A/N: I'm sorry for the long delay. I sadly sort of gave up creative writing following a hurtful comment from someone I considered a close friend and it's taken me a while to get over it. Here's to hoping you guys are still with me because I need your support. I already have the next chapter started and hope to have it up within the next week.

Many thanks to lalaurala-bones for all of her help and encouragement.

Spoilers: Deep In Death

Disclaimer: I don't own Castle.

Chapter Seven: It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

"You mean we have to ride with the body?" the crestfallen reporter questions.

"You can take my seat up front." The second Rick looks at the ME's face, he knows he's about to have his ass handed to him. Facing Lanie - being trapped in the back of a vehicle with Kate's best friend and no buffer - makes his stomach flip-flop.

The young woman barely contains her delight at the offer. "You sure?"

"Mmm-hmm," Lanie replies, her voice dripping with sweetness. "I'm used to hangin' out with stiffs."

Ouch. As if the words weren't enough, the glare she sends his way almost knocks him off his feet. He follows her into the back of the van, trying to shake it off. Better to get it over with...

"Hi," he says, his tone as rigid as the bagged body on the stretcher in front of them.

"Uh-uh," she answers confrontationally, looking away. "You do not get to say hi to me, I'm just doin' my girl a favor."

"Oh, you too, huh?" he answers coolly. He closes his eyes and tries to maintain his composure. He hadn't figured it'd be easy, but he had hoped she might be rational and see his side.

"Well, what did you expect? Beckett spent the first three years of being a cop trying to solve her mother's murder. It took everything she had to put it behind her. You couldn't respect that?"

"What was I supposed to do? Not tell her what I found?" he asks, maintaining his closed off position with his elbows resting on his knees.

"What you found?" Lanie repeats. The author watches the woman's brow furrow even as she tries to remain collected and impassive.

"Oh, she didn't tell you, did she?" his jaw clenches. That figures. Dammit Kate... "Three people were killed the same way her mother was, right about the same time," he tells her with raised brows. "One of them was a former law student of hers. Another, a documents clerk. The third one, a lawyer for a non-profit."

Her brow furrows, the professional in her kicking into action. "Wait, the ME at the time didn't make the connection?"

His voice steady, he raises his hands in a slight shrug. "If he did, he buried it."

Her eyes widen. "Did you talk to him?"

"He died four years ago." He pauses then, taking in the doctor's posture and giving her a wide-eyed and honest expression. "So you see why I had to tell her."

Lanie softens instantly. Her eyes glassy, she looks to Rick and asks softly, "What'd she say?"

"That we were done," he swallows. He's exhausted. Tired of pretending that he's okay with this. With losing Kate. "And then she just walked..."

The point of impact sends them reeling and they topple like dominos to the floor. Watching the body get stolen by masked gunmen is something else entirely. He thinks it's weird, wonders what's going on, but before he can voice his thoughts Lanie's voice interrupts him.

"She's hurt, Castle. Give her time," she says, the doctor's hand resting on his shoulder as she speaks.

He knows this is the end of the conversation, that the second they're back in Kate's presence he's the enemy again. Blowing out a shaky breath, he answers, "This is it, Lanie. There is no more time. She wants me gone. Maybe she's right. Maybe I should just leave her alone."

"No. She's wrong. You're wrong." Lanie shakes her head. "You have to change her mind."

If only it were that easy...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Castle ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Got the printout," Ryan tells Kate as they walk through the bullpen. Rick watches the way the female detective moves, trying to determine her state of mind. "Rob Bigby. He's a floor-trader at Goldman. Vic's wife never heard the name"

"For a guy who assesses risk for a living, he does seem to take a lot of 'em," he says, choosing to stand behind Kate as the boys wait patiently in front of her. He breathes in her scent - that glorious, wild cherry cloud that wraps around her - for what he hopes isn't the last time.

"Yeah, well..." Kate begins. "Look where it got him." With one last look at Bigby's picture, she hands the document to Esposito. "Pick him up."

Rick meets the Latino detective's eyes and begins to follow when Detectives Esposito and Ryan move to act on Kate's orders.

"Castle," Kate calls as she walks in the opposite direction.

She called his name. That had to be a positive sign, right? Moving quickly, he jogs to follow her into the small break room.

"Leave Lanie and the guys out of this. It's between you and me," she says angrily. Whipping around to face him, she pokes him in the chest. "I asked you to do one thing, Castle. I asked you to stay out of it."

He aches to touch her, to take her in his arms and absorb all her pain. "I have resources, Kate. We can..."

"No. There is no we. You're done. We're done. The only reason your still here is because of the mayor," she growls, getting in his face.

He tries not to smile, tries to deny the fired up reaction makes him crazy. She burns hot all the time, but she's even sexier when she's angry. If only...

"You know what, Kate?" he asks, advancing into her space and backing her against the counter. His tone low, tone filled with seduction, he touches her arm. "Yes. I did something you asked me not to, but I think this is really because you're afraid to let go." His lips hover a breath from hers and he stares into the bottomless depths of her green eyes. "You're afraid if you get the answers there'll be no reason for you to shut yourself off. No reason for you to..."

Ryan enters the room and clears his throat. Rick and Kate part quickly and she shifts seamlessly back into the role of lead detective. As they follow the other detective out of the room, Rick grabs her arm and whispers, "This isn't over, Kate."

Staring up at him defiantly, she answers, "That's where you're wrong, Castle. It was over the second you decided my feelings didn't matter."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Castle ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rick watches as the Russian slides his chips to the center of the table. His eyes meet the cold blue stare of the man opposite him. "All in." This isn't like his normal poker games. He needs a moment to swallow his fear and hide his thoughts. "That's a big pot, Mr. Writer Man, all that money. But then, what is money to millionaire? You can write it off on your taxes as doing research."

He looks down at the cards in his hand. It's a calculated risk. He doesn't care about the money, he cares about getting out without blowing everything. Pushing his chips into the pile, a wild glint in his eyes, he echoes the call. "All in."

"You are like character in your book. In too deep." The Russian looks at his hand before meeting Rick's eyes. "Three queens," he says, laying the cards on the table.

"That's very impressive," he answers slowly. His face remains straight, tight even. "Not a lot can beat three queens." A grin breaks across his face as he lays out his hand on the green felt. "Except an inside straight maybe." He hands the dealer a chip. Time to make an exit. "Sweetheart, this is for you. Would you change this into something a little smaller that I can carry? Now that is a big pile of money, but what's money to a mobster, right?"

Feeling the barrel of the gun pressing into his kidney as he leaves the table and hearing the harsh bark of walk tell him he's found their killer. The bluff paid off even better than the game itself. "Whoa. Whoa. Whoa!"

"Who are you?" the man demands, his accent heavy.

"I told you. I'm a novelist," Rick answers, his eyes focused on the gun as the man presses the muzzle to his chest. He holds his hands up in surrender. Any time now, guys... he thinks to himself.

"The story. The dead man. The roof. Who knows?"

"His family knows, his children know." Rick's heart pounds heavily in his chest, adrenaline rushing through his bloodstream.

"If he paid what he owed, he'd be home with them now. But he crossed me, and now you have crossed me." The man begins to sweat. He stares at Rick with crazy eyes. The eyes of a man who has killed at least once and is willing to kill again to cover his crime.

"No, no, no. I'm just a writer," Rick pleads, trying to gain more time. Time for Kate and the guys to bring in the calvary. Time to keep from ending up in a body bag.

"Do not lie. You're cop," he spits.

"Him a cop?" the woman's voice draws the attention of both men. "Don't make me laugh, he's barely even a man."

Rick's brow furrows and his mouth puckers. He can't stop his eyes from traveling the line of Kate's body, his gaze focusing on the hot pink of her push-up bra. "Beckett?!"

"But you are a man, aren't you?" His eyes follow hers back to the gun as she continues playing her part and easing into the room, her voice confident and unwavering. "A very handsome man." She touches his shoulders. "Richard, are you bothering this handsome man?"

"Go away," the Russian commands.

Rick is speechless. He has a gun in his face and all he can think about are Kate's curves and the cling of the sweater she's barely wearing. His cock stiffens and he closes his eyes. Jesus, what has she done to me?

"Okay. Boys and their guns. Am I supposed to be impressed?" Kate growls. Her accent tickles Rick's eardrums and he swallows.

"It doesn't concern you," the man tells her, his eyes and gun still trained on Rick.

In a quick move, she has disarmed him and pinned him face down on the counter. "Actually, it does."

Rick's eyes travel over the firm curve of Kate's backside. Still in awe, he whispers, "Is it just my imagination, or did you change?"

He can almost hear her rolling her eyes as she struggles to keep the perp in place. "Castle?" she hisses. "Would you get some back-up, please?"

Life was definitely more exciting with Katherine Beckett in it. He just had to find a way to keep her there. To keep her from pushing him any further away. A way to convince her to let him back in...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Castle ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He often wonders how Alexis got to be so smart, how his kid - his beautiful, wonderful kid - always seemed to be able to offer just the right answer, even when she didn't know the question. As he enters the precinct for the second time that night and, quite possibly, the last time ever, he walks with confidence because he knows if nothing else he'll be ending things on the right note.

Rick walks to the edge of her desk and he waits for her green eyes to find his. "I'm sorry," he begins. "What I did was wrong. I violated your trust, I opened old wounds and I did not respect your wishes. And, if we're not going to see each other again, then you deserve to know that I'm very, very sorry."

He hesitates for a moment, but doesn't linger. He's almost out of the bullpen - almost out of her life - when she calls his name.

"Castle," it's calm and quiet, a hint of emotion but not promise. She doesn't look up from her paperwork. "I'll see you tomorrow."

And, just like that, the game's back on and he's taken the round: Richard Castle, best selling author: 3. Detective Kate Beckett: 3.

It's all tied up... but is it a hopeless stalemate, or the chance at a brighter tomorrow?