Bares the Nerves

My hero bares [her] nerves along my wrist
That rules from wrist to shoulder,
Unpacks the head that, like a sleepy ghost,
Leans on my mortal ruler,
The proud spine spurning turn and twist.

-My hero bares his nerves, Dylan Thomas

When he came to her, there was a terrible moment where this man didn't fit into the picture in her head.

A feral response rose in her but shock was crashing down harder, and she half-swayed into him, this dark man with his stone face. He framed her body with his own, hands at her arms, and then, and then-

He cupped the side of her face and tilted her to look at him and everything clicked into place.


He brought her into him for a hug that remade the world, knitted these frayed images together, and she heard her own breath stutter in her chest. "Rick," she said tightly.

"You're okay. It's okay."

His hand cupped the back of her head and his embrace drew her closer. She shivered and lifted her hands to clutch his shirt but she heard the clatter of the scalpel to the floor and she flinched. "I - killed her."

"It's okay," he repeated. His hand dragged down her arm and caught her bloodied fingers. "Tyson is dead, too."

"What?" she roused, lifting her head to look at him. Fierce eyes on hers.

"Sniper shot. Esposito. I'll fill you in on the drive home."

"Home," she croaked.

"Well, the Twelfth." His fingers played across hers. "Let's clean you up while they - secure the scene."

She nodded and glanced down, saw the pale skin of her fingers.

Obscured by blood.

She'd lost her wedding band.

She sank down on the chair he'd found, her hands clutched to her middle, eyes staring.

Not quite with him yet.

Castle knelt before her with the CSI's wet wipes - though the crime scene investigator had been huffy about Castle asking, can I have a box of those wet wipes? Fine. Fingerprint cleansing cloths.

He didn't know how that was any better. His knee was unhappy with him too.

"Castle," she whispered.

He lifted his eyes and saw her staring at her fingers. "I got it." He reached in slowly and took her hands in his, smoothing out her stiff, clawed fingers. "You can let go. Let go, Kate."

She shivered and her fingers released, allowing him to see the sticky lines of blood. Tracks in her heart line, life line, crusted and congealed. He took it in, the effort and will, the strength of her determination, and he nodded, lifting his eyes back to her.

"I don't - know where my ring is," she got out.

"I do," he rumbled. His throat was thick. "I know where it is. In evidence."

"At the Twelfth?" she mumbled, eyes lifting to his.


She blinked. "Do I - want to know?"

"Later," he grunted. If ever. Never. Never would be soon enough.

He pressed his palm to hers, fingers at her wrist, the blue line of her veins stark in the light, and he took a deep breath. After a moment, he reached for the wipes and pulled one out of the pack, gently settled it over her hand.

Not just blood, he thought. Other - tissue.

"I stabbed her in the eye."

Castle didn't flinch.

"She screamed."

"I hope it hurt," he got out. "Her. A lot."

She shivered and curled her fingers to his wrist. She didn't say anything more, so he slowly wiped at the blood caked in her palm. One swipe after another, pulling away layers of rust-colored grime, flaking chips of blood and - flesh.

He swallowed hard, realized he was squeezing her wrist a little too tightly.

"I'm okay," she said. Her bare foot came to his thigh, jostling his hold on her hand. He dropped a blood-stained wipe to the floor and came back with a clean one, started the process over again. Under her nails. Around her wrist.

"You're okay," he told her, lifting his head to look at her when he thought he had it together. "It's over. For good."

"Shot Tyson?"

"Espo did," he nodded, swallowing. Her fingers flexed against his hand as he gently wiped away the blood.

Her breath faltered. "Ouch."

"You have little cuts," he started, inane even to his own ears. "But yeah. We set him up by - following his fucking breadcrumbs. Trapped him. I was wired and he couldn't shut up." He took in a ragged breath. "I could see you on the monitor."

She didn't speak, her fingers twitching as he had to rub at the last of it, the stuff caked in. Her knee began to judder, bouncing as he cleaned her palm.

"Am I hurting y-"

"No," she said quickly. "Think it's - just shock."

"You cold?" he asked, already shifting to rise to his feet, find her-

She snagged him by the belt. "Stay. I'm - okay." She shivered now and he untangled her fingers from the leather as she shuddered again.

Yeah, not happening. "Ryan," he called out, a little blindly, not at all sure who was in the anteroom with them.

A movement near the door and Ryan was heading for him, in his tactical gear, gun holstered. "Yeah. You need me?"

"Can we find Beckett a jacket or something? And shoes. She's barefoot-"

"I have a bag," she murmured, and then glanced up at them. "Stuff in my trunk. Well. I don't know where-"

"We can find you something. Give me a second and I-"

"Not - Nieman's clothes," Kate interrupted. "Not hers. Nothing of-"

"No, of course not," Castle said. "Ryan-"

"I'm on it. We'll find something. Officer Stutzman is here; she'll have clothes, I'm sure."

Kate's fingers gripped his pant leg and he turned back to her; she was rising to stand, barefoot and dulled eyes, face as white as her too-loose shirt.

He caught her elbow and she pressed in close for a moment. Her eyes met his and slid away, unfocused. "I want to get out of here."

"We're going," he said immediately. He shrugged off his jacket and laid it over her shoulders. Kate shivered and pulled it closer, took a step forward.

He wanted to carry her out of here.

She put her hand up against his chest, his coat shifting, stopping him. She glanced over. "Is the ground frozen?"

He shook his head. "Not - not below freezing out there. Just cold. Snow on it's way."

"Then I'll walk." She moved like a ghost for the gaping door.

"Ryan," he said grimly, following her. "Find her some shoes."

Ryan tossed him a ring of keys. "You got it."

She shrugged her shoulders inside the borrowed NYPD zipper hoody. Still cold but she'd already given him back his coat. Ryan's car was running, heater on full blast, and in the backseat, she could feel it tickle the top of her head. Like dripping blood.

But there was no blood.

Castle finished cleaning off her hands, grime and blood, and when he was done, he just - stroked her fingers. Touching.

Slowly, so that she barely realized she was doing it, she listed into his side until her cheek rested on his shoulder. He lifted his hand and stroked her jaw with the backs of his fingers, still holding her other hand. She let herself close her eyes, but the plastic surgeon's face swam up out of the darkness and she jerked awake again.

The front doors popped open as one, clunk clunk, and Ryan and Esposito got in. A pair of fuzzy socks thrown over the seat was their greeting.

"No shoes?" Castle said.

"All we could find. Her feet are too small."

Castle snorted. "Hardly."

She nudged his shoulder, but it had made her smile. Weak as it was.

Heater was dialed down by Esposito, but Ryan slapped his hand and cranked it back up.

"I'm okay, guys. Warm enough. Don't need a sweat lodge."

Castle tapped her knee and she realized he had one of those socks all ready for her, the mouth pulled wide apart. She gave in, lifted her knee slowly to bring her foot up onto the seat. Castle slid the sock on over her heel and up, fingers circling slowly at her ankle in something like a caress.

She clutched the material of his shirt, gripping hard with her still-raw fingers, and he bent over her and kissed the rough abrasions on the skin of her ankle.

"Enough of the foot fetish," Esposito snarked. "We don't need to see that."

Castle lifted his eyes to hers and she couldn't help the slow smile.

If only he knew.

No one would quite leave her alone. Espo and Ryan were in and out, even Gates was hanging around. Castle had tried to steer her to the conference room for her statement, but she'd gone to her desk.

He had to give up his chair to Ryan, who was taking her statement, but he didn't mind. He managed to grab Captain Gates and pull the woman to one side.

"You think I can get my wife's wedding ring out of evidence?"

Gates pressed her lips together.

Great. He must be back on her list for that request. "It's not really breaking the rules-"

"Fine, fine, Mr. Castle," she huffed, a warning hand held up to ward him off. "Come with me."

He gave her his delighted grin (though it still felt stiff) and scooted after her down the hall to evidence. When he glanced over his shoulder to check on Kate, her eyes were following him.

He gave her a little wave, and her gaze cleared, a kind of amusement there that wasn't as self-confident as he would like.

When he arrived, Gates was already signing out the evidence box and handing the officer in charge a number. The man went back through the racks and Castle tried not to be antsy, tried not to shuffle his feet. The duty officer came back with a bag of effects, things that had been on the decoy - the woman; she had been a victim as well.

The sight of that wig made his stomach roll, but he reached for the bag.

The duty officer withheld it, diverting it to Captain Gates instead. Gates raised an eyebrow at Castle's eagerness, opened the plastic bag, and fished two fingers inside to pull out the ring.

Something strange went across her face.

He reached out for it but she closed her palm around it, gave the bag back to the duty officer without looking. "Mr Castle-"

"Is it - does it have-" He should've thought of that. He should have-

"Give me a moment," she said quietly. "They did fingerprinting."

And blood. There was probably blood splatter, gray matter. Oh, God-

"Stay right here," she said fiercely. Captain Gates turned to the duty officer. "You watch him. Don't let him - faint or - do something stupid."

"Yes, sir."

Gates left him there.

Castle gave the duty officer a weak smile and thought about going after her, thought about going back to Kate just to reassure himself, but instead he took a breath and closed his eyes.

Tyson's face loomed in the darkness.

He opened his eyes with a grunt, but Captain Gates was coming back through the door. "Here. Clean. No problem. Just fingerprint dust."

Obviously not. She wouldn't have been so adamant about it if it had just been fingerprint dust.

But he took the thin gold band from Gates's hand and found it was warm, warm but perfect. "Thank you for preserving the illusion," he murmured.

"Do what-"

But he was already out the door and headed back to Kate.

Castle was haunting her desk.

She gestured to him and he came to sink down beside her computer even as Ryan folded up his notebook.

"We're good here," Ryan told her. "You guys can go. Get out of here before Gates hits you with the paperwork."

Kate hummed an acknowledgement, her throat dry from answering questions and filling in the gaps. Castle's fingers came to her shoulder and she shifted forward, stood up.

"Oh, you got shoes," he exclaimed.

She nodded. "Had a change of clothes here." She glanced down at her dark computer, the clean desktop, the dormant office phone. "Did - anyone find my phone?"

"No," Ryan said. "You said you dropped it on the sidewalk?"

"I think so," she murmured. "Don't worry about it."

"We'll get you a new one," Castle said. "Come on. I have the car service out front."

"Mm, good," she sighed. She still felt draggy from the drugs, maybe shocky from the whole - stabbing Nieman in the eye thing. And hacking at her neck. Chopping at her neck so that-

"You okay?" His hand at her elbow, guiding her to the elevator.

"Yeah. You know. Feeling - out of place, kinda. Disjointed."

The elevator doors opened and he stepped on, bringing her with him. She let him press the button, surfing on a strange tide of disconnection. Talking to Ryan had brought up the bare facts of it, churned it up, and things were slow to settle again.

"Hey," Castle said quietly. His fingers were around her wrist, taking her hand. He pressed her palm to his chest. "Hey, I got something that might help. Help find your place."

"What-" She stuttered to a stop as he slid her wedding band over her finger, pressing down to the base of her knuckle. Shining. "You putting me in my place, Rick Castle?"

He huffed a breath of laughter against the top of her head, cupped the side of her face. "No, never," he murmured. His kiss was soft, but it did a lot to put her back in joint again.

And then the elevator doors opened.

Time to go home.

He was so deeply asleep that it took a moment before it registered. And then he gasped awake on the vestiges of a paralyzing dream - only to find that Kate was awake, gripping the back of his shirt, saying his name into his shoulder.

"Kate?" he garbled out. He blinked and saw only the broad expanse of dark space, the open bathroom door. She was clinging to his back.

"Let me see your face," she said, voice cracking. "Turn over. Turn over so I can see-"

He rolled over practically on top of her and she wrapped her arm around his neck, eyes pressed against his skin. Shuddering.

She'd had a dream.

He grunted something sleep-stoned, tried to get his arms around her. "Kate. Not really - looking at my face, are you?"

"Shut up."

"Okay," he mumbled. "Yeah. Shutting up."

She arched against him so that his body wasn't pressing hers into the mattress, both of them now on their sides. After a moment, her sigh eased out somewhere around his neck, fear leaking like a balloon. He smoothed down her hair, combing it out of his eyes, back around her ear.

When she finally lifted her head, she looked chagrined. "Sor-"

"Good thing you woke me," he said. "I was having a bad dream. Paralyzed. Couldn't move."

She shivered and nodded, pushing on his shoulder to lay him back. He went, bringing her with him, her body compact and tense against his. He rubbed her shoulder with two fingers, waiting for her to settle.

"I'm okay," she said.

"Yeah, of course."

She sighed. Her fingers smoothed over his shirt. "Did you - lose hope?"

He drew his arm tighter around her, kissed her forehead. "I - there was once. How I got the ring. But it was like you said. I wanted to have hope. Had hope for hope."

She nodded against his chest. "That's what it is. Hope for hope."

She fell silent, and he did as well, waiting for her to give over something else, whatever it was.

"It's over, isn't it?" she murmured.

"It's over. I watched Tyson die. I stood over his body, last breaths, and I rifled through his pockets for his phone to get a trace on Nieman. He's gone. For good. Body is in the morgue. And so is hers."

She gripped his shirt with a tight fist. "Tomorrow I want to go. See them, side by side. And then I want to slide the drawers back into the damn freezer myself and close the door on them."


She released his shirt, fingers smoothing it back down again. "Can you - keep me awake a little bit longer?"

"Well, I do have a foot fetish."

She grunted, but there was laughter in it. Her face lifted from his shoulder and her eyes peered down at him, her expression tender, maybe only a few lines of tension.

"Love you," she said then. "Foot fetish and all."

"I love you too. Now go put on your highest heels."

She slapped his chest and only cuddled back into him.