Title: No Joy but Lacks Salt

Chapter 1: The Stain of Tears

Author: Elliott Silver

Summary: She knows it's not the fall that hurts but the sudden stop at the end. For her, the descent is no less terrible than the crash.

Rating Note: Some chapters will be rated M and those will be clearly noted. Please note that this Chapter is.

Author's Note: This is the first of a series of approximately seven chapters. It begins after the finale "Knockout" and follows the lives of Beckett and Castle, the repercussions and the aftermath of those events. I'm not a writer who can work without knowing the ending, so writing on the fly like this always feels like the floor is about to fall out and the sky fall in. For those reading – thank you for asking for a story like this and challenging me to write one. For those reading – please know this story may not take you where you want to go. But I hope it takes you nonetheless.


/-/-/-/


"I thought you died."

There is something raw and vicious in Castle's voice, something she has never heard before.

It's been twenty-one days since she was shot at Captain Montgomery's funeral, twenty-one days since the bullet went high into her shoulder, just nicking the edge of the Kevlar vest she wore underneath her dress uniform, twenty-ones days since she did not die.

It was a perfect shot, it was a kill shot, and it almost succeeded.

The bullet that was meant for her heart passed high into her shoulder. It cracked several layers of Kevlar and slid into her flesh in fragments. It made for a long surgery, and it made learning to shoot again a trying ordeal, but the puckered wounds have healed quickly with treatment. Her body has followed more slowly with endless sessions of physical therapy. The doctors predict a full recovery – after all, it's been little more than some dark stitches in her skin, some antibiotics, and a few days of rest – so they don't understand her disbelief. Things like stitches can't hold everything together.

And some wounds never heal.


/-/-/-/


She is back at her desk by the beginning of June. She can't stay away.

The heat is sticky in New York, and it's hotter than usual. Thermometers blaze, and crime skyrockets. The scabs around the closing holes in her flesh itch, and she is wild trying not to scratch at the new skin.

She goes because the 12th is in chaos. There is no time for grief. She has always been the strong one, and everyone is counting on her now. She can't let them down.

Besides, there is paperwork to fill out, health insurance to claim. Besides, there is a family, not of blood or genes, but one nonetheless, that needs her leadership, her guidance, her strict definition of what a hero is. Besides, there are murders that never stop, and right now, she needs something she can solve, as opposed to all the things she can't. She needs something real, something she can control, and she knows how to do this because she's been doing it for so long she doesn't know how to do anything else.

She knew this would change them from the very beginning, change them all in fundamental and irrevocable ways. The trauma for all of them was like a bruise. They wouldn't see the effects until later, when the spilled blood blossomed under their skin. Perhaps, she thought, they had all escaped the big injuries so easily that they had forgotten how much the small ones hurt. Now she looks over the team and sees more fractures than unity, not least between her and Castle.

She sits at her desk. Castle sits beside her. He says nothing.

She thinks everything that happened should have brought them closer together, but it hasn't. Instead, it's pushed them further apart. She understands that there is a rift between them now, a crack that mars everything else. In truth, it began long before Montgomery's death, before the heated argument in her apartment, before her first date with Josh.

For four months, she had a staring contest with the devil, and Castle thought she could come away unscathed. He's always thought that crime is only the kind he writes, the kind that you can close the book on. Now he's only beginning to realize how wrong he's been. Now he knows, as she did - no one can look into hell and come away untouched.

They act like it isn't there, but it is. It's like a blister, waiting to pop. She keeps turning to him for support, because she doesn't know how she can manage this on her own – Ryan's tears, Esposito's anger, Lanie's despair, her father's confusion, Alexis' fear – but he isn't there. Or rather, he is but he isn't.

So they don't talk about it, just like they don't talk about everything else – the kiss they shared, or the moment when their bodies began to freeze against each other in death. They don't talk about the words he said to her in the cemetery, or what she might have said to him afterwards if she only she took the chance. They don't talk about it, and that makes it just that much worse.

"Stop," Castle finally manages one day, after making her a fifth Americano on her third sleepless night.

"I can't stop," she says without slowing. "What else would I do?"

"Have a life," he answers. He's invited her to book signings, press events, movie premieres, even the European Nikki Heat tour. He has events in London, Tokyo, Rome, tickets for Cannes and Sundance, any place that isn't here, any place where she could just be with him and pretend none of this ever happened.

"What kind of life would that be?"

He has no answer.


/-/-/-/


They're in the car, driving, when it happens.

"You knew, didn't you?"

She turns to look at him, feeling the slightest of twinges in her shoulder. Her shot is better, almost as good as it had been, but there are parts of her that will never be the same again.

Castle turns to her, and she can smell his cologne, the woody heady scent of it.

"In the hangar, that morning – " he breaks off, as she watches him put the pieces together in his head, the pieces from the first time they had been there, not the second, not at night when it had all gone down. He thought back to the beginning, without thinking of the end.

"I saw the bullet holes in the chopper, and you asked why now," he says. "I asked what had changed."

She waits.

"I said that transfers and courtroom breakouts take time to plan, but that wasn't it."

He looks up at her and she sees straight into his blue eyes.

"You said, what if there's something else, another reason." He breathes. "There was, wasn't there? Because you already knew, didn't you? Montgomery confided in you, and Lockwood found out."

He remembered asking then if she had been ok, and she had turned, head full of glossy curly hair, and lied to his face. Yeah, she had answered.

He remembers Montgomery telling him about meeting Kate for the first time, scouring details of her mother's case in the evidence locker. He remembers the forceful way Montgomery had told him even a captain couldn't make Beckett stand down, that the only one who could was Castle himself. He sees it all plainly now – the partnership behind the scenes, the way Beckett crumbled and Montgomery fell, how it all had a pattern of being planned as if it had been part of a book. He had gone to her apartment that night, and she had asked why he hadn't just called.

It was then he saw how far it had gone, how broken she already was, the fractures in the way she stood, moved, talked. And after three years, he had asked her to walk away and she refused. It had been so carefully orchestrated. If she wouldn't walk away for him, when he asked her, Montgomery and Lockwood could be sure there was nothing that would make her, perhaps nothing short of a bullet.

The old deal was that Beckett stayed alive as long as Montgomery held her leash. When Montgomery broke that and told Beckett what he knew, there had been a new deal. That was why she hadn't been surprised when Ryan and Esposito had sent the message to her phone, telling her what she already knew. Montgomery told her more then, that night, as he had promised her, filling in all the gaps but one. The one she most desperately wanted to know – the name she needed.

Castle knew now that was why she didn't fight him when he pulled her away. She already knew what was going to happen. She hadn't – couldn't – make peace with it, but she let it happen. That's why she didn't run when the gunshots started, but when they ended.

"You knew," he says again.

She says nothing. She keeps driving.

When they arrive at the precinct, they get out as if nothing has been said.

Castle doesn't follow her inside.

Now, finally, he understands.

When you look for the devil, the devil looks into you.


/-/-/-/


It was hot that day, so hot it made her makeup run, making the mascara sticky on her lashes, soaking her back through with sweat, heat, and fear and the knowing of what was to come, the bullet with her name on it the way Montgomery had met his. She, perhaps, was not as brave.

The Kevlar vest was heavy over her shoulders.

"You knew," Castle says to her again, after he goes to her apartment that night, desperate for answers. "You knew you were going to get shot."

"Yes," she finally answers.

He has no response for this, doesn't even know how someone could, to be able to approach death so cavalierly. But Castle remembered the blood, the bright poppy red on her white gloves, artificially red. How sticky it was on his hands as he held her, how coppery it smelled in the hot sun. She hadn't fought, and there was no shock in her eyes, just acceptance, almost a calm, as her lashes fell, and with it, his heart.

"Yes," she says again. "I knew, Montgomery knew. Montgomery knew if he died and Lockwood died that the man responsible for killing my mother would come after me."

Standing there on her doorstep, she tells him everything he doesn't want to know. How Montgomery finally confided in her. How he went to his death only knowing she would survive hers.

"Only I was shot and the gunman got away, and now I'm left with nothing, again."

He understands it wasn't supposed to end like this, that when Kevlar absorbed the shot meant for her heart, she was supposed to rise up and finally pin down the man who had now shot two Beckett women. But it didn't work that way, and he wonders if perhaps the shot was only meant as a warning, one she isn't taking.

"How could you not tell me?" he asks. The anger is gone, and in its vacuum against this new sadness, she wishes for it back. There's a silence between them, and they reel in its wake.

"I didn't tell anyone," she says. "I couldn't." But in her heart she knows that's a lie. The words are lop-sided, lumpy in her mouth, and they come out all wrong. In that moment, those seconds, she feels the world, the world that he has so painstakingly tried to make for them, slip away from her.

She remembers his face over hers, his hands cupped over her shoulder as it bled, though there was little loss. The wounds, after being dug clean for shrapnel, flared across her shoulder like red lily-flower. A piece of the bullet had caught the chain of her necklace and shattered it, leaving nothing but tiny gold fragments and broken hopes.

"Where is the ring?" she asks.

He reaches into his pocket and comes back with his hands clenched. His knuckles are white.

She pries her mother's ring from his opened palm. There are dark half-moons where his nails have bit into his own flesh. She holds the circlet as if it might save her. He doesn't understand that this is her life, what she's devoted her life to. She can't give in, she can't give it up, not now, not even for him, not even if she wanted to.

"I thought you died."

There is something raw and vicious in Castle's voice, something she has never heard before.

"Stop, Kate," he begs again.

"I can't," she answers in return. He's asking her to choose, and she does.

She reels against him, and he's only marginally steadier. They hold on to one another, and when she kisses him, she tastes only the scratch of his rum against the whisky on her tongue, the sticky bitterness of their mouths.

Suddenly things like devils and death, like blood and lies, don't matter anymore. Now there was only this, them, two broken and shattered people.

They pull at each other's clothes, the seams of their selves turning inside out as they rush against each other. It isn't like they fit, but that they find every edge of each other that doesn't, every sharp edge that cuts open both their souls. Everything is a beat off as they tangle in the darkness of her bedroom, struggling for breath. It doesn't feel like coming together, but like coming apart.

She feels his fingers against her neck, the calluses of his thumbs strumming the veins that carry blood to her heart. She feels him press in, so that the beat pounds against him, so her very life squeals around him. He doesn't touch the rough surface where bullet fragments have torn asunder the flesh of her shoulder. But by then they're moving, creating another beat, another rhythm, and when it breaks, sharp and sudden, they fall against each other as if they won't ever stop.


/-/-/-/


She wakes alone, to a headache and an unnaturally cheerful sun. She moves gingerly, and finds him waiting.

The room is bright with light and there's a cup of coffee in front of him but he isn't drinking it. In fact he's so still, he makes the room spin around her.

How much has she wanted this, to find him in her mornings. But when she dreamed about it, it was never like this. It never hurt.

Castle looks up only when she says his name. He looks up from the stacks of case files on her table, from the shards of her murder board, the piles of pages which will not bring her mother back and which only takes her away from him.

"I can't live without you," he says, but there is no joy in his voice.

She winces. Finally he's gotten through her armor, her walls, every barrier she's thrown up between him and her heart, and his words break her more thoroughly than anything else, any pain or loss from her mother's case, ever could.

"But I can't live with you either." He rises and she thinks how he looks in the mid-morning light, the way the stubble on his cheek glistens grey-brown in the sun, how the edges of light make the creases under his eyes look even deeper. If she looks closely, she can see the stain of tears on his skin. "Not like this."

"I can't watch you die," he whispers and he motions over the strewn papers. "Not again, not ever."

Her heart pounds in her chest, and fear makes her dizzy. The world shifts, but she doesn't go with it. He has begged her to stop, but she realizes too late that the stop is his.

"Castle, what are you doing?" she asks. Her knuckles are white, curled over the back of the chair.

"I'm doing exactly what you told me to," he answers, and his beautiful voice is laced with the bitterness she heard when he stood in these rooms last, when they argued about things never said.

"I'm getting out."