Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I used to watch the show.

She'd really wanted to talk when they got home, but as soon she sheds her jacket she all but collapses. "I'm sorry, Castle," she says a few moments later, leaning against him as they sit on stools in the kitchen. "Everything's just crashing in on me. I feel as if we should be setting off fireworks on the roof now that we have Bracken, but I'm numb. And exhausted. I can't even think." With her elbows propped on the counter and her forehead against the heels of her hands, she feels his warm palm come to rest on her back, and his lips against her cheekbone.

"You know what else, Kate? You've haven't had a meal all day. You're hungry."

"Not really–"

"You probably don't want to eat, just sleep, but it'll do you good to have something first. What if I give you your favorite midnight snack?"

"Is it midnight?"

"No, more like eight-thirty, but if ever there were a time for rule-breaking, this is it."

She lifts her head to watch him open a cabinet and a drawer. How did she get this lucky? To have him in her life, to be the most important part of her life? To have him go through hell with her but know that he is as in love with her as she is with him?

"Here," he says, passing her a spoonful of peanut butter. "Enjoy it. I slaved for hours over this."

"Mmm. Yum." She licks the spoon clean and smiles. When was the last time she'd smiled? She can't remember. "Thank you. That gives me the strength to wash my face, brush my teeth, and take off my clothes." When she sets her phone on her night stand, she notices that it's 8:48 p.m. and figures she'll be out by 8:49.

He'd thought about curling up next to her, but she'd fallen asleep before he'd had a chance to take his shoes off. Besides, he's wide awake. He stands near the doorway for a while, watching her. He wants to see her really relax while she's sleeping, and when she rolls over onto his side of the bed, and takes over half his pillow, she finally does. She looks light, somehow–filled with light. It touches him more than anything has since they got married, five months ago. It travels to some unexplored place deep inside him, a place that he hadn't known existed before they'd fallen in love, a place that he hadn't dared to visit until now, with Bracken locked up. A place that allows him to imagine fully, without restrictions, a life with her that is free of the specters that have haunted her for so long.

With some reluctance he turns and walks into his office. He wants to make notes about everything that has happened in the last two days before the details begin to fade. It's hard to believe that they could, but they almost certainly will. He wants a record of all of it, the tangible things but especially the intangible, every emotion that the two of them have experienced in this short span. But first he phones his daughter, whom he'd spoken to only briefly while Kate was inside with Bracken. At the end he asks if she could drive back in the morning, and bring Gummy.

"I can't thank you enough for what you did, Alexis. You must have been scared for us."

"I was. But it's really over now, right, Dad?"

"It is. And if you're too tired to make the drive, I'll send a car. You could use the study time."

"That's all I've been doing out here. That and play with the dog."

"Sorry, what was I thinking? Anyway, the offer stands."

When they're through he opens a new file on his laptop and begins to type, but gets up at regular intervals to check on Kate. Eventually he trusts himself, and her, enough that he stays put and gets lost in his writing.

She sits up, gasping, clutching her throat. There's not enough air here. She can't breathe right. It's dark. She looks frantically around the room. Where's Castle? Why can't she fill her lungs? She's alone. Where's Castle? Where's Gummy? The sheets are tangled around her feet; she can't get out of bed. "Castle!" She hadn't meant to scream, but it sounds as though she did. "Castle!" She's kicking at the sheets. God, thank God, she's out. She stumbles out of bed and starts to run, but the door opens before she's halfway across the floor.

"Kate! Kate!"

He's here. He's holding her. She's safe. She's not safe. Safe. Not. "What time is it?"

"Almost midnight. What happened, Kate?"

"I have to tell someone. I have to get dressed."

"Shhh, hold on. Shhh. It's late and you're exhausted. Whatever this is can wait until morning."

"No. No, it can't. You have to let go." She shoves her fists weakly against his chest. "I killed two people, Castle, I shot them. I was drunk and I shot them. They're dead. I have to tell Gates. And Emily. I have to tell her." But that makes him hold her even closer, his fingers in her hair.

She hears him say, over and over, "It's all right. You told Gates. She knows. It was self-defense. Self-defense. Everything's all right."

Suddenly she wishes that she could climb inside him, have him completely surround her. If only she could do that, she'd stay that way until maybe one day she'd have the strength to get up. She's clinging to him even harder than he is to her, until finally she understands what he's been saying to her. "I told Gates? You're sure? I confessed?"

Confessed? She thinks she has something to confess? He feels as if he's been tackled by the entire defensive line of the New York Giants. What has all this horror done to her ability to reason? "Let's sit down, okay?" With his arm around her shoulder he steers her to the sofa. She desperately needs sleep, but look what sleep just did to her. He'll keep her up for a while, and when she goes back to bed it will be with him. "Do you remember now? That you told Gates what happened in the motel?"

"Yeah."

"There's no guilt here. None. Minus none. Here's what I think. I think that there's some part of you that holds yourself accountable for allowing–and you didn't allow it, you were forced–those sons of bitches to pour liquor down your throat. I hope, I wish, that you'll accept this from me. I'm not Doctor Burke, but I'm positive that he'd say the same thing, will say the same thing when you talk to him. You have an appointment with him tomorrow, right?"

He waits for her to respond, and gets an answering nod.

"I understand completely if you want to talk to Emily, too, just please don't think of it as a confession. You're not at fault, so no one has to grant you absolution. Maybe you believe that you need to absolve yourself. I wish I could help you."

She turns just enough that she can fit her forehead in the dip between his bicep and his shoulder. "You know those studies that patting a dog is good for you?" she asks. "That it lowers your blood pressure?"

"Uh, yes."

"That's how I feel when I press my head right here. I must sound crazy."

"Not really, but should I be jealous of Gummy?"

She kisses him on the arm. "No. It's just that I feel calmer when we sit like this. You make me feel calmer. Reassured. Loved."

That opens up everything, and they talk until they're talked out, about Bracken and Montgomery and her mother. They talk about her father's reaction–his relief, his pride, his love–when she'd called to tell him about the arrest. She hadn't wanted him to hear it from anyone but her. And at last they allow themselves to talk about them, what all this means to them.

She falls asleep in his arms. He'd be happy to stay this way for what remains of the night, but knows he'll regret it. Instead, he scoops her up and carries her to bed. The next thing he hears is the sound of a key in the front door, and he rolls out, grabs his robe, and shuts the office door behind him. Kate doesn't stir.

"Hi, Dad," Alexis says quietly, coming over to give him a hug. "Kate asleep?"

"Yes, thank God. Tough night, before." He looks down at Gummy, who is running back and forth between his legs. "Excuse me a second, your little brother seems to require some attention."

"Little brother? Oh, you've got it bad."

"I know, I know."

"You're really itching for a baby around the house aren't you? As in a human brother or sister for me."

"You could tell, huh?"

"Oh, please. How does Kate feel about it, if you don't mind my asking."

He gets the coffeemaker going before he replies. "She wants it, too. She wanted the year of sobriety before she'd even begin to think about it, and she has that, but I think that all this might set her back a little."

"Really? But she must be ecstatic about finally getting Bracken, isn't she?"

"Let's just say the circumstances leading up to it, what happened to her when she had to go on the run, were worse than anything I can imagine, and I make my living with my imagination."

"I'm sorry, Dad."

"I know you are. Thank you. And thanks again for everything. Hey, would you like me to make you breakfast?"

"No, thanks, I'm going to head back uptown. I'll take a coffee for the subway ride, though."/

"Attagirl. No Starbucks for you."

When his daughter leaves he pours a cup of coffee and takes it to Kate. "Sorry to wake you up," he says, perched on the edge of the bed next to her. "Sorry I didn't think to set the alarm. Your appointment with Doctor Burke is in ninety-five minutes. But I have a surprise for you."

"Dunno if I can handle a surprise yet, Castle."

"Oh, you can handle this." He walks to the door, opens it and says, "Good boy! Come on!" Gummy streaks across the room and hurls himself at her. She shrieks and laughs and claps her hands.

"You were right, Castle," she says a few moments later, while she tickles Gummy's belly. "This is one thing I can handle."

Gates had given her the week off–ordered her to take it–and she thinks about that off and on, throughout the week: what she can handle, what she can't, what she wishes she could, what she'll try her damnedest to do.

"You're thinking a lot, aren't you?" Castle says late on the fourth night, when they're side by side, brushing their teeth. She'd never thought about how strangely intimate an act it was, strange but wonderful.

"Yes. I'm sorry."

"Never apologize for thinking. You're just really quiet. It's fine. I know you have to chew on things by yourself sometimes."

"But you never bargained for this, Castle. So much Kate Beckett Time. That used to be an hour, not five or six, and not every day."

"It's not forever."

She puts her toothbrush in its holder. First she stares into the sink, and then she looks at him. Not at him directly, but at his reflection in the mirror. "I'm having a hard time letting go. Despite what you and Burke say. I can't let go of this guilt, this weakness. About the drinking. Not about killing the two men. They were going to kill me, and Bracken would have been unstoppable. But if I had the physical strength–and I don't know how the hell I did–to overpower them, why didn't I have the strength to stop them from making me drink?"

"I could give you a hundred answers to that," he says softly. "But I know that you have to come up with your own. And you will. I have not one iota of doubt. None. But I wish that you didn't have to. It breaks my heart." He reaches out to caress her cheek. "I wish that you could see yourself through my eyes."

"Thank you." It's all she can say, but there's so much more that needs to be expressed. Instead, she turns off the light and they go to bed.

She can't sleep. Lying on her back, she plays and replays what Castle had said, especially the coda, "I wish that you could see yourself through my eyes." She rolls onto her side and looks at him, just looks at him, then begins to trace a fingertip over one of his eyebrows. On the third pass, he wakes up.

"Hi," he says. "You okay?"

"Mmhmm. You know what? I wish you could see yourself through my eyes, too. So you would see that you are the best thing that ever happened to me. That no matter what, even if we're arguing about something, when I look at you my heart sings. You make everything an adventure for me. You make me laugh, but you have also have borne my grief for me. With me. You challenge me to come at things from every possible and impossible direction. Did you know that? If you don't, I should tell you every day. I should anyway, and I'm sorry that I haven't, especially lately."

"No apologies, remember?" His voice is thick.

They're silent for a long time, their breathing moderating slightly until they're completely in synch. "You know what else I haven't done since–. Since then."

He shakes his head.

"Get naked with you. I'll start." She pulls her camisole over her head and tosses it onto the floor. "Your turn," she says, reaching for the hem of his tee shirt. In seconds it's also on the floor.

"Is this going where I think it's going?"

"I sure as hell hope so."

Maybe it's because she was able to tell him what's on her mind, maybe it was the sex, maybe it's having Gummy back home, maybe it's a whole lot of things, but the next morning she feels better. The day after that, a little better still. Bit by bit, metaphorical brick after metaphorical brick, she's rebuilding her life. She and Castle are back at the precinct together. Gummy has a fantastic dog walker whom he loves but not, she is not more than willing to admit, as much as he loves the two of them.

She starts planning little surprises for Castle, and finds that she loves doing it. One night she pulls him up to the roof and hands him a small brown paper bag.

"What's this?"

"Take a peek."

"Ooh," he says, looking like a kindergarten kid. "Sparklers!"

"Yup, and I have the matches to light them. I'm not sure you're old enough."

"What's the occasion? The Fourth of July is weeks away."

"We can't have those fireworks on the roof, so this is my best shot at celebrating our independence from Bracken."

"Nice," he says. "Know what I'm going to do?"

"Nope."

"Write your mother's name in the air with my sparkler."

She kisses him so hard that he falls over.

One rainy weekend in August she secretly teaches Gummy a bunch of tricks and unveils them on four successive nights. Castle's favorite is "Find the remote," and he thinks their dog is a genius. "If David Letterman had 'Smart Pet Tricks' instead of 'Stupid Pet Tricks' he could be on the show."

On Sunday evening, September 28, she drags a box out of the front hall closet after dinner. "What's in there?" he asks. "Looks like it weighs a ton."

"It's for you. Open it."

His initial expression, shock, is taken over by alarm. "Kate." He's pale. "What is this?"

"Six bottles of your favorite single malt, and six bottles of your favorite wine."

"You can't do that."

"Of course I can. I ordered them, and they were delivered. I'm not going to drink them."

"I know you aren't. I know, but–"

"But nothing, Castle. Tomorrow is my second AA anniversary, and I don't want you to spend the rest of your life thinking that you can't drink because of me, that you can't keep liquor in the house because of me. You can."

The next night he comes to her meeting with her, as he had done a year before. On the way home she says, "Remember what I said to you this time last year?"

"Do I remember? I think of it every day. Every word. I can recite it."

You can?"

""Of course I can. I'm almost as smart as Gummy. You said, 'Let's get married. Let's get married and have a bunch of kids and adopt a dog'."

"We got married and we adopted a dog. I'm ready for the kids. Or kid. Start with one."

"Really? You're sure?"

"I'm sure. My birthday is seven weeks from today. Think you can knock me up by the time I turn thirty-five?"

"I'll do my best," he says, giving her his most irresistible smile.

"Good," she says. "Because I really, really love your best."

A/N That's a wrap. Thank you all for your kind words.