Inspired by a prompt from a "friends with benefits" list on the prompts blog: "I was going through a rough night so instead of doing what we usually do you made sure I was okay throughout the whole thing and was slow and reassuring and when morning comes I feel so conflicted."

Most of the time, her series of poor decisions – and letting this thing with Castle continue when it never should have begun – resulted in a nauseating mess of denial, self-pity, and hope. The deep slash of bile and regret often kept her awake when she reflected upon his faux-casual goodbyes, his crooked smile never fooling her, even when she wished it would. She spent too many days sick with worry that he wouldn't want to come over again, and too many nights sick with worry that he wouldn't want to leave.

Tonight was different, her need for him legitimate in a way she wouldn't admit it was before, but her stomach remained knotted just the same.

The combination of trauma and liquor tended to have that effect.

Her breath stuttered as she poured herself another drink, eyes darting toward the gun she'd kept nearby as though she had any intention of remaining sober enough for it to help more than it might hurt. She wasn't too far gone yet, but there was little doubt she was well on her way; the merciless hand of anxiety was pressed against her chest, ready to slide over her throat and up to her mouth, where she knew it would try to muffle her screams.

Dr. Burke had insisted that a pill wouldn't take the edge off right away, so she was left with little choice but to reach out to the one person who could.

With clumsy fingers, she tapped out a message to Castle, a tear falling when he responded as reliably as always. She knew he was struggling in his own way, unsure of how much space to give her when their lives had become so tangled up in secret sex and unspoken pain, the sniper case making him hesitant in a way he hadn't been since before they'd started sleeping together.

Her head tipped back and her eyes fell shut as she thought back to that first night – two months ago now – and the break in her voice when she'd begged him to understand that everyone was gone. Castle hadn't been able to argue in response, at least not in the traditional sense, stalking toward her instead and fisting a hand in her hair to hold her still while he kissed her. Silenced by his tongue, she'd allowed him into her bedroom; he'd used his body and too many whispered words to convince her that he wasn't going to be the next name on her list.

Of course, even as he'd promised to be by her side, she'd been able to taste the frustration in his mouth, had felt the summer's sadness in the way he gripped her hips. Her penance was paid in the marks left by the scrape of his teeth, a desperate growl the only thing to soothe it afterward. She'd given him her body as an apology, or as a way to bind herself to the vague vows exchanged on playground swings, never intending for it to become more than a one-time thing.

But the best laid plans of mice and men.

They'd managed to ignore it for about a week, until the night he showed up at her door, inspired by another writer and his muse. It was dangerous, each touch laced with something entirely too meaningful, so she'd countered with control until he found some of the anger that had fueled him the first time. By the time he'd slipped out of her bed, she'd been satisfied that her heart was still safe behind stone, the sex a physical release and nothing more.

And she would have sworn it was that primal need for release that slammed them up against her living room wall after Serena Kaye had sauntered out of their lives; it couldn't have been jealousy or something wholly more complicated. Each moan tumbling from her mouth hadn't carried a confession of insecurity, and each of his kisses hadn't been reassurance that he'd belonged to her all along. When her front door had been snapped shut behind him, she'd been left with the peace that came with solitude and no interest in admitting that she didn't want to be alone anymore.

The night of the bank heist, she had only just pulled her pajama shirt over her head when she'd heard the familiar knock, his arrival no surprise, but terrifying nonetheless. She'd wanted nothing more than to crawl into his embrace and stay there, touching him with a tenderness reserved for dreams she could pretend she'd never had, and one look had confirmed he'd wanted the same. In keeping with their unspoken arrangement, they'd clawed at each other instead, balanced on the edge of right and wrong.

Given her current state, she hoped Castle would be ready to swerve further toward wrong, each thrust of his hips helping her forget about a sniper they'd yet to find.

Even knowing he was on his way couldn't stop the whimper she caught in her throat when she heard his key turn – a key she'd tucked into his pocket a few weeks earlier without acknowledging the significance of the gesture. Her adrenaline spiked, and she had to swallow it back to force an expression more closely resembling a calm she didn't feel; her failure was obvious when he stopped a few feet away, his head tilted with the weight of his concern.


"I'm fine, Castle."

"Yeah, you said that earlier today. I didn't believe you then, either." He made a point of looking from her gun to her glass, finally moving up to find what she assumed were the bloodshot eyes and unruly hair that gave her away.

She ducked her head without thinking; hiding from him had been impossible for longer than she'd care to admit, so she fought her instinct and met his gaze again. "But you're here now, so I'll be fine soon."

Castle removed the drink from her hand and set it aside, returning to lace his fingers with hers and pull her to her feet. Unwilling to concede to anything careful, she leaned into him, nipping once on his lip so he would open for her kiss, then taking as much as she could before he stopped them both. She was afraid he was going to leave – it would be fair given the mess he'd stumbled upon – so she blinked away the relief when he led her into her bedroom.

She just wanted him. No lecture, no caution, and nothing that might heighten the emotion she'd battled back. A night of chaos, bruising and loud. Something that would leave her with a bone-deep ache, a reminder that she's still alive. A little ugly, a lot raw, and far from what she wanted them to become.

He had different plans, and she thought it would have been better if he'd abandoned her several seconds before.

After stripping down to his boxers without a word, Castle tucked his fingers into the waistband of her yoga pants and dragged her near, spinning them when they were close enough for him to back her into the wall. She couldn't help but hold her breath as he took his time lowering himself to his knees, bringing her pants with him, inch by sensitive inch; stepping out of them so he could toss them aside was the most effort she could manage while fighting tears so eager to fall. His lips skated over her bare thighs, his thumbs drawing long lines along the length of her legs, but he finally looked up to catch the shake of her head, her silent plea for something that felt less like love.

It was a lot more difficult for her to deny it when he'd given up trying.

Castle rose to his feet, but any hope that he would acquiesce was dashed when he wrapped his fingers around the hem of her NYPD t-shirt and tugged it upward, the well-worn material teasing her skin as it moved, everything still too slow and marred by invisible pain. Distracted by her own sadness, she didn't notice that he'd pinned her wrists above her head until another deep kiss brought her back to the moment, his body pressed against hers, all comfort and no carelessness.

A shiver cascaded down her spine, breaking his spell like lightning fracturing a peaceful night. It was one more opportunity for him to correct their course; he could throw her onto the bed and take her through every scratch, bite, and scream until exhaustion replaced anxiety, leaving her in the dark just as he had a dozen times before.

She supposed she already knew it wasn't going to end that way.

He lifted the covers, giving her little choice but to crawl beneath them. And her sigh when he joined her – naked now and warm and wanting and too much and not enough – could be interpreted in a million ways, but it didn't matter at all when he smothered it with another kiss. Then another. And another. They were cocooned, safe from reality until morning, and he took advantage of every second they had, rediscovering her body for an eternity before acknowledging the way her legs had fallen open for him.

When she finally felt the press of his thick fingers – first one, then a second – her back arched and her core clenched, welcoming the familiar intrusion. And she didn't have a chance to miss him when he slipped free of her, a wet path drawn from the inside of her thigh to her hip, where his grasp was sure and strong; one practiced thrust had him buried within her.

They rocked together, her occasional attempts to hurry him along proving futile as he soothed her into submission, snipers and scars forgotten with each word murmured in her ear. She'd pretended not to know what he'd told her that sunny afternoon in May, but it would be impossible to ignore the declarations he made in the dark. It struck her that this was how he was going to tear down her wall, not with force, but with a gentleness that would break her apart.

She moaned his name with a softness she'd always refused him, her body wrapped around his as though he might change his mind in the aftermath of his victory. But then he began to chant her name, reverent in a way she didn't think she deserved, and she had little doubt she'd be treated to the same sound for the rest of their lives.

Castle rolled from atop her, finding her hand and tangling their fingers together to maintain whatever simple connection he could; she hoped the squeeze she offered in return would speak louder than everything she'd yet to say.

Dawn was certain to bring back the tension only temporarily tamed by their quiet night. She wasn't cured – wouldn't dare make him responsible for that anyway – but there was a chance that sharing the weight of the world would allow her to remain standing beside him while she figured out the rest. Hell was becoming a tough place to conquer by herself.

She wanted to be more than who she was. And she wanted to tell him that she loved him, too.

A/N: The title of this fic is a reference to the Ingrid Michaelson song "Are We There Yet," so thanks to K for that...and thank you all for reading this!