DISCLAIMER: The characters from Law & Order & Law & Order SVU are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf. The characters from Castle belong to ABC and show creator, Andrew Marlowe. No copyright infringement is intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: It Takes Two is a collaborative crossover between the shows Castle and Law & Order: SVU. The story takes place after the episode "Ghost" has occurred and encompasses events from Seasons 1 and 2 of Castle and Season 10 of SVU. Parts of the SVU timeline have been altered to fit the needs of this story, but we tried to remain true to the characters and spirit of both shows. Credits: Acathla: Primary writer for Kate Beckett and compilation of the text. Diamond Crush: Primary Writer for Vicky Harrison/Alexandra Cabot, proofreading and final edit.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To CMSVU2010[at]gmail.com

It Takes Two
By Acathla & Diamond Crush


Chapter Twenty-One: Relaxing at Home…The Body Found Her

Kate made it home and saw the police detail outside her building. She went upstairs and entered her apartment to find Alex standing at the counter serving up the Chinese take out onto plates. Kate smiled at the sight and then turned to lock the door behind her. She called the car downstairs and sent them away, not wanting or needing Shaw's detail.

She turned to face Alex and asked, "Mmmm...what smells so good in here? Besides you I mean."

Alex chuckled, "Chinese. I brought you dumplings and cashew chicken. There's also some noodles in the take out containers and some spring rolls. You can also have some of mine, if you want. I got the shrimp lo-mein."

Kate walked around the counter and hugged Alex from behind, nuzzling her neck, "Mmm...I missed you today. I'm sorry we couldn't have lunch together." Kate began kissing Alex's neck, trying to bribe the blonde into forgiving her.

Alex lowered her head, "It's ok. I know it's part of the job sometimes…How were things after I left?"

Kate groaned, "They went from bad to worse. Another body popped up and now it's missing. This guy has all of us chasing our own tails." Kate tightened her grip on Alex, suddenly afraid that this psycho would step up his delusion and try to kill her...or worse, that he'd find out about Alex and try to hurt her just to get to "Nikki." Kate whispered, her voice trembling a little bit, "I love you Alex."

Alex could sense that Kate was in bad shape and she gently pulled out of Kate's grasp so that she could turn around and look at her girlfriend, "I love you too, Kate. We're going to get through this case together, ok? Come on, let's eat something and then I'll hold you."

"Ok baby, but let me change into something more comfortable, I've been in these clothes all day. Give me five minutes?" Kate kissed Alex then began walking towards the bedroom.

Alex carried the plates to the living room while Kate went to go change. She went back to the kitchen to get the rest, but she opted to open a bottle of wine first. She figured a little drink couldn't hurt. Kate seemed like she needed something to calm her nerves.

In the bedroom, Kate took a few deep breaths then she quickly changed into a purple yoga shirt and black sweat pants. It wasn't the sexiest outfit she owned but she knew that Alex wouldn't mind. Kate went back into the living room and smiled when she saw the plates laid out on the coffee table. She sat down on the couch next to Alex and took the wine glass the blonde was holding out for her. She took a quick sip and then she started to eat her dinner, but she wasn't sure she could call it eating since she was basically picking at it. Her appetite was practically non-existent.

Alex was enjoying her shrimp, but she soon noticed that Kate was barely eating. She set her chopsticks down and asked, "Honey, you can talk to me…whatever you're thinking about, whatever you want to say, I'm here."

Kate put her chopsticks down and turned to face her girlfriend, "Alex, just how, big a fan are you of Nikki Heat?"

"I enjoyed the book and it makes me smile when I think about her being based on you…though I'm not too thrilled about her relationship with Rook, but you know, it doesn't stop me from liking it. Why?"

Kate dropped her head and stared at her folded hands as she said, "Because this case, the guy we're looking for, he...he thinks I really am Nikki Heat and he's...he's killing people to taunt me. He wanted to get my attention and prove that he's smarter than Nikki Heat."

Alex took a minute to let that soak in and she moved closer to Kate. "Honey, I'm so sorry. I mean, it's not your fault what he's doing, but I know how this must be eating at you. You're a wonderful person and you'd never want anything like this to happen, let alone for such a stupid reason." She rubbed Kate's knee, "You're going to get him, ok? You're smart and you'll find the son of a bitch."

Kate bit her tongue. She desperately wanted to say that if she was really so smart, she would've found the guy by now or at least have an idea of who he was. The fact that she didn't was killing her, but she knew that she couldn't say it. Suddenly, her appetite vanished and she turned to Alex, "I hope so. But right now, I just need you to hold me, please?"

Alex nodded, "Here or in our room?"

"Here's good, you can still reach your food. I'm not hungry anymore but I want you to eat." Kate shifted and leaned back into her lover's arms. She sighed in relief when she felt the warmth of Alex's body so close to hers.

Alex rocked her just a little and rubbed Kate's tummy, her chin resting on Kate's shoulder, "I love you so much, Kate Beckett. We're going to get through this."

Kate leaned her head back on Alex's shoulder and tilted it upward so her nose was grazing Alex's earlobe. She whispered, "I love you too, Alex. It means so much to me that you said 'we' by the way. I was so worried that this stalker thing would scare you away or make you keep your distance." Kate snuggled deeper into Alex's arms to confirm how wrong she had been to even think like that. "Oh by the way, Agent Shaw of the FBI knows about us."

"Baby, I've—" she cut herself off before she mentioned that she'd been through this before with Olivia when an obsessed killer murdered four people in her name and opted to move on to the subject of Agent Shaw instead. "She does? You told her?"

Kate was too distracted to notice Alex's cut off statement, so answered her about Shaw. "Yeah I did. She's a great profiler when it comes to criminals but she got it all wrong with Castle and me. She was so sure of herself that she asked Castle and I how long we've been sleeping together. Can you believe that?"

Alex chuckled, "I can, unfortunately. The relationship in the book doesn't help, but even without that, people might assume certain things about the two of you. He's into you..."

Kate frowned, "Yeah I know he is...but I'm with you, which is what I told Shaw. I even told her you were a woman. She asked me what my boyfriend did and I said that she is an ADA in Manhattan. You should've seen the look on her face." Kate smiled as she remembered the surprised look on Shaw's face.

"Priceless?" Alex asked with a grin.

"Definitely worth the price of admission." Before Kate could say anything else, she heard the floorboards in the hallway creak. She knew exactly which board it was and she knew that whoever it was, was almost to her door. Kate lifted her finger to her lips to signal for Alex to be quiet and quietly got up from the couch and went to the drawer near the door where she'd put her gun when she got home.

She motioned for Alex to go to the kitchen and take her cell phone with her in case they needed to call 9-1-1. Once Alex was in the kitchen, Kate slowly approached the door and quietly slid the chain off before quickly opening it. She pointed her gun right at...Castle's head. "Castle? What are you doing here?"

He held up a bottle of wine and said, "Alexis and my mother were out for the evening, I thought I'd come here to hang out with you guys… What happened to the detail?"

Kate stepped aside to let him in and then called out to Alex, "Alex, it's just Castle." Kate turned to back Castle, "I sent them home after I got in. I'm armed and the doors and windows are all locked so don't give me that look."

Alex came out of the kitchen and said, "Hi Castle. I hope you know you scared the living daylights out of me."

Castle has the good sense to at least look apologetic, "Hi Alex, sorry about that."

Kate went back to sit on the couch and she tapped the spot where Alex had been sitting. She didn't care that Castle was there; she needed to be held by her girlfriend.

Alex sat down and took Kate into her arms. She looked over at Rick and said, "Have a seat. Do you want some of ours before we open yours?"

Castle picked up the bottle and saw that it was actually a better wine than the one he'd gotten. "Thank you Alex." He poured himself a glass and said to Kate, "I'm glad to see you're taking Agent Shaw's advice about relaxing." There was something in his tone that irked Kate and reminded her of that feeling she had earlier about losing her friend.

"Oh, well you know me. If Special Agent Shaw says to relax, who am I to say no?" Kate's tone was sarcastic at best.

Alex rubbed Kate's arm to calm her when she heard the tone. She looked at Castle and shook her head subtly, warning him not to mention Shaw again.

Unfortunately, Castle didn't always think before he spoke and he asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"

Thanks to Alex's touch, Kate had calmed down enough to tease Castle a bit, "Nothing, I just see the way that you listen to her, the way that you look at all of her fancy equipment. So now my murder board's not enough for you? You need a SmartBoard instead?"

"Babe, are you jealous of Agent Shaw?" Alex asked as she resumed her stroking of Kate's arm.

"What? No I'm not jealous. I'm just...embarrassed by the way he acts like a 10 year-old, all impressed with her data matrix." She turned to Castle and mockingly paraphrased him, "'Oh it collates information so quickly, Agent Shaw. Tell me all about it.'"

Castle shook his head, "You are being ridiculous."

Kate wouldn't let it go though, "And to top it all off, now you're building all your theories with her."

Alex watched the two of them debating over this agent and decided it might be better to just stay out of it.

Castle shrugged, "I'm just trying to catch this guy. The longer he's out there, the more people are going to end up dead. No one wants that, remember?"

"Yeah but you're supposed to be building theories with me. You're supposed to be on my team."

Castle was a bit confused, "I thought we were all on the same team?"

"We are I just...I think if you have an insight you should run it by me first."

Castle agreed, "Ok, from now on I will. Whatever it takes to make you feel better." Then he took a sip of his wine. He looked at Alex, a question in his eyes asking what that was all about, but Alex just shrugged. Luckily Kate didn't catch any of their exchange as she'd turned away to grab her glass of wine off the coffee table.

"Look, I think we're all a little edgy because of the state of things. Why don't we just put on a movie and try to keep our minds off of it, ok?" Alex offered hoping to calm the animosity. She hated seeing Kate like this.

"Huh?" Kate turned to look at her girlfriend, "Yeah, ok, sounds good." Then she asked Castle, "Feel like sticking around for a movie?"

He nodded, "Sure, but before we get started, I…I wanted to make an offer. I feel like I should stay here for the night since you sent the detail home. I know it sounds cliché, but I'm a guy and…I could protect you. I'm good with a gun, which Kate can testify to, and I'd just feel better… What do you say?"

Kate turned to look at Alex and she smirked, "Babe, you know I have a gun that I can legally use, but it's up to you." Kate was willing to give Alex the chance to decide if she wanted some extra protection or not.

Alex was going to pay Kate back for putting her on the spot later. She knew that Castle wouldn't try anything and whether he was a guy or not, Alex felt more secure having three people there instead of two. "Rick, you can stay here for the night."

Kate turned to Castle, "On the couch and if I see the doorknob to our bedroom turning, I will shoot you, got it?" Kate gave him her patented glare.

Castle lifted his hands in surrender, "I promise I will not go near your door…"

Alex squeezed Kate and then said, "So, what are we watching?"

Kate thought about it. "Well...we never did get to watch The Devil Wears Prada all the way through, so can we watch it now?" Kate asked, remembering back to the other night.

Alex smiled, "Sure."

Rick just groaned softly. Alexis and his mother loved that movie and he'd seen it about 20 times.

Reluctantly, Kate stood up and moved to the TV stand. She pulled out the DVD and she put it into the DVD player before turning on the TV. She grabbed the remote and a throw blanket before she returned to Alex's arms. Castle sat on the armchair frowning, but willing to sit through this movie for yet another time for his best friend and her girlfriend. Kate snuggled closer to Alex, covering their bodies with the blanket as they stretched out on the couch to watch the movie.

Alex draped her hand over Kate's stomach and rubbed her stomach again to relax her. She just wanted her girlfriend to feel safe and loved and she'd do whatever it took to ensure that.

Kate sighed happily when she felt Alex's hand on her stomach. She glanced at Castle and grinned as she saw him stubbornly staring at the TV screen. The fact that he wasn't even trying to sneak glances at them scored him big points with Kate. She returned her attention to the TV as the movie began.

As the movie progressed, Alex could feel herself getting tired and based on Kate's breathing, the brunette was either very relaxed or she was asleep. She whispered, "Babe?"

When there was no response from Kate, Castle risked a glance over at them and he smiled when he saw Kate curled up against Alex's chest, fast asleep. He caught Alex's eye and mimed that Kate was asleep.

Alex nodded and gently shook her, "Honey, wake up… Kate...?"

Slowly Kate began to wake up, "Mmm...what? What's going on?" She was sleepy and groggy and, to Castle, she looked adorable.

"You fell asleep. Why don't we go to bed, ok? It's late."

Kate looked around, getting her bearings, "Yeah...yeah let's go." She slowly stood up and stretched out her back before she turned to Alex with her hand held out.

Alex took her hand and she smiled at Castle, "Feel free to watch TV as long as you want and you have full access to the fridge. Good night, Rick."

He smiled, "Good night you two."

Alex walked with Kate to their room and closed the door behind them.

Kate woke up a little more on the walk to their bedroom and when the door closed behind them, she turned around and pressed Alex up against the door and leaned in to kiss her.

Alex smiled into the kiss and put her hands on the small of Kate's back, holding her close.

Kate leaned closer to Alex, deepening the kiss. When she pulled back, Kate smiled, "Baby, as much as I want to make love right now, I don't feel comfortable doing it with Castle in my living room, is that ok?" Kate hoped Alex would understand.

"Of course, honey. I wouldn't feel comfortable either. We'll make love tomorrow night. I'm sure by then this will all be over with and we can just enjoy each other," she said with a loving smile.

Kate smiled back, "That sounds great baby. I'll feel much better once we have this guy in custody." Kate paused and she ran her hands down Alex's back to cup her ass. "Until then, how about we fall asleep in each other's arms? I love falling asleep with your arms around me."

"That sounds perfect, sweetie. Why don't we change into our pajamas and go to sleep? It's been a long day for you," she said, kissing Kate on the nose.

Kate nodded and then went to get ready for bed. When she was in her pajamas, she walked over to the bookshelf where she had placed the statue Alex had given her. She looked at it for a few moments and gently ran her fingers over the face of the baby in the statue.

Alex watched her girlfriend and something tugged at her heart. She walked over and put her arms around Kate from behind, "Thinking about our future baby?"

Kate nodded as she leaned back into Alex's embrace. "Yeah...it's going to be great. You, me, and our child...our family." Kate was whispering, as if the moment was too fragile for regular voices.

Alex kissed her neck, "It's going to come sooner than you think, Kate, I promise."

Kate smiled as she thought about the ring that she had ordered for Alex. "I know baby, I know. Now come on, let's go to bed." Kate turned towards the bed, leading Alex by the hand.

Alex got under the covers with Kate and held her from behind. She kissed her neck gently and whispered, "I love you, Kate."

Kate held Alex's arms around her as she snuggled into her lover's arms. "I love you too baby, good night."

The next morning, Alex woke up and was shocked to find Kate still in her arms. She could smell food and if it wasn't Kate, then that meant that Castle was in there making breakfast. She gently shook Kate awake, "Kate..."

Kate opened her eyes and smiled. She could smell food cooking...but then she turned to look at Alex and frowned, "Alex? If you're here then...oh God, Castle's cooking?" Kate jumped out of bed and ran out of the room.

When she got to the kitchen she saw Castle at the stove flipping pancakes. "You're still here. And you're making pancakes."

"Indeed I am. Do you want coffee, juice, milk, or maybe a mimosa?" he asked as he flipped a pancake into the air.

Alex walked into the kitchen after Kate, her hair smoothed down and her pajamas perfectly in place after a quick look in the mirror. "You didn't have to cook..."

Castle smiled at Alex, "Oh, I don't mind, besides, pancakes are easy." He suddenly remembered, "Whoops, I forgot to bring in the paper." He started walking to the door. Kate called after him that they didn't have time for the paper because they had a body to find, but Castle opened the door anyway and there it was. The missing body that they'd been looking for the night before. Castle jumped, "Whoa!"

Alex jumped back, supporting herself on the counter when she saw the body. It wasn't her first by far, but still, the shock of it was enough to make her heart race. "Oh God..."

Kate went over to Alex and wrapped an arm around her shoulder for support.

Castle looked up at them and said, "Looks like it found you."

Alex looked at her girlfriend, "We'd better call Ryan and Esposito..."

Kate nodded as she went to the phone and dialed Ryan's cell. After a brief conversation, Kate hung up the phone and went to sit down on the couch.

Twenty minutes later Ryan and Esposito walked into the apartment and found Alex comforting Kate while Castle was standing watch nearby.

Ryan took one look around the room and his gutter mind instantly kicked in. Before long he was making up scenarios in his head that included threesomes with Castle, Beckett, and Alex, while the crime scene techs, led by Jordan Shaw, were processing the scene. When he snapped back to reality, he walked over to Kate and Alex to take their statements, "So, Beckett, what happened here?"

Alex studied the way that Ryan was looking at Kate and she rolled her eyes, "Get your mind out of the gutter, Ryan."

Ryan turned what he hoped were innocent eyes to Alex, "What did I say?"

"It's not what you said, but the way you said it. I know what you're thinking."

"Oh really? You're a mind reader now Alex?" Ryan asked, defensively.

"I'm a woman and you're a man walking into a room with me, another woman, and a man sitting here. It doesn't take a genius to know what you're picturing."

Ryan blushed and turned to Beckett, "Anyway...what happened?"

Kate decided to ignore the fact that Ryan had changed the subject and she said, "Well we'd just gotten up. Castle had just finished making breakfast and he went to the door to get the paper. He opened the door and the body fell backwards into the apartment. That's when I called you."

Ryan wrote it down on his pad and then asked, "What did he make?"

Kate looked confused for a moment but then said, "Um, pancakes. Why does that matter?"

Ryan grinned at Castle, "You made them pancakes?"

"Yeah...so? It's just breakfast." Castle said, knowing where Ryan, and soon Esposito, would be going with this, though he desperately didn't want them to.

"Oh come on man…" Then he turned to Esposito, "Dude, would a guy make pancakes for chicks if they hadn't…"

Alex was ready to punch him if he continued, "I'd stop right there if I were you..."

Ryan closed his mouth and turned to face Alex, his face going red, "Sorry, I'll...uh...be over there." He motioned across the room to where Shaw was standing over the body and then walked away.

Kate nudged Alex and grinned when she turned to face her, whispering, "Thanks." If Alex hadn't said something Kate would've and she wouldn't have been as subtle as Alex had been.

"They can get away with a lot, but not that. What makes it worse is that there's a freaking dead body on your doorstep and they're concerned about what happened last night, or rather what didn't happen."

Kate just shook her head, "They're guys, honey, what did you expect?" Kate kissed Alex's cheek then said, "I'm going to see what Shaw has to say about...this, ok? Why don't you go get dressed, I'll make sure no one goes near the bedroom."

"Get dressed? I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying here with you."

Kate lowered her voice as she moved closer to Alex's ear, "And you're more than welcome to, but I don't want the whole precinct to be seeing you in your robe...that's for my eyes only, so can you please just...for me, get dressed?" Kate had been able to focus on the investigation at first but now that the big excitement was over, she was noticing that Alex was wearing a robe over her nightshirt and she caught more than one of the crime scene guys eyeing her girlfriend. Before she went all "caveman" on them, she hoped to Alex would go and get dressed.

Alex nodded, "Ok, ok. I'll be right back." She went to their bedroom to get cleaned up, but while she was getting undressed, she noticed her phone flashing and went over to check her messages. She had a missed call from her office that her court date had been moved up to 10, which meant she had an hour to get there. She cursed under her breath and decided she'd better get ready for court even though she wanted to stay here with Kate.

Kate walked over to where they body had fallen and crouched down next to Shaw, "Hey."

Jordan looked over at Beckett then smirked, "She's cute. Your girlfriend I mean. If it wasn't for her I'd ask you if you still wanted to stick to your 'Castle and me are just co workers' party line."

"Yeah well...the book and his little crush on me don't really help, but that's my cross to bear. Any insights about what happened here?" Kate asked, motioning to the space where the body had been.

Jordan sobered and sighed, "Well, now we know why he took the body."

Kate nodded, "'I know where you live.' This was a threat."

Jordan began profiling, "More than that. This is his way of saying he's disappointed in you. In his mind, he warned you he would kill again. You didn't stop him. He's saying this one is on you."

Alex was dressed and made up for work. She walked up to where Kate was standing with Jordan and said, "Honey, I'm sorry to do this, but I have to get to court. Will you be ok?"

Kate turned to Alex, "Um, yeah, I'll be fine. Go to work...judges don't like when the lawyers are late." Kate grinned.

"Especially this one…we have…history. I'll call you later to check in, ok? I love you," she said, leaning in to kiss Kate's lips.

"Ok, babe, love you too." Kate watched as Alex left then she turned to Jordan who had a smirk on her face, "What?"

"You two are completely adorable. It's clear to me that there really is nothing between you and Castle."

Kate blushed lightly, "Yeah...thanks...um, so what do we do now?" Kate was still a little flustered.

"We should get down to the precinct. My guys will have sent everything to the lab and I want to know more about our DB. Do you need a ride?"

"Um, I should probably get dressed first, so I can grab a cab unless you're willing to wait." Kate said.

"I can wait. Go do what you have to do and I'll call my partner to see where things are at."

Kate smiled, "Ok, I'll only be a few minutes." She walked off towards her bedroom.

Castle walked up next to Jordan. "Why are you grinning like that Agent Shaw?" Castle was worried that despite having a husband and a kid, Shaw might be eyeing Kate in a less than platonic way.

"It's nothing. I just…I can understand why Ms. Cabot loves her so much, she's a great woman.

Castle thought back to the night before and he remembered how Alex had held Kate throughout the movie and how cute they were together when they walked into the bedroom. He smiled, "Yeah, they're great together."

Shaw nodded and then asked, "Are you tagging along with us?"

"Yes. I'm not leaving Beckett's side until we catch this guy. It's my fault he's fixated on her because of Nikki Heat, so I'm not going to leave her alone, until this guy is no longer a threat."

Shaw studied him, "Do you really blame yourself for what's happening?"

"Yes, I do. I mean, objectively speaking I know this guy would still be killing, he'd just have a different reason for it. I blame myself for giving him Kate, or rather Nikki Heat, as a reason. He wouldn't be targeting and taunting Kate if I hadn't created Nikki." Castle said, in a somber tone. His guilt was something he wouldn't be able to rid himself of easily.

"I know you want to find a reason to make this easier to digest and protect Kate, but…if it wasn't her, it'd be someone else, someone who might not be as well equipped to handle this and Kate has a lot of people who care. Once we bring this guy down, things will go back to normal for her, for you."

Castle nodded, but before he could say anything, Kate came out of the bedroom dressed in a black pin-stripped blouse and black slacks. She had her black coat in her hands and was about to put it on when she noticed their very serious faces, "What's going on now?"

"Nothing," Castle said with a shake of his head. "Are you ready?"

Kate looked from Jordan to Castle and back again before she shook it off, "Ok, yeah, let's go."


Chapter Twenty-Two: Tick, Tick, Tick…Boom!

Kate and Castle went to the morgue while Shaw and her team followed up on the evidence from Kate's apartment.

Lanie was standing at a side table with the bullets from the third victim laid out under the magnifying glass so she could show them to Kate and Castle. She glanced up at them as they walked in and she couldn't help but tease them, "Hey, I heard you were making pancakes when the body dropped."

"Alex was there too and nothing happened," Kate said, not in the mood to be teased about it yet again.

Lanie just looked at her for a moment then turned to the table again, "Well we got letters on the slugs, again. B-U-R-…"

"Burn. 'Nikki will burn.'" Kate said, figuring out the message.

Castle felt his guilt get a little bit heavier, "Well, that's chilling."

"Our victim's prints aren't in the system, do you have anything that can ID her?" Kate asked as she looked over at their Jane Doe.

"Well, I found formaldehyde on the body, and not just a trace amount. This much suggests that she worked with it." Lanie explained. "I also found traces of clay, polyurethane, and animal blood. I don't know who she is but I can tell you what she does."

Before Lanie could say more, Kate and Castle both came to the same conclusion and said, at the same time, "She's a taxidermist."

Lanie grinned, "It is so cute the way you two do that."

Kate ignored it, but Castle grinned, "Well we better take this to Shaw, see if she can make sense of it."

Kate thanked Lanie and then they left the morgue to return to the squad room. They met with Shaw and filled her in on the information that Lanie had given them, the two women going back and forth as they shared ideas. Castle watched silently and was pleased to see them getting along.

Suddenly, Esposito came into the room with the victim's real name, "Yo, got an ID on our third vic. Her name's Sandra Keller. She works at a taxidermy shop downtown." Esposito began erasing "Jane Doe" from the white board and filled in the name Sandra Keller.

"Any connection between her and our killer?" Kate asked, hopeful now that they knew who the victim was.

Ryan explained that the vic had had an altercation with a customer who'd brought in his dog, Mr. Bumpkins, to be preserved and the guy closely resembled the man from the police sketch.

"He paid half upfront to get his dog stuffed, but when he came back to pick him up, he didn't have the rest of the fee." Esposito chimed in, helping the story along.

"When Sandra refused to give up stuffed Bumpkins, the guy went ballistic and stormed out of the store. Two nights later, they had a break-in. Among the things that went missing were this guy's stuffed dog and a bunch of embalming fluid."

"That explains why we found traces of it at the murder scenes." Jordan said. "My agents interviewed all of Michelle Lewis's dog-walking clients." Michelle Lewis was the second victim. "One couple had to put their Rottweiler down because Michelle lost control of it and it killed another dog."

"Mr. Bumpkins," Castle deduced. "So, grief-stricken, our killer blames Michelle and Sandra for the loss of his best friend and decides to get revenge." It sounded like a plot for one of his books rather than a real life occurrence.

Kate didn't buy it, "All this because of a dog? What does this have to do with Nikki Heat?"

"The dog was a trigger. Maybe he was reading the book when the dog was killed, when he snapped he somehow blamed Nikki for it." Jordan explained, profiling again.

As always, Kate was skeptical, "It seems a little absurd."

"You must be a cat lover," Jordan joked. "Detective, he's looking for a reason to kill. This is it."

The detective's started to look for a clue that would give them this guy's name and they found it thanks to the first victim, Alex Peterman. Peterman was a personal injury lawyer and the killer had met with him to talk about filing a lawsuit over the dog's death. Peterman declined the case, but the killer's name was still in his files: Ben Conrad. There was no doubt that this was their guy.

"What do you have on Conrad?" Kate asked, eager to get this guy and put him behind bars.

Avery looked Conrad up and got his photo from the DMV database. Avery then transferred the photo to the SmartBoard and so that Shaw could overlay the police sketch over the DMV photo…it was a perfect match.

"Got you, you son of a bitch." Jordan said, happy to finally have a name and a face.

She turned to the rest of the people in the room, including Beckett and Castle and said, "Let's go get this guy."

They all filed out, heading to the SUVs.

When they pulled up to Conrad's building, they all got out and Shaw turned to Kate, "You can put your gun away Detective, you're both staying here."

Castle began to protest, but Kate knew it was the right thing to do. "No, Agent Shaw's right. I'm his target. I can't compromise your team by walking into the line of fire."

Castle couldn't believe she was just going to step aside, but he knew that tone in her voice; her mind was made up.

Jordan was thankful that Kate understood, "We'll take him down but it'll still be your collar, ok?"

Kate nodded and watched as Jordan walked away to join the team, but then her phone rang. It was the Captain calling to let her know that Conrad was calling to speak to her. She told Montgomery to put the call through.

"Oh you think you're so smart, don't you Nikki? You think, what, just because you found me that you won?"

Kate took the phone away from her ear and turned to Castle, "He knows we're here." She lifted the phone again, "It's over Ben. Time to give up."

Kate walked to the corner and looked up, right at Conrad's window, and saw him standing there with the phone in his right hand, a gun in his left.

He was angry now, "No, it is not over!"

The FBI team began to surround the apartment door while he was on the phone with Kate.

The detective tried to get him to surrender, "Ben listen to me, you're surrounded. I need you to put down the gun."

"You know I can't do that Nikki."

"Ben I need you to step out of your apartment with your hands raised."

"That's not our game. One of us has to die." He was strangely calm now.

"No one has to die."

"Somebody always has to die!" he exclaimed. It was clear that he was deeply delusional. "And since it can't be you…" He stepped out of the window and Kate heard the gunshot echo through the phone.

Shaw's team was right outside the door when they heard the gunshot, so they kicked the door in and charged the room. They found Ben Conrad dead on the floor with the gun in his right hand. He'd shot himself in the head and the blood was beginning to pool on the hardwood floor.

It didn't take long for Shaw's team to clear the apartment and they called the crime scene techs in to process the scene. Castle and Beckett joined Shaw upstairs once the scene was secured.

Shaw told them the gun was a .45, which was the same caliber that was used on the first three victims. They'd still need ballistics to make the final match, but it was a pretty sure bet that this was the gun used for each of the murders. Castle suggested it might be the gun Conrad was planning to use to kill Kate, but Shaw had another theory.

She walked them over to Conrad's worktable, which was littered with wires, cell phone components, and pieces of pipe, and she explained, "He was planning something a little more spectacular."

Kate concluded that he was making a detonator and she breathed a sigh of relief that they'd stopped him before he could do any more damage.

Amongst the workings, Shaw found was an opened cell phone that was connected to a bottle of semi-clear liquid with wires. "It looks like he was extracting the formaldehyde from the embalming fluid to make cyclonite, a near military-grade explosive." She then picked up one of the phones on the table that wasn't connected to anything and pressed a button. Suddenly, a man's voice repeated the phrase "Goodbye, Nikki" twice and Kate swallowed hard.

"Well when you profiled him, you said he was probably an arsonist." Castle said, trying to make sense of the stuff on the table.

"I also said he liked to make a big scene," Shaw added as she pointed to something on the wall above the table. "Schematics of the precinct. He was planning on killing you and taking the whole station with you."

"'Nikki will burn,'" Castle quoted. "I can see the poetry in that." After he noticed the look Kate was giving him, he amended, "The terrible, homicidal poetry."

There was still one thing bugging Shaw though, "I never would've figured him as the suicidal type, but I guess once we found him, it was the only way he could control the situation."

Kate smiled, "Well, at least he saved us and Alex the trouble of a trial."

"And the best news is, I'm out of your hair," Jordan said, half jokingly. She knew that they had gotten off to a rocky start, but she was happy that they had put that behind them.

Kate didn't agree, "No, the best news is that it's over." Kate was looking forward to some normalcy like her nice, quiet murder cases where she was more or less in control. She was looking forward to being able to spend her nights with Alex rather than working around the clock to catch a psycho.

Once the CSUs had processed the scene and sealed it up, Kate, Shaw and Castle left Conrad's apartment to go back to the station. Kate took care of a couple of loose ends before she caught a cab home and when she walked into her apartment, she took a moment to rest on the couch.

She reached for her phone and called Alex, but the blonde told her that she would be working late, so Kate decided to take a quick shower and then head to the loft to wait for her to come home.

Kate went into the bathroom, took off her clothes, and stepped into her shower, closing her eyes when the hot water hit her skin and relaxed her muscles.

Castle had gone home as well, but he was far from relaxed. In fact, he was sitting downstairs with the case file that he'd "borrowed" from the precinct as he tried to figure out what it was that was nagging at him.

Alexis came down the stairs in her pajamas to see why her dad was still awake.

"Hey, I thought you went to bed an hour ago," he said as he studied the photos that were spread out on the coffee table.

Alexis frowned, "I couldn't sleep." She looked at the pictures on the table and the folder in her dad's hand and said, "I thought the case was over."

"It is. Wrapped up all nice and neat." Castle said a little distractedly as he continued to look for anything he might've missed.

Alexis was confused, "That's a good thing, right?"

"In a book, that's a good thing. In real life, nothing is that neat." Suddenly he realized that that was the reason he was so bothered by all of this. It had been too easy. Now that he had part of his solution, he turned to his daughter and realized that she must have something on her mind that was keeping her from falling asleep. "What's got you still up?"

"Gram. I can't believe she's leaving tomorrow." Alexis was saddened by the idea of her grandmother moving out, "I mean, yeah, when she first moved in, I couldn't imagine having her around all the time. But now, I can't imagine her being gone."

Castle sympathized with his daughter. He was going to miss having his mom around too, but he took heart in the fact that she would be back. "Listen, it's a fact of life that the people we love leave us." He paused and then tried to inject some levity into the moment, "Unless you chain them to a radiator, which for some reason, is illegal." Of course that got the desired chuckle from Alexis and he continued, "But uh, knowing her, she'll be back in six months."

Alexis smiled at that, knowing that it was probably true.

Just then, Martha came down the stairs and she was glad to see that they were still awake. She asked Alexis to help her pick out what clothes she should take with her, so they went upstairs and Martha called over her shoulder, "Richard, could you give us a hand with my bags?"

He nodded and then it hit him, the thing he'd missed. He went searching through the photos and both his mom and Alexis asked him what he was looking for. He held up a picture of the bruising on the second victim, "The bruising pattern on the second victim, the killer used his left hand." Alexis stood next to him to see where he was going with this. She loved the way his mind worked. He then held up a picture of the numbers they'd found on the bandage, "And see his handwriting? Look at the slope on the four and the loop on the six."

By this time Martha had joined them, also curious, "Yeah, so he's left handed."

Castle nodded, getting surer of his theory, "Ben Conrad shot himself with his right hand." He held up the photo of the dead killer. "If the man in the window was Ben Conrad, he would've shot himself on the left side. Ben Conrad didn't kill himself. Ben Conrad was murdered by the man in the window. Ben's not our killer. The real killer was just playing with us."

"But the evidence…"

"No, it was planted there to lead us to Ben. He wants us to think it's over. He wants us to drop our guard. He wants to make a big scene." Suddenly, he remembered the killer's message again, "'Nikki will burn.' Beckett."

He got up from his chair and grabbed his phone to call Beckett's cell, but he didn't get an answer. "She's not picking up. Call the precinct. Tell them to get over there right away. Tell them that the killer is still alive," he told his mother as he grabbed his coat, left the apartment, and ran downstairs to hail a cab.

Meanwhile, Kate was still in the shower taking her time, enjoying the heat of the water as it soothed her aching muscles. She couldn't hear her cell phone ringing in the living room.

When the water started to run cold, she turned the water off and poked her head out of the shower to grab a towel. That was when she heard her phone ringing. She wrapped the towel loosely around her body and walked into the living room to answer her phone, but when she saw it was Castle calling, she sighed. She wasn't really in the mood for his humor, but she answered it anyway, "What Castle?"

Castle had gotten out of his cab and was running towards Kate's building. He screamed into the phone, "It wasn't Ben Conrad! He's not the killer! The killer's still alive!"

The words sank in just as she heard a beeping coming from the bookshelves near the door. She heard that same message from before: "Goodbye, Nikki. Goodbye, Nikki."

Thinking fast, Kate ran back to her bathroom and jumped into her old-fashioned, cast iron, claw-foot tub and curled into a ball just as the apartment exploded around her. She felt the heat from the flames surrounding her and she was once again grateful that she had kept her old-fashioned tub. After a few minutes, the flames began to burn themselves out she slowly uncurled, mindful of the many new bruises she would have tomorrow. Her knees and legs took the brunt of the impact but thankfully nothing was broken.

Just as she stretched out, she heard a crash and then Castle called out for her. She began coughing from the smoke and Castle knew she was in the bathroom. As he ran in, he found her in the tub and he felt a deep sense of relief to know that she was still alive, "Kate. You're alive! …And you're naked."

Kate had her back to him, "Castle, turn around!" She really didn't want him to see her naked firstly because it would only fuel his crush and possibly provide more images for his fantasies about her and Alex together, but second, she'd promised Alex that no one else would ever see her naked again and although it was silly to think of that now, she wanted to keep her promise.

Castle pointed out, "You know, your apartment is on fire, now might not be the best time for modesty."

Kate managed to sit up in the tub, her back still to Castle even though he'd already turned around like she'd asked.

"Castle, hand me a towel."

"The towels are on fire."

"Well what about the bathrobe?"

It was also on fire. "Do you have anything to wear that isn't flammable?"

Kate didn't like feeling this vulnerable, "Give me your jacket."

Castle took off his long overcoat and held it out to Beckett, turning away so he wouldn't see anything as she stood up and slipped it on. Once she was covered up, she let him know it was ok to look, so he turned around and helped her out of the tub.

"I dove into the tub just as the bomb exploded," she explained.

"Can you walk?"

"Yeah, my legs are just a little banged up." Kate took slow steps, leaning on Castle for help.

"Are you in any pain?"

"Well not nearly as much as you. It's killing you isn't it?" Kate asked.

"What?" he asked, obviously confused.

"Having to wait this long to tell me how you banged down the door," Kate said with a grin. She needed to find something humorous about what had happened or else she feared that she might crumble and that wasn't an option.

He decided to humor her because there was a part of him that was dying to recount his heroic moment. "Want me to start at the beginning?"

Kate just nodded and then Castle launched into his own version of how he'd knocked the door down like a modern day Hercules.

By the time they made it to the street, the fire trucks had already arrived and the EMTs were waiting to check her out. Castle started to walk Kate over to the ambulance, but Captain Montgomery intercepted them and handed Kate a bundle of NYPD sweats and a windbreaker. She didn't know how her Captain had known, but she was grateful and she thanked him as she took the clothes.

She approached the ambulance and asked for some privacy so that she could get dressed. She stepped out of the ambulance a few minutes later and was about to make her escape when Castle stopped her, turned her around, and made her go back to get checked out.


Chapter Twenty-Three: After the Boom!

Just before Castle handed her over to the paramedics to be checked out, she turned to him and said, "Can I borrow your phone?"

He looked confused, "Why?"

"I need to call Alex and tell her what happened before she sees it on the news or something."

"Oh, right, ok here." He handed her his phone and then watched as she climbed into the back of the ambulance.

Her left wrist was throbbing so she held it out for the EMT to look at and bandage up and dialed Alex's number with her right hand. She was just about to bring the phone to her ear when she noticed that Alex's name was programmed into Castle's phone and she smiled as she waited for the call to connect.

Alex was in her office when her phone rang. When she picked it up and saw Castle's name, she immediately worried that something bad had happened to Kate and her heart was racing when she answered, "Castle, what's wrong?"

Kate smiled, "It's not Castle, baby, it's me. Um, are you still at work?"

"Yeah, I was just finishing up some things for tomorrow. Why are you calling from Castle's phone?"

Kate winced as the paramedic tightened the bandage on her wrist, "Um...I forgot mine at my place so I borrowed his. Listen, honey, remember when I told you that we got the guy? Well...I was wrong. It's a long story that I will be happy to tell you later at your place, but for right now you should know that a bomb went off about 40 minutes ago and destroyed my place. I'm ok, don't worry." Kate paused and got worried when there was silence on the other end, "Alex? Honey you still there?" Kate worried maybe the call had dropped or something.

Alex was trying to absorb what Kate had just said, but when she heard the word bomb, she thought she was going to faint. Kate's words were still echoing through her mind, but somehow she found her voice, "Where are you?"

Kate was relieved to hear that Alex was still with her, "Right now I'm outside of my building getting checked out by the paramedics."

Alex let out a shuddering breath, "I'm on my way. Where are they taking you? Which hospital?"

Kate closed her eyes, "I'm not going to the hospital because I don't need to. I only sprained my wrist. I'm fine. Alex, really I'm fine. You don't have to come down here. Just, please, please go to your place and wait for me there, ok?"

"Kate, I—" She exhaled, "Fine, but I want the whole story when you get there."

Kate smiled, "I promise to tell you everything when I see you. Thank you and I'll see you soon." Kate was glad that Alex wasn't going to fight her on this. She needed to focus on catching this guy for real now.

Alex hung up and grabbed her things before she went downstairs. She had called the car service to pick her up and she asked the driver to take her to her loft so that she could wait for Kate. She arrived about 30 minutes later and once she got inside, she bolted the door. She just wanted for Kate to get there so that she could make sure for herself that she was ok.

Kate hung up the phone just as Agent Shaw walked up to the ambulance, "Beckett, how you doing?"

Kate looked at her with a look that said, "I just got blown up, how do you think I'm doing?" but instead she said, "I'm fine."

"What'd you see when you came home?" Shaw hated having to be so distant but she needed to get the information while it was still fresh.

Kate sighed, "The doors were locked, like I left them, the windows were shut. Nothing seemed out of place, but I didn't double check anything because I thought the case was done."

"It's not, but until we find the right guy, you're done with this case."

"Wait, no. This is my apartment, my life, and my case. I am staying on this."

"I think she's right Kate," Castle agreed. "This guy isn't going to stop until you're dead and none of us want that, especially not Alex."

Kate turned to Castle, "No. You do not get to use Alex against me. I am staying on this case and getting this guy." She shifted her attention to Shaw to make her point.

Jordan sighed, "Fine, but my rules. You do what I say, when I say, and how I say it. And there will be a security detail on you at all times. I'm not going to be the one who has to tell Ms. Cabot that something happened to you on my watch, got it?"

Kate nodded, "Fine."

"Good." Shaw wasn't pleased, but she was convinced that Kate would follow orders, if not for herself then definitely for her girlfriend.

Montgomery approached the three of them and announced, "The fire's out, you can head up now if you want."

Castle looked at her, "Do you want me to come with you?"

Kate nodded, "Thanks Castle. Let's go."

Shaw placed her hand on Castle's shoulder just before he followed Beckett and said, "Don't touch anything unless you're told to and wear gloves, ok?"

"Yes, ma'am." He followed Kate up to what remained of her apartment and stayed a few steps behind her. "Anything in particular you're looking for?"

Kate leaned close to him and said in a low voice, "My father's watch, my mother's ring." Kate didn't want to mention anything else. It was on her and only her to see if the statue that Alex had given her had survived the blast.

Castle nodded as he started looking for the items he knew meant so much to Kate. Meanwhile, the other detectives and agents were combing the rubble for any recoverable evidence.

Kate carefully stepped through the remains of her living room and bent down when she saw something glittering in the ruins. She reached out and carefully lifted the chain that held her mother's ring, a smile spreading across her face. It was in that moment she remembered how thankful she was that she hadn't taken off the ring Alex had given her when she went to take her shower. It rested on her finger now as she carefully closed her fingers over the necklace. She stood up and saw Castle coming towards her, "Did you find the watch?"

"It's not in the hall," Castle said as he walked into what used to be Kate's living room.

Esposito stated the obvious, "Your clothes smell like smoke and explosives, but your bedroom only took minimal damage."

As they were talking, Jordan pulled something from the ash, "I've got the blast seat here."

Kate went over to Jordan and the Agent explained that the lab would have better results, but she did find a small amount of cyclonite on the seat, the same chemical that Ben Conrad had been manufacturing in his apartment.

Jordan looked at Kate, "What tipped you off?"

Kate turned to look at Castle, "It wasn't me. It was Castle."

Shaw looked at the writer with curiosity, "How did you know?"

"Well, there was something that kept bothering me about Conrad's death and that's when it hit me. When we found Conrad dead in his apartment, the gun was in his right hand, but when Kate and I saw him in the window, he was holding the gun in his left. If that man was really the killer, he would've shot himself with the other hand."

Jordan nodded and couldn't believe that she'd overlooked something so obvious.

"If Conrad didn't kill himself, then that means our real killer had to have been in the apartment with him…" Kate concluded.

"Yeah, but we were standing outside of the doorway the entire time and you would've seen him trying to escape out the window. There weren't any other ways out of that apartment…" Jordan said, pointing out that things just didn't add up.

"Then that means he was in the apartment the whole time while we were processing the scene," Kate said with a heavy sigh. He had been right under their noses and they still couldn't catch him.

"How the hell did we miss him?" Jordan asked, a little ticked that this guy seemed smarter than she'd given him credit for.

"Let's go find out," Castle suggested.

Kate looked at them for a second and said, "There's just one thing I have to do. It'll only take a moment." She quickly went to her bedroom without hesitation made for the bookcase to look for the statue that Alex's had given her for Christmas. She sighed with relief when she found it on the floor near the base of the bookcase perfectly intact. She picked it up and held it in her hands for a few moments, tears coming to her eyes as she silently offered thanks that it had been kept safe from the blast. She let out a deep breath and then noticed that Castle was standing beside her. She looked up at him and smiled, "It's not broken."

"It's tough, like you," he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. "You should take it over to Alex's and keep it there until you figure out what's going to happen next… And speaking of Alex, she's probably climbing the walls waiting for you… Do you want me to take you over?"

Kate stood up, "No, let's go to Conrad's and catch this guy. I'll just leave this in the trunk of my car until I can get to Alex's." She began walking to the door, but she was so focused on catching the real killer that she didn't realize she'd slipped up and mentioned the car that Alex had given her. She hadn't bothered to mention it to anyone down at the station since she never drove it to work and besides, she didn't need the guys giving her grief.

"Your car?" he asked with a confused look. "What car would this be because I'm guessing you wouldn't leave it in the trunk of your squad car…"

Kate stopped walking and winced before she turned to face him, "Um, right, well...Alex kind of bought me a car for Christmas."

His face lit up, "Seriously?! That is so cool! Can I see it? I'll walk you down so that you can put that in the trunk. Please, please, please?"

Kate sighed because she knew he wasn't going to let it go. She figured it would be easier to just give in, so she did, "Fine, come on."

He nearly hopped when he took his first step and followed Kate down to the garage. He was glued to her side as he looked at the row of cars and tried to guess which one was Kate's.

Kate smirked as she watched Castle trying to guess which car was hers and she decided to play a little game with him, "You only get one guess Castle, so make it good." After all, they still had to get to Conrad's apartment to try and catch the killer.

Castle thought about Alex's taste and what she'd buy for her tough girl girlfriend. He ruled out everything except luxury cars and sports cars and of those, he took out anything light in color, like white, gold, and silver. Then, he went further, taking out any weird colors like orange and yellow and had it down to three cars: a black Audi, a red Corvette, and a blue Infiniti. He sucked in some air and said, "The Audi..."

Kate held on to her poker face and asked, "The Audi? Is that your final answer?"

"Final answer. Am I right?" he asked, eager to know.

Kate remained stone faced for a moment as she let him think he was wrong. She began to walk over to the blue Infiniti that just happened to be parked next to her Audi. She walked between the cars, the Infiniti's passenger door on her left and the Audi's driver door on her right. She turned to face Castle and grinned at the look on his face when she moved to stand closer to the Infiniti. "Savor this moment Castle, it's the only time you'll hear me say this and mean it, you're right. It's the Audi." With that, she turned to her car and pressed the button on her keychain to unlock the door. She slid inside and turned around to gently place the statue on the floor of the backseat. She rolled down the passenger side window and asked Castle, "Well, you coming or not? Shaw's probably already at Conrad's apartment waiting for us."

Castle grinned and rushed over to get into the car. He loved being right and in truth he had almost chosen the blue car, but something about the black one, namely the fact that it had a big back seat, tipped the scales for him.

Kate grinned as she watched Castle get into the car and then she said, "Well looks like I'm about to break my own rule about not driving this car to work. Buckle up Castle." Kate buckled up as well and after starting the car, she headed for the garage exit.

They arrived at Conrad's apartment about 20 minutes later and found Shaw upstairs. Kate and Castle joined her and started looking around the apartment for any sign of the killer's hideout, but it was Kate that finally found a false panel in one of the closets. She called out to the others and removed the panel before venturing inside with Shaw and Castle.

In the secret room they found remnants of the killer's disguise. Folded neatly on a chair was a pile of clothes that matched the ones that Conrad was wearing when he was killed and there was also a fake beard and mustache that the killer had worn to look just like his latest victim.

"The killer wanted us to think he was Conrad. That's why the man that I saw in the window, the one from our eyewitness accounts, led us straight to Ben." Kate said, as she looked around the small crawlspace.

"Which means the real Ben Conrad was being held hostage in his own apartment the entire case," Shaw said, a hint of sympathy in her voice for what Conrad must've gone through.

As she continued her search of the room, Kate noticed what appeared to be duct tape on some pipes and she realized that Conrad must've been held hostage in that room with no idea that he was being blamed for three murders.

"Each of our victims was carefully selected for their connection to Ben Conrad, making him the perfect patsy," Castle said as he shook his head.

Shaw agreed, "Our killer is a chameleon, changing his appearance to get close to his victims. Once he becomes Ben Conrad, he becomes invisible. Nobody's looking for him."

"And then we come here and we find exactly what we expect to find: our suspect dead on the ground. Case closed," Castle finished.

Kate was crouched down near the floor looking for clues while Castle and Shaw worked out their theory of the crime. She joined in when they seemed to be done, "Meanwhile, our killer was right here, hidden in this secret room. He was here the whole time and we missed him."

Shaw pulled out her phone and was about to call her team to let them know what they'd found when she heard Beckett's cell phone start ringing.

The detective pulled out her cell from her pocket and answered, "Beckett."

"You are supposed to be dead." The angry male voice on the other end of the line was the unmistakable voice of the killer and Beckett felt her blood run cold.

"I'm sorry to disappoint you." Kate said calmly, though her anger was boiling just below the surface. She put the call on speaker so Shaw and Castle could hear him too.

"It was supposed to be over, Nikki. It was supposed to be done." His anger was right out there for everyone to hear. "But now, now I have to keep going." Suddenly, there was the sound of a woman screaming, then gunshots…and then silence.

Once it was all over, the three returned to the station and Shaw had Avery trace the call. The cell phone used to make the call had been discarded on the street corner where the killer had left his latest victim, an older woman that he'd run into on her way home from work.

Kate examined the victim's wallet and said, "He used her cell phone and then left it on so we could trace it. Gloria Rodriguez. It's her ID badge from a hotel in Midtown."

While Kate was looking through the wallet, Shaw was examining the brick building behind the victim to look for the bullet that had gone through the victim. She located the slug and carefully extracted it, but unlike the other bullets they'd found during the course of the case, this one didn't have anything engraved on it.

"The other murders were planned. This one was done out of anger, wanting to be in control." Jordan profiled.

"All because I lived," Kate said defeated.

"You can't blame yourself for that." Jordan said in an effort to comfort Kate. Then something occurred to her and looked at Kate with a puzzled expression on her face, "How did he know you lived?"

Kate thought about that, it was a good question. She realized that he must've been watching the aftermath of the explosion.

"Everything about this guy's profile tells me he was watching at the other crime scenes," Shaw said as she thought about this new evidence.

"Yeah but the first thing we did was compare crime scene photos. Nothing popped when we ran them through facial recognition," Kate said, pointing out the flaw in Jordan's profile.

"What if he wasn't hiding in the crowd? This guy wants to prove how much smarter he is that the cops, so he'd hide somewhere we wouldn't think to look," Castle pointed out.

Jordan agreed, "Right, the guy's a chameleon so he'd hide in plain sight." Suddenly her eye caught Kate's windbreaker and that's when it hit her, "We didn't see him in the crowd, because he was dressed as one of us."

Kate nodded her head as she realized how easy it would be for the killer to blend into the chaos of a crime scene and said, "Let's get back to the precinct, I want to look through those photos again."

Shaw nodded and the three returned to the station house to look through the crime scene photos with new eyes. As Castle had predicted, their killer was dressed up like one of the other cops, but even with 30 photos of the guy, they still didn't have a clear shot of this face to run through facial recognition.

"That is not a coincidence," Shaw said, pissed off and frustrated that this guy was still a step ahead of them.

"Nope. This guy knew where the cameras were," Castle said agitatedly. "It's obviously he knows the cops' playbook."

Beckett suggested that Ryan and Esposito canvass the other uniforms for a sketch, but Shaw pointed out that the last time they had a sketch it led them to Ben Conrad.

"Ok," Kate said, "Do you have a better idea? Because I'm all out and if we don't catch him soon, he's going to kill again." Kate's voice barely betrayed how close to tears her frustration and anger had her.

Jordan, unfortunately, noticed it and said, "You can't take this personally."

"The hell I can't. He just blew up my apartment," Kate argued, too tired and angry to care that she was taking it out on someone who didn't deserve it. "It's only by sheer luck that Alex wasn't there with me. I think that's pretty damn personal."

"We don't have any reason to think that Alex is even on this guy's radar, so she's safe, ok?" Castle cut in, hoping to calm Kate down.

Shaw nodded then said, "They caught the Son of Sam off of a parking ticket. All we need to find is our 'parking ticket' and we catch this son of a bitch. As smart as he is, he's got a fatal flaw: hubris. It's not enough for him to be smart. He wants us to know it. He wants us to know he fooled us." Jordan began laying out her case, "All of his first victims, the personal injury lawyer, the dog walker, the taxidermist, they all link back to the death of Ben Conrad's dog. How could our killer have known all the players in someone else's life?"

Castle answered, "He must've known Ben Conrad."

Jordan smiled, that's where they would start. They would treat Ben Conrad as the first victim and go through his life to see where his path crossed with the killer's.

Kate stayed at the precinct and called Alex. When Alex arrived, she approached her girlfriend's desk and set the duffle down on the ground and handed her the lunch bag. "I can't stay long, but why don't we go to the break room so that I can keep you company while you eat?" Alex posed, hoping that Kate would agree. She knew that when Kate was deeply involved in a case, she would often forget to eat and normally she would back off and let the detective do what she needed to do, but this wasn't any old case. This was big and Alex wanted to make sure that Kate was taking good care of herself so that she'd be focused and ready for action. Kate loved that Alex was being so thoughtful and attentive and this take-charge attitude that the blonde had taken on was a bit of a turn on for the detective. She joined Alex in the break room and dutifully ate her lunch, the two making small talk as she did.

When Kate was finished, she walked Alex to the elevator and kissed her goodbye before heading in the direction of the crib to shower and change in private. She headed straight for the bathroom and locked the door before taking off her clothes and slipping into shower. The water felt good on her skin and soothed her achy muscles and as much as she wanted to stay in there, she knew she had other things to do, so she stepped out and dried off quickly.

She opened the duffle and inhaled deeply as the scent of fabric softener hit her nose, a smile spreading across her face. It was in that moment she realized how grateful she was that she had moved most of her clothes to Alex's loft where they had escaped the trauma of the explosion and were therefore free from the overpowering odor of smoke and explosives. As she left the crib to go back to work, she felt like a whole new woman and with renewed energy and strength. She was on her way down the stairs when she noticed Castle walking in with two coffees in his hands.


Castle turned when he heard Kate's voice. He smiled when he saw the new clothes, "Hey, I see Alex brought you some smoke free clothes huh?"

"Yeah, she didn't have a lot of time to linger but she brought a sandwich and made sure I ate it." Kate's wry grin indicated she wasn't as upset as her words might've sounded.

Castle grinned, "You two are just so adorable together." He looked around and noticed the quiet and asked, "Where is everybody?"

Kate walked to her desk as she informed him that Ryan and Esposito were out talking to Conrad's sister and Shaw was briefing the Mayor.

Castle handed Kate one of the coffees he was holding and said, "Oh. I'm sure he'll be less than thrilled to learn that Conrad is just another victim. Nothing like the threat of being murdered by a serial killer to stifle tourism." Castle's sarcasm was his way of distancing himself from something that was too real for him.

"Yeah and it doesn't help that everyone in the city thinks we caught the guy."

"So, what have we found out about Ben Conrad?"

They walked into the conference room where their old-fashioned murder board was set up and Kate ran it down for him, "Thirty four years-old, never married…"

Castle interrupted, "I'm going out on a limb here and say, judging from his relationship with his dog, Mr. Bumpkins, he didn't have a girlfriend."

Kate ignored his obvious conclusion and continued, "Well other than the people we've already run down from the dog park, he doesn't even have any friends."

"The man stuffed his dog," Castle said like it was obvious from that statement alone that Conrad wouldn't have any friends.

Ryan and Esposito walked in just then and let Kate and Castle know that Conrad's sister had informed them that her brother had lost his job a couple of months earlier and he'd been spending his days emailing out resumes at coffee shops that offered free internet access.

Esposito added, "And other than Bumpkins, his only other joy in life was the Knicks."

Much to Kate's slight irritation, Castle began referencing Jordan, "Jordan said the profile indicated the killer hunted Conrad. If he wasn't a friend, then he must've met up with him somewhere where people strike up a casual conversation."

Kate began studying the photos of Conrad's apartment while Esposito threw out the theory that if Conrad camped out at the coffee shops with a laptop, the killer could've sat down next to him and started talking to him.

Kate suddenly saw what was wrong with the photos and she said, "His sister said that he was a Knicks fan, right?" The three men nodded. Kate pointed to all of the pictures of Conrad's apartment, "What's missing from these pictures?"

"Good taste."

"Area rug."

"Decent lighting."

Kate sighed, "A TV. Which means he would have to walk to a local bar to watch the games." She paused a moment to work out a plan, "Okay, you two take all the coffee shops within a five-block radius of Conrad's apartment, see if anyone remembers him talking to a customer. Castle and I will take the bars." Kate walked to the door and as she passed Castle she said to him, "And if you keep quoting Jordan, I am going to turn the radio way up."

Kate and Castle went from one bar to the next, but so far they hadn't found anyone who remembered Conrad. By the time they walked into the fifth bar, Castle was beginning to lose hope, but Beckett smiled and said, "Cheer up Castle. I've got a feeling this place is different."

As Kate walked towards the bar to talk to the bartender, Castle noticed a banner above the bar that read: "Home of New York's Very Own Serial Killer Ben Conrad."

"I'm afraid that banner's going to have to come down. It's still an open investigation," Kate told the bartender.

"I was just trying to work an angle," the woman said with a heavy sigh. She had hoped to drum up some business, but she didn't want any trouble with the police.

Kate nodded and then asked, "Did Ben Conrad ever talk to you about the recent death of his dog?"

"Sure, he loved to flap his gums to me about that little drop-kick." The bartender shook her head, smirking. She wasn't too fond of little dogs.

"Well what about the other customers? He ever talk to them?"

"He mostly drank alone and watched the games." She paused then she remembered, "Though a couple of weeks ago he did strike it up with some guy."

"Can you describe him?"

"Average looking. A bit off, like Conrad. They sat at that high top over there," She pointed to the high tables near the wall. "I figured, hey, birds of a feather."

"This other guy, did he ever pay with a credit card?" Kate knew it was a long shot, but it was worth asking. After all, this could be their parking ticket.

The bartender told them the only time he ever said more than two words to her was when he asked her to call him a cab. She remembered it because the Knicks game had gone into overtime and she'd missed the final moments of the game while she was on hold with the cab company.

Kate thanked her and they left the bar to see if they could track down the cab company to ask the driver about where he'd taken the suspect that night.

At the precinct, Kate hung up with the cab company and told Castle that the driver had dropped their guy off in the West Village on the corner of Varick and Downing, but even with that information, they didn't have much to go on. There were thousands of people who lived and worked near that corner and canvassing the area for an average looking white man wasn't going to get them very far.

Just then, Shaw walked in with a folder and explained that a physical description wasn't the only way to identify him; they also had his behavior. Castle was a little skeptical about her methods, but he sat down to listen anyway.

"Well, originally his behavior seemed inconsistent, but that was because he was pretending to be someone else. We know a lot more now." She opened the folder and began explaining what she meant. "He's a show off, a game player with an exceptionally high IQ, but it's not enough to be smart. He also has a pathological need to validate it, which tells me that he probably belongs to an organization like MENSA or Prometheus." Jordan handed them a stapled packet of membership lists for both organizations and then went on, "He is a chameleon, so we can assume he's living under a stolen identity." She handed them a second packet, this one thinner than the previous one, with a list of names of local males that could've had their identity stolen by the killer. "And he is literate. He has already shown certain dispositions in his fascination with Nikki Heat, so we've drawn up a list of periodicals and magazines that he likely subscribes to." She handed Castle the final packet.

He looked it over and said, "I get half the magazines on this list…"

Kate also expressed her concern, "This is a pretty wide net."

"So is Varick and Downing and so are memberships in high-IQ societies, but put them all together and sometimes we get lucky," Jordan said confidently.

They moved into the war room where Avery was working on their information. He had the computers collating subscription information from the profiled periodicals as well as membership lists from high-IQ organizations within a one-mile radius of the Varick and Downing area.

Kate and Jordan looked at the SmartBoard screen, Kate watching in silent fascination. The data was streaming so fast she barely had time to read the words, but it didn't matter as long as they found the killer.

The search came up with17 names and Avery ran them through the FBI's database to look for criminal records or any matches with public records.

"Most serial killers have some kind of indication of violent behavior," Jordan explained as they waited for any criminal or psychiatric records to pop up on the screen. Unfortunately their search led them to a dead end and they were about to give up hope, when something finally came up and caught Avery's attention.

"This one here, Chris Dougherty. He's got a recent driver's license, but according to his social security number, Chris Dougherty died six years ago," he announced, grateful to finally have something to go on.

Kate stepped closer to the board to study the DMV photo that was displayed on the screen and then she shifted her attention to the archived newspaper article that detailed the story of Dougherty's death, "He's living under a stolen identity."

"So does it say where our dead guy supposedly lived?" Shaw asked, not getting her hopes up until they had a solid answer.

"His address puts him half a block from Downing and Varick."

Kate was still looking at the SmartBoard when she heard Avery mention the address and she said, "Ok, now I'm officially impressed."

Jordan grinned, "Don't be, not until we arrest the guy. Let's roll."

Jordan was giving orders as the tactical team busted down the door to Dougherty's apartment. They quickly swept the apartment, but found no signs of Dougherty inside, only a slew of typed pages suspended from a clothesline by clothespins, like so much laundry. The rear wall was covered with images of Kate, but the piece de resistance was a large collage that was pieced together from torn up Heat Wave covers that, when looked at from afar, created an image of Kate's face. It was a classic serial killer wall of death.

Kate stood there staring at the artwork, her mind overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the obsession that this man had succumbed to. Castle walked up next to her and studied it, as well. He could appreciate the work from a creative standpoint, but beyond that, he wanted to get his hands on this obsessive nut and rip him a new one for making his best friend suffer the way she had.

Castle glanced at Kate and saw the look on her face, the look that said she was blaming herself for this nut-bar's compulsions. He wished he could do something, but Kate was the stubborn type and no amount of reassuring would make her stop torturing herself. Just then, he looked down at the table under the collage and saw a copy of his book. He picked it up curiously, but what he saw when he opened the cover chilled him to the bone. The copy was autographed by Castle himself and he showed it to Kate, "Hey, I signed this: 'To Scott. Write what you know.'"

Jordan asked him if he remembered the man he'd signed it for, but Castle shook his head. He signed so many books that all the names and faces started to run together after a while. Then Castle saw what looked like a manuscript on the arm of the couch and he picked it up. The title on the front page read Dead Heat and Castle suddenly felt sick to his stomach.

Jordan walked over to take a closer look and asked, "His manifesto?"

Castle shook his head and spoke numbly, "His manuscript."

At that point, Kate joined them and read the title out loud, "Dead Heat?"

Castle opened the manuscript up and read from the passage that described how the case had begun with the bullets that rendered the first message. The killer had written the whole thing out as a book starring himself as the criminal mastermind that would finally defeat Nikki Heat.

"A book. All this over a damn book." Kate just couldn't believe how senseless all these murders had been, that so many lives had been lost just so this man could detail each aspect as written words on a page and give his life meaning.

While Kate was trying to take it all in, Jordan found a different manuscript and realized that this guy had been writing about his murders long before Nikki Heat. The one in her hands was called Night Terrors and it was about killing prostitutes in Seattle.

"I remember that case," Castle said. "They found the killer hanging in his apartment, an apparent suicide."

"Another patsy, just like Ben Conrad," Jordan said with a sigh. It seemed to be this guy's MO: find a puppet to pin the murders on and then go on a killing spree before killing the flunkey to make it look like the killer had committed suicide. Once the heat was off, he could move to another city, start all over again, and chronicle his exploits to create a brand-new novel.

Kate couldn't understand why he'd do that though, "He gets away with murder, why write about it? Why risk it?"

Jordan explained that writing was probably a symptom of his psychosis, like taking a trophy. He needed something to help him remember every detail about the murders and most trophies, like body parts or personal items, would be too risky to keep and too awkward to lug around from city to city. His books were easier for him to transport.

While they were discussing, Avery came over to let them know that the team hadn't found any prints inside of the apartment and when Kate couldn't understand how that was possible, Shaw informed her that a man like him who liked to play with fire probably burned them off.

Once they'd finished going over the apartment, Shaw ordered the tactical team to remain inside in case Dougherty somehow managed to get by the surveillance team she was planning to put outside. She placed several agents on the ground and dressed them in plain clothes so they'd blend in with the surroundings while they kept an eye out for their man.

Meanwhile, Shaw was supervising the entire operation from the surveillance van with Kate and Castle by her side. She'd placed several cameras in the area to make sure that every angle was covered and her keen eyes were scrutinizing the monitors for signs of anything suspicious. Little did she know that something suspicious was already happening inside the van.

Castle was sitting in the front of the van reading the copy of Dead Heat that he'd swiped from the apartment even after Agent Shaw instructed everyone to leave the apartment "un-assed." His natural writer's curiosity was dying to see what this man's writing style revealed about him.

The more he read, the more impressed he became, and he decided to share that with Shaw and Beckett, "It's all here. The engraved bullets, the cat-and-mouse phone calls, the cipher, only it's Nikki Heat investigating and she's always one step behind him."

"Castle, what part of 'un-ass' don't you understand?" Her tone implied that it was something he should've known, a phrase that a mystery writer who followed cops around on a daily basis should understand.

Castle looked at her and answered honestly, "All of it."

"For future reference, it means get the hell out and don't take anything," she explained as though she were reprimanding a child.

Castle just grinned and nodded as he jotted the phrase down for future reference.

Jordan turned to Kate in the hopes of finding some solidarity, "Is he always like this?"

Kate just grinned, "Castle has the attention span of a cocker spaniel."

Jordan nodded as she took a sip of her coffee, "Mmm, and the loyalty. The way he follows you around. From what I've observed, this unorthodox partnership works well for you."

"For now." She didn't want to admit that she liked having Castle around, but the truth was, she did.

"How does your girlfriend feel about him following you around? His obvious crush on you doesn't bother her?"

"Alex knows he's harmless and she trusts me," Kate said, then she flipped this line of questioning back on Agent Shaw, "How does your husband feel about you hopping on a Lear jet six times a year, chasing serial killers across the country?"

"He's very supportive, but I'd be lying if I said it was easy to get on that plane sometimes, knowing what I'm missing at home."

Kate thought about that for a moment. She couldn't help but wonder how things would be for her children with Alex given that they both had full-time careers that not only took up a lot of time, but could also be dangerous. She looked to Shaw for advice, "How do you manage?"

Jordan's voice was a little sad as she replied, "You miss a few birthdays and make a lot of phone calls. My husband tucks our daughter in every night and tells her mommy's off slaying dragons."

While she was talking to Kate, Jordan was also watching the screens and suddenly she saw something she that she knew she shouldn't be seeing and her voice took on a forceful tone, "The trick to this kind of operation is having enough personnel in play to take the target down, but not so many that he can smell a trap, which is why we have to get our people to go downwind." She pointed to a guy on the rooftop who had a pair of binoculars up to his eyes and then picked up her walkie-talkie to contact Avery.

"Avery, tell our guy on the roof to find another spot. I can see him from the street," she said with irritation

Avery, who was stationed inside the apartment, looked out the window and replied, "We don't have anybody up there."

That's when Jordan realized that the man on the roof was their suspect and she alerted all units to be advised that the subject was on the roof of the building at the corner of Bedford and Downing. Suddenly all of the agents on the street started to swarm towards the building, but when the suspect spotted them, he knew he'd been found and decided to make a break for it.

When she saw him move away from the ledge, she announced, "We're blown, we're blown, all units go hot now." She opened the van doors to join the agents on the street and ordered Kate and Castle to stay in the van while she and her team took care of the situation.

Kate sat inside the van and watched the monitors, but while the agents were busting down the door to Dougherty's building, she saw him coming down the fire escape of the next-door building, "That's him. He must've jumped the rooftops. He's getting away." She knew she had no way to contact Jordan and let her know what was happening, but she wasn't about to let this guy get away. She opened the door to the van, but before Castle could do anything to stop her, she slammed the door in his face and took off down the street to catch Dougherty.

Just as she came out onto the street from the alley, she saw the suspect calmly walking in her direction and she drew her weapon, ordering him to stop, "NYPD, on the ground now!"

Just before he turned to run the opposite direction, he gave her a creepy smile, challenging her to follow if she dared.

With her gun still in hand, Kate took off after him, dodging people on the sidewalk, as she made for the subway entrance, desperate to catch him before he disappeared. She descended the stairs in record time and jumped the turnstile, never taking her eyes off her prey. She ran across the platform and was just about to grab Dougherty when he stepped onto the train, the doors shutting just a split-second before Kate could apprehend him. As the train began to move, he looked at Kate through the window and closed his fingers to mimic the shape of a gun. Before her pulled out of sight, he mouthed the word "Bang" and then he was gone.

Kate slapped her hand against one of the columns nearby, "Fuck!" She sighed heavily and slowly made her way out of the subway station to head back to the van where Jordan was waiting for her.

She silently climbed into the back of the van and although Jordan wanted to tell her off for disobeying her orders, she thought it might be better to give Kate a little time. They rode back to the station in silence.

Once they were back at the precinct, Kate gave Jordan a detailed account of the chase and although Jordan was still upset with Kate, she was grateful that now they finally had footage of their man from the Subway security cameras. She ordered Avery to pull up the footage so that they could get a shot of his face for an ID.

Shaw isolated a frame of the killer's face as he was going down the stairs and Avery ran it through the facial recognition software. Within minutes they had a match to a man named Scott Dunn. Now that they had his name, they were one step closer to apprehending the man who had made so many lives miserable.

Avery read aloud from Dunn's criminal record, "Foster child, sealed juvie record, three-year stint in a Bay area psychiatric institute, and a single arson conviction."

"Where he burns his hands in a fire," Jordan concluded with a shake of her head.

"He hit all the clichés," Castle stated, a little disappointed that Dunn wasn't as original as he'd given him credit for.

"Last seen February 15, 2004. Six years ago he simply disappears," Avery added.

"I want every bit of research you have on this guy on my desk, in half an hour," Jordan instructed before she turned to Kate and motioned for the detective to join her out in the hallway.

Kate looked puzzled, but she followed Jordan out into the hall and was about to say something when Jordan turned to her and said, "You're out."

"What?" Kate asked with surprise.

"I told you to stay in the van."

Kate quickly defended her actions, "I just broke this case."

"I need people backing me I can trust." She hated to take Kate off the case, but there was no way in hell that Jordan was going to tell Alex that Kate had wound up injured or dead because she was playing fast and loose with Dunn.

Kate tried to protest, "W—Hold on…"

"Sorry detective, you're off the case," Jordan said with finality before she walked away.

Kate took a breath. If Shaw wasn't willing to listen to reason, then perhaps Captain Montgomery would be willing to help her finish out this case. She went to his office and tried to appeal to him, explaining that she was an integral part of the investigation, but he too shot her down.

"There's nothing I can do, Beckett. The FBI has jurisdiction and besides, the hard part is done. His financials are frozen and TSA has been alerted. We'll get him. In the meantime, you should go home and get some rest."

"But sir—"

"That's an order."

Castle put his hand on Kate's shoulder and said, "Come on, I'll take you over to Alex's."

Kate nodded and walked out with Castle. She couldn't get rid of the heaviness in her chest, but she hoped that once she got to the loft and spent some time with Alex, she'd be able to move on from the events of the afternoon. She called her girlfriend to let her know that she was on the way over, but Alex was still at work and she told Kate that she wouldn't be home until late because she had to finish writing her closing arguments for the next morning.

"Just get into your pajamas and rest, ok? I'll be home as soon as I can," Alex said in a warm voice. "I love you, baby."

"I love you too. I'll see you soon," Kate said before she hung up. She turned to Castle and asked, "Would you mind staying with me until Alex gets home? I don't really want to be by myself right now."

Castle nodded, "I'd be honored."


Chapter Twenty-Four: Someone's Missing

While Kate and Castle were waiting for Alex to get home, they were sitting in the living room talking as they shared a bottle of wine.

Kate looked into her wineglass and asked, "Who would've thought I'd be homeless and case-less in one day?"

"You're not homeless. It's like they say, home is where the heart is and your heart is with Alex. As long as you have her, you'll always have a home," Castle said, trying to cheer her up. "Listen, I know I'm the king of going rogue, but you were right to chase after Dunn."

Kate nodded, but being right didn't make it any easier to be tossed off the case. The thing was, she completely understood why Shaw had done it, "Jordan was right to kick me off the case. I would've done the same thing if I was in her spot. I'm too close to it."

Castle lowered his eyes as he worked up the courage to ask the question that had been plaguing him, "I'm sure after all this you're a little sorry you let me follow you around, huh?"

"No not this. All the other annoying things you do, but not this," she smiled. She wanted him to know that she didn't blame him. "What about you? Are you sorry you ever wrote Heat Wave?"

Castle remembered something Jordan had said and he replied, "The way I look at it now, if it wasn't for Nikki Heat this guy would've just gone on killing because he wouldn't have met anyone smart enough to catch him." He paused a moment and then joked, "I'm speaking, of course, about Special Agent Shaw."

Kate just grinned and then lightly smacked him on the arm. She was tired, "It's getting late. I'm going to get some sleep. Alex should be home soon, so if you want, you can go home or you can crash in the guest bedroom."

"I think I'll take you up on that. I want Alex to know that I didn't leave you alone."

Kate nodded and said, "Thanks. Good night, Castle." Then she went into the bedroom she shared with Alex and quickly changed into her pajamas before slipping under the covers. She rolled onto her side and rested her head on the pillow ready for sleep to overtake her. She knew that when she woke up, her blonde girlfriend would be there and she smiled as she drifted off into a deep and restful slumber.

The next morning when Kate woke up she noticed that Alex wasn't in their bed. She sat up and looked around in a panic, but then she smelled coffee brewing and she figured her girlfriend was already up and in the kitchen making breakfast. She got out of bed and quickly changed into a red t-shirt and black sweatpants. After all, the last thing she needed was for Castle to see her in a camisole and boxers.

Kate crossed the apartment and walked into the kitchen, the smile on her face disappearing when she noticed that Castle was standing alone at the stove. She approached him and said, "Good morning, Castle. Did you happen to hear Alex come in last night?"

"No…I figured she was still asleep in your room. She's not?" Castle asked, clearly confused. He had just assumed that Alex had come into the loft quietly and slipped into bed with Kate.

"No," Kate said as she tried to think of where Alex might be. "You know what? She probably fell asleep on the couch in her office. I'll call her cell." Kate picked up the house phone and dialed Alex's cell, but it went straight to voicemail. She tried a couple more times, but it was the same result. At that point Kate started to get worried so she called Ryan.


"Hey, it's Kate, listen I need a favor."

"Sure, what do you need?" he asked. He knew that if Kate was coming to him for a favor it must be important.

"Alex didn't come home last night and she's not answering her cell. Can you just swing by the courthouse and check on her, please? I'd do it but I don't want Shaw finding out and telling the Captain put me on leave or something."

"Yeah, no problem. Esposito and I will say we're going out for donuts or something. I'll call you when I know something, ok?"

"Thanks Ryan," she said before she hung up the phone. She went back to the bedroom to get dressed in case she had to run out in a hurry and was just picking out a shirt when her cell phone rang. Figuring that it was either Ryan or Alex, she picked it up without looking at the caller ID, "Beckett."

"Miss Beckett, this is Gina from Tiffany's." The warm, friendly voice was a bit soothing as Kate remembered that her ring was supposed to be ready any day now. "I'm calling to let you know that the ring you ordered has arrived and you can come by to take a look at it at your earliest convenience."

"Oh, thank you, Gina. Things are a little busy at work right now, so it might be a few days before I can come in. Is that ok?"

"Of course. We'll hold the ring for 30 days in store."

"Great, I should be by sometime within the next week to pick it up. Thank you again, Gina."

"You're welcome, Miss Beckett. Feel free to call if you have any other questions. We'll see you soon."

Kate hung up the phone and went back to getting dressed. She couldn't help but smile as she thought about the ring and how beautiful it would look on Alex's finger once the blonde had said yes to her proposal.

Minutes later she re-joined Castle in the kitchen and he asked, "Any word from Ryan?"

"Nothing yet," she said as she shook her head. "You don't think something happened, do you?"

"Nah, if I know Alex, she's still in her office after pulling an all-nighter. I'm sure she's going to call any minute." Castle said reassuringly. The last thing he wanted to do was scare Kate by being honest with her about his gut feeling that something had gone terribly wrong. After all, it wasn't like Alex to not check in, especially now that a psycho was on the loose.

Kate nodded, but she had the same feeling as Castle. All she wanted was for someone to call and tell her that her girlfriend was all right.

About 30 minutes later, she finally received the call she'd been waiting for, but when she heard the sound of Ryan's voice telling her to come down to the courthouse right away, she felt her blood turn to ice. "Is she…?" She couldn't bring herself to ask the question.

Ryan sighed, "I don't know…we can't find her…just get down here right away."

Kate hung up and with Castle in tow, they drove down to the courthouse as fast as they could. Kate pulled into the garage and parked in a spot near Ryan's car. She got out and ran to where Ryan and Esposito were standing with Shaw and Avery.

She looked at Ryan, "What happened?"

"I talked to her secretary and she said that Alex was still here when she left about 9:45, so I checked the security tapes to see what time she left."

"And, what did you find out?" Kate asked, her heart racing.

"She left her office about 10:30, but she never made it out to the car that was waiting for her. Security is checking every inch of the building, but…I think he's got her…I'm so sorry, Kate," Ryan said regretfully. The last thing he wanted to do was deliver this news to his friend.

Kate stood there and she felt as if she'd been hit with a baseball bat. She couldn't figure out how this had happened, but before she could really get her mind wrapped around what had happened, she heard her cell phone ring. Without a second thought, she answered and nearly froze when she heard Dunn's voice on the other end.

"There's nothing like the bond between girlfriends, is there Nikki? You must really miss her. She's very pretty."

"Where is she?" Kate asked as she tried to maintain the last ounce of control she had left.

"Safe, for now," he taunted. It was clear from the tone of his voice that he would have no problem killing Alex if Nikki didn't cooperate.

"If you hurt her I swear to God I'll…"

Dunn cut her off before she could finish her threat, "That all depends on you doesn't it? This is your story Nikki, not hers. She's just an extra…and extras are expendable. The showdown only works if it's between you and me. Come to the Battery Park Ferry terminal at midnight tonight Nikki, and come alone, or she dies…and you don't want her blood on your hands, do you?"

At that moment Kate wanted nothing more than to reach through the phone, pull Dunn out by his balls, and feed him to a wood chipper for laying a hand on Alex. She swallowed that down for the moment because she knew that getting angry would only feed into Dunn's game. She took a breath and asked, "How can I be sure she's still alive?"

"I'll send you an email," he replied before the line went dead. Kate looked right at Shaw and said, "He's sending me an email of Alex. Proof she's alive."

Kate's eyes silently begged Jordan to let her back on the case. She couldn't just sit at home and wait for someone else to save the woman she loved; she needed to be the one to take him down and rescue Alex.

"Come on, let's go back to the station and we'll check out the e-mail to see if we can pinpoint her location," Jordan said, knowing that she couldn't ask Kate to sit this out anymore.

Kate sighed and thanked her before she and Castle headed for her car. Once she was inside, she took a moment to compose herself.

Castle looked over at her and said, "Hey, we're going to find her and then we'll nail Dunn."

"I know, but for his sake I hope he hasn't hurt her, because if he has, I'm going to kill him. I swear to God I will and I don't give a fuck. I'm not going to let him get away with this."

"I know." He knew that Kate would do anything to keep Alex safe and if worse came to worse, she'd avenge any damage or pain that Dunn had inflicted upon the blonde… He hoped for everyone's sake that they'd find Alex unharmed because the last thing he wanted was for Kate to give in to her rage.

Back at the station, Kate opened the email from Dunn and watched the attached video clip, her heart racing. Alex was sitting in a chair, bound and gagged with duct tape and even though she looked disheveled, she was physically unharmed.

Within moments Dunn stepped into the frame with a gun in his hand and said, "Say hello to your girlfriend, Miss Cabot."

"Go to hell," Alex's spat back. Her voice was strong, but Kate could hear the undercurrent of fear and she longed to hold her girlfriend and comfort her.

Before Alex could say anything else, then the video cut off and Jordan looked to Kate, "It may be your story Kate, but it's my show. We'll bring her back alive, I promise you that and although you're back on the case, you can't run off half-cocked again, got it?"

Kate nodded, but she knew that if the chance came up for her to take Dunn down, she wouldn't hesitate. With or without Shaw, she was going to save her girlfriend's life.

Once they were in agreement, Jordan and Kate went into the war room to see if they could get anything off the video that would point them to Alex's location. Through the small, unobstructed corner of the window behind Alex they were able to make out a bridge tower and a quick comparison of all the bridges in the city led them to the Whitestone Bridge. Next, Kate suggested that they play the audio again to see if they could isolate any sounds that might give them a location based on the line of sight. Sure enough they heard the sound of the subway as it rattled along above ground tracks and Kate identified it as the Pelham line.

With that information, Avery was able to find the address of the building that was directly in the line of sight and he said, "Got it, 1756 48th Avenue, the Bronx." He pulled up a satellite image of the street and the warehouse where Dunn was holding Alex on the SmartBoard.

"Have the hostage rescue team meet us there." Shaw ordered.

When they arrived outside of the warehouse, Jordan looked to Kate, "This is the place." She pointed to the image on the screen and continued, "It's supposed to be abandoned, but the thermal imager confirms a hot spot on the fourth floor. That's where he's holding her. The team's going to enter on his blind side of the building."

"This is wrong," Castle said as he realized that things were just a little too easy.

"What's wrong?" Kate asked. She knew that when Castle had a gut instinct about something he was usually right. She wanted to know what he was sensing.

He looked at the two women and said, "It feels too easy."

"What do you mean too easy?" Jordan didn't think any of this could ever be called easy.

"I mean, the sneak peek out the window, waiting to record the message just as the train was going by. He led us here. You remember how perfect everything was with Conrad?"

"Yeah I got the trap memo too, but that doesn't mean I'm going to sit on my ass and do nothing. Alex is up there. She's an innocent civilian and the only reason the Dunn has her is to bait Kate into a showdown," Jordan argued.

Castle turned to Kate, "She'll be dead the moment they breach that door."

Kate looked to Jordan, but Jordan shook her head, "We're not going to breach the door. Hostage exchange happens at midnight, that means he has to move her before then. When he steps outside that door, I'll put him down like the rabid dog he is. I'll bring her back to you alive Kate, I promise."

Kate looked into Jordan's eyes, "You'd better, she's my entire world, Jordan."

Jordan nodded then said, "This time, please, stay in the van. In the dark anything can go wrong."

Kate nodded in agreement as Castle watched in silence. He knew how hard it would be to change either one of their minds so he figured the best thing to do was just offer Kate moral support as they waited for the strike to go down.

As the team moved into position, Kate and Castle were watching them on the thermal imager. They could see several bright yellow dots moving across the screen, getting closer and closer to the room where two yellow dots were glowing brightly.

As Castle studied the monitor, he shook his head and said, "I don't know how he's doing it but he's not up there."

"What are you basing that on?" Kate asked, curious to understand Castle's speculation.

"I don't know how I know, I just…"

"You just what?"

He didn't want to say it because he knew Kate wouldn't take him seriously.

When he didn't answer, she pushed him, "Castle you and I have known each other long enough for me to know that sometimes your silly theories are right, so if you have a reason to believe he's not up there, then you need to tell me why, now. For Alex's sake."

Castle gave in, knowing that he would never forgive himself something happened to Alex or the FBI agents because he stayed quiet. "Just because…it's not how I would write it." He waited for Kate to discard his theory.

"What happens in your version?" Kate asked. After all, what did she have to lose? Dunn had obviously studied Castle's writing style, so it stood to reason that he'd try to outsmart Nikki's creator.

"He lets us think we've found him to lure us here. Let's the FBI converge on the building, only he's not in there."

"Where is he?"

"Nearby, watching. Watching it all unfold. He's got something planned. If it were me, I'd wait until they all got inside, got settled into position, and then I'd blow the building."

Kate thought about that and she realized that it made sense. "Where is he watching from?"

"I don't know. He wants to show he's smarter than us, so he'll be somewhere close by and out of the way."

Kate needed something more solid if she was going to leave the van, "Castle, if it were you, where would you be watching from?"

He leaned forward and pointed to the building where the agents were gathered, "I wouldn't be watching from this building where they are. I'd be watching from here." He pointed to the building across the street. He knew that Dunn would have a perfect view of the building so that he could watch the carnage once he detonated the bomb that was waiting on the other side of the door for the agents.

Kate knew that wasn't time, nor a way to call Jordan about the new theory, so she decided that it was up to her and Castle to get Dunn and save Alex…she just hoped they were right. "Come on, let's go get that son of a bitch and bring Alex home."

They left the van and made their way to the other building, creeping as quietly as they could to keep Dunn from hearing them enter. It was now or never and Kate prayed that Castle was right about this.


Chapter Twenty-Five: Rescuing Alex

Once they were inside the building, Kate turned to Castle and handed him a gun.

He was confused, "You want me to hold it while you tie your shoes?"

"No, I want you to take it, just in case. You're going to be my only backup here Castle. Jordan and her team are in the other building." When Kate was certain that Castle was comfortable with what she was asking of him, they set off to find Dunn.

Kate took the lead as they quietly crept through the building and before long she heard noises like those from a police scanner. She crept stealthily through the shadows and just as she peered around a support beam, she saw something that made her heart stop. There across the room from where she was standing she saw Alex tied to a chair with duct tape covering her mouth. The blonde's hair was in disarray and she appeared to have a bruise forming just above her left eye. When Kate saw that bruise she wanted to kill Dunn for laying a hand on her girlfriend, but she controlled her anger because she knew that charging in would only lessen Alex's chances of getting out of this alive.

"I'm almost sad to see it come to an end, Miss Cabot. I didn't want to have to involve a civilian, but this was the only way I could guarantee Nikki would be there to burn with the rest of the FBI," Dunn said as he carefully watched the other building, waiting for just the right moment to blow it up.

As he was speaking, Kate managed to make eye contact with Alex and in that instant, she silently told her girlfriend not to panic because she was going to get her out of there alive. Alex nodded, but she was still afraid that Dunn was going to do something to hurt Kate.

Kate turned to Castle and whispered, "I'm going to draw him away from Alex. You untie her and get her out of here, then get the FBI. Go."

Castle knew enough not to argue and he quickly moved away to follow Kate's instructions.

Kate, meanwhile, took a breath and then stepped into view and addressed Dunn, "I thought it was me you were after."

The moment he heard her voice, Dunn turned around and was shocked to see Nikki Heat standing there. He couldn't believe that she had figured out where to look, especially because he'd been one step ahead this whole time.

Despite the fact that she wanted to check on Alex, Kate kept her eyes focused on Dunn because she knew that even a small slip up could spell disaster. She steeled herself and gave Dunn a warning, "Put your hands up, Dunn, or I will take you down."

He raised his right hand, in which he held a pair of binoculars, and set them down. Then he straightened up and showed her his left hand, "Why don't you put your gun down, Nikki? If you shoot me, my hand could tense up and I might just detonate the 19 pounds of cyclonite that Agent Shaw and the rest of her team are sitting on, turning them to mist..."

Alex was trembling in the chair, her heart beating so hard she thought it might explode. She didn't know what Kate had planned, but it seemed like this guy had all the angles covered.

"They're not in the building anymore," she bluffed, knowing that somehow her poker face would see her through this. "I only sent them in there to throw you off."

Dunn looked as though he'd been sucker punched, but he quickly recovered, "You're lying." He held up the detonator and was only an inch away from pressing the button.

Kate held her ground, "Why would they be in there if I knew that you were in here? Face it Dunn, I beat you. Nikki Heat won."

Dunn eyed his gun and then returned his gaze to Nikki, his hand clenching the detonator, "No…" Then he glanced at the gun again and yelled, "No!" before he tossed the detonator and lunged for the gun. He could almost feel it in his grasp when Alex kicked it away and he hand no choice but to shield himself behind the blonde. He hovered behind Alex for just a moment before he took off in an attempt to escape from Nikki.

As soon as he was clear of Alex, Kate took an open shot at Dunn and then ran after him, determined not to let him get away again.

Just as Kate disappeared from the room, Castle came up to Alex and asked, "You ok?" He pulled the tape off so she could answer.

"Where's everyone else?"

"Across the street waiting outside of a room filled with 19 pounds of cyclonite," he said as he struggled to untie her.

"She was bluffing?!" Alex asked with wide eyes.

"She was profiling," he said as the rope finally started to give way.

"Just go help her, I'll be fine, I got this!" she said, desperate for Castle to go help Kate before something bad happened to her.

Kate had lost Dunn in a maze of boxes, but she knew he had to be close by, after all, he wasn't going to run away now, not when he had her right there for the taking. She walked down the hallway on her guard, her gun out in front of her as she carefully scanned the area. She heard sounds coming from the freight elevator, so she quietly headed that way. She was in the elevator when Dunn jumped down from his hiding spot and landed on her back. She immediately went into attack mode and she ran backwards into the wall, smashing Dunn between her body and the concrete. The impact loosened his grip enough for her to free her arm and elbow him in the gut, but when she spun around to hit him in the face, he grabbed her by the wrist and used the momentum to slam her against a metal roll-up door.

He slammed her right hand against the wall, loosening her grip just enough so that he could grab her gun from her and then he tossed her on the floor. He smiled smugly as he pointed the gun at her, "That's how all my stories end, with someone else dead."

Kate lay there, winded and defeated as Dunn aimed her own gun at her, but before he could pull the trigger, Castle lifted the gun that Kate had given him and fired a single bullet at Dunn. In the blink of an eye, the bullet hit Dunn's hand and Kate's gun was knocked to the floor, just feet from where he stood. Dunn quickly scrambled across the floor and just as he felt the cold steel in his grasp, a foot clamped down, preventing him from picking it up. He looked up to see Alex standing there with the gun she had kicked away from Dunn earlier in her hands.

"Collar him," Alex said as she aimed the gun at his head and looked at Kate.

Kate stood up from the floor and took a second to admire Alex like this, badass with the gun in her hand aimed at Dunn like she knew exactly what she was doing. She had to admit, Alex looked hot.

She walked over and picked Dunn up off the ground to cuff him.

"This isn't over Heat." Dunn said, his sick little melodrama still swirling around in his head.

"It's not Heat. It's Beckett," she said with finality as she tightened the cuffs to make her point. "You have the right to remain silent, so shut the hell up," she ordered as she walked Dunn out of the building. She turned to Alex just before she walked past and smiled, "Thank you."

"Like I was going to let that psycho kill my girl," she said, her grip so tight on the gun that her knuckles were turning white. She lowered the firearm when Castle put his hand over hers and said, "You're a hell of a shot, Rick."

He watched as Kate escorted Dunn out and said, "I was aiming for his head."

She chuckled, the warmth suddenly returning to her body, and then said, "Come on."

They walked out of the building together and when they reached the street, Castle looked at the SUVs parked on the sidewalk and said, "Maybe we should give them some room. I don't want anything to get in the way of Dunn's arrest."

"Would you mind taking me home? I really don't think I can be around this drama anymore tonight..."

Castle looked at Alex and nodded, "Sure, just let me tell Kate so she doesn't worry, ok?" The last thing Castle wanted or needed was a pissed off Kate yelling at him for not telling her he was taking Alex home.

Alex put her arms around herself, a cold chill running through her body, one she was certain she wouldn't be able to shake for a long time. She was watching the scene around her, but it was like she was detached from herself. She had been a part of it, a part of his game, and it was just like before with the cartel. She just wanted things to be normal and they weren't normal.

Castle slid in next to Kate as she was filling Jordan in on what had happened in the building with Dunn and the agent said, "I'd really like her to give me a statement while everything's still fresh in her memory."

Although she wasn't addressing him directly, Castle felt the need to intervene on Alex's behalf, "Um, can she do that tomorrow? She's a bit shaken up. She asked if I could take her home." Despite the fact that Shaw had asked the question, he directed most of his attention to Kate. After all, Alex was Kate's girlfriend and he needed the detective's ok more than he needed Shaw's.

Kate turned to Castle then glanced past him to where Alex was standing, "Um, yeah that's fine..." She turned back to Jordan and said, "Give a minute. I just want to make sure she's ok."

Jordan nodded, knowing that it was a good time to back off.

Kate walked towards Alex and stopped just inches away from the blonde, "Hey baby, did he hurt you? Are you ok?"

Alex lifted her eyes to Kate and it was evident that she was distant, occupied. "I'm…numb. But I'm sure by tomorrow I'll feel more like myself. Go take care of that son of a bitch and come home as soon as you can, ok?"

Kate closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around Alex, burying her face in the blonde's neck and inhaling the scent that always calmed her. They stood like that for a few moments before Kate pulled back and looked into Alex's eyes, whispering, "I was so, scared when I found out you'd been taken. I thought I was going to lose you. I am so sorry that you got pulled into this mess." Kate placed a hand on Alex's cheek, "I'll be home as soon as I can and I'm going to hold you all night long, but in the meantime, I'm going to ask Castle to stay with you until I get there, ok?"

"I think that's a good idea. I don't want to be on my own. Just promise me that you'll hurry, ok?"

Kate smiled as she leaned closer for a quick kiss, "I promise I'll be as fast as I can." She turned to Castle who was standing far enough away to not hear their conversation, but close enough that she only had to raise her voice a little to get his attention, "Castle, can you come here?"

He walked over and noticed that Kate was holding out the keys to the SUV that they were standing next to. "Here, drive carefully ok?" she said as she handed them to him.

Castle nodded, "I will." Then he went around to the driver's side, got in, and started the vehicle.

Kate opened the passenger door then turned to Alex, "I love you, I'll see you in a little while, ok?"

"Ok," Alex said absently as she got into the SUV. She buckled her seatbelt almost robotically and once she was settled, she put her arms around herself again. She stared out the window, but she wasn't registering any of it. Instead she was replaying the events of the last 24 hours and how close both she and Kate had come to being killed and she felt as though she might vomit. She never wanted to be that close to the brink again.

Kate watched them drive away and she sensed there was something off about her girlfriend, but for now there was nothing she could do. Instead, she focused on making sure that Dunn couldn't slither out of this on a technicality. She walked back over to Jordan and noticed a peculiar look on the other woman's face, "What?"

"You're honestly going to come down to the station with us instead of going home to your girlfriend?"

Kate looked around, "It's my job, besides I have to pick up my car before I go home."

"He's not going anywhere, Kate," Shaw assured her. "You can come in tomorrow and write the report, but I really think you should go home to her. She didn't look so good."

Kate turned back to look in the direction that the SUV had disappeared and she sighed, "Yeah you're probably right. Can I get a ride to the precinct so I can pick up my car?"

"Of course," Avery said. Shaw was going to ride with Dunn to make sure he didn't try anything funny, so her partner offered Kate a ride in his car.

Kate and Avery drove to the precinct in silence, the detective too deep in her thoughts to make any kind of meaningful conversation with the agent. When they arrived, Kate thanked him for the ride and then went out to the lot to pick up her can and drive home.

When she arrived at the building, she pulled into Alex's assigned spot in that garage and cut the engine. She turned around and reached for the statue in the back seat and then got out of the car. She set the alarm, headed to the elevator, and pressed the button for Alex's floor. She stepped off the elevator and cross the short hallway to the front door, her key slipping inside the lock with practiced ease. She entered the loft and closed the door securely behind her before making her way into the living room where she found Castle sitting on the couch reading a magazine.

He looked up when the door opened and smiled, "Hey, that was fast. Alex is in the bedroom, she seemed tired."

Kate smiled, "Thanks Castle. You can go home now, I've got this."

With that, Castle took his leave and Kate locked up behind him. She took off her coat and placed the statue on a shelf in the living room before heading to the bedroom to check on Alex. She slowly opened the door and was about walk in when she heard Alex's voice.

"Rick?" Alex asked as she sat up in bed. She was dressed in a pair of yoga pants and a t-shirt, her hair pulled back into a ponytail and her face clean. The bruise was purple and very clear thanks to her fair complexion. She was a ball of nerves and she knew that feeling wasn't going to pass any time soon.

Kate stuck her head into the room and looked at Alex, "No baby, it's me. I sent Castle home. Can I come in?"

Alex swallowed and let out a breath. "Sure, come in," she said, her mouth suddenly dry.

Kate stepped into the room and closed the door. She took one step forward then stopped, her eyes going straight to the purple bruise on Alex's forehead. After a moment, Kate slowly walked closer until she was standing next to the bed.

She carefully sat down and looked at Alex, "Oh baby, I am so sorry that you got pulled into this mess. I'm so sorry he hurt you." Kate suddenly felt the overwhelming guilt that had been sitting on the edge of her mind as it flooded her system. She was supposed to protect this woman, keep her safe like she had promised her she would and then this happened. Kate once again knew what it felt like to fail, only this time it was worse because the woman she loved had been injured and Kate kept thinking that she could've done something to prevent it.

"I'm going to be fine…eventually. I just need to be here, in my— our home where I'm safe. I just need some time to recover and remind myself that we're both going to be all right. For now, I'm just having a hard time feeling like myself. I thought we were both going to die and…I couldn't go back down that road, Kate. I couldn't."

Kate didn't know how to respond to that, she didn't know what the right thing to say was, but she tried anyway and hoped she wouldn't make it worse, "Ok, I can understand that, um...would it be ok if I held you?"

Alex looked at her and nodded, though she still felt as though she wasn't really in her body and she didn't know how that was going to affect things. She sat very still on the bed and waited for Kate to come closer.

Kate slipped her shoes off and slid onto the bed so that she could wrap her arms around Alex. She leaned against the headboard and rested her head on the blonde's shoulder as she lightly rubbed Alex's tummy. After a few minutes of silence, Kate asked, "Baby? What did you mean by you couldn't go back down that road?"

Alex's body grew tense as the memories flooded her mind. She kept her eyes down, "When I was shot, I thought that I was going to die that night. I could feel the searing pain and then it was hard to breathe and before I knew it, I started slipping away. It was just black and I didn't know if I'd wake up again once I closed my eyes. I've never felt fear like that before or since…at least, not until tonight…I knew he was going to kill me…but what made it worse was knowing that he wanted to kill you and if he'd done it before he took care of me…I—" She was crying at this point, "I didn't want that to be my last memory…I didn't want to lose everything that I had my heart set on..."

Kate tightened her grip on Alex and she shifted closer, "Baby, I would never let him or anyone else take away what we have. If he hadn't had that detonator in his hand I would've shot him right then and there, but I couldn't risk the lives of the FBI agents in the other building just because he had you tied to a chair. I have never been so scared as when I saw you sitting there. I knew that, above anything else, I had to get you out of there alive, no matter what." Kate paused for a moment and then continued, "But we're safe now. He's in custody and he's not going to be able to bother us ever again. I promise you that." Kate raised her hand and wiped away the tears on Alex's face before she gently turned her to look in her eyes. Once she had Alex's attention she said, "I promise you Alexandra Cabot, here and now, that I will never let anything like this ever happen to you again. You and me, we're going to have the life we planned with kids and a home and maybe even a dog or two. We're going to spend our lives together and nothing and no one is ever going to get this close to you ever again." Kate sealed her promise with a kiss. She knew that even if it meant sacrificing her own life, she'd never let anyone hurt Alex ever again.

Alex buried her head into Kate's shoulder and sobbed uncontrollably, her body shaking and the sounds of her cries so agonized that she couldn't even believe they were coming from her own mouth. She held onto Kate and just let everything out until she literally had nothing left inside. She grew very still at that point and kept her head down, everything quiet except for the sound of her breathing.

Kate held Alex as she cried it out, rubbing slow circles on her back, her own heart breaking at the anguish she heard coming from her lover. When Alex finally grew silent, Kate held her closer and whispered, "I'm right here baby. I love you and I promise you I am not going anywhere."

"You don't know that," Alex said in a whisper as she held onto Kate for dear life.

Kate thought for a second, "Maybe not, but I do know that it would take nothing short of actual death to make me leave you. And even then, I'll probably try to convince St. Peter to send me back because you need me." Kate kissed Alex's head as she held her close.

Alex just nodded and did her best to let Kate's words sink in. She felt emotionally and physically exhausted and she asked, "Can we go to bed? I just…I don't think I can stay awake much longer."

Kate smiled, "Of course baby." She slid down until they were both lying on the bed. She didn't want to let go of Alex so she pulled the bottom corner of the comforter over them and settled Alex into her arms. "Good night baby, we'll talk more tomorrow. I have a special surprise for you."

Alex managed a smile and said, "Good night, love. I can't wait to see what it is." She fell asleep, unable to keep her eyes open any longer.

Kate smiled to herself as she thought of their statue, how it survived the explosion. To her that meant that they were meant to be together, that they were going to have the future they dreamed of. Kate thought back to the call she'd gotten earlier from Tiffany's...the ring was ready. In all the excitement she'd forgotten about that, but she knew that soon she would have to go pick it up. Kate closed her eyes as she imagined Alex saying yes over and over again and soon, she was fast asleep, sweet dreams of Alex in a white dress dancing in her head.

Part 26

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