Disclaimer: Not mine.
Author's Notes: Post-ep for 3x24 and beyond.
She feels like a live bug tacked to a cork board, the last remnants of life wasted on a struggle to reclaim what is already gone. She tries to lift her arms but they fall limply beside her torso in mock surrender. It is too late to surrender now, though, too late to walk away.
He asks her to stay with him, and she strains toward his pleading voice, but the pushpin bullet keeps her pressed against the ground.
It doesn't hurt. She knows it should, but it doesn't. She thinks, ironically, dying is easier than living. Dying is simple, inexplicably uncomplicated. Effortless.
She feels the end coming and he must see it in her eyes because suddenly he is telling her he loves her, his admission hanging in the air between them unqualified by jokes or double entendres.
A feeling of intense peace fills the empty spaces her free-flowing blood leaves behind; it feels like waking on a Saturday morning, sunlight bisecting the room in such a way you have to duck under the covers to avoid its blinding light, realizing with complete contentment that the day is yours, a gift to spend any way you wish. It is a day, a feeling, of endless possibility. Her perfect day always includes him. She never told him about her dreams for them or so many other things she knows he needs to hear. So many things she needs to say. She wishes…she can't finish the thought, and there is a ringing in her ears, and she can't quite catch her breath.
He tells her again that he loves her. She forces her eyes to focus on him. Acknowledgement is the last gift she gives him. Death, the finality so many fear brings with it clarity, excises the extraneous details. She loves him, too, of course. A soul-searing crack through the midday sun and everything is utterly uncomplicated.
They make eye contact and perfect understanding passes between them about the series of unlikely events that landed him in her life three years ago and assured he is the one with her in the end.
His edges blur and she fights to bring him back into focus, but despite her efforts death ushers him from view.
She dies on a Wednesday morning, in his arms, under a perfect, cloudless sky.
Her cheeks are still wet from tears that seemed to simply slide out of her wide, disbelieving eyes. He wonders what made her cry – if it was the pain of the bullet making its entrance, the pain of him tackling her to the ground, or if it was because she knew it was bad, really bad this time, if she knew it was the end.
He looks at the tear tracks on her cheeks and thinks she can't be dead, not right here in his arms, not after he begged her to stay and told her he loved her, not when she is still warm and beautiful and could be sleeping except for the blood seeping into the cuffs of his dress shirt.
She'd asked him to be a pall bearer. He'd asked her what to wear. The other pall bearers were wearing uniforms.
"I'll come over, we'll find something," she offered.
And he was surprised.
She waltzed into his bedroom, into his closet, and pulled out the black shirt. He was wearing his suit pants and an undershirt. He slipped on the black dress shirt and his suit jacket, looked in the mirror.
"I look like Johnny Cash," he quipped halfheartedly.
He looked at her, expecting a tired smile, but found her completely devoid of emotion. Her eyes were wide and glassy and she was just staring at him, lost like he'd never seen anyone lost.
She walked over to him, standing in front of him, close, too close.
"I'm sorry," she said.
Her proximity disarmed him. "For what, Kate?"
She never answered him. She simply pitched forward, letting her forehead rest against his shoulder. She made no move to embrace him, she just stood there leaning against him, and he let her stand there for as long as she needed.
When she pulled away, she looked at him, a little more herself. She kissed him briefly, softly, barely, but it was a kiss nonetheless.
"Thank you," she said, turning and letting herself out of his apartment.
If she is dead, he'll change his name to Johnny and wear black for the rest of his life. He's reinvented himself once before. He can do it again.
When Lanie appears beside them, crying, yelling for an ETA on the ambulance and begins performing CPR is when he doubts that he will do anything he did before she waltzed into his apartment, into his bedroom, into his closet to pick out the shirt he is wearing, before she waltzed into his life and made him love her.
Someone yells "AGAIN! CLEAR!" and her sternum ignites.
A brief flash of light is snuffed out by consuming darkness.
"ONE MORE TIME! CLEAR!" and she feels something like a red hot poker stoking a fire so hot inside her body she wants to crawl out of her skin.
It hurts. She is in agony.
She opens her eyes. She wants to tell them to stop hurting her. The worried face of a stranger peers down at her.
"Welcome back," the stranger says, not quite smiling.
A hand holds tightly onto hers, tethering her to life. Death would've been easier, she thinks, as she weakly squeezes the hand of the man still begging her to stay.
After gathering all the necessary information related to her vital statistics, insurance policy, and living will, a nurse asks if anyone is O negative or B negative.
"She's lost a lot of blood, she needs a transfusion," the nurse says by way of explanation.
"I'm O negative," he answers immediately. "Lead the way."
The phlebotomist is hurried but precise, the large bore needle sliding easily into his vein. He pumps his fist, hoping to expedite the process. He watches as his blood fills up the bag, knowing that soon it will be cycling through her body, replacing what she's lost.
Afterward, a nurse hands him a cup of orange juice and smiles kindly. "You can take more," he says. "You can take all you need."
"You've given all you can for today," she says, patting his arm.
"But I want to give more," he insists.
Her smile is compassionate, her tone unyielding, "But you can't. It's up to her now."
"It hurts," she whispers, opening her eyes.
He is there, still holding her hand.
"What hurts, Kate?" he asks.
"Being alive," she answers vaguely.
He regards her, not a hint of a smile on his face. His prolonged seriousness masks the face she knows so well.
He reaches across her body and presses the call button for a nurse.
The door swings open, and a woman wearing scrubs enters.
"She's in pain," he tells the nurse. "Do something."
The nurse leaves and returns a short time later with a syringe in hand, which she quickly uncaps and slides into the IV snaked into Kate's immobile body. The morphine warms her vein in a way that takes all the pain out of living. She understands how people could get addicted to the feeling.
The nurse leaves and she turns her head to look at him. "I was dying," she says solemnly, already feeling the haze of morphine settling over her mind.
"Yes," he says, "yes you were." He clears his throat, a nervous, uncomfortable sound in the otherwise quiet room. "You did die, Kate. They brought you back."
"You were there," she remembers.
He maintains eye contact. "Yes."
"I'm tired now," she rambles lethargically, closing her eyes.
She feels his free hand pass over her forehead, smooth down her hair. "Rest," he says.
"Don't be a stranger," she mumbles, wishing she could explain better what she means.
She struggles to open her eyes and notices immediately her hands are free. She spots him in a chair in the corner of the room, his hands steepled under his chin.
"Why so serious?" she asks, her voice hoarse.
His head snaps to attention. "Kate," he whispers. "Are you all right?"
"You tell me," she counters.
The expression on his face changes quickly, as if he is flipping through an emotional rolodex. He crosses the room and sits in the chair beside her bed. "You'll be all right," he assures her.
"How long?" she asks.
"Five days," he answers.
She shakes her head. "No, until I can go back to work," she clarifies.
He cocks his head. "Kate, it's going to be a while."
"Define 'a while'," she presses.
"Months," he answers without hesitation.
She clenches her jaw. "Damn it," she whispers.
He clasps his hand over hers. "I want to help you," he says evenly. "I want to help you get well."
She looks at him. "I know," she says.
"Will you let me?" he asks, but they both know he is asking for much more. He is asking for her to open the door, to let him in.
She should hesitate, but she doesn't. He wants to take care of her, and she wants to be near him. As has been the case since he came into her life, he makes living hurt less. Her living, breathing morphine.
"Yes," she says.
He sucks in a thin breath. "Good," he says. "That's good."
Before she closes her eyes, she asks him, "How long until we go home?"
"Soon," he promises.
"I don't think we should see each other anymore," she says.
He bites his lip. "Okay," he agrees. "Get well, Kate. Take care of yourself."
And it is over between her and Josh, just like that, as painless and insignificant as their relationship has been.
She awakens with a suddenness that pulls at her sore chest. Her arms are rigid on either side of her body, her hands splayed against the sheets as she attempts to orient her body to its present location.
Sweat gathers on the back of her neck, her breathing is labored. The room is completely dark, the night a presence in its way.
She is alone.
Her mother is dead.
Montgomery is gone. Dead.
She is in the hospital. She brings her hand to her chest, her fingers skimming the bandages.
The tears come quickly and crying hurts badly, making her resist the natural flow of grief.
Beside her bed, a head pops into view. His eyes are sleepy, his hair mussed.
"Are you all right?"
"Are you sleeping on the floor?"
He uses the railing on the side of her bed to pull himself to his full height.
"You're crying," he whispers, leaning over her. "What's wrong?"
"I thought I was alone," she says.
"You're not," he assures. "I'm here."
The pain in her chest is not the result of a bullet wound. It hurts so much to keep it inside, and she is tired, bone weary.
He notices her discomfort. "I'll get the nurse," he says, springing into action.
"No," she says, stopping him mid-stride. "I don't need the nurse."
"What do you need? Tell me, I'll get it. Whatever you need," he implores.
She looks at him, unable to stop the tears running down her face.
"Can you make my mom a little less good? If she'd been a little more ambitious and a little less fucking concerned…"
He is paralyzed by powerlessness. There is nothing he can do, no one he can call, nothing he can buy to grant her request.
"If she'd just left it alone," she continues, angry at her mother for doing the right thing because so much pain flowed from her mother being a good and decent woman.
He looks at her, runs a finger down her cheek. "Tell me what to do, Kate. I'll do it."
She glances away from him. "There is nothing you can do for me," she retorts, her tone sharpened by bitterness.
The intervening silence weighs heavily on them.
Moments later she turns back to him, looks at him, whispers, "But you're here, and that's something."
"It's been a week and a half," she remarks.
She smiles uneasily. "I've never known you to go this long without cracking jokes or engaging in sexual innuendo."
From his chair beside her bed, he looks at her. She's seen that look on the faces of others who've experienced traumatic events; she'd seen a similar expression in the mirror for months after her mother was murdered.
He sits up and tries to speak, but his words never amount to anything but a pile of false starts. In the end, he bows his head, takes her hand in his, and presses his lips against her palm.
The room is quiet, but she hears everything he says.
Others come and go – Ryan, Esposito, Karpowski, Demming, Lanie, Alexis, Martha, her father, the mayor, but he is a shadow she can't shake. She isn't sure when he eats or showers or goes to the bathroom. She only knows that his shirt changes every day, and he smells like the Castle she knows.
She never sees him on the phone or playing with any of his many gadgets.
The door opens. A man appears and motions to Castle who crosses the room and leans close for the man to whisper something in his ear.
Castle glances at her and nods. "That will be fine," he says softly.
"What's going on?" Kate asks from her bed.
"You have a visitor on the way. You've been tired. He wanted to make sure you were up for company," he explains.
"Who is that guy, anyway?" she asks.
Castle smiles. "Part of your security team," he replies.
"I don't recognize him from any of the previous details," she says.
"That's because I hired them. I had Esposito and Ryan run backgrounds on everyone, just to be sure. They're going to be on you for a while. The interim captain has a detail on you as well, but it's not enough."
"And how many security personnel are there?" Kate asks in a tone a mixture of annoyance and amusement.
"Enough to keep you safe," Castle hedges.
He pushes a wheelchair into her room.
"Don't say anything about a chariot awaiting," she warns.
He smiles. "I would never be so cliché," he says.
She maneuvers into the wheelchair, and he pushes her down the hallway. They are flanked by members of her security team.
Castle wheels her to the service elevator.
"Are we going out the back?" she asks.
He pauses for a beat too long. She knows something is awry. "Um…"
"Why the cloak and dagger?" she questions.
He shakes his head. "The press got wind of you being released today. I don't want to take any chances of them getting a picture of you."
"Why does the press care?" she asks.
Castle shifts on his feet. "Because I'm famous, and you're important to me."
He'd done his best, but some members of the press are camped at the back entrance, waiting for them. Outside the door, the four men who escorted them from her room, down the elevator, and a lonely hallway are joined by more men than she can count. They form a phalanx around her, shielding her from view. Castle takes off his jacket and puts it over her head.
"This is ridiculous," she mutters under her breath.
As Castle is helping her into a black Suburban, with black tinted windows all around for good measure, the throng of reporters presses in on her.
"That's enough," she hears Castle saying firmly.
A member of her security personnel is not as diplomatic. "Back the fuck up!" he yells.
Flashes are going off everywhere, blinding her. She feels like she is going to have a seizure. It is unbearably hot under Castle's jacket. A slow burn blooms in her chest.
"Castle," she whispers, but he is distracted by a photographer rounding the front bumper of the Suburban, trying to get a shot of her through the windshield.
"Thomas!" Castle yells, pointing at the photographer.
Kate sees another man come up behind the photographer and manhandle him out of view.
She stops watching when she begins gasping for air.
"Castle…Rick…" she calls out to him.
He lifts his jacket and looks at her. "Kate?" Whatever he sees scares him. "Shit," he says.
He picks her up, the jacket shielding her face from view, and makes his way back into the hospital. The security team soldiers after them.
After a battery of tests, it turns out to be a panic attack for which the doctor prescribes pills. She feels weak and dumb and wants to get the hell out of the hospital.
Two days later, she swallows her panic pills without argument because she doesn't want a repeat of her first escape attempt, but they take the elevator up instead of down. A helicopter takes her to a hangar in Jersey City where she is moved without fanfare into the black suburban.
They are halfway through the Holland Tunnel when he looks over and sees her fighting to stay awake.
He puts his arm around her and pulls her close to him. "Sleep," he says. "I've got you."
At his apartment, he's cleared the guest room of all his belongings and moved everything from her bedroom, including her bed and side tables, into the room.
The closet is filled with her clothes, the bathroom with her shampoo and robe and make-up.
She feels assimilated, she feels absorbed into his life. She feels safe.
Two private nurses take turns tending to her needs. Rose works from seven in the morning until two in the afternoon. Mallory comes in at three in the afternoon and stays until eleven. They help her shower, change her bandages, take her temperature, blood pressure, and administer a small pharmacy of pills.
They steer clear when she doesn't need them, finding other things to do, paperwork to fill out. She suspects they've been instructed not to hover.
Castle is making Belgian waffles with blueberry and strawberry topping when she reaches out to him, puts her hand over his so he has to stop ladling batter into the waffle maker.
"Thank you," she says. "For everything."
She moves toward him, into his embrace.
They pull apart just enough to look at one another. He frames her face with his hands, angles for a kiss.
He applies just enough pressure for the kiss to be a kiss, but it requires nothing on her part. It is more comforting than passionate. All she has to do is accept it from him.
She kisses him back, softly, but there is no mistake. There is no avoiding that this means something.
He pulls away from the kiss, his lips near her ear. "When you were shot, I told you I love you, Kate. I love you. I love you very much. I want you to know that. We don't have to talk about it now, though. I want you to stay here and heal. When you're ready, we can talk about it. When you're ready, we should."
He leans in for another kiss, and this kiss is different. She responds in kind, hoping he understands all she can't say. They will talk about it later, when the time is right.
As she sits down on the stool at his breakfast bar and watches as he refocuses on the task at hand, she realizes it's Saturday. Sunlight shines through the large windows lining the walls of the loft. A perfect day.
He'd been right, she is afraid.
She stands from where she is seated and moves until she is standing beside him. Death has brought everything into perspective. He wraps his free arm around her shoulders. He is waiting on a waffle to finish browning, holding a ladle of batter in anticipation. She leans into him like she belongs there.
"I love you," she says.
He drops the ladle and waffle batter splatters on the counter. He wraps his arms around her and, aware that she is still healing, is careful not to press too hard.
She doesn't move out. Instead, more of her moves in.
Her room has a bookcase in it and her books line its shelves.
One particularly restless night, she mentions a book she can't find, and he says it's probably still at her apartment. The next day it's on her bedside table.
A chenille throw she loves appears on his couch a few days later. Three days later, her guitar is propped in the corner of her bedroom.
A CD. Another book. Her running shoes.
A week later, when Alexis is on a date with Ashley and Martha is at the theatre for rehearsals, they are eating dinner alone and she turns to him and says, "We're living together."
"I know," he says, his voice full of excitement, a boyish grin easing the last remnants of tragedy out of his eyes. "Isn't it great?"
It's been weeks since she's seen her father. Not ready for the jostling and claustrophobic proximity of fellow passengers, she opts for a cab instead of the metro.
When she enters her father's home, she smells it.
She finds him passed out on the couch, an empty bottle of Jack Daniels on the floor beside him.
"Dad," she calls out to him. No response. A little louder, "Dad!"
He opens his eyes. "Katie?" he answers, confused.
Her watchband is too tight. The ring hanging on a chain around her neck is too heavy.
Her father sits up and faces her. She wants to believe he's ashamed but instead all she sees in his eyes is defiance.
"I can't do this again," she tells him, her voice wavering.
He looks at her, and all he sees is her beautiful mother in her eyes, the set of her jaw, the mouth set in a grim, determined line. He blinks and the image of his dead wife is superimposed over his daughter. "Neither can I," he says.
She turns, runs out of the house, and is down the street when she pulls her phone out of her back pocket.
She punches in his number, he answers on the second ring.
She tries to speak but all the words and the pain and anger are lodged in her throat.
And then it comes out, rapid-fire, more pathetic and hysterical than she intends. She tacks onto the end, "Can you just come get me, Rick? Please?"
"I'm already on my way," he says, bypassing the elevator, taking the stairs two at a time so he can stay on the line with her.
She is wearing a strapless black dress that covers her scar but makes her feel less like an invalid than sweatpants and his oversized t-shirts. Two months have elapsed since the shooting. They still don't talk about it.
They kiss. He feels her up.
They walk the red carpet together for Heat Rises.
The reporters and paparazzi are in rare form. They shout questions about her health, their relationship, the shooting. They are crowding in, ignoring barriers, and the security team that still trails her wherever she goes have their hands full. She and Castle are almost to the entrance of the venue when a photographer breaks from the crowd and then many things happen at once – Red Bull, or at least that's what she calls him, attempts to head off the wayward paparazzo, but the lunatic sidesteps the 350 pound man and slams into her by accident. Castle glances at her, a look she's only seen one other time passes over his face, and she knows a split second before it happens what he's going to do.
His fist collides with the photographer's face and the man flies backwards, his very large, expensive camera crashing to the ground beside him. Their security team descends and prevents Castle from doing further damage. Red Bull drags the man and the camera back to the roped off area and drops both none too gently.
"What are you doing?" she asks, gritting her teeth, flashes going off all around them.
Castle's face is hardened by anger and fear, adrenaline causing his hands to shake and his breath to come in short, quick bursts. "He knocked into you, Kate," he says. "He hurt you. I saw you put your hand over your heart."
She rolls her eyes, whispers harshly, "I was holding onto my dress. I wanted to make sure no one got a free show, Castle."
"Oh," he says, his expression softening. He straightens up and bends his arm at the elbow, waiting for her to take it. "Well, then, shall we?"
He appears before the judge a week later, up for assault and battery. He tells the judge that since the shooting he's been afraid for her safety, and the paparazzo had ignored the barriers, ignored the security personnel. He doesn't lie and is overcome with emotion when he tells the judge that although she was unharmed, he believed the threat was real.
The judge lets him off with a warning and community service.
She cuts through the bathroom to get her laundry. She passes the mirror and notices she failed to button her shirt as high as had become the new normal ever since the shooting. The top of her scar is visible.
Her relationship with Castle is decidedly more physical, but they haven't breached the final line from friends to lovers and most of their heavy breathing sessions occur in the dark.
She faces the mirror and unbuttons her shirt. She isn't wearing a bra. She tried once but it was uncomfortable against the raised edges of her scar. She guesses she is going to have to go bra shopping because she is due back at work next week and going braless at the station isn't an option. Sports bras, while comfortable, don't work under anything but t-shirts. Maybe she'll invite Castle along to keep it interesting.
The scar is fading, slowly, but it will never disappear completely.
"It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," he says, standing in the doorway.
He moves behind her and they maintain eye contact in the mirror.
"Liar," she says.
His expression is unusually focused and serious. "It is," he says sincerely. "I love that scar."
"You don't have to say that," she says.
"That scar means you're still here. It's the line between life and death," he whispers.
She turns around and kisses him. He lifts her onto the counter behind them and stands in the v of her legs. He pushes her shirt off her shoulders and trails his lips and tongue across the rise of her collarbone, around the swell of her left breast, and finally down the scar that is a reminder of everything it took to keep her with him.
He throws her a welcome back party at the Old Haunt. The bar is closed except to members of the 12th.
Halfway through the party he realizes she's missing.
Mike, the bar's manager, is stocking liquor when he sees Castle scanning the crowd.
"She's in the office," he supplies.
Castle nods and makes his way to her.
"I'm sorry," she says, sitting with her back against the wall behind the desk, nursing a Cape Cod.
He crosses the room and slides down next to her, his legs bent, arms resting on his knees. He's going for casual, unassuming, hoping she'll talk to him. "What's wrong?"
In one long gulp, she swallows the rest of her drink. She pushes off the wall and swings a leg over him until she's straddling him. His hands come to rest on her thighs. She kisses him, tastes sweet and bitter, appropriately so.
For a moment, he allows himself to be carried away. She's wearing a short skirt and his hands slide under the thin material and cup her ass. Her body moves over him and they are kissing and she's moaning and he's reaching the point of no return.
"Kate," he says, breaking the spell. "Not here…"
She collapses onto him.
"I don't' know what's wrong," she says, answering his earlier question.
He presses a kiss against her forehead, combs his fingers through her long hair. "Is it the party?"
She shakes her head. "No," she says.
"Us?" he asks, not really wanting to know if it is.
She pulls away, a trademark Beckett scowl on her face. He's missed her. "Does it look like I have a problem with us?" she asks rhetorically, motioning between them.
"No," he says, returning her slight smile, rubbing her back. "What is it?" he presses.
She averts her gaze.
"I just want it to be over," she says. "I can walk away. I just want it to be over."
He takes out the files Montgomery sent him for what feels like the thousandth time. The captain arranged the files like chapters in a book. The last one is the money shot. It's the one with the name. In the four months he's been in possession of the files, he's never looked.
He reasoned it wasn't lying to her if he didn't know.
Opening the file, the name is there, clearly, in 12 point font. He should be more surprised that the name is familiar to him, but he's not. He's not a cop but shadowing her for the last three years has leeched a little of his optimism about the goodness of humankind.
He scrolls through the contact list on his phone until he finds the number.
"We need to meet," he says, pausing for the response on the other end. "No, this isn't a social call. You're going to let her walk away, or everyone is going to know exactly what you've done."
Neither of the men bothers with pretense. They arrange to meet the next day.
He calls an emergency meeting with his lawyer. He makes copies of the files and copies of the copies. He stores copies in safety deposit boxes and in his personal safe. He updates his will. If he dies, she gets half of everything and, finally, the truth. He gives explicit instructions to his security personnel about what to do if he's not back by dinnertime.
At the station, she is bowed over her desk doing paperwork. He takes a moment to study her. What he feels for her is more than love.
"Hey," he says, striding toward her, handing her a cup of coffee.
She takes it from him. "Hey," she says, smiling.
He doesn't sit down. "I can't stay," he says. "I've got some things to do."
"Okay," she says.
She gets up and walks him to the elevator. He steps inside, faces her, and she extends her arm to keep the door from closing.
"I'll see you tonight," she says.
He thinks that if she can make him into the man he's become, if she can come back from the dead, anything is possible.
"See you tonight," he says.