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A mountain keeps an echo deep inside

That's how I hold your voice.


The badge sits heavily in her pocket, an unfamiliar weight that pulls her slightly off balance. Only a few ounces of leather and steel, not even enough to affect a change when she steps on a scale, but it presses hard against her ribs, dragging her right shoulder down and making her list. She can't stop slipping her hand into her jacket, stroking her fingertips over the ridges and valleys, dragging the pad of her thumb across the raised numbers at the bottom. 41319. Five digits, as much a part of her identity as the letters that make up her name.

Her federal badge never felt right. It was too bulky around her neck, too heavy on her belt. It didn't fit her. Or she didn't fit it. She hasn't quite figured that one out yet.

Her ring clicks against the side of her wine glass and Kate smiles around the rim, her eyes flicking down and shoulders leveling. The diamond shimmers in the amber light of the bar, its usual bright sparkle muted. Her heart kicks when she realizes she's going to have to slip it back onto the chain in the morning. The base of her glass clatters against the wood when she puts it down and reaches for the ring, twisting the band around her finger. She's gotten used to wearing it over the past few weeks, has enjoyed the comforting weight of it, doesn't really want to give that up.

Lanie chatters from across the table, dropping less than subtle hints about bridesmaids dresses and wedding plans. Kate half-listens to her, nodding and humming at appropriate intervals, her eyes scanning the bar for Castle. She hasn't seen him since the boys dragged him off half an hour earlier and the steel band around her chest has begun to tighten again, her lungs fighting to inflate under the pressure.

A booming laugh cuts through the room and Kate lets out a stuttering sigh, her fingers trembling slightly as she reaches for her wine. Craning her neck, she spots Castle leaning back against the bar, a glass of scotch hanging loosely from his right hand and a wide grin splitting his cheeks. Sully hovers at his elbow, red faced and bright eyed, staring up at him with a moony expression that sparks a tickle in her chest, sends a laugh scrambling up her throat.

The laugh turns to ash on her tongue when Castle lifts his free hand and presses the tips of his fingers to his chest. It washes over her anew, the abject terror of once again standing outside a building where he was being held, unable to help him. Protect him. She never again wants to feel it, the overwhelming sense of uselessness, impotence. Never again wants to have to stand back and be a spectator, just waiting for the hair to break and the sword to fall.

Lanie gives her a pressed lip smile and a nod when Kate abandons her wine and slides out of the the booth, the ache in her chest pulling her toward him. Weaving through the crowd. she keeps her eyes locked on Castle as she accepts kind words of congratulations and the odd pat on the shoulder. Her fingers tingle the closer she gets, palms burning. She slips through the gap between Ryan and Espo, arms snaking around Castle's waist as she steps into his side. Lifting onto her toes, she presses a soft kiss to the corner of his mouth, tasting the smoky scotch on his lips as she lingers.

A throat clears from somewhere nearby but she doesn't move away. Not tonight. Tonight, she doesn't care. Castle's fingers close over her hip when she brushes her nose across his cheek, paints the line of his jaw with her parted lips. Her head comes to rest in the curve of his neck and Kate folds herself into his body, breasts pressed to his ribs and his pulse thumping steadily against her cheek. Castle's chest rumbles under her ear, the low roar of his voice quieting her mind. Closing her eyes, she breathes him in, fingers stroking at his waist as he finishes his conversation.

The plastic bag dangling from Castle's wrist crinkles loudly in the darkness as she lets them into her apartment. Stacks of boxes cast long shadows across the floor and Kate swallows back a sigh, the same sigh that swirls in her lungs every time she walks through the door. She's been living out of boxes for months now and it's starting to wear on her.

Packing up her DC apartment had been a relatively easy job since she'd barely managed to open half of the boxes, much less unpack them. She told herself it was because she didn't have the time but she can admit now it was more than that. DC wasn't home. Wasn't really where she wanted to be.

But she's not sure this is either.

They haven't talked about it yet, living together. Not outside of the single minute where she thought they'd be moving into the gorgeous apartment he'd picked out for them in DC. But they're not going to be moving there, into the apartment with the open floor plan and high ceilings and a tiny home office tucked into a nook off the living room. The apartment that he'd found for them because he knew they couldn't keep going the way they were and was willing to do anything to make it work. They're not going to be moving into that apartment and she really doesn't know where that leaves them. Her.

The day after she was fired, Castle bought out the couple who had sublet her place. He paid them almost triple the amount of the contract and set them up with his realtor, telling her all about it with a wide, satisfied smile. Kate hadn't expected it, hadn't really thought about living anywhere other than the loft when she came back to the city, but he'd been so proud of himself that she'd smiled back and kissed him, whispered a thank you into his cheek.

But she's been back for a couple of weeks now and this is the first time she's been here with any intention to actually stay, to not just grab whatever random thing she's in need of and head back to the loft. They need to talk about it, about why he assumed she'd want her apartment back when they've been engaged for months and less than a day before she'd rather enthusiastically agreed to move in with him, sight unseen.

They need to talk about it but not tonight.

Because tonight she's grateful that he assumed, that he paid someone to come in and set up her furniture and arrange her boxes. Grateful to have her old apartment to bring him back to because tonight she needs - She needs him. Needs to curl her body around his and listen to him breathe, to press her skin against his and let the warmth of him melt away the icy fist still clenched around her stomach. She needs to be with him without the ever present crowd that currently occupies the loft.

A hot wave of guilt crashes over her. She shouldn't be relieved to be away from his family but she is. Between Martha, Alexis, and Pi, they've barely managed to have five uninterrupted minutes to themselves since she's been back and she's giving herself permission to be selfish for one night. Castle stopped by the loft between the precinct and the bar, to pack a bag and reassure Martha and Alexis that he really is okay, and Kate lets that assuage her conscience. Tells herself that it's better this way because if his family were to get one good look at her face right now, they'd know the truth. They'd know that the only things holding the pieces of their world together tonight are the velcro straps of a bullet proof vest.

Castle heads into the dark kitchen, twisting his hand out of the handle of the plastic grocery bag. Kate watches him fish out the two new ice packs and toss them in her otherwise empty freezer before reaching back into the bag for the bottle of pain medication she'd bullied him into getting. He keeps insisting he's fine, that it doesn't really hurt much, but she's been watching him. Watching the way he rubs his hand over his chest every few minutes, his shoulders rolled forward and jaw clenching. She's already let him do a handful of stupid things today, she's not going to add another to the list by allowing him to try to pretend he's not hurting.

Kate follows him, the overnight bag she'd insisted on carrying bouncing off her hip as she swings open the refrigerator door. A half-empty case of water sits on the bottom shelf and she pulls out two bottles, passing one over to Castle. "Take three," she says, watching him stick his thumb through the safety foil across the mouth of the bottle.

"Recommended dosage is two."

"Since when do you do anything the way that's recommended?"

Castle smirks, tipping three pills out into his palm. She watches him pop them in his mouth and crack the seal on the water, drain half the bottle in three long gulps. He breaks off with a theatrical lip smack and spins the cap back on the water before opening his mouth wide. "See," he mumbles, mouth still gaping, "all gone."

Kate rolls her eyes. "Ass."

"Yeah," Castle says, following her to the bedroom, "but you love me."

Dropping the bag at the foot of the bed, she turns back and wraps her arms around his waist. The need to press herself up against him as tightly as possible, to hold him close and never let go, burns in her muscles and she has to fight against it. Has to force her arms to stay relaxed and loose. Her body aches for his as she lets her hands fist in the back of his shirt, her cheek resting lightly on his shoulder. Cold spreads across the small of her back when he wraps his arms around her, the water bottle pressed against the open weave of her sweater, and pulls her in closer.

"I'm okay," he whispers, his lips brushing over her forehead. "I'm here and I'm okay, Kate."

She nods, her hair rustling against his shirt. "I know."

Pressing a kiss to his collarbone, Kate steps back, using her fisted hands to untuck the tail of his shirt. She drags her hands around the equator of his waist, tugging the fabric free of his jeans. Her hands meet at the buttons and she starts at the bottom, slips each disc free until the shirt hangs open, baring his chest.

Her ribs hitch when she gets her first real look at it, the angry red welt resting in the middle of his sternum. Blood pools at the edges, already turning his skin a shade of blue so dark it's almost black. A dry sob catches in her throat and Kate pushes the shirt off his shoulders, her fingers dragging slowly down his arms. Clutching the loose fabric in one fist, she drops her head and lays a kiss against his chest, the heat from the injury burning her lips. Castle cups the back of her neck with one hand, his breath washing steadily across her crown.

"We match," he says when she leans back, sliding the hand at her neck down to her chest and tapping a gentle finger against her scar.

Kate hums. "Yeah, we do." She strokes her hands over his chest, the tips of her fingers outlining the bruises blossoming under his skin. Castle sucks a gasp through his teeth and she lets her hands fall away, trailing down over his ribs and stomach. "Thankfully, yours will be gone in a few weeks."

Grabbing his bag from the floor, she pulls out a fresh pair of boxers and guides him to the bathroom. They take a quick shower, Castle trying to hide his wince every time he accidentally steps directly under the spray. He laughs at the puddles of water they leave on the floor when they have to walk back to her bedroom naked and wet because she forgot there were no towels in her linen closet; she smacks him in the face with a pillow while they're making the bed because he won't stop asking about why Gates didn't give back her cuffs. The air thins out as the minutes pass, each breath coming a little easier than the one before.

Kate comes back from the kitchen - an ice pack in one hand and her badge in the other - to find him sitting on the edge of the bed, hands braced on his knees and face pale. "Castle." She lands on her knees in front of him, badge and ice pack clattering to the floor as she cups his cheeks in her hands. "What happened? Do I need to call -"

He shakes his head and slides a hand up her forearm, closing his fingers around her wrist and pulling back. "Cold hand," he says, kissing her palm and lowering her arm to his lap.

"Castle -"

"I'm fine, Kate. Really. Just had a little trouble breathing when I tried to lie down flat. The EMT who checked me out said it might happen. It's not a big deal." He shrugs. "I'll just sleep propped up."

Kate stares up at him, heart still racing. She'd tried to make him go to the hospital after the shooting but he'd refused, running on an adrenaline high and hellbent on proving Emma's innocence. She should have made him go. Shouldn't have just accepted the word of a paramedic who barely looked old enough to drive. Scooping up her badge and the ice pack, Kate stands and walks around to the other side of the bed.

She drops the badge on the nightstand and climbs up onto the middle of the mattress. He stares as she arranges the pillows in a ramp against the headboard and settles herself against them, shifting until she's comfortable. She pulls the last two pillows across her lap and pats the top one. Grinning, Castle moves until he's nestled between her outstretched legs and then leans into her, his back pressed against her chest. Kate wraps her arms around him and kisses his temple, laying the ice pack over his injury.

"You're going to the doctor tomorrow."

"But it's our first day back," Castle pouts, craning his neck to look at her.

"No, it's my first day back. You're not coming back until you have a new vest."

"Beckett -"

"It's not negotiable, Rick. If you hadn't - " The chill from the ice pack has seeped into the band of her ring, making it cold and tight around her finger. "It's not negotiable," she repeats, shaking her head. "Not after today."

He looks up at her in silence for a moment before nodding. Kate leans down and presses her lips to his, threading her fingers through his hair as she pours it all into his open mouth. She pulls back when he groans, the corners of his mouth twisting down. "Sorry," she pants, lips still hovering over his.

"Never apologize for kissing me like that."

Kate gives him a smiling peck then uses the hand on his head to turn him away from her. Stroking her fingers through his hair, she holds him, listening as his breathing smoothes out. His heart thumps steadily under her palm and she closes her eyes, times her own breaths to the rhythm of it as they both drift off.

"I think 'bout it sometimes."

She jumps at the low, sleepy slur of his voice, eyes flying open.

"Think about what?"

"How things would've been different if you'd been wearing a vest."

Her stomach lurches and she tightens her hold, legs and arms clamping down around him. The back of his head rests between her breasts, the weight of it, the weight of him, the only thing holding her together as her ribs start to crack.

"You shouldn't do that," she chokes out eventually. "There are no answers in what ifs."

Castle nods, slow and deliberate. "We'd still match, though."

"You think so?"

"Mmm," he hums, a contented little noise that seeps into her chest, shores her back up. "We always match, Beckett. 'Cause we're awesome."

She lets out a sound somewhere between a sob and a laugh, presses her lips to his temple. "Yeah," she whispers in agreement, "we are."

The pillows sigh when she relaxes into them again, her muscles uncoiling one by one. Castle sags against her, mouth hanging open and hair flopping over his forehead. The ice pack turns warm and she tosses it onto the bed, lays her empty hand over his heart. Kate closes her eyes and leans back, counting the beats until sleep pulls her under.

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