"Kate, please just talk to me," Josh begged. One of his hands threaded through her hair as he tried to lift her face to physically make her meet his eyes. She wouldn't, though. There were too many tears silently streaming down her cheeks, and if she saw how worried he looked then she'd have to admit she was breaking down in front of him.
"Is it something I did?" His voice, so strained with concern, tore at her relentlessly. Why couldn't she open her mouth? Why couldn't she stifle her cries long enough to reassure him, if only to get him to leave?
For whatever infuriating, unknown reason, she just couldn't. She was stuck in the fetal position. Her jaw was locked shut; maybe out of fear that opening it would cause her meltdown to spill into the words she wasn't ready to share. Maybe it was just that the man trying to coax it out of her wasn't the man she needed to listen.
She shook her head slightly, the tension in her neck protesting the movement.
"What can I do?" He removed his hands from their cradling position at the back of her head, instead clasping her wrists tightly to stop their shaking. It stopped the room in its hurried orbit, grounding her until she no longer felt sea sick on dry land. "Let me help you."
Kate's shoulder inched its way up and fell back in what could only be described as a distressed, heartbreaking shrug. Gathering what strength she could, she wet her lips and spoke. "I'm fine."
With that he fell silent. He'd used his key and let himself in over twenty minutes ago, and the first thing she managed to say was a lie. Her stubbornness reared its ugly head at the worst of times, and now it wasn't nearly as endearing a trait.
If she couldn't open up to him, if she couldn't even manage to let him hold her while she sorted through her thoughts, then what the hell was there to do?
His eyes widened infinitesimally when the solution slammed into him with the force of a tidal wave. Only one person he knew had crawled under her skin and taken up residence without tripping her alarms.
Goddammit. He wanted to fight that knowledge, but there was no dispelling it once the thought entered his mind. This was for Kate, he told himself. She was worth more than his pride.
"I'll be right back," he mumbled against her forehead, placing a soft kiss there before grabbing her phone off the night stand and removing himself from the room. She barely acknowledged him.
He dialed before his stubborn fingers could refuse to push the buttons.
"Beckett?" Castle answered immediately with unconcealed worry and relief.
"No, it's Josh." He heard a sharp inhale on the other end of the line, nearly chuckling at how well that reflected his own reaction to the idea of this phone call. "Kate needs you here. I don't know what to do."
"I'm leaving now." He wasn't exaggerating; the sound of a door slamming in the background was proof he'd dropped everything to come right over, reflecting Kate's accounts of his loyalty with incredible accuracy.
There was no need to ask why, Josh noted. It was as if Castle had been waiting for this; like he held the knowledge that Kate wouldn't tell her own boyfriend.
"Thank you." There were layers present in his tone; anger, helplessness, gratefulness, and submission all took their turn controlling his trembling voice. He ended the call, took a deep breath, and walked back to the source of his confusion.
When he returned to her side, he didn't touch her. Instead, he pulled a blanket over her form. It didn't stop tremors from wracking her body, but the gesture was comforting enough to allow her to breathe with more ease.
Kate felt the corner of her bed sink under his weight, but he kept a constant buffer of two feet between them for the next fifteen minutes. She kept track of every second by counting his labored breaths. Every five or so inhales, his breathing would falter under the weight of unsaid words.
She knew the look on his face. It was the one he got before leaving for an emergency surgery, when he was already mentally planning every step of the procedure.
Kate didn't have ask who was about to become his unwilling patient for two reasons: he was there so fast she didn't have time to consider it, and it could really only be one person.
At the sound of a knock, Josh sucked in a gush of air and sprang to his feet without hesitation.
Tension, thick and boiling, filled the space between Castle and Josh once the barricade of the door was removed. Castle felt an overwhelming urge to shove past the mammoth arm blocking his way.
Because Kate was alone, breaking down silently while her boyfriend's ego stood in his path.
After she'd told him to go home, told him that her dad would be there and so she didn't need him, he felt as if he were being pushed toward the edge of a cliff.
But he saw now that she was pushing him away from the edge so she could fall with no witnesses. No one would be there to hear the crash.
He needed to see her, to catch her before she hit the ground.
Finally, Josh noticed the depth of Castle's worry, removing his arm to allow entry.
"In the bedroom," he gestured, following right behind him. They almost had a collision when Castle turned back around in disapproval.
"Maybe you should give us some privacy."
A wall of silence that was nearly more violent than physical blows stretched between them, only to come crumbling down when Josh's voice broke through. "I'm here until she tells me to go."
Castle took his words with a smirk and a nod. "So am I."
Josh sighed. "I guess we'll be seeing a lot of each other."
"I guess so," he said with a challenging glint in his eyes.
Castle swept through the room and to her side in a flurry, leaving the air around him buzzing with anxiety. As his eyes fell on hers, she felt his gaze bore through the layers of tears, lies, and defenses until he was simply looking at her.
"You said your father would be with you." His words cut to her heart and added guilt to the whirlwind of negativity storming within her chest.
And then he sat beside her, running a hand soothingly across her neck until it found purchase on her shoulder. With his touch came spurts of comfort and warmth that cleared up the fog around her composure. She found the strength to take one fulfilling breath without her lungs aching.
"I lied," she mumbled on a heavy exhale. It was meant to bring laughter, but none could bubble over the lump in her throat.
Castle shook his head in disappointment. "To keep me away?" It wasn't truly a question, and he wasn't nearly as offended as she would have expected. He'd grown overly familiar with her boundaries.
"There are some things I have to deal with on my own," she rationalized.
His eyes turned a shade darker, clouded with fury and self-restraint neither realized he had the capacity for. With purpose he withdrew his hand and placed it in his lap, watching carefully for a reaction.
Kate's face crumbled noticeably. The effort she expended just on functioning took away any excess energy she normally used to control her expressions.
She didn't have to take it back. There was a plea hidden in her posture, and he accepted that as an invitation and an apology for pushing him away. His hand returned to her, this time resting gently on her upper arm.
"What kind of things?" Josh asked from the doorway. Half of his body was aimed eagerly toward the exit, but his determination remained firmly in the bedroom with them.
Kate opened her mouth to placate him, but Castle's harsh look stopped the diluted explanation from escaping the confines of her shaky lips. "Tell the truth," he whispered, glancing in Josh's direction in time to catch his look of surprise.
She focused on her breathing for a few moments; trying and failing to avert her troubling thoughts so she could form a list of pros and cons. Should she reveal everything to Josh? After over a year of hiding the most horrifying corners of her past, this conversation could shed light on her monsters. Castle had already forced his way into the battle. How could she ask anyone else to join the ranks?
It wasn't really up to her; that much was becoming obvious just by meeting the writer's stare. An entire argument took place in a matter of seconds. With one quick narrowing of his eyes, he told her now or never. She either had to cut Josh loose or let him know what he was about to face.
Kate turned to the man at her door, glad for the distance between them. It would make this easier. There would be fewer steps to watch him take when he decided to leave.
"I told you my mother is dead," she rasped, the words never easy even after all the times she'd had to voice them.
Josh nodded in confusion, the opening line driving scenarios in his head into a thousand different directions.
"She was murdered thirteen years ago, and yesterday her killers were brought to justice." The last word tasted like acid on her tongue. Could you call it that? Was it justice when she was forced to shoot the man behind the madness? When his accomplice was sentenced to life without parole? She wasn't sure which was more satisfying, but the fact that she derived any kind of pleasure from it made her sick with herself.
"God, Kate," Josh whispered almost reverently, fists clenching, withholding the urge to rush to her side. His furrowed brow betrayed the amount of effort it took to deny his instinct to help. He sensed – how, she wasn't sure – that she needed Castle to be by her side while she told this story.
His pity and respect only drove the nail farther into her chest. She didn't deserve either. She deserved to be locked up with the other criminals, because after yesterday she was convinced there was no longer a distinction.
Kate was too involved in the case. Another cop might have gotten both suspects out alive because they didn't have a personal investment. She went in, gun blazing, ready and willing to do whatever it took.
But maybe it shouldn't have taken a bullet. The higher ups declared it a rightful shooting. Kate questioned the ruling to the point of tears and self-loathing.
With the slightest movement in her index finger, she'd caused the net of loss and grief to spread and envelop the new mourners. Even killers had family, had friends; they all had people like Kate who would never be the same.
What had she done?
Sensing the track her mind was taking, Castle stroked her arm. It trailed fire with his words, spoken softly but with conviction. "That's not all of it. You can do this."
Kate wasn't so sure, but she didn't have to be as long as he was. She drew on that strength, on that certainty, and nodded.
"I killed a man." Having said it aloud, she simultaneously felt relief flood through her veins while her skin turned cold and housed goose bumps. It was in the open now, and nobody fled the room in horror. Nobody left her or accused her like she expected – like a masochistic part of her wanted.
Josh took three long steps to reach her, standing by Castle in order to hold her hand. He laced their fingers, kissing each one in turn. The warmth of his lips spread until it dried up her tears.
"Thank you," he said for the second time that afternoon, and this time only with appreciation in his tone. He'd known from the beginning she would be worth the wait. All he needed was one crack in her defenses, one glance behind the wall, to gain proof they had a chance.
"I'm so sorry," she mouthed. Her voice had taken a dive into the guilt-infested waters, drowning as she waded to shore. The apology blanketed every moment of the past thirteen years she regretted, all culminating to the end of her addiction.
Now she was in withdrawal, but it would pass as the rest did. She'd made her stand, and after all she'd put them through, she was still lucky enough to have people willing to stand with her.
This has been the most frustrating one-shot I've ever written. I almost bombed Kate's apartment at the end of the story just to teach the characters a lesson.
It wouldn't be anything like this without the help of Eline and Jade, so thanks to them. Eline came up with the title.