He's glad he convinced her to put the crib in the room next to them and not in the master bedroom. He checks on Ellery while she washes her face; when he comes back, she steps out of the bathroom in a white cami and boxer shorts. She looks tired without eyeliner or mascara, tired and older than he remembered. It makes his chest hurt.

"Hey." He reaches out and snags her by the waist before she can get in bed.

Kate comes back to him, and when her eyes lift to his, suddenly she's neither of those things. She's vulnerable and young and falling apart. It won't take long.

Castle embraces her, surrounding her body with his. As if he can protect her, keep her pieces all in one place when she shatters. She curls her fingers around his neck, strong, tugs him back.

"Get in bed, Rick."

He lets her go but he pulls down the sheets and makes her crawl in ahead of him. When they're both settled and facing each other, he can't help reaching out and stroking the hair off her forehead. She catches his forearm, turns and kisses the inside of his wrist.

It'll be okay. Whatever the worst of it is, she's all right. She can still smile.

Castle slides his hand down her side, waits for her to start.

She puts an arm under her cheek."Truth?"

It makes him smile. He strokes his hand down her hip. "Yes. Your turn."

"Truth. It should've been me. It would have been me. But Berlinsky moved at the last second."

He wishes, for only a moment, that she would just cry. If she cried, maybe it would hurt less, maybe it would help, maybe it would be easier for him as well.

But she doesn't.

She won't take comfort for long either.

She stays stoic, a twitch of her eyelid her only tell. He waits, waits for her to regain herself, gather it back together, and then she tells the story.

"It was Esposito's case; we were just serving an arrest warrant. I wasn't even supposed to go. I tagged along as an extra body." Her eyes close, a silent invitation.

Castle smooths his palm around her hip, strokes his fingers along her lower back. Listens for the next signal from her that will let him do more, offer more. He's learned to go at her pace.

She opens her eyes. "Me, Berlinsky, two others. We went to the back of the property to keep him from running. Espo banged on the front door. It sounded. . .I thought our guy was at the front. Barricading himself inside." She sucks in a breath, curls her fingers in the space between them.

He inches closer, laying his head on his arm, stretching it out until his thumb brushes over the line in her forehead. Patient. Waiting.

"I'm standing there, weapon drawn, vest on, listening to Esposito, and then there's this rush of movement. I still can't-" She shakes her hand, closes her eyes again.

He slides his hand under her head, curls his arm up around her neck to press her into him. She comes now, eyes still closed, her forehead at his skin. When she speaks, her words are soft, muffled by his shirt.

"I don't know what happened. Berlinsky shifts forward, and then his jaw - his face - exploded."

His hand at her tailbone slides up, rests between her shoulder blades. He presses his lips to the top of her head.

"The guy is rushing us - Berlinsky is clawing at me - the two uniforms tackle the suspect, bring him down with his .45 still in hand, but I'm - I was - I had Berlinsky half in my arms and he's trying to speak but there's nothing there to - there's not-"

Rick smooths his hand down her hair, over and over, puts his mouth at her forehead, her temple.

She shivers and snakes her arms around him. "He was aiming for my head, I guess. Just wanted to take out as many of us as he went. If Berlinsky hadn't moved-"

"It's not your fault. You didn't do it," he says, his voice strong.

She nods. "I know. I - I do know that."

He wants to ask her What is it, then? but she doesn't respond well to rushing, being pushed. He has to wait. Just wait.

Her knee slides up between them, nudges his. She lets out a long sigh against his chest. "He was close to retirement - he was nearly there. Wife, two grown kids, son and daughter. And I wonder. . .will that be me in twenty years, thirty? Will I be serving my last warrant before getting out of the 12th for good and then-"

He sighs and curls his fingers at the back of her head, confronts the thing straight on. "Any - anything's possible. That's. . .it could be next week, or - or in thirty years. But that could be either of us, Kate. A heart attack, a bus while I'm jaywalking and playing with my phone-"

She huffs at him, but it's not close enough to true amusement to provide the gallows humor she uses like armor after things like this. He doesn't have anything better to offer her though, because the thought that it could've been Esposito calling him this morning instead of Kate, or Ryan asking him to come to the station instead of his wife-

She nods as if she can sense his darkening thoughts; her hand closes in a fist in his shirt.

But it wasn't either of the boys who called. It was Kate. She's here.

He waits, but when she doesn't speak, he realizes there is probably still more. Now is the time to push. "Kate. What you do - who you are - you know what it means, how it brings light to people in their darkest moments, and more - more - you're like Superman. Fighting for truth, justice. Making the world right again."

She doesn't laugh. It's not funny either, is it? He cards his fingers through her hair, waits on her to illuminate him.

She releases his shirt, smooths it with her palm. "His partner. Charlie. Charlie something. I don't - he said. He said that Berlinsky's wife would never survive this."

Castle feels her knee slide between his thighs, shifts so that she can come closer.

"Castle." The rough edge in her voice alerts him, but he's still not prepared for what she says next. "Promise me. Promise me you'll survive it."

"What?" He curls his hand at the back of her neck, tries to pull her back to look at her face.

She opens her eyes, dark and desperate. "Promise me, Castle. You'll survive, and you'll make sure - make absolutely certain - that our kids survive it. Better than I did. With my mom."

He closes his eyes, sick at heart.

"Promise me," she urges, her fingers at the corners of his eyes. "Please. Please. Just do for them what you've done for me. Don't let it break you."

"It won't happen," he growls finally, opens his eyes. "It won't happen-"

"It might. It could. You said it - anything's possible."

"No," he shakes his head, cups her cheek with his hand.

"Promise me." Far from being shaken, being broken, her voice is steel, unrelenting. The strength of her need makes him straighten up, stop imagining the worst.

He gulps in a ragged breath. "I - It - I promise."

She breathes out on a long sigh, her whole body slumps towards him. Her arms wrap around his neck, her words softer now. "I just - I don't want to do that to them."

"Kate," he says, brushes his lips to her ear. "I'd miss you for the rest of my life, ache for you, love. But I'd never let our kids go down that rabbit hole. I promise you."

Her body presses into his, urgent and intense, and he knows tonight he will memorize every response, every touch, for the dark day she's made him promise against.

And pray he never needs it.

Kate opens her eyes again, sees him draw away from her, letting her cool off. Her heart is pounding, but she catches his hand before he lets go, clings to his fingers. He lies on his side, watching her too closely, and she draws his hand to her hip, leaves it there.

After a moment, she nestles a little closer, her fingers at his chin, only about a foot between them. She's a little breathless, her body still fizzing and delicious; she sees pride in the back of his eyes, along with a shadow she knows she put there, knows she needs to banish.

"Truth," she murmurs, her head on the pillow, feeling his fingers trace the line of her hipbone. She likes the feel of his skin against hers at just these small points of contact, the way he waits for her to settle.

He lifts his eyes to hers in surprise but he nods. "Okay. Truth." His palm presses hotly against the curve of her body but he doesn't move closer, doesn't tease. "My turn, huh?"

She's just so grateful for him. She has told her story, gotten it out, and now he doesn't try to pretend that was anything other than what it was. He doesn't even ask for more, and that's a selflessness and sacrifice she wishes she were worthy of.

"I got it," he says softly, and his eyes drift over her shoulder. "I know you think I hate to wake up in the morning. But I love when I get to lie in bed and watch you get dressed for work. I love that I know all day what color panties you're wearing."

She gives a little breathless laugh, because she kinda loves it when he watches her, lazy eyes and that effortless perusal. She opens her mouth to say something but he shakes his head, continues.

"And when Dash wakes you early, and I miss it? I come out into the kitchen and find you already dressed. Then I get to study your blouse and try to guess what's underneath. And you know what? I'm almost always right."

She hums, lifting an eyebrow. "Oh, you are?"

He's grinning widely at her. "Know why? Because you don't care about the bra. You always want your panties to match your shirt."

She laughs at that, leans her forehead into his sternum with a blush. Because yeah, she does that. She didn't realize; it wasn't a conscious thing. But it makes her happy. Stupid, small, but it starts the day right. And he knows it.

"What's your favorite pair?" she asks, biting her lower lip and leaning back to look in his eyes. She didn't feel so great, her heart too heavy, but with the way he loved her, the way her loves her now, different of course, but with the same intensity, it works. He makes her smile again. She hopes she does the same for him.

"Mm, my favorite. The purple ones with the dark purple polka dots."

She hums and tugs on his shoulder, bringing him towards her, wanting him over her again. "Why those?" she murmurs, kissing the side of his neck as he curls around her. His head rests on her pillow beside her cheek.

He kisses her quickly. "Because you wear that royal purple shirt with it. You pop three buttons on that shirt, because they're a little bit closer together. But it's enough to tease."

"Oh my word. It's two from now on."

He laughs back, growls at her neck. "Don't you dare."

"Uh-huh. Secret's out, Rick."

"Oh, you know what else? When you wear the purple ones, most times, you also wear that blue polka-dot bra with it. The only time, usually, that you match like that."

"Not exactly a match."

"It is to me. It is to you too, isn't it?"

She nods against him, can't understand why she feels so ridiculously joyful over the the fact that Castle knows this. Knows that purple polka dots on her panties somehow go right along with the light blue polka dots on her bra, that she feels compelled to wear them together with that purple dress shirt. That she feels-

Girly in it. Not sexy, not hot, just . . . girly.

He lifts up and lightly kisses her mouth, lingers there, breathing with her, touches his tongue to her top lip. She shivers and draws her arms down, fingers at his neck and stroking the fine hairs there.

"You're amazing," she murmurs.

"Because I pay attention?"

"Because - because you just are." She nudges his mouth for another kiss, light again, whisper soft. "Because you love me." She takes a shallow breath, rubs her cheek against his, then pulls back only far enough to see his eyes. "Because you're mine."

He still seems shadowed, even in the middle of his attempt to make her laugh. She reaches up, drums her fingers along the side of his face, skirts his eyebrow, dips down his nose.

"I'm yours?"

"Mm. You know it."

His fingers brush her ears as he leans down to kiss her again, still gentle, soft, the touch of a feather along her lips.

When he pulls away again, she doesn't want that. She raises her knee to hook her leg around him, draw him down over her completely. He settles his hips to hers, an eyebrow raised.

She lifts her head to capture his mouth, slides her fingers up his left side, where he's sensitive, feels him jerk, his grunt against her lips. "Kate?"

"Your turn, Castle." She nips at his chin, rocks her body along his so he knows. "It's your turn."


She hums agreement against the underside of his jaw, brushes her fingers down his side again.

He growls and settles his weight over her.

"Then Dare."

Dare. She can do that.

"I love you too, you know?" She feels her lungs expand suddenly with a deep breath, as if this is what she's wanted to say all along. "I love you, Rick."

The dark recedes from his eyes.