A/N: An update! This chapter is very long, and I should have divided it in two but I didn't. Consider it a Christmas present. In fact, at the rate I'm going this story is only going to get updated around major holidays. What's the next one? Easter?

Kidding. Sort of. I promise I will finish this story; I can't promise I will do it in a timely manner.

ps. this chapter contains dialogue taken directly from the season 3 finale. Hope no one sues me...

Beckett sat in her car, her hands on the steering wheel, the ignition turned off. Her mother was sitting next to her in a passenger seat, peering through the front windshield at the prison that loomed above them.

"I'll find the truth," Beckett said quietly, unable to look at her mom. Afraid of again seeing that heartbreak. She hadn't been able to look at her since last night. If Castle was right, if her mom was stuck here, if finding Dick Coonan wasn't enough to grant her mother freedom … "I promise."

Her words met with nothing but silence. Beckett sighed. Silence seemed to be a recurring theme. She'd been visiting Lockwood once a week and getting nothing but silence there, too. But where her mother's silence echoed with all the trappings of failure, Lockwood's silence was sharp and vicious.

With those far from comforting thoughts, Kate stepped out of the car.

Her mother didn't follow.

An hour later, Kate watched the prison guards process paperwork over McCallister's death. McCallister's murder, she mentally corrected, by Lockwood's hand. It would be a long time before she'd forget the way Lockwood had watched her with cold, calculating eyes, like a predator eyeing prey, blood spattered on his face and dripping from his hands. Kate was glad her mother had stayed in the car.

But far from being demoralized, Kate was downright vibrating with adrenaline. Finally. Finally movement on the could feel it pulsing in her veins, that feeling she got when an unsolved was about to blow wide open, when a longshot lead turned into a smoking gun. She didn't even bother hiding her smirk of vindication at remembering the way Lockwood had watched her. He may have thought she was the prey, but Beckett knew better. She was the one doing the hunting, and he'd finally taken the bait.

She was going to give her mother justice.

Much later that morning, Castle stood in the break room preparing a cup of coffee and mulling over this sudden turn of events. Esposito and Ryan had informed him that Lockwood had shanked McCallister in his prison cell. Beckett had been right there, they said, on her weekly visit to Lockwood when it had happened.

He couldn't help but worry about the timing. Someone was sending a message to Kate; why else would this happen during her scheduled visit? And he also couldn't help but remember what Beckett's mother had said about a coming darkness...

He hoped, fervently prayed that Beckett was okay, that she was handling it well. She was on her way back to the precinct, so Castle knew he'd find out soon enough exactly how she was doing. A part of him, one he'd suppressed since he'd punched Lockwood in his dirty no-good face and Beckett had bandaged him back up, whispered that he should have paid closer attention to her in the past months. It wasn't that she'd been any different since Lockwood's incarceration. Not exactly. But there was something, a determination in her eyes, a desperation whenever she came to the precinct after one of her visits to the prison. It hadn't interfered with her work or her personal life, as far as he could tell, but maybe-

"You're thinking pretty hard there."

He jerked around in surprise to find Johanna standing next to him.

"Good morning," he said, digging through his anxiety to find a smile for Beckett's mother. He'd been dying to know what had happened in Beckett's apartment since the moment he'd left it last night. "How'd it go last night?"

Johanna's face fell. She shook her head.

"How bad?" he asked. His hand tightened around his mug, half-afraid to hear the answer.

She looked away, blinking too fast.

"Hey, hey," he soothed. "It'll be okay. What happened?" he prodded, getting more and more concerned.

"She asked me if I remembered who murdered me." Her voice shook as she spoke.

"She asked you if you remembered..." he repeated, dumbstruck. And on the heels of his surprise, a shameful guilt was quick to follow. Of course. He'd been an idiot, telling Beckett her mother had unfinished business. What else would she think but that her mother wanted to solve the mystery of her death? And now with McCallister being killed...

"What happened at the prison today, Lockwood killing McCallister," Castle looked intently at Johanna. "You said something dark was coming. Was this the darkness you were talking about?"

Johanna looked at him in surprise. "I...I don't know," she said, sounding far from sure.

"It'll be fine," he assured her, but thinking of Beckett's single-minded quest to find her mother's killer was suddenly unsettling him in ways he couldn't quite verbalize. And what if Beckett had been right this whole time, in doing what she was doing? What if...

"Could that be the reason you're here?" he asked Johanna. "Justice?"

"No," she said slowly, carefully, as though she'd given this a lot of thought but wasn't quite sure of her answer. "I don't think so. When I said death was traumatic for those who die, I wasn't being figurative. I have no memory of my death."

"You have no memory of that night?"

"One moment I'm in the alley, alive, and the next, I'm standing next to Katie and Jim as they're walking under the yellow police tape."

It was remarkable, Castle thought, how clinical she sounded talking about her own murder.

"You must-" he began eagerly, and then stopped himself. One thing he'd learned from Beckett was how to be a bit more sensitive when it came to broaching touchy subjects with witnesses and victims, instead of stomping everywhere, turning over rocks and poking at lumps trying to uncover the story. He tried again, in a gentler way: "I mean, do you remember at least something, a reason why someone would want you dead? Do you suspect who did this? The man McCallister calls the dragon, the man who hired Lockwood?"

Johanna shook her head, and her frustration was clear for him to see. In fact, she looked uncannily like her daughter when she was holding something back. It seemed like he wouldn't get anything more out of her. But maybe his downtrodden expression changed Johanna's mind, because after a moment's silence, she reluctantly spoke: "I tried to solve my own murder at first."

His eyes lit up at the revelation.

"Briefly," she said, quickly tempering his expectations. "I was angry, I was furious with whoever did this, whoever made me so helpless. But it didn't take me long to figure out that catching him wouldn't give me back my life. It wouldn't give me back my family. Besides, when I did try to solve it, I couldn't make any progress. So I let it go. It was either that or let the anger eat away at me."

"You couldn'tmake any progress? What do you mean? Something stopped you?"

"I mean I can't recall anything about what got me killed. Everytime I try to think about it, to remember...there's nothing. Just a giant blank. It's like trying to grab a fistful of smoke. The first time you and Katie met Lockwood and McCallister and even Dick Coonan, that was the first time I remember meeting them."

"You didn't recognize Coonan?" he repeated, dumbstruck. He was the man who had killed her, how could she not have recognized him?

Johanna shook her head. "When he died, I..." she tripped over her words for a moment, looking guilty. "I didn't feel anything. Nothing." Her eyes darkened with sadness, shoulders dropped in defeat. "But Katie, she was so disappointed..."

Before Johanna could finish her thought, before Castle could process what she was saying, a blur of activity suddenly animated the homicide bullpen. Castle looked out the break room window in time to see Beckett finish off giving instructions to Esposito and Ryan and head towards him.

He looked back at Johanna, but she was nowhere to be found.

He kept meaning to ask her where she went when she did that.

"Hey," Beckett said, looking driven and focused and very much together.

"How are you doing?" he asked. "Ryan and Esposito told me about what happened at the prison."

"I'm fine," she said, as though this was a morning like any other. He recognized this defence mechanism: this was Kate Beckett tying up every troublesome, annoying emotion into a neat little box and locking it away so she could focus on her goal. When he'd first met her, he'd admired her ability to do so. She was the exact opposite of him; he got distracted at the drop of a hat. Now, though, he wasn't so sure. Especially since he didn't know how often she unlocked the vault to let those messy, painful emotions get a little air.

As he watched her make coffee, Castle briefly considered pushing her a bit, but this was hardly the time. And a selfish part of him didn't want to be the one to push her, to see her fall apart. When it came to her mother's case, the glue that held Beckett together was brittle and cracking at the edges. He'd hurt her and upset her once already over this case, and since that day he'd promised himself that he wouldn't let that happen again. He was in this with her.

"How did Lockwood even get into the general population?" he asked.

"Esposito's running it down now," Beckett replied, and Castle forced himself to concentrate on her words and not his own feelings, "but I'm guessing it wasn't an accident."

"I'm sorry," he consoled, because he didn't know what else to say.

"For what?"

He studied her, unsure if she was playing dumb or if she actually meant it. "First Raglan, now McCallister? They're both retired cops who had something to do with your mother's death. Whoever's in charge of this is tying up loose ends. He's cutting of all avenues in your investigation."

She looked at him like he was crazy.

"I've been going to that prison every week for the past four months to have a staring contest with the devil," she said with an intensity that caught him off guard. "And the devil just blinked." She was high, he realized, on the sudden unexpected movement in the case. High and determined and defiant. His worry went from gnawing to chomping at the bit.

"This is exactly what I've been waiting for," she told him, and he knew she believed it one hundred percent. She picked up her cup of coffee and turned to walk away.

"Beckett, wait." He stopped her with a hand to her wrist. "Last night, with your mother-"

"Castle." Her voice was as hard as steel, and her eyes just as unyielding. "I am going to find out who killed her. I will get her justice and then she'll be free." A predatory self-satisfaction smoldered in her expression. "Just like you said."

Before he could even think to formulate a reply, Esposito and Ryan appeared in the break room door.

"Hey," Esposito said, "the Department of Corrections says the signature on the transfer order was forged."

"And the only people with access to those documents at the prison are corrections officers and authorized clerical staff," Ryan finished.

"Which means means bribe or blackmail," Beckett said. She walked out of the break room at a quick clip, with the three men following closely. "I want a full work up of every employee in that prison, sworn and civilian. I want to know who was late on their mortgage, who was behind on their child support. Someone took a hell of a risk cutting Lockwood this transfer, and they had to have been pretty desperate."

"Got it," Esposito replied, and he and Ryan headed to their desks while Castle followed Kate to hers.

"See," she told him, "now we have a trail."

"So where are we going?" he asked. She placed her still-full coffee cup on her desk and headed towards the elevators without slowing her pace.

"To Lockwood's arraignment," she replied. "I want to see if we can rattle his cage."

"Lockwood doesn't seem like the rattling type."

"Not Lockwood. Whoever's holding his leash."

It sounded like a foolhardy plan to Castle. How do you rattle the cage of a puppeteer who has no qualms ordering hits on cops and lawyers? A puppeteer who had successfully hidden in the shadows for nineteen years? He searched the precinct floor, but Johanna had not returned. None of this sat right with him. Not McCallister's death, not Johanna's absence, and not least of all Beckett's sudden single-minded drive.

He wasn't sure what was coming their way, but he was going to stand by Kate's side and protect her from the dragon, and from herself. That was his resolve.

Two nights later, Castle closed the door behind him, mulling over the absolute crap-fest this day had been. Hell, the last two days had been absolutely fubar. He should've known the situation was slipping out of his grasp the moment Jim Beckett had come to see him last night, asking him to talk Beckett off the ledge.

Who was he kidding. He should've known the situation was way beyond his control when Lockwood had escaped captivity at his arraignment and Kate had chased after him and his armed escorts without any backup.

It still shook him to think of it. Chasing after trained pros without backup was the kind of thoughtless, reactive, absolutely insane thing he would do. It was not a thing Beckett did.

He didn't know how to say this much to Jim when the man had come over last night, even though he silently agreed that Kate was disappearing behind this inflexible, angry stranger who couldn't see past her own stubbornness. In such a state of mind, would she even listen to him? Could he get her to listen to him?

Jim Beckett seemed to think he could do it. He wasn't so sure he agreed.

After Jim had left, these were the thoughts that had circled in his head, round and round, ad nauseum. So he'd gone to bed and decided to sleep on it, praying that maybe the coming day would be better. After all, they'd had leads to follow, hope to latch on to.

Wishful thinking. Today had been awful. A disaster. Their leads had all dried up, and Beckett had yelled at Ryan and Esposito on account of it. Had he ever before heard her lose her temper with her partners? He kept replaying the desperate edge to her voice, the wildness in her eyes as she dressed them down for something that was out of their control. She'd disappeared from the precinct after that, taking the case files with her.

And Castle's day had ended with Montgomery telling him he was the only person who could make Beckett stand down.

That feeling from yesterday morning, of wanting to be her ally, of wanting to be there for her no matter what, was getting stronger. But now, he thought, with the insight Jim and Montgomery were giving him, maybe standing by her side meant getting her to stand down.

Castle allowed himself a moment of despair. He dropped his forehead to rest against the front door. He felt like he'd been thrust into the deep end with no floaters on.

Having Jim and Montgomery in his corner was one thing; getting Beckett to listen to him when she was at the peak of her obstinacy, driven by an obsession that scared him … that was something else altogether. If he confronted her when she was in such a state, would their partnership survive? But then, if it meant her safety, her life, did it really matter if their relationship didn't survive?

Castle sighed. Moping against his front door wouldn't help, he sternly reminded himself. He needed to figure out how to approach her. Whether to approach her...

He turned away from his door and headed to the kitchen in search of something that would help ease his jittering anxiety, when he noticed Johanna sitting in the chair her husband had occupied just last night. She'd been a no-show since yesterday morning, in the break room. He remembered what Johanna had said about murder being traumatic for the victim. He wondered what she was scared of now. Seeing her daughter fall back into that rabbit hole, or uncovering the mystery behind her murder.

"Jim's right, you know," Johanna said to him, her voice quiet in the dim apartment. "Our daughter is going to run headfirst into this, without a care for her safety."

And there was his answer.

"You were here the whole time?" he asked. A sudden weariness overtook him. He abandoned his course for the kitchen, and instead slouched down into the chair across from her. For the first time in his life, he felt old.

"Heard every word." There was something in her tone of voice that caught his attention.

Castle studied the woman sitting across from him. "Does it hurt?" he asked. "Seeing Jim again?"

It took a moment for the question to register, but when it did Johanna shook her head. A soft smile overtook her features. "Seeing Jim could never hurt." Embers of warmth glowed in her eyes. "He was my rock. Solid, steadfast. Still is. When things get a bit much here, he's my refuge."

"So that's where you disappear to," he said, triumphant with this sudden insight. Triumph, however, was quick to fade as the rest of her words registered. "I'm sorry," he shifted uneasily in his chair, finding it difficult to look Johanna in the eye. She was kinder to him than he deserved.

"What for?" she replied, confused.

"For making things between you and Beckett worse." He gave her a sheepish half-grin. "I have a knack for nosing around where Beckett's concerned. Seems I can't help myself." He paused, couldn't help the fond laughter. "It really annoys her."

"I bet you like annoying her," Johanna teased.

"Not like this," he said regretfully. "Not over this case."

"It's not your fault, Rick. I should have realized what conclusion Katie would leap to." She sighed. "So stubborn and hard-headed. She's always been a willful child. Drove Jim and me up the wall. Actually," here she allowed herself a slight smile, "it's surprisingly comforting to know that some things don't change."

"She drives me up the wall, too," he confided, eyes twinkling.

"But she does listen to you," Johanna said. "She doesn't listen to her father, she can't even hear me, but you..."

"You too, huh?" Castle sighed with resignation, slumping once again in his chair. "You want me to walk into the lion's den. Unarmed. She'll fillet me alive."

Johanna put a hand on his arm, and Castle immediately felt better just from the contact. Warm and secure and so hopeful.

"The reason Katie can see me," Johanna said, "the reason she sees me now, after all these years, is you."

"Me?" he said, surprised. "What did I do?"

"You made her believe again, Rick." She looked at him with an intensity, a gratitude, he couldn't escape. "You opened her heart. I think-no, I know, that's the reason she can see me after all this time."

The tight, steely bands around his chest loosened. He felt the involuntary smile on his lips and straightened his back.

That was all the pep-talk he needed.

"If you'll excuse me, Johanna," he said standing up, "There's a lion's den calling my name."

It took Castle twenty minutes to cab it over to Beckett's apartment, and in that time the courage he'd corralled from Mama Beckett's pep talk had quietly but surely escaped his hold. And so he found himself standing in front of Beckett's door, reminding himself of his game plan. A plan that was drawing heavily on research he'd done for Nikki Heat. In drawing up the initial character sketches for his favourite eponymous character and her father, after Beckett had told him about her mother's case and the dark place she'd fallen into, he'd boned up on the behavioural patterns found in alcoholics. A lot of what he'd found hadn't yet made it into his books, but he'd drawn from his research during the cab ride over and he'd used it to prep for his upcoming confrontation with Beckett.

Hopefully, it would help.

"Wish me luck," he muttered to the empty hallway, deciding that wherever Johanna was, she could hear him. He then gave two sharp, firm raps of his knuckles on the door and waited.

The door swung open after a longer than usual pause, revealing Beckett and the gun firmly gripped in her hand.

Whatever little remaining confidence Castle may have retained fled at the sight of her looking so unlike herself. He tried to rally.

"Can I come in?" he asked, aiming for casual even as he could feel the anxiety rolling off of her. She was the exact opposite of the composed, tough-as-nails woman who'd told him just yesterday morning that she'd won a staring contest with the devil.

"Yeah," she said.

"So," he said, making a show of looking around her apartment as he walked in. "Have you seen your mom recently?"

She silently shook her head, her jaw clenched tight. Castle told himself to tread carefully.

"We went over McCallister's old arrest records," he launched into his flimsy cover story, "and you were right. There was a third cop on a lot of those arrests, but then someone went back into those reports and removed their name." He saw her impatience and disinterest, and he rushed to finish, "so Ryan and Esposito are right now looking into the records from back then."

"Castle," she said tiredly, "you couldn't have told me this over the phone?"

"Well," he hesitated, taken aback by the lack of fire in her, "yeah ... but I thought that..." he stopped, not knowing where to go with it and frankly a bit wary of just how tenuously Beckett was holding onto her patience for him. She hadn't looked at him with such annoyance in a very, very long time. His pause was apparently her last straw.

"Castle," she said, "if you've got something to say, just please say it."

He reminded himself of Johanna's words of encouragement, and took the plunge. "Beckett," he tried to reason with her, "everyone associated with this case is dead. Everyone. First your mom and her colleagues, then Raglan and McCallister. You know they're coming for you next."

She stared at him, and for a moment he thought maybe he'd gotten through to her but then she shrugged a shoulder dismissively.

"Montgomery's got a protective detail on me," she informed him, setting her gun down as though to prove she thought she was safe. A bit of hubris entered her tone as she added, "it wasn't that hard to spot."

"That's not going to be enough to stop Lockwood; you know that. Think about what they're up against: professional killers?"

She was unmoved.

He persevered. If reason wouldn't work, maybe she needed perspective: "I've been working with you for three years. You know me: I'm the guy who says we can move that rubber tree plant, but you know what? Beckett, I don't think we're going to win this."

"Castle, they killed my mother!" she protested. "What do you want me to do here?"

And this was it, he thought. Make or break. He looked her in the eye.

"Walk away," he said.

Beckett's face fell. If he had to pick one word to describe her reaction, it would be betrayal.

Break, he thought. This would break them. He'd been betrayed in his life, had his own share of heartbreak. But he didn't think anyone had ever looked at him like she was looking at him right now. Like he'd sawed her in half.

"They're going to kill you, Kate." He pulled out the last card in his deck. Desperate measures, he justified. He gentled his tone, tried to reach for that fiercely loyal, protective part of her. The part that put others first. "If you don't care about that, at least think about how it's going to affect the people who love you."

The betrayal on her face was washed away by a cynical distrust. Walls, Castle thought. She's building more walls. And so he kept pushing against her increasing resistance.

"Do you really want to put your dad through that?" he continued. "What about your mother?"

"You're bringing my mother into this?" she said, incredulous and defensive and angry. "What about you, Rick?"

"Of course I don't want anything to happen to you," he replied, not rising to the bait. "I'm your partner. I'm your friend."

"Is that what we are?"

He stared at her, unable to quite believe she was lashing out against him in such an underhanded way by hinting at the large elephant in the room. Hinting at his feelings for her which he'd silently been carrying alone for so much time now. And hinting at them in such a callous, dismissive tone. His head knew reason, but his heart only knew hurt in that moment. He broke his resolution to stay away from confrontational body language and stepped into her space, so she had to look up at him.

"You know, I don't know what we are," he replied. "We kiss, and then we don't talk about it." He felt a jab of satisfaction as her eyes widened in surprise. He kept going, propelled by his own momentum. "We nearly die, frozen in each other's arms, but we never talk about it. You and Josh break up, and you still keep me at arm's length. So no," he said, "I've got no clue what we are. But I do know I don't want to see you throw your life away."

She stepped up to him, not intimidated in the least. Her eyes were flashing and her tone sharp.

"Last time I checked it was my life," she said. He'd seen her like this before, when she was intimidating the most meanly recalcitrant suspects. Daunting, voice raised, eyes honed in on their target. "My. Life. Not your personal jungle gym. For the last three years, I've been running around with the school's funniest kid and it's not enough." She walked away from him, heading towards her front door no doubt to show him the way out.

His frustration boiled over at hearing her words. He'd been worried about poking at her vulnerabilities, while she had no qualms going straight for his jugular.

"You know what," he said, refusing to back down and instead launching his own well-aimed throw, "this isn't about your mother's case anymore. This is about you needing a place to hide." And bull's eye. She stopped mid-step and turned around to stare him down. He continued: "because you've been chasing this thing so long, you're afraid to find out who you are without it."

A white hot fury flashed in her eyes.

"You don't know me, Castle." she said viciously. "You think you do, but you don't."

"I know you crawled inside your mother's murder and didn't come out," he said, aiming for the chinks in her armor. "I know you hide there, the same way you've hidden in nowhere relationships with men you don't love. You could be happy, Kate. You deserve to be happy, but you're afraid. Just like you're afraid to hear what your mother has to say when she's right here, trying to talk to you."

At the mention of her mother, her tightly wound control unravelled and her full temper was unleashed.

"How dare you? You think I haven't tried talking to her?!" It was an eruption unlike anything Castle had previously heard from Beckett. "My mother is not speaking to me! She won't say anything! Why do you think I'm trying to solve this case!"

"Tried talking to her?" he scoffed. "You asked her if she remembered who murdered her! It's not the same thing! If you tried to have a conversation with her you'd know that she's not here for justice. She can't even remember anything about her murder."

"What?" she stared at him. "How do you know that?"

He stayed silent, because he didn't trust himself to speak when still so raw with frustration. All the words he wanted to throw at her were like gravel in his mouth, scratching his tongue and sticking between his teeth.

"Answer the question, Castle," she ground out. "How do you know what I said to her?"

"She told me," he replied, and added one last jab hoping it would make its way through her monumental stubbornness and get her to just stop: "she told me because I am willing to listen."

At that Kate was visibly shaken. Well, Castle thought, if his plan was to rattle her, he'd certainly succeeded.

"Get out," she told him. "You and me, we're done."

Without sparing him a glance, she stalked into her bedroom and slammed the door shut.

Castle followed her lead and slammed her front door shut behind him. She wasn't going to listen. Not to him, not to any of them

Kate sat on the edge of her bed, her apartment still echoing from the sound of Castle slamming the door shut behind him. She stewed in her anger and betrayal-that Castle of all people would tell her to throw the case, that he would tell her that she should stop...Stop when she was so close, so damn close she could taste it.

She had to take deep, controlled breaths to keep from punching something in frustration. She rested her elbows on her knees, and pressed her clenched fists against her forehead.

And her mom. Betrayal again washed over her. Hot tears pressed against her closed eyelids but Kate refused to let them fall. Her mother didn't speak to her, but she spoke with Castle. Castle who wanted her to stop.

She was trying so hard to set things right for her mom, so why wasn't her mom talking to her?

"What did I do wrong?" she asked the empty room. Unsurprisingly, she received no answer. Surprisingly, though, her mother appeared next to her, faithful to her silent vigil. Not so faithful, Kate reminded herself. She'd spoken to Castle, apparently.

Maybe the silence was a message. After all, her mother was justified in being disappointed in her. Twelve years and she'd come up with nothing. She'd joined the force to solve this case, this one case. And she had nothing but a trail of dead bodies and dried up leads and quitting partners to show for it.

"I let you down," she told her mom, still unable to look at her. "I'm trying to find the truth for you. I'll continue trying. I won't stop." She finally summoned the bravery to look at her mom. "I won't stop."

Her mother shook her head, tears welling in her eyes.

"Say something," Kate pleaded, confused by her mother's sudden tears, "just say something. I want to understand."

Her mom opened her mouth. Kate held her breath.

No sound came out.

It was exactly as it had been in her dreams. In her nightmares. Her mom opening her mouth to speak, but nothing but silence coming out. The pain in her mom's eyes cut right through Kate.

"Why are you hurting?" Kate asked. "I don't understand." Not thinking, she reached out for her mom, tried to take her mother's hands in her own. Instead of meeting solid skin and bones, she met with a shimmering, all-encompassing warmth. It was like...Kate's eyes fell shut. It felt like she could breathe for the first time in years. The iron fist that had wrapped itself around her heart twelve years ago with unrelenting fierceness loosened its grip. It had been so long, she'd forgotten it was even there. She was filled with a swift, sweet warmth, like stepping into a steaming bath after a miserable day. A miserable twelve years.

"Mom," she whispered, awed, unable to wrap her mind around what was happening. Unable to look beyond the wonder in her mother's eyes. She remembered this feeling, this familiarity. And yet it was so different.

It wasn't the same, and it never would be the same.

The full weight of how much she missed her mother, of how much it just hurt to not have her around slammed into Kate. All these years trying to find her mother's killer had felt like chasing an elusive ghost. And for what? She would never again hear that voice, never again feel that touch. It would change nothing. It wouldn't salve her bleeding heart. Maybe, all this time, she'd been looking in the wrong direction. Maybe in looking for the ghost she'd thought was haunting her, she hadn't seen the one that really was.

And with this realization came an intense, broiling anger towards the man who had taken her mother from her, the man who had left her mom to bleed out, alone, in an alley.

A sudden stab of cold unlike anything Kate had ever felt lanced from her fingers, where she was in contact with her mother, to the base of her skull. A bright light flashed at the back of her eyes and Kate started in shock. She fumbled backwards and almost fell off the bed in trying to get away from the pain. For a moment, everything around her was so dark, Kate thought she'd gone blind. Then, little by little, she could make out her bedroom, the familiar shapes and sights.

And she was alone. Her mom was gone.

"Mom!" Kate searched her apartment frantically, missing the warmth she'd unexpectedly felt after over a decade of going without. She ran to her living room, her office, but her mother was nowhere. The iron fist was back, tightening its grip, tugging at her heart, hollowing her out and leaving room for nothing but an ice cold emptiness. Kate fell to her couch, unable to control the tears that kept falling, unrelenting, down her cheeks and into her cupped hands.

Come back, she thought fervently, please come back.

But those kinds of prayers hadn't worked twelve years ago, and Kate was old enough and experienced enough to know they wouldn't work now. So she didn't say them out loud.