Disclaimer: Castle and its characters belong to Andrew Marlowe and ABC.

Author's note: This is sort of a follow-up to my story "Hit and Run." However, the tone is very different (not much humor in this one, at least not yet). If you haven't read that one, really all you need to know is that Castle once said he'd go for a motorcycle ride with her anytime she wanted. Beyond that, this takes place early in Season 4. I think I'll be continuing this one, but I'm not sure. I've had this bit written for more than a month and I'm just now posting it.

"Come with me."

Castle stared for a moment at the detective on his doorstep. It was late, and he'd changed the green dress shirt he'd worn to the precinct for a soft blue sweater with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. She wasn't in her work clothes anymore either. Dark jeans, a white t-shirt and black leather jacket made her look younger somehow, or maybe it was the hesitant expression on her face.

"Where?" he asked, rubbing sleepily at his eyes.

He'd still been awake but was fading fast.

"Just...Castle, just come with me, please."

The pleading note in her voice roused him, and he nodded.

"Of course, yeah. Just a sec."

He opened the coat closet and pulled out a brown leather jacket, sliding it quickly over his arms.

"Would you look for my shoes while I write a note for Alexis? I don't want her to worry if she wakes up and I'm not here."

"Yeah, sure."

The detective disappeared into the living room while he found a pad of paper and a pen and scribbled a few words, leaving the note on the kitchen table for his daughter to find.

Beckett returned with the pair of brown ankle boots he'd worn that day and handed them to the writer.

"They were under the coffee table. Do you have a helmet?"

He paused and looked up at her from where he was kneeling and pulling on one of the boots.

"A helmet?"

"Yes, Castle, a helmet. I'm on my bike, and if you go with me, you'll be on my bike, and that means you wear a helmet."

"Oh, uh, yeah. Haven't used it in awhile. Check the closet."

She opened the closet while he put on his other boot. After searching for a moment, she found a dark blue half-shell. She pulled it down and turned back to him.

"This'll be fine. Come on."

She thrust the helmet into his hands and opened the front door, waiting silently as he locked up. They didn't speak until they were safely in the elevator.

"Uh, Beckett, not that I'm not thrilled any time you show up at my door in the middle of the night, but what's up? Where are we going?"

She shrugged, and he again thought that she looked younger, like he imagined Kate Beckett would have looked during her rebellious teenage phase.

"I couldn't sleep, and I needed to get out for a bit."

She worried her bottom lip between her teeth and he prodded her gently.

"So you called me?"

She sighed, releasing the lip.

"You told me awhile back that if I ever wanted to go for a ride, you'd be happy to come."

He nodded as the elevator door opened and they stepped out.

"I did, and I am. I just...are you okay?"

She squeezed her eyes shut and he wondered what she was trying to block out or maybe hold back.

She shook her head and opened her eyes.

"Just...come on."

He knew he wasn't going to get anything else out of her, so he followed, strapping on the helmet as they walked. She had parked close enough that it was only a moment before she was straddling the motorcycle and he was clambering on behind her.

He got himself situated and lightly gripped her hips as he'd done the last time. She said nothing, but put both hands over his, pulling them up to rest over her stomach. Then she started the bike and they sped away.

He remembered, this time, to lean when she did, and to brace himself on the foot pegs when she braked. They caught a few red lights, but she never spoke when they were stopped, so he didn't either. He just allowed himself to enjoy the cool October air and the feel of her warm body close to his.

Castle knew this case had gotten to her. It had gotten to him too. A fifteen year old honor student, a girl with her whole life ahead of her, murdered by her stepfather. She'd come home early one day to find the deadbeat cheating on her mom with a girl from work, but when he realized she'd seen him, he strangled her and left her body in an alley.

He couldn't help but remember the lifeless eyes of the girl in the alley and the cold evil gaze of the stepfather as he'd glared at Beckett across the table, his tongue flicking out to moisten his lips as he'd looked her up and down.

Castle tightened his fingers around her waist just a little and she shifted back into him a little more.

She'd only been back on the job for a few weeks. He could tell by her nearly imperceptible winces that her injury, though mostly healed, still pulled from time to time. But she was strong, and she was fearless, and it was only because he was so in tune with her that he even noticed that she was still a little broken.

He caught her every so often, staring blindly at the door to the captain's office, and he knew she was missing Montgomery. The new captain was a woman who played politics well. He knew she wasn't his biggest fan, but she'd allowed Castle to stay, if for no other reason than his "friends in high places." For that he was grateful.

He wasn't sure now how long they'd been riding, but they'd left the city. It was dark, and her headlight was the only one he'd seen for a few miles. He wondered again where she was taking them.

The speed limit dropped as they approached a small town with an illuminated city limits sign, and he squeezed her.

"Sleepy Hollow, Beckett...we've gotta stop!"

He wasn't sure she'd understood what he had called out to her, but she pulled into the next gas station and took off her helmet, turning to look at him.

Her hair was messy and her face flushed. It took him a moment to regain his thoughts.

"Are we going anywhere in particular, or did you just need to get out of the city?"

She shrugged her answer to his question, and he continued.

"I was just thinking maybe we could explore around here a little bit, if that's okay?"

She smirked.

"You just wanna see if you can find the Headless Horseman, don't you?"

He grinned.

"You know me too well, Detective."

She nudged him with her shoulder.

"Come on then, let's see if we can get some directions."

They entered the quiet convenience store, and she greeted the teenager on duty. Castle found a brochure about the area and about the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery while Beckett talked to the young man.

"Bad news, Castle. The cemetery closes at 4:30. But, he says we can still ride around and see the bridge."

They left the gas station and climbed back onto the bike. It was only a mile or two until they slowed to a stop in front of the cemetery and the Old Dutch Church. Sure enough, it was locked up tight.

They dismounted and walked around for a bit, Beckett pulling a flashlight out of an inside pocket while Castle fumbled with the one he'd bought at the service station.

They skirted the edge of the cemetery, shining their lights through the fence, pointing out to each other the occasional gravestone of someone famous.

Rounding a corner, she tugged on the arm she'd linked with her own.

"Look, Castle, there's the bridge."

The two of them made their way over, as Castle explained that, according to the brochure he'd read, it was unclear which bridge was the one actually referred to in Irving's story, but that this one, being the closest to the Old Dutch Church, was a popular spot.

Beckett hesitated at the edge of the bridge, but he grasped her hand and pulled her along, their footsteps echoing on the worn wood.

She followed him until they stood at the middle, leaning over the railing to gaze into the black depths below.

Silence reigned for a few minutes until Castle turned to see her profile, illuminated in the moonlight. Her eyebrows were furrowed as she stared down at the water. Finally, he reached out to gently touch her shoulder. She startled and backed away from him.

"Hey, it's just me," he whispered, his hand still extended toward her. "Not the Headless Horseman."

That drew a soft chuckle from her and he smiled.

"Sorry, Castle. Just zoned out, I guess."

"Mmm," he nodded. "What's got you so worked up tonight, Beckett? Why was it so important for you to get out of the city and drag me along? Not to say that I mind being dragged anywhere by you."

She gave him a somber smile.

"I don't know. I just needed quiet."

"And you thought I was good company for quiet?"

Even in the near darkness he caught her eye roll.

"No, but I figured I could bring you out here and kill you and then I'd have a lot more quiet in my life."

He grinned.

"Good plan."

She lightly punched his arm, but before she could draw away, he caught her hand, pulling it down between them. His thumb began to slowly stroke across her wrist, and she stilled.

"Talk to me, please."

He knew he was begging, but there was something in her eyes and the way she'd asked him to come along tonight that made him desperate to know what she was thinking.

She looked down at their hands, and he began to loosen his grip. But then she surprised him by stepping forward and leaning her forehead against his shoulder.

"It's just too much sometimes."

Her words were quiet and muffled, but he could still make them out. He tilted his head to rest his cheek against her hair but made no further move to touch her.

"What's too much?" he asked softly.

"Everything," she confessed. "Walking by the captain's office and knowing Roy's not there. Hearing the fear in my dad's voice when he calls to check on me. Hurting when I move wrong. Not feeling safe almost anywhere. You."

He struggled to keep the hurt out of his voice, but he knew the effort was pointless.

"I'm too much?"

She nodded against him but lifted her face to meet his eyes before he could say anything else.

"I hate that you're in danger because of me, Castle. You shouldn't have to worry about some hit man coming after you. Alexis and Martha shouldn't have to worry about losing you."

He opened his mouth to reply, but she continued.

"But as much as I want you out of danger, I need you to be around. I need you to make me laugh and bring me coffee and spin wild theories. And I hate myself for needing you so much that I can't kick you out of my life and out of harm's way. I hate myself for being so selfish."

She tried to turn away from him, but he was still grasping her wrist.

"Kate, please," she turned back to him but was looking down at the ground, her dark locks obscuring her face.

He raised his free hand, brushing back a few tendrils so he could see her eyes. He tucked the hair behind her ear, cupping her cheek in his palm and sweeping away the lone tear that was trickling down.

"Please," he repeated, dropping his voice to a whisper. "Listen to me."

He released the hand he held and brought his own up to the juncture of her shoulder and neck, gently squeezing the tight muscles there.

"I'm the selfish one."

She tried to shake her head, but he held her in place.

"I am. I'm the one who talked the mayor into letting me follow you around. I'm the one who dug up your mother's case so I could be your white knight. I'm the one who dragged you away from Montgomery because I couldn't bear the thought of losing you. I did all that without thinking about how it would affect my mother and my daughter, without thinking about how it would affect you."

He tore his gaze from hers, dropping his head and closing his eyes in defeat.

"I'm sorry, Kate. I'm so sorry. I should never have barged into your life the way I did."

The hand that had cupped her cheek rose to rake through his hair as he let out a ragged sigh.

"God, I...I should have just left things alone. If I had, none of this would have happened."

He pulled away from her, turning to lean against the wooden railing and dropping his stare to the swirling black waters below.

What would her life be like, he wondered, had he never interfered? Would the Dragon have come after her if he hadn't reopened the case? Would Montgomery be safe and sound at home with his family?

Dark thoughts had plagued him for weeks after the shooting.

He had spent nearly every moment at her side until she woke up, leaving only to attend to the most basic of functions. Even after she awoke, he only left when someone else stayed with her, usually her father, sometimes Lanie or one of the boys. His mother had visited from time to time. Alexis had come along on the first few occasions, but after that had made excuses and stopped coming by to visit the Detective.

That was one more thing that worried him. His daughter had become distant, even sullen at times, and though he suspected it was partially the separation from her boyfriend, he could tell there was something more too. She was short with her father, less forgiving of his mistakes, less accepting of the easy affection that usually flowed between them so naturally.

He dropped his face into his hands, blocking out the moonlight and the distant glow of a street lamp, and allowing the darkness to invade him further.

For a man who made his living by writing about the darkness in others, his own heart had always been surprisingly light. He had his mother and Alexis to thank for that. But they weren't enough to keep the nightmares at bay. They weren't enough to keep him from second-guessing himself and the secret he'd been keeping since late May.

He desperately wanted to tell her. It went against everything in him to not share this with her. But he was afraid. Afraid that Montgomery's prophecy of doom would ring true, that if he told her what he knew she would run headlong and recklessly against the man responsible for her mother's death, for her mentor's death, for her father's descent into the bottle all those years ago.

A light hand on his shoulder broke him from his thoughts.

"It's not your fault, Castle."

He lifted his head at her whispered words and turned a little to face her from his hunched posture. Even in the half-light, her eyes were striking, determined.

"You didn't cause this."

"But I-"

"You didn't cause this," she repeated, and reached to tug on the hand closest to her.

He surrendered it to her, and watched as she let her gaze drop to his fingers twining with her own.

"My mom always believed that the truth would set you free," she said quietly. "The answers we've found, the answers you've given me, there's a lot of freedom in them. At least I know why, at least I know she died doing what she thought was right. It's not enough, not until we know the who, but it's a start."

This was his moment, he realized, with a agonizing mixture of relief and dread.

"Kate, there's something I need to tell you," he breathed.

She looked up from their hands, and the lack of question in her eyes surprised him. Instead of the wariness he anticipated, there was something else. She was still serious, her eyes still shiny, but there was a hint of unexpected joy there too.

"I know, Castle."

His eyes narrowed in confusion.

"You know?"

"I remember, after I was shot," she said. "Not to mention all the ways you've showed me."

His heart sank. As much as he'd hoped she would remember his declaration of his feelings, he knew that this had just become a hundred times harder.

He turned to face her fully, taking her other hand in his and lifting both to press his lips gently against her skin in a soft caress. If he was going to do this, to knock her feet out from under her again, he needed her to know that he would be there to catch her if she'd let him.

"I meant what I said," he whispered. "And I will continue to show you that if you'll allow it."

"Castle, I-" she began, but he cut her off.

"But you need to know something first. There's something I've been keeping from you."

He watched as the unguarded expression dropped off her face and her features became carefully blank. His eyes begged her to listen, to hear him out, to not shut him out as he could tell she was already starting to do.

"You know I didn't leave the hospital until after you woke up," he began in a low voice. "Even after you did wake up, I was never gone for more than a few hours. Except the one time."

She nodded in remembrance. He'd been gone nearly the whole day, and she'd teased him when he returned that his old age was finally catching up with him. He knew she suspected that he'd spent the whole day in bed, repaying some of the sleep debt he'd accumulated. But that hadn't been the case.

"That day, when I got home, there was a package on my desk. Alexis said she thought it had arrived a day or two before, but none of us had really gone through the mail."

"What was it?" she asked, her voice quiet, but no less powerful.

"It was from the Captain."

"Gates?" she asked with a quirk of one eyebrow.

"Roy," he corrected, and her face turned ashen.

"What was it?" she repeated after a moment, and the ice in her voice was far colder than the late October breeze on a rickety wooden bridge.

"There was a letter, addressed to me, explaining what was inside the package," he said, pausing for a moment. "And asking me not to tell you about it."

She paled further, and took a step back, pulling her hands from his. Closing her eyes, she swayed a little on her feet, and he nearly stumbled in his haste to reach out for her. But she held out a hand in front of her, and when she looked at him again, it was with a terrible union of hurt and fury.


"Why did he ask that? Or why didn't I tell you?"

"Either, both."

"He loved you like a daughter, Kate," he said thickly. "He couldn't fix what he'd already done. But he tried to protect you. He didn't want to see you get killed. And he knew that's what would happen if he just gave you the name."

She scoffed, and her hand rose to her chest, to the spot he knew was raised and pink under her shirt and jacket. The spot that proved that Montgomery's good intentions were not enough.

"And you?" she spat. "What made you think you had the right to keep that from me?"

His own anger at her seeming blindness bubbled under the surface, but he remembered their last fight and made a silent vow that he would not allow this night to end the way that one had.

"You were recovering from an assassination attempt, Kate," he said quietly, his eyes lingering on the hand that rested on her chest. "Still are. And I care about you too much to let you run after this guy when all it would accomplish is another funeral."

"I have a right to know," she said, and though her tone was still harsh, he noticed it was also a little shaky.

"You're right," he whispered, and took a chance, stepping closer to her and covering her hand with his, just over her heart. Her eyes blazed, but she didn't move away.

"You should have told me."

"I know, and I'm so sorry. I just...I couldn't..." he trailed off, and her expression softened for a fraction of a second before the mask of determination slipped back into place.

"Do you have a name?"

He turned away.

"Castle," she commanded. "Tell me the name."

He brought his eyes back to hers and knew that she would see the held-back tears glistening in them.

"I can't," he rasped out. "There's, there's not enough proof to bring him down. Roy had some, but not everything."

"So we find proof."

"Kate, if he gets even an inkling that you're looking for him again, he'll kill you. I can't let that happen."

He could see the hesitation in her eyes, but her need to know the truth was stronger than her fear.

"I'll be careful."


She opened her mouth to speak, but in her surprise, nothing came out, and he pressed on, his voice gaining strength.

"No, Kate. I can't let you do that."

Her hand came up, and for a moment, he thought she might slap him. Instead, her finger jabbed into his chest, hard. When she spoke, her voice was quiet, but filled with venom.

"In case you haven't noticed, Rick," she said, and he flinched at the use of his first name. "You are not my boss or my husband or my boyfriend. You don't get to tell me what to do."

The mixed anger and fear roiling within in him had his hand reaching up to capture hers, tugging her toward him so he could grip her waist tightly with his other hand. In her heels, there was only an inch or two between them and he did not loom over her by any means. But his body was bigger by far, and his size and strength were to his advantage. She tried to pull back from him, but unless she wanted to use her training to seriously injure him, she wasn't going anywhere.

"I'm your partner," he growled, and she opened her mouth as if to argue, but his anger and hurt pushed him onward. "I am your partner, Kate Beckett, and I love you and I will not let you do this on your own. But you putting yourself in danger puts me in danger, because I will follow you wherever you go. So I'm asking you to leave this alone for now, because I cannot risk leaving Alexis without her father."

And just like that, the fight went out of her. She stopped struggling and nearly went limp in his grasp, sudden tears springing to her eyes. He loosened his grip, worried that he'd been holding too tight, that he'd hurt her, but she fisted her hand in his jacket and leaned into him, dropping her forehead to his shoulder.

"You're right, oh God, you're right," she sobbed, her words barely discernible through the gasping. "You can't do that. I would never forgive myself."

He slid his hand at her waist up her back, rubbing soothing circles as she wept into his neck.

"I need you, Kate," he whispered in her ear. "I can't lose you, but my daughter can't lose me. This isn't forever. We'll keep at it, I promise. We just have to step back for a little while so you can heal and so we can get our bearings, together."

Eventually the sobbing slowed, but they stayed as they were, her right hand tucked in his left against his chest, his other arm wrapped around her shoulders as her left hand clenched and unclenched repeatedly in the soft leather of his jacket.

He turned his head to press his lips against her hair, still shushing her in gentle tones.

"I've already called in some favors," he said softly after a few minutes. "People I trust, people who can look into things without arousing suspicion."

She lifted her tear-stained face, troubled eyes meeting his.

"I've watched you for three years, I know cases have to be air-tight," he continued. "And until this one is, we can't do anything publicly."

"You won't tell me who he is?"

He furrowed his brows, searching her eyes.

"I have to know that you won't try to run at him on your own."

She sighed, releasing her grip on Castle's jacket and running her fingers through her hair. He could tell she was waging an internal war. Finally, she seemed to reach a decision.

"You have to keep me in the loop every step of the way."

He frowned, but nodded nonetheless. He tightened his hand around hers on his chest.

"You have to promise me that I won't lose you."

She shook her head, but the pain in her eyes was enough for him to know she understood his meaning.

"I'm a cop, Castle. You know I can't promise that."

He made a sound of protest but she pushed gently against his chest with her free hand.

"I can't," she repeated, her voice a little softer.

He unwrapped his right arm from around her waist and skimmed his fingers across her cheek, tucking a stray lock behind her ear before dropping his hand heavily to her shoulder.

"Then promise me you'll be careful. Promise me you won't do anything without backup, even if it's just me."

She closed her eyes and leaned in until her forehead was barely resting against his. Her warm breath washed over his parted lips and they stood there, just breathing together for a long moment.

Finally, she leaned back, opening her eyes to meet his.


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