Well, here it is! The end of The Silence. I think it's now official that I cannot carry on a multi-chapter fic. I struggle so hard, hahaha.
It's currently 3:30 in the morning, and I wanted to try to knock this out because Hurricane Irene is supposed to hit sometime tomorrow (my school cancelled move-in day... so I'm stuck at home alone for another weekend) and they're calling for major power outages. I figured I'd try to squeeze this in before then because I don't know when it will come back (if it even goes out to begin with. It probably will... but who knows?)

I hope this leaves you at least the tiniest bit satisfied.

Now, go! Read!

After exchanging a whispered "I love you" with his daughter, Jim quickly shrugged on his light sport coat and excused himself from the room. With his back turned to Kate, he gave Rick a friendly smile. Rick gave a small smile back, but it didn't even come close to shining through his eyes like Jim knew it was capable of (when Kate had woken up, the first person she asked for was Castle, and Jim could've sworn the sun was hiding behind Rick's eyes the way they lit up when he heard her say his name).

Jim suppressed a sigh and gave Rick a familiar clap on the shoulder as he walked by. Rick nodded at the man, but his gaze had returned back to the woman sitting in the hospital bed in front of him.

Rick registered the door clicking closed behind him and they were alone, the only sound interrupting the silence being the machines that proved that Kate was still alive and breathing.

He wasn't sure how long they simply stared at each other without speaking, each of them lost in their own thoughts, thought unbeknownst to both of them their thoughts were along the same line.

I can't lose her, he thought, not now. Not like this.

I can't lose him, she thought, but what about Alexis?

Rick finally to a deep breath and moved slowly into hospital room. He didn't stop approaching until he reached her bedside, where she looked up at him with eyes filled with what he was assumed was fear.

He hated this. She looked so small and defeated lying there in that hospital bed in front of him. He just wanted to take her hand and run to a place where murder didn't exist and there weren't any people who wanted to take him away from her. He wanted to lock her away in a tower so nothing could ever hurt her again.

He wanted to protect her. He wanted to save her.

He also knew that that wasn't possible. She was strong, and stubborn, and the bravest woman he had ever met and there was no way she would let him take care of her. If he was a white knight on a brilliant white steed with a sword gleaming on his hip, Kate was a warrior on the ground, fighting off the enemy with a rusted sword even though she's bleeding.

As long as Kate was alive, she'll keep fighting. She's not going to back down from this.

Which is exactly why he can't leave her. Not now. Not ever.

Rick looked at Kate, as if he was memorizing every centimeter of her face. He looked at her eyes, tired and out of focus. He waited, content to just let his eyes absorb every detail of the woman in front of him. He wasn't sure if he was ever going to get the chance to again.

Kate's mind was running a mile a minute. She knew that this conversation had to happen but she wasn't ready. She didn't know what to say. He looked so exhausted.

She hated this. She hated knowing that she was the reason for that haunted look that was present in his eyes. She did this to him. All the fighting, all the cases, and now her getting shot had done this to him. He looked so much older than he had just a few months before. The dark circles that used to appear only occasionally under his eyes before seemed much more prevalent. He looked more serious. He looked… harder, for lack of a better word. He looked as though he had faced death.

Her heart tightened in her chest because indeed he had faced death. He'd seen the lives of family and friends destroyed by murder; he'd been in more life and death situations than she cared to admit; he'd seen the lights go out.

He wasn't the same man he was three years ago.

Which is exactly why she couldn't let him do this anymore. She couldn't be responsible for destroying him like that.

Kate, realizing she had zoned out, redirected her attention to Castle, who was focused intently on her. She nearly blushed at the look he was giving her. Kate wanted to look away, but she knew that she couldn't. She needed to be strong. She needed to do this.

When he realized that her eyes had finally focused on him again, he shifted slightly. Clearing his throat, he spoke first.

"Hey," he said quietly, the writer in him cursing him in disgust for his lack of originality.

She gave him a small smile in return, "Hi."

A second of awkward silence fell between them.

"How are you feeling?" he asked quickly, shooting a glance at the monitors on the opposite side of the bed.

She swallowed. She felt like there was a demon in her chest threatening to rip its way out of her skin. With every breath she took it felt like someone was stabbing her repeatedly in the chest. Every inch of her body ached.

"I'm fine," she answered.

He didn't believe her. She knew it.

Gingerly, Rick moved to sit down in the uncomfortable arm chair that found its home beside the hospital bed. Kate broke eye contact.

"How are you?" she asked.

"Fine," he answered.

She didn't believe him. He knew it.

They sat there in silence for a moment, both Kate and Rick trying to figure out how to address the elephant in the room. Rick wasn't sure whether he should just open his mouth and let the words spew out uncontrollably or if he should approach the topic carefully. He assumed she would want to get right down to the issue at hand, not listen to pretty words trying to disguise such a hideous topic.

He opened his mouth to speak, intending to apologize profusely for the things he said the night before and let her know that he had no intention of letting her fight this alone. However, before any words could form on his tongue, he heard Kate speak, her voice so soft he almost missed it.

"What are we doing, Rick?"

Everything Rick had planned to say escaped him as he heard her words. He knew that tone. He hated that tone. She was shutting down. She was pushing him away.

He was going to have to plan his words carefully.

"We're fixing us." He said, projecting a confidence through his words that he didn't feel anywhere in his body.

Kate thanked the heavens that she didn't have a measurable reaction. Us. The word simultaneously sent a thrill through her and had fear coursing through her veins.

He continued, "I'm sorry. I said some things last night that I shouldn't have. I was out of line. And…" Rick leaned forward and grasped her hand gently. She didn't pull away, "… I'm not willing to let you go."

Kate took a shaky breath, embarrassed by how he was affecting her. She knew that she had to be strong. But the sincerity in his voice made her chest ache a little less and the warmth of his hand was a welcome alternative to the cool sheets.

At her lack of response, he gave her hand a quick squeeze. "I'm not willing to let you do this on your own anymore." He said.

"Castle, this isn't your fight," Kate said immediately.

"The hell it isn't," he said calmly, but firmly. "It's personal now. And not just for me, but for Ryan and Esposito and even Lanie, too."

"It doesn't…"

Rick cut her off, his tone tinged with underlying anger. He looked her directly in the eye. "They tried to kill you, Kate. They had someone shoot you at Montgomery's funeral to send a message. Whoever is behind this almost took you away from us forever and I'm not okay with that."

Kate thought of the conversation she had just had with her father. They were all in too deep already. She wouldn't be able to talk any of them out of helping her now the same way they wouldn't have been able to stop her if the situation had been reversed. They were all-in because this guy tried to take out one of their own and that was unacceptable.

Still, she tried to make him see why she couldn't let him do this. "It's too dangerous. Think about Alexis… and your mother."

His eyes unfocused for a moment and Kate knew that he was imagining the fight that Alexis had told her they had the night before.

"Don't make me have to tell them that you aren't coming home, Rick."

Rick sighed and decided to tell her the truth. "Alexis and I had a fight last night. It got… It wasn't pretty. I haven't talked to her since last night." He used his free hand and brought it up to rub it across his eyes. He tapped his foot up and down for a moment, trying to formulate his thoughts. He looked at Kate, her eyes shining with sympathy and… was that guilt? He ignored it for the moment and went on. "She's scared; scared that she's going to lose me. This was her first real moment of when she began to question mortality… specifically mine…" he trailed off, not sure whether or not he should say his next thought. He took a deep breath and went for it, "She asked how many other times I've almost died while following you. She saw that I tried to push you out of the way… and she knows that I would do it again in a heartbeat."

Kate's eyes hadn't left Castle since he started speaking. She knew most of that, of course. Alexis had told her herself the night before. Kate contemplated telling Castle that Alexis had come to see her, but decided that what had happened the night before between the two of them should stay that way: between the two of them. From the sounds of it, the fight between Rick and Alexis had been much more volatile than the one between Alexis and herself. Alexis had managed to get her point across while still managing to maintain an air of respect for the healing Detective. And she knew that Castle wouldn't understand. The fears that Alexis had expressed to her the previous night were things only a daughter would understand. After all, she had raised the same points when she finally confronted her father about his drinking. It was then that she realized Rick was still talking.

"… so I'm going to talk with her when she gets home after school. She deserves to know that you are an important part of my life, just like she is. We're partners, Kate. I don't know what I'd do without you. But, in some aspects she's right Kate…" he paused, knowing he was about to cross some invisible line, "I have to know what you want. I want… I need to hear what you want from me."

Kate once again thought back to the conversation she had just had with her father. It's time to jump into life. Kate found her mind drifting towards thoughts of a life with Richard Castle; thoughts she had more often than she'd like to actually admit (particularly when she was asleep). Every single time Kate came to the same conclusion: he belonged in her life. Whether that was strictly professional or something more, she realized that a life without Rick Castle was no longer a life she was interested in living. He knew her better than anyone else and yet he still wanted to be a part of her life. He kept her smiling and laughing and it seemed as though the night lasted a little longer in a world without Castle.

Her father's reiteration of her mother's advice echoed in her head.

Take a deep breath… and jump.

She wasn't ready to jump completely. She knew that. After all, she was still with Josh, and no matter what sorts of issues they were having, she wasn't going to declare herself to another man. She had enough respect for Josh to end things first, and if she was being completely honest with herself, she had a feeling the end was closing in on them (and she had her suspicions it would happen when they finally talked about the fight he started with Castle).

"I want…" Kate started, her voice lowering to a whisper. Rick leaned in slightly to hear her voice better. This was it. She wasn't capable of jumping just yet, but she wanted to stick her feet in. She was ready to at least test the water. She took a deep breath, swallowing the fear and looking straight into his eyes, "I want you here."

Kate saw Rick's eyes light up, a small smile gracing his lips. He knew how significant that was for Kate to admit. "Then 'here' is exactly where I'll be."

She gave him a small smile back and subtly held his hand a little tighter. He felt it, and his smile grew infinitesimally.

And then, for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, the silence that fell around them was comfortable.

There you have it!
This chapter hated me so much... I just could not get it to go where I wanted it to.
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed/alerted/favorited this story. I truly never expected you all to be so wonderful.

To everyone on the east coast like myself who is in Hurricane Irene's path... please stay safe. You're all in my thoughts.

Now, as always: Love it? Hate it? Let me know what you think!