"Those who have reached that stage in sweetness and love, who can change their winter into a gentle, Indian summer, have come as victors through the ordeal of life."

- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The Brown Hand

She slips her hand into his, presses her cheek to her partner's shoulder, watching in silence as Esposito cuffs the man while Ryan recites the Miranda Rights, voice steady and strong and true. She couldn't have done this without them. *They* couldn't have done this without her teammates.

The blue-eyed detective finishes his litany and receives a nod of confirmation when he asks if the suspect understands the rights as they've been read to him. Of course he nods. He was trained as a lawyer, became a judge, and later on, a congressman. He knows the law inside and out.

It takes her a moment to realize that Esposito is walking toward her, toward them, but then there he is, soulful brown eyes searching her face. "We'll see you back at the precinct."

She shakes her head, squeezes Castle's hand.

"No," she answers. "Gates banned me, remember?"


She shakes her head again. "It's fine, Javi. She's right. I shouldn't be there."

Esposito studies her for a moment more, then looks to Castle. She watches their silent conversation, interested, but not truly able to engage, not truly able to process what their expressions mean. All she knows is that Esposito narrows his eyes, and Castle's mouth becomes a straight line, and then the other detective clears his throat.

"If you need anything," he says slowly. "Either of you-"

"We'll call," her partner promises. "Thank you."

The Hispanic detective gives him a short nod, acknowledgment or reminder, and turns away. Ryan already has the handcuffed man in the back seat of the cruiser, stands by the passenger side door, waits and watches - her faithful friend. He, too, nods at the remaining pair, then opens his door and slides inside.

Castle shifts next to her, steps back, and pulls his fingers from hers, instead setting both hands on her thin shoulders. Too thin, she realizes.

But she's had little appetite lately, and no matter how often Castle has tried to ply her with burgers or pizza or lasagna or Chinese, she hasn't been able to stomach much. Mostly just coffee, which he still supplies every day without fail. He's said nothing, but she's tasted the difference in her lattes, can tell he's been adding calories to her diet wherever possible.

She leans back, and he catches her.

"It's over," he whispers, his breath stirring the hair by her ear. "It's done now."

His stubble scrapes roughly against her skin when she tilts her head. It's been days since he's even seen Alexis, despite the fact that the girl is out of school on fall break.

They've snatched whatever sleep they could - on the break room couch after lunch one afternoon, on the gym floor mat one night after he held her bag for the better part of an hour, even one early morning at her desk where Ryan found them with clasped hands and marker-smudged cheeks.

"I'm tired," she tells him, as if he had no idea.

He says nothing, but his hands span her waist, cradling her body, holding her up.

She takes a deep breath, digs in her coat pocket for her keys, dangles them in front of him. "Take me home?"

For once, there's no vivacious greeting when they enter the loft. Martha simply hands her a glass of wine as they walk through the door. Alexis looks up from where she's perched -reading - at the bar. But she remains silent.

The detective takes a sip, switching hands as Castle pulls off her scarf and guides her coat down her arms. The shoes come next, and she doesn't sit down, just lets him take care of her.

She balances with a hand on his shoulder as he kneels before her, lifting her calf and pulling off one boot and then the other.

He's done this before. But it's different this time. No frenzy, no rush, no overwhelming desire to feel skin on skin. He's just doing what it takes to make her comfortable.

Her hand rises from his shoulder to cup the side of his head, fingers curling softly around the shell of his ear. He looks up, and her eyes tell him everything he needs to know.

She opens her mouth, but he shakes his head, squeezing the arch of her foot in silent answer.

The detective sighs, but the expected crumple of her body never happens. He wasn't certain what to expect, thought he might have to carry her inside, might have to wrap himself around her, anchor her to the here and now.

But she's present, and awake, and fourteen and a half years of brokenness may have culminated in this moment - but it's not the moment he anticipated.

"Thank you for the wine, Martha," she calls out as he rises to stand before her. She's smiling, and more than that, it's genuine. She isn't forcing this.

His mother looks up from the pot she's stirring, dismisses the thanks with a wave. Kate brushes past him, fingers trailing along his stomach as she moves, and he watches her, waits for signs that she needs him, that she's not okay. Because how could she be okay?

He's not okay.

He listens as she greets Alexis, observes the movement of her hand as it reaches up to tuck a stray red wisp behind the girl's ear, asking about his daughter's classes this semester. Alexis hesitates, but then launches into a diatribe about her sociology class, how her professor simply has no idea.

Kate laughs, but there's no falsehood, no nervousness, no sign of threads barely hanging together.

"What do you think?" she asks him a moment later, and he realizes he's totally lost track of the conversation, zoned out in his own world.


Kate steps closer to him, wraps her fingers around his wrist and lifts his hand to her lips. "You okay?"

He nods. He's not. But if she can be okay, then he will make himself be okay. "Just tired. What did you ask?"

She raises her other hand, cradling his in both of her, pulls him toward her until his knuckles brush her breastbone. "Hamptons?" she repeats. "For the rest of the break? I'm off for a few days."

He glances over at Alexis, who's nodding eagerly. He's missed her and can tell by the sudden light in her crystal blue eyes that she wants this, wants to spend time with him. Probably with Kate too.

"Okay," he answers. "Yeah. That would be good."

Kate leans into his side, feathering a kiss against his cheek.

"Go get comfortable, you two," his mother directs them then. "You were wearing those clothes the last time I saw you two days ago. I'll call you when dinner's ready."

He lifts a dubious eyebrow, and Martha glares at him, but Alexis slips off her stool to envelop him in a hug, pushing herself up on tiptoes to whisper in his ear. "I'll handle the seasoning, don't worry."

Castle presses a kiss to his daughter's forehead before she escapes, and lets Kate lead him across the loft, through his office, past the darkened storyboard, into the bedroom - their bedroom.

"I don't know about you," she says softly, "but I could really go for a shower."

He huffs out a little laugh. "Mind if I join you?"

She shakes her head. "I'd be disappointed if you didn't. You stink."

He smiles - really smiles - for the first time in days, and by the sparkle in her autumn eyes, he can see that's what she wanted.

She pushes him toward the bathroom, and when they both stand in the soft light, barefoot on the cool tile, she pulls his shirt over his head, drops it unceremoniously on the floor, and falls into the circle of his arm.

Her hands rest on his shoulder blades, her nose tucked into the crook of his neck.

"How are you?" she murmurs into his skin, her breath warm and soothing.

He closes his eyes for a moment, opens them again to look in the mirror, to take in the image before him - both of them, alive, well, and together.

"I'm okay," he says. "You?"

She presses her lips to his throat, smiles against him, turns just enough to meet his eyes in their reflection. "I'm okay, Castle."

"Really?" he asks. "Honestly, Kate?"

She chuckles, squeezes him tightly, until he can feel every inch of her.

"Yeah," she whispers. "Yeah, I really am."

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