I've been working on this for a while because life kept interrupting. I hope it lives up to what it originally was in my mind. And for those of you reading "And For You" I have not abandoned it, just working through a little writer's block. It will be updated soon.
Just a Little Longer
"She's strong. But in the back of her mind, she doesn't think she was meant to be strong for this long. And she wonders if there's a man out there, somewhere, who understands this."
But she's tired.
And she's been standing in the dimly lit staircase for too many minutes, because she's tired, and on the brink of losing it, and she can't seem to catch her breath.
Being back at work, fighting the constant trigger of her PTSD, hiding her stupidly wounded arm that could have been so much worse…it's all too much.
A sob attempts to rip its way up her throat, muffled when she presses the back of her hand to her lips, the fingers of her other hand rubbing soothing circles over the blooming ache in her chest.
She can't lose it. Not here, not now…
"Beckett?" Castle's voice echoes from the top of the stairs, too much concern evident in the way he calls for her, and damn it, she can't do this. Not right now.
They have an unspoken understanding right now. One she asked for in not enough words after nearly losing him completely.
He deserves more. But each day she feels like less and less; not what he needs, not what he wants.
She turns away from the thump of his footsteps against the stairs, contemplating her chances of escaping before he can get to her, before those too understanding blues are roaming every inch of her face, threatening to drown her beneath the surface of his love for her.
It's too quiet before she realizes it, the touch of his hand to her shoulder in spite of her knowledge that he was closing in on her enough to startle her more than it should. She bites back the sound that tries to accompany the jerk of her body, angling as far away from him as she can, because she doesn't want him to see her like this, doesn't want to answer the questions she knows he's going to ask.
"Kate," her first name on his lips is too soft, too cautious, because it's not something they do, not yet anyway.
She whimpers in lieu of an actual answer, a silent beg for him to walk away, forget the image of her crowded in the corner of a dimly lit stairwell, weak and on the verge of falling apart.
His fingers drift from her shoulder, down her arm, and it's too late to stop him, the journey of his touch leading him to the poorly wrapped bandage on her arm, the pause of his fingers enough to let her know that he's found it.
It makes him bold.
Castle gently spins her around to face him, the look on his face when her eyes reluctantly meet his enough to tell her everything he's thinking.
A bullet to the chest may not have killed her, but this might.
She sucks in a shaky breath when he gently lifts her wounded arm, diverts her eyes as he eases her sleeve up, exposing the bloom of blood against the white gauze, his own breath stuttering out on the next exhale.
He brushes his thumb over the tape she hastily wrapped around the gauze to keep it in place and she wants to jerk her arm away and run, but she can't hide from him again.
"What happened?" he asks, attempting to coax her into looking at him.
She turns her head to find his eyes blazing with worry, the silent question that he's not asking.
"It's not what it looks like," she murmurs, glancing away from him again when he flicks his eyes to her arm as if he doesn't believe her.
He takes a breath, slowly blowing it out to keep from pressuring her into convincing him that she's okay.
"Come on," he orders softly, covering the bandage with her sleeve again and reaching for her other hand.
It's not what they do, and the intimacy of his palm pressing against hers nearly breaks that careful thread she's holding onto.
"Castle," she chokes out, vehemently shaking her head as he gently tugs her towards the next flight of stairs.
"Beckett, please. You're injured and it seems to be pretty bad, and I just—please, just let me help you…" he pleads, and she can hear the silent plea for more, for her to let him in, let him be there for her like he so desperately wants.
Maybe he could be strong for her? Maybe…
She seems to give in, letting him guide her to the door that leads them to the parking garage, but the moment it closes behind them, the loud sound echoing around them, Beckett panics in a way that he's never seen before.
Her eyes dart rapidly back and forth, taking in their surroundings as she steps away from him, pressing her back to the door in an attempt to hide herself from whatever it is she's scared of.
"Kate?" he says her same softly, cautiously stepping towards her, unsure of what to do.
She shakes her head, curling her fingers against the tender scar between her breasts, her eyes wide and unfocused. Her breaths are short and sharp, causing her chest to rise and fall more noticeably than usual, and the arm she has pressed to her side trembles violently.
Castle's brows furrow in concern as he glances around them to ensure that no one is actually coming for her, and then without thinking or asking, he brushes his fingers over her trembling hand, murmurs a few words of reassurance and then lifts her into his arms, cradling her against his chest as he hurries towards his car.
"Castle…" she gasps, wide eyes staring up at him as he carries her. He knows her use of his name was meant as a protest for carrying her, but he doesn't miss the way she curls herself against his broad frame.
He tightens his hold on her, somehow managing to hit to unlock button on his keys with her still in his arms. He eases her door open, carefully sets her in the seat and gently squeezes her hand before pulling away and closing her door.
Her panic seems to intensify in the time it takes him to get from her door to his, and by the time he's in his seat and starting the car, she's paler than he's ever seen her.
"Kate," he soothes, reaching for her hand again, sliding his fingers through hers. "You're okay…I'm getting you out of here, okay?" he assures her, keeping his hand in hers as he backs out and steers the car out of the lot.
He catches her slight nod out of the corner of his eyes, breathing a sigh of relief as he makes a right turn towards his loft.
He briefly considers stopping at the nearest hospital, but one sideways glance at his partner tells him that he'd never even get her in the doors before a full on panic attack hits.
She's not in good shape, and he can't help but wonder how much she really needs someone in spite of her determination not to. If she'd just let him in, give him a chance to shoulder some of the weight she carries…
Maybe this is what it will take to get her to let him in.
He's parking the car within a few minutes, squeezing her hand in reassurance before he eases out of the car and hurries around to her side. And his worry only increases when her panic filled eyes are the first thing he sees when he opens her door.
"Hey, you're okay," he promises, crouching down in front of her so that he's the only thing she can see.
"We're outside my loft. I brought you here so that I can look at your arm and you can stay until you feel safe again, alright?"
He's not surprised when she curls her injured arm against her chest, swallowing hard against the panic he can see her fighting. He hates seeing her like this, hates even more that she's so damn stubborn.
"I forgot," she murmurs, so low that he barely hears it, but the words wrap tightly around his heart in a vice grip, reminding him of how deeply she feels things.
"Forgot what?" he asks softly, gently brushing his fingers over her arm, reminding her that she can tell him as much as she wants.
"What it's like to feel safe," she admits, and he knows it took everything left in her to admit something like that.
"Kate," he sighs mournfully, resisting the urge to pull her into his arms, because this is the most progress they've made, and he doesn't want to scare her.
So he chooses to give her words instead. "I'll keep you safe, if you'll let me."
Her eyes linger on his, and he can see the war that's waging inside her. But he's sure that sitting in the car isn't helping her state of mind, so he reaches for her, helps her out of the car and sighs in relief when she leans against him as he guides her towards the building's entrance.
She's quiet when he opens the door to the loft and ushers her inside, closing and locking the door behind him before reaching for her hand, half expecting her to pull away.
He leads her into the bathroom and gently nudges her down on the closed toilet seat, releasing her hand and rummaging through the cabinet until he finds a first aid kit.
The hesitation is written all over her face when he turns to face her again, and he just wants to wrap her in his arms and promise her that she's not alone in this.
One step at a time.
Castle places the kit onto the sink, opening the lid and sifting through the items until he finds some antiseptic wipes, fresh gauze, antibiotic ointment and a wrap. He lines the items up side by side so that he can get to them easily, brushing his fingers lightly down Kate's arm as he kneels down in front of her.
"Going to raise your sleeve up and take this soiled bandage off, okay?" he asks, ensuring that he explains everything he's doing in hopes that it will ease some of the panic that insists on lingering in the deep green flecks of her eyes.
Kate nods, a slight shake of her head that gives him the permission that he needs and he doesn't miss the way she diverts her eyes as he gently eases her sleeve up her arm.
The poorly wrapped bandage is completely soiled, the bloom of red coating nearly every inch of the white. He carefully removes the tape and eases the gauze away from the cut, pausing at the faint sound of a gasp, though it's the only reaction she gives him.
Her arm looks terrible, and extremely painful, and it only brings up more questions that he's not sure he should ask her.
But he's worried, and it makes him brave.
"What happened?" he asks his earlier question again as he tosses the bandage into the trash and reaches for the antiseptic wipes, giving her a moment to answer because he knows the sting is most likely going to steal her breath.
She bites her bottom lip nervously, keeping her eyes directed at the floor, and he doesn't think she's going to answer, so he gently grips her arm and starts to wipe the blood away, murmuring his apology when she hisses in pain.
"I have PTSD," she manages to get out between clenched teeth, and he's surprised when she lifts her head and meets his concerned gaze, her arm trembling as he continues to wipe it clean of the blood.
He suspected as much just from her recent actions, but hearing her say it still hits him hard. He's so used to strong, determined, unwavering Beckett, and it makes it that much harder to see her so broken and fragile.
She must see it in his face, because her brows furrow, her head shaking as she continues.
"I'm not depressed or suicidal, Castle. It's not like that," she huffs, her reassurance pulling a sigh of relief from him.
"I didn't think…"
"What you're thinking is written all over your face and I'm telling you, it's nothing like that. I started drinking last night, and no, I don't need a lecture about pain medication and alcohol," she warns, pausing to take another deep breath as he reaches for a new wipe and finishes cleaning her arm up.
"I drank too much and it made the hallucinations worse, and that combined with the panic attack is why my arm looks like this. I knocked over my coffee table, and the glass shattered everywhere and in my haste to get away from what I thought was after me, I cut my arm on a piece of it," she explains, watching as he pulls the wipe away from her arm.
The cut is deep and still oozing a large amount of blood and she probably does need stitches, but Kate can't deal with a hospital right now, even the thought of it sends a wave of panic through her system.
It takes Castle several minutes to find the words he wants to say to her, mostly because he doesn't want to scare her away by pushing too much.
"Has this been happening a lot?" he asks softly, carefully examining the cut on her arm a little closer.
"More frequently since I came back to work," she admits in an almost whisper, and it must be really bad if she's being this open about it.
"You could've called me, you know? I would've been here no matter what time it was, even if it was just to sit beside you, to help you feel safe so you could rest."
Okay, so he's kind of pushing, but he can't help it. Not when she's being open and vulnerable and he knows how much it would help her if she just let someone in.
Even if he wasn't her first choice.
"This is my burden to bear," she huffs, though it's a half-hearted protest and they both know it.
"It doesn't have to be," he argues as he squeezes some of the antibiotic ointment onto the cut and reaches for the new piece of gauze.
"Castle, we talked about this already. I'm not ready, I thought…."
'Yeah, I heard you, Kate. I heard you then, and I'm hearing you now. But what comes out of your mouth completely contradicts what's in your eyes."
The words are out before he can stop them, and the second he has the gauze in place and the new wrap secured, she's pulling her arm away, cradling it to her chest, though her eyes have never left his.
"Why are you doing this right now?" she asks, her tone pleading as she swallows hard to fight back the emotions.
"I'm sorry," he apologizes, eyes lingering on hers for a brief moment before he shifts away from her to clean up the mess, mentally kicking himself for pushing her as much as he has.
"You didn't answer my question," she huffs, gently pulling her sleeve back over the bandage as she turns to face him.
He stops what he's doing, heart racing as he grips the countertop. Treading carefully is all he's been focused on lately when it comes to her, but his heart is on the line here too, and even if she's going to break it, he needs her to know the truth.
"Because I know you don't really want to do this alone. I know that having someone you trust by your side would make it ten times better. I see the way you look at me, Kate. It's the same way I look at you."
She has to press her hand against her chest when her heart races against it, the dull ache of her scar blooming into a more painful one.
"I'm not in a good place…" she murmurs, so softly that Castle almost misses it. And he takes a step closer when she stands, drawn to both her and the honesty of their conversation.
He gently catches her jaw between his fingers when she shakes her head at the closeness, smoothing his fingers over her cheek and lingering there.
"You're the same person I fell in love with, and I'm going to keep loving you, no matter what we have to go through together, together being the key word here."
And he doesn't miss the way her next breath catches in her throat, or the way her hands tremble as she forces her eyes to meet his. The honesty may be too much for her, but he's so tired of hiding how he feels.
He reaches for the hand of her uninjured arm, gently placing it against his chest so that she can feel the way his heart races, hoping to calm her nerves a little bit.
"Castle, I…" she starts, though her voice trembles more than her hands and his heart may be racing beneath her palm, but she's so unprepared to deal with this right now.
He takes her hesitance as meaning that she doesn't feel the same way, and he's nearly pulled completely away from her before her body manages to catch up with her heart.
"No, wait," she protests, catching his hand between both of hers.
He sighs even as he turns back to her, watching as she mirrors his actions and presses his palm against her chest, right where the tender scar rests.
Her heart is racing too, so much so that it worries him.
"I'm sorry, Kate. I shouldn't have…that's not the way I intended to tell you that I love you for the first time," and it's not the first time for him, but she doesn't remember.
"You mean the second time?" she asks before she can stop herself, pressing his hand tighter to her chest when her words cause his entire frame to tense.
He stares at her, reading the honesty on her face, but the anger she expects doesn't come.
"You remember?" he questions, and the betrayal in his tone almost makes her wish for anger instead.
"Yes, I remember. And I'm sorry that I'm just now telling you, but Rick, I've been struggling just to make it through each day since I woke up with a bullet hole in my chest. I didn't know how to dive into this with you at the same time."
Castle's eyes widen at her last few words, his fingers brushing gently over the cloth covered scar on her chest. He can feel the evidence that he almost lost her there, and he's not wasting anymore time.
"Dive into it with me now?" he pleads, wrapping his free arm around her waist as he steps closer, closing the distance between them until nothing but their hands are left keeping them from being pressed fully against each other.
"I…" she hesitates, teeth piercing her bottom lip as she wrestles with her decision.
She wants to. God, she wants to so badly.
But what if they crash and burn because she isn't ready?
"Kate," he calls to get her attention, waiting until her eyes focus on him again before he continues. "You're the strongest person I know, but you don't have to be strong all the time. You don't have to do this alone. You can lean on me. I'm here and I'm not going anywhere," he promises, gently brushing his hand over the small of her back.
And there's really only one way to answer him after that. She releases his hand at her chest in favor of gently draping both of her arms around his neck, being careful of her injury, and then she's pressing herself completely against him.
She answers him first with her lips, and then with her words, breathing her "yes" into his mouth just before he thoroughly steals every other thought from her mind.
Sometime later, when he lifts her into his arms and carries her towards his bed, all thoughts of anything else forgotten, she gives him the words that she's been holding back for far too long.
"I'm in love with you too, Rick."
And there's no need for anymore talking after that.