Non semper erit aestas.
(It will not always be summer.)

-Erasmus, Adagia, iv. iii, 86 (1523)

For Dave.

Her feet pound rhythmically against the hard-packed dirt. One more minute. She can do one more minute.

She pushes harder, wills her rebellious body into submission.

Right. Left. Right. Left. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

It's the rhythm she needs, the rhythm that helps her maintain an essential balance.

Here, on the trails, she's at peace.

Or if not at peace, then as close to it as she's ever been in recent years.

She lifts an arm, swipes the back of her hand over her sweat-drenched brow. It used to be so much easier than this.

Her mental countdown reaches forty-five seconds and she pushes onward, sets her sights on a gnarled tree a little ways down the trail.

Shadows guard the edges of the path, but she runs fearlessly. She knows this space, knows every jutting root and shallow dip, knows where the ground gets soft after a summer rain.

Here is her refuge.

Her landmark tree approaches, its stark lines and barren branches reaching toward her. She shivers, feels the moisture cooling along her spine.

Ghostly tree, her mind supplies, calling up memories of long-forgotten childhood games. A point system during long road trips. One point for a horse. Two for a cow. Four for a dog. Six for a ghostly tree.

Eleven for a fainting goat, and she wonders if Castle ever played such games with his daughter, wonders what would earn points from the imaginative writer.

She pushes the errant thoughts aside as she passes the tree. Thirty seconds to go.

But he's never far from her thoughts. Not now.

Try as she might to clear her mind, he's there as soon as she closes her eyes. His mouth, moving over hers. The blue of his gaze, love and concern mingling in his eyes. His voice, soft and comforting, murmuring his love.

Her footfalls echo on the wooden slats of the small bridge, sharp reports that still leave her cringing sometimes.

Not today.

She pushes a hand against her aching side. Fifteen seconds.

This is the easy part. As difficult as this summer has been, she knows the fall will be harder in so many ways.

She'll have to face all of them. The boys she abandoned. The best friend she hasn't called. The changes at the precinct.

And him.

Always him.

It's the one relationship that matters most. The one relationship she doesn't know how to fix.

Zero seconds.

She could slow down now, walk the rest of the way, give her body a break. She knows her father's cabin is just around the bend.

But no. She lifts her hand, presses it hard against the center of her chest, against the ragged scar that still stands out after three months, pink and angry between her breasts, the scar that will never disappear completely.

She still needs time. Time to heal. Time to build back her strength. Time to become the woman he deserves.

If he still wants her.

She wipes the salty moisture from her eyes - sweat or tears or both.

Her feet pound rhythmically against the hard-packed dirt. One more minute. She can do one more minute.

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