Kate watched him lay back against the couch cushions; his eyes were firmly shut and his body was a knife's-edge of tension. She'd given him a pain pill once they'd gotten upstairs, then she'd texted Alexis and waited for the pill to start working.

The doctor had warned her that they were mild and might only take the sharp edge off. He needed anything he could get though.

"Home," she said, brushing a hand down his arm. He lifted it, snagged her fingers with his.

She waited until he could speak, the lines lessening, growing shallow, his mouth relaxing.

"Home," he agreed. His hand twitched in hers, swinging their arms. "Where?"

She watched him lick his lips, tried to figure out what his question was in regards to-

"Oh. I - I have them." She released his hand, dug into her pocket for the rings. "There was - blood. And-"

She fumbled with them, and he reached for her hand, tugging her down. Kate clenched the rings tightly and tried not to fall into him. He pried open her fingers, grabbed her left hand.

Her chest throbbed as he slid the ring on her finger, her wedding ring. When he moved to put her mother's ring on her other hand, she curled her fingers into a fist.

"Wait."

He glanced up at her, confused, and Kate chewed on the inside of her lip, staring at her right hand, the place where he had put her mother's ring during the ceremony. Where she didn't want it any more, didn't want to see it. Didn't want to feel it, an equal weight, hand for hand. Like they were equally important.

It came first. But his. . .his was last. And to last.

She didn't know how to say that, how to explain it right. Kate took the ring back from him and put it in her pocket.

He didn't ask, and she was grateful.

"I've. . .got one," he said finally, his breathing a little too labored for her liking.

"Got what?"

"A ring."

She lifted her eyes to his, shocked. "But I - you mean -"

"An engagement ring, Kate. I sent you the wedding ring, but I did get you an engagement ring."

"You did?"

He grinned at her, stroked his finger along her ring finger, circling the band. "You want it, don't you?"

"Castle."

He grinned wider, but his breathing was better; the pain must be receding. "It's pretty. I think it's pretty. Not as pretty as you."

"Pain pill's working, isn't it?" she grinned at him.

"Mmm, could be." His eyes slipped closed.

"So. My ring?"

His eyes fluttered open again, pegged her with a drowsy kind of smile. "Yeah."

"Castle."

"You want it, don't you? Wanna see it."

She huffed a laugh and leaned in to kiss him, that sleepy, adorable grin. "I do. You gonna tell me where it is?"

"Mm, sure. Yeah. I wanna get it for you. Give it to you."

"Okay. So." She brushed her fingers down his cheek, kissed the space between his eyes. "Where is it?"

"I show you," he said, his voice childish but thick, rough. He jerked upright and she held her hands out, trying to placate him without actually pushing on his shoulders to get him to rest.

"Whoa, whoa. Easy there, tiger." She nudged his side, tried to get him to lay back against the couch.

He grinned but pushed her away. "I got it."

He kind of. . .rolled to his feet. Somehow. She watched him struggle, then put her shoulder into his armpit and helped him stand. He staggered a bit, but it was probably because of the medicine.

"Just. . .in here. Wait. You stay. I get it."

"Rick," she protested, her fingers around the inside of his elbow.

"Stay," he insisted. "I get it, Kate."

"You sound like a child. Let me help you."

"Stay." He pushed on her a little, causing them both to sway. "I can do this."

Kate let him go, even though he didn't look very steady on his feet. She followed for a few steps, just to be sure, and then he turned and pointed at her, a warning, so she stopped.

She bounced on her toes in the hallway, then finally went back to the couch, fiddling with the wedding ring. Her mother's ring was in her pocket. She took it out again and studied it.

Blood was caked into the grooves of the setting; she ran her nail along the diamond and blood flaked off. Her phone, smeared with Castle's blood; her mother's ring, caked in the blood of a stranger.

For what? No answers. More questions. Pain for those she loved.

She squeezed a fist around the ring, chewed on her lip. The prongs of the setting cut into her palm. She couldn't find a way to be free of it; she needed to be free of it. It was hurting her.

"See?" Castle's excited voice came bouncing down the hallway; he appeared like a little boy in the living room, shirt untucked and eyes too bright, hair mussed. He shuffled forward with a blue box in his outstretched hand and her breath caught.

"Castle." Like a kid offering wildflowers to his first crush, all hopeful and expectant.

"I bought it. . .ages ago." Blue box. Definitely not some wildflowers he'd picked from the corner lot.

"Ages?" She stood and caught him gently by the uninjured shoulder. He followed her to the couch, grabbed her hand. He felt her fist and splayed her fingers, plucked the ring from her palm.

"Don't need that any more, Kate."

She watched him toss it over his shoulder, her heart in her throat, and it landed somewhere out of her sight. She caught his eyes, tried not to panic at the thought of her mother's ring no longer close, no longer where she could reach it. . .

He was leaning in to kiss her mouth, a little sloppy, but warm and gentle. "I got you a ring," he whispered. His kiss went deeper, focused, tongue and teeth, suckling mouth, and she felt his hand wrapped around hers, his thumb stroking her palm, an electric current between his touch and his mouth, jolting through the core of her body.

Castle got her a ring.

She felt him trail away from her, and she opened her eyes, took the box he offered to her. Her heart pounded. His hand stroked hers. She flipped the lid.

Oh. Oh wow.

"Castle-"

"I love you," he insisted, earnest, and removed the box from her nerveless hand, tugging the ring out of its satin bed.

She breathed in and watched him gracefully maneuver her finger into position, the thin ring sliding over her knuckle. Slim. Square-cut sapphires which were set inside the band so that it laid flat on her hand.

"I didn't want it catching in anything," he said, leaning forward and pressing his forehead against hers. "You work around criminals. Didn't seem a good idea."

She laughed softly against his cheek, brought her hand up to his neck, her fingers in his hair. She closed her eyes but the image of those deep blue stones, all in an elegant line across her ring finger, swam into her vision.

"And titanium, like the wedding rings, won't get broken. But if it's not enough-"

"Shut up, Castle." She pressed her mouth to his, drank him in, all rambling, drugged, delicious Castle. His mouth was hot and rich; her tongue tasted the deepest hints of coffee and mint and him, him, this man who, even in pain, wanted to please her.

He groaned and fell towards her, trapping her beneath him on the couch. She laughed into his mouth, shifted her hips so that he lay cradled against her. His head came down on her chest and he sighed. One of his hands fiddled with her shirt, brushed his fingers against the sensitive skin at her side.

"You like it."

"I do. I love it." She stroked her hands through his hair, brushed her fingers down his jaw. "I love you."

He sighed again. "I know. I know that now."

Pain pills made him painfully honest. She kissed what she could reach, a swathe of skin above his eyebrow. "Always. Always, partner."

"Yes." His mouth trailed across her exposed skin as he turned his head, then he sighed again, his nose flat against her sternum. "This hurts."

"Oh. Castle." She tensed, afraid to help him up, biting her lip. Anything she moved would require pushing on him and he was now coiled tight, his breath heating her chest in panting exhalations. "Castle. How can I-?"

"Stay right there."

"But your shoulder." She skimmed her hand down his spine, felt him tilt slowly towards the back of the couch, off his bad side. "Okay. Here." Kate turned with him until the couch propped him up, his chest still against hers.

"Ah."

"You okay?"

"Uhhh. . ." He opened his eyes. "Not. Really."

"Oh, Rick." Kate bit her lip, felt something digging into her hip, something sharp, and wriggled back slowly. "Let me get you into bed. Okay? It will be better there. You can't stay on the couch."

"Just. A second."

She slid away from him, carefully, and heard something fall to the floor. When she glanced down, it was her mother's ring, glittering in the overhead light.

Kate bent down and picked it up, studied the ring, the light trapped in the faceted surface of the stone.

"Kate."

"Yeah. I'm here."

She looked over at him; his eyes were shut, his face bleached of color; he was chewing on his bottom lip - her bad habit. Kate went to her knees beside the couch, stroked his cheek with the back of her hand, tugged his lip from his teeth.

"Kate. R-r-ready." He wasn't, but he needed to move; she could see that.

"All right. Let's get you into bed."

Kate stood, the ring hooked on her thumb, and studied her husband, breathing shallowly through the resurgence of pain. He blinked a few times, squeezed his eyes closed again.

This was. . .*not* her fault. But.

But.

She could choose a better life for them. She could make a new way. She could avoid hired assassins, and she could turn a blind eye to fatal conspiracies. She could ignore psychotic men from Special Forces; she could stop running like a dog after every hare. She could walk away.

Castle shifted and sat up on a groan, his head bowed. His groan ended on a whimper.

Kate dropped the ring on the coffee table and reached for his good side, her throat dry, her eyes not.

It was over. No more of this.

Castle stood shakily, leaning into her, and pressed his mouth to the top of her head, his cheekbone hard against her skull. "Kate." His voice was shaky.

"Yes," she said, walking him slowly forward, back to the bedroom. "It'll be fine now. I've got you."

Kate wrapped her arm around his waist and led her husband to bed.

She walked away.