Title: Partners

Disclaimer: I get to go home for Spring Break tomorrow, but we don't call that hiatus, really.

Summary: Walls fall down; that's the nature of the beast. And no matter how Kate looks at it, she's staring at piles of rubble. And from rubble, where do they go next? Slight spoilers for 4x11 and beyond. COMPLETE.

Chapter 14:

"You didn't need to bring the projector in here," she said, watching as he draped a sheet over the door to the bathroom, pinning it up to the wall on either side. "And it's going to be hard to get to the bathroom now."

"I'll take it down when we go to sleep," he said easily, stepping back to admire his handiwork. "You'll be more comfortable in here."

"I don't have to be bedridden," she argued, even as she sank into the plush pillows, her arm happily elevated on a pillow, now covered in two layers of Nikki Heat, the second, red set far less racy than the first, though she could still see a hint of Nookie shining through.

He turned to consider her, collapsed as she was in his bed, hair disheveled, arm in plaster, eyes heavily lidded. The spot on her temple throbbed lightly, even beneath the medication and she was sure it was a wonderful collage of purples at this point.

"No, but you look comfy." He walked around to settle on her other side, gently moving over so his body was flush with hers. "Okay?"

With no fight left in her, and too comfortable to continue protesting, she nodded and let her head fall to his shoulder as he clicked the remote, bringing the projector to life. They had a full-wall television in the bedroom, and unnecessary as it was, she had to admit, it was pretty good.

"Movie?" he asked, his breath warm over her bruised skin.

"Sure," she mumbled, blinking against sudden exhaustion. She hated concussions with a passion. She just didn't feel like herself at all, and only managed to watch ten minutes of Star Wars before she nodded off.

When she woke, it was dark. She turned her head slowly to the side and found him asleep next to her, shirtless, his face smashed into the pillow. She smiled and reached out to run her fingers through his hair. He snuffled in his sleep and rolled toward her, curling a hand over her thigh.

She was lying down as well, and wearing pajamas that she didn't remember changing into—one of his large tee shirts and what felt like a pair of his boxers. Her left arm was curled into her chest as she lay on her back and she was glad to notice that it was no longer sore. Her head, on the other hand, pounded as she shifted and she clenched her eyes shut.

After a few fruitless minutes of willing the pain away, she realized she needed more meds. She slowly turned to glance at the clock, sighing as it blinked a solid, "2:00am" back at her. Apparently her system no longer recognized reasonable hours.

Carefully, she moved away from him and sat up, repressing the groan that tried to escape. Everything was heavy and the world seemed wobbly as she stood, though it was probably her legs. She clutched at the nightstand and took a tentative step forward. When she was sure she wouldn't collapse, she softly padded out through the office and into the kitchen.

She blinked in the dim light and shuffled over, reaching up to find the Advil in the medicine cabinet. She found a glass next, and then poured herself water from the tap, insecure in her ability to successfully remove the pitcher from the refrigerator without hurting herself or his appliances.

The pills were more challenging. She struggled to open the safety lock one-handed, finally resorting to pressing the damn thing against her hip and twisting the top off with her right hand. She was going to be hell to live with. The inability would get old, fast, and she could tell she'd be a grumpy mess as soon as she had the energy.

She swallowed the pills and sagged against the counter, staring out at the apartment, which looked just like it had the previous night. She sighed, realizing that it had been less than 24 hours since she'd found the murder board, run away, shouted, watched him leave, chased after him, and ended up in the hospital. The thought made her dizzy.

She figured it might be the concussion too, so she began to make her way back to the bedroom but found herself pulled instead to the smart board. She stood in front of it in the dark of the office, her feet washed in the soft light that fell through the window.

She glanced into the bedroom and smiled at the sight of him still passed out, mouth open against his pillow, his hand now clenched into her empty spot of sheets. Her eyes fell back to the board and she felt herself sag. She stumbled back and curled up on the couch, knees pulled up to her chest as she rested her chin on her right forearm, her cast tucked between her legs and breasts.

She still couldn't fathom that he'd been investigating for over nine months, without telling her, and without getting himself into serious trouble. One misstep would be all it took for someone to notice. She knew. They knew. He knew, and he did it anyway—did it in a misguided attempt to protect her, even though he had no gun, no shield, no partner with him.

She bit at her lip and pushed her toes into the soft leather. He had tried to solve it for her—to give her peace, to help her move on to—

Her mouth opened and she sucked in a breath. To break down the wall. He'd done it to break down the wall. He'd done it because she couldn't, because she couldn't live her life without solving it, but she couldn't solve it without losing her life. And without the case, she'd said, on the swings, that she couldn't—

She couldn't be with him if she still had the wall, and the only way to break it down was to solve the case he'd told her to stop solving. He'd put his life, their life, on hold, to save hers.

The realization socked her in the gut and she found that she couldn't quite breathe right. Slowly her cheeks moistened with surprised tears she didn't try to stop, her emotions a scattered mess of shock and grief and concussion.


She turned her head and found him standing there, watching her as she reeled.

"Hey," she whispered, wiping at her cheeks.

"Why are you up…and here?" he asked, tentative as he sat down next to her.

She shrugged and then glanced at his hands as they twisted in his lap. "You tried to solve it for us."

He looked back from the board and stared at her. "I…I wanted to protect you."

She shook her head and moved her hand into his lap, twining with his. "For us, Castle. You tried to break the wall, because I couldn't."

He gaped at her for a moment and then nodded slowly. "I—you couldn't keep solving it, but I know you need to and I…you're not mad anymore?"

She shook her head. "I'm still pissed as hell, you stupid, stupid man," she said softly, watching as his lips twitched. She was still furious with him, but it was colored with love now, for his idiotic bravery and care and the loss he'd dealt with, knowing that he couldn't have her unless they solved the case that he'd had to stall so she could live.

"But I'm a little more in love with you for it, maybe," she offered, smiling as his eyes widened and his hands moved to curl her against his bare chest.

"No matter how amazing this is, it wasn't worth you being dead," he whispered into her hair, his arms tight across her back.

She breathed into his neck, opening her lips to kiss the thrumming vein beneath his skin. It didn't have to be either or. She didn't want it to be either or anymore. She didn't want the wall, and as she breathed him in, full of his deodorant and the hint of hospital and sweat, she decided that there didn't need to be a wall with her on one side and him on the other.

The ragged breath against the crown of her head flooded the ruins of her wall over, washed them away into a sea of acceptance and feeling. They'd solve it, together, someday. And she'd have her closure.

"Forget the wall," she said against his skin as she kissed her way up his jaw.

"Forget…" he stammered, pulling away to catch her eyes even as she tried to lean in and find his lips. "The case?"

"Someday," she told him, her voice firm. "Someday, together. No more risking your life for mine. No more this or that. Partners."

He searched her eyes for a moment, his fingers stroking over her cheeks. "Partners," he murmured, a smile spreading over his face. "You're sure?"

She glanced over at the smart board, black and blank, hiding a tangled mess of facts that promised only pain, any way she spun it now. And whether or not they solved it, her mother would still be dead—a break through she'd had with Burke two months ago. Her mother would always be dead, but Castle—Castle was alive.

"I'm sure," she said, bringing her eyes back to his. "You sure?"

"Oh," he sighed, leaning forward to press his lips to hers, warm and soft, his hand coming to cradle the back of her head. "I'm sure, Kate," he whispered against her lips. "So very sure."

She smiled and felt his answering one as she wrapped her arm around his neck, her cast caught between them. Damn, she wanted two hands for this.

He must have felt the change in her kiss because he pulled back with a breathless laugh. "Not while you're concussed."

"Castle," she growled, trying to crowd closer even as he gently pushed her away.

"We have time," he said softly, brushing her hair behind her ear, tender.

Against her own will, she smiled, the look in his eyes so full, overwhelming, wonderful—full of promise and future and love.

His smile answered hers and he carefully brought her casted arm to his chin, kissing her exposed fingers. "Lots and lots of time."

AN: For a semi-Epilogue, see my story Coordination, which was the impetus for this one. Partners took on a life of its own, but the basic outline still fits.

Thank you for reading!

ALSO! The Castle Fanfiction Awards are here, at: Castle Fic Awards (.) com! A bunch of really awesome and talented people and stories have been nominated. Go and support your friends, favorites, and castle community!