he'd worked at all through high school. His pop was the manager there, and he didn't need the questions right now.

They were halfway home before he said a word. Even then, he wasn't the first to speak. Lanie was.

"…You still aren't a damn bit put-off on this, are you."

She hadn't even phrased it as a question, he noted. Javier nodded to himself, if only mentally. Lanie was an intelligent woman; it was part of why he was attracted to her. She was bound to get there sooner rather than later.

"That back there was nothin' to you," she continued, her tone diagnostic. "You're goin' after this just as hard, if not harder, aren't you."

"It was not nothing," he protested. It was easier than answering the question, though not by much. At all. "Of course it was a big deal. I don't like the idea of anyone firin' on you. I wouldn't take that lightly, Lanie." Understatement upon understatement. Javier made himself inhale deeply. "But it's over now. You're okay, I'm okay."

"How is it over?" Lanie gestured with both hands at the windshield, the world in general. "You just said it yourself, you're not givin' up on this."

"Did I say those exact words? No…"

"Javier Esposito, don't you play those symantecs on me. Don't think I don't know you. If I didn't, I wouldn't be sleeping with you, I wouldn't know your gaming password 'in case of emergency' and I sure as hell wouldn't be in this car now that it's holier than the Vatican. I know you're not givin' up on this case, because I know that tone. It wouldn't be like you." She paused a beat, gaze waiting for his comfirmation. "Tell me I'm wrong."

Javier wasn't entirely sure if she was challenging or pleading. To her credit, Lanie didn't sound angry, and she didn't even sound particularly shaken. Maybe she should've. Maybe it was a bad sign that she was calm. Or maybe she was just good. He exhaled slowly, mouth pressed into a line before he spoke, and he nodded just once. "You're right."

"I told you. You're still plannin' on goin' after Demarco, even after all this."

One shoulder twitched, not even a shrug. "I've been in gunfights before."

"Don't remind me."

"I can't let him win this just because he's tryin' to scare me off, Lanie. That's what he wants." His right hand gripped the steering wheel tighter, unconsciously. "I know him. This is a classic warning shot. If he wanted to get rid of us both, he could've, easily. Any one of 'em coulda shot out the gas tank, and that woulda been it. But they didn't, which means it's all just a spook tactic."

"Call me crazy, but flying bullets do tend to spook most people just a little."

Look, it's personal now, Javier wanted to say. It took everything in his reserve of self-control to keep it back. It's been personal for a long time, but you were shot at today. You. Because of me, because of my ghosts. That's not okay. I can't let that go. I won't allow that again…not you. But the words stayed in. Instead, he told her, "Look. We expected to hit a little resistance in this."

Lanie scoffed. "I'm sorry, a little resistance? You really must be hardened."

"I told you I didn't want you in on this," he said calmly. "I told you it'd be safer - "

"Oh, what?"

" - for you to just hang back at the house and stay out of it."

"Javier - "

"If you're spooked, I won't blame you. If you want out - "

"Javier? Stop."

He halted his sentence and cast her a glance as he nursed the car through an intersection. Opening her mouth without sound and pointing out the window for a moment, Lanie sighed and sank back against her seat.

"Well I meant stop the car; that was a red light, but sure." She rubbed three fingers across her forehead, bringing them to massage a circle over her temple. He didn't even blink at the traffic violation; there were some obvious bigger fish to fty. He simply waited for her to speak again. "…Do you really think I would be any better off, sitting in your mother's kitchen, wondering if that nice Dr. Taggart's next customer is gonna be you? You. Have. No. Backup. Now I may not be able to carry a gun, but I definitely feel at least a little better knowin' I can make sure you don't come home wearin' a few of those bullets."

God, listen to her. Javier felt something in his chest tighten, and suddenly the events of half an hour ago played through his mind again. All skewed images, false edits, in which Lanie tried some heroics or other and he ended up holding her head, her breathing shallow, her blood on the sidewalk. He made himself remember that he was at the wheel of a car, so shaking his head to erase the image was probably not the soundest idea. I don't like the sound of you 'making sure,' he thought. Don't ever make sure.

He cleared his throat instead, subtly. "Got it backwards, anyway."

Lanie blinked at him, now wearing a familiar face of indignance. "Got what backward?"

"You don't watch out for me, I watch out for you."

It was simple enough. It was supposed to be simple enough. But from Lanie, he suddenly sensed a defiance radiating that was stronger than any he'd seen so far, and he allowed for another glance at her before reluctantly putting his eyes back on the road. This was a rolling seethe, and he felt it coming.

She delivered. "You know, I get it," Lanie began, and scarily enough, he believed her, whatever she meant. "…Here you are, a man with more women in his life than men to take care of them, and maybe this neighborhood isn't exactly the Ritz-Carlton. Yeah, I get how maybe you coulda gotten like this. But I'm startin' to get the feeling that when your sisters got old enough to back you off, you never did, did you. 'Cause let me tell you something. You need to snap on out of it now. I am not some woman that Big Tough You has got to shelter."

"I kn - "

"I'm not done. Now we have been friends for a long time. And when you and I agreed to be exclusive, that made me your girlfriend. As your friend and as your girlfriend, I have the right to worry about you, watch out for you or smack you upside that thick head whenever the hell I want to. You should have known about me that I carry my own in relationships, thank you. And if you can't get that, then I don't think this is gonna work much longer. Do you understand me?"

Driving or not, Javier sat there more than partially stunned, though he knew he should have seen it all coming. At least close, if not word-for-word. He stared ahead for a long few moments, then finally said, simply enough, "Okay."

"Okay what?" Lanie prodded.

"Okay. You're right." She usually was, he noted. Something else he might want to be used to. "You're more than capable. I can't stop you."

"No. you can't."

"And, I love you too much to let you think I don't respect that."

He could tell that threw her. Obviously, she hadn't expected him to cooperate so freely. She was silent for a moment, but only that, and then she nodded decisively. "Good."

That was when he caught her in the trap he'd laid. "But that means I get to worry about you too. So I do need to ask, and I'm gonna ask you again since you didn't answer me. Are you still in this? Or are you out? Because if you're out, I wouldn't - "

"I'm in. Don't ask again."

Something about that, of all things, made him smile. "Okay." And that would be the last word either spoke on the subject. A little voice in his head still nagged him about the dangers, but Javier ignored it steadfastly. She's got me. I can make sure nothin' happens to her. Respect for her or not, it was an instinct he'd never lose. He just kept telling himself that.

They rode quiet for the next handful of minutes, and it wasn't until they were a block from the house that Lanie spoke again. Apparently, it was her turn to pull the surprises.

"But I want you to reconsider callin' someone. One of the others. I want you to call Ryan, or Kate, or someone who can even out that four-to-one firepower ratio."

How foolish of him to assume he'd gotten off that easy. Taking a slow left, Javier sighed. "No."

"You were just shot at, Javier. I mean it."

"So do I. We talked about this."

The car shuddered over gravel as he nosed the car into his parents' driveway. Metaphorically, he was putting his foot down and keeping it there; in reality, he pumped the brake to a slow stop, and made a mental note on the side to move the car before his pop left in the morning. He wouldn't get them involved. There was nothing left to say about that.

The past was creeping too close for comfort as it was.

Lanie talked over the engine fade and boots on gravel as he got out. "Don't you be stupid, Javier. I don't see a cape and tights. You're not Superman. And you're not a martyr, either."

No, he wasn't. Because he hadn't died yet. He'd burn that bridge when he came to it. "This is my thing. I get the say on this one," he said firmly, shutting the driver's side door as she opened the passenger's. "I don't want them on it. You already know why. It's too much."

"I - "

"Dios, qué tomó los dos de ustedes mucho tiempo? There you are! You were supposed to be back after lunch."

The voice came from the stoop, from Rosa, as the woman half-leaned through the screen door, her Bluetooth set hooked around her neck. Casting a finishing glance back at Lanie, Javier buried the topic and strayed toward his sister. That was that.

"I didn't say after lunch, I said before dinner. Anyway, we're here. C'mon, let's get inside."

He felt Lanie's dissatisfied stare singe a hole right through his back, but he chose to pretend that he didn't. Just one more minor wound to go under lock and key with the others.

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The thing about the Espositos, Lanie noted, was that extended visits home meant regular check-ins in person. All things considered, she didn't blame Nina one bit for wanting regular physical proof that her world was still turning.

The other thing was that no one really did much. Besides cooking, reminiscing and talking, the sole activity when these folks got together seemed just that. To be together. When she'd first arrived here, exactly a day ago, Lanie had liked that. And she still did, but in a bittersweet way: at this moment, she would've given almost anything for some distraction. Typical for being shot at, she supposed.

She tried turning her attention to Javier - after all, he was supposed to be her buffer here - but that only made her mind run faster. He was causing that problem. Being stubborn yet again. Look at them…look at you, she thought, watching from across the family room as Maria hugged her brother's neck from behind the sofa. They smiled and laughed, and Lanie thought. They launched a conversation, and Lanie thought. You can handle the risk, sure, but can they? They need you, don't you see that? I know you're not blind…

The family reeled her in. Lanie smiled, went along, and thought. They told anecdotes and asked questions; Lanie smiled and answered and thought. She thought about what the team would say if they knew any of this. She thought about calling them herself, before shooting down the idea for her relationship's sake, not to mention that Demarco would know about it. She thought of the irony there: getting him killed for trying to save his ass from himself. Very quickly, she wished she could turn off the thinking all together.

At least, she did until it got her somewhere.

When the time came for dinner, Lanie's offer to treat was happily, if reluctantly accepted.

"Oh, honey, are you sure? It wouldn't be any trouble to cook something up," Nina profused.

"Positive," Lanie told them. "You guys took care of us last night; it's my turn to treat. I'll go on and call in the order. Won't be a minute."

Stepping toward the porch, Lanie received only a thankful nod from her boyfriend, and she was grateful his detective senses weren't tingling. It wasn't until the front door was shut behind her that she pulled out her phone, scrolling not to any takeout restaurant, but to a number she'd never used before. An 'emergency contact.' Well, that was how she qualified this. The other line rang only and exactly twice.

"…Hi, is this Carol? Lanie Parish with the 12th precinct, Homicide."

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Cliffhanger! XD As always, there's Castle RPG info in my profile. Reviews would be adored, specific ones specifically.

More to come, though I'm (obviously) out of prewritten parts, so it might be slow.

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