This is it, then.

She paces in front of her usual chair in her therapist's office, unable to stay still, restless. Restless despite her weariness, despite the fact that she's gotten little sleep over the past two and a half weeks and next to none in the past few days.

Glancing up, she finds Dr. Burke watching her in silence, his fingers steepled in front of him as he regards her.


"Well, what, Kate?"

"Well, what should I do?"

He shakes his head. "It doesn't work that way and you know it. I can't just dispense advice like I might a prescription."

"Isn't that your job though?"

The lines around his mouth tighten. "My job is to help *you* deal with your issues, not give you a one-size-fits-all fixit."

"But I need to fix it," she says, dropping down to sit in the chair once more. "Please."

When her therapist says nothing, she slumps back, lifts a hand to pinch the bridge of her nose, battling back the worst headache she's had in ages. She hasn't slept, she's barely eaten, and on top of that she hasn't-

She hasn't had any coffee since he left.

"I could tell you go here, do this, say that," the therapist says slowly in that deep, comforting tone. "But at best, it would be a bandaid for the situation. Do you know why?"

She shakes her head without lifting the hand that has come to rest over her eyes.

"It would be only a bandaid," he continues, "because it would be coming from me. But I don't know your partner. You do. And whatever you do needs to come from you."

She scoffs. "Apparently he's not my partner anymore, so you probably know him as well as I do at this point."


His tone is stern, almost harsh, and it startles her into looking at him again. But then his eyes soften. "People don't just change overnight. You've told me before how he's stayed by your side, how he's been there for you. How he's loved you. That's not just a switch that someone can flip."

She takes a deep shuddering breath. "My best friend says he probably got tired of waiting."

Burke shakes his head. "It doesn't work that way. As a man who's been in love, take it from me: it doesn't work that way."

The detective turns away from the understanding brown eyes, shifts her gaze to the window, the wooden statue on the table beside her, the wall, anything else. "But did he ever really love me?"

"He told you he loved you."

She closes her eyes, Castle's concerned face swimming in her vision, the shape of his mouth forming the words. Her voice sounds small even to her own ears when she speaks. "Deathbed confessions can go both ways."

"Do you really think he didn't mean it?" the therapist asks. "That he only said it because he thought you were dying?"

"I *was* dying," she says softly. "I did die. Right in front of him in that ambulance. And then I lied to him in the hospital and shut him out for the whole summer."

"Yet he still came back."

She nods. "I just don't know why."

"Not a lot of explanations that make sense to me," Burke says, and finally Kate opens her eyes.

"Except that he loved me," she murmurs slowly, more to herself than to anyone else.

Her therapist nods. "Maybe your friend is right. Maybe he got tired of waiting. But why now?"

She stares at him with furrowed eyebrows. "What do you mean, 'why now?'"

Burke leans forward in his chair, elbows on his knees. She's never seen him quite so intent.

"I mean," he says. "Why now? Why would he come back after the summer and stick with you for all these months only to lose interest now? You've been in my office less lately. I know you felt that things were going well, that you were making progress."

She closes her eyes. "I thought so."

Aside from being tall and a cop, Ethan Slaughter is about as different from Kate Beckett as another human being could be.

Castle is glad for that.

Slaughter's rough and tumble, harsh, crude. He doesn't pull punches and he doesn't exactly deal in empathy either.

He does appeal to the writer's sense of storytelling. He has tales, fantastic tales of life on the streets, of the depths of debauchery to which humanity can sink. Each story makes Castle's skin crawl. And then he asks for another.

Slaughter had been resistant at first to do more than tell the writer a few stories, answer a few questions - and perhaps even reluctant to do that much - but then he'd looked at Castle's file, seen the cases he'd helped with, and then the writer had been invited to ride along.

Unlike Beckett and the boys, who had nearly always tried to keep him at least a little sheltered, Slaughter lets him get involved. No, he doesn't get a gun, but the other detective has made it clear that around here, you do what you have to do to survive.

It's exciting. Thrilling really. It opens his eyes to the possibilities. He doesn't need Nikki Heat. Sure, she's been a good character, and she's done great things for his career in a lot of ways, but maybe it's time to move on.

Maybe it's time for a new character, a new series. Something a little grittier, a little darker. The days of the perfect hero are over. People want rough, they want real.

And Ethan Slaughter is definitely real.

Castle rolls his shoulders as he stands in his lobby, waiting for the elevator to arrive. He's tired, and sore - a takedown that ended with him on the pavement and Slaughter laughing as he cuffed the man that put him there - and he could do with a hot shower, a glass of whiskey, and a large pizza.

Alexis will still be at the morgue and his mother won't be home until late either. He can veg on the couch, watch some stupid movie, and just zone out. Sounds like a perfect evening.

The elevator dings its arrival and he steps inside, presses the right button, and leans against the cool metal back. Crossing one arm over his chest, he brings the other hand up and pushes, stretching the abused muscles.

Hmm. Shower would be good. Jacuzzi might be better. Or a massage. That place up on Crosby is probably still open.

His muscles uncoil at just the thought of soothing hands working across his back and shoulders, squeezing his tense biceps, working the kinks out of his neck as he relaxes in a warm, sweet-scented room.

He shuts his eyes, letting out a deep sigh, and then it's her scent that fills his nostrils, her hands kneading his shoulders, her soft skin pressed against his own in a setting that suddenly much resembles his bedroom.

His eyes pop open, and he leans forward, almost doubled over as he balances with his hands on his knees. He can't get away from her.

He has to get away from her.

The elevator shudders to a halt and he straightens. Stepping out, he scrubs a hand over his face in a futile effort to wipe away the images that won't desert him.

And then there are fists clenching into his shirt and the back of his head meets a hard surface just a half-second before his shoulders, and he's dazed.

Not dazed enough though.

Not so dazed that he doesn't process what's going on.

Ryan - Ryan, of all people - slamming him into a wall hard enough that his bones rattle, all trace of humor missing from his usually warm blue eyes, asking him what the hell he thinks he is doing, hanging around with that guy when his place is with them - with her.

The next day, when white hot pain lances through his shoulder and all he can think before he blacks out is that Kate wouldn't have let this happen, he wishes he had listened.

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