Richard Castle paused to take a deep breath before pushing open the door to call back his next patient. He had read her chart, had heard the rumors and grumbling of the other physical therapists in the office. Three therapists in as many weeks. The girl wasn't even out of her teens and she had already managed to alienate over half the staff. And by being a recent graduate and one of the newest additions to the office, he was the last resort before informing her she needed go elsewhere.
With one final shake of his shoulders he pushed open the door and called out her name, a smile pressed to his face.
The motion to his right caught his attention, and he turned to face her while she struggled up out of her seat, shrugging off the helpful hands of the older man with her.
"I got it," hissed from her lips, and the man sank back with a sigh.
"I have an errand to run but I'll be back to pick you up in an hour, Katie."
Castle stayed silent, the older man regarding her with dejected eyes as she struggled across the small waiting room, a crutch on either arm. Her hands clutched the small bars with white knuckles.
"Hi, Ms. Beckett, I'm Richard Castle, I'll be taking over for Shelly Campbell as your PT." He introduced himself with a kind smile.
She wasn't what he had expected. When he had read "stabbed in the back", he had imagined a punk of a kid who had gotten on the wrong side of the law, not a gorgeous young woman from a well off family sporting a Stanford sweatshirt. But what struck him the most was the emptiness he saw when her eyes met his, the wall erected to deflect any emotion.
She sized him up for a moment before letting out a puff of air, defensiveness oozing from every pore. "Another one bites the dust, huh? She didn't even last the hour."
He refused to let his smile fall. He wasn't going to play into her game, whatever her end goal of alienation was. "Well let's see if I fare a little better, shall we?"
"Yeah, we shall."
"Was that your dad?" He asked as he followed her slowly down the hall to the workout room.
"What's it to you?"
"Just trying to get to know you a little bit, we'll be spending a lot of time together over the next few months."
Castle watched, sending out the occasional affirmation as Kate walked the length of the room, hands gripping the two metal bars to steady herself. Her Stanford hoodie had been stripped away in favor of a plain black tank top, sweat dripping down her temple, soaking her hair, staining her shirt at the small of her back. This was the final challenge of the day, and after the resistance training and leg lifts he was amazed she could still walk at all.
It wasn't her work ethic that had had scared away her three previous trainers, that was for sure.
He trailed behind her as they made their way back to the waiting room, observing how a couple of the assistants glowered at his patient as they walked past. Kate kept her eyes forward but the clench of her jaw told him she saw.
He started chatting amicably as they neared the door, a smile pasted to his face, but it was far from a facade. She wasn't easy, she wasn't bright and cheery, but it took more than a few frowns to make him back down. He had seen the pain in her eyes when she cursed him out for trying to help her. The "I can do it, leave me the fuck alone," was nothing more than her grasping for control over the body which was suddenly failing her.
"Good work today. Remember to do your exercises and I'll see you Wednesday," he stated, holding the door open for her.
Her lips tilted up in what could be mistaken for a smile as she hobbled through the doorway. She paused when they came face to face with the same man from before standing in wait with a wheelchair.
"Hey, Katie, how did it go?"
Kate stiffened when she neared him before sinking silently down into the chair, her expression solemn.
"She did great," Castle replied when she stayed silently slumped in her seat, crutches across her lap. "Rick Castle."
Castle stepped forward, holding his hand out.
"Jim Beckett, I'm Katie's father."
Castle cleared his throat as the smell of whiskey wafted under his nose. Glancing down to his patient he noted the stiffness in her shoulders, the way she was looking anywhere but at them.
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Beckett. I'll see you back here in a couple days. Drive safely."
Her eyes connected to his at the last statement and he knew that she knew.
Once they had disappeared through the door and to the bustling street, he rounded the counter to perch on the edge of the admissions desk, giving the intake clerk his most winning smile. "Hi, Denise."
"Hey, Rick. How's the office's hottest PT doing today?"
"You mean most ruggedly handsome PT, right?"
Denise laughed as she took the chart from his hand. "I see you got stuck with our favorite patient."
"Eh, she's not so bad."
"Not yet maybe." Denise snorted. "She made Carrie cry last week."
Castle hummed contemplatively as he stared at the now closed door. "What's her story anyway, this problem patient?"
"Sad really. Was walking to dinner with her mom, some gang banger jumps out from the shadows and stabs them both. Left them for dead."
Castle swallowed down the lump in his throat, dreading the answer to his next question. "And the mom?"
"Didn't make it."
"So Stanford? Do you go there?" Castle questioned the next week as Kate pressed her legs out, the light resistance of the weight causing her teeth to sink into her lower lip, sweat beading at her brow.
"You're not going back?"
"What is this, 20 questions?" She snapped back.
Castle shrugged as he leaned against the front of the machine, arms folded in front of him, letting the defensive response roll off of him. "Just trying to make conversation, get to know you a little."
"Fine," she grunted as her legs pushed out once again. "But you ask a question, I get to ask one back."
"Deal." He smiled as he offered an arm, letting her pull herself up, leaning on him as he led her to the mat to help her stretch out her legs and back. "So?"
"Not going back."
"What are you going to do instead?"
"Nope. My turn." Kate replied as he hooked an elbow under her knee, drawing it up across her torso. "How'd you get lucky enough to end up with me?"
"Drew the short straw."
He instantly regretted the answer, the stunned look staring back at him. But then she snorted out a laugh, her lips quirking up.
"Oh look, a smile. I didn't think it was possible."
"Fuck you." She shot back even as the grin grew, smiling cutely around the lip once again drawn between her teeth.
Her cheeks flamed red, eyes flickering to his bicep before looking away, focusing on a spot over his shoulder.
"So," Castle cleared his throat. "Back to my question. What are you going to do now?"
"Gonna be a cop. Catch the son of a bitch who did this."
Castle gave a silent nod as he stood, holding out his hands to help haul her up off the floor. They had a goal.
He silently followed down the hall once again, her limbs trembling, the crutches creaked with every slow step. Both of them paused when her sweatshirt slid from where it had been slung over her forearm. She looked up at him expectantly and he merely quirked an eyebrow, his hand coming up to stop an aid who was hurrying over to help.
"Cops pick up their own sweatshirts, Beckett."
She only gaped at him in reply.
"Anytime, Beckett. Your dad's waiting." He nodded resolutely, arms crossed over his chest. When she still failed to move, her eyes edging toward pleading, his took a half step forward, his voice lowering. "You can do it."
With a shaky breath she unhooked her right hand from her crutch, holding it out to him. He took it silently, passing it along to the aid in case he would need to act quickly. He glanced around as she squatted slowly to the ground. Half of the office was watching now.
She let out a grunt that echoed down the hall as her fingers wrapped around the material. Her breaths came in pants, eyes screwed shut as her legs worked overtime to push her back up. Swinging the sweatshirt over her shoulder she used now free hand, climbing up the crutch.
Once she was upright he made short work of placing the brace back around her wrist before sending the aid out to retrieve the wheelchair waiting with her father.
"You did it." He murmured, coming to stand next to her as she leaned back against the wall, chest heaving.
"Pretty sure we had this conversation earlier, Beckett."
"Bastard. I hate you."
"No you don't."
He steadied her as she lowered into the wheelchair, sweatshirt and crutches laid across her lap. Her father watched silently from his place behind the chair.
"See you next week Mr. Beckett, Kate."
"Asshole." Came her only reply, and Castle chuckled as Jim chastised his daughter all the way down the hall.
"I see you two are building a rapport." Denise stated as she sidled up beside him.
"Working on it."
"Be careful, Ricky."
"I don't know what you're talking about." He replied flippantly, even though he did. He definitely did.
It was a month later when they found Jim glassy eyed, swaying as he stood car keys dangling from his finger. Kate turned to him with pleading eyes, her voice low so as not to be overheard by prying ears.
"I can take care of him when we get home, but I can't drive yet."
Castle glanced at the clock, a few minutes before five, and the waiting room was thankfully vacant.
"Just give me a minute to grab my jacket."
He ignored the way Denise eyed him as he walked past her to grab his belongings. "I'll be back in a few."
"He told me it should have been me."
Castle froze. The words were quiet, and he barely heard them over the murmur of the PTs and grunts of the patients. "Your dad?"
Her head hung as she stood at the beginning of the railings. Her body swayed slightly on the motionless treadmill. Her legs were stronger now, her back almost completely healed after months of grueling therapy. But the weight on her shoulders was astronomical.
"He was drunk. He didn't mean it."
She looked up at him, her eyes desperate. Trying to convince him or her with her words, he didn't know.
"He didn't mean it." He confirmed with a small compassionate smile.
She nodded as she took a deep breath and took her first steps, hands hovering above the bars, ready to catch herself if she fell.
He cheered her on as the speed increased notch by notch until she was jogging, her hands not touching the bar once. He continued to hoot and holler like an idiot, bent on making her smile as she did rep after rep on the rowing machine, but her face failed anything more than a determined grimace, mind caught up in the thoughts swirling, spiraling in her own head.
The minute hand ticked past 5 o'clock. All the other patients and therapists had filed out for the day, but Castle looked over at the punching bag in the corner thoughtfully. This was it, the last challenge, the final hurdle between her and her goal of the police academy. Of course she was still working to gain her endurance back, but that would come in time.
"Okay, Beckett, it's time."
She looked up at him curiously, cheeks stained pink, chest heaving. "I know. Hour's up."
"No, punching bag. Go."
He could imagine how her eyes would have lit up if it were any other day, if she hadn't been on the brink of tears for the past 45 minutes. But he would be okay with the slight perk of her voice.
"Really. Go. Before I change my mind."
He hung back as she stood in front of the bag, sizing it up before reaching out and punching it experimentally with her right fist. After a couple jabs she lifted her leg, swinging it around into the bag. Then the hits started to come faster and faster. Jab, kick, jab, kick, kick.
A hiccup in the quick puffs of breath caught his attention and he was sprinting across the room just in time to catch her as she stumbled backward, her knees buckling. He curled his elbows under her armpits as he lowered both of them to the ground, her body falling limply to his lap. It was then that he noticed the tears mixing with the sweat dripping from her brow.
"Shit, Kate, I'm sorry. You weren't ready."
"It should have been me," she sobbed, the fat tears spilling out of her eyes now, flooding her cheeks. He let out a sigh as he pulled her closer, cradling her body into his. If anyone walked in he would be fired in an instant but he didn't care. He brushed his lips against her temple, her body folding into him. "It's my fault. I was the one who insisted on taking the subway. If we had taken the car we wouldn't have been in the alley. I tried to save her. I tried to push her out of the way. It should have been me."
He wrapped his arms around her as they sat huddled in the corner, the room eerily quiet around them.
"I'm glad it wasn't you."
Prompt from Tumblr: Castle is Beckett's physical therapist.
A/N: Possibly to be continued. Thank you to KC, as always, for making my words pretty.