Naturally, I had to write something based on the Kill Shot promo. I'm by no means an expert in PTSD; I did some research, but like Stana said, you probably can't fully understand it unless it's happened to you. I also have a feeling it's one of those things that affects everyone differently.
Disclaimer: If I owned Castle, I'd already know what happens in Kill Shot...and I probably wouldn't be writing fanfics to survive the mini hiatus.
"Kate!" He pounded on the door with his fist. "Kate!" When there was still no answer and he could hear no movement through the door, he tried again. "Kate, open up! I know you're in there."
After another thirty seconds, Castle gave up knocking and grasped the doorknob. He wasn't sure what he was planning to do, but he certainly wasn't expecting to find the door unlocked. There was a sniper on the loose, terrorizing the city, and her door was unlocked. Castle had spoken to Esposito earlier in the day, saying he didn't think Kate could handle this case, and this was all the proof he needed.
He flew into her apartment, locked the door behind him, and looked around. The place smelled of alcohol, and it wasn't long before Castle's eyes settled on the bottle on the coffee table and the woman huddled behind it. Kate was curled up on the floor, her knees to her chest and her body wedged between the couch and an upended table. There was a glass in her hand, and from the looks of it, it wasn't her first one of the night. She was dressed in yoga pants and a baggy t-shirt, her hair curly and disheveled, and her eyes red, from tears or the alcohol, or both.
In short, she looked like hell.
"Kate!" Castle flew to her side, wrenching the glass out of her hands and placing it and the bottle out of her reach.
"What the hell?" She reached for the bottle but he caught her arms and held her back.
"Castle, get out of here!"
She fought against him, twisting and turning in an attempt to free herself from his grip but he wouldn't budge. In fact, he went so far as to push the table out of the way, kneel in front of her, and press her back against the couch with his hands on her shoulders.
He both felt and saw the moment she stopped fighting. Her body sagged beneath him and her eyes lost a bit of their glazed-over look.
Kate glanced around, horrified as she realized what she'd done. She was hurting, and instead of going to her therapist, she'd turned to alcohol. It was the same thing her father had done all those years ago, and here she was, doing the one thing she'd sworn she would never allow to happen. And to top it all off, Castle was here, witnessing her breakdown. The one person she most wanted to hide this from was the one who'd shown up, unannounced.
And now that he'd seen this, Kate was sure this would be the last time he'd show up anywhere in her life ever again.
"Castle," she choked out. Her eyes were filling with tears and her throat was closing, and it was all she could manage.
"Kate?" He tilted her chin up so she was looking at him. "What's wrong?"
She shook her head, her chin slipping off his fingers, and she looked away again.
Castle wouldn't allow it. "Kate. Talk to me."
Castle wasn't to be deterred, however. Without releasing her, he scooted around so he was seated next to her, his back against the couch as well. He wrapped one arm behind her and looped the other under her knees, pulling her to him.
She pushed against his chest in protest. "Castle!"
She needed him gone, now. She was seconds away from a breakdown and that was something that she absolutely didn't want him to see. She'd done a fairly good job of hiding just how distressed she still was from her shooting. She'd suppressed the symptoms fairly well and she'd managed to hide the bags under her eyes from lack of sleep. But now, with another sniper on the loose, everything was crumbling beneath her and the feelings were flowing out in a landslide.
He pulled her legs up over his so he was cradling her to his chest. "Let it out, Kate. Cry, scream, hit me, do what you've gotta do. I'm not going anywhere."
Kate almost laughed at his words. I'm not going anywhere. Give him another few minutes and he'd be changing his mind so fast.
A car backfired in the street below and she flinched in his arms. The gunshot earlier that morning had been the trigger and since then, everything had quickly unraveled. She'd been struggling with this since the shooting, but Kate thought she had it under control. And maybe she did, in most situations. But after hearing that gunshot and diving for cover while everyone else stood, unaffected, she realized that she was still teetering on the brink of control.
The day had gone downhill from there. Every loud noise set her off. Her team was losing faith in her ability to work this case. Upon arriving home, she was met with an ominous feeling of being watched. She'd shut all her windows - though in her haste, she'd forgotten to lock the door - and the moment she sat down, a panic attack had overwhelmed her. After it passed was when she'd grabbed the alcohol, needing the escape, at least temporarily.
Her breathing sped up again as the backfire echoed through the surrounding buildings.
"Kate. Hey, Kate." Castle cupped her cheek and turned her head to face him. Her eyes were wide with fear, her breathing shallow and rapid, and Castle had done enough book research to recognize the signs of another incoming panic attack.
He pulled her up and around so she was straddling his lap, seated on his thighs. Kate reached out to fend him off but he gently captured her hands and pressed them against his chest. When she stopped fighting it, he let go and tenderly cupped her face in the warmth of his palms.
"Hey, look at me," he said softly. Her eyes met his, full of terror, and it broke his heart that she was going through this. "Breathe, Kate. Take a deep breath, in and out. There you go. Keep breathing, okay? Keep breathing and just relax. I've got you. You're safe, and I'm right here, and I'm not going to let you go."
Gradually, the panic subsided. Her breathing began to slow and her heart rate returned to normal. Tears were streaming down her face and pieces of hair were plastered against her sweaty skin, but Castle paid no heed as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into his chest. Her tears soaked his skin as she buried her head in the crook of his neck. Her hands were still sandwiched between them, palms flat on his chest, and she took comfort in the feel of his heart beating beneath his shirt. It was proof that they were both alive and safe and okay, even if Kate knew she wouldn't truly be 'okay' for a long time.
"I can't do this, Castle," she croaked at last, voice raw and breathing still shaky.
"Can't do what?"
He could feel her lips moving against his neck, suppressed a completely inappropriate shiver. "This case. I can't do it. I can't keep pretending to be strong."
Castle pulled her more tightly against him. "You don't have to be strong around me, Kate. You know that."
"What about everyone else? If Gates finds out, she'll suspend me and send me back to recovery."
"Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing," Castle said hesitantly.
Kate lifted her head abruptly. "What?"
Castle trailed a hand up to the back of her neck and guided her head back against him. "I'm just saying, maybe you need a break. Maybe you need to step back from this case and let the boys take over."
"It doesn't make you weak, Kate," he interrupted, correctly anticipating her next statement. "But you've been through a lot and everyone will understand. No one is unshakable all the time."
She released a sound that was somewhere between a sigh and a sob. This wasn't the first time she'd broken down since the shooting, but this was the first time anyone aside from her therapist had witnessed it. She'd momentarily forgotten the fact that Castle was here, watching her fall apart, but with his words, reality came crashing down on her. He was here. He'd seen everything; her panic attack, the alcohol...all of it. She'd tried so hard to hide the truth, but now her secret was out...and this was the one that had destroyed so many of her relationships in the past.
"How are you still here?" she asked suddenly.
"What do you mean?" he asked curiously, not following her train of thought.
"How can you stand to be here right now? I've been crying for the last hour, I've been drinking, I've been...I'm a mess."
"And you need someone here to help you through it, and that's where I come in."
"But...don't you get it, Castle? This is me. You see me at the precinct where I can put on a mask and compartmentalize, like I was trained to do, but that's not who I am. This," she gestured around the room, "is who I am. How can you even stand it? Honestly, right now I can't even stand to be around myself."
"Kate, listen to me." He tilted her chin up with his fingers so he could look into her eyes as he spoke. They were red and watery and Kate had to force them to stay open. "There's nothing you could ever do that would make me not want to be around you, okay? Especially right now, because you're hurting and I don't like seeing you in pain, and I'm going to be right here until you're feeling better."
She looked away and dropped her head back to his shoulder. "It's not going to happen overnight."
"I know. But for tonight, at least let me share the burden. And tomorrow, I'll find someone you can talk to, someone to help you work through all of this."
"I..." Kate hesitated, unsure if she wanted to admit to this, but figured it would come out eventually anyway. "I already have somebody."
She nodded against him. "The therapist that cleared me for duty. I've been going to see him still."
"Why didn't you say something?"
"I didn't want anyone to know. And I never wanted you to see me like this."
"I'm your partner."
"You deserve so much better."
He hugged her tighter and placed a kiss in her hair. "I don't care what you think I deserve, Kate. I'm your partner and I care about you and I'm making the choice to stay here because there's nowhere I'd rather be. Deserving or not, you're stuck with me."
Kate had never understood how Castle could manage to put up with her. She made a habit of hiding the dark side of her emotions from people because most of them took one look and went running in the other direction. She knew she'd never recover if Castle joined that list of people, which was exactly what she'd feared when he showed up tonight. And yet, here he was. The man never failed to surprise her; no matter how deep her breakdowns were, his love for her, it seemed, ran deeper.
"I don't want to take you down with me," she said in a last-ditch attempt to protect him from herself.
"You won't. I'll be your anchor, and whenever you feel yourself sinking, just grab onto me."
Kate sniffed and wiped a few tears off her cheeks. "Okay."
At long last, he felt her breathing even out and touched her cheek. "Hey, Kate."
"We're gonna be really sore if we fall asleep here."
She looked up at him. "We?"
"If you think I'm leaving you alone tonight, you're wrong."
To be honest, she wanted him to stay. She'd already been mentally preparing herself for the horrible, sleepless night that usually followed these episodes, and having someone with her might make it less miserable.
If he was surprised that she agreed so easily, he didn't show it.
Kate stood and made her way to the bedroom, stopping when she realized Castle wasn't following her. She turned to find him putting the upended pillows back on her couch and righting her end table, picking up the bottle and glass he'd pried away from her earlier and taking them to the kitchen.
"I can't believe I did that," she uttered softly as Castle poured the alcohol down the sink.
"You were alone and upset and scared."
"Yeah but...God, I watched my dad drink himself into oblivion. How could I do the same?"
"The difference here is that this was a one-time thing, Kate," he promised. "You're gonna go see your therapist tomorrow and talk through everything so it doesn't happen again. And if you're struggling, if you need me, just call and I'll come right over. Day or night."
Despite the emotional upheaval she'd been through today, she couldn't help but smile slightly at his assurances, at the sincere tone of his voice, at his faith in her and in them.
He set the rinsed out dishes aside and joined her in the living room. "Come on, it's late."
Kate led him to her room and headed straight for her bed, burying herself in the covers. Castle slipped off his shoes and stripped down to his undershirt and boxers before climbing in next to her. He'd never imagined that this was how their first night in the same bed would go, but there was no way in hell he was letting her face her demons alone. Kate was curled around a pillow and he scooted up behind her, pulling her back into his chest and draping an arm around her waist.
She wiped away a few traitorous tears and rolled over, burying her face in his neck. His other arm slid beneath her pillow, fingers tangling through the wild strands of her hair. Kate pulled the covers tightly around them before allowing her arms to settle, one hand on his chest and the other clinging to his arm.
Castle planted a kiss on her temple. "Get some sleep, Kate," he whispered, and she could feel his breath on her ear. "I'll be here when you wake up."
"Kate." Castle shook her gently, hoping to rouse her from her nightmare. "Kate, wake up."
He'd woken to the feeling of her fingernails digging into his arm and her body shaking against his. Her hold on his arm tightened and he felt her breathe in sharply.
"Kate." He ran a hand across her cheek and down over her shoulder as he spoke her name again.
Her eyes popped open at his plea and she looked around in confusion. "What...?"
"You were having a nightmare," he explained.
Her eyes were tearing up again and her whole body was trembling as the images from the dream came back to her. The sniper had gotten to her this time. He'd broken into her apartment and accused her of turning into her father, of being too weak to handle her life. He'd told her to give up, that her mother would never have justice and that Kate would die a failure. And then he'd shot her, right there in her living room.
She gasped and sat up. "The sniper."
Castle snagged her hand, stopped her from climbing out of bed. "He's not here, Kate. It was just a dream."
"But..." It'd been so vivid.
"No. You're okay. Nobody's here. Come back to bed and let's get some more sleep."
"Castle." His name left her lips in a strangled sob and he gently guided her back into his arms.
"Shhh. I've got you," he said softly, repeating the words over and over again as she calmed.
At long last, she lifted her head and wiped her eyes. "Sorry."
"You don't have to apologize."
"I'll be right back."
Kate slid out of his embrace and made her way to the bathroom. She was almost afraid to look in the mirror, and when she did, what she saw was even worse than she was expecting. Her eyes were bloodshot and puffy. Her nose was red from blowing it so much, her hair looked like she'd had a run-in with an electric fence, and her skin was pale. She knew these nightmares could be debilitating but this was the first time she'd really taken stock of what they did to her.
"I need help," she muttered.
She blew her nose again, splashed a bit of water on her face, and secured her wild hair into a ponytail before creeping back into the bedroom.
Castle silently opened his arms for her and didn't speak until she was settled back against him.
"How long has this been happening?" he asked gently.
Kate looked away, ashamed. "Since the shooting."
"Have you talked to your therapist about it?"
She nodded against the pillow. "Yeah."
"What did he say?"
"That it's normal. That most people who go through some sort of trauma struggle like this."
"But..." he hesitated, unsure if she could handle his next question, but he had to ask, because the facts just weren't lining up. "If you don't remember the shooting, why...?"
"Why do loud noises still freak me out?" she finished for him.
She took a deep breath. This was the moment she'd been dreading since the lie first left her mouth. "I do remember it."
He lifted his head. "What?"
"I do remember."
Kate met his eyes and she could already see the hurt there. "All of it."
His eyes flashed in the darkness and she thought he was going to push her away. She wouldn't have blamed him, but if he left while she was in this state, there was no telling what would happen to her. He rolled away from her but she followed him.
He felt her hand on his cheek and tried to move away. "Castle...Rick...please."
"You lied to me."
"What was I supposed to do?" she practically shouted. "Look at me right now. I can't even get my own life under control, so what was I supposed to say to you? I wasn't ready. I couldn't have dealt with it then."
"You still could have told me."
"I was trying to repress the memory of the shooting so it wouldn't keep haunting me. If I told you I remembered, I wouldn't have been able to do that."
"Yes you could've, because I would've waited, Kate. I'd have let you heal before I brought it up again."
She shook her head. "I didn't know that, though. I thought it would be better to pretend I didn't hear you than to drag you along until I was ready to face it."
"But look what happened now. You hid it for so long that it all just exploded."
Kate shook her head. "No, I just told you, I've talked to my therapist about it. He knows what happened. I haven't been hiding that. And this...like I said, you only see me at work. This isn't new for me. It's worse right now than it usually is, but it's not new."
She could see the anger in his gaze dissipate a bit, though she suspected that hints of it would remain for a while.
She shook her head and tried to move away, but this time he held firm.
"Kate, don't do this. Don't run away."
"You were going to leave anyway, weren't you?"
"Am I disappointed that you lied? Yes. But that doesn't change anything here. I promised you I'd stay and I intend to follow through on that."
"How?" she asked tearfully.
"I told you earlier, Kate, I want to be here. And since you remember everything, I'm pretty sure you can figure out exactly why that is."
She felt bad for lying to him and she knew she'd have to fight for his trust again, but she was thankful that, despite it all, he was still here with her. Were they going to argue about this at some later date? Probably. But if they could survive the horror of this night together, Kate had faith that they could recover from her breach of his trust, too.
"I'm sorry, Castle. I know I shouldn't have lied, but I didn't know what else to do."
She felt him shrug. "It's okay."
She lifted her head to look him in the eye. "Is it really?"
He gently guided her head back to where it had been pillowed on his arm. "Not right now. But it will be. Give me a few days."
Honestly, that was a better than she'd expected. "Okay."
She snuggled into him again and he retightened his hold. Kate rested one hand on his chest, directly over his heart, and though she wasn't yet strong enough to say the words, she hoped he understood her meaning.
Castle buried his face in her hair and kissed the top of her head. He loved her. He'd always love her. And though he didn't want to say that seeing her like this made him love her more - because he'd never wish this upon anyone - he did love that she was letting him in, that she was allowing him to see her while her wall was in shambles. Her complexity and strength had always amazed him, and though this was a darker aspect of her personality, the pure depth of her emotions only intensified his feelings for her.
"Thank you, Rick," she said softly, drawing him from his thoughts. "For being here. For saving me from myself. And for loving me."