Written on the Skin
"The damage was permanent; there would always be scars. But even the angriest scars faded over time until it was difficult to see them written on the skin at all, and the only thing that remained was the memory of how painful it had been."
— Jodi Picoult
She doesn't get what everyone's so worried about. Not at first. It's just a scar. She has plenty. A chunk taken out of her side when she was nine or so and fell against a swingset's uncapped screw. The criss-crossing ridges on her knees from girls' lacrosse practices, back when they never forced the team to use knee pads or elbow pads or helmets during scrimmage games. A gash at her upper thigh where she narrowly avoided severing an artery on the blade of a meth-head during her stint in Vice.
If someone stays on her skin long enough, they will be able to connect the dots of her history, scar by scar. They tell a story, if someone is patient enough to read them.
If not, it hardly matters. Lacross and a knife's edge, swingsets and a bullet. They aren't the same words, but they mean the same things.
Josh was so concerned about the scar, kept reassuring her that they did the best they could to keep the tissue damage minimal, to keep the incisions small. He said it so much that Kate began to think *he* had the problem with it and was projecting on her. Eventually, it had nothing to do with Josh anymore, and whatever he might read into her scar held no importance to Kate.
Everyone scars. Scars are nothing. Wedges of skin that don't smooth out. She doesn't think about it. She doesn't have room.
All Kate Beckett has room for is determination. The determination to walk without trembling, to get off the pain medicine, to sit up on her own, to no longer be in pain. She concentrates on the pain and uses her force of will to detach herself, to become an observer to the agony as it lances through her body.
For the most part, that works.
Kate Beckett progresses, slowly; she heals. The pain, they determine, is mostly psychosomatic, so Kate goes to therapy twice a week until it longer feels like she's being branded, until the burn of her bullet-scorched flesh finally cools. Still, late at night, she wakes to a sound like ripping paper and feels her sternum cracking apart, her skin shredding, the scar inflamed and pulsing.
She pushes back the sheets and lays there for a moment, mind whirling. It's a nightmare, of course, and she's had plenty in her life. She usually doesn't even remember the actual events of her dreams, just the feeling when she wakes.
This one is special; this one remains in vivid, lurid detail just inside her eyelids, ready to fall over her again when she finally gets to sleep. It will be there in the darkness if she lets herself drift off again.
When the phantom pain of a searing bullet begins to fade, recede like the tide, Kate turns her head and glances to her alarm clock on the bedside table.
At four in the morning, no one else is awake. So she slides her fingers over the phone and cradles it for a moment, not truly debating with herself, just waiting for the ripeness of the moment.
She presses two and speed dials him, all without thinking, without wondering.
His voice is warm and rich and raw on other end. "Kate."
When she calls him, he always answers with her first name, rather than his own, rather than Beckett. Rather than not answering at all, a phone call from her a four a.m.
She hums agreement and sighs. "Same dream."
"It's not true, you know."
"No. . .not really." As he well knows.
"Need me to come over? Prove it to you?"
But she does try, every day she tries to keep it back, hold it in. She tries to make it on her own during the daylight hours, when everyone can see her face, read her signs, but her determination has deserted her in the darkness. She knows that his daughter is upset with him for refusing to give Kate up. She knows that Martha insists he has worked his last case, that it's too dangerous. She knows that the new Captain disapproves of civilian consultants.
She also knows that Castle has refused to abandon her, refused to give up his Muse. She also knows she's still on leave, and it's four in the morning, and she keeps dreaming this dream.
"I'm already in the elevator, Kate."
Too late to say no. Right?
"Tell me a story," she says finally, curling up on her side now that the lancing pain in her chest has kept it down to a dull roar.
"Fiction or nonfiction?"
She closes her eyes, feels the heaviness descending but tries to fight it off. "Nonfiction."
"Ah, really? Okay. Give me a second to think."
She knows there are stories he wants to avoid. He won't bring up his daughter anymore, won't mention his mother all that often either. Josh never enters into it, just as he didn't enter into it when he was still a page in her book.
"How about an embarrassing story from boarding school?"
"Okay," she murmurs, keeping the phone close to her ear, her arm barely able to hold it up.
"Don't fall asleep on me, Kate."
"Trying not to."
"If I get all the way to your door, and you're asleep-"
"Won't happen," she answers. "And if I am, come in anyway. You have a key."
"I do," he says warmly. "All right then. Boarding school."
"Little Rick Castle in boarding school. Aw," she hums, and she hears it, she really does, but she can't help it. All her old determination has deserted her.
"Not so little. Thirteen."
And then he tells her the story.
When Castle creeps into her bedroom, the light is still off and the bedside clocks now reads closer to five. She blinks and pulls her phone away from her ear, sees that it is dark.
"You fell asleep," he whispers and crawls into bed behind her. He takes the phone out of her hand and leans over her to drop it on her bedside table.
She lays there as he arranges himself, so carefully, and she waits for her awareness to come sliding in. When it does, she smiles and turns onto her back, her hand out. Castle's warm palm meets hers, the heel of his hand at her wrist, his fingers lacing through hers. Warm and solid and alive.
"I'm not shot, Kate," he says gently.
"I'm not dying."
"I won't leave."
She's silent for a long time, examining the truth of the statement that wants to come out of her mouth. She has to probe it with her tongue for weakness, has to work her jaw around it. And then:
He sighs and slides closer, bring a knee up. She feels his knee nudge her calf and she holds out for a minute, thinking maybe that all it will take on her side of things is a moment where she doesn't give in, doesn't surrender, and it will go back to what it was, where it was.
But that's impossible, and she turns on her side towards him, letting his knee slide between her legs, letting her other hand rest against the short bristles on his jaw, his neck, her thumb tugging on his bottom lip. She touches him as if she can read the five o'clock shadow of his cheeks and decipher his meaning. A blind woman searching.
She still holds outs, thinking it's better if she does, thinking that she's got to be her old self again someday, in the near future no less, but even as she lets her thumb trace his lip, she's arranging herself around him, orienting to him like a plant to the sun.
"It's okay," he says finally, and that's her sign.
Kate leans in, letting her forehead rest against his on the pillow, the night's terror already fading, the dream slipping in and out of his story, in and out of time, in and out of the touch of their hands.
She kisses that bottom lip first, tasting it, using her fingers as guidance. Castle rolls closer, pulls their laced hands against his chest as he part his mouth for her.
This time, she lets his hand go so she can slide her fingers across his jawline, into the soft hair, curl around his ears. She lets his hand go, and he understands it for what it is, and he uses the moment to reach out and touch the fragile, hard line of her sternum, and then down.
He traces a path to her waist, then slips his fingers under her shirt, his palm warm and broad and lazy against her skin, slowly reading what's written there, the story of her ribs, her heart, her chest.
She closes her eyes, remembers that it's already dark in her bedroom, and opens them again.
Now she knows, now she understands why everyone made such a fuss.
She wishes, half-heartedly, that on their first case together, when she had sauntered up to him and said, "Oh, you have no idea," that she had also added, "But would you like to find out?"
She wishes he had seen her then, unmarred and whole-hearted. She's not worried about it, not concerned with the way she looks; it is just a scar.
But she wishes she had offered herself to him before, wishes for those years back, so that this time, when he slides his fingers up and meets the puckered, puffy edge of the bullet's entry, he would have something to compare it to, something clean, a blank page where now she's been written on.
She's supposed to be a one-writer girl.
"Thank God," he reads, and his mouth is so close to her ear that his words feel like a kiss to her wildly beating heart, her poor, recently mended heart. His fingers slip along the line of it, his body moving closer to hers, until she is moving against him, every slide of her thigh, every brush of her arm.
"You're alive," he reads, and even as he does, it feels like his fingers etch new lines into her skin, slowly, rhythmically, tracing out and down and around and away. She feels herself arch into him, unable to help herself, an open book.
"Love you," he reads, and the words sink through the fog of nightmare and cleave the not-true from the true, until it is just him, just Rick Castle, and the certainty that he will always know how to read her, no matter what's written there.
His hand lays flat against the scar; the scar seems to pulse with her erratic heartbeat, both anticipation and acceptance, the beginning of their story and the end. "It's okay. This is us."
He's right. It doesn't matter, the scar. If she'd taken him out for a spin on their first case, she would've returned him to the dealer, gone for a cheaper model. If she'd let him into her heart, shown him her skin, he'd have no idea what to do with it back then; he would've tried to fill her up, scribbled over her blank page, marred the beautiful lines now written between them.
It was only now that would ever work. It had only ever been now.
"Stay," she says. "Let me tell *you* a story."