Title: Can't

WC: ~2100

Rating: T

Summary: " He goes to her, hands on her shoulders and his voice as gentle as he can make it. He tries to step her back from the sink. He tries to turn her toward him so he can assess the damage. This damage. This small thing that he can fix. " Episode insert for Sucker Punch, 2 x 13.

A/N: A sort of sequel to my story "Count Me Out."

He's not thinking.

Not when he pushes up from the floor to follow her. Not when the back of his head erupts into splinters of pain and his fingers come away bloody as he reaches up absently to touch it. His blood or Coonan's or both. He's not thinking about that.

His shoulder drags along the wall as he goes. His knuckles, his coat. Both catching brick. It stings. He registers it— pain, blood, and skin left behind—but he doesn't have time to think about it.

He's following. She's moving fast. Striding, not quite running—she'd never let herself, even if she was just sobbing out loud—but moving fast, and everyone else is just standing there. Everyone lining the halls just gapes as she brushes by.

There's anger boiling somewhere underneath about that. Stoic cop bullshit that he usually respects, but not now. Not with blood on her hands as she disappears.

He speeds up. He catches the corner of the wall with slick, shaking fingers. He takes it too fast. He's not thinking, and the pain in his head flares. He's dizzy with it. He careens hard into the sharp angle. His vision blurs and his feet try hard to go out from under him, but he follows.

The hallway ahead is dim. It's empty, at least. He hears the sharp report of her heels. A door slamming open and swinging shut. The locker room. He registers that, too, but he's not thinking.

Not when he leads with his shoulder and stumbles right through after her. Not when he turns the bolt and rattles the handle, making sure it holds fast. Not when he shuts the world out and goes to her, absolutely without hesitation.

She's bowed over the sink, eerily still. Quiet, and it's somehow more heartbreaking than her sobs. Shock upon shock and sorrow upon sorrow.

Her fingers grip the sides of the basin, and there's blood everywhere. Terrible, lurid smears breaking the expanse of gleaming white, and fingerprints on the mirror.

And her hands. It's all over her hands. At her temple where she must have tried to push her hair back.

That's what breaks him. The angry interruption of her pale, beautiful skin by his blood. Coonan's blood.

He goes to her, hands on her shoulders and his voice as gentle as he can make it. He tries to step her back from the sink. He tries to turn her toward him so he can assess the damage. This damage. This small thing that he can fix.


She tenses. Resists. She draws her elbows in and tucks her head further, but he's persistent. Desperate to keep them both in motion right now. To fix anything about this he can.

He says her name again, and she turns suddenly. She startles him as she shrinks back. Her hands are dark with blood. She holds them up and out. Away from him.

He's embarrassed. Writhing at how eager she is to keep away. He's on the verge of apologizing. On the verge of going when her voice stops him.

"Careful." She spreads her hands wide. Pulls her elbows in tight to her body. "Careful. Your clothes."

He laughs. He can't help it. She saved his life five minutes ago. She's standing close enough to kiss with the blood of the man who murdered her mother everywhere. Coating her palms and disappearing beneath her sleeves, and all she has to say is Careful.

So he laughs. Just once. A short, harsh sound, but enough that her lips curve and her eyes narrow and there's one second, then another when she might laugh, too.

One second, then another, and it all falls apart. Her eyes go wide and she looks at the blood under the buzzing fluorescent lights like she's seeing it for the first time.

"Castle." Her voice is barely a whisper now. Nothing like the icy calm with her gun trained on Coonan. Nothing like the sharp angry sobs while she pounded on the dying man's chest. Barely a whisper. "This isn't happening."

"I know." He reaches for her hand. Waits with his own outstretched when she jerks back, a slow shudder through all of her body, then she gives in with a sigh. He circles her wrist with his fingers. Holds her still while he works the zipper up toward her elbow. "It can't be."

She's passive. A doll under his hands, turning and lifting her arms at the merest word.

"Ready?" She doesn't respond. He folds her fingers and inches her jacket down her arms, sliding his palms up to hold the leather wide and away from the dark staining her skin.

He's trying to minimize the damage, but it's a lost cause. Blood inside and out, coating the teeth of the zipper. Still, he's patient. It feels important. Something. Something he can fix or die trying and every second that's an option.

He snaps the jacket in one hand and drapes it on a nearby bench, holding on to her elbow with his free hand. Her shirt is better. The leather took most of the damage and he's grateful for that. For any small thing.

"Let's get your hands," he says softly. He turns her hips toward the sink and she goes quietly. A shuffling step with his palms light at her shoulder blades, now. She goes quietly.

He's worried about the mirror. Worried that she'll see the smear of blood disappearing into her hairline, and that will be the end of her, too. It'll be the end of both of them.

But her head tips forward like it's heavy. She waits, palms up and the backs of her hands resting on the porcelain lip. He reaches around her to turn the old-fashioned knobs, hot and cold and a little more hot. He tests the temperature on his own skin. It's scalding and it scares him how right that feels. The urge to burn this all away. To scour.

He eases a little more cold into the stream. Satisfies himself that it's good enough—safe—and guides her hands into the water's path.

"Easy," he murmurs when she startles. "Soap and water. We'll get you cleaned up."

She nods, but her fingers are curled. Knotted into unrelenting fists, and there's a thin pink trickle winding toward the silver drain that makes him sick to his stomach.


It comes out stronger than he means it to. More forceful, and his mouth dips forward, an apology ready made in her ear. She relaxes, though. Nods like she actually hears him, and her fingers unfold one by one.

The blood runs off, a thick wash of red now. Brown gathering in the seam of the drain. He folds her two hands in one of his, palm to palm like she's praying and he's learning how. He reaches beyond her and pumps a thick curl of pink pearlescent soap into his free hand.

He scrubs the backs first. Takes his nails to her skin as boldly as he dares and scours all around the delicate perimeter of her wrists. He rinses the suds in a swirl down into silver and reaches for another pump of soap. She turns her hands out and up, heels loosely touching, and lets him repeat the process.

"Good," he says as the water runs clear.

He turns her again, his fingers at her shoulder and another at her hip. He soaks paper towels and wonders about soap. The smear of blood skirts the corner of her eye, and she's so fragile. Right now she feels so fragile and he's topped up with worry for her. For all the things he can't fix.

He dithers. He looks around and wonders if there's something better. If she has things in her locker. If he's screwing even this simple thing up. He looks back down at her and she's crying. The tears are sliding, unstoppable, down her cheek.

The tip of one dripping finger is hooked through her mother's ring. It's covered in blood, the ridges of her fingerprint clear where the band widens.

"Kate," he breathes, but she's gone again. There's no light in her at all, and he can't think what to do but keep on.

He takes her hand in his, ring and all, and dabs at the blood with the sopping, soapy towel. He rinses the paper clean and dabs again, carrying away every trace. Every trace he can see.

He drops the mess of one towel into the sink and soaks another. He sets to work on her cheek, her temple, the soft curve of her ear. He's silent. Choked with all the possibilities. All the things he wants to say, and every one of them wrong.

She drops the ring as he reaches past her, done with the second towel. Done with every sad thing he can fix, and he wonders how to face going. He wonders how to leave her when this can't be happening. It can't.

He's still wondering when she kisses him. When she presses her lips against his and they part. When her eyes flutter shut and her palms land, one by one, in the crook of each elbow. He's still wondering when he says her name, and she says Please. Castle. Please.

It's not fast. It's not fierce or even desperate. It's deliberate. Woeful, he thinks, eventually. Woeful.

But he knows her body, and she knows his, though they never talk about this. About corners and dimly lit places where they come to know each other. Where she cries out, and he doesn't. Where he buries his mouth against her breast, her shoulder blade, her thigh, and says nothing into her skin.

They never talk about this, and he thinks to himself that he can't. He can't. But her eyes are open and she kisses him. A first kiss. Too late for that, like always, but it is. It's a first kiss, her to him this time.

He can't, he tells himself again. He can't, and he has to, and their clothes fall by the wayside. They sink to the floor where the shadows gather in the corner. The tile is cold at his back. Under his hips. He pulls his knees up, to raise her high. To warm her and shield her.

She presses close to his hands. She arches her body over his, and her eyes are wide open.

She's silent as she comes. Her shoulders draw back and she's shocked. Her lips are parted and a sigh catches in her throat, like this moment is the thing she wants most and the last she ever expected. Her hands frame his face and she holds his gaze.

Her eyes are wide open and she kisses him.

They dress quietly. She lets him help. Lets him fold her fingers and slip them into sleeves. She waits patiently while he does up her buttons with shaking hands.

"There," he says as he pushes the last one in place. As he tugs her collar straight. It's the first thing either of them has said in a long, long while, and he hates everything about it. The way it breaks the silence like he holds this cheap. Like he has to say something when there's nothing—nothing—he can say.

"Castle." She catches his hand. Stills it in the act of falling away. "Castle, I . . ."

She's ragged and pale and everything is broken. He steps in. He can't think what else to do.

"Kate," he says. "Beckett." She smiles at that. Just a wry, half-a-moment twitch of her mouth that hurts a little. It hurts more than a little, but he wouldn't trade it. "I know." He goes on. "Doesn't count."

She nods. That hurts, too, because he wants so much more than this from her. He wants so much more than this for them. She nods, and it hurts, but she holds tight to his hand and he doesn't know how long they can go on standing there. He doesn't know what he'll do from one heartbeat to the next, when she closes her eyes tight—tight.

She pulls his hand hand to her lips. She splays his palm wide and kisses it. Fierce. Desperate. Longing enough to make him wonder about the words she doesn't say into his skin.

Her eyes open then and she lowers his hand to his side. She sets it just so and whispers Sorry.

"Don't be." He steps into her. He winds his arms around her holds her. Fierce. Desperate. Longing. "Please don't ever be sorry."

A/N: I am, though. Sorry to do this to this story. But . . . yeah.