A/N: Man, the response to my last fic was so overwhelming that I was a bit teary-eyed. I owe each and every one of you who read a huge thank you, and those who stroked my ego, well, this is for you. This is MUCH different than the last one, though. I wanted to try angst, so I did. Not sure how long I can keep it up, though. I'm a sucker for a happy ending, so that will happen here too. This has SPOILERS for "Headhunters", but just really the synopsis of the episode because there's not much more than that out there.

A/N: If I win the MegaMillions, I'm going to try to negotiate something here. Otherwise, not mine (yet!).

"Tell me where he is." Beckett strides down the hallway of the unfamiliar precinct then stops, her breathing still uneven, uncomfortable when she sees Esposito and places her demand.

She can tell by the look on his face that her arrival was unexpected, but doesn't exactly take Esposito by surprise. "Beckett, I told you I got this. I just called 'cause I thought you should know. It's all good. I don't know much yet, but…I'll handle things."

"Where is he?" She repeats it more firmly this time and can see that her glare is causing him to squirm a bit.

He pulls himself upright, stands taller from where he had been leaning against the wall, waiting. But, she still looks damn intimidating. Things have just been super weird between her and Castle lately and…this is probably not a good idea. He nods his head towards the door to the left of them, giving her the information she wants. "You got this, then? I'm heading back to the Twelfth. Gates keeps asking Ryan where I am and he's a horrible liar. I'm going to make an appearance. Call if you need anything?"

She blinks slowly and clenches her jaw. "Yeah. Yeah, I got this." She has no clue if she really has anything, no clue what she's getting ready to walk into. But, it can't be that bad. He's here, in their precinct, not in a hospital. She places her hand on the handle and takes a deep breath before opening the door.

She might be wrong; she can't handle this.

Castle is sitting on top of this breakroom's table, long legs dangling off the side, torso naked, arms behind him supporting his leaning body, head tilted back. An unfamiliar man is standing in front of him, but she can still see Castle's face over his shoulder. His eyes are screwed shut, flanked by the little wrinkles that usually only accompany his brightest of smiles. His mouth is set in a firm, thin line, white of teeth visible where they're punishing his bottom lip in a strong bite. He's in pain.

Then she sees why. Blood. Lots of blood. His royal blue shirt is wadded on a chair next to the table. It has turned navy in large patches, darkened by his life's liquid being spilled upon it. But he's here, not in a hospital, she reminds herself. He's fine.

The unfamiliar man is still poking around on him, shielding the part of his body she needs to see. She wants to push him out of the way, see for herself the source of his pain. She doesn't need to; the man moves towards another table to grab a towel and she sees then.

He's not fine.

She's dizzy. The right side of his body has been filleted, thick crimson blood still leaking through the seams of the dark, angry stiches. "What the hell is going on here?"

Castle's eyes shoot open and the two other men in the room turn to look at her. She recognizes the man watching the action with arms crossed, fingers drumming his elbow and foot tapping nonchalantly. Detective Ethan Slaughter, the head of this precinct's Gang Task Force, is only known to her because of a couple of brief run-ins where cases overlapped, but she knows a lot of him. He has a reputation as a no-nonsense, not-quite-by-the-book (but we'll overlook it this time) Detective. In other words, he gets results, gets shit done. By any means necessary. But results often equal a raised rug, with all indiscretions and corruptions swept tidily underneath.

"Beckett." Castle doesn't say anything else. But the way he says her name (the name he hadn't used regularly in so long before a couple of weeks ago) lets her know that he's not happy that she's here. If he is going to say anything else, it's interrupted by Detective Slaughter anyway.

He steps towards her, smarmy smile on his face, hand outstretched. "My, my Detective Beckett, lovely as always. It's been too long."

She ignores him, makes no move to shake his hand, instead closes in on Castle. He tries to straighten up on the table, probably to puff his chest in defiance, but he can't manage. The pain steals his breath and he slouches back to his original position. "I'm fine, Beckett. You can go."

"I'm not going anywhere until I get some answers as to why you're evidently injured and not in a hospital." She's not talking to Castle, but to Slaughter, who is still smiling, clearly enjoying the charged atmosphere.

Castle is the one who replies, though. "You're not owed any answers." His voice is cold and she feels her stomach churn in response. She doesn't know what's causing him to act this way, but she's tried to be non-confrontational about it, hoping it was a phase, mid-life crisis, something else far-far away from the precinct bothering him and that he'd simply trust her with it in his own time. But, he's freezing her out, and she can only think that if he's the cold, who will be her warmth? "You're not my keeper, Beckett."

"No. I'm your partner."

He looks miserable at that statement. And he opens his mouth to respond, but again Slaughter steals his voice.

"Actually, he's my partner. This week, at least. And, if I have my way, once this mends up," he gestures his finger towards Castle's side, "he'll be my partner permanently. Right, Rick?" He smiles at Castle, smugly reminiscing. "What was it you said? If you based a character on me, you wouldn't even have to change his name? Mine was already bad-ass?" He laughs.

Castle nods, but looks uncomfortable. She doesn't like this, any of it. She wants to shut him up. The more he talks, the more her chest tightens. Surely Castle wouldn't leave her; why would he leave her? Partners. Always. Always. Always. Always.

"So, Nikki dies, I take her place. Kick ass and take names. Another best seller for you, my friend." He points to Castle with flourish. "Hell, I've got stories that you could base hundreds of best sellers on."

Her breath catches at 'Nikki dies' and Castle is staring at her. She glances away, anywhere but him. But looking at his future muse doesn't help either. She looks to the man who was tending to Castle's injuries, forgotten in the corner of the room now, his gloved hands placing Castle's blood-soaked shirt in a bag. She wants to cry. Wants to walk out of here and never look back. That's obviously what he managed to do. Why? Only she followed. So, she's here now. And when she walks away, it's over, right? Over. Don't you dare cry.

"None of that's set in stone, Ethan."

He appears conflicted, the same closed-off look that he's been wearing for weeks is in place, but beneath it is a softer flash of regret. She's sure that logically his statement should give her some hope, but it doesn't. It just reiterates the truth. That he's at least thought about killing Nikki Heat, metaphorically leaving Kate Beckett dead to him, no longer needed. She's not CIA; she can't be resurrected like Derrick Storm. When he doesn't desire her personally and doesn't need her professionally, it will be officially concluded. Their ending, the final chapter. Unsatisfactorily complete.

"It will be, my man. You and me, partners in crime. And in cold hard cash, too, right? Hey, Beckett, question. Rick said you wouldn't take a cut of the royalties from his books, why's that?"

The question surprises her. Castle offered her money one time shortly after Heat Wave was released, a check that she never saw the amount of, didn't want to. She ripped it in half and handed it back to him. He seemed dismayed at first, but when she told him that she didn't mind having him around and he didn't have to pay to keep her company, he smiled and thanked her. She told him that if he ever brought it up again, they'd be over. She wasn't sure if her punishment would be that drastic, but he had respected her wishes regardless.

"Because they're not my words, they're his. And, as evidenced by the fact that I'm about to pass the torch here, muses are clearly very replaceable." The detective's apathetic shrug cuts through her. "Listen, that's not why I'm here. I asked you previously why he isn't in a hospital, and I want an answer. Now."

"Listen, it's no big deal. I was in the middle of an apprehension of a gang leader, big time bust. I was chasing the kid down the alley and he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's just a flesh wound. Took the blade like a man." He pompously looks over to Castle and nods his pride. "There's a lot of time and paperwork involved in situations like this once the hospital gets involved. I don't need Internal Affairs hovering around here and Rick was cool with that. My buddy Jerry was a volunteer EMT in college and has done a nice job patching up Mr. Castle."

"It'll probably be a cool scar." Castle makes a half-hearted attempt at levity, but it falls flat.

"I can't believe what I'm hearing here. Surely you're not that big of an idiot?" She spits the question at Castle who looks worn down and still in agony.

"I don't know, Beckett," he sighs. "It was my fault for getting in the way. I know how much you hate paperwork, and that's just on the open and shuts. He could be getting gang members off of the streets in the time it would take to wrap up this mishap." She can tell that the last part of this had been drilled into his head by Slaughter, guilting him into acquiescing to getting sewn up in a dirty breakroom.

"Come on, Castle." She motions for him to come with her, moving near to help him off the table. He shifts a little and she can see the tremble of pain run through him. He masks it quickly, but fear is present behind the default irritation he wants her to see. This may be the last thing she gets to do as his partner and walking away before she gets him help is not an option now. The jacket laying on the floor is only minimally stained (he must not have been wearing it) and she picks it up and holds it open, an offer for his bare arms to slip into it.

She can see him warring between logic, humility, and this cavernous revulsion of her that's slowly splintering her heart. She can't help but wonder if she was wrong in not letting Esposito handle this. She needs reinforcements. "What do I tell Alexis if something happens to you?" That has his attention. "Blood poisoning, tetanus, gangrene…I could give you a laundry list of things that don't end well if this isn't treated properly."

"You're being melodramatic. If you want to take him home and kiss his boo boo, just tell him that."

"You're an asshole." She hates that he's gotten her to crack, but she's had enough.

"Part of my charm."

She's not sure Castle is paying them much attention. When she turns to him, he's half off the table, trying to balance his weight to minimize the stretch and pull of the open flesh. She palms the muscles of his back to steady him as he gets to his feet. His skin is cold and clammy and she's worried about his well-being. Leave me if you must, but not like this.

"You're going?" Slaughter asks, resentment and anxiety evident in his question. There's more going on here than meets the eye, but she doesn't care right now.

"I won't tell them what happened. And you won't either," he voices the last part to Kate, obviously a stipulation to him leaving with her. She'll take it.


"You must be a good lay to have him wrapped like that."

"Ethan…" Castle warns through clenched teeth, detestation creeping into his countenance.

Slaughter raises his palms in a gesture of innocence. "Hey, hey, I'm not judging. I wouldn't say no to a roll in the hay with that either."

Kate sees Castle toy with defending her honor, but he's either not physically able (he's not) or he resolves that it's not worth it. She doesn't have the energy to ward off his innuendo either. What they are (were, she reminds herself) isn't this man's business and she's already wasted more time than she's comfortable with quarrelling with him.

Castle props against the doorjamb, exhausted after only a few steps. He's waiting on her, his eyes telling her to let it go. Let it go, like he's letting her go.

Thanks for reading. There will probably be more. Like I said, angsty endings aren't really my cup of tea. :-) I'd love to hear what you think so far.