A/N: The idea for this story came to me after re-watching Rise for about the 10th time. Once it got into my head, I couldn't get it out. It eventually got so bad that I had to write it down in a weird sort of mental self-exorcism. Originally I intended it as a one-shot, but a few very kind folks (you know who you are) were so enthusiastic in their response that I just had to keep going. I'm so very grateful to all of them for prodding me, because the creative outlet that writing this story has provided is one of the few bright spots in the constant grind that is my day-to-day existence.

Thanks to all of you for reading, reviewing, favoriting and following. I try to respond to all my reviews, but I know I may have missed a few in the shuffle. If you've reviewed and I haven't responded, please accept this as my apology - and my thanks.

Disclaimer: Not my world, just my words.

Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Richard Edgar Castle glanced up from the odd, kidney-shaped brown mark on the linoleum floor of the hallway. He checked the clock. It seemed that hours had gone by since his mother had left his side to go speak with Lanie and Esposito, but it had in fact only been 5 minutes.

His gaze drifted back down. Was that just dirt of some sort, or was it a permanent stain? His mind was jumbled up and it was hard to focus, hard to distract himself from the bright flaming core of rage that had been growing inside. He raged at himself for all the mistakes he'd made, especially the recent ones that had cost so dearly.

Mostly he raged at himself for hesitating. How much time had he lost in that brief moment of doubt? He'd seen the glint off the sniper scope, and deep down he'd known - instantly - known what it was, but the civilized, naive part of him had questioned, had wavered. Just for a moment.

They couldn't. Not here. Not now.

But of course, they could.

And if not for that brief moment of doubt, he would have reached her half a second, maybe a second sooner. He remembered it very clearly, even though in the moment the entire experience had that reality-slowing-to-a-crawl feeling of a nightmare. If he hadn't indulged in that moment of doubt, he would have taken the bullet, not Kate.

Well, that would have suited him just fine. Because it was his fault.

No, he couldn't have foreseen what would happen that night he wheedled Esposito into letting him into the records room, rummaging through boxes for that well-worn case file.

"If you tell her I did this, I will make you bleed."


But of course, he'd understood nothing. Nothing at all. He hadn't had the slightest idea what they were dealing with.

Oh, but he understood now. More than understood. He comprehended. They were animals; totally without decency or morality or even humanity. They would attack even during that most sacred time when decent people gathered to honor and bid farewell to their beloved friend or kin. They were rabid dogs, fit for nothing but to be hunted down and put down.

What was beyond argument was that he bore a share of the blame for the fact that they were here, now. He could try to comfort himself that Raglan would have gotten the ball rolling again, regardless of what Castle had done. That Lanie would have picked up on the similarities in MO on the Coonan case and called in Dr. Murray herself. That Beckett eventually would have picked the case up again. But none of that changed the fact that he'd started his own row of dominoes falling, when he went digging two years ago. Raglan wasn't the only one who'd made a bad mistake.

He tried to distract himself again, his eyes shifting around until they rested on his shoes. Traitor shoes. He fought the brief, petulant urge to rip them off his feet and hurl them down the corridor.

Why the hell did he wear the Ferragamos? They had those smooth leather soles, and he remembered them slipping, no purchase on the grass of the cemetery. Costing him, again, a half second or more as he tried desperately to reach her. He remembered the sick, horrible feeling in his gut as his feet slipped on the grass, that slow-motion nightmarish inability to move.

Why did he wear them? He had other, more sensible shoes. But of course, he knew the answer to that question. He wore them because Kate liked them. She never commented on his clothes, but one time he'd worn them and then caught her looking at them approvingly as they stepped into the elevator. She liked them, and he remembered, and so he wore them today because today he'd wanted to be as perfect as he could be. For her.

And if he hadn't worn them, he'd have taken the bullet instead. Two mistakes. Had he made only one of them, he'd be the one shot. Had he made neither, they both would be alive and unscathed. He'd give everything he owned to go back and fix one of them. He'd sell his soul to unmake both.

He remembered buying the shoes, $1700 at Saks; he'd burn the damn things when he got home. Burn them to cinders, to ashes. Or maybe chop them up with a cleaver and run them down the garbage disposal.

His eyes wandered about again, rested again on the mark.

It must be a stain. Surely they wouldn't leave that floor uncleaned.

So many mistakes to regret. He'd lived so much of his life without regrets. Even his screw-ups he seldom regretted, because there'd never been malice in any of them. The only person he'd ever hurt with his mistakes had been himself. Sin, suffering and repentance all at once. A little self-contained lesson, sometimes taken to heart and sometimes not, but always safely left behind.

Now he thought back, and back, and couldn't believe how many mistakes he regretted. All tied to the woman whose blood was still drying on his clothes. So much bitterness in his heart over the thoughtless, stupid jibes, going all the way back to that first day. Had he known then- but of course he hadn't. How different he'd been then. How foolish and thoughtless and proud and vain.

She'd challenged him...

"I don't know Rick, you're the novelist, you tell me."

And of course, being him, he'd thoughtlessly risen to the bait. Stupid, stupid fool, just having to show off. To prove how smart he was. The dumbest genius in the world. He still cringed inside when he remembered the way her face had changed. Had become so... still, shields going up as his words had struck home. Hulled 'twixt wind and water, without even the recourse of striking back at him, because she'd invited it, hadn't she?

Beckett wasn't the type of woman to pick a fight, and then complain that you shouldn't hit a girl.

"No, you're wounded but you're not that wounded. No, it was somebody you cared about. It was somebody you loved. And you probably could have lived with that, but the person responsible was never caught. And that, Detective Beckett, is why you're here."

He could still picture perfectly how her face had frozen, so different from the lively, animated visage he'd come to know. To love.

How many times he'd wished he could go back and change those words, his kingdom for a time machine so he could slap himself silly that morning and say "Don't be an idiot! Don't you dare take the bait!" That one foolish outburst, and worse, the pride that kept him from apologizing. Just a pathetic justification, "I'm just saying, there's always a story." And so the trajectory of their relationship was set. Her guard always up, years learning to trust him. Years becoming a man she could trust. Stupid, stupid fool!

He looked again at the clock. Seven more minutes.

The things he tormented himself for the most, however, were the things he had not done. Were the sins of omission always greater than those of commission? Or just more numerous?

How many times could he have done something, said something, to bridge the gap between them? To tear the wall down, patiently, bit by bit. All of those failures, none worse than the penultimate failure the night before Montgomery's death. Like most of those failures, when you boiled it all down it was about his own foolish pride.

She'd given him a chance. Why hadn't he taken it? She'd asked him, asked him, flat out, and still he couldn't - no, wouldn't - answer her truthfully.

"I'm your partner, I'm your friend."

"Is that what we are?"

Just like that, the challenge. So different from and yet so similar to its bookend, the challenge on that first day. He'd taken her up on a challenge that would hurt her, but wouldn't on a challenge that might have finally put paid to the wounds he'd once so carelessly inflicted. Why, why? Was it fear? Was it anger? Was it pride?

He didn't deserve her. Too cowardly to open up, to give her the truth, to make the leap. If he'd told her the truth, maybe she wouldn't have closed down and kicked him out - maybe he could have talked her down from the ledge.

"I don't know what we are. I know what you are to me. The sun rises and it sets, Kate. The sun rises and it sets. I spend my mornings waiting for the call. Nothing else I'm doing really matters; I'm just waiting. And if lunchtime arrives with no call, I know I won't be seeing you that day. Not unless I can make up some excuse to visit the 12th. And the disappointment is always as bitter as gall."

"But when the phone rings and I see your name, it's like Christmas morning. Every. Single. Time. I love you, Kate. I'd do anything for you. Anything but let you throw your life away."

But no, he'd let the pride and the anger and the fear get the best of him. Again. Again, God damn him. And his chance was gone. Just like that: gone. The only thing he'd been able to give her was an anguished confession of the truth as she lay bleeding (dying? no please dear God no) on the grass. Was it for her? Was it for him? Anything to get her to fight, to stay with him?

God, I know we don't talk much. Almost never, in fact. But please, don't make her pay for my mistakes. Give me a chance to live it down. Please, God. Anything, anything to see those eyes again.

Maybe they should just rip up this linoleum and replace it.

A gentle hand on his shoulder. He won't permit himself to react. The fury is too big in him, bubbling up and up, threatening to spill over and out. Nobody here deserves it, nothing here but love and concern for Kate. He takes a second, assures himself that the poker face is firmly in place. Looks up. It's Lanie, her dark eyes concerned, the tears on her sweet face mostly dried.

"How are you doing? Are you OK?"

His mouth opens; he thinks better of it, closes it, then says "OK. Yes. Trying not to think."

She looks at him, briefly, and something in her expression makes him wonder if she's not buying it, if maybe the mask isn't quite perfect.

"I'm going to find a break room or a coffee shop. Can I bring you anything?"

"No, but thank you Lanie." He reaches up to her hand, still at his shoulder, and clasps it briefly. Her fingers are warm.

She pauses again, a short searching look, then drops her hand from his shoulder and starts down the hallway.

He looks around, sees Alexis and his Mother sitting next to Kate's father. Ryan and Esposito are on their cells, coordinating the investigation, gathering intel, giving orders. He knows he should talk to them, try to help, at least find out what's up, but he doesn't trust himself to be right, to act right, just now. He's burned up all his concern for anything but Kate. No energy left to pretend to care about anything else. Trying to survive long enough to hear, one way or the other.

NO! Dammit, there was no other. She's going to make it, she has to make it!

Lanie presents the little cardboard tray of cups to Javi and Kevin. Each grabs greedily at his cup, murmuring thanks, sucking down coffee fast, fuel for the machines. Kevin barely swallows as he barks out another not-too-civil response to the uni on the line. "I said one hour on those traffic cams, and it's been 40 minutes. Nothing has shown up on my inbox. Get on the stick, and spread the damn word! Nobody drags their feet on this one."

Esposito is between calls, so he has enough presence of mind to divide between coffee and Lanie.

"Chica, are you OK?"

"I... yes. No. I'm... worried about Castle."

Javi glanced across and down the hall to where the writer perched on his chair, hands folded in his lap, staring down at the floor somewhere between his shoes. He was a little quiet. Javier had been too engrossed in business to notice, trying to stave off the rising panic with protocol and procedures, to focus on acting.

"Who talked to him last?"

"Me, I think. He..."

Javi looked, really looked at Lanie's face. There was something more than just concern there. Something that bordered on fear. "He what?"

"I don't know. I talked to him, asked him how he was. And he was calm. Too calm. And..."

"And what?"

"It's stupid. He..."


"I don't know how to... He wasn't Castle, baby. I don't know how else to say it. I looked in his eyes and it just wasn't him. It was like... whatever makes him Castle was just gone, just checked out of the room, and somebody else was there."

"OK. It's OK. Thanks, honey. I'll..." His phone beeped. "Esposito here." He covered the mouthpiece. "I'll talk to him in a minute." But it ended up being more like 5 minutes, and by that time, decisions had already been made.

Seconds after Lanie had left, his mind had gone right back to the furious introspection, as if nothing had happened. It wasn't about anything anyone else could say or do, had said or done. It was all about his monumental failures, and desperate searching for a way to atone for them. It was just too big. There was too much. His mind worried at it futilely, like a starving dog gnawing frantically on a bone long since bare.

He would throw himself into the investigation, of course. No other priorities, nothing but the hunt, him and Ryan and Esposito, all for one, one for all. The people who did this would be caught, made to pay. Any other possibility was unthinkable.

But... What if they couldn't catch them? No, they had to catch them. Not just for justice' sake, but for Kate's safety. Because she would pull through, dammit.

But... What if they couldn't? He fumed and raged but couldn't ignore the question, escape the doubt. There was too much of the calm, analytical Castle still there. The bastard behind this had gone free for almost 2 decades, 19 years since he extorted the extortionists, making off with God alone knew how much cash.

He used that money to become what he is.

That memory stopped his mind dead in its tracks. To become what he is. Montgomery had called it his greatest sin. Mea maxima culpa. What did that mean? His mind grasped dimly that there was something there, some crucial insight waiting to be gleaned, but he couldn't get it just now, couldn't think past the rage and the pain.

He couldn't get past it, couldn't focus, no matter how desperately he wanted, needed to.

The rage just kept growing and growing, making him feel like he was stretching out of shape. All hidden behind his flawless poker face as he silently studied the floor. No one bothered him; no one interrupted him; nothing to defuse the bomb inside. And somewhere deep down, just as the pressure reached a point where he was sure he would explode, something inside Richard Castle flipped.

In the days and weeks to come, he would have time to look back on this moment, to analyze it dispassionately, dissecting it like a body on Lanie's morgue table. He would even be somewhat bemused by the truth of it. Had he really lived almost 40 years before coming to this crossroads?

There were reasons, of course. Fundamentally, he was a happy person, and blessed with both wit and charm, and a perfect willingness to make a fool of himself. It was easy to make friends as the class clown, and hard to make enemies. Rick Castle had never really had to deal with an enemy, never felt anything worse than distaste or annoyance at another person.

But now, all of that changed. He remembered a quote from Sir Francis Bacon: "he that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune." The flip side of giving your heart to someone, of loving completely and unreservedly, was to leave yourself open to the possibility of an injury so grievous that it might be impossible to forgive.

Richard Castle had finally learned to hate.

And with the hate, finally, blessedly, came the clarity he needed. A terrible-beautiful, pellucid clarity.

He paused for a moment, one last gasp of the old Richard Castle, the happy-go-lucky guy with a joke for all and malice towards none. Was this what Kate had felt, 12 years ago? Would he be consumed like her? Did he even care?

No. No, I don't. They. Will. Pay.

His mind was working furiously now, racing down one path of possibilities after another, like a chess grandmaster thinking a dozen moves ahead, gambit after gambit after gambit.

Fact: The person we are tracking is a man. Montgomery had said "He used that money to become what he is."

Fact: This... man... was utterly ruthless, wealthy, and well connected.

Postulated, but not necessarily a fact: The man was once either a cop or someone who worked in close proximity to cops, possibly an attorney.

Fact: This man had, roughly 19 years ago, suddenly become quite wealthy, and then proceeded to transform himself into something... else.

Question: What had he become?

Question: How did he wield so much power and influence?

Possible Answer: A wealthy businessman, parleying his windfall into more and yet more money?

Analysis: Possible, very possible, but how did that explain his access to so many very shady individuals, willing to do the most unspeakable things for money? Novels and Hollywood films aside, almost no real businessmen were like that. That said, there were some industries that might make that more likely. Private security. Military contracting. Not all ex-military were paragons, and they certainly had the skills.

Fact: The man had been able to run background checks, or have background checks run, surreptitiously, on a lot of people. An entire prison staff, in fact.

Question: Who could do that? Who would know how? An ex-cop, yes, but who else?

Answer: Someone with access to cops and money to pay people off. Enough money to pay people off without leaving a trail, no less. But... Damn. No, not a lot of narrowing down to do there. We already know he has money, a lot of money. What else do we know?

Answer: He has power. And power came in many forms. What about political power?

Castle paused, barely breathing, considering this idea. Considering it very, very carefully. What about political power? Someone now high up in government, someone with not just his own money, but influence over how the terrifying sums controlled by government might be spent. Someone with behind-the-scenes access to the power of governmental agencies to investigate and gather information, all with "plausible deniability."

Someone with a lot to lose.

Yes, yes, that could work. That could really work. It could also easily narrow the search, in several ways. Suddenly it seemed less likely that the man in question was a cop, or at least a line cop. More likely someone with greater influence, maybe Internal Affairs or... someone at the District Attorney's office. A lot of politicians came out of DA's offices.

The problem then was that such a person could pull a lot of strings to thwart investigations, to put up all sorts of roadblocks to legal pursuit. They could stop most police investigations almost dead in their tracks, all without even tipping their hands. Especially if they weren't above the more... unsavory means of persuasion. Bribes. Blackmail. Coercion. Threats of violence. They could make it very hard for any cop trying to track them down.

And, hell, Richard Castle wasn't even a cop.

That thought made him pause again.

I'm not a cop. I'm... not a cop.

And that means there are a lot of things I can't do. But it also means...

I don't have to play by the rules.

I don't have to play by the rules.

And I have resources. Last I checked, about 38 million of them. And I know people. I've got guys everywhere.

What's more, I know people who know people.

And with that cold realization, unbeknownst to anyone, the death knell sounded for a man somewhere in Washington DC, a man who believed he couldn't be touched.

It was just a matter of time.

He sensed a hovering presence, Esposito next to him. "Hey, Castle. How you holdin' up?"

Castle looked up more quickly this time, more confident of his facade now. He could look Esposito in the eye and talk to him, though the ideas were still churning inside, churning at near-breakneck speed.

He'd have to be careful not to tip his hand. To work with Esposito and Ryan, day in and day out, giving his all to the investigation without ever revealing... The other things he was doing. Was now willing to do.

"Just waiting. No news is good news right now."

Javi looking at him, searchingly, his face tense. Then, relaxing. "We just got word back on the rifle, no prints they could find, but they did get DNA. They said they'll call with an update on that in a few hours. It's our first real break so far. Just thought you should know."


"Can I get you anything, bro?"

Rick flashed him a brief grim smile, little more than a stretching of the lips. "Time machine?"

"Yeah. I hear you." With that, Esposito moved back to join Lanie and Ryan.

A few seconds later, he felt rather than saw as his mother and Alexis rejoined him, taking their places in the two open seats to his right. Neither said anything, but his mother gently clasped his arm and pressed against him, and Alexis reached around her to place a hand on his shoulder.

He welcomed the contact now, now that the rage had been safely channeled.

"Mr. Beckett?"

All conversations stopped and eyes turned down the hallway toward the source of that voice. A still realization in everyone's mind that this was the verdict. But Castle didn't need to hear him say it. He could hear it in the man's tone, see it in his face, in the set of his shoulders and his stance. Kate was still alive, and this guy thought she was going make it. She might be in bad shape, it might be touch and go. But she was alive.

"Your daughter is out of surgery..."

Castle wouldn't end up down the rabbit hole, wouldn't go over entirely. Because he'd still have Kate.

But there were things he would now have to hide from her, as well. He'd have to be careful.

He'd do everything he could within the law out of respect for and devotion to his friends. But if that wasn't enough...

It didn't matter. Anything, anything to keep her safe.