The first thing she notices when she enters Castle's office on her way back from grabbing her bag from the bedroom is the kitten curled up on his desk. That's good. At least she won't have to hunt for the little thing when they leave.

Minnie is still tiny, though Kate can see how much she's grown in the past few weeks. Especially when she stretches out the way she is now. The detective had always thought of cats curling into balls to sleep, but since she found the kitten at the crime scene, she's realized that's actually not the reality most of the time. At least not with her Minerva.

Sometimes the little creature sprawls out on her back, back legs akimbo, soft belly just begging to be rubbed and kissed and nuzzled. Other times she's twisted, back legs pointing one direction, front legs going the opposite way. A few times, the detective has found her in what she thinks of as the sphinx pose.

But now she's in her favorite position, paws stretched down and to one side, little face braced on a raised surface. She gravitates toward warmth, most of the time. The detective's leg or tucked foot if they're sitting on the couch. Sometimes Kate's laptop or phone if she happens to leave one or the other lying around with the power on. Castle's hand too, that evening at her apartment.

She wonders which one of the writer's toys the kitten will have chosen as a headrest this time, especially since his own laptop seems to be absent at the moment.

The detective still remembers the first time she stepped into his office. She'd called it the Batcave. And even now, three years later, she still has a flutter of awe at knowing she's standing in the room where he outlines his books.

She's the author's biggest fan, even if he isn't completely aware of that fact.

But more than that, she loves the man behind the books. The man who welcomed her into his home three years ago wearing fancy laser tag gear, caught in the middle of an epic war with his teenage daughter. She knew then that he wasn't who she'd seen at first.

That cocky playboy who she'd imagined spent every evening in the company of a different woman doesn't really exist. Even then, Castle could more likely be found at home, writing or hanging out with Alexis.

She shakes her head as she recalls that first venture into his world. Not the world of press events and lavish parties, but the world of home-cooked dinners and gentle parenting and laughter.

The detective leans over to brush her fingers against the kitten's ears, intending to pick her up and remove her from the writer's office. But Minnie startles at the touch, little head flinching backward to bounce against the small remote on which she'd been sleeping.

Castle's storyboard flickers to life in front of her and Kate can't repress the flare of curiosity that rises when given the opportunity to get a glimpse of his next masterpiece.

That too, is a memory from her first entry into his inner sanctum - finding her picture on his storyboard, labeling her literary alter ego as Nikki Heat.

Except the photo this time isn't labeled with Nikki's name. It clearly reads Kate BECKETT.

She steps closer, hesitates. She really shouldn't. This is his book, and she knows that in some ways, it's his gift to her. She might even go so far as to call it his love letter. She read the acknowledgments. She knows exactly what he was doing, repeating her own phrase back to her. So she should leave it alone. Wait for him to present it to her when he's ready.

But oh, she wants to know. She needs to know. Heat Rises left her feeling hollowed out, shaken by the literary turn of events that so closely mirrored and yet simultaneously distorted their reality.

Her hand hovers for a moment over her picture on the screen.

But when her finger finally presses down, what appears is not a book outline. There is no fictional murder, no known villain who connects to the victim through trace evidence, no relationship development mapped out for Nikki and Rook.

Her heart thuds dully within her chest. Her own face confronts her, flanked on the left by her mother's, on the right by that of her mentor. Beneath them, the other players in this scheme: Pulgatti, Armen, McAllister, Raglan, and Lockwood.

Under each photo she reads facts and questions. Under Montgomery - killed Lockwood and was killed by Lockwood; what did he know about who hired Coonan + Lockwood? Under Raglan - Who ordered the hit? Under her own smiling face - Who hired the sniper?

A cold fist of dread squeezes around her heart. He's been investigating this? On his own? Without telling her?

She stands stock still in stunned silence, the red DECEASED stamps on all but two of the pictures haunting her.

"Kate?" his voice echoes into the office. "You almost ready? We can just leave Minnie here for now if you can't find her. She'll be fine."

She doesn't answer him, just stares at the board.


His voice is getting nearer, but she can't move. Can't hit the button to turn off the board and clear these images from her mind.

She hears his footsteps, and then they halt, abruptly. There's a moment of quiet, and then he speaks again, faintly.


He's coming up behind her, she realizes that much. But for what? To offer an explanation for why his storyboard holds the details of a real case - her case? To apologize for yet again going behind her back? To defend the hypocrisy of pushing her to lay the case aside, only to continue working on it himself?

Whatever it is that he's going to say, she can't handle it right now.

He gets close enough to touch her shoulder, but she shrugs him off, whirling to face him. He flinches and takes a step backward.

His mouth opens to speak but she shakes her head. Instead, she leans over to gather Minnie into one arm and brushes past him, out of the office.

It takes him a moment, but then he's on her heels, begging her to stay and let him explain, to stay and listen to his reasons, to stay and give him a chance.

But she can't. Tears have already formed in her eyes, and if she doesn't get out of there this instant, she's going to lose it. She's going to fall apart completely.

She's at the front door by the time she even pauses, sliding back into her heels and pulling the pet carrier around next to her. Castle flickers in and out her eyeline, pacing. He's saying something but there's a rushing noise in her ears and she really cannot hear a thing.

As soon as she's got the little metal door open though, Minnie (who has been relatively still and quiet for the past minute) decides she doesn't want to go.

The kitten growls. And hisses. And meows. Pathetically.

But Kate is determined to get the creature into the cage and get going.

Minerva will have none of it. She lets out a wailing screech and climbs Kate's arms, strong back legs kicking into the detectives hands. Claws rip through the skin, draw blood, and just as the detective lets out a pain-induced expletive, Minnie manages her escape, racing out of the entryway to God-knows-where.

Castle drops to his knees beside her, reaching out to take her injured hands.

"Kate," he whispers. "Let me see."

She wants to, so badly. Wants to let him bandage her wounds. Wants to let him take care of her. But then she remembers the faces on his storyboard, the guilt in his eyes when they met briefly as she stalked out of his office. And she can't. Can't do it.

She pulls her hands out of his reach, drawing them into her chest.

"Not," she says, inhaling deeply to clear her head. "Not now."

His face drops at the same time his hands do, falling away from her.

"I need to go. I'll get Minnie later."

He's still on his knees as she stands, his eyes pleading with her. But she needs to, oh god, and that's her mother on his murder board. That's her captain, her friend.

She stumbles toward the door, the tears springing to her eyes as she wrenches it open.

But instead of the empty hallway she expects, instead of the unimpeded dash to the stairs that she hopes for, Martha is standing in the doorway, keys in hand.

"Kate, darling!" she greets enthusiastically.

But as soon as the words are out, Martha looks, truly looks at her.

Instead of happy to see her, the older woman seems confused. Confused and concerned. And why wouldn't she be? Kate stands before her, moisture brimming in her eyes and blood already coagulating on her hands. Behind the detective, she hasn't heard any movement from Castle. He's still on his knees.

The detective wants to leave already and she steps into the hallway, a quick nod her only greeting. But before she can get on her way, iron fingers clasp around her upper arm, a grip much stronger than she would have expected from the older woman. Martha drags her back.

"Martha, I need to-"


The word is firm, resolute, and leaves no room for argument, especially with the door shutting behind them.

The usually genial woman pulls her across the apartment, leading her until they stand in the guest bathroom, in the same place where she and Castle had that charged moment last night.

Castle... Just the thought of him brings a wave of grief. Her heart constricts and her throat burns and she's certain she's going to throw up her coffee and toast and s'morelet.

How could he do this to her? She closes her eyes and sees the anguish on his face when she turned to find him standing behind her in the office, knows his expression must have matched her own.

"Dear heart?" Martha's voice, though soft, startles her. She'd forgotten where she was standing. Was, because it seems the older woman has gently pushed her to sit on the closed toilet lid and is now crouching before her, a towel and small basin on the floor at her feet.

The detective starts to get up, but Martha's hand on her knee keeps her from leaving.

"Sit," the actress says quietly. "You're not going anywhere. You're in no fit shape to drive, and any taxi driver would think you'd just killed a man with all that blood on your hands. Although, from the looks of it, maybe you should have."

Martha reaches up to grasp one of Kate's hands, tugging it forward even as her other hand slips down to dip the towel into the basin. Her touches are light, but present, as she wipes away the drying blood on the detective's hands, revealing deep scratches that are already a raised and puffy pink.

This is the mother, the woman who must have struggled as a single mom to balance her life on the stage with her life with her son, patching skinned knees and speaking words of comfort to a young Richard.

The detective recalls her own childhood scrapes. Katie Beckett was all girl, but never afraid of the rough and tumble, and she remembers the many times she sat in nearly this exact position with her own mother while Johanna tended to her daughter.

Oh, Mom...

The tears she's been stubbornly holding back come rushing forth, hurrying down her cheeks in hot streams. Martha holds both of her hands, so she can't even stop the flow. She shuts her eyes, but it does no good.

And then she's folded into a perfumed embrace, a mother's embrace, and it's been so long.

She's sobbing. She's sobbing and there's nothing she can do about it, no way she can still the rocking of her body.

But Martha holds on tightly, and eventually the detective hears the words murmured into her ear. The actress speaks peace, but doesn't make false promises, never says that everything will be okay.

Because will it? Will everything ever truly be okay? After last night and this morning, she'd started to think...but no. Maybe this is her fate - betrayal or abandonment by the ones she loves.

"Alexis texted me," the older woman is saying now. "Surprised, but happy enough. That's why I'm home now. I had to see for myself."

Kate hears the words, but it's as if the actress is speaking a foreign language.

"He loves you," she's saying. "Whatever my son has done - and I have no doubt you have every reason to be upset with him - you need to know that. He loves you more than anyone else in the world, except for his daughter. He would do anything to see you happy."

There's a thud outside the room, and a strangled sound, and she can picture him, perhaps leaning his head against the bathroom door, perhaps slumped over on the floor against the wall.

Regardless of his position, she knows he's there.

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