Summary: This is an alt-S3 story and explores how things would/could have gone differently if there were not significant others in the way. This will be told through a series of one-shots (or maybe two or three-shots depending on the episode) that will (most likely) not be related. (If they do relate to a previous chapter, that will be notated in the A/N at the beginning of the chapter.)

A/N: This, the last chapter of this adventure, is a direct continuation of the previous chapter(Knockdown) and assumes an established relationship. Any passage of time mentioned is based on air dates of the episodes with the understanding that the CastleWorld moves in real time.


Knockout


It was like when she sprained her ankle at 15 years old. It seemed innocent enough, running and yelling and trying to help her friend get her hat back from the jerk that stole it when her foot found a hole in the ground and she went down hard.

She didn't even see it coming.


Lockwood looked directly at her as he dropped the weapon covered in Gary McAllister's blood, his eyes clear of guilt, practically devoid of any emotion. It's alright though, she had enough for both of them.

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

"No, sweetheart, you got it ass-backwards. You can't hide from him."

She stumbled from the courtroom, too adrenaline fueled to feel the pain from falling on the shackles that littered the floor. She followed the direction the frantic woman had pointed her in, a hot wave of frustration coursing through her as she watched the helicopter take off.

"Nobody gave them a second look…Guys are ghosts…I got nothing so far."

"You know, um, I think I saw a surveillance camera outside the building. I pull the surveillance, look for a vehicle, maybe get an APB." She trails off, none of her usual confidence in her tone. "You okay?" "Yeah."

"Well, whoever they are, they've been two steps ahead of us this whole time."

"So, basically we've got nothing still, right? Just a bunch of dead ends everywhere I look, it's just a bunch of dead ends."

"The hell you do. Nobody wants him as bad as I do, okay? Nobody. So, check it again!"

She hears herself and it sounds like a different person. Which she supposes it is. The voice is of the person that she used to be. The heart broken girl that had just lost her mother. The headstrong rookie out to solve what the other cops wouldn't.

Castle rises slowly from where he'd been perched on the edge of her desk and steps close to her, a hard and determined look in his eyes.

"Can I talk to you?" he says, his voice pitched low but filled with steel and she knows that while he was polite enough to form it as a question, it's not a request.

She brushes past him for the break room, can feel Ryan and Esposito's questioning gazes boring into her. She closes the blinds as Castle closes both of the doors and takes a moment to place her hands on the counter top and take a deep breath before she turns to face him.

He looks like he's both ready for a fight and seconds from crumpling into a sobbing mess. "You promised," he half-whispers, the words scraping from his throat, that confusing mix of anger and sadness weaving through the letters.

Her throat tightens in shame and she drops her head, sucks the inside of her cheek between her teeth to keep the crying at bay.

He's not wrong.

She promised him their first night together that she wouldn't chase after her mother's murder alone again, that she would tell him if she got too deep into it, that she would let him be at her side when she went after it with gusto. And now here she is, at the very edge of that rabbit hole he pulled her out of barely 3 months ago.

She didn't even see it coming.

"I met your dad," he says into the silence and her head snaps back up.

"My dad? When? Where?"

"He came to see me. He was worried about you. I told him you were okay. Because I thought you were. Because I thought you'd tell me if you weren't." And yes, she does hear the disappointment dripping from the words, thank you.

"I didn't realize," she grits out. "I was drowning before I even knew I was wading in. I didn't mean to, Castle, I'm so sorry." Her voice wavers, the tears she tried so hard to hold back dripping from her lashes.

He sighs and the tightness in his body unspools, his shoulders dropping, jaw relaxing, his fingers unfurling from the fists at his side.

She pushes off the counter and closes the distance between them, uses this gesture to speak as her supplication and frames his hips in her palms, fingers rubbing the soft fabric of his shirt almost subconsciously.

"Please believe me, I didn't mean to, I didn't realize."

His hands rise to grip her biceps and she releases a breath of relief as his forehead drops to hers.

"I do believe you. It snuck up on both of us," he admits.

She opens her mouth to speak but immediately closes it when she realizes that she was about to launch into talking about the case again.

"There's something here though," he says and she winds her arms around his waist, buries her face into his neck in a silent thank you.

"I should go home, cool off."

"I'll stay, let you know what we find."

"Thank you," she breathes against his collar bone before pulling back enough to press her mouth to his.

He kisses her back gently, slowly, his hands running in soothing circles along her back. Like they have all the time in the world.

Deep down, she wants that. All of the time with him. In the locked away places of her heart, forever with Richard Castle is probably number one on her list of wants. But they're still new in this. She's still healing from her second dive into her mother's case. He's still healing from the misplaced guilt he feels for letting her do that.

She knows they can get there though. She can wait.


He knocks on her door a few hours later, a bag of Chinese take-out in one hand, bottle of wine in the other. He updates her while they unpack the food, pour the wine and settle on the couch for a casual dinner.

"I'm feeling all this pressure lately," he's saying as she plucks a piece of beef from the sea of noodles.

"Pressure?" she asks before popping the food in her mouth.

"Yeah," he replies on a shrug. "First your dad comes over to see me unannounced and then tonight after I asked Montgomery to take you off the case-"

She's sure he keeps talking, can see the movement of his mouth, the animation of his hands but she can't hear anything over the roaring in her head, the bolt of betrayal sizzling her blood. She swallows, the meat like cardboard in her throat and she abruptly sets her carton down on the coffee table, replacing it for the wine and taking a healthy swallow.

He's mercifully stopped talking and is looking at her in confusion now, the skin between his eyebrows twisted into a mountain range.

"You did what?" she asks

"I talked to Roy and he-"

"You asked him to take me off the case?"

"He said no," Castle is quick to interject this information as if he thinks it makes it better.

"Why would you do that?" She can't keep the hurt out of her tone, doesn't even try to and he finally hears it, recoiling as her words make impact.

"I just thought, it might be better if you didn't have to deal with it."

"But that doesn't mean that you get to make that decision behind my back! God Castle, don't you trust me?" She knows it's the worst question she could ask as soon as it's out of her mouth and sure enough, he snatches up the opportunity.

"Not with your mother's case, I don't," he replies flatly. "Beckett, everyone associated with this case is dead. Everyone. First your mom and her colleagues, then Raglan, then McCallister. You know they're coming for you next."

She deflates at that and can't refute him but, "They killed my mother. What do you want me to do here?"

He takes a deep breath, seems to be steeling himself to answer and she feels her walls snap into place, an automatic fortification of her heart and defenses preparing for battle. It's an old and practiced routine and one that she didn't think she'd have to use with Castle.

And then he speaks and her heart crumbles where he can't see it. "Walk away. They're gonna kill you, Kate. And if you don't care about that, at least think about how that's going to affect the people that love you. Your dad, me, Lanie, Esposito and Ryan."

She can't help the twinge in her belly when he includes himself in the list of people that love her but she shoves it down, stands and takes a few steps away to get some distance. "Yeah, well, last time I checked, it was my life, not your personal jungle gym," she says as she turns back to him. "And for the past three years, I have been running around with the school's funniest kid, and it's not enough."

Hurt and anger flash in his eyes, the latter taking precedence and causing him to set his jaw. He rises from the sofa sharply, the rolling wave of anger that radiates from him causing her to flinch back.

"You know what? This isn't about your mother's case anymore. This is about you needing a place to hide. Because you've been chasing this thing so long, you're afraid to find out who you are without it." The words make impact as he hurls them at her, the truth in them battering her defenses.

But how dare he? "You don't know me, Castle. You think you do, but you don't."

He laughs, a mirthless sound that dies as soon as it exits his throat. "That's really what you think, isn't it? I know you crawled inside your mother's murder and didn't come out. I know you hide there, the same way you hide your heart from everyone. Including me. You could be happy, Kate. You deserve to be happy. But you're afraid."

She almost breaks, can feel the trembling in her throat travel up to wobble her jaw for a moment before she gets it under control. He's always seen, he's always known. From the spot on profile of her when they met and every day since. He not only observes it all, he catalogs it, makes sense of it. It's what makes him such a good partner.

And right now, it's what makes him an infuriating boyfriend.

"Get out." Through all the defeat that she's feeling, she manages to say it strong and decisive.

And yet, despite that, he wavers. Opens his mouth to protest but closes it before any sound can come out, shifts his weight on his feet. She doesn't back down, doesn't repeat herself because she knows she was clear and after a minute, he relents.

"Fine, okay," he mutters turning to leave.

His walk across the apartment is soft and he closes the door behind him quietly yet the sounds of his departure are deafening to her ears.


She wants to hurt him and what better way than to dive back into the case? She knows that it's childish but it was cowardly of him to go behind her back so…

It's also childish to ignore his phone calls but she's not ready for any more of his observations right now. She's also not sure that the sound of his voice won't make her break down and beg forgiveness for kicking him out.

When the phone rings again, she almost doesn't even look at it but Montgomery's name catches her eye and she snatches the device off the desk. As she's on her way out of the building, she starts pulling up Castle's number on autopilot but her thumb stills over the call button before she can touch the screen.

She promised. She told him he could – should – be at her side when she went after this again. And Roy said he had a lead so shouldn't her partner be there?

Her heart sinks when the call goes to voicemail. She doesn't leave a message, has no idea what she would say after the beep anyway and shoves the phone in her pocket as she gets into her car.

It's fine. She's dealt with worse before he came into her life, she doesn't actually need him now.

(She might not need him, but she wants him there.)


Her life, her existence, everything she thought she knew is shredding into ribbons and fluttering around her.

And then Castle's there.

She senses him before she hears him, his quiet intonation of her name slicing her in two. She spins to face him and the fragile hold she was maintaining on her emotions snaps, her throat clogged with regret and tears streaming from her eyes.

But now they're here, too. The whisper of tires on tarmac and the dark outlines of their vehicles carving paths through the night towards the hangar.

"Castle, get her out of here!"

"No, sir, you don't have to do this."

"Kate, please."

She stands between them, the man that destroyed her past and the man that could be her future, and she can't decide, not in this moment. She's angry at both of them but feels a sense of loyalty to both of them. She wants to help Roy defend himself but she doesn't want Castle in the crossfire.

"Kate." Castle's voice is rich in her ear and thick with imagined grief, his body warm as he steps up beside her. "Please don't do this. Please leave with me, Kate, please. I will carry you out of here if I have to." She turns her head to face him, the desperation in his gaze piercing right to her soul. "Kate, I love you, I don't want to watch you die."

He says it fast, like he can just gloss over those three words like they're nothing. But he has to know that they're everything. He still loves her after she kicked him out, shut him out. He's always come back. It's time that she made the effort to come back to him.

She takes his hand and they run from the hangar. It isn't until they're out the back door that it hits her that she turned her back on Montgomery. She stops suddenly, her arm pulled hard as Castle reaches the end of the tether of their hands.

He takes one look at her and his arms are immediately around her, his strength and warmth (and love) surrounding her, supporting her. She muffles her sobs against his chest, can feels his own ribs hitching under her cheek. Shots ring out in quick succession, her body jerking with each sharp crack. She makes a move to go back and his arms tighten around her.

"No, wait. Just wait," he whispers. "He said to wait."

A fresh wave of tears flows down her face. Her friend, her mentor is in there fighting for his life and she ran like a coward. Castle's lips feather at her temple, a litany of comforts murmured into her ear. No, she didn't run because she was a coward, she made the bravest choice she thinks she's ever made in her life.

She lifts her head to burrow her face to his neck, presses her lips to his skin. "I love you," she breathes against him, not sure that she can be heard over the pounding of their hearts.

Two more shots pierce the night and they both freeze, waiting. And then one more shot, roaring and final. He releases his hold and she runs in instead of away.


He took the keys from her and drove them to his loft. He didn't even ask where she wanted to go, wasn't sure he'd get an answer out of her as catatonic as she was once they got in the car. So he brought her to his house, away from the picture frames of memories that dotted her apartment, instead opting for a space where she could escape the horrors of the evening.

At least he hopes that he can banish some of the dark for her.

He slides an arm around her waist in the elevator and she sags against him, her breath blowing heavy and moist over his Adam's apple. He relishes the feel of her even as a twinge of guilt plucks at him. He has her because he let Roy sacrifice himself. He shakes his head, Roy sealed his own fate long ago and he made a conscious decision tonight. Castle only helped him unburden his heart.

Their arms stay around each other all the way into the bedroom when hers suddenly rise to wrap around his neck and her mouth fuses to his. She is relentless in her pursuit; hot, wet kisses branded to his skin, hands clutching, fingers tugging at fabric.

But he can't. He can't let her.

He grips her hips as her lips find his again, her answering moan of "yes" into his mouth melting his resolve for a moment before he steadies himself and pushes her away.

She glares at him, glittering ice from her eyes. "What the hell, Castle?"

"Kate, just...Just wait a second."

"Why?" she bites out as she surges forward and latches onto his neck.

He can't remember. It was something about honoring the dead and acknowledging the passage of life. Huh. That's what she's doing, isn't it? Not quite in the verbose way that he would have but they've never expressed themselves in the same way, have they?

She huffs at him in frustration and he realizes that he's been frozen in place while lost in his thoughts. He glances down at her and is blown back by the look in her eyes. Raw, fragile pain radiates from her, desperation and heartache and more than a little lust mixed in for good measure.

"Rick. Please."

Her voice breaks on his name and he'd do anything to have her not sound like that. So he gathers her in his arms and kisses her so her mouth is too occupied to cry, touches her so she knows she's alive, loves her so that she remembers there is still beauty in the world.


She's clutching his hand fiercely, the fabric of her gloves damp to the touch but he clings on just as tight, can't imagine being anywhere else right now. They rise as one as she's invited up to speak and she maintains her grip, doesn't seem to care that it conveys how much support she needs today. He deposits her at the podium and takes a step back to give her some space, watches the graceful curve of her neck as she swallows nervously.

He's already read the speech, corners of his lips lifting briefly as he remembers her shyly asking him to look over it. It's perfect, a wonderful representation of what she's learned from her captain over the years. He gives her his attention though, wouldn't zone out during this moment. The words are different, more as they come out of her mouth and it's better than it was on paper.

"And if you're very lucky, you find someone willing to stand with you."

When he read that line, she thought it was about Roy standing with her. Maybe even about her team. But she pauses and very deliberately looks over at him, the look on her face conveying gratitude and he's magnetically drawn back to her side, lays his hand on her lower back to give that gratitude right back.

She smiles at him, briefly, sadly before looking down at her notes again. She starts to speak again but he's distracted by a flash of light across the cemetery. He focuses on where it came from and sees it again.

He spends a split second talking himself out of what he immediately thinks it is and then decides that there's only one thing it can be. He hooks his arm around Beckett's waist and pulls her with him to the ground.

Before they make impact, a searing pain blooms in his shoulder, down his arm and the unforgiving dirt rattles his bones, sends the pain throughout his body for a moment. He hears the commotion, the screams and the confusion and then Kate's face pops into view above him.

"I think..." he manages to gasp and is pretty sure that he motions to his shoulder.

She reaches a hand under his blazer, her glove stained bright red when she pulls it back out and her eyes widen in terror.

"Lanie!" she yells over her shoulder, stripping her gloves off and throwing them to the ground. The M.E. appears a moment later, flanked by Esposito and before she can even ask Kate blurts out, "He was shot."

She goes to work, pulling his blazer aside as much as she can with one hand while wedging her other behind his back. "It didn't go through, it's probably stemming the bleeding but we still need to keep it to a minimum." She lays cool fingers against his cheek and catches his eyes. "Castle, baby, I'm sorry, but I have to put pressure on the wound. It's gonna hurt but I need you to not pass out on me, okay?"

Kate grasps his good hand. "Hey, look at me, just focus on me, okay?" He meets her eyes and she glances away briefly, nods at her friend before locking her eyes to his again.

Lanie wasn't kidding when she said it would hurt. His eyes slam shut and he cries out in pain as she pushes down, rainbow bursts of light flashing behind his eyelids.

"Open your eyes for me, Castle," Kate murmurs in his ear. It's hard, his eyelids feel like lead but he focuses on her voice, and finally, finally he sees the moss of her eyes, filled with concern. "Breathe," she says and he automatically sucks in a breath, his chest burning with the effort. He releases the breath, sucks in another without needing a prompt and it's easier than the last. He focuses on Kate's eyes, on the browns and golds swirling through the green and it helps.

The rest of the day is a blur, paramedics and the ambulance, stark hospital hallways and rooms, Kate's eyes, his daughter's lips on his cheek, x-rays, IV drips, his mother's perfume. And then finally, blissfully they allow him to sleep and his eyes drift close to the sight of the three women he loves most in the world surrounding him.


"I'm just saying, Lanie, do I need to ask as to your intentions in regard to my boyfriend?"

"Girl, shut up, I was treating him like the child he acts like most of the time. He is a baby, I called him baby, end of story."

Kate giggles at that, actually giggles, a sparkle of laughter floating through the room and he smiles at the sound. Her laughing trails off, her hand that was holding one of his loosely now tightening its grip. She leans on the mattress, her forearms warm against the side of his chest.

"I saw that," she says softly and the affection and joy in her voice grows his smile into a grin and he cracks an eye open to find her with the same grin on her face. "Welcome back."

"Oh, I thought," he starts, pausing to get used to the sluggish feel of his tongue. "I thought you'd be Lanie."

"What?" she asks, a hint of that earlier giggle within the word.

"I just figured since she's the one calling me baby…" he trails off, chuckling as she narrows her eyes at him.

"I need to check with those doctors, make sure they didn't do surgery on your brain, too," she shoots back.

Speaking of, "How'd surgery go?"

"Great," she replies, that soft joy of earlier back. "Everything was repairable but you'll have to do a few months of physical therapy once your surgeon clears you."

"Did they catch him?"

Her face drops, her eyes falling away from his. "No. Ryan and Espo are working on it but the guy's in the wind."

"Why aren't you helping them?"

She looks at him like it's the stupidest thing he's ever said. "Why would I be there when you're here?"

He can't argue with that.

"Lanie?" she says, turning around to face her friend. "Would you do me a favor and call Alexis?"

"Sure, sweetie," she answers, rising from her chair. "I'm glad you're okay, Castle."

"Thanks, baby," he replies, earning an eye roll from the doctor.

"I'm never gonna live that down, am I?" she mutters as she turns to leave.

"Nope," they call out in unison, sharing a private smile between them as the door snicks closed.

Kate stands and perches on the bed, envelops the hand on his good arm in both of hers, one of her thumbs rubbing against the inside of his wrist. She's serious all of a sudden and he sobers his amusement.

"I'm not there because I walked away, Castle." She says it simply and without hesitation. "I gave Espo point and I turned over my notes to them. They've called me a couple times with questions but I'm not working the case. I want to know who I am without it. I want to know who I am with you."

He untangles his hand from hers, reaching up to cup her jaw, draw her in so that he can take from her mouth, soft touches of his lips to hers. She shifts closer, her hands caressing his ribs, and she deepens the kiss for a long moment before pulling back to press her forehead to his.

"I love you, Kate," he whispers.

"I love you, too."


2 months later

He's nervous. It's not that he hasn't been back since but he hasn't been back in this capacity yet. Dropping off lunches for the team or coffee for Kate isn't the same as being back to work a case.

What if the dynamic is all different? What if he messes up? He knows this is his one chance to impress the new captain, knows that it took Beckett, Ryan, and Esposito all talking him up to get her to allow a civilian (no matter how many waivers he's signed) on one of her murder investigations. Gates has been impressed with the close rate that the three of them have managed and is skeptical that Castle's presence will make a difference. So he has to work hard to prove himself. He can do that. Add in a little Castle charm for good measure and the woman won't be able to resist him.

As part of the team, of course.

The elevator doors slide open and he steps out with a confidence that he doesn't feel, hesitating just as his feet hit the hardwood. Ryan spots him from across the bullpen and starts a round of applause that spreads throughout the room. Kate rises and turns from her desk, her face lighting up at the sight of him, her own hands coming together to join in the heralding of his arrival. Buoyed by the strength of her smile, he moves forward, rounding to corner to her desk, murmuring his thanks to the officers he passes. He hands Kate the coffee he brought her as he reaches her desk, her fingers wrapping around his in gratitude for a moment.

Captain Gates comes out of her office to see what's going on, nods in his direction as the clapping dies out. "Mr. Castle, nice to see you again."

"You too, sir," he offers back.

"I trust you remember how this works?" she asks, her skepticism palpable.

"Should be like riding a bike. And if I forget anything, I've got a pretty good teacher." He inclines his head toward Kate, sees her duck her head in embarrassment in his peripheral vision.

"Hmm-mmm," is her only reply as she retreats into her office again.

He turns toward the white board that's already started to fill with information from the morning's body drop, studies the facts written in Kate's blocky hand as she steps up beside him. With a cup of coffee in his hand and his partner at his side, everything feels like it's falling back into place.

"So, what do we have?"


As always, I'd love to know what you think.


Acknowledgements

Maybe it's incredibly self-indulgent to do acknowledgements but this is my first fic of this length and scope and I don't want to just shrug that off.

First, the two biggest ones:

Lou – Thank you so so much not only for this prompt but for your never ending well of support for me as I tackled episode after episode based on it.

Jennifer – Thank you for being my friend as well as my go-to beta. And thank you for putting up with me as I whined incessantly about, well, everything. Love you, friend.

Thank you to Alex for planning the ficathon that was my impetus for starting a fic this long. I may not have finished in the allotted time but I didn't give up on it.

A special mention to Bee/Beanie, my precious little Scottish (well, Scottish speaking) treasure. We were supposed to be partners but since I finished before you, does this mean I win?

Thank you to everyone that waved the pom-poms as I waded through this monstrosity (with a special shoutout to Nina). To tmc who make me laugh on a daily basis(still haven't figured out why y'all put up with my grandma ass), to the FB girls that gave me an island of relative sanity when I was drowning in a sea of crazy, and to everyone that read, reviewed, and favorited/followed both this story and me, my eternal gratitude for your support.