It's a Start


When he opens his door, some of the rawness in her chest leaves her.

"Kate."

She holds out the coffee, watching the cup in her hand instead of him, unable to go quite that far. "It's not a hundred."

His chest rumbles, maybe mirth or just. . .pleased with her. He takes it. "It's a start."

"It's decaf," she mentions and finally lifts her eyes when her hand drops back to her side. He's sipping the coffee, expectant or curious, and whatever he finds in its taste (maybe that she knows how he takes his coffee even though she's never the one to get it), it seems to make him happy.

How easy it is to please him.

"You hanging out there, or you wanna come in?" he quirks, lifting an eyebrow at her.

She slides inside, but this isn't where she ought to be. She wanted to drop off the coffee and tell him good-night, see that certainty on his face just to remind herself of what it feels like to be ready. But she can't stay. There's a fine line between depending on her partner to have her back and using him.

Using him.

"Actually, I should go-"

"Drop off my coffee and run? That's no fun. Ooh, that rhymed." He grins ridiculously at her, hopelessly translucent in his intentions, but it does hook her lips, tug up a smile. Despite herself.

His eyes lighten and his grin goes from silly to a little bit hopeful, as if he's been waiting for that and hasn't seen it for awhile and the return is so sweet.

Yeah. She hasn't smiled much the last week or so. Therapy pulls ugly hookworms of issues out of her, tugging on their tails (tales) to draw them out of her, parasitic little beasts that have been eating her for too long now. Smiling doesn't tend to be her first reaction.

He gestures for her jacket and she slides an arm out, switches hands with her coffee, lets him take it down her other arm. He lays it over the back of the couch, as if offering her an easy escape route. If she has to run. She just might. It's been known to happen.

He turns back to her. "How was Roger and the Amazing Resistance Band? Also, can you get their new single on itunes?"

She snorts and shakes her head at him, looking away with her lip caught between her teeth. "Castle."

"Yeah, that was a lame one. Even for me. But since - miracle of miracles - I'm 2 for 2 so far, and my partner doesn't usually laugh at *all* of my jokes, I'm gonna stop while I'm ahead."

She presses her lips together, nods at him. "I think that's a good idea."

"Really though. Physical therapy going. . .good?"

She gives him a look through the fringe of her lashes, tries to figure out how much she ought to share and how much she wants to. Where the golden mean might be between those two disparate figures.

"I go next Tuesday. I wasn't at PT this afternoon."

"Oh. I thought you said-"

"I was at my therapist's." For a different kind of damage. Rebuilding the muscle of her heart that has long since atrophied. Twelve years without movement, and now that it's needed, now that she wants it beating and active and engaged (for this man), it's like a stone in her.

His face doesn't change, but the confusion is gone. Whatever she thought, whatever preconceived notions she built up around Castle, she sees what a disservice she was doing him. Not trusting that he - just like Esposito - could see in that damage just another facet of her strength.

"That's good," he says finally. "I'm relieved." He gives a sigh as he says it, then his shoulders hunch and he glances quickly at her. "Not that I think you need it. Well, you do. But. No, I mean. I know that-"

He stops talking, his mouth gaping open, and a world of shut the hell up you idiot written on his face. She takes pity on his awkwardness and offers him her low-watt smile, understanding and apology both.

"I saw him the week I came back to the 12th." She suddenly wishes she had something at her back to lean against. A wall or the counter. It's exhausting standing up on her own two feet. Just a place to rest. For a moment. "He's helped. Someone to push. A relationship I can't royally screw up by resisting. By shutting down. It's safe."

Men you don't love.

The unsaid, previously-said, words echo in the space between them. He flinches.

"I could use a therapist," he says, a bitterness in his voice she doesn't like. "I don't exactly know what the hell I'm doing here. I'm not sure that *not* pushing is what you need from me."

It's her turn to gape at him, caught off-guard by the honesty in his ragged voice. They don't talk like this.

"It's what I needed these past few days," she offers. But she's not sure it's enough.

"No, it wasn't. You say that, because you think that if you lash out at me, I'll ditch you or stop lo - stop being your partner. As if that's even possible-"

"You haven't been on the wrong end of-"

"Give me some credit here, Beckett." He scratches a hand through his hair and turns his back on her, heading for the kitchen and out of the foyer. She stands there for a moment, wanting to go, escape, but it would be nice to lean against the kitchen island and stop for just a moment. Settle herself. Just be.

"You coming?" he tosses back, opening the fridge. "I could use a snack."

So she follows, her stomach waking up at the mention of food. The cold granite against her side relieves the ache that's made itself known tonight. She might have torn a muscle trying to get up on the roof; it still twinges. Kate sets her coffee down on the counter and reaches for an apple from the fruit bowl.

"What the hell did you do?" he gasps, and snags her wrist, drawing it towards him.

She blinks wordlessly, watches him drop the bowl of leftovers onto the counter, his thumb at the edge of the bloodied bandage.

She forgot to change it; she forgot it was there. She forgot he doesn't yet know - just how deep and dark she's managed to fall.

"Kate."

"I cut myself on some glass. I'm. . .not entirely sure how."

His eyes flock to hers, wheeling from the bandage to her face in a swoop of dizzying speed that makes her throat burn.

He's in love with her.

"You need to keep this clean. Probably should've gotten stitches." He's poking at the bandage with a finger now, trying to peek under the white gauze. She curls her fingers around his grip, her nails just able to meet the edge of his hand.

He's in love with her.

"Got a first aid kit?" she asks, everything about this moment both surreal and all too concrete, too exceptionally real.

"Yeah. Unwrap it and I'll get some stuff."

He disappears down a short hall past the kitchen, maybe a laundry room. She has no idea, not up for finding out. Her hand doesn't tremble when she untucks one corner of the gauze; the blood still seeps but it's crusty with dried patches, a flap of skin that gives a jolt of pain when she pulls away the gauze.

"Here we go," he says, and lays butterfly bandages and hydrogen peroxide, surgical tape and medical gauze on the counter.

"You have a good deal of first aid stuff, Castle."

"I can be clumsy when I'm excited," he mentions off-handedly, leaving her brain scrambled again. In an entirely wrong way.

She's not here to use him. Just lean on him. As a partner. Walk the line, Beckett.

His fingers are warm and, actually, a little clumsy on her wrist. He pulls her around the kitchen island to the sink and pours hydrogen peroxide liberally over the wound. She hisses as it bubbles.

"Don't be a baby," he teases. "It's not alcohol. It's hydrogen peroxide. The sting is in your head."

A lot of the pain is in her head.

"See? Take a breath. You got this."

"Using your own tired lines again, Castle," she mutters, but he's right. It bubbles for a bit, but it doesn't sting. He pours a little more over her forearm, pushing her sleeve back.

"You didn't clean this very well," he murmurs, almost talking to himself, drawing a finger up the inside of her arm, along a smear of dried blood. "Good thing I'm here. Me and my trusty first-aid kit."

She doesn't even bother to reply. He sets the peroxide to one side, twirls the cap back on, and then leans over to blow on her arm, holding her by the wrist and the elbow, his lips millimeters from her skin, his breath cool and ticklish and lovely.

She blinks, feels the awareness crawl up her arm and into her chest, flare out just under her skin, bright and electric.

"Castle?"

He stops, blinks, turns to her look at her with a sheepish smile. "Forgot you weren't Alexis."

The awareness doesn't dim, not even by that comparison, because the tenderness that wraps around his mouth and warms his eyes is just too good, too intimate. All too close to what she longs for.

He leaves her arm in the air over the sink to dry, turns around to collect the bandages. He runs a line of butterflies down the jagged edge of the laceration, swipes at a mixture of blood and peroxide with his thumb before laying a square of medical gauze over it. She watches the concentration on his face as he peels surgical tape from the roll, holds the gauze in place herself while he rips a piece free.

His fingers are firm and quick; she's got a new dressing on in no time.

"There you go. Like new."

"Or close enough," she says. And then she lets the rest of it come out, exposes a few of the uglier wounds. Like remittance. "If you push me too hard, if you don't give me space, you know I push back. I lash out. What if I push you too far?" What if I hurt you?

"Not possible," he says again, shaking his head at her.

"Give me a real answer," she says quietly, pulling her arm against her chest and out of his hands.

"That *is* a real answer. It's not possible. We're partners. Al-"

"Don't say that," she says quickly. "It's too easy."

"Okay, then let me tell you this. You think I didn't push you? You're wrong. I did. I just did it behind your back. How's that for a confession? I made everyone else do my dirty work because I knew that if *I* pushed, you'd stop smiling at me. You'd maybe even level some tired out ultimatum, just like last time, re-using *your* old lines, and I'd have to-"

"What are you talking about?" she interrupts. She holds herself stiffly upright, struggling against confusion and a lapping dread.

"I made Esposito-"

"You what?" The blood drains so quickly from her face that she feels herself sway; he moves as if to catch her even as she leans forward, her head down. She props her hands on her knees and looks at the floor, breathes slowly, waits for the dizziness to subside. His arms falls back to his sides.

"I'm not sorry. Because whatever he said to you, it worked."

Some small fragment of relief cuts through the sickening daze of assumedly-spilled secrets; she recognizes that no, Esposito hasn't been talking about her breakdown, but then again - Castle has apparently. Castle and Esposito in collusion with each other to-

"I got your back, Kate. Even when you don't know it."

She lifts her face, her eyes wandering up to meet his, slowly straightening. "I don't want to be like this anymore," she says quickly, needing to get it out.

"Be like what? Amazing? Strong? Determined? Beautiful." His palm catches something suspiciously wet at her cheek, brushes past to cradle the back of her neck. He tugs at her, but she remains apart, just a moment longer.

"Be. . .in need of bandages." I was drinking to escape. I was drinking and it only made the flashbacks worse and Castle, I remember everything, everything, and most of it is bad.

"It's okay for now," he says, and steps into her when she won't come. Making up the distance. Being the one to move. "It won't be like this forever."

He's in love with her.

He's so close now that all it would take is a slight tilt forward, a gentle gust of wind or another rush of dizziness, a sway.

But she can't do it. Can't yet let go.

His other hand slides suddenly to her waist and she's pulled. Right against him, her forehead crashing into his collarbone, her eyes blinking back the burn of tears, enfolded in the darkness of his arms, listening to his love holding its breath.

"I don't want to waste any more time," she whispers, and she's not even sure he can hear her.

Except then he dips his head down, his jaw brushing her temple, and places a light, lingering kiss at her cheek. "It's not wasted time, Kate. It's worth it."

She closes her eyes, gives in to the rest his body offers.