All thanks to Cartographical Conspiracy for Insta!beta services. Any mistakes or soppyiness are the result of ignoring her good advice.

Pre-ep for Killshot, based on the promo. No other spoilers. No hope this is what we'll see :)

The boys try to stop him, telling him Beckett will never forgive him for seeing her like this.

It's probably true, but Castle doesn't care. He can hear her through the door of Wyatt's now-vacant hotel room, cries that sound like she's hacking off pieces of herself. She can hate him forever, but he can't leave her alone with that.

Of course, there is the small problem of the door being locked.

In the end, all he needs is a good swift kick, the kind of thing Esposito's taught him when they go off to "grab lunch", leaving Beckett with her board or her phone or her paperwork. But Esposito's taught him on rotting plywood and plasterboard in the gym upstairs - kicking in a real door, a locked door, hurts. And doesn't happen the first time. Especially when his jeans don't have the give to let him get high enough to hit the magic spot.

It's an old hotel with an old tumbler lock, thank god, not one of those new electronic nine-bar gizmos, but it still takes him three kicks and two shoulder throws to get it open, and by the time he does, he's scared her absolutely shitless. And thank god for that too, because if she wasn't blindly scrabbling for a corner to hide in, she might have actually been able to get her gun out without fumbling it across the room.

And he would be dead. It occurs to him just before he reaches for her that breaking down a door to get to her in the middle of a panic attack might not have been the best idea he's ever had. Second not best idea he's ever had. First would be to put his hands on her right now.

'Kate, it's me, it's Castle, I'm not going to hurt you. I would never hurt you. Kate.'

He says it over and over, crouched a good three feet away from where she's huddled in the corner of the room, says it until her wild gaze finally falls on him long enough to catch. She's breathing like she's running out of air, sharp and shallow and fast, her body rocking with the effort. 'It's me, Kate. I'm here,' he says again, softly, reaching for her with his voice since he doesn't dare reach out his hands. Her eyes stay on his, but he sees the panic in their depths, and beyond that, a terrible awareness. Whatever's happening, she knows that she can't stop it herself.

'I'm here,' he whispers, inching towards her. She doesn't put up her fists, doesn't look like she's going to fight him anymore. That's good, because he can't fight her. Hell, he can't even fight himself right now.

It seems to take forever to reach her, knee-step to knee-step, moving as slowly as he can. His kneecaps hurt, his back hurts, and there's an ache deep in his inner thigh that is already payback for being too old and out of shape to be going around kicking doors down. But he'll worry about that tomorrow, he needs to get to her now, get her out of here now, get her home or back to the 12th, anywhere she might feel safe enough to breathe normally again.

At last, he's there, close enough to ease himself into a position where he can lean against the wall next to her, close but trying not to crowd her too much. 'I'm here,' he says, needlessly. He dares to touch a fingertip to the back of her hand, fisted against her side, and when she doesn't flinch away he slides a little closer, just enough to tug her towards him slightly, offering his shoulder for her to lean against. His bruised shoulder, he realises too late, but she's watching him from under her brows like she expects him to spontaneously leap at her, so he's not going to try to turn around.

She leans, and then she keeps on leaning, past his shoulder, past his other shoulder, burying her face in the crook of his elbow. He's sure she can't be comfortable like this, her body twisted over both their legs, but she's clutching his arm now, too, or rather, clutching the sleeve of his jacket, white fingers twisted in the fabric. He runs his hand over her back as she cries, making hush-hush noises, the kind he makes for Alexis when she's sick or hurt or scared. He can feel every knob of Kate's spine, and he doesn't like that. When did she grow so spider-limbed, so hummingbird fragile?

At last she's quiet, and he waits for the moment to break, for her to sit up and wipe a hand over her face and pretend nothing unusual has happened. He waits, but she doesn't sit up, she doesn't move away. Beneath his hand she's still trembling like they're back in the freezer, only this time he's not freezing too; he has plenty of warmth to share. Something washes over him at that thought, filling him with the force of the ocean. 'Kate,' he breathes, and she breathes back, a final sob, and burrows deeper against his chest, folding herself into his lap. Now is not the time to talk. Now is just the time to curl his arms around her, let his ocean flow over them both, love not quite requited, not quite not, rocking them in gentle waves.

He doesn't know how long they stay like that before she finally shifts deeper into his arms, her forehead burning against his neck. 'I'm so sorry,' she whispers. Her voice is breathy, hollow. Like the freezer, like the hospital. Halfway between this world and the next.

'Don't be sorry,' he whispers back. Her ear is close, so close he could kiss it if he wanted to, which he does, very much, but he's not crazy enough to think that's what she wants from him right now.

'I'm sorry I made you go away. I'm sorry I let you think I didn't hear what you said.'

'It doesn't matter,' he hears himself saying. 'I already knew.'

She sucks in a sharp breath and he tightens his arms before she can fly off, like she always does. Now that he's said it, he realises that of course he's known all along that she remembers. Back in the hospital, back when he looked up at his signing and saw her standing there, all the times she's looked at him since with that tiny smile playing around her lips, he's known. It was just never the right moment to challenge her, and so he didn't. 'But this isn't about that,' he continues. 'Is it?'

She shakes her head.

'Kate. Whoever this sniper is, he's not the guy who shot you.' He licks his lips, praying she won't ask him how he knows. Her detective instincts are shaky right now, but they're not gone. Still, he can't let her go on thinking this guy is really after her. 'No one's going to shoot you again, I promise.'

'I know. If they wanted me dead, I'd be dead. I know it's not him.' She tilts her head back against his shoulder, giving him the saddest smile he's ever seen, brushing her fingers through the hair at the base of his neck, as if there's some comfort for her in the gesture. 'I sent you away because I didn't want you to see this.'

'You've been having panic attacks since you were shot?'

'I know they're not real, I know it's just in my head. I can, I could...I could control it. It's fight or flight, so I run, I punch the bag, I get it under control.'

He understands the extra hollows in her cheeks now, the sharpened edge of jaw and clavicle and wrist. He's watched her wolf down a dozen meals; he knows she eats. It's all the running and fighting, all the fighting herself, that's what's making her so thin.

'But right now, you can't outrun it.'

'Right now...' She hesitates. Her gaze unconsciously shifts to his lips as she goes somewhere inside her own head, chasing a thought like a suspect in a maze. He can see it in the tiny interplay of muscles at the edge of her mouth, between her eyes; knows exactly the moment that she catches it and throws it against a mental wall. Her fingers are at his jaw now, nails lightly raking his stubble. It's too light a touch, it tickles, but he clamps his teeth together because he's damn well not going to tell Kate Beckett to stop touching him.

'I was afraid for you,' she finally says, lifting her eyes. 'I was afraid this time it was going to be you.' She shudders on an indrawn breath and curls into him again.

And suddenly it hits him, that this is her answer to the question he's been too afraid to ask. If the thought of losing him affects her like that, sends her into an incoherent tailspin of thwarted adrenaline and sheer, utter panic, then surely she must love him, too. He'd thought she might, hoped she might, after the bomb and the bank and an evening on the couch after dinner, after Martha and Alexis had not-so-discreetly gone to bed. Playing poker for M&Ms and drinking the rest of the wine in a companionable silence, but she kept sneaking looks at him when she thought he was looking at his cards. He's hyperaware of her now, and so he was aware of the warmth of her gaze, the soft smile he didn't want to hope meant what he didn't dare think about in her presence. But this time, now, he's sure. He's sure and he's smiling. Grinning like an idiot, in fact.

She loves him. He's sure.

She uncurls one hand and reaches for the lapel of his jacket, rubbing the corduroy edge between her thumb and forefinger as if she's testing it for strength, for give. Finally, she takes a long, steady breath and tilts her head back against his arm again, the edge of her bottom lip caught between her teeth. He knows that expression, it's Beckett literally shutting herself up, afraid of what she wants to say.

So he leans forward and says it for both of them. A breath of lips over lips, a promise for a kiss, more than a kiss itself. A toe dipped in the ocean of what might be between them, that endless, inexorable force. He's looking forward to that, the lightning storms and the crashing waves, but for now this will do, this stolen moment, this gentle tide quietly lapping at the shore.