She hears the distant trill of a phone, but it's not her ringtone.

A daughter's young voice, muffled through the door, echoes in the hallway, calling for her father.

She hears him grunt, getting to his feet maybe. And then he walks away.

"Now that my son isn't hovering," Martha says, pausing in her ministrations to catch the detective's red-rimmed eyes, "why don't you tell me what happened? Last I heard from Alexis, you all were eating breakfast and enjoying each other's company. She said you even liked his abomination of a s'morelet."

Kate lets out a choked attempt at a chuckle.

"It was better than I expected."

The older woman tilts her head, and the detective gets that sudden sense that she has sometimes with Castle - that her insides are suddenly available for examination. He'd joked that his family boasted a legacy of mind-readers. And maybe he wasn't kidding.

"So what happened, darling? Between the s'morelet and my finding you bloodied and rushing out the door?"

She laughs, more than a little bitterness seeping into the sound.

"Minnie happened," she says, nodding toward her partially bandaged hands. "I tried to get her into the carrier and she made it abundantly clear that she didn't want to go."

Martha shakes her head.

"Be that as it may - and it does look terribly painful - that doesn't explain the hurry. Or the look of desolation on Richard's face when I came in."

She closes her eyes. She doesn't want to have this conversation. Especially not with his mother. But Martha is blocking the path out, and in any case, the actress is halfway through wrapping gauze around the younger woman's hands to cover the antibiotic cream.

"He's been investigating my shooting," she says quietly, opening her eyes to gauge the woman's reaction.

Martha nods. She knew then. Did Alexis know as well? Do Esposito and Ryan know?

"He has."

There's no judgment in the acknowledgment, no admission that her son was wrong for what he's done, nor suggestion that the detective was wrong in how she reacted. Just a stating of fact.

"He asked me to stop, months ago. And I did."

She can detect the hint of petulance in her own voice and she hates it. But this is what her mother's case does to her. What her own case does to her. It sets her back to a broken nineteen.

It removes her self-assurance, her rationality, the professional detachment she's gained over her years on the force. It makes her leap to conclusions and lash out at the wrong people. She knows that. And she's been working on it.

"Did he tell you why?" Martha asks.

Why what? Why did he make her stop? She thinks it was because she was spiraling out of control, running herself into the ground. Or why did he continue to investigate? That she doesn't know, not for sure.

He loves her. She is certain of that. She doesn't doubt that. But why keep looking when he himself begged her to let it go?

She shakes her head.

"Oh, honey."

Martha reaches up, and the detective startles. She's not used to this, not anymore. But the older woman ignores the flinch and thumbs away a dab of mascara smeared across Kate's cheek.

His whole family is affectionate. They hug and they touch and they speak encouraging words and they're kind to each other in a way that so few families are these days.

Martha, of course, is particularly effusive. It must be the actress in her. And really, it makes sense. The theatre veteran has made her living with movement and voice and action.

Her son, on the other hand, deals in subtext. Everything he does, at least as it concerns Kate Beckett, has meaning and layers. And when she thinks about it, these most recent demonstrations - his words, his kisses, his touches - are only the most blatant in the long line of ways he's showed her over the past three years just how much he cares about her.

He started by learning her coffee order.

"He's tried to keep us out of it - Alexis and me - but we were here when..." the older woman trails off, shaking her head. "It's not mine to explain, dear one. But he's not trying to be a hero. I can promise you that much."

She's not sure what the woman means. Her head feels clogged, weighted, foggy, the beginnings of a headache blooming behind her eyes.

"I know he did this before," Martha says, and it's all Kate can do to follow the woman's words. "He wanted to be the one to solve your mother's case. To be the one to give you justice and closure."

The detective nods. She remembers. It was less that he had looked into the case and more the way he had done it. The reasons and motives behind his meddling. But when he had apologized, she'd forgiven him, taken him back.

"It's not like that this time," Martha tells her, tucking the last edge of the gauze in tightly. "It's not about him coming out on top, darling. It isn't really even about justice, not anymore."

Kate shakes her head, eyes falling shut at the sloshy feeling that always comes when she drinks too much or cries too hard.

If not justice, then what? Revenge?

She doesn't want him going down that path. Not for her. Not for Montgomery or her mother. It's a slippery slope, and she knows exactly where it leads because she's been there - on a beach under a pier, a second away from pulling the trigger, held back only by a good man's gentle voice.

"What then?" she asks pleadingly. "Why would he hide this from me? Especially now?"

The actress stands, picking up the supplies and returning them to the cabinet, lifting the basin of lukewarm water and emptying it into the sink. The detective watches as it drains, pink-tinged.

When she looks up, Martha is studying her carefully.

"To protect you."

Part of her - the fiercely independent, somewhat reckless part of her - wants to scoff. As if she needs his protection. She can take care of herself.

But then she flashes back to the blue of the freezer and the arms that staved off hypothermia. To the warm brown coat wrapped around her as she hobbled out of her burning apartment. To the scarlet abrasions on the bare hands of the man who tackled her would-be assassin and beat him senseless.

And she realizes: she can't do this on her own. She doesn't want to do this on her own.

"Kate," Martha says, and the detective thinks it might be the first time she's heard her name from the woman's lips without some term of endearment attached. "Please listen to him."

The actress lifts her hand, but then hesitates.

"I just..." she begins softly, fingers rising to lightly curl around Kate's shoulder. "If not for his sake or your own, then for us - for Alexis and for me."

What? The detective furrows her eyebrows and Martha finishes the thought.

"If he loses you to this, to the person who tried to kill you," she murmurs. "We will lose him."

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