It started like any standard operation. They pulled up to the warehouse with sirens off and Kevlar on, like any other day. Inside the building was another story – the interior looked entirely too much the inside of the old warehouse where Dale Landers had pulled a gun on her. He had been the first to do so since her recovery from surgery, and she had frozen up, shocking herself and scaring Castle. Beckett felt the familiar fluttering in her stomach and tightening in her chest as she walked into the building, and indulged a moment's pause and a deep breath before going further. She was relieved when no one noticed.
They had hardly taken their formations when one of the two suspects fired his .45 at an electrical box, knocking out all the lights in the room. Then a bright light and a loud bang filled the warehouse as the two suspects threw flash grenades onto the floor and everything was obscured in a panic. Disoriented, Beckett, Ryan, and Esposito all hit the floor, squinting against the light and fighting the ringing in their ears. When she first sat up, Beckett couldn't even see Castle, and she almost cried out for him, but stopped herself to avoid giving away her position.
From behind her, she heard the telltale crack of a gunshot, and the ricochet off the metal wall that followed it. It was a sound she heard almost every day, but in the dark, on the ground, in the too-familiar warehouse, something inside her snapped. Every muscle in her chest seized up, crushing her lungs and her ribs, and she choked for breath, trying to steady herself but unable to stop shaking from the adrenaline that inundated her. Alongside the adrenaline came the flood of memories from the week in May that had sent her into a spiral and almost taken her life. Her anger at Castle... the hole in her heart where the answer to her mother's case should be... Rick pulling her kicking and screaming out of the hanger... Montgomery's dying breath... The funeral... the eulogy... the gunshot...
Present-day gunshots rang out, and Beckett curled in on herself on the floor, her fingernails scraping the grit on the concrete and sending chills down her back. The scar on her chest where the scalpel had sliced her open burned, and her heart wavered, beating rapidly and weakly as she struggled to suck in air.
Ryan had the presence of mind to radio in for backup, and Esposito chanced a shot at one of the suspects. He hit the suspect in the leg, and his partner turned back to help him. Esposito took advantage of the distraction to take down the partner as well, while Ryan pulled himself off the floor and followed Esposito, and they cuffed the two suspects.
Beckett was paying only passing attention to all this as she scanned the room for Castle. She prayed he wasn't hurt, but even as she tried to focus on the thought, the feeling of panic and the crushing pressure in her chest redoubled and she cried out, covering her ears against the sounds of gunshots that were only in her head.
Ryan turned back and saw her, then momentarily looked back and forth between her and their recently cuffed suspects. "Castle!" he yelled. "Beckett's hurt! Go help her!"
Castle pushed himself up, breathing unevenly and examining the damage. When the flash-bang had gone off, he had stumbled over an old crate and fallen into something sharp and metal – he couldn't tell what in the dark, but it had ripped his jacket and shirt and gouged deeply into his shoulder, which was now bleeding profusely. He grinded his teeth, trying to breathe through the pain, although it was radiating down his arm and across his chest. He looked around the dark warehouse room, following the sound of Beckett's labored breathing.
"Beckett!" he called out, collapsing next to her and instinctually clutching his bleeding shoulder. "Where are you hurt?" he sputtered, reaching out for her.
Beckett pulled away, crying harder and shaking her head. Castle didn't understand.
"What is it?" Castle asked.
"No!" Beckett cried, trying to crawl away from him.
"Kate!" Castle yelled, getting frustrated. He was fatigued and in searing pain from the cut across his shoulder, and chasing her wasn't helping. "Look at me! Where are you hurt?"
Beckett turned back and looked at Castle, recoiling at the sight of his bloodied clothes. Castle drew in a sharp breath at the look on her face. He had never seen her so haunted. He didn't understand. Beckett froze, dropping her head to her knee and shaking violently. She shook her head, covering her ears with her hands and digging her fingernails into her scalp. Castle leaned forward on one knee, and with his good arm lifted up her chin.
"Are you okay?" he asked. From so close, he could see that her face was streaked with tears stained by eyeliner, and her clothes were soaked in cold sweat.
"No, no," she cried, unable to meet his eyes. "Castle!" she said desperately.
He couldn't tell if she was begging him to help her, or admonishing him to back off. "What's going on?" he asked, looking over her body as he searched for injuries.
Her eyebrows rising in deep concern, Beckett reached out for Castle's shoulder, trying to see how badly he was hurt, then recoiling again when she saw it.
"I'll be fine," said Castle, "it's just a deep cut. Couple stitches and I'll be good as new. I just need to take care of you."
Beckett squeezed her eyes shut tightly and tried to catch her breath, but it still came in ragged, choking sobs.
"Please!" Castle begged her. "Where are you hurt?" He put his hand on her back, both to comfort her and to feel for blood, though he found none.
She shook her head again, then leaned in closer to him, resting her face against his chest, pressing against the warm blood that was oozing from his shoulder. "Gunshots," she whispered, so softly Castle almost thought he imagined it. She shivered, smearing his blood across her cheek. Beginning to understand, Castle wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close. Perhaps feeling safer, Beckett surrendered, letting go and leaning her weight on him as she cried.
"It's the memories, isn't it?" Castle asked.
Beckett nodded. "Castle... I can't breathe," she said.
"Sure, you can," said Castle, though he wasn't so sure himself. She seemed to be simultaneously hyperventilating and struggling to get air. "Kate. Breathe with me, okay?" He pressed her closer against his chest so she could feel him breathing, and took slow, even breaths, hoping she would follow. "Come on, Kate. Breathe."
For several minutes they sat there. Castle was intently focused on breathing, both to encourage Beckett and to endure his own pain from the injury. Beckett was still crying, gripping the folds of Castle's shirt. A while later, Ryan came back inside to check on them.
"Are you two okay?" he asked. "How bad are you hurt?"
When he got no answer, he walked closer to them. "You guys okay?" he asked again.
"I think so," said Castle. "She's not hurt, just..."
Beckett pulled away, looking up at Ryan, who registered a look of shock at the blood and tears coating her cheek.
"Castle, what happened?" Ryan asked.
"It's just a cut. Tripped and fell on something sharp. I'll be fine."
Ryan took a look at the cut. "You should probably go to the ER," he said.
"Ehh..." Castle faltered. He didn't want to leave Beckett alone when she seemed so broken. "You think Lanie can fix me up?"
"Probably," said Ryan. "What's going on? Beckett? You sure you're not hurt?"
Beckett nodded, staring at him with wide, haunted eyes.
"Okay..." said Ryan, having an idea of what was going on, but hesitant to say so. "Let's get back the to Twelfth. And neither of you are driving. " He gave Castle a hand up, and Castle in turn helped Beckett to her feet.
"It's gonna be okay," he whispered in her ear. She gripped his elbow, still shaky on her feet, and followed him and Ryan out to her car.
With some chagrin, Ryan moved the seat of Beckett's car up a couple inches, and drove not to the precinct, but to the morgue to meet Lanie. He called her on the way there and tried to explain, but ended up just telling her they would give her the full story when they got there.
Fortunately, she was able to clean and suture Castle's cut fairly cleanly. She seemed worried sick over the condition of her friend, though, and spent extra care cleaning all the blood and tears and smeared makeup from Beckett's face.
"Sweetie, anything you need, you know you can call me, right?" she asked.
"I know," said Beckett quietly, staring at her shoes.
Lanie squeezed Beckett's hand, then lowered her voice. "And if you keep having panic attacks like this, you really should talk to somebody. You know, professionally."
Beckett nodded. Lanie didn't know she was already seeing a therapist. No one did. Though, now, she almost dreaded their next session, as she would have to both admit what had happened and risk getting suspended, and worse, she would have to relive and retell the whole event again. She shuddered.
"You better be going home for the day," said Lanie. "Get a change of clothes and some rest, okay?"
Beckett followed Lanie's eyes to her sleeve, which had gotten bloodied when Castle was holding her. "Ahh!" she moaned, her face contorting in worry. She knew it wasn't her own blood, but it didn't matter. The image was clear enough to trigger the flashbacks. She shook her head as the memories threatened to block out the present once again.
"Honey..." Lanie sighed sadly, and helped Beckett out of her coat. "I'll wash this for you, okay? You take mine." She pulled her jacket out of the cubby where she kept her personal belongings and handed it to Beckett, who put it on and slid off the counter.
"Thanks Lanie," she said. "I'll give it back to you tomorrow."
Ryan and Esposito were standing outside the door. "You two alright?" Esposito asked.
Castle nodded, pulling back his torn and bloody shirt to reveal the gauze Lanie had taped over the stitches. Beckett said nothing, trying not to look at his blood-soaked clothes.
"We'll take care of the rest of this case," said Esposito. "You two take the day off." He leaned closer to Castle, lowering his voice. "Make sure she gets home," he said. Castle nodded.
"Come on, Kate," he said quietly. "Let's get outta here."
"I'll drive you home," Ryan chimed in. "Might as well get your car back to the station anyway."
"Thanks," said Beckett quietly, and they followed Ryan outside to where the car was parked.
They were all quiet on the drive. It was the middle of the day, and there wasn't much traffic for Manhattan. When they stopped at Beckett's apartment, Castle walked her to the door, Ryan was a little surprised when they left in a hurry and Beckett didn't asked to be kept apprised of their progress on the case.
Castle had only been in Beckett's apartment on a handful of occasions, and most of those times had been almost as stressful. He thought back to early that fall, on her first case back, when she had nearly cried in front of him that everyone was gone. Castle had been rooted to the spot, wanting to step up and comfort her, but fearful that after their summer apart she would only push him away. He still feared for that, but she didn't seem to be putting up her walls this time. He guessed – and hoped – that she had only shied away from him in the warehouse because of the sight of him covered him blood.
"Castle?" she said breathlessly once they reached her door. She looked up at him, her green eyes shining with ill-masked vulnerability. "Stay with me?"
"You couldn't pay me not to," said Castle, watching sadly as she struggled with the door. Her hands were still shaking so much she couldn't get the key into the lock. "Here," said Castle, closing his hands over hers and helping her with the key.
Beckett stopped, resting her forehead on the door and starting to cry again.
"Hey. Let's go inside. Come on," said Castle. He pushed open the door and walked inside.
Beckett looked around the apartment skittishly as if looking for a lurking predator, and slammed and locked the door as soon as they were inside. "Castle? Can you do something for me?"
"Take your shirt off."
"What?" Castle deadpanned.
"I can't look at it."
"Oh!" Castle laughed nervously, realizing what she meant. "Of course! You're just gonna have to live with me shirtless then. I don't exactly have a change of clothes at your house, you know."
"I don't care," said Beckett. "I'll turn up the heater." She crossed to the thermostat while Castle gingerly peeled off his ruined shirt and jacket.
"Figures," he grumbled. "I liked this jacket."
"You're filthy rich," Beckett reminded him. "Just buy another one."
"Yeah, except the guy that makes these is in Italy for the next six months... I suppose he has my measurements, though," said Castle.
Beckett actually laughed a little at this. "A time like this, and you're thinking of whether your personal designer in Italy has your measurements?"
"Heh... yeah," said Castle. "Funniest things cross your mind in the most stressful moments."
"I wish I had that luxury," said Beckett, sitting stiffly on the couch.
Castle stayed standing for the moment, unsure of what he should do with his blood-soaked clothes. "Are you hungry?" he asked, realizing suddenly that he was.
"No," said Beckett.
"Well I'm starving," said Castle, "I'll order in a bunch of Chinese, and if you want some later, you can have some."
"Okay," said Beckett. She jumped slightly as headlights flashed through the windows.
Castle called in an order from his favorite Chinese restaurant and contemplated where to put his clothes. He ended up raiding Beckett's cabinets until he found a plastic grocery bag and stuffed them in that, tied it off, and left it by the door.
"Is this the first time this has happened?" Castle asked, joining Beckett on the couch and wrapping a blanket around his shoulders, both to keep warm and to hide the bandages.
Beckett shook her head. "It was pretty bad in the first few weeks after surgery," she admitted. "I thought I was doing so much better, though."
"It's okay," said Castle. "I'm sure it's normal to have relapses."
"I guess so," said Beckett. "Oh God, what's Gates gonna say? She's probably gonna put me on probation if not back on disability altogether." She groaned.
"I'm sure Ryan and Esposito won't rat you out," said Castle. "They'll probably just tell her you're following up on another lead."
Beckett sighed. "You really think she'll fall for that?" she asked.
"You can hope," said Castle.
Soon the food arrived, and the smell of it was irresistible, and Beckett changed her mind about not being hungry.
"You know you want some chow mein," Castle tempted her, waving the carton under her nose. "And some Kung Pao chicken." He wafted another.
"I guess it has been a long time since breakfast," Beckett mused.
Castle handed her a pair of chopsticks, and they dug into the hot food.
"Thank you, by the way," said Beckett in between bites of chicken.
"Of course," said Castle. "The least I could do after a day like this is treat you to lunch."
"I meant everything," said Becket. "Looking after me today. I appreciate it."
"Always," said Castle, setting down his chow mein to look her in the eyes. "Kate, I'm always gonna have your back, okay? I thought I lost you that day in May. I'm gonna everything I damn well can to keep you safe. You know that, right?"
"Yeah," said Beckett, choking back tears again. "I'm sorry you keep having to rescue me. I never thought when I met you it would be like this."
Castle smiled and wiped the tears off her face. "Neither did I, but I kind of hoped."
"You hoped I would be this tragic mess?" Beckett asked, almost smiling.
"No," said Castle. "Just that... you know. This."
"I never thought this is how you'd first be shirtless in my apartment," said Beckett, smiling in earnest.
"Tell me about it," said Castle. "You don't happen to have any way too big t-shirts, do you?"
"Not big enough to fit you," said Beckett. "Sorry."
"Shirtless it is, then," said Castle.
Beckett smiled and took another bite of chicken. "I should probably change too," she said, tugging at her sweaty blouse. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all," said Castle, snatching a bite of her chicken.
Beckett came back a couple minutes later, dressed down in yoga pants and a white knit shirt. Castle noticed, as he had the few times he had been at her apartment before, how small she looked without the stilettos and trench coats. He noticed more than ever this time, though, because she still looked so shell-shocked. The cocky, aggressive Beckett he had come to know was nowhere to be seen on her face.
"Better?" Castle asked. "You better come quick or I'm gonna eat all your chicken."
"Yeah, much better," she said. "You'd better save me some."
. . .
After several hours of just sitting and talking, Beckett had finally relaxed enough that she fell asleep, curled up on the couch. Her toes were almost in Castle's lap, and he watched her sleep, unable to let his own guard down. He was glad she was resting, but without their conversation to distract him, he found himself reliving his own nightmare of watching her flatlining in front of him, bleeding all over the gurney, and then shutting him out for months. He hoped it would never happen again. He was encouraged by the fact that she hadn't kicked him out yet, but he also felt like they were still treading on thin ice. He knew he couldn't keep his secret about her mother's case forever, and he was almost certain she would freeze him out again – maybe for good – when she found out. But it was either that, or risk really losing her, and he wasn't about to take that chance.
Without a second's warning, Beckett woke up and sat straight up, screaming.
"Whoa!" said Castle, startled by her sudden outburst. "Kate! Are you okay?"
"Castle?" she whimpered.
He suspected she either didn't know where she was, or had forgotten he was there. "Yeah," he said. "I'm right here. What happened?"
She opened her eyes and looked up at him, then her eyes darted around the room.
"There's no one else here," Castle promised. "I've been awake this whole time."
Beckett tried to steady her breathing and raked her hands through her hair. "Every goddamn time I close my eyes..." she groaned.
Castle took a chance and put a hand on her shoulder. "I don't know how you live like that," he admitted. "Do you get any sleep at all?"
"Not much," she admitted. "I just have to take everything one day at a time."
"I believe in you, Kate," said Castle. "You're gonna get through this."
"I hope so." She rolled her head back, groaning at the stiffness in her neck from sleeping awkwardly on the couch.
"Hey. Come here," said Castle.
"Come here!" Castle patted the space in front of him on the couch. Beckett looked at him suspiciously, but scooted closer anyway.
"Castle? What are you doing?"
"Relieving tension," he said, gently massaging her neck and shoulders.
"Oh," said Beckett, relaxing at his touch.
She closed her eyes, intentionally focusing on the feeling of his hands on her sore muscles and nothing else. Someday, she wanted to count on this. Someday, when things weren't so complicated. Someday, when she was rid of every last brick of the wall. But this was enough for now. As Castle loosened the tightly wound knots in her neck, she could almost feel the mortar melting away.