Author's Notes: I'm too close to this to know if it's any good, but it needed to be written, for me, because I've seen a lot of speculation about Killshot (there are spoilers, kind of), and talk of PTSD and, in a loose way, mental illness, and I'm sure some people speak from more experience than I do, but some definitely don't.
So maybe this goes a little further than the show ever would, and yes, the working title was 'Kate Beckett has a psyche history', but you know, a lot of us do, and a lot of us have the scars to prove it. So I wanted to write this for anyone who has struggled, with depression or anxiety or other mental illnesses, because I think that sometimes, we need someone else to carry our story. One of the things I have loved about Kate Beckett this season is that she has asked for the help she needs. Maybe if she can do it, we all can?
Trigger warning: Talk of mental illness, and a brief glancing mention of self-harm/suicide.
give me the heart of an archeologist,
that I may dig until I prove that I exist.
a subterranean cathedral in my midst,
where echoes come to rest.
His hand is on her shoulder. She focuses her mind on it and closes her eyes, holds her breath, counts to ten with her hand resting below her ribs. When she opens them, she focuses on her father's watch, watching the second hand tick. The hand on her stomach rises and falls, three seconds each, just like she practiced with the therapist. For five minutes there is nothing else in the world except her lungs that are a surgeon's masterpiece inflating, the tiny machinations driving the hands of the watch and Castle's hand, firm, on her shoulder. She uses it like an anchor.
Much later, when Ryan and Esposito have pretended they didn't see a thing, and the murder board is fresh with erasable ink, he hovers at her shoulder.
"Castle," she says. "Don't."
"What? I'm not doing anything," he protests, but it's weak.
"You're treating me like I might break, like I did."
She makes him easily, on mark. He finds it in him to be ashamed as she turns, knowing they're alone, and lets her fingers close around his sleeve.
She shakes her head, runs her hand along his arm, and, tall in her heels, presses her lips to the no man's land between the corner of his mouth and his cheek. "I'm not broken Castle." I never will be, she thinks. "They're just moments. They pass."
He nods because he thinks he might understand. (It wakes him in the middle of the night sometimes, the memory of her blood beneath his hands and so much of it, pumping furious against his pressure, her heart, always resisting him, protesting against his fingers.)
And she shifts her attention back to the murder board, frowning as she turns something over in her mind. He sees the idea light up her face and they put the serious thoughts aside, catch a killer, and as he watches her through the one-way glass, ringmaster and caged tiger in equal measure, he really believes that nothing could ever break her.
When the adrenaline has worn off though, and the paperwork is started if not complete, he sees the way her hands forget her as she reaches for her bag. A breath rattles out of her and she closes her eyes, just briefly, thinks of something else to forget her rabbitting heart. She can tell he's watching her, hopes it doesn't show too much.
"Hell of a day," he says, when she opens her eyes and meets the gaze she knows is resting on her.
(Sometimes it's unnerving, but today it's like a blanket and she lets it unwind whatever is tightening inside her, as much as it can.)
"Yeah." She bites into her lip. "There's been a lot of those lately."
"I don't know about you, but I could use a drink."
He looks so hopeful, but she can't take alcohol tonight. It'll undo her further and things might spill that shouldn't. (She's the adult child of an alcoholic. She knows that all too well.)
"Raincheck?" she says, one hand rubbing at her temple. "To be honest, I just want to go home."
"Then we can order takeout."
She sighs, stands just beyond his shoes. "Okay."
(She's too tired to fight him, and maybe she doesn't really want to, but she's always been wary of that. He disarms her. And she knows she'll give him everything, the good and the bad of her, if he asks enough. She'll ask him to save her and he'll try, but how could he? She knows that you have to save yourself.)
She's quiet the entire ride to her apartment, and she only looks at him once, apologetically. He hears the wordless apology; his eyes linger on her profile. Once upon a time she wouldn't have let him be here though, and he's grateful enough for that. He doesn't need words if she doesn't want them.
He watches as she kicks off her shoes. There's a pile of them accumulating by the door and to him that speaks volumes. This case has been wearing at her since they started. (Normally, she's ordered, precise, not a thing out of place.)
His hand rests heavy between her shoulder blades. She doesn't turn, just sighs and leans against the wall.
"Go, change," he says. "I'll order whatever you want."
"I don't care." She's not really hungry anyway.
"Then I'll order everything I can think of."
It draws her eyes. She pivots on a heel. "Of course you will." She huffs it out like a reprove but her eyes are smiling. "Order something that resembles real food."
He watches the movement of her body as she crosses the room. There's no swing in her hips, just the tense line of her shoulders. Castle has the sudden urge to hug her, to reach for her, but she's too far away.
(Probably in more ways than one, he thinks.)
In the kitchen, he opens the drawer where he knows the takeout menus are, even though he can probably guess both their orders to any of her preferred places. It's not intentional. He's just rummaging for the menu from the Italian place they order from, and his hands close around it. (And maybe he shouldn't have looked, but he just assumed they were leftover from the days of post-operative narcotics.)
She catches him with it in his hand of course. He sees her face cloud, hair wet and curling at the ends, soaking into the towel around her neck. He hates to be the cause of it.
"Kate," he says, helplessly. "I didn't mean -"
Her anger flickers once and dies completely. It's almost worse. "No," she sighs out, "I suppose you didn't. It doesn't matter. You might as well give them here now."
She reaches over and takes the box from his hands, pulls out the blister packaging. The pill pops into her hand with the split of foil and pop of plastic and he watches her as she puts it in her mouth before she reaches for a glass of water. She swallows it dry, raises the glass to her lips and eyes him eyeing her while she does it.
"How long?" he asks her.
She shrugs. "About a month since the shooting. Clonidine for the nightmares, this for ... everything else."
He looks at her.
She doesn't mean to snap but it comes out harder than she intended. She can stand many things, but she won't bear his pity. She doesn't need another burden she can barely carry, not when it comes to him. She already has the guilt, and, perhaps, a little regret.
"Nothing." He stays on his side of the kitchen, leans against the counter, bumping the drawer closed. "Does it help?"
"Most of the time."
"And ... for how long?"
"Until I don't need the help anymore," she says simply, conversation closed, and pads across her wooden floors, reaches behind him for the menu and studies it. She hands it back to him. "Surprise me."
He orders their usual order because he knows her; she hates surprises, things beyond her control.
They don't talk much while they eat, or pick, more accurately, turning food over with their forks, watching pasta traverse the length of plastic takeout boxes. Finally, she sets hers down and meets his never-wandering stare. Her fingers close around his wrist where it idles on the back of her sofa. "What are you thinking?" she asks. "And tell me the truth. I'm too tired to play games."
"It was never a game," he says. "Not for me, not with you, not really."
She nods her understanding, just once. "But that's not what you're thinking now."
"No," he agrees, watching as she shifts, her weight braced against his arm as she curls her legs beneath her. "Don't take this the wrong way," he tells her. "But I just... I'm surprised. I know I shouldn't be. I just thought... I thought I'd know."
"You weren't," she pauses, wonders how to smooth over the subject of the summer, when she left him alone in the city with his own grief to spare him the depths of hers. "You didn't see the worst of it," she tells him, finally.
"Is that why you never called?"
"I couldn't get out of bed most days." It's a fact stated; there's no emotion in her voice as she says it, no hint that it's hard for her though he's sure it is. She feels detached from it though, now. She knows that that person was her. She knows it was her who could lie for hours and stare at the walls, the shadows that passed across them, aware all the while that it was time slipping away from her, the air hot and thick like honey, the ticking of her father's watch suffocating. She knows she was exhausted by the weight of limbs, fascinated by the throb of her pulse, sometimes liked to press too hard on her healing sternum to reassure herself that she was real. (Because even then, it didn't feel like her.)
She couldn't have called him even if she'd wanted to because her mind had been alphabet soup, heavy with letters, unable to form words. The thoughts were too big to be voiced.
(And there was part of her, that black part of her that didn't care that she'd survived, that almost wished she hadn't, that part didn't want her to call him. It was insidious and didn't want to be saved. It told her she didn't deserve him; sometimes it's still so loud that she believes it.)
She didn't love him in the summer because she didn't love anything. She was empty then, as though she'd lost more than blood lying on the grass under the shadow of his face and the blinding sun.
(Part of her still thinks it would've been an ending that befit her. There was a peace to it, after the pain faded with her vision. The sunlight had been warm on her cheeks and he was there, saying he loved her and really, how else would she want to go?
She still hasn't told the therapist that.)
"You still could've called." He reaches up and covers her hand, brushes his thumb along her knuckles. "You always can."
"Most of me knows that." She flexes her hand, laces their fingers together. "But that part of me, the part that needs the drugs," she pauses in a kind of vocal shrug. "Castle, sometimes it just won't let me. It's not you." She squeezes his hand. "I promise it's not you. And I'm sorry for it, I really am, and I'm so-" it leaves her as a rush of air, "- grateful that you're patient with me."
"Kate." It's gentle and admonishing. "You don't have to thank me for that."
"I want to."
She pulls her hand away and he feels the loss of it, fingers itching to touch her. They settle on her shoulder as her hands come to rest between her clavicles. He's slow to realise what she's doing, as she pops her buttons one by one and then he stares, transfixed. "Beckett what are you..."
"Don't get too excited Castle," she cautions as she negotiates the last button and lets the shirt fall open, tugging it off her shoulders.
The chain that symbolises the weight of her grief is hanging around her neck, her mother's ring flat against the heave of her chest. He's imagined the moment a hundred times and never did he think that would be what he noticed most.
She reaches out, takes his hand, presses his fingertips against the raised skin of the midline scar.
"I suppose I was always going to have to show you all of it some time," she says, because she's noticed his eyes tracking down to the very tip that sometimes shows above her clothing. (She means it on another level too, of course, always does, with him.)
She lets go of his hand, lets him run his fingers along the length of it, and along the finer scar that bisects the space between her fourth and fifth ribs on the left side, and finally along the fading marks, the wake of the chest drains. The evidence of it is written all over her body. She wonders where it's written on his. (Because surely this has marked him too; she can tell by the way his face changes when he sees all of it. And she's sure he doesn't breathe for the longest time.)
"And this isn't it the half of it, is it?" he asks, running his fingers up to the tip of the largest scar, his fingers somehow darting upward, over her pulsing carotid to the angle of her jaw. He doesn't miss the shiver it sends through her but he's wary of it, of how easy it would be to get lost in this moment and want her and this, this is more important than sex. So he brushes his thumb along the line of it and pulls away.
"No." She sucks in a breath and starts it all. "You know that after my mother died I dropped out of Stanford and came back home, finished at NYU. It wasn't quite winter break, but I finished exams early so I came home and New York was so much colder than California. My mother teased me for noticing it. It snowed, that year, but only after she died. I remember thinking it was never going to end, never going to melt, like it was always going to be that cold and that grey and that white. But I went back to Stanford to finish school. I don't know how I did it. I barely remember the end of the semester. And when I came home in June it was hot, intolerably hot, like it can be sometimes in the city, she was gone, dad was drinking, and it was real."
Her skin is crawling with the memory. He can see it, the hairs on her arms humming with electricity. His hand falls between them on the sofa and she looks up, smiles at his half gesture. Her own flirts with the idea of his, but remains close to her side.
"I guess that's when it all caught up with me." She holds out her wrists, watches as he turns them over in his fingers, sliding his thumb over the scars he finds there.
Castle wonders how he ever missed them. (He's not used to missing things and he's studied her more than most, made a kind of science of it.)
She waits until his hands still.
"I obviously didn't do a very good job," she says, quietly. "You can barely see it now. I think it was just the only way I knew how to ask for help. My dad hadn't noticed. He was busy with his own pain. But this?" She pulls her wrists back but grasps his hands. "Well, the doctors in the ER noticed. I got a pack of those pills and a series of sessions with a psychiatrist and even more with a therapist, and then, by the end of the summer I knew myself again, knew I was going to catch her killer, be a cop. So that's what I did. I've never spared it another thought." (Because he needs to know that, if he's ever going to believe she would never leave him, like he begged her in the cemetery.) "Of course, there was another round with the therapist, you know that, I told you that a long time ago. It was after Royce left though." She sighs, pulls one of her hands free to run it through her hair. "You didn't know that."
"You loved him." He has guessed at it before.
"No." She frowns at it for a moment. "Yes, in a way. It was... it wasn't good. It was complicated, and I think I saw my father in him and I wanted to save him in the ways I couldn't save my dad. That might be the therapist talking though." Her lips quirk at the edges. "And now, you've seen most of it, the scars, the pills, the panic attacks. I see Doctor Burke once a week. Most days I don't even think about it though, it's just some days-"
"Like today," he interjects.
She nods, shifts her weight nervously and feels her heart clench faster in her chest as she says it, trying to make light. "So now you know all of it."
His thumbs navigate her forearms to her elbows and it skitters through her. She'd forgotten that she was kneeling, half-naked in front of him, until that. She swallows.
"I do." The pressure at her elbows is gentle, an invitation not a demand. She takes it, lets him pull her against his chest. It's barely graceful; she shifts as she falls and when she stills, the air huffs out of her. His fingers dabble in patterns against her shoulder.
"So?" She lets herself rest in it, her nose nudging into the hard bones of his shoulder.
"So what?" he asks, breath warm against the crown of her head.
"I don't know," she murmurs. "I've always felt that it changes things, when people know all of it."
He hugs her tighter, presses a kiss against her hairline under the cover of his answer. "Why would it change anything? You've always been the strongest person I've ever known."
(Because the thing is, he's always suspected that all she sees is the cracks, the places where she's put herself back together. But he's always seen the whole, sees how they just cast dancing shadows when the rest of her catches the light.)
"Not always," she says.
"No." He shakes his head against hers, reaches up and tilts her chin until she's looking at him. "You're wrong. It doesn't make you weaker. How could you think that? Kate, so many things have happened to you that you didn't deserve, and if they bowled you over for a moment, that's because of the sheer force of them, not you. Look at you. You're here. You picked yourself up."
His fingers are arcing dangerously close to the skin behind her ears and she realises her neck his straining towards his mouth. She wets her lips, relaxes backward.
"Like you said." They're staring at each other, he's suddenly caught in the intensity of it. "You're not broken."
She nods, twists to face him instead of craning her neck, braces her hand on his chest. "If I kiss you," she says, "Can it just be a kiss? Because I can't promise you anymore than that, and if it's not enough, then I don't want to ask."
"Kate." (She bites into her lip when he says her name. When he does it's always with significance, like it's carrying other, silent words.) "It'll always be enough."
(But maybe it won't be, maybe that's just the author in him, writing a line that sounds better than the truth. That's okay. She knows he means it now.)
His mouth is soft over hers, and it burns through her and afterwards she's left with the thought that really there are no walls, no defenses that will hold, that he's always just stolen through all of them without her permission or knowledge until the after. Her teeth close around her tongue and she wonders at it.
It's too much though, for now. She's always hoped that it will keep. (Always wanted to keep him.)
She brings his hands to her lips and kisses the tips of his fingers.
"I hope that you're right," she says.
(He kisses her again at the door, hand cupping the side of her face, fingers trailing along the still-naked curve of her waist. She closes her eyes, feels her breath catch, counts to ten; all of it is everywhere. She suspects that he knows it, expects that he'll be smug, but when he opens his eyes, she only sees the love that was there all along, but she always misread before.
He smiles like she's given him a gift.)