The Morning After

Morning's first rays of sunshine streamed through the windows of Rick Castle's bedroom. He rolled over in bed and reached for Kate, only to find himself alone and wondered, not for the first time, if he had actually dreamed the night before. He remembered Kate had come to his door, eyes brimming with tears, apologies streaming from her lips almost as often as kisses. She had seemed to be completely broken and lost. As angry and as hurt as he may have been at her, seeing her that way simply twisted him up inside. She always could slip past his defenses, though secretly he knew he could never really shut her out.

He could see where she had been in the bed next to him, could still smell the faint scent of cherries on the pillow and her father's watch was still on the nightstand where she had placed it before the flurry of their lovemaking last night. He breathed a heavy sigh of relief at that in spite of himself.

The alarm clock next to his bed read 9:05 AM which seemed to confuse him even more. If her father's watch was still on the nightstand she obviously was still here. "Why isn't she at work?" he thought to himself. "She would never have left this behind." She had been beside herself when she thought it had been lost in the explosion that consumed her old apartment. Rick dragged himself out of bed, pulled on a pair of boxers followed by a pair of sweats and a t-shirt and moved slowly toward the door. When he got close to the door leading out to his study, he heard quiet grunting noises on the other side.

Upon opening the door, he saw Kate curled up on the couch. She was crying, her quiet choking sobs seemed to fill the empty space of his study. She was still naked, shivering and for the first time since she had come in last night, he noticed that she was covered in bruises. He had been so enraptured in their lovemaking that it hadn't registered at the time. He stood there for a moment in shocked silence, his eyes glued to the garish purple bruise on the small of her back. Seeing how badly she had been beaten caused a flash of anger to swell in him.

He snapped back to the moment, retrieved a blanket from his bed, and went to her. She barely reacted as he wrapped it around her and carried her back to the bedroom, merely wrapped her arms around his neck, buried her face into his chest, and allowed herself to be carried. He could feel her quiet choking sobs in his chest more than he heard them. The hand prints on her neck stood out in stark relief and his anger at the man she had faced seethed in him, followed by a crushing guilt for having left her to face that threat alone. As he tried to break their embrace she pulled at him. Her green eyes pleading for him to stay.

"I'm just going to get something to treat the scrapes on your hands," he said softly, "I'll be right back, I promise." she nodded meekly and released her grip on him.

He placed a reassuring kiss on her forehead, and walked into the bathroom. He retrieved the band aids, hydrogen peroxide, and cotton swabs from the medicine cabinet and returned swiftly. He sat down on the bed and she curled up next to him. She whimpered slightly as he worked, but didn't pull her hands away as he took each one in turn and gently cleaned and disinfected the cuts and scrapes, mindful of the bruise on the back of her right hand. He applied fingertip band aids to the fingers of her left hand which seemed to have taken the worst punishment, then lightly kissed each hand.

"I don't deserve you," Kate said quietly, barely meeting his gaze, "not after everything I've done."

"Kate," Rick replied, "you deserved better than this." and pulled her gently to him.

"But I..." she started to say, but Rick put a finger to her lips to silence her.

"Not now," he said, "let me see if I can find you something to wear, Alexis should have something that will fit, then we'll have some breakfast and you can tell me everything."

Kate nodded, and curled up in his bed as Rick left the bedroom and retrieved a pair of clean sweat pants and and an oversized sweatshirt from Alexis' closet. Upon returning to his bedroom he helped Kate get dressed. She seemed stiff and in quite a bit of pain as she pulled the sweat pants up her legs.

"Probably why she never made it past the couch in the study" He thought to himself, trying hard to keep the seething rage at how the woman he loved had been treated out of his body language. He didn't want to frighten her.

He sat her down on the couch and lightly kissed her forehead, summoning up a smile as her eyes met his. He handed her an ibuprofen and a glass of water, and watched her take the pill and wash it down, with the entire glass of water before heading for the kitchen to start the coffee and begin making a breakfast of scrambled eggs with cubed ham in it, french toast, and bacon.

While the French toast was frying on the griddle, he handed her a cup of coffee as she approached the island and sat on a stool, which she accepted with a smile. The first she had been able to manage all morning.

"It's decaf," he said. Mindful that she had just taken pain medication.

With the French toast finished and the eggs scrambled he placed a plate in front of her and slid the butter dish and the syrup across the table to her, and she dug in like she hadn't eaten in days. The low moan that escaped her lips as she ate warmed Castle's heart. Cooking for her and caring for her made him feel almost complete. If she would let him he would be content to do it forever.

After they had finished breakfast, Castle cleared the dishes from the table and set them to soak in the sink, then took Kate's hand and led her to the living room, where they sat together on the couch. He took her hand in his in a comfortable, reassuring grip and looked her in the eyes.

"Now, tell me how terrible you are." he said, not believing the word terrible for an instant.

She began from where he walked hunched over from her apartment and told him of everything that had transpired that day, while he had been at Alexis' graduation. Of how she had told Ryan and Espo that he was off the team. How she had gone to her mother's grave. How Ryan had tried to convince them to get backup before going after Maddox, how she had shot him down, and she and Espo had left him behind. How they had gone to Maddox's hideout and he had gotten the drop on them, knocking Espo out before he could put up any kind of fight.

The brutal fight with Maddox on the roof, where she had thrown everything she had at him, and he had just shrugged her off with ease before he took her apart with seemingly little effort. She had never before been so badly beaten in a fight. Her last mad rush at him as he threw her off the side of the roof where Maddox made her realize she was no match for the forces arrayed against her.

Only then, hanging from the side of that building did she realize everything she had given up in this vain struggle. Realized what really mattered to her.

"Just when I thought I was done for, I heard you calling my name, begging me to hold on." she told him, "I tried to hold on, I called out for you, and just as my hand slipped from the ledge a hand reached out and grabbed me, but it wasn't yours, it was Kevin's." she brushed an errant tear from her face, and continued,

"You weren't there, for the first time in four years, you weren't there and I finally realized what I truly wanted, truly needed was you."

She continued her story, telling him how Ryan had followed his conscience and gone to Capt. Gates saving both of their lives. Though Javi didn't see it that way, and saw his act as a betrayal of his trust, especially after Gates suspended both of them, and ten she resigned, packed up her things and walked out.

"You quit?" Castle breathed, unable to believe what he was hearing.

"Yes, Castle," she replied, "because all I want now is you. It's all I ever wanted, I just couldn't admit it to myself without feeling like I'd let my mom down. I nearly dragged Espo down with me, all for a fight I couldn't win. I couldn't see it till I was hanging off that rooftop. Then it became so very clear to me, that no matter what I did she would still be dead, and I wanted to live...with you."

She propelled herself the short distance to him and put her mouth to his, passionately kissed him over and over again.

"I love you, Richard Castle." she said.

"I love you too, Kate," rick replied, "always."

The end