3.24 AU - What if Castle had been able to reach Kate before the bullet hit her?

A soft breeze blew through the air, tousling the fringe of his hair against his forehead. It was a beautiful day, which seemed oddly appropriate. After the darkness of the prior few days, they deserved to have a bright, sunny spring day for the funeral. At least Montgomery's funeral would not have the added misery of poor weather pulling it down.

Tensions still ran strong between them all—the four of them. The truth of Montgomery's past had rocked their group to the absolute core. No longer was their captain an infallible source of good and justice. Like any of them, he was human, flawed.

During their private team-only meeting at Kate's apartment that morning, they'd begun to make amends. Ryan and Esposito were at least on speaking terms and Kate had apologized to Castle. She'd confessed to over-reacting during their fight at her apartment. She knew that as her partner he was merely trying to keep her safe and she could not be mad at him for that, but she did need time to think things through in light of certain truths. Castle understood and agreed to give her space. For the moment, he decided to be happy with the simple fact that the door on their partnership had not been closed forever.

He stood dutifully by her side during her speech, listening to her words, knowing she felt lucky because he stood beside her and also knowing he would continue to do so for as long as she would let him.

As he his eyes drifted back towards the crowd of mourners, a glint of light in the distance caught his eye. In less than a second, he knew. He didn't know how, but he knew. He knew the light. He knew the light was from a reflection. The reflection off a scope; a sniper's scope.

Without one more second of consideration, he called out her name and blind tackled her less than a moment after the gun was fired. As the loud crack from the weapon filled the otherwise calm cemetery, they landed together on the ground.

Kate Beckett stared up at the blue and white portrait above her momentarily confused. She had just been giving her speech, hadn't she? So why was she on the ground? Why the hell was Castle on top of her? And was that screaming?

"Beckett's down!"

"Shot's fired!"

"Wha-Castle?" she sat up slowly, scooting out from under him.

Another thunderclap from the weapon in the distance filled the air. The podium beside them splintered and exploded, sending shards of cheap oak in every direction. On instinct, she shielded her face with her hands, but a moment later she was forced to the ground.

"Jesus! Kate, stay down!" Castle hovered over her, his hands resting on her upper arms, not squeezing, but firmly pressing her down.

"C-Castle," she looked up into his face for the first time, noticing the lines of worry painted across them.

"Are you okay? Are you hurt?"

"I…I'm fine. I just…" her voice drifted off as she noticed a curious drip falling down from his arm. She lowered her gaze to the right arm of his suit jacket and noticed it was completely shredded. "Oh my god! Castle! You've been shot!"

"What?" he asked, looking down at himself.

She lifted her left hand and brought it to the torn portion of his jacket. The fabric was wet and sticky beneath her fingertips and, when she pulled them away, they were coated in a crimson substance. She gasped and went to sit up, but he held her down, saying "No!"

"Castle the shooter is gone," she rationalized, forcing her way into a sitting position. "We've got to get pressure on this," she said, wrapping her grip around his arm.

He gasped loudly at her action and glanced down at her hands. Oddly, it was only when he saw the blood did he notice the pain. At first, it was just discomfort—like a paper cut. Then, it rapidly began to build and within one minute it felt as though someone was pressing a hot iron against the inside of his bicep. His face contorting in pain, they reversed positions with him lying on the grass and Kate hovering over him.

"Someone call 911!" Kate shouted in the direction of the scrambling funeral crowd.

"What's wrong?" Ryan called back to her.

"Castle's been shot!"

Thirty minutes later, a select group of mourners clustered into the waiting room at Beth Israel Medical Center awaiting an update on Castle's prognosis. Kate had rode with him in the ambulance and thought the paramedics assured her that his injury was not life-threatening, she still felt nauseous from watching an alarming amount of blood pour out of her partner. Then again, she rationally knew she did not need to be concerned as soon as he began complaining about the EMTs cutting him out of his favorite Hugo Boss blazer.

As she paced in the hallway, Esposito approached with a cup of coffee in hand. He passed it to her while remarking, "Tastes like shit, but it'll do the job."

She offered him a gentle smile. "Thanks Espo." At her first gulp of the liquid, she knew his assessment to be right, but at that moment she didn't care; she need something to do, something to hold on to lest she completely fall apart.

Her eyes scanned the waiting area and observed everyone in her extended family. Esposito and Ryan on their phones, presumably trying to find out who the sniper was and where he went after the incident. Alexis, visibly upset, being comforted by Lanie. And Martha one hand holding her head, the other being held by her own father as he spoke to her gently. They were all there waiting to her the prognosis of one of their own.

"Kate! Kate!"

A voice from behind pulled her attention away from the crowd and she turned to see Josh approaching wearing his blue scrubs. "Josh," she spoke in a tone indicating neither surprise nor pleasure.

"Kate!" he said, gathering her immediately into his arms. "They told me you were here. Jesus, Kate. You were at a funeral—what the hell? How can there be a shooting at a funeral?"

"Sniper," Esposito corrected from behind them. "It was a sniper."

Kate glanced over her shoulder and shot Esposito a sarcastic "Thanks for your input" look.

"Sniper?" Josh's brow furrowed. "A sniper targeting who?" Kate said nothing, but averted her eyes down to his white sneakers. She could feel the exasperation and tension coming off him as he exhaled her name once more.

She glanced up to him and his tightly knitted brow. "Let's talk somewhere else okay?" After her suggestion, she walked around the corner, out of earshot and view of her colleagues and friends.

Josh stopped in front of her and folded his arms across his chest, towering over her with his size. "What the hell are you into, Kate?"

She shook her head and dusted her fingertips over her brow. "Nothing; I told you it's nothing."

"The hell it is," he spat. "That's what you keep saying: It's nothing. It's nothing, but your boss is dead and a sniper tried to take you out so it sure as hell isn't nothing. Why don't you try telling me what actually happened?" he questioned, knowing it probably wasn't even possible for her. When it came to her work, half-truths and excuses were the best he ever received.

She took a deep breath and brought her palms down to rest against her hips. She looked up at him and shrugged. "I was giving the eulogy and all of a sudden Castle-"

"Castle," Josh interrupted with a scoff; the same tone he always used when addressing his least favorite person.

Kate's eyes narrowed. "He's my partner."

"Bullshit he is," Josh hissed. "He's not a cop! Not. A. Cop. He's just a rich guy having fun—with you, Kate. It's all a game."

"He just saved my life!" she all but shouted at him.

Glancing around at the curious faces passing them in the hall, Josh took a deep breath and began in a calmer tone, "And I don't discount that but," he sighed and shook his head. "Don't delude yourself into thinking he's your partner, Kate."

She pressed her lips together so that they formed a tight line. Shaking her head, she stepped around him. "Look, I don't have time for this right now. Castle-"

Josh grabbed onto her bicep to stop her from walking away. She glanced down at his hand and then stared back up at him, her jaw slightly agape from the brazenness of his actions.

"Castle will live; he doesn't need you. Unless you'd rather be there with him instead of here with me. Is that what you really want, Kate? Do you even want to be with me anymore?"

Kate merely stared up at him, for that moment forgetting how to breathe.

Standing shirtless in his bathroom, Richard Castle examined the reflection of his right arm in the mirror. The bandage expertly put in place by a kind male nurse wrapped the full circumference of his arm around two inches south of his armpit. For a moment, he pretended to be a wounded soldier from the 1940's until he realized that flexing his bicep caused a great deal of pain.

Wincing, he gingerly pulled his shirt on his right arm and up to the shoulder before twisting his left around to grab the sleeve and pull it properly on his body. According to Pete, the nurse-slash-aspiring novelist (and Richard Castle Fan), the bullet grazed several millimeters of skin, tissue and muscle, but he had escaped relatively unscathed considering the damage the bullet could have done if it had entered his chest. The wound had been stitched and sealed in the bandage and was not to be unwrapped until his checkup with his regular doctor in two days.

Just as he was buttoning his shirt, he was surprised to hear the ringing of the apartment doorbell. Curious, he finished buttoning and strode across the apartment to unveil the identity of his guest.

"Beckett!" he said happily when he opened the door. She stood a foot away looking very tired but wearing a gentle smile nonetheless. "Come in!"

"Thanks," she said quietly, stepping over the threshold. She glanced around the apartment and asked, "Martha or Alexis here?"

He shook his head. "No. Alexis is with friends and my mother and I have a strict don't ask don't tell policy when it comes to her dates so I don't know where she is, but I know she won't be coming home this evening. She wanted to cancel, but I told her I was fine."

She turned and looked at him. "Are you?"

"Sure," he smiled. "They gave me some of the good drugs!"

She smiled softly and nodded.

"Actually, I was just thinking about taking a shower…if I can figure out how," he said, glancing down at his right arm.

"You can't," Kate informed him. "You can't get that bandage wet. You'll have to take a bath and wrap it up."

He glanced at her then back at his arm. "What? Like put a garbage bag over my whole arm?"

She cracked a momentary grin at that mental image before shaking her head. "Do you have any plastic wrap in your kitchen? And packing tape?"

He furrowed his brow and looked at her. "Probably, but…how am I going to do that to myself?"

"You're not; I'm going to help you," she told him.

After following his instructions for the location of the plastic wrap and tape, she followed him into his bedroom, subtly trying to observe the unfamiliar room while following him on his trek to the bathroom. Once inside, she noted that room was lined with steel grey tiles on the wall and floor. A black granite countertop complimented the masculine tones and dark woodwork on the vanity.

She set the box of plastic wrap and tape on the counter before turning to her companion. "Take off your shirt," she instructed.

Feeling momentary self-conscious he began to unbutton and subsequently shrugged the shirt off his shoulders and tossed it into the nearby hamper. In the meantime, Kate had pulled the roll of plastic wrap from the box and was slowly pulling off a lengthy strip. "Why do I get the feeling you've done this before?"

A wry smile crossed her face as she gestured for him to hold out his arm. When he did so, she began looping the plastic wrap over the bandaged portion. "When I was in college one of my roommates was drunk and kicked her leg through a patio door. She got some pretty nasty gashes so we had to get creative for her to be able to shower since our apartment had no tub."

"Ah, yes. The creativity used to navigate drunken injuries is boundless," Castle sighed. Using the mirror, he watched as she began to tape the edges of the plastic wrap covering on his bandage. He cleared his throat. "So, does Josh know you're here helping a poor invalid?"

She glanced at him using the mirror before turning back to her work. "You're not an invalid. And, actually, we broke up."

"Today?" he asked. When he met her gaze in the mirror he continued. "Espo told me you two looked like you were arguing."

She sighed and dropped the plastic wrap roll back into its box. "Yes, but it was a long time coming to be honest. I really liked him but…" she let out a heavy exhale, "but there were just some things about my life he couldn't understand." Castle nodded, but from her tone he could not help but wonder if by that she meant there were things in her life she didn't want Josh to understand.

With one more strip of tape she patted his arm. "There—your bandage is all sealed up. You'll probably want to keep that arm out of the bath, but if it gets splashed it should be fine."

Castle held is arm up and rotated his elbow in and out, examining her work. It was strange, but it appeared to have done the trick. "Thanks," he said as he approached the Jacuzzi tub. "Now, I just have to—AH!" he yelped when he reached out for the faucet with his right arm and felt a stabbing pain.

"Watch it Castle," she said, hurrying over and taking control of the faucet. "Be careful—you were just shot!"

"Thanks, I remember," he grunted opening and closing his right fist in hopes of dissipating the pain.

"Just let me do this," she said, holding her left wrist under the faucet and using her right hand to adjust the temperature.

"You going to help me bathe too?"

She glanced back over her shoulder at him. "Do you think you need help?"

He stared at her. Why did her tone sound so serious? Was she being serious? He comment was, of course, mostly in jest, but her response did not appear to be. Suddenly, his heart rate quickened. "I, um…"

"Unless you're shy," she smiled, sitting back on her heels as she looked at him. "I can shut my eyes."

Oh, okay; now she was kidding, he decided, but being that he was a man who had been shot just a few hours earlier, he was not going to waste this opportunity. If she was going to sit there and offer to assist him in any part of the bathing process, who was he to question it? With renewed confidence, he undid his belt and shed all layers of clothing right in front of her.

She did not react at the sight of him, merely kneeled on the floor as he stepped into the bath around her. Once he was seated, his right arm resting up on the bath ledge, she asked where he kept his wash cloths. He directed her to the cabinet on the wall beside the glass shower, which held the soap they'd both forgotten about.

Once she retrieved both items she returned to his side, dipped the washcloth in the warm bath water and soaped it thoroughly. She ran it across his shoulders and neck, not even thinking about the new levels their partnership was reaching, merely focusing on helping him wash.

They existed in a comfortable silence until he glanced over and noted the wet splotches on her long-sleeved tan shirt. "You're shirt's getting wet," he said factually.

She stopped rubbing the washcloth over his shoulder and looked at him. "Are you suggesting that I take it off? I'm not that easy, Castle."

"I was merely being practical," he defended.

"It's just water," she responded. "I'll live."

Using her hands to cup the water, she doused his hair, suds it and then used the same method to rinse it out. At one point, she thought she might have heard him let out a quiet moan, but she chose to ignore it.

Once that task was completely, she passed over the soap and washcloth, instructing him to wash the parts of him submerged in the water. "Remember—left hand only," she added as she sat back on her heels. Only then did she notice just how wet her shirt was, especially around her waist where she'd been leaning against the damp bathtub edge.

"Get one of mine," Castle said as he awkwardly studs the washcloth with just one hand.


"One of my shirts," he said. "Top drawer of the chest right outside the bathroom."

"Oh, um, okay…thanks." She rocked back on her heels and stood. She walked out of the bathroom and cautiously approached the chest. She gingerly pulled open the top drawer, unsure of what else she'd find besides t-shirts, but her concern was unfounded. Folded neatly on the left side of the drawer were white undershirts; on the right were black.

Knowing she had on a dark colored bra, she plucked a black shirt from the drawer and shut it with her hip, momentarily wondering if Castle did his own folding or if he had hired help for that (she decided the latter seemed more likely). She pulled her damp shirt over her head before pulling on his V-neck one. She pulled her hair out of the collar as she walked back into the bathroom, wet shirt in hand.

"Where do you want me to put this?" she asked him. "Do you have a drying rack or something?"

"I dunno," he responded as he stood from the tub and grabbed a towel for his waist. "Just toss it over the top of the shower door."

She did as he suggested before walking over to him and examining his right arm. "Looks like it stayed dry. Now I just have to-"

"AH!" he yelped when she began to pull off the tape and plastic wrap.

"Oh, relax; it'll be over soon," she told him with an eye roll.

He winced as the tape tugged at his flesh. "Why'd you have to use packing tape?"

"Because regular tape wouldn't have stuck," she said matter-of-factly. "It's not that much. There see? It's all off," she said simply.

He grumbled something under his breath as he rubbed the ghost marks the tape left on his skin. When he noticed her balling up the remains of the plastic wrap he said gently. "Thanks for, um, helping me; I really appreciate it."

She turned and smiled at him. "No problem, Castle."

He tightened the fold on the towel around his waist took a step towards her. "So, listen, um, as long as you're here, why don't you stay?"

"Stay?" she echoed.

"Yeah, stay. I'm kinda beat and I was going to lay down but-"


"Okay?" he asked, slightly surprised she agreed so willingly.

"Okay, I'll lay down with you. I'll just put these back," she said, picking up the plastic wrap and tape and walking out of the bathroom.

Castle quickly padded his body dry of water droplets and retrieved a pair of boxers and a white-t-shirt from the chest of drawers outside the bathroom. He rolled his eyes when he realized he was trying to dress quickly before she returned; she had already seen him in all his glory just minutes earlier.

When Kate returned to the bedroom, Castle was pulling extra blankets and pillows to the foot of the bed, creating a place for them to sleep in. "Which side do you sleep on?" she asked when she stopped at the foot of the bed.

"Um, this one I guess," he said, gesturing towards the side on which he stood; the one closer to the door. "Is that ok?"

"It's fine," she said. She walked over to the side of the bed closer to the bathroom. A few feet from the bed sat an overstuffed floral print chair which she sat on to remove her shoes. She set them on the floor beside the end table and then approached the bed.

She had one knee on the mattress when Castle questioned, "You're really going to sleep in your jeans?"

She glanced up at him and considered this for a moment. Given her current state of exhaustion, if she lay down for any period of time, was she really going to get back up? No, she was not. Besides, his t-shirt fell to her mid-thighs, which was modest enough for him to see her in.

Never breaking his eye contact, she unfastened her jeans and pushed them from her hips, letting them drop to the floor at her feet. Once he looked away with a smile, she bent over, scooped them up, folded them in half twice and set them on the floral chair.

When Castle turned off the bedside lamp, they had a brief awkward moment of settling beneath the blankets. She asked if his arm was doing okay and he insisted it was fine, though she could not imagine that was a truthful response. After they lay there for a moment, she rolled on her side to face the middle of the bed and said his name softly. He grunted.

"I don't think I ever thanked you properly for saving my life today."

"That's what partners are for," he responded simply.

"It's not, actually."

"Sure they are."

"Mm, no," she informed him. "Usually the job description for partners ends somewhere before football tackling them at a funeral."

She could hear the grin in his voice when he responded, "So I'm a partner that comes with bonuses."

Biting her lip, she stayed still for a moment, breathing in and out through her nose, gathering the courage before slowly she leaned her face closer to his. When she was close enough, she pressed her lips against his cheek.

She heard him breathe in sharply. "Kate…"

"Goodnight, Castle," she responded before rolling onto her back pulling the covers up to her chin and finally shutting her eyes.

Castle awoke with a start. He turned his head from side to side wondering for a brief moment what had awoken him, but then he realized that his arm was throbbing. Every inch of his right arm between his elbow and shoulder radiated with pain. Groaning inwardly he groped awkwardly on the nightstand beside him for the pill and glass of water he'd left for himself. He downed it instantly and gritted his teeth as he waited for relief. The clock told him it was shortly after one in the morning, meaning he'd slept for nearly four hours, but somehow that didn't seem like nearly enough.

He relaxed back against his pillow trying to move his right side as little as possible. It was only then he realized the bed was shaking ever so gently. In his haze of pain he'd forgotten he was not alone in the bed. Rolling his head towards the right he saw the shadow of his female companion curled in a tight ball on the opposite side of his king-sized mattress. Her shoulders were shaking and, when he heard her sniff, he realized she was sobbing.

"Kate," he said gently, his voice still rough from sleep. Though it caused him discomfort, he moved his right hand over and rested it gently on her back.

"Sorry," she sniffed. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"No its fine; you didn't," he assured her. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine; go back to sleep."

Refusing to allow her to get away with such an obvious lie, he pushed himself up into a sitting position and placed his hand firmly on her shoulder. "Kate, please. I'm right here. Just tell me what it is."

She rolled onto her back and propped herself up with her elbows. "I just…I was thinking about earlier. The sniper. He could have… if you hadn't….the bullet could have… either one of us…"

Despite his sleepy state, Castle was able to interpret her disjointed words as he had thought the same thing before she'd arrived that evening. What if he hadn't noticed the scope in time? In a one second he could have lost her forever—the mere thought of that made the blood run cold in his veins. And what if he had just been a millisecond slower in tackling her? That bullet would have been lodged in his chest instead.

"I know," he said, giving her shoulder a squeeze.

"I just," she exhaled as she pushed herself into a sitting position. She tucked one foot underneath her and turned to face him. "If something happened and I…I never had the chance…"

Slowly she lifted up her hands and found his face, cupping his jaw in her palms. She leaned in and guided his lips to hers. The kiss was gentle and sweet, not at all reminiscent of their first several months earlier. When they broke apart after a moment, she rested her forehead against his and kept her hands where they were.

His heart rate nearly double what it had been a minute earlier, Castle slid his hand across the blankets and found the middle of her back. He used his grip to pull her closer as he exhaled, "Kate."

The way he said her name made the hairs at the base of her neck stand on end and she knew she couldn't wait a minute longer. She dove on him so unexpectedly that he fell back against the pillows and headboard. When her lips crashed into his, her hand began to slide down his chest and across his belly. She slid her hips closer to his so that she could reach her hand underneath the waistband of his boxer shorts and slip her fingers around his length.

"Kate!" he breathed in sharply. She smiled against his lips and kissed him again, but he gently pushed her away. "No wait," he said, and with his last ounce of willpower he gently grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand away from him. He felt her body tense as she slid away from him but he wouldn't let her go too far, wrapping his arms around her shoulders despite the discomfort at his wound site.

"Wait, Kate, please just wait one minute." He took a deep breath and attempted to force his brain to think coherently, which was difficult due to the fact that the majority of his blood flow was heading southward.

"I understand," she said quietly. "You don't-"

"No, Kate, I do. I do. Dear God, you have no idea how much, but this…this isn't right. Montgomery is dead. We were both shot at. You just broke up with Josh. I don't want this to be just heat of the moment, Kate. If we do this I need you to know that I'm in—I'm all in."

She was silent for a full minute and he wished disparately that he'd had the forethought to switch on the lamp before starting this conversation. "Say something, please," he requested.

"I know," she said softly. "I think I've known for a while. I was just…."

"I know," he said, not wanting her to have to say the word scared; that word was not typically in Kate Beckett's vocabulary. "But Kate you have to know that I lo-"

"I do. Me too. I just," she fell forward with a long exhale and rested her forehead in the crook of his neck. "I need to take things slow."

He wrapped his arms around her back and smiled into her hair. "Of course—anything you want."

She lifted her head and pressed a gentle kiss on his lips. "Now will you please let me thank you properly for saving my life?"

"Wha-I-I thought you wanted to take thing slow?" he stammered.

She pressed her fingertips against his chest to gently force him back down against the mattress. Once he was down, she straddled his hips with her knees and lowered herself down onto his torso. "Don't worry," she said, bringing her lips to his ear. "I'll go slow."