She's so small beneath him, so very fragile.

She seems larger than life most days with her badge and her gun and her four-inch heels and her bravado and her ability to bring him to his knees with a few innuendo-laden words and a look.

But sometimes, sometimes he realizes just how vulnerable she is - that she's not made of steel, that her bones are brittle and her skin is penetrable and her blood...her blood-

He remembers her blood.

He remembers the way it covered his hands as she lay beneath him on too-green grass. He remembers the way it leaked out of her as he pled - with her, with God, with anyone who might be listening - for her to just hang on, to just stay with him.

He remembers.

And it's too much in this moment. Too much when he's braced over her once more, when he watches her eyes fall half shut, her lips parting. It's different, he knows it intellectually. But his heart is another matter. Her breathing is ragged, her brow slightly furrowed. And though she's not in her dress blues - not in her dress anything - and her hair is spread in waves across his pillow, not tied back in a neat bun, he still finds a lump rising in his throat, cutting off his air supply. Suddenly he's choking.

"Castle," she gasps, her eyes startling fully open as he rolls to the side, slipping out of her warmth. "What's wrong?"

But he can't answer, shuts his eyes only to find that terrifying image swimming in front of him. He throws a hand up to his face, presses against his eye sockets until stars appear in his vision, but it's not enough.

He sees Lockwood with a gun trained on her, sees pale blue skin and ice clinging to her eyelashes, sees her apartment in flames, sees her lifeless body wracked with the shocks of a pair of defib paddles. He sees it all.

And then he sees her.

Her face floats over him, eyes wide and concerned, mouth moving though he can't make out the words. She presses her forehead to his and sound slowly filters back in: the constant hum of the city, the rustle of sheets, her steady breathing, her voice - soft and tender and very much alive.

"Hey," she whispers. "Hey, Castle, hey."

It's nonsensical, just his name and an interjection, but it brings him back. She brings him back.

His hands lift of their own volition to her sides, smooth warm skin under his palms. Bruised skin, mottled with shades of black and purple that he can see as he looks down her body, that he can see even in the half light of the not quite dawn. She doesn't flinch away from his touch.

She shifts slightly, pressing into his hands, and he looks up to find her eyes dark on his. His thumb traces the edge of a particularly nasty bruise, mapping its borders. He lets his gaze drop once more, watching the skin change colors under his gentle touch.

"You okay?" she asks him after a moment.

He nods, can't quite meet her eyes yet, still needs the distraction of bare skin, of a lithe body gorgeous even with the angry battle wounds that mar it. Perhaps more beautiful for her scars, for this visible proof that she survives against all odds.

She lets him touch her, doesn't make him speak, and he's grateful for it, grateful for someone who knows him this well. He's seen her break down. She's seen him break down.

They're even. Equals.

She moves over him then, thighs clenching briefly against his ribs, releasing so she can slide down his body. It takes him a moment to realize exactly what he's seeing, exactly what he's experiencing. But then it hits him: Kate Beckett, naked and unashamed, is straddling him.

He groans, feels the guttural sound as though it's being ripped from his body. Her lips curl upward in a small, pleased smile, and she leans forward. Slender fingers trace his chest, its mountains and valleys, tripping lightly over his skin.

Her hands settle at his shoulders, pushing him back into the mattress. She dips her head.

His whole body clenches at once, curling in around her as she presses her lips to his sternum, soft hair brushing his chest, soft skin meeting his stomach.

Hands rising from their grip at her sides, he holds her to him, cradles her, fingers strong at the base of her spine and at the back of her head.

She turns, pressing her ear to the spot over his heart, and her breath washes over his skin, making him shiver.


His voice comes out a thready whisper, so many things he wants to say, none of the right words to say them. What kind of writer is he?

But then she speaks, murmurs the questions he can't find. "How many times? How many times have we almost lost each other?"

He palms the back of her head, lets his fingers weave into her tangled hair, dry now, but not in her usual immaculate style - mussed by rain and wind and his hands and his bed.

"Too many times, Castle," she says softly when he doesn't answer. She tips her head up and meets his eyes, her chin propped on his chest as one hand smooths across his shoulder to cup his neck.

"I don't-" she begins, and then she shuts her mouth, lips pressed tightly together, somewhere between a smile and a grimace. He lifts his free hand, brushes the back of his knuckles across her cheek, catching a single drop of moisture before it falls.

She closes her eyes for a moment, and he smiles at the sight of her mascara, usually so perfect, now clumping. Rain and tears and sweat and she is more stunning in this moment than she's ever been in all the time he's known her.

Here, opening herself to him, accepting him. Here, bruised and battered and very nearly broken - the pair of them. Here, as she opens tender eyes and lowers her mouth to his, gentle and seeking, drawing him out with lips and tongue and teeth.

He strains toward her, needs to be closer, ever closer, tilts his head and pushes up with his elbows and flexes his abdomen, his thighs rising to meet the backs of hers until he's folded around her.

Her arms curl around his neck. She's still kissing him.

"I could see you," he says when they break for air, his eyes closed, his forehead touching hers, their chests pressed together. "I could- I was having some kind of flashback to the cemetery."

She breathes against him - just breathes - and when he opens his eyes, she's watching him, gaze somehow both dark and luminous, fire and sorrow inseparable.

"I'm so sorry," she murmurs. "I needed it, I needed the space and the time by myself to heal, but I'm so sorry I left you alone."

He can't-

He can't tell her it's okay. It's not, still not. He's forgiven her, yes, but it still hurts when he looks back on those months of loneliness, of wondering if she was alive, of wondering who was taking care of her, of wondering if he'd ever see her again.

Of wondering if she could ever love him back.

"Please," he roughs out, choked, the words clawing at his throat no matter how much he wants to hold them in, no matter how desperate and pathetic he knows they'll make him appear. "Please don't leave me."

She lets out a breath, a hot puff of moist air across his lips. "Castle?"

He can hear the grief, the hurt in his name, hates himself for putting it there, but-

Pressing forward, she cements their bodies together, palm at one cheek, her own at the other, her lips soft at his ear. "This is it for me."

He sucks in a ragged breath, his fingers tightening at her back.

But then she's pushing away, pushing away, and no no no, he can't let her go. He can't do this, can't have seen what they could be, can't have known her completely and have to give it up. Give her up.

His eyes squeeze shut, his chest tightening, a fist clenching around his stomach.

She touches his cheek, fingers featherlight, drifting down until her palm rests over his pounding heart. He opens his eyes.

And she smiles. "One and done, remember?"

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