Don't fall, but if you do

I'll be there to kiss your bruises

Lindsay Katt,"Heart Place"

"Castle. Castle –"

Her next words – take it easy – die on her lips as he stumbles into his loft, catches himself on the wall, whimpers in pain.

Kate sighs, resists the urge to close her eyes and gets inside the loft after him, pushing the door closed with more strength than necessary. She hangs her coat slowly, takes off her shoes and waits an extra second to gather herself, scrape together all the patience she can find.

She's going to need it.

When she turns, he's still in the same place, sagged against the wall, head tilted, eyes closed. The crutches are lying on the floor, useless.

If his face weren't so pale, you'd think he was sleeping. Except, well, the wall is probably not the most comfortable spot ever.

"Come on, Castle," she says at last, annoyance receding and leaving room for tenderer, more dangerous feelings. She comes closer and puts her arm around his waist so that he can lean on her.

He grunts, licking his lips, and shifts his weight from the wall to her. She's doubly glad she got rid of her heels for this: better for balance, and also easier for him to use her as a crutch if she's shorter.

Jeez, he's *heavy*. She doesn't know what the doctors gave him, but it must be good stuff, because his consciousness seems…drifting at best. He sways against her, and she stills for a second, unwilling to have them both stumbling to the floor.

When his stride seems a little surer, they make the rest of the way to his bedroom. It's the one place in the loft that she's never seen, and despite her best intentions her eyes stray, moving from the incredibly comfortable-looking armchair to the wall-sized painting, noticing the warm colors, the oranges and reds and browns.

Burnt sienna, she thinks, is the name for it; the bedclothes are the same shade. Castle sprawls over them without warning, moans unhappily when his ankle hits the side of the bed.

Kate winces and tries to help, but he's already curled on the coverlet, clothes and shoes on (well, *shoe* on), his face mashed into the sheets, as if she wasn't here. And maybe he's forgotten that she is.

Kate chews on her bottom lip and carefully sits on the side of the bed, runs her fingers through Castle's hair, unable to help herself. She massages his nape, gentle and soft (he won't remember, right?) and wonders if it's worth trying to get more painkillers in him.

The nurse who discharged him did say he'd be good for a while, that the drugs they've given him would keep his ankle from hurting for the next couple hours. But still.

"Castle?" she murmurs, uncertain.

"Go away," he whispers pitifully, the ghost of a childish pout on his lips.

Kate can't help a smile. She can't wait until he wakes up for good and she gets to tell him that she was in his bedroom, sitting on his bed, and he told her to go away.

She lingers a moment more, listening to the sounds of his breathing evening out, then leaves reluctantly. She needs to put ice in the freezer. The doctor said to apply cold packs to the injury to help with the swelling, not continuously, but only for ten or twenty minutes at a time; she's hoping that she'll find ice cubes or frozen vegetables in his fridge, something she can use for now.

Just when she reaches the kitchen, the vibration of her phone in her pocket startles her; Kate gets it out, sighs in relief when Alexis's picture flashes on the screen. She tried calling before, but she got no answer.

"Alexis, hi."

"Detective Beckett, is something wrong?" the girl asks anxiously, the words almost too fast for Beckett to make sense of them. "I was in a shop with my mom and apparently there was no signal in there, so I only saw the missed calls when I got out, and I tried calling Dad, but he didn't answer – his phone rang and rang and he never does that, he always answers – and you would never call me except if something was wrong and I thought–"

"Alexis, calm down," Kate says, using her best detective voice, but trying to instil some soothing peace in it. "It's nothing serious. Your dad will be fine."

She can hear the trembling, tear-filled sigh of the girl on the other end of the line, and she sinks her teeth into her lower lip, trying to smother the guilt and hurt that rise up.

Trying to shut up the part of her brain viciously suggesting that if it weren't for her, Alexis Castle would have no reason to panic when her dad doesn't answer his phone straight away.

"Nothing serious. But – but he's hurt?"

Kate sighs, runs a hand through her hair. She didn't have time to braid it this morning, because she got an early call for a body and had to leave in a hurry, and she misses it – the tidiness, the cleanliness of the braid instead of those messy curls.

She needs control over some part of her life.

"Your dad sprained his right ankle. We were – we were chasing after a suspect, and the idiot thought it might be a brilliant idea to trip us up. I just fell on my hands, but your dad twisted his ankle pretty badly."

Alexis doesn't need to know how Kate's heart hurt to see Castle's face so white, lips pressed into a thin line, see him struggle not to cry out. That's the thing that alerted her – that he kept assuring her he was fine, that he was silent in the car when the man she knows would milk it for all it's worth, complain and whimper and maybe ask for a kiss to make it better.

Well, maybe not. Not in the state of things. He's done a great job of lying low lately, and she sort of…sort of misses it. The innuendos and the eyebrow wiggling and the general Castle cheer.

"Oh, Dad." Alexis says softly, pulling her out of it. "Did you – catch the guy though?"

Kate smirks. "Oh, yeah." And Esposito and Ryan weren't too tender when they put the cuffs on him, sat him down in the car.

"Good," the girl says, and there's something in her voice, something darker than Beckett is used to. Silence stretches between them, but it's filled with mutual understanding, not awkward at all. "Is he in pain?" Alexis asks timidly. There's no question who she means.

"Right now, they gave him some really good painkillers, and he's asleep," Kate reassures her, trying to find a smile in her. "I think he's out for a while."

"Okay," Alexis answers. "Well, I should probably be here when he wakes, right? I'm looking at the flights right now – I can probably get one tonight if –"

"Alexis, I –" Kate interrupts, then mentally thumps her own head. Not her place, not her place.

But Castle seemed so convinced that a few days in California with her mom would do Alexis good, would take her mind off Ashley and their still-fresh breakup.


The detective sighs. Damn. Now she's in for it.

"I don't think – from…what I've heard, your dad seems to feel pretty strongly about you getting time alone with your mom, and I'm not sure –"

"He needs me," Alexis states slowly, as if she's surprised that Kate can't see it. "Who else is going to take care of him? I mean – you said sprain, so I'm guessing he shouldn't move around for the next couple days, and Gran is too busy to keep him company, that's for sure…"

"I'm here," Kate says, feeling stupidly defensive. She doesn't like the way Alexis said this, like Castle doesn't have anyone but his mother and daughter. He does – he has friends at the precinct, very good friends, and then he has her –

The woman who didn't speak to him for a whole summer. The woman who nearly got him killed a couple times. Yes, she knows how it must look to Alexis.

"You?" the girl says, sounding surprised, but not opposed to it.

Relief makes it a little easier to breathe.

"Yeah, I… You're only in California for three more days, aren't you? And – I have days off piled up that I honestly should start using, so I can just…Hold the fort until you get back."

More silence, and, yeah – this one is a little bit awkward.

Kate isn't sure what's going on here. What is she doing? This is *not* the plan.

She did take today off (had to fight with Gates to make Esposito lead detective on this one) – but that was only so she could keep an eye on him until Alexis got here. And now she's offering…what, exactly? To babysit Castle until his daughter comes back?

Three days of watching over him? This isn't smart. This is stupid. *Stupid*, Kate.

And yet she keeps quiet, because there's a part of her who's eager to do this, help him, give something back for all the things he's given her. Or it might all be springing from seeing Castle's face clenched in pain earlier today, no trace of the usual spark in his clear blue eyes. Hard to tell.

She doesn't want to look at her reasons too closely, so she holds her breath, waits for Alexis's verdict.

"Uh," the girl hedges, after a long moment. "O..kay? But – are you sure? I mean – Dad can be a piece of work, and if he can't move…"

Kate laughs, the sound a little forced, a little raw. "Trust me, Alexis, I know. I have a pretty good idea what to expect here."

Except she doesn't. She has no idea at all; this is silly, ridiculous –

"Well, okay, then," Castle's daughter says slowly, robbing Kate of her chance to retract. "If you're sure…I think my mom's enjoying having me here, for once."

For once. Kate's heart squeezes in empathy. She may have lost her own mother when she was nineteen, but at least she has no idea what it feels like not to be wanted. Not to be mothered and scolded and loved.

"Good," she forces herself to say. "Good. I'll see you in three days, then."

"Yeah. And, Kate?" the girl adds after a second of hesitation.


"You'll – you'll take care of him, right?"

She hears what Castle's daughter isn't saying, a faint echo of that day at the bank – he's all I have. Kate's chest tightens; the bullet scar throbs, itches.

"I promise, Alexis."

"Thank you," the teenager murmurs, a little hurried, and then she hangs up.

Kate is left staring at her phone in Castle's empty kitchen, wondering what the hell exactly she just got into.

Rick Castle comes back to awareness in stages. The familiar sensation of his bed under him greets his hazy mind first, then the fuzziness of the meds slowly clears up his consciousness; that, in turn, leaves him open to the dull throb of pain in his ankle.

It sharpens at regular intervals, tiny needles digging into his skin, then recedes like the tide; Castle uses one of these moments to catch his breath, roll onto his back.

He bites his tongue, hard, to keep from yelping; the pain has flared in his leg, leapt at him like a lioness that's spotted an easy prey.

"Hey, Castle," a soft, familiar voice greets, and he opens his eyes again, surprised to find them closed in the first place.

Is he dreaming? He must be dreaming.

He can't think of any possible reason why Kate Beckett would be sitting on the other side of his bed, sitting with her back to the pillows, a book in her lap.

"Am I dreaming?" he asks, since apparently his mouth has lost its connection to his brain. "Or cuffed?" he adds as an afterthought, looking down at his wrist.

Kate gives him that closed-lip smile that looks like she's trying to keep herself from laughing; just the sight of her is enough to soothe the ache in his ankle, make him forget about it.

"Neither," she says. "But you do have a sprained ankle."

Ah. Memory floods him at once; the case and the suspect and how running after him led to tripping and this hard landing on the cold stone. The flash of red-hot pain, the burn in his foot, calf, everywhere.

Beckett took him to the ER.

Still. That doesn't explain why she's here. (In his bedroom. His mind is having trouble letting go of that one.)

"Alexis," he says, then remembers his daughter is in California with Meredith. Ah. That might explain Kate's presence.

"I called her," Kate says, and she's got this strange look on her face, not shame exactly, more like – regret? Ug, no, that's not it either. She looks like she's not sure she did the right thing.

"And I'm guessing that she's rushing back here, cutting short her vacation with Meredith," he sighs. He does not want to encroach on the little time his daughter gets to spend with her mother; he knows Meredith is not the most perfect mom ever, but still. She does love Alexis. And sometimes he feels that his daughter needs to be reminded of this.

"Actually –" Kate pauses, licks her bottom lip, not looking at him.

He's not sure what's going on here, but he's definitely interested.


"I, uh, might have convinced her to stay in California."

She what?

"Are you serious?"

He'd have expected his daughter to jump at the first occasion of flying back to the city. And Alexis can be pretty stubborn when she's set her mind on something.

"Are you – are you mad?" Kate asks, and yes, he's certain of it – there's a streak of nervousness to her voice.

"Mad?" He laughs. "I'm stunned. I have no idea how you did this. But no, definitely not mad. I do want Alexis to spend as much time with her mom as possible."

"Oh, good," she sighs, and he thinks she's trying not to look relieved, but it's not working so well.

"So how'd you do it?" He tries to sit up as he says the words, and he does manage it; only, his whole body lets him know throughout, rather forcefully, that it's not very happy with him right now.


Kate's voice makes him realize that he closed his eyes again – he clenches his teeth, looks at her. So beautiful, even with concern etched all over her face.

Concern. His stomach flutters, the silly thing.

"Should have asked you this before," she curses at herself under her breath, turns to grab something on the bedside table. "How's the pain? They gave me stuff that you can take – here, two of those pills, and water to go with it…"

He doesn't argue, takes it all; water, pills, anything she has to give him. And then as he waits for the acute pain to ebb, he hears Kate moving around him, squeezing pillows between him and the bedhead, pushing him against them with a gentle shove of her hand.

"What are you, my nurse?" he jokes feebly, cracking an eye open to get a look at her.

She stills for the briefest moment, cuts her eyes to him before looking away. He can't quite identify that expression on her face, doesn't think he's ever seen it before.

It only takes two seconds – so fast, too fast – before she's in control again, saying with a smirk, "Dream on, Castle."

Oh, he wishes –

"So you got Alexis to stay in California," he says, suddenly remembering where the conversation left off. "I'm curious to know how you managed that."

"How do you know I had to do anything? Maybe she just wasn't so worried about you. Maybe she just wanted to stay in sunny LA, shopping with her mom, instead of taking care of her whiny old man in snowy New York."

Ha. Classical Beckett evasion. Poking at his ego to make him forget about his question.

"Nice," he says. "But I know my daughter."

Kate averts her eyes. He watches her, mesmerized, as she bites her lip, weighs her answer, and then makes a decision.

"I might have told her I'd take care of you," she says in a deliberately light voice.

His heart stutters.

"Take care of me?" he can't help saying, even though his mind is screaming shut up shut up just be grateful you moron.

Kate finally turns to him, her face undecipherable, although he thinks there's a shadow of hesitation at the corner of her mouth, a glint of uncertainty at the back of her eyes. He's learned to read her over the years, but still - this is no exact science.

"Why not?" she shrugs, her voice too relaxed, like she's taking pains to erase any roughness. "That's what friends do. Watch each other's back. Help each other when they're wounded."

Ah. Friends.

Really? Are they still there?

"O-kay," he says, deciding to play along. "Just exactly how much…care are we talking about here?"

He's proud of himself on that one; her mouth remains that pursed, severe line, but her eyes warm up, laugh at him.

"Don't get your hopes up, Castle. I'm *not* acting out your nurse fantasies."

"Ah well," he sighs in mock consternation. "How about the shower ones then?"

He gets pillowed on the face for that one, but he doesn't really mind.

She quickly realizes that keeping Richard Castle immobile is not going to prove, in the long run, a feasible thing. He argues and whines and begs about being left alone in his bedroom; the discussion ends with her relenting (it's either that or handcuffing him to the bed, and she thinks the tiger is still a little too fresh on their minds for the second solution).

She'll get him the crutches, if he promises to sit in the living room's couch and keep his foot elevated.

"Don't you want to be my crutch?" he asks, giving her the charming grin that might get to her if his eyebrows weren't involved too.

She laughs instead, vaguely surprised at herself for letting it out. But god, it feels good. It's been a stressful day.

"I'll pass, Castle, but thanks."

He can't even pretend to be hurt; she catches remnants of awe in his eyes when she stops laughing, has to physically turn away from him.

He's been more careful with this lately. Done less staring, kept his face under control – giving her the space she asked for, probably. She almost never catches him like this, his love for her bare, beaming out of his eyes.

And why should he let her see? After all, she did hide away from him all summer. Never called once. She's still uncertain how to go about fixing this, them. Castle hasn't alluded to it since that day at the bookstore.

He acts like everything's okay again, but she knows better.

The thing is… There's no use in trying to fix the damage she did this summer as long as the wall's still up. So she'll have to be content with this for now, with helping him out for a couple days, and doing what she can.

The rest – the rest will come later.

She has to believe it will.

In the meantime, she can start with bringing him the crutches he left in front of the door.

Castle hauls himself into the living room with relatively little pain involved; the pills must be kicking in already.

He moves towards the kitchen, but Kate's voice cracks through the room, all authority and underlying threats. "Couch, Castle."

He sighs, but redirects his steps towards the black leather seats, sinks into one of them.

"And I want to see your foot elevated."

He's about to remark on her bossiness – it's on the tip of his tongue – but he's always been rather turned-on by this side of her, the do as I say side, and it's probably in his best interest to keep silent.

Rick twists awkwardly to grab a few cushions, prop his foot up with them; to his – very great – surprise, Kate detours from her straight path to the kitchen to come and help him.

"You good like this?" she asks when his ankle is secured between two cushions, resting on top of a third.

"Uh, yeah," Castle answers a little stupidly, trying to get over the feel of her light fingers over his wrapped foot.

He catches a semblance of smile on the corner of her lips as she turns away. Is she enjoying this? He can't wrap his mind around it – for some reason, he really can't picture her playing nurse.

"What do you want for dinner?" she asks, looking around in his kitchen.


"Are you gonna cook for me?"

He should probably wipe the disbelief and smug satisfaction off his voice, but he's not sure it's even possible.

"I *can* cook, Castle," she replies, cleverly sidestepping the most important part of his question (for me). "I think I've proven that already."

This might be the closest Kate Beckett has ever come to blushing in the four years he's known her. Delicious. But if the domesticity of it all makes her uncomfortable, then he'll ignore it. For now, anyway.

"I don't know," he says with an eyebrow arched. "I did see that breakfast, but never got around to eating it."

"Wasn't my fault," she shoots back as she opens a cabinet, tiptoes to inspect its contents.

Kate Beckett in his home. He just can't get over it.

It has happened before. Only two years ago, actually, and yet it seems like another lifetime, as far as he's concerned. Was he such a different man then?

"What are you making?" he asks, unwilling to let himself dwell on this.

"I don't know," she answers, her voice muffled by the sounds of the cabinet door closing. "Depends on whether you have –" she opens the door of the fridge, pauses.

He's suddenly very glad that he went grocery shopping before Alexis left – okay, that Alexis dragged him grocery shopping before she left.

"Oh. You have – everything," she states quietly, sounding surprised and maybe, maybe a little overwhelmed.

"When's the last time you put food in *your* fridge, Beckett?" he teases, hoping to shake her out of it. It works; her green eyes turn to him, narrow, death-threatening slits.

"Shut up or you won't get to taste what I'm making."

"But what are you making?" he whines, frustrated because he can't really see what she's doing.

"Castle." She stops pulling out ingredients to give him a look that's equal parts amusement and tenderness – his heart squirms to see it. "What makes you even *think* that I would tell you?"

He sighs. She has a point.

"You're evil," he remarks nonchalantly.

Kate gives him a sly grin, and her eyes darken even as she seems to hold back a laugh. "You have no idea."

Peeling the vegetables takes longer than she expected, but the good thing with borscht is that once you've done that, you only have to let them stew together for a while. Only requires minimum attention.

Castle is being surprisingly quiet, and Kate glances at him, finds him busy with his iPhone. Probably trying out the latest apps. Last week, he was all about the Rubik's Cube one - spent hours puzzling over it while she was doing paperwork. Until she grabbed his phone and solved the thing for him in a handful of seconds. She smirks at the memory.

The look on his face was *so* worth it.

She puts a lid on the large pot and sets the timer, then cleans up the chopping board and the rest of the things. The sound of the water running seems to rouse him; she can feel his attention shifting back to her, can hear him trying to get up.

"Sit, Castle," she orders without looking, rinsing the last knife and putting it away.

At least he heeds her; a muffled sound tells her that he's slumped down in the couch again, and when she turns, a typical Richard Castle pout greets her.

"You're not supposed to do the dishes," he says, his tone a strange mixture of complaint and threat. "You're a guest, Beckett. You're not even supposed to put stuff in the dishwasher –"

"And who will do it? You?" She walks around the kitchen island, gets her own seat in front of him. These armchairs of his are sinfully comfortable; she tucks her legs under her, enjoying the soft feel of the leather.

"In case you didn't hear the first time, Castle, you're supposed to be resting. Doctor's orders. And I'm here to help, so I'm sorry, but you'll have to get used to it. I'm going to be doing the dishes for the next few days. Probably a couple other things, too."

He looks at her appraisingly, like he's assessing his chances to change her mind (he has none).

"You staying here?" he asks suddenly, catching her off-guard. She can hear the tiniest pitch of need, of hope in his voice, undermining the confident tone he's tried to pull off. It gets to her.

Makes her soft. Ug.

"Yeah, Castle. Unless you don't want me to."

He arches his eyebrows at her, an eloquent way of saying are you kidding me?

"Don't make me answer that, Kate," he says gently, and there's something sad and sweet at the back of his eyes, something that makes her heart wrench in guilt and desolation.

She looks down at her hands, trying to keep her mind away from the implications of Castle's words – how much he loves her, wants her, how much she has to have hurt him.

But god, she was hurt too, and she couldn't, couldn't –

"Did Gates give you the day off?" he asks curiously, distracting her from her morbid memories from last summer.

"Yeah." Kate smiles, but it's half-hearted. "Just today, though. I got her to make Espo lead detective on this one, but she wouldn't give me more PTO. Only thing she did relent on is that I don't have to be in the precinct if no body drops. Which – as we both know – is rather unlikely."

"You asked Gates for more time off?" He echoes, sounding surprised.

Kate gives him a duh kind of look. What does he think she meant by I'll take care of you?

"Yes, Castle. Three days. Until Alexis gets back."

He looks stunned. "But."

She watches him try to wrap his mind around it, and obviously fail. "There's – no need. I mean, I could still be at the precinct with you, just, you know. Sitting. And helping."

She can't help the disbelieving laugh that rolls off her lips. "Castle. No."

"Why not?" His tone is plaintive and bordering on indignant.

"What part of rest do you not understand?" she exclaims, because really. That man. She doesn't even have the words for it.

He stares at her, looking vaguely insulted, and she can almost see his gears turning, preparing his next argument. Damn him.

"Castle. Give it a rest, okay?" She doesn't really want to tell him this, but it looks like she has to. "Gates has…expressly asked for you to stay away until you're, better."

Except the captain's words were nowhere near this civilized. More along the lines of I don't need a damn writer in my precinct, let alone a crippled writer.

He huffs in annoyance, but he knows she's telling the truth. She can tell.

"Iron Gates finally saw her opportunity to get me kicked out, uh?"

"It's only for a little while," Kate reasons. "Just, you know. Don't provoke her. If you don't show up for a week or so, maybe she'll soften a little."

"Right," he snorts. "And then she'll grow a second head. Just as likely."

He's right, of course, so Kate just keeps silent, gives him time. After a moment, Castle looks up at her, eyebrows knit.

"Seriously, though. I might not be allowed in the precinct, but you are. Don't drop the 12th for me, Kate. I'll be fine on my own. I can even hire someone, if it makes you and Alexis feel better."

Kate is speechless for a few seconds, because this – this is *not* the reaction she would have expected from him. And, ah. Maybe it hurts a little. To hear that he can do without her.

It only makes her more intent on staying here.

"It's only three days, Castle. I'm not dropping anything. And it's not like Gates gave me the days off either. I still have to come in if there's a body."

"Yeah, but. With everything that's going on, you should probably be there anyway. Who knows what Gates will think if you –"

"What do I care what Gates thinks? It's been four months and she's still watching us like we're four-year-olds about to spill the jug of milk. So what if she can't trust anyone, if she's blind to their merits – that's *her* problem, not mine."

She takes a deep breath, surprised at herself, unsure where that came from. She means it – Gates' habit of doubting them is incredibly frustrating, and yes. It irritates the hell out of her. Montgomery, Kate is well aware, spoiled her by trusting her, valuing her and her judgment…but still.

There should be some kind of balance between the two.

Castle has a look of surprise on his face, but there's a little smile tugging at his lips. Pride. Seriously? He's proud of her for saying she doesn't care what Gates thinks?

Ok, it's – kinda sweet, actually. In a twisted, Castle-like way.

"Okay," he says finally. "I'm just saying, you don't have to be here if you don't want to."

How many times does she need to tell him?

"I promised Alexis," she says firmly, looking into his eyes. What the hell is wrong with him? "Why won't you let me do this, Castle?"

"Why are you so hell-bent on doing it?" he shoots back, looking intrigued and rather pleased with himself for cornering her.

And damn, she *is* cornered. She doesn't have an answer ready, doesn't have his ability to weave words together, make them make sense. She stands up because she needs to move, needs to not be looking into his eyes.

Why does it matter so much?

After all, she didn't ask for his help during the sniper case, didn't go to him once – she hid and licked her wounds alone, like an animal, in the shadows of her apartment. So why would *he* need her help?

It's different. It's different. She didn't go to him because it shouldn't be his job to put her back together. He shouldn't have to do it; not when she has *nothing* to give him back.

But she can see how her arguments work both ways, how he could refuse her support because it's not what he wants from her. Because it's part of a greater whole, something she said she wasn't ready for.

She runs a hand through her dark curls, sighs. Surrenders.

"I don't know," she answers, her throat tight and raw, her eyes finding his. "I don't know, Castle."

He studies her instead of answering, his face too serious, solemn almost.

She can't help staring back, staring at the shadows that curl along his jaw and the right side of his face, at the determined line of his mouth and the light shining in his deep blue eyes.

Damn it. Now she wants to kiss him.

She doesn't know if he can see that or not, but he leans back into his armchair then, looking more comfortable. Peaceful.

"Okay," he says, eyes crinkling with a smile that hasn't touched his lips yet. "Let's leave that alone for now. But I'm going to ask something in exchange for my indulgence, Beckett."

She tenses a little, holds her breath. She's never liked deals.

Castle keeps quiet for a few seconds, clearly enjoying himself, before he finally lets out, "I require to know what we're having for dinner."

Air whooshes out of her lungs, and she's unable to stop the breath of relieved laughter that goes with it. Stupid, stupid man.

"Nice try, Castle," she tosses as she goes back into the kitchen to have a look at her soup. "But I'm not telling."

It's only after he's eaten two platefuls of her delicious soup and exclaimed a half-dozen times about how good it tastes that she finally relents, explains to him that it's called borscht, and is a traditional Ukrainian dish.

"Well," she corrects, always one for accuracy, "most Slavic countries have their own version of borscht, but this particular recipe I got from the grandmother of a friend in Kiev. I only met the woman once, but she was - she was something. I'm sure she'd be proud that you like it so much," she adds with a smile.

Not only did she cook for him, but she made him a Ukrainian soup.

Can Kate Beckett possibly get any sexier?

He cannot keep from staring, so he tries to at least keep the lust off his face. It's just, ever since that time when she played the sexy Russian girlfriend to save his ass from those mobsters –

Kate looks down at her own empty plate, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips.

"I think you can stop staring now, Castle," she suggests, lifting her eyebrows at him. "Soup's probably getting cold."

She nods at his bowl and he suddenly remembers that he's not finished.

Right. Eating. He goes back to it with a soundless sigh, because as good as borscht tastes, it's nowhere as fascinating as watching the semblance of a blush spread over Kate's lovely cheeks.

When they're finished with dinner, he suggests a glass of wine. Kate bites her lip, gives him a sorry look. "With the pain medication you're on? I doubt that's a good idea, Castle."

Ah, yes. He didn't think of that. Although his ankle *is* starting to bother him a little.

"Some tea?" Kate offers instead, and he nods, even though he's never been a big fan. He distractedly watches her move around – there might be a thought or two about how well she fits in his kitchen – before she finally comes back with two cups, hands him one.

He sniffs, recoils a little from his cup. "What is this?"

"Uh, some herbal tea that I found in your cupboard. Helps you sleep, the label says."

Ugh. Something that his mother left behind, surely. It smells…funny. Kate must catch him grimacing, because she lets out that soft laughing sound that he really, really loves.

"You don't *have* to drink it," she emphasizes, and there's that gorgeous grin on her face, her mouth parted wide, showing teeth. She looks so relaxed; it warms his heart.

"You don't have to either," he reassures her with a lifted eyebrow. It gets him more of that beautiful laugh, and he revels in it, drinks it all in – certainly tastes better than this herbal thing.

"Wanna make it a contest, Castle? First one to finish their herbal tea?"

Ha. "Tempting offer, but I'll have to pass. You'd win."

She seems rather delighted to hear that. He catches a glimpse of her tongue, has to calm down the frenzied thud of his heart. "Giving up already? What have I won, then?"

My heart, he wants to say, but how tacky would that be?

A companionable silence settles between them, and he can't help but remember the last time she was here. After the bank.

She didn't sit across from him that night, no. She sat next to him and then –

His mind longs to go back, to delve into those memories, and well. It might be a good distraction from the pain now throbbing in his leg.

Castle doesn't want the painkillers yet. So he closes his eyes, leans his head back. And remembers.

Dinner is nice. Castle doesn't often get a chance of eating with his daughter, his mother and Kate Beckett, so he makes the most of it, inscribes every second in his memory. They're all pretending, of course (pretending that everything's fine, that seven hours ago, they weren't all holding their breath in terror) so laughter occasionally comes out a little forced, smiles a little too bright - but Castle still thinks they're doing well.

When their stomachs can't take any more of Martha's delicious food - he has to admit Beckett was right, his mother *really* outdid herself - Alexis stands up and excuses herself with a smile, saying that she's exhausted and in serious need of her bed.

He watches his daughter disappear on top of the stairs, has to smother the urge to follow her. He knows she's not going to pass out from exhaustion, knows that she's going to cry herself to sleep over that unworthy Ashley kid; his dad instinct is screaming, Go to her. Hold her. Make it better.

But whether he likes it or not, Alexis is not a little girl anymore. He saw it in her eyes, when he went into his study to get her; saw that mixture of hurt, weariness, but maturity too, a beautiful determination that made his heart swell with pride. His daughter is growing up, turning into this amazing young person, and he should give her a chance to work through this by herself. Even though it's killing him.

His mother makes her exit not long after (she apparently has other "life-celebrating" plans tonight). He catches a slight move from Kate at the edge of his vision, prepares himself to hear her say that she should get going as well.

Except she doesn't. She doesn't say anything, only hugs Martha back before the actress leaves the loft, and just like that, they're now standing in his living room. Alone.

Castle isn't sure how much wine he's had, but thankfully, his mind is still clear enough to know that no, yanking Beckett to him and kissing her senseless, burying a hand in her hair and curling the other at her waist, is not the way to go.

"More wine?" he suggests instead, his stubborn brain having trouble letting go of the tantalizing vision.

He sees her hesitate, watches the play of shadows in her gorgeous eyes, fascinated by the way any trace of green disappears in the dim lighting. The only thing left is this entrancing, mesmerizing darkness.

"Okay," she nods in the end. "But just a little."

He respects her wishes, only filling a quarter of her glass before he hands it back to her. She stares at the wine, pensive, slowly trailing her fingers over the rim of the glass; she seems so little interested in it that he thinks she might have said yes for the same reason he offered.

Because she doesn't want to go just yet.

This is a dangerous, dangerous line of thought. He tries to steer his mind away from it by pouring himself wine, and suggesting that they move to the couch.

Kate follows him without a word; when he sits down, she sits next to him. Oh, not close enough for them to be touching, of course, but still. Closer than he would have expected. His whole body buzzes with her nearness; he closes his eyes, attempts to soothe the beast.


Her voice is that strange combination of soft and strong; he doesn't think he's ever heard anyone else manage it. He knows she's not asking for an answer from him, that she's simply preparing herself for what comes next, but he can't help himself.


"I'm...really glad you're okay," she says quietly, not looking at him. But her left hand leaves the wine glass, travels over the space between them, curls around his own fingers. He forgets to breathe.

The words find a faint echo in his memory - Jerry Tyson's case - and he can't help but wonder if this is still where they are, if they've only been running in circles since then.

The silence is loud, crippling; he can tell Kate is working at suppressing her own emotion. And for once, he wants to help, wants to get them both to safer grounds. He can't do this tonight, not with the wine, not when the sound of her voice calling, breaking over his name in the bank still resounds through him.

"I knew you'd get me out of there," he says lightly, finding a smile in him.

But she doesn't smile back; she bites at her lip, eyes still staring into the shadows.

"At least one of us was confident," she whispers.

He says nothing to that. Better let her come to him, even though his heart is rattled by the quiet despair that winds its way through her words, by the raw breath that she sucks in. As if to keep herself from crying.

He feels, rather than sees her shake her head, struggling in the dark.

"I," she starts, halts, wavers. But she's gone too far already; no good stopping now. He can tell that she sees that, feels that, when she speaks again. "I think it was one of the hardest things I've ever done, Castle. Walking - out of there - with that gurney. Not knowing -"

If she'd ever see him again. He doesn't need her to finish that sentence; he remembers the feeling just as clearly, torn as he was between wanting her to stay, and the overwhelming relief to know that she'd be safe.

He squeezes her hand gently, turning his palm so that it's pressed to hers.


She's turned her head away from him; he only sees the dark mass of her hair in the dimness, but he can imagine the tears rolling down her cheeks. His chest constricts at the thought, tight knots that hardly let him breathe.

"Kate. I'm alive."

Yeah, that's his great idea. Stating the obvious. He's too numb, too tired to think of anything else; it seems to work anyway because she sniffs, lets out a shaky breath.

"I know, Castle. I just - need a minute."

His beautiful Kate. Always so strong. He can't imagine what today must have been like for her, having to negociate with these men, knowing his life depended on her. Seeing the bank blown up.

Yeah, he had the better end of the deal. This much is clear to him.

He's been tracing slow circles on her wrist, the flat of his thumb against the soft, fragile-looking skin, but suddenly it's not enough. He abandons her hand; his fingers weave their way through her hair, curl around her neck.

She startles, turns back to him with a question written on her face. Her fine lashes brush her cheeks as her eyes flicker down to his lips, come back up; it's her only tell, the only clue she gives him for before she springs into action.

A heartbeat, and her hands are framing his face, the warm strength of her palms against his neck; another and she's risen to her knees to meet him, her chest brushing against his as she twists awkwardly.

Then her lips fumble for his, and there's something adolescent in her kiss - like she's trying to say too much at once - something brittle and a little too eager, something that breaks his heart.

Gone is the confident woman with the mysterious smiles, the smoky looks; in her place is this too-vulnerable creature and her feverish mouth, kissing him like there's no tomorrow. The taste of her tears on his tongue nearly undoes him.

He tries to slow it down, to gentle her, soothe the urgency radiating off her skin; but he finds himself drowning in her scent, in her taste, in the exhilarating reality of Kate Beckett in his arms.

She breaks away, panting into his mouth; he tries to piece himself together, but his confusion is too great, his mind swimming with words like wall and wait and can we please do this again?

Kate must read the shock on his face; she huffs a little laugh, much more like herself, and he feels an overwhelming rush of gratitude at having her back. She closes her eyes, runs a hand through her hair.

"God. I'm sorry, Castle," she says softly, disengaging herself from him. It's fine, he wants to say. Don't go. He can't get his lips to move, though, can only watch her as she gets to her feet, smoothes her shirt.

"I'm not sorry," he hears himself blurt out, and even if he could, he wouldn't take the words back. He's not sorry. He's not.

Kate's head swivels to him; her lips are parted and he wonders for a moment if she's blushing. Then she's moving again, crossing the living room towards the jacket that he threw on the back of a chair, and his own body follows obediently, lifts up from the couch, steps after her.

He's not going to let her run so easily.

She's already shrugging her jacket on, so he looks around for her bag; he finds and grabs it, holds it out for her.

Kate looks at it, chewing on her lip; her eyes reluctantly lift to meet his as her fingers close on the handle.

"Thanks, Castle," she murmurs, pushing her hair back with her free hand. Her face is all closed up now, all the fragility gone, locked under key. He's not getting anything more out of her tonight.

That doesn't mean he won't try, though.

Her eyes keep darting away from his; he cups her cheek, forces her to look. Her lashes flutter in surprise, so dark against her pale skin, but she doesn't move away, doesn't do anything against it.

He wants to kiss her again.

"I have to go, Castle," she says, but her voice is lacking its usual confidence. It doesn't tremble, no, but it has this throaty quality that he wants to blame on arousal.

He knows *his* body is thrumming with it.

"Why did you kiss me tonight?" he asks, figuring that bluntness might knock her off balance enough to actually get him an answer.

She gives him a startled look; he doesn't know if it's due to his audacity or if she just thinks the answer's obvious. It's not, not to him, and he wants to hear her version.

She presses her lips together, looks away. "I shouldn't have."

But she doesn't mean it; that's why she can't look at him in the eye, that's why her voice breaks a little on the last word. And this is no answer.

"Why, Kate?"

Give me this, he asks, begs wordlessly. If you won't give me anything else, at least give me this.

She swallows, twitches nervously, then meets his eyes.

"Because it was all I could think about today, Castle," she admits in a low voice, as if it could soften her meaning too. It can't; he's breathless, his blood so loud in his temples that he can barely hear her. "When I was on the phone with him, when I walked into that bank –" she closes her eyes, and for a second her beautiful face is a mask of pain, twisting his heart "– all I could think about was that I'd never get to do this again."

And just like a dream, she leans in, brushes her lips to his, so soft, weightless.

Her eyelids drift shut, but it's not pleasure on her face. It's shame.

"It doesn't make it okay," she concludes in a murmur.

Then she twirls around and disappears, and he stares after her, rooted to the spot, his mouth tingling but his brain hopelessly numb.


The sound slowly permeates his consciousness; he blinks, feels a hand on his shoulder. Uh. Kate?

"I think you should sleep in your own bed, rather than the couch."

Her voice is soft, an element of laughter to it, and he makes a considerable effort to shake himself, open his eyes, focus on her.

His memories tangle with the present, and for a vertiginous second he cannot tell if the bank was today, if he dreamed that kiss, or if-

He tries to get up, his brain too muddled for him to realize that Kate is asking him not to, and the second his right foot touches the floor, a flash of white-hot pain sends him back into the couch, hissing.

Right. Fuck. Sprained ankle. He remembers now.

"You need to take the painkillers, Castle," Kate's voice says from somewhere above him, muffled by his throbbing leg. "Here, have some water."

He feels something fresh and cool press against his hand, finds the presence of mind to uncurl his fingers, accept the glass. A feather-like caress at his temple, fingers threading through his hair; he opens his eyes again, is confronted with the tender concern on her face.

Her face. So close.

For a brief second, shock overrules the agony of his ankle.

She has the pills in her hand, and she pushes them gently into his gaping mouth. Her hand lingers on his lips for a beautiful, too-short second.

"Come on, Castle. Drink the water and swallow."

He does, because he can't think of a way to refuse her, even if he would like to stay like this forever, Kate Beckett bent over him, all soft eyes and tender mouth, locks of dark hair spilled over her shoulders. He wants to reach out, touch, worship.

"Good," she says, and he regretfully watches her move away, take the glass back to the kitchen.

He looks around him, more awake now, locates the crutches that he rested against the coffee table. He leans towards them, but Kate is at his side again before he can do much more.

"I'll get those," she says, stooping to grab the crutches, and involuntarily offering him a rather lovely view of her ass. He bites the inside of his cheek to keep himself from grinning.

She rights herself and he tries his best to look serious. Kate arches an eyebrow at him, but doesn't ask any questions, thank god.

"Let's get you to your room."

He takes the crutches from her, but it's obvious that he's never going to get up from the couch without Beckett's help. He hates feeling like this, weak, in need of support. He doesn't even have a lewd comment to make when Kate settles at his side and suggests he put an arm around her shoulders; he doesn't even enjoy it.

And the moment he's standing upright, he lets go, puts some distance between their bodies. Something like hurt flashes in her eyes, but it's gone in a heartbeat, and he can't-

He has to think of himself right now. Kate-

She's too much to handle. Or his feelings for her are. One and the same. The pain is not helping; it diminishes his self-control, his ability to cope.

He needs to be alone, needs to crash on his bed and let his ankle heal, and then she can leave and he can go back to pretending that he's fine.

That every inch of his body doesn't constantly ache for her.

"I can get to my own bed just fine," he says, hoping his voice isn't as raw as he feels.

"You sure?"

She sounds so disbelieving that he is almost offended.


He hops through the living-room, teeth clenched in concentration, sweat trickling down his temples. He only sways once, quickly catches himself, and when he gets to his study's door, he looks back at Kate.

She nods slowly, lower lip pulled between her teeth.

"Okay," she says, and her voice sounds small and a little hesitant, not very Beckett-like. "Goodnight, then?"

"Night," he answers hastily, and he steps into his study, ruthlessly shoving down the desire to go to her, hold her, put a smile back on her face.

Sleep. Sleep is what he needs.

Not Kate Beckett.

She's getting ready for bed in the upstairs bathroom when she hears a crash through the open door, followed by some heavy cursing.

Keeping a tight lid on the panic that threatens to burst through her chest, Kate rushes down the stairs, through the door to Castle's study.


She waits for a second at his door, then walks in, taking the muffled grunt of pain she can make out as agreement.

Her partner is slumped into his bathroom's doorframe, dressed for bed in shorts and a tshirt; his hands are clenched around one of his clutches, knuckles white.

Kate's eyes hunt for the second crutch, find it on the floor, close to her. It must have escaped him, rolled away.

She squats down and picks it up, goes to him.

"Castle?" she asks softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. Her throat closes up when she sees the tiny beads of sweat on his temple. Shit, he's in pain.

But he shrugs her off, eyes squeezed shut, his lips that unbecoming, thin line that she's not familiar with.

"I'm fine," he growls. "Stupid crutch jumped out of my hand."

That doesn't explain why he's hurting. Kate looks at him, pictures the scene.

"And you put your foot down trying to retrieve it," she understands suddenly, seeing the way he's standing, with his knee drawn up as if to keep his foot from the floor.

"Yeah, yeah, silly me," Castle ironizes through clenched teeth.

She doesn't understand why he sounds so…angry.

Unable to help itself, her hand finds a way of its own into his hair, burrows in it. Kate tilts her head at him.


When he doesn't open his eyes, she tries in a gentler voice, "Rick."

His lids fly open in surprise; he considers her, and she stares back. She won't be intimidated.

"This happens," she says slowly, looking into his eyes. "And will probably happen again. You're used to being valid, to putting weight on that foot." She shrugs, finishes, "It's hard to break habits."

He sighs and she can almost, physically, feel the tension leaving his body.

"Kate," he murmurs, resting his head against the wall.

She doesn't know what this is about, but it's too late – she's too tired – to push tonight.

"Are you ready for bed?" she asks, only now realizing how tight his t-shirt fits around his broad shoulders, only now seeing the shadow of stubble at his jaw.

He laughs, the sound bitter, scraping her heart. And then he sighs again. "Yeah. Yes. I'm ready."

"Okay," she says, moving to stand on his injured side. "Let's get you there, then. I'll put the crutches next to your bed for tomorrow."

He leans on her, hops to the bed; Kate's heart is in her throat and she tries to focus on something, anything that isn't the way his arm hugs her shoulders, the random brush of his ribs against the side of her left breast.

Damn. She doesn't need this right now.

"Do you – do you need anything?" she asks, too nervous, too raw, once he's settled in bed. "Water? More pills?"

His blue eyes glitter as he stares into her, hard diamonds rich with secrets.

"I'm good, thanks."

She nods numbly, unable to think.

"Okay," she says at last. "Goodnight, Castle."

"Night, Kate," he murmurs back, and it's all she can do not to bolt out of the room, run away from the appealing ruffle of opportunities, a kiss brushed to his cheek, or her mouth fused with his –

But she walks away, calm and steady, and no one could tell by looking at her that the ghosts of these kisses that haven't been are a dead weight inside her chest.