I apologise for the long wait for this chapter, it just refused to cooperate with me. The amount of feedback I've received so far is very appreciated and I hope that you enjoy this instalment as much as you've had the others. Thank you for reading :)

Five Steps to Acceptance

I

It arrives in an unassuming package the fifth week she's holed up at her father's cabin. It's heavy and unmarked save for the hastily scribbled address on the front of the oversized envelope. She tears at the package, half certain of what it is and her suspicions are confirmed when the book slides easily out of the crude opening she's made. It's the first in the Nikki Heat series that she hasn't gotten the advanced readers' copy of and holding the book in her hand for the first time, without knowing what it contained – it excites her. It's an emotion she hasn't felt since she got shot and it's invigorating.

The smell of the new book is welcoming; the cracking of the spine as she opens it for the first time sends a rush of joy through her veins and she's reminded again of how much she adores books, adores the way the words on the page swirl in her mind's eye, painting the pictures and scenes – making them come to life. She's relieved that even after everything that has happened, her love for reading hasn't diminished. Settling into the corner of the couch, she begins to read.

Her dad comes home from doing the groceries two hours later and finds her in the same position, stretched out on the couch with her feet stretched out, her nose buried in the book and oblivious to the world. Smiling softly, he makes them sandwiches for lunch and sets a plate down on the coffee table in front of her, a scene that is reminiscent of her younger years when he'd do the same for her when she got too engrossed in a new book.

Dinner time comes and goes in the same fashion, a plate set out in front of her as she picks at her food, alternating between feeding herself and turning the pages of the book. Her father has the TV turned on as he watches a game but Beckett is so tangled up in Nikki's adventures (or misadventures, rather) that even the noises coming from the idiot box don't break her concentration.

And then at midnight, Jim hears a soft noise from his daughter. He turns to her and to his surprise finds tears pooled in her eyes with the back of her fist pressing hard against her mouth. She lets out a strangled sob, a small whimper, and in a flash he's beside her, tugging the book out of her hands and cradling her against his own solid frame.

"Rook's dying," she whispers into his shirt. "Castle's hurt. I hurt him … he wrote … I can't. I ca-can't, dad."

Her heart throbs in pain, and she is sure that it isn't just because of her wound. Her father rubs circles against her back, soothing her with words that mean nothing but everything at the same time. The emotions are overwhelming. His confession of love, his overeager eyes as he brought her the flowers that one time he visited her at the hospital. The disappointment on his face when she told him to leave, the guilt of not calling him for so long, leaving him in the dark – it was too much.

Coupled with what she has just read, the line in the acknowledgements about songs making sense – it hurts, knowing that she has been the one to do this to him. Especially after everything he's done for her. He deserves to be loved wholly and irrevocably by someone who was worthy of his love. Not her – not when she was broken and damaged and so goddamned screwed up.

She hopes she'll be ready one day, hopes that there would be a time when she can be the person who he thinks she is. The book remains untouched for the rest of her time at the cabin, mocking her with his words so honest and true. Her father knows better than to push, so he's mildly surprised when she stops him from putting the book away. She tells him she needs it there to ground her and to remind her that she has something to go back to. A book, a man and a life that she desperately wants but yet remains unattainable.

It's her last week with her father that she decides she'll take small steps. She'll work towards trying to achieve that life as a goal – it was good to have a goal (her mother's voice echoes in her head). She snuggles deeper into her father's embrace before she departs, his familiar cologne calming her down a little. Small steps towards a goal, starting with going home.

II

"So, he's afraid of rats?"

Beckett grins into her glass and nods, taking a long sip of the milkshake in front of her. The cool liquid travels down her throat, providing her with her much needed dose of sugar for the day. "Among other things, yeah. You should have seen him, dad. He was practically squealing in pain when he had to pull that rat off me."

Her father's eyes twinkles in amusement. "He doesn't seem the type to be afraid of rodents."

"Dad, he believes in ghosts and vampires, demons … did I tell you about the time he thought he was cursed? Being afraid of rats is tame in comparison," Beckett laughed gently to herself, recalling Castle's less than stellar moments over the last few years. "And he screams like a girl."

"He's not really your type, is he?"

Beckett blinks in surprise, her father's question coming so far out from the left field that she almost chokes on the thick chocolate going down her throat. "Sorry, what?"

"Everyone else you've dated have been, how would you call 'em … tough as steel? Will – and that robbery guy, are cops like you, Josh was a country hopping heart surgeon, and you were always hanging around those biker boys when you were younger. Castle, on the other hand, is a writer who screams like a girl and believes in things that ten year olds believe in. Not your type at all, Katie."

Beckett shakes her head exasperatedly at her father's cheek. "First of all, I think it's refreshing for a guy to be so comfortable in his own skin that he doesn't worry about fitting in with the stereotypes of being manly. Secondly, dad, he doesn't have to be my type because we're not dating."

It's a mantra she's been repeating to herself since she's come back to work. It's not like she's shying away from the flirty banter, instead she finds herself instigating some of their more loaded, innuendo-filled conversations, but the fact remains that she is not dating Richard Castle – as much as she thinks she'll enjoy it – and that she truly isn't ready for the slew of issues that will arise when they finally cross that road.

"You should be dating."

"Dad!"

Her father looks at her innocently from across the table, teasing her with his eyes and quirking his eyebrows when Beckett glares at him. They have had variations of this conversations numerous times, increasing in frequency since her father found out Josh was out of the picture. They have all ended the same way.

"He loves you, Katie."

Just like that.

Beckett shuts her eyes against the memory of his face hovering over hers, begging her to stay with him, telling her he loved her – the grass soft against her back, the liquid warmth of her blood seeping through her uniform …

"I know, dad."

Oh, but this was new. She has never voiced it out loud before, and from the way her father's eyes suddenly widens, it looks like her confession has caught him unaware too. "You … know?"

"That he loves me? Between you, his book, Lanie and my boys constantly shoving that fact down my throat, I don't know how I would be able to miss it," she tries to brush it off casually. "But I'm still trying to work things out. Castle … he understands. At least I hope he does."

She has never told anyone about their talk on the swings that they'd had on her first day back and she isn't about to change that, but the way her father is peering at her is slowly chipping away at her guards. She knows he's only looking out for her best interests and suddenly she feels as if she owed him some sort of explanation.

"I … I care about him too, you know. All his feelings, dad? They aren't not reciprocated."

III

He says that he couldn't find his partner and for a moment it confuses her. It isn't until he's standing up and walking away that it strikes her – what he had been subtly hinting at. And he's right about losing her and not being able to find his partner. She readily admits that she's been pretty much MIA over the last few days, dealing with her baggage alone. She sits in her chair and slumps over her desk, exhausted and so emotionally drained that all she wants to do is curl up in bed and cry herself to sleep tonight.

Partners tell each other things; share their grievances, their troubles. But this time she'd kept hers all to herself, pushing him away on purpose. She's failed at being his partner when lately he's proven that he's perfect at being hers. He has every right to be upset with her, but he stands steadfastly behind her (figuratively), jokes with her and says things like 'always' and gives her space and …

God. She's being so selfish.

Castle has given her everything she asked for, and she gives him nothing in return. He's always there by her side and even when he physically isn't, his voice reverberates in her head, telling her that 'she's got this', supporting her the way partners are supposed to support each other. It kills her inside that the man was so willing to be with her despite all her cracks and damage and expecting nothing. It kills her inside that she wants to give him something in return but cannot find a way to do it. She's ready, she thinks. She's ready to stop killing herself and maybe she's ready to embrace the inevitable. She just doesn't know how to. She casts a forlorn look at his recently vacated chair and does the one thing she knows that may help.

She calls her therapist.

IV

"I'm not letting you leave. You came here to talk, Castle. Don't walk away now. Not until you hear me out."

Her voice is dangerously low, laced with the same kind of authority she usually directs at her suspects in interrogation. Castle remains indifferent to it but he does pause at her words, his foot crunching against the broken glass on the floor.

"And what? You want me to stay here, cowering for my life as you throw more glass at my head, which you've been doing for the last hour? No, sorry Beckett – I have a mother and a child to go home to today, and I'd like to do it in one piece."

"You were working her murder behind my back! I have every right to be angry!"

Castle groans in frustration again, throwing both his hands in the air. "I know, okay? I know! We've already been through this, Beckett. You hate me for keeping it a secret. Hell, I hate me for keeping it a secret. But what else do you want me to do now? Nothing can change. I'm happy to be the bastard who made you stop looking because I wanted you to stay alive. I won't let you get killed because of this!"

She sidesteps the broken vase that is partially rolling by her feet and slaps his hand away from the door knob.

"And do you think I want you to get killed over this?" she hisses out, shoving him backwards away from her front door. He stumbles at the sheer force of her push, his back knocking into the side table by her door. The Buddha head on the table tips over precariously before falling over with a loud crash on the ground.

"Beck- "

"You're not listening to me, Castle. Like you always never listen to me! You just said you wanted to go back to your family in once piece. This isn't about you keeping secrets, dammit!"

"The hell it isn't! Are you telling me you're not livid because I've been working your mother's case for almost –"

"Shut up! Just shut up and listen, for once, Rick!" Beckett yells. She catches his hands in hers, the first full skin to skin contact between the two since they started fighting almost two hours ago. Her expression softens and she lowers her voice.

"Just listen to me. Please," she pleads. "I can't lose you. Do you understand that, Rick? This isn't about you working this behind my back. This is about you potentially being their target too. You were working this case alone, with no back up – against the very people who shot me. They shot me, Castle. You know how you felt watching me die? Do you think I won't feel exactly the same if they did that to you?"

He remains uncharacteristically mute. She feels his heartbeat pounding through his chest where her fingers rested, but he still refuses to speak. Whether it is because he's still stubbornly angry with her, or whether it's because he really has nothing to say, one thing she is sure of was that she's never thought that his silence could be quite this loud.

"Do you think I won't feel as if my entire life will come apart if you died?" She asks him, breaking the stony silence. Her eyes are blazing passionately and she knows she's on the verge of completely breaking down in front of him. She is so tired of the secrets, lies and cover ups. She just wants –

She pulls him close, tugging at his hands so that he crowds her against the front door, his thighs making contact with her own.

"I'm angry, I'm so angry, Rick. But you're the only who can make this better. Please let's just talk about this. Don't walk away from me, Rick," she inhaled shakily and her head tilted up to meet his gaze. "I have nothing breakable to throw at you anymore. I promise."

Beckett feels the rumble in his chest as he chuckles softly. His breath washes over her, the space between them so small now that she can see the first hints of the stubble growing on his chin. "I won't say I'm sorry for trying to keep you alive, Kate. If I had to do it all again, I wouldn't change a thing if it means you get to live to see another day."

She doesn't like it, but she understands the sentiment. She even understands his need to walk away. She isn't going to deny that a small part of her wants him to walk out, if only to give her a reason to be angrier with him. Another part knows that if she were in his position, she would have done the same thing. Going through all the pain just to be sure the other person was safe and happy – she understands that.

After all, that's what being in love is about isn't it?

V

She hears the waves crashing on the shoreline, hears the soft chatter among the people who were there that day, the seagulls squawking in the distance. His hand is warm in hers, always so warm – his eyes brilliantly blue, matching the sky. The world around her fades to nothing but him and his presence. His suit looks really good on him, and his smell is so intoxicating that if it weren't for the people around them, she would be doing very naughty things with him right now.

But she can't, so she'll have to make do with gazing patiently into the pair of eyes she's grown so accustomed to. Make do with smiling at him and basking in the love he's always so ready to bestow upon her. She's learned to accept and return the love, although the journey to the acceptance was not the easiest one by a long shot. Still … they got here eventually, didn't they?

She realises she's drifted away from the main event when he squeezes her hand and cocks his head inquiringly at her. She blinks and grins sheepishly at him. Oops. She makes Ryan repeat the line again, this time making sure she's fully aware of what's happening.

"Um. Do you, Katherine Beckett take this man, Richard Castle as your lawfully wedded husband, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to him so long as you both shall live?"

As she stares at the man before her, hands clasped tight between them and the look of pure, unadulterated joy on his face, only one word comes to mind. He's a fan of traditional, but she knows he likes it when she surprises him. One word. Their word. She clears her throat and returns the gentle squeeze of his hand.

"Always."

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There you have it guys, the chapter from hell is completed. If you're following me on tumblr, you'll know how much trouble this particular chapter has caused me. Many thanks to FallingTriumph and The 12th Precinct for reading through this for me and catching all the crazy stuff that I missed the first time through.

Side note – turns out that a fic has just been published with a scene sort of similar to part V of this chapter. I swear that the similarities are purely coincidental (because come on, part V is so very clichéd after all) and that I have not in any copied or plagiarised anyone's work in any way.

Anyway, you readers want to play a game? Let me know (in a review or an ask or whatever) if you want a continuation or a companion piece to any one of the previous chapters, and I'll make it work :) Thanks again for reading!