Even in the half light,
We can see that something's gotta give.

-Half Light II, Arcade Fire

"Can you come?" she murmurs into the phone, her head tilted back against the concrete cinderblocks of the stairwell. "Or meet me in the lobby?"

"I thought. . .you said you didn't want-"

"I know, I know," she says hurriedly, hoping she can keep it together long enough. "Just. I want to see you. Both. Please."

"Of course. Of course, Kate."

She hears the confusion, the worry, tries to stuff it back down again, clears her throat. She feels her sticky once-white shirt crack and peel away from her neck. She needs to change. She needs him. "Okay. Text me when you get here."

"We'll just come on up?"

She debates it - really shouldn't, it's not a good idea - but the lobby seems less safe, to be honest, and she can't do this, can't not see them after today.

"Yes, come on up," she says finally. There's still blood under her fingernails.

"Okay, be there soon. Kate?"

"Yeah." Blood under her nails and dried at her chest, her neck, fingerprints smeared at her jaw.

"You know I love you."

"I know." And because anything more would really kill her, she closes her eyes to say it back. "Same here."

Esposito spots her coming out of the bathroom, glances her up and down. "Better."

She nods. Doesn't feel better, but she's washed the blood off, changed her shirt. "Did the Captain get in touch with-"

Curt nod in reply, cutting her off. It's a thing for Esposito, not saying the fallen officer's name for the first twenty-four hours, a sign of respect not only to their brother, but to the fates, the God, that controls his destiny.

Ryan's turn to come out of the stairwell, cell phone slipping back into his vest pocket. His eyes are suspiciously bright, but he held himself together too. Esposito hasn't called Lanie, not that Beckett can tell anyway, but that might be due to the fact that Lanie will no doubt be handling the body.

The three of them stand there for a moment, wordless and unable to touch on the dizzying sense of grief and mortality.

Her vision begins to tunnel, blackness telescoping; she sucks in a long breath to fight it, doesn't want to give in and put her head between her knees, not today, not now, but she just might. She just might have to break.

"Guys. Kate. God, what's happened?"

She jerks her eyes open, spins around.

"Castle," she croaks, rushing to him, feeling his fierce, if one-armed, embrace, his mouth at her temple, her cheek, her ear, breathing against her.

The baby squirms, little hand comes seeking her face, her mouth; Kate turns her head and smiles at Ellery through the mist in her eyes, her chest easing, like mud cracking, at the sight of her daughter.

"Hey, my beautiful girl," she whispers, lifting a hand to cup the baby's skull, fingers brushing wispy dark hair.

"That's my line," Castle murmurs, and it does lift her, it does make it better. She can't laugh yet, but she can let herself be pulled up. "Do you want her?"

Kate shakes her head. "Might drop her, the way it's going."

"What happened, Kate?"

"One of our uniforms was shot. Frank Berlinsky. He was five years from retirement. I was closest to him. He's. . .gone."

Castle's arm tightens around her; she feels his chin tucking in against her jaw, his hand in her hair and holding on.

She can still smell it, death and blood and bowels. Fear. A lot of fear. Berlinsky went out slowly, agonizingly; she crouched over him in her vest knowing it wasn't enough even as his hands scrabbled against her, clutching at her, his eyes not seeing, the bottom half of his jaw blown off.

She swallows down the rise of her stomach, presses her nose into the baby's neck, feels the little hands come to her cheeks in delight. Castle's got Ella propped against his chest, arm across her middle, facing outward because she likes to see. Makes her perfectly positioned to comfort her mother.

Castle rubs his hand up and down her back. "Did you get the guy?"

"Esposito shot him."

"Good. Then go ask for a personal day, Kate."

"That would be lovely, but I can't. I have to-"

"I'm not asking; I'm telling you." Castle drops his arm, steps back, withholding.

She shivers, reaches out to touch Ella's leg but Castle curls his hand around her fingers, shakes his head.

She told him to do this. She told him to. If this seems like - to her way of thinking - the least opportune time for him to start exercising his right to make her slow down, make her rest, then she has to trust that he knows what he's doing. Knows her.

Of course he does.

Kate rubs her arms briskly and nods back at him, heads towards the Captain's office.

She just had her husband bring her six-month old to the 12th precinct. There is no doubt in her mind that Castle is right - she needs a personal day.

Or five.

It takes awhile to get out of there, of course. Kate's haggling for personal days in the Captain's office while Rick gets to show off their little girl, a cluster of old friends and new faces around them as he sits in his old spot, the chair beside her desk.

Esposito is leaning against Beckett's desk, making fierce faces at Ellery - his version of peek-a-boo or something. He's both ridiculous looking and also kinda. . .

Yeah, the baby is making all of them sappy. Rick shifts, cradling Ellery against him, fingers splayed over her chest and belly to hold her in place. She keeps lifting her head up to peer around, watching everyone, making those little chirrupy noises with her mouth, smiling wide at anyone who comes close enough.

Her eyes are still blue, wide and beautiful, contrasting so sharply with her dark hair that it gives her a perpetually knowing look, as if she's wiser than a six month old can possibly be. Ryan is taking photos on his phone and sending them to Jenny, who in turn sends back photos of their newborn, sleeping at the moment apparently.

"So why Ellery?" Esposito says, sitting up from his hunched position in front of the baby. "Beckett never explained your reasons. She just rolled her eyes and said it was your turn to pick."

Castle grins. "Another mystery writer, detective fiction. Both the author and the name of the lead character - Ellery Queen."

Espo grunts. "Aiight."

Yeah, he doesn't get it. They had to explain Dashiell's name a couple of times too, so he's used to it. But Ellery Queen is even less well-known than Dashiell Hammett, and Castle expected it.

"You don't like my daughter's name, Espo?" Kate says, coming through the group crowded around them to get to her desk.

"Naw," Esposito drawls, flicking his finger under Ellery's chin. The girl chirps at him, that high and light little noise they haven't been able to figure out - and don't want to stop. "She sounds like a baby bunny."

"She sounds like a cricket," Kate laughs, gathering stuff from her desk so she can finally go. She turns to Castle; he lifts an eyebrow, waiting on the final word. "I've got two days. He wasn't happy."

"Perfect. We'll make 'em count."

"Hey man, don't wanna know," Esposito says, and slowly turns away, heading back to his desk, both hands up in surrender while they laugh at him.

The knot of uniforms and detectives disperses; Kate drops her bag at his feet beside the messenger bag with baby stuff in it that Castle carries around. He glances up at her and she holds her arms out.

He grins and lifts Ellery up to her, standing as he hands her off. "Go see, Momma, baby girl."

Kate nudges her nose against Ella's, draws her against her chest, humming at her. "Hey there, little one. Did you have fun meeting everybody? I know they enjoyed you."

Castle slings both bags over his shoulder, puts a hand to Kate's back, a reminder to move. She starts forward, a hand drifting to her hip to check her weapon, badge, then wrapping both arms around the baby.

He punches the call button for the elevator, watches the two of them, Kate's lips barely moving as she murmurs into Ellery's ear, more of that love language, secret spells and mother's tongue that hypnotizes both their kids. He tries not to be too curious because he loves it so much; it entrances him with its mystery.

"Can we leave Dashiell in preschool?" Castle steps on the elevator, hand up at the doors to keep them from closing on her as she follows him.

Kate sighs. "We shouldn't interrupt his day. He loves it. I - I'll be okay."

"I could call, have them check the classroom." He punches the lobby button.

His wife turns to him suddenly, eyes lifted, weary again but brimming with need. "Oh. Could you?"

Castle takes out his phone from his pocket, immediately presses the preschool's speed dial, watching Kate's face as he does. She was closest, isn't that what she said? He spotted a smear of blood behind her ear when he arrived; it's still there, so she must have missed it when she was cleaning up.

She'll tell him the whole story when she's ready. The line clicks on.

"Hey, Ms. Kim, this is Richard Castle. You mind indulging me?"

Kate sighs and leans back against the elevator, some of the tension leaving her even as he says it. She tilts her head to him, mouths thank you even as he's asking Kim to go check on Dash.

Kim puts him on hold and he uses the moment to study his wife, the curl of her arm around Ellery's little body, the darkness in her eyes. Kim comes back on a few seconds later - Dash was in the hall with his class, right outside her door.

He hangs up. "He's fine, making spray bottle paintings. Whatever that is."

Kate nods, gives him a weak smile. "So. Two days, Castle. I'm all yours."

"You always have been," he smirks back, leaning in to press a soft kiss to her mouth, mentally calculating just how much time they have before the doors open onto the lobby.

She sighs into his mouth, slides her tongue along his top lip. "Castle," she murmurs softly, as if just saying his name is somehow helping her.

3. . .2. . .1

The lift shudders and he pulls back as the doors open, guides her off the elevator with a light touch at her back.

"Let me take you home, Kate," he says gently, bringing his hand up to squeeze her neck.

She nods and he sees it surface in her eyes again.

He's going to have to do something about that.