A/N: I'm sorry I wasn't able to get this up sooner, but RL/major writer's block got in the way. Thank you all for being so lovely. Happy Castle Fanfic Monday and Happy Last No-Castle Monday of this hiatus!

The day begins and so does the rest of her life.

Kate's first therapy session is a one-on-one with Dr. Burke. When he enters the room, the first thing she notices are the laugh lines that mark his face. She feels at peace with a man who can look at people like her all day and still find reasons to smile. Maybe she's not so hopeless.

But maybe that's just another lie she's telling herself.

"Hello, Katherine," he greets her, sitting down in the stiff-looking chair that rests only a few feet from the edge of her bed.

"Kate," she corrects, barely a whisper. "You can call me Kate."

"All right, Kate," Burke agrees, jotting a note on his clipboard. "I'm Dr. Burke. You and I will be seeing a lot of each other while you're here, and likely for a long time after. Why don't you tell me a little about yourself?" He smiles faintly, trying to help her feel more at ease.

There's an unsteady silence. Kate finds a spot on the wall behind him to focus on so that she doesn't end up uncomfortably staring at the man.

"I'm not okay," she finally musters, shaking her head ever so slightly, flicking her eyes to her knees. "I'm just….not okay." It's bliss, being able to say aloud what her brain has been slowly accepting ever since that night. She almost laughs with the relief that courses through her.

"You're not," he concedes, taking a minute to scribble some notes. "And that's a big step, admitting it. It's okay that you're not okay, because you recognize it and you're doing something to change it."

Too little, too late springs to mind, but she bites the edge of her tongue, refusing to allow herself to be pulled back into the darkness that claws at her.

"I won't ever be okay, will I?" Kate asks him, hoping he can sense that she's nearly begging him to be honest with her. Burke blinks once, twice, and there's a few seconds of silence again.

"I cannot guarantee anything. Because although I'll do everything in my power to help you heal, you alone control how much you change and grow as a result of coming here. If you want to get better, to be better, and you put in the work every day, you'll probably feel more "okay", as you put it. Your past will be a part of you, and I think you know this, but while it's something you'll have to reconcile with, it doesn't have to define the rest of your life."

"It doesn't define me," she repeats, testing the words out on her tongue. "I don't know if I'm there yet." She feels a solitary tear escape her right eye.

"Kate. It's your first full day with zero alcohol in your system. It's okay that you aren't there yet. This is not a quick process. Baby steps. If you want to get there, to that place where you can accept all these things in your past you cannot change, it will take time. But you want to be there, and that's what counts. That makes all the difference in the world."

They don't talk much for the rest of the session. The quiet is healing in its own right. Burke asks her how detoxing was, questions her about her family, but seems to accept her clipped responses.

She says her father drinks. She doesn't say a word about her mother. Baby steps.

When her therapist leaves, Kate reaches for the notepad and paper atop her bedside table. In bold letters, she prints MY PAST DOES NOT DEFINE ME.

She writes it again. And again. As if somehow this could make it real.

Around noon, they bring her a sad lunch of a bologna sandwich, a browning apple, and a half crushed bag of potato chips. She's not at all hungry, but forces herself to eat half the sandwich and nibble on the apple. The last thing she needs is to be accused of skipping meals, and anyway, the calories could only help her regain the strength that fled her body during detox.

Group therapy comes right after lunch. 1PM on the dot, and she's seated nervously in a circle of chairs. There seem to be about twelve other patients in this group, varying in age, gender, and race, all of them looking a lot more comfortable than she feels.

And then one more patient comes in and takes the seat next to her. He looks close to forty, broad shoulders, floppy hair…..and blue eyes.

It's the man on the book jacket. Derrick Storm. Richard Castle.

"Hey." He's smiling softly at her, his eyes twinkling ever so slightly. "You new?" His voice is so reassuring, so welcoming, that it nearly steals her words away. He's certainly….not what she expected, not in the slightest.

It's not every day the author of one of her favorite books sits next to her.

"Yeah," she answers nervously, her heart pounding furiously in her chest because in what universe does this happen?

"I'm Rick," the man says, outstretching his hand. She shakes it gingerly, not quite sure how to be in the presence of this gregarious stranger, this stranger who she only knows from words she read years before, when things were bad but not quite as bleak.

"Kate." He nods almost imperceptibly.

"You're going to be okay, Kate." Her head snaps up to face him directly, but she's taken aback by the overwhelming sincerity in his expression. It's like he's reading every letter of the grief spelled out on her face, trying to figure out what to say to make the pain in her eyes go away.

"Thanks," she murmurs, not quite knowing how to respond.

"These group session things aren't as awkward as you might think, either," he quips, trying to draw her out of her shell once more. She laughs nervously.

"Thanks for the tip." Stupid, stupid, I sound stupid.

"Just be honest. That's the best thing you can do."

Be honest. Easy for you to say. You're an author, you're probably only here for book research or some bullshit like that. There's no way you're just as fucked up as I am. But she nods at him, smiling slightly, trying to rid her brain of those snarky thoughts. Whatever the reason for him being here, he's been nice to her, so there's no point in accusing him of anything.

Seconds later, their group leader, a fortysomething woman wearing a gaudy orange and pink skirt, enters the room and sits in the chair in the middle of the circle.

"Good afternoon, everyone," she greets. "I know most of you have been here for at least a few days by now, but as you might be able to see, we have a new member." The woman gestures towards Kate, and suddenly there's a dozen pairs of eyes on her.

"Um...hi...I'm Kate," she introduces herself, awkwardly waving her right hand. The group says "hi" back….including Rick, she notices with the tiniest fraction of amusement. As if he hadn't just been introduced to her. Wiseass.

"Welcome, Kate," the woman says. "You can call me Meg." There's not a shred of judgment or disdain in her eyes, nor is there a hint of insincerity. It's comforting, knowing that at the very least, all the shrinks she's talking to seem like decent people.

Maybe that'll be her one day. A decent person.

Their session begins. They go around in a circle, sharing the struggles they've had in the twenty-four hours since their last meeting. Kate tries her hardest to pay attention to their stories, but this becomes nearly impossible when all she can think of is Richard Castle sitting right next to her.

Truthfully, she shouldn't care. He's a stranger, just a man in her group therapy in alcohol rehab. It's not like she met him in a coffee shop or a bookstore or anywhere conventional. It's not like they can be actual friends here, be anything here other than broken people trying to mend what can barely be fixed. And if it weren't for the fact that years ago he wrote one of her favorite books, she wouldn't give him much of a thought. But he did write the book and despite herself, she's intrigued by him. How could an author end up here, of all places, when he had all the money and fame at his fingertips as he typed on a keyboard?

It's his turn to share.

"I've been thinking of Alexis a lot today. I just...miss my kid, you know? And it's something that will never change. It hasn't gotten easier in six years. I might be in here trying to fix myself, to get back to the man I was when I was her dad, but she's not even here to see it." He's not crying, but his voice is wavering somewhat and her heart is breaking.

She doesn't remember reading that he had a daughter, but one look at his haunted face and she knows his grief is real. How foolish she was for even considering that he was only here for research. He is a father without a child in his arms and she's never felt so profoundly for another's pain.

"I'm sorry," she murmurs, knowing it's not enough, could never be enough. It's daring, but she rests a comforting hand on his knee and squeezes ever so slightly. He doesn't jerk away; in fact, she feels his muscles relax beneath her delicate fingers.

"Thank you," Rick breathes, quirking his lips upward.

"That's why we're here, Rick. To give comfort and support each other, even though we're all fighting a battle ourselves. We don't shoulder these burdens alone," Meg assures, and Kate relinquishes her weak grip on his leg.

"I know," he mumbles. "And I'm thankful for it."

"Kate? Do you have anything you want to share?" Not particularly, no. But she knows she probably shouldn't be stubborn on her first day, however, so she quickly cobbles together a couple of things Burke said to her in their one-on-one and spits them out to appease her group.

Rick had told her to be honest, but seeing him look so vulnerable, so very close to the edge of breaking completely had terrified her. She might know she's not okay, but she's not ready for the world to know just yet.

Their session lasts for another thirty minutes until Meg dismisses them. Rick bolts from his seat without a word but Kate is right on his tail, cornering him before he can leave the room.

"I'm sorry," she blurts out without a thought. "I'm just….so sorry, Rick. About your little girl."

He takes a few deep breaths before speaking. "Thank you, Kate. And…thank you again...for before. It's not easy, every day in here has been a battle I'm not always sure I can win, but the important thing is to just keep going. I know she'd want me to be happy, so I'm holding onto the hope that maybe one day I can, in some small way, be happy again." His eyes are beginning to mist a little bit, but he quickly wipes at them with his palm.

"I wish I could have that hope," Kate murmurs. "I can't think that way yet." She doesn't quite know why she's telling him this, sharing this intimate part of herself with someone she's only had contact with for an hour, but there's something so safe in the knowledge that her words are being heard by someone she knows could maybe understand.

That her words are being heard by someone who wrote the very thing that brought her so much comfort, so much peace.

"One day you will. Like I told you earlier, Kate, you're going to be okay." He smiles briefly, touching his hand to her shoulder. They stand like this for a minute until he awkwardly excuses himself, muttering something about having to meet with his therapist. Kate swears she can see the briefest of smiles directed at her as he turns away.

She returns to her bed moments later and once again retrieves the notepad and pen.

You're going to be okay.

You're going to be okay.

You're going to be okay.

And thanks to the man with the blue eyes and the words that long ago kept her from drowning completely, she's starting to believe it might not all be a lie.

A/N: No guarantees on when the next chapter will be up as I have midterms this week and some obligations this weekend. Thank you for reading! I hope you have a wonderful day!