A/N: I'll talk more about what prompted this at the end of this chapter. But for now, this will most likely be a two, maybe three-shot. Since, you know, I have a tendency to ramble a lot.

Disclaimer: Castle is obviously not mine, otherwise they'd be making babies already.

A Helping Hand

It was a hot summer day in the middle of July. The precinct had the AC running at its max power, but the heat was still perpetrating the walls of the Twelfth as Kate sat at her desk reviewing a cold case. It was Friday afternoon and they didn't have any ongoing investigations, which was actually a good thing for once. No case meant not having to leave the precinct until it was time to go home, which in turn meant that she didn't have to brave the scorching sun outside. She was starting to regret not taking her Dad's offer to get out of town for a few days since she had vacation days piling up. But she had been in the middle of a case then and now she was stuck in freaking New York City in the middle of a terrible heat wave.

Huh, heat wave, she chuckled at her own bad pun.

If she said something like that to Castle, she was sure she would be in for some kind of suggestive remark about Nikki and Rook that would make her roll her eyes. Speaking of him, she was starting to get worried. He had gone to the break room to take a phone call half an hour ago and hadn't come back yet. Closing the file sitting at her desk, her eyes searched for him through the break room window, but the blinds were closed. Damn.

Oh, well, it was probably something related to the new book, which was going to hit the bookstores in a week and she knew Paula and Gina had been calling incessantly about book tours and interviews and signings all over New York. Yeah, that was probably it. Still, none of those calls ever took that long.

God, was she really that bored? Obsessing about his calls with his agent and publicist? Really, Kate? Really? But then again, she was just concerned. After working day in and day out with him for the past four years, Kate could say with absolute certainty that she knew him. And this? It was definitely not like him. In fact, he usually tried to keep those calls on the short side, so something was definitely up.

Of course, he could be talking to someone else completely different. A woman maybe? Kate leaned forward to try to look through the door to the break room, but she still couldn't see him. Capturing her bottom lip with her teeth, she debated with herself for a moment whether she should go check on him or not. It wasn't jealousy. Of course not, he was free to be with whoever he wanted. That is, if it really was a woman. Which she could be completely worrying about nothing.

Not that she was jealous.

No. Definitely not jealous.

But that didn't mean she couldn't just go make herself a cappuccino, right? He was the one who usually fulfilled her caffeine needs, but since he wasn't available, she would have to go make it herself. With that decision in mind, Kate stood up and asked Ryan and Esposito if they wanted some coffee, to which they both said thanks, but they were good. Shrugging, she started in the direction of the break room, stopping at the door when her eyes finally found Castle sitting on the couch. His phone was tossed carelessly on the table and he had a strange look on his face. At first glance she would say he looked sad, but it wasn't quite that.

"Castle?" She pushed herself off the doorsill and started to walk towards him. He looked up abruptly, eyes wide, and as she got closer she noticed they seemed awfully shiny and reddish. "Hey, you okay?" She asked concerned and he nodded stiffly. She could see him swallowing hard after taking a deep breath.

"Yeah. Um, I'm going to have to…" He stopped talking suddenly and took another deep breath, clearing his throat. "I have to go." He stood up and she stopped in front of him, searching his eyes.

"What happened?" She asked softly, but he just shook his head. Surely if something had happened to Alexis or Martha, he would tell her, right?

"I'm fine, Kate. I just have to… to go somewhere." His voice was quiet and he wouldn't meet her eyes.

"Is it Alexis? Your mom?" She insisted, still blocking his path when he tried to side step her.

"No, no. They're fine. I talked to Alexis this morning and she said they were going to Spain tonight." He ran a hand through his hair agitatedly, looking around the room. Anywhere but her, Kate noticed.

"Castle," she reached out and touched his arm. "I know something happened because I can see you're not okay." She gave his arm an encouraging squeeze and he sighed, sitting back down with his head in his hands. "Hey, whatever it is, I'm here for you. You know that." She crouched down in front of him and rested her hands on his knees for balance and in an attempt to comfort him.

"I, uh…" He took another deep, steadying breath before continuing. "That was my Aunt Margaret on the phone a few minutes ago." He said slowly as if struggling to get the words out and Kate nodded encouragingly. "My cousin Sam was in a car crash yesterday. He didn't make it." The last part came out in a strangled whisper and Kate felt like she had been punched in the stomach.

God, he had been here suffering this whole time while she was out there thinking he was flirting with another woman. She felt like the worst person in the world.

"Oh, Rick, I'm so sorry." She said gently and sat next to him to pull him into a hug. "Were you guys close?" He hugged her back tightly and she felt a something warm wet her cheek.

"We were when we were kids, but I hadn't seen him in years." He pulled back and she took his hand in hers, reaching out to brush away the stray tear trailing down his cheek with her thumb. "I don't even know why it's hitting me so hard." He closed his eyes and shook his head, apparently trying to shake the grief away.

"He was your cousin, of course it's going to affect you." She caressed the back of his hand gently and he leaned back on the couch, eyes still closed.

"I have to go to the funeral. God, I don't even know how to tell Mother about this." He swallowed hard and turned his head to look at her. "I have to go."

"When is it? The funeral?" She asked quietly and he sighed.

"Tomorrow morning. But I have to go today. They live in Cape Cod, it's a few hours' drive." Rubbing his face to get rid of any remnants of tears, he stood up, bringing her with him. "I gotta go home, get a change of clothes and go." He squeezed her hand appreciatively and made to let go and start toward the door, but she stopped him.

"Hey," She called softly and he turned back to her. "Do you want me to go with you?" She asked hesitantly and his eyes widened, obviously surprised that she was offering.

"You don't have to do that, Kate…" He started, but the sadness in his eyes made her even surer this was the right thing to do. "I mean, don't you have to be here?"

"I'll talk to Gates. I have vacation days that are about to expire, so I'll just use them." He opened his mouth to protest, but she shook her head and squeezed his hand again. "You don't have to do this alone, Castle. Let me help." She whispered and he nodded, letting out a shaky breath. "Okay, I'm going to go talk to her and then we'll go. Will you be okay for a few minutes?" She asked gently and he nodded again, going back to the couch and collapsing on it. She followed him back and felt her heart ache for the sheer sadness displayed on his features as he leaned his head back with his eyes closed. Leaning down, she placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. "It gets easier." She whispered in his ear and smiled when he opened his eyes and met hers. "I'll be right back." She stood up and made her way towards the door.

"Hey, Kate?" He called out, his voice hoarse, and she turned around. "Thank you."

"Always, Castle. Partners, remember?"

"Come on, let's go."

Kate popped her head into the break room again where Castle was still in the exact same position she had left him twenty minutes ago when she went to talk to Captain Gates. He opened his eyes and tried to smile at her, failing miserably. The sadness was obvious in his features and this was uncharted territory for her. He was always the cheerful one of the two of them. Now that she thought about it, this was probably the first time she was experiencing a devastated Rick Castle and that was disconcerting to say the least.

She offered him a small, sympathetic smile and entered the room, walking towards him. Reaching out her hand, she waited until he took it and pulled him up. He stood up willingly and looked at her gratefully to which she gave his hand a light squeeze before letting go.

"Did Gates give the all clear?" He asked quietly, following her out into the bullpen.

"Yeah. I have the entire weekend off." Kate told him as they reached her desk. Stopping to collect her things, she watched him as he sat down to turn off her computer.

"Did you tell her why?" He stood up again and she pulled him gently by the arm in the direction of the elevator.

"I didn't think it was my place." She finally replied when they were out of ear range and pushed the button. "I just told her I had some personal business to take care of." He nodded and offered her a small smile in return.

They entered the elevator and leaned against the back wall, arms touching as they descended to the first floor. When the doors opened, Kate touched his arm and nodded in the direction of the Twelfth Precinct entrance. They were silent the whole way to her car and also during the short drive to her apartment so she could pack an overnight bag. Kate didn't really know what to say and she knew that, in cases like this, just having company is enough. Words would feel empty and do little to comfort him, so she chose to leave him alone with his thoughts. When they arrived at her place, she touched his arm to get his attention. He seemed to snap out of it and turned to her, startled.

"Wow, sorry. Guess I spaced out." He looked at her sheepishly and she shook her head.

"No, don't worry about it. Do you mind coming up for a minute? I'll just grab some clothes and we can go." She asked and he nodded, getting out of the car.

Once in her apartment, Kate did a quick job of packing a couple of changes of clothes, including a more sober dress to attend the funeral tomorrow. She could hear Castle rummaging around her kitchen and wondered what he was up to. Fifteen minutes later, she emerged from her room to the smell of fresh coffee. He was sitting at her kitchen table with a mug in his hands, seemingly lost in thought. She made her way to him and he looked up as she reached him.

"I made us some coffee. It's a long way to Cape Cod." He told her and she dropped her bag on one of the free chairs and sat down across from him as he slid a mug towards her.

"Thanks." She told him and took a sip. "Have you talked to Martha?" she asked quietly after a couple of minutes in silence. He let out a heavy sigh and shook his head.

"It's pretty late there and…" He trailed off and looked down at the wooden surface, his thumb trailing over the ceramic mug absentmindedly. "I still don't know how to tell her." He admitted after a moment.

"It's going to be okay, you know?" She reached across the table and touched his hand. "I know it seems impossibly hard now, but it does get easier after a while. I promise."

"I know. I just…" He took a sip of his coffee, as if drawing strength from the warm dark liquid. "I just keep thinking that I should've stayed in touch with him, you know? I always thought we had more time." He shook his head with a wry smile and turned his palm up, his fingers closing over hers. She nodded and gave him a sad smile. "I really appreciate you doing this, Kate. I really do."

"Rick, you're my best friend. I'd never let you face something like this alone." She said honestly and felt his thumb brush over the back of her hand, leaving a tingling sensation in its trail that she tried to ignore. Now was not the time for this. "It's in the best friend rule book." She quipped with a small grin and was proud of herself when he chuckled quietly. Drinking the rest of her coffee, she squeezed his hand that was still wrapped around hers. "Let's go?"

"Let's go."

By five in the afternoon they were finally on the road. They had stopped by the loft quickly so Castle could pack a few things and soon Kate was driving down I-95. He had insisted on driving, but in the end they compromised in sharing driver duty. Kate would drive the first half of the way and he would take the wheel for the last part since she didn't exactly know where they were going in Cape Cod. Even though this was not the vacation she had envisioned, Kate was kind of excited about going on this impromptu road trip with him. Over the past year, they had gotten a lot closer and would spend time together outside of the precinct for no other reason than enjoying each other' company quite often these days. Although this was obviously not the ideal scenario, she was glad that she could be there for him in a moment like this. After all, he had supported her and comforted her so many times over the years that it was only fair that she returned the favor.

He was quiet for the first hour on the road. She had let him fiddle with the radio all he wanted, but he eventually got bored and just leaned his head against the window, looking out at the passing scenery. Kate tried to engage him in conversation a few times, but decided to leave him alone after the third attempt failed. She remembered being like this when her grandma died when she was a teenager and then when her mom was killed. She didn't want to talk to anyone for days, but she appreciated the company she had at the time. So she let him be. After a while, she turned to look at him and found him fast asleep. Smiling to herself, she decided she would let him rest as she was sure he was probably emotionally exhausted.

Hours later, when she took the Exit 20 towards East Providence, she heard him stir next to her.

"Hey, sleepyhead." She greeted him teasingly as he looked at her groggily, then looked around, apparently trying to determine where they were.

"Hey," he rubbed his eyes sleepily and Kate suddenly saw a much younger version of him shining through and had to fight the urge to reach out and run her fingers through his hair, coaxing him back to sleep. "Why didn't you wake me?"

"Thought you could use the time to rest." She smiled and turned back to the road. "Maybe we should stop and get some dinner?" She suggested and he nodded, still looking sleepy.

"What time is it?" He asked, blinking away any remnants of sleep and sat up straighter in his seat.

"Almost 9." She said and he let out a sigh. "Which explains why I'm so hungry. I only had lunch."

"We could've stopped sooner, you know." He reached out and touched her thigh lightly in acknowledgement of what she had done to let him rest. She looked at him for a moment with a tender smile and nodded, covering his hand with hers.

"I know." She said simply and could see the gratitude and tenderness in his eyes.

She knew he loved her, had known for a while; it was times like these that she wished she wasn't such a coward, that they could have already dove into this together. Right now, seeing grief strike him, she longed to comfort him better than this; to hold him close and keep him safe without having to justify it to the world and to themselves. But she had chosen this path and, even though she felt more than ready to jump right in, she still lacked the courage to take the first step. So for now, she offered him what she could.

As she parked in front of a diner, she turned the ignition off and watched as he talked quietly to his aunt on the phone, asking for the address they were supposed to go. She took the couple of minutes he was busy jotting down the address on his palm and listening to his aunt explain how to get there to watch his profile. It wasn't often that she got to do that and she fought the urge to reach out to him. His hand had only left her thigh – where it had been rubbing light circles absentmindedly on – when he needed something to write the address down on. She welcomed his touch and it seemed that their proximity served as a way to comfort him, so Kate was more than okay with it. She knew he had been noticing the sudden changes, how she was letting him get closer into her personal space without any complaints. She had caught him watching her curiously a few minutes before they stopped and offered him a smile. Since she couldn't find the courage to actually come right out and say the words, she hoped that her actions spoke louder than her words could.

"Remind me to save these on my phone once we get inside." He told her after hanging up and she nodded. "Come on. Let's go eat." He offered her a small smile and got out of the car, waiting for her to lock it and join him.

Once she reached him, they started in the direction of the diner and Kate felt his warm hand touch the small of her back lightly and let out a breath.

Maybe he was getting her signals after all.

A/N: So here's the story behind this. I've always found that writing about something that I'm feeling or that is bothering me makes me feel better. I wrote last week a one-shot about Castle being sick because I had a terrible cold and it was my way of dealing with it. And it honestly made me feel better. This story happened because my family is going through a tough time lately. I have an Aunt (mom's sister) who has just found out she needs heart surgery and soon. She's been in the hospital for the past couple of weeks and it's been taking a toll on the family. This weekend, her husband crashed his car and didn't survive. While I wasn't exactly close to him, his son is one of my favorite people in the world and he is having to face his father's death alone while his mother is in the hospital. He is only 18. I wish I could be there for him, but he lives all the way across the country. So this was my way of letting out all these feelings. And you know what? It helped a little bit.

Anyway, thoughts?