A/N: Teehee, I made a lot of new best friends from the last chapter; shout out to all of you who got my nod to "The Newsroom"! :D Also, I wanted to give a public thanks to Bahamut Slayer for your messages and perspective. You were instrumental to a part of this chapter and I hope you don't mind that I borrowed some of your words. And last but not least, I really want to thank annem57 for putting up with me and all my tense inconsistency. Thanks for always lending me your ear. :)

And of course, a large THANK YOU to all of you who's stuck with me this far. You all have been incredibly supportive. ❤

Chapter 23

"I heard you were doing a press conference today," Kate started quietly, diffident but with a defensive undertone. "I don't mean to barge in here and ruin this day for you; I just wanted to speak to you as soon as possible and didn't know if I would ever be able to catch you otherwise. After the last time, I figured I wouldn't be very well received if I simply showed up at your place, announced or not."

As if showing up now, unexpectedly, was any better, Kate amended in her head. But she figured, Alex Rodgers was a smart guy; he could fill in that blank for himself without her having to address it. She was having a hard enough time addressing him, let alone their topic. Kate refused to look at Alex in the eye, for fear that his reactions might somehow discourage her, so instead she focused her attention on her hands and forced herself to be more honest with her feelings. She had to persevere with her monologue, lest she lose her steam.

"I'm sorry for what happened, barging into your classroom as I did, addressing you in front of your students over such a sensitive topic, the consequent media backlash—everything. In hindsight now, I can see that I could've—should've—handled it all better. I'm sorry for letting my emotions get the best of me.

"But at the same time, I'm not sorry. I'm sorry for what happened and how it happened but I don't think I can apologize for my role in it. I was doing a job—a job that I entered into because of certain events in my own personal history—that made the culmination of events leading up to your 'arrest' rather triggering. I know that doesn't excuse my behavior; I just want you to understand that I didn't do it intentionally."

Kate paused here, and finally willed herself to look up. She needed to know how Alex is receiving her, if it was worth it to keep going and lay it all out there. He had been silent throughout her entire monologue, letting her control the conversation; she had no idea what to expect when she looked up. How is he taking the news so far?

He wasn't sure how to take the news. How could this person say she's sorry without actually apologizing? Was that something he even wanted to hear? Did he want to hear Kate Beckett beg for his forgiveness, or in that same vein, beg for him back?

Alex, how could you still be thinking about your has-been relationship at this point? He wanted to berate himself for seeing her in that light, for still considering the possibility that they could be something. How could he let himself be treated as such, like a doormat she could just walk all over?

No, he stood up for himself today, when he accepted to the world that he was Richard Castle; no more hiding or cowardice. He would stand up for himself now, to her.

"You're right, Kate, that is no excuse. I hear you—you're sorry for how things went down between us and all that—but I don't think you get it. I don't think you really get how your actions have hurt me," he paused, to collect his thoughts and gather his breath for a moment before continuing. "Yes, you were doing a job, but did you have to bring me in the way that you did? Considering what we had before everything went sour, I had hoped for more tact from you. Instead, you showed up at my class, accuse me in front of my students, and cart me off like a guaranteed suspect who deserved to be publicly shamed. So yeah, Kate, you did your job. You did it royally."

Alex couldn't help the bitterness that seeped into his tone. As much as he wanted to put all this behind him, a part of him still blamed Kate for his circumstances. He thought that he could be the bigger person and focus instead on only moving forward from here on, but this conversation with Kate was forcing him to confront all those feelings he stuffed down in front of the people he didn't want to worry, like his daughter, his mother, and heck, even his publicist. All those people in his world needed him to step up and be the mature one. So for these past few days, he focused only on mitigating this disaster. But now, here sat Kate, forcing him to face all the issues he thought he had laid to rest.

"If you're going to be sarcastic about my job, then why didn't you tell the truth when that reporter confronted you about our relationship?" Kate deflected evenly, though he could tell she was doing her best to hide how affected she was by his resistance to her 'apology'.

"Because, believe it or not, I do actually think you're a great detective! You made connections in that case that I doubt many others would've caught. You're persistent and focused on your job, and I had really admired that. I'm not going to lie to you Kate; I was really attracted to you. How could you treat me so blithely once you found out my side occupation? Was that 'betrayal' truly so severe? I never once lied to you or pretended to be more than I was. Throughout our 'courtship,' I was always the Alex Rodgers you saw because that's all I am."

Does she get what he's saying? Richard Castle was not his Superman. At most, that's his Clark Kent, only ever the disguise for who he really identifies as. He had always been genuine with her. He only hopes she can be genuine with him too, now, in what may be their last moment together. He needed closure.

He was attracted to her? A part of her knew that, could surmise it from how quickly they had been enamored with each other at the beginning of their "courtship," as he had called it. But to actually hear him say it, well, she didn't know how to respond. She didn't even know if he realized what he had said—everything had crashed and burned too quickly for affections to be voiced. But whether this had been conscious or not, it nonetheless gave her hope. It gave her the courage to be just as open with him.

"Alex, I know you were genuine with me. I believe you. I think a part of me always did. And that's why I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I didn't think about how my actions could have affected you. You were never really a suspect and I never should've treated you as such. I just … I …"

Can she do this? Can she really share what she's only been able to confide in enough people to count on one hand? Kate had never been the talky feely type, nor the one to volunteer information about her past, but one look at Alex with his expectant face and she was reminded again of all the decisions and conclusions she came to the night before. Here was a fiercely private man, she had deduced, and if he was able to accept the responsibility of Richard Castle and bare that to the world, it was high time she owned up to the shadows of her past. If Alex could share a bit of himself with the world, she could share a bit of herself with just one person—him.

"Finding out that you, Alexander Rodgers, the man who I was beginning to become romantically involved with, is also Richard Castle, was a shock beyond my comprehension. In any other context, I would like to believe that I would've been ecstatic over the news. But as it so happened, Richard Castle was considered a suspect/person of interest in a murder investigation, one I was the lead detective for.

"I've already said that my job is important to me, but I haven't fully communicated why that's the case. I care a great deal for my job and I tenaciously pursue my cases in the name of justice because I want to give the families and friends of my victims the closure I never got when I was on their side of the yellow tape. My mother was murdered when I was 19 and for a long time, her death consumed my life."

Kate didn't wait to see how Alex responded to her last sentence. She needed to keep going if she was going to make it out to the end of her narrative. "We were supposed to go to dinner together—my mom, my dad, and I—and she was going to meet us at the restaurant but she never showed. Two hours later, we went home, and there was a detective waiting for us—Detective Raglan. They found her body. She had been stabbed."

Kate wanted to keep powering through but when she reached this detail, she had to take a moment to collect herself. She hadn't plan on getting into the nitty gritty bits of her past but once she had begun, it was hard not to see the lights of the police escort or recall the hours spent trying to talk to detectives who seemed more interested in last weekend's football game. All she wanted to know, all she had needed then, was to be reassured that everything would be okay. But instead, she mostly got the cold shoulder, because to them, she was just some 19 year old kid with a smart mouth and was wasting their time. If she wanted to help, she should just go home to her Clue board game and leave the real detective work to the professionals.

All the bitter and unresolved resentment came back to the surface. That was why she decided to become a detective. Not just because she wanted a shot at really solving her mother's case, but because she believed she could do a better job than those detectives, with her eyes closed. It was because she knew how important each case solved makes the world of a difference for that victim's family and friends. Professional numbness was just the easy excuse for laziness.

"A robbery?"

At Alex's question, Kate was brought back to the reality of where she was and why she was there in the first place. She had a story to finish and a point to get across.

"No. She still had her money, and purse, and jewelry. And it wasn't a sexual assault either. They attributed it to gang violence. Random wayward event. The detectives on her case couldn't think outside the box. So they just tried to package it up nicely. And the killer was never caught."

"Is that why you became a detective? To solve your mother's case?"

"Yes and no. But Alex, that's not the point. The point is you. Or more specifically, Richard Castle." Taking a final breath, Kate finally got to crux of her story, the point of her visit.

"Alex, I don't know where I would be if it weren't for your books. My dad, he—he took her death hard. He's sober now. Five years." She couldn't help but smile at that briefly before continuing. "He turned to the bottle while I turned to literature. I found your books and the justice offered within. They helped me through some really dark times. They saved me.

"And that is why, I took the news of your side job so hard. To me, I wasn't just betrayed by you, Alexander Rodgers, but also by your Richard Castle, my savior. I couldn't trust you or what we had—how could I when the author I believed in was a potential murderer?—but I'm sorry for letting my emotions get the better of me. I want you to understand how difficult that case was for me, and realize that I didn't mean to scandalize you intentionally."

What does he say to all that? How can he go on being angry at her, if he was ever truly angry with her to begin with?

It was almost unfair how she could just pull this over him, and made him sympathetic towards her situation when a small part of him still wanted to make this about him. He always had to look out for every other important person in his life—he had a daughter he's responsible for, and a mother who still gallivants off into the night, despite a broken leg. It was just so unfair that now he had to consider Kate too. And they were supposed to be through. So why did he feel so obligated to her? Why did he feel this concern for her, when just once, he wanted someone to be concerned for him. He wanted it to be about him today, and how brave he was for stepping up to his fears over his nom de plume while besting the insensitive detective who revealed it.

But looking at the small woman who sat before him, he finally noticed the bags under her eyes and the hunched, withdrawn posture that under any other circumstances, he would've picked up on immediately. This woman who always stood so tall around him, who shared pleasantries with his daughter and helped him carry his mother up to her room, was walking around with the sword of Damocles hanging over her head. For someone who he had always thought was so strong, how did she stand to do a job that must serve as a daily reminder of her past? How could she be so courageous?

And goodness, what had she said about Richard Castle? As a professor and writer of literature, that was a plot twist he did not anticipate. To think that his writing could have that much of an effect on her … it was humbling. He always hoped he could inspire people with his words but to actually save an individual, that was beyond his expectations.

Looking at Kate now, he couldn't help but feel what was left of his bitterness and anger leave him. He couldn't stay mad at this person who poured her heart out to him, and even then, made attempts to console him. If anything, this was someone who needed his support, not the other way around. And yet here she was, trying to apologize for something that must have been out of her control. Yes, what she did could have used a little more prudence, but now that he understood where she was coming from, he couldn't blame her.

"So is this you ceasing to shred paper?" Alex half-heartedly joked, having reached the conclusion of his processing.


Clearly his question caught her off guard as much as it did him. He had no idea where that came from, but his unconscious mind must have been working on her little prologue as well as her exposition. No wonder she chose to babble at the beginning with that story about a boy shredding paper. Having something random and irrelevant to talk about certainly made the tension of the situation a little lighter.

"I mean … actually, I don't know. What does that mean? You said before that to be happy, you needed to stop—like how all that boy needed to do was stop shredding paper and his parents wouldn't take him to any more doctors. What were you hoping to accomplish here, Kate?"

Okay, wow, that was a little blunt. What he had planned to communicate was how he understood where she was coming from and he wanted to be supportive of all the struggles she's had to endure up to this point. He wanted to validate her experiences and tell her not to worry about what happened between them because he forgave her. He wanted to move forward from here on out. But saying all that would require him to put himself out there for her again, and he's not too sure he was ready to do that. He knew she just put herself out there for him, but he still didn't know what exactly it is she wanted from their conversation. He's not sure he's ready to risk his heart again and immediately profess in no uncertain words that she's irrevocably forgiven. He needed to protect himself too.

"I—" she started, seeming to be as much at a lost as him, before something must've clicked inside her. "I want us to start over. I want us to try again, this time as who we are with all our flaws and imperfections. It doesn't have to be in any romantic sense; I mean, just as friends. Alex Rodgers, I want to get to know you, as you are, and I want you to get to know me, as I am."

Alex took a moment to think about this but in reality, he had the answer to her request the moment she voiced it.

"I think I would like that."

The minute Alex uttered those words, Kate finally let go of the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. She had made herself more vulnerable than ever, with no guarantee that she would've been well-received. The pep-talk she gave herself before (about how she did what she could if things didn't work out), now that she knew the results of her efforts, she was really glad she didn't have to take the pep talk any further. She never realized how badly she needed Alex to accept and sympathize to her experiences. It was comforting.

Kate was so lost in her own relief she hadn't realized Alex had stuck out his hand to her. She stared at it for a moment before finally recognizing the social norm expected from such a gesture.

As Kate extended her own hand to grasp Alex's, Alex smiled warmly and introduced himself, "Hi, my name is Alexander Rodgers, full time literature professor and part time author. You may have heard of my pseudonym; I go by Richard Castle."

Grinning at his antics and his literal interpretation of her request, Kate was grateful for the levity to conclude their serious conversation. Not wanting to drop the ball so soon after she managed to bring it back into play, she shook his hand and introduced herself in return, "Hi. It's nice to meet you, Alex (can I call you that?). My name is Katherine Beckett, though my friends call me Kate. I'm just a detective but I take a lot of pride in my work."

"Hello Kate. It's wonderful to meet you too."

And indeed, it was wonderful for her to meet this new side of herself too. Kate felt like a weight has been lifted off her shoulders, as cliché as that sounds. To finally let someone in, and have them accept her for all she was, it was … wonderful beyond words. Hopefully Alex can continue to get to know her and "meet" her many times over. Yeah, I think I'd like that. Most definitely.