Title: What's Heard

Disclaimer: I definitely don't own them. Boy, I wish I did though.

Summary: Letting loose and laying her cards out was easy in the comfort of her apartment, but saying them to someone other than her therapist was harder. But Kate didn't need to worry about that just yet, right? Slight spoilers for Cuffed.

Kate stared at her reflection—her tired eyes, her slightly sunken cheeks, the bruise that had almost faded above her right eye. She turned her cheek and watched the muscles move beneath the skin of her neck. She had gained back the weight from the summer, and a few more good meals should get her back on track from the sniper case a month ago. Then there was the bruising from being held hostage with Castle a week earlier. The raised red line on her wrist had faded, but the purple stain above her eye was still there; at least she could cover it with concealer now.

She sighed and dropped the towel she was holding, leaning back to stretch her arms over her head. She'd drowned herself in the shower, letting the pounding hot water relax the muscles of her neck and upper back. She was always tense after therapy, especially at night. She understood scheduling problems, but she hated night appointments. At least during the day, she could go back to the Precinct and pretend everything was fine, forcing her subconscious to do most of the heavy lifting for her.

But tonight it was present and there, staring at her behind her eyes, no matter how much she tried to ignore it. "I hate this," she said quietly, staring at her own eyes, still red rimmed. "I hate this," she said again, louder, growing in confidence.

She roughly reached out and grabbed a tank top, dragging it over her head and down her torso, covering the scar she refused to look at tonight. But she caught a glimpse of her ribs as she pulled the fabric down. "I look like an emaciated child," she grunted, snatching a clip from the counter top to throw her hair up. "I feel like a mess, and I'm tired and god damnit," she growled as she failed to capture all of her hair. But what did it matter, really? No one would be there to see it.

She strode out of the bathroom without a second glance, flipping the light as she went. She stopped and stood at the edge of her bed in the dim light pouring through from the doorway to her living room. Her scar twinged and she let out a groan before flopping herself back onto the bed.

"Every time," she mumbled, tossing an arm over her eyes. "Every time I come back from that damn place." She realized that she wasn't talking to anyone, but she honestly didn't care. And hadn't Dr. Burke said that she needed to vent? "I hate this. I'm angry," she said, letting her voice ring around the bedroom. "There, are you happy? I'm angry," she continued, building steam.

"I hate that I'm thin and sickly and tired. I hate that I have these damn scars and I feel them all the time," she announced to the room, one hand fisting into the comforter below her and the other traveling to touch the scar between her breasts. "I hate that I'm alone, and that I chose to be alone," she added, her voice softer; but it rang around the room all the same.

They'd discussed this at length that evening—how she was allowed to be angry, to feel hurt, victimized—that it was important that she have her feelings, all of them. And now, she was on a roll, words falling out of her mouth for an empty apartment to hear.

"I miss my mother. And I want to solve the damn case, but I'm so tired of going to sleep alone." She reached up and grabbed a pillow, dragging it down to her chest and wrapping her arms around it as she felt her eyes starting to well. "And I hate crying," she added with a small laugh. "Doesn't matter though, right? I'm gonna cry. I'm gonna wish I hadn't been so stupid."

She rolled over and lay on her side, the pillow still clutched to her chest as she pressed her cheek into the comforter she'd purchased upon her return from her father's cabin—something new, for the new her.

"If I wasn't so damn broken I could have just…" She took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "I could have just called Castle and said I needed him, and that I heard him," she hiccuped. "I could have said "I love you too," and he'd have been there in a day, maybe less," she continued, staring at the picture on her bedside, the one of the two of them at Remy's one night, laughing over a shared plate of fries.

"But no, I have to break down the stupid wall. I don't want the wall," she said, the words harsh on her tongue, but true none-the-less. She pounded a fist against the pillow and sucked in a breath. "I want to be normal for once," she added. "I want to wake up and make him breakfast and take a shower with him and not think about snipers and conspiracies and how my mother won't ever come to my wedding…"

She trailed off as tears began to stream down her cheeks in earnest. "And I love you, Mom, I do. I really, really do," she said as she turned to lie on her back, staring up at the ceiling, at the heavens, if there was such a thing. "And I want to find justice for you but," she swallowed around the lump in her throat. "But I want to live too." She forced her voice to be strong and steady, because she deserved that. That's what Dr. Burke had told her; she needed to convince herself that she deserved to be happy, with or without that closure.

And she wanted to; she did. "I want to be happy," she said again, her voice firm and somewhere near convincing. "I want to fall madly in love with him, Mom. I am already," she laughed suddenly. "But I mean…like you and dad." She tightened her hold on the pillow. "I don't just want partners at the Precinct."

She fell silent for a moment, unexpected pictures of his loft and his family assaulting her. And she was there with him, living there, being there, diving in with Richard Castle, the only man she'd ever wanted so much—the only man she'd wanted to be open with.

"But I don't know how," she told the room. "I want to be with him, Mom. I want to tell him I heard him, and I love him." She shook her head and closed her eyes, breathing deeply. "I should have told him. I shouldn't have kept him away. It's not fair."

She opened her eyes when pictures of that basement room began to assault her vision. He'd followed her to hell and back over and over, and last week was no exception. And of course, like always, they were just fine. But how many alwayses did they have? How many times could she ask him to risk everything for her before he walked away, if she never got it together to tell him that he was everything to her too?

"And I want him, Mom," she said softly, listening as her muted voice reverberated around the space. "I want him there beside me, and with me, and having kids with me, and growing old with me. And it scares the shit out of me, but I want that." Her hand snaked below the pillow to curl around the ring against her chest; she'd needed it tonight. "And I want to be strong enough to tell him all of that."

Kate opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling, breathing slowly. "I gave him a hug after we got out," she told the room, her mother, whoever and whatever was there to listen. "And that's so stupid," she added, reaching up to wipe the tears from her face with a small, breathy chuckle. "Because I honestly wanted to kiss him senseless."

Her mother would be kicking her if she were alive. Actually, she'd be hauling Kate's sorry ass out of the apartment and over to Castle's so she could do just that. But Johanna wasn't alive, and heavy kisses weren't in the cards tonight, especially not when Kate was puffy and wearing only a tank top and striped bikini-style underwear.

"And there are times when he brings me coffee and it feels like he's bringing me the world on a string, and I feel…" Kate bit her lip and shook her head. "I feel ridiculous, but it's…he's wonderful," she sighed. She fell silent for a minute, nothing but Richard Castle swirling through her mind, some pictures clothed and others not so much; but that was normal. She was like a fifteen-year-old girl, and she'd come to terms with that, at least.

But Richard Castle deserved more than what she was. He deserved the Kate Beckett who could be around guns without flinching, and who could look at alleyways without pause, and who could be open and honest and free with him. She was there somewhere, and Kate just had to get her out.

"He deserves more than me, right now," she voiced, giving that thought life and breath. "He deserves everything I could be. And I want to be that I just…I don't know how," she whispered.

She wanted to lie there for hours, mulling it all over, but her stomach growled. Sad, pathetic and angry with herself and world she might be, but she still needed to eat. And if she lost any more weight, people would start to comment; Lanie she could handle, but if Castle started up on it…that wasn't an option.

So Kate hauled herself up and stood, yanking her top back down and letting her hair tumble free from her clip. She'd have to redo her hair in the morning anyway, so she might as well let it fall wild and free for the night. Slowly and tiredly, she walked into the kitchen, flicking on a few more lights as she went; she didn't need to live in the dark, metaphorically or not.

She thought she'd left herself some extra pasta from the night before, and was set on finding that as she strode into the bright kitchen, but she stopped short. There, standing next to her counter, a rag held limply in his hand, was Richard Castle.

Kate blinked, stunned, and Castle did the same, staring at her. Why was he there? How long had he been there? Why was there a pot on the stove? Why hadn't she heard him come in? Why couldn't she make her mouth move? Oh, God. Something lurched in her stomach. She'd just spilled all of her secrets, most of them about him, to an empty apartment that suddenly wasn't so empty. Holy crap.

He seemed to be on the same wavelength, standing there staring at her, eyes wide. He was wearing a casual blue sweater and jeans, his hair a little rumpled, like he'd been there for a while. She had so many questions, but he was the first to unglue his mouth.

"I…" he stammered inelegantly. "I know you had therapy today," he managed, swallowing and slowly placing the rag down as he turned off the burner on her table. "And we didn't get to eat, so I thought I'd come make you dinner, you know? And I knocked, but I heard the shower running, so I thought I'd leave it as a surprise and I…" he trailed off.

Shock, anger, adoration, confusion—Kate felt too many things to decipher them all. But what she managed wasn't quite what she wanted to say, at least not as the first words she'd spoken. "Why didn't you say something?"

"I thought maybe you had someone here," he rushed out. "But then I realized, and I…" he shifted on his feet, staring at her helplessly. "I didn't know how to…you were going and I…Kate, I'm so sorry, I didn't expect…"

She held up a hand after a moment, unable to listen to him stumble his way through it. In his shoes, she didn't know what she'd have done either. What did you do when the person you loved began listing off his or her secrets, and you had no way to stop them, other than leaving? And he couldn't have done that, could he? Because he knew that she'd have freaked out. One of the biggest ramifications of her stint of PTSD the previous month was that they both understood how easy it was to set her off now.

His eyes bored into hers and then she didn't know what to do. And why was he staring so fixedly at her? This was awkward enough. Couldn't he look…oh. Oh God. She was… "Castle," she squeaked, thoroughly embarrassed by her state of undress. How had she forgotten that? She looked around frantically and found a robe tossed over one of the bar stools. She moved around to his side and quickly threw it on, turning around to tie it. "God, say something next time!" she added, taking a second to brace herself before she spun back to face him.

"I…" he gaped at her. "Of everything…"

He fell silent and then they stared at each other, uncomfortable and lost. Wait, he'd gotten into her apartment? "How did you get in here?" she asked, the question popping out before she could really think about it.

He arched an eyebrow. "You gave me a key after…a little while ago, remember?"

She felt her face soften. Right. She'd given him a key about a week after the sniper case, just so that someone—he—would be able to get in if she ever…needed help. Dr. Burke had encouraged her to reach out, and she had. She just hadn't thought that he'd use it to surprise her with dinner.

"You should…announce yourself, or something," she told him, trying to sound admonishing; instead it came off as vulnerable and apologetic somehow. Fantastic.

"I would have," he told her, his shoulders relaxing now that he was sure she wouldn't yell at him. How could she? He'd come over to be sweet, and it wasn't his fault that she'd been baring her soul to an empty apartment like a crazy person. "But before I could you were talking and I…"

He'd thought she had someone here. Wait, he'd thought she had someone here? Really? She felt a little bit of her heart break for him, for them. God, she knew she'd decided to keep her distance, break the wall, whatever. But had he really thought she'd had someone here? That she'd been talking to anyone like that? Anyone other than him?

She picked at the counter and steeled herself to meet his eyes, because she owed him at least that much. "For the record, Castle," she said softly. "I didn't and don't have anyone here."

He blinked back at her and then gave her a small nod. She caught him reining in the corner of his mouth, covering a smile, and then instantly had to do the same. "Okay," he said. She watched his eyes, seeing the depth of his feelings for her shining back, but they were bolstered, brighter, more tangible. Right, he'd heard everything. Shit.

"How…" did she want to ask? Could she play it off? Could they just kind of laugh about it, like those moments they never acknowledged? Like the hug, and the kiss, and the other hug, and the bank robbery, and the smiles and the coffee?

"Everything," he said very quietly, unsure of his words, his face anxious, and expectant, and hesitant. He looked nothing like the Richard Castle she'd dragged back to her Precinct four years ago. No, tonight he looked like a man staring at everything he wanted, but not sure if he was allowed to even ask, let alone take it for his own.

Great. Was he angry? He didn't look angry. He should be. She'd kept it from him, pretended not to know for months. "You're not…mad," she said, peering at him. Part of her was urging her to run, to kick him out, to wall everything back up and hide. But she was too curious, and too in love. There, she admitted it. And now he knew too, didn't he?

He shook his head, looking about as lost and confused as she felt. "No," he said slowly.

"Okay," she bobbed her head, like an idiot. This was either the moment to kiss him or turn tail, not stand there mutely like a child.

He chewed on his lip for a moment—an endearing trait she hadn't seen before—and then took a small step forward. She didn't move. She couldn't. Part of her was screaming, singing, rejoicing, but then he reached for the plate near her hand. "Dinner?"

"What?" she asked, breathless. Seriously, what?

"Dinner," he repeated. And she watched as that smile slowly broke free. "You know, food—that thing you rarely consume, and never in the proper amounts?"

"I know what food is, Castle," she bit back, feeling her own smile sliding across her face. Well damn.

He laughed. He god damned laughed. "Good. Should we eat some?"

She nodded and then watched in awe as he calmly plated to servings of pasta carbonara and slid them across the counter top to the other side of the island so they could sit side by side. To keep herself busy, and try to get her head to stop asking, "why?" every two seconds, she poured drinks.

And then they were sitting there next to each other, eating and trying not to look at each other. He wasn't mad, and he'd heard everything. So…now what? Were they really going to sit at her counter on a Friday night, eating together—something they hadn't done before either—and just not talk about it?

Why wasn't he too busy kissing her senseless to eat? Why wasn't he yelling at her? Why wasn't he being Castle—not letting it go until he'd drained every last detail out of her? Why was this so confusing, and pleasant, and weird, and right, and wrong?

"Good close today," he offered after ten silent, comfortable, agonizing minutes.

"Really?" she asked before she could stop herself.

"What?" he shrugged, glancing over at her. They were both finished eating, and had been pushing food around just to appear busy.

"Good close? How's the weather? Really, Castle?" she asked. God, shut up, Kate.

He laughed. "Would you prefer that I start asking the hard questions?"

Her stomach plummeted. Ah, so this had just been…normalcy, for her sake. No, she did not want him to ask the hard questions. But after everything he'd heard, how could she stop him? She could get mad, but she'd really lost that opportunity when she hadn't just thrown him out on sight. Damn.

"I…" she sighed and pushed her plate away so that she could lean forward and put her head in her hands. "Sure," she breathed, taking a second to apply pressure to her skull before she sat back and looked over at him. "Yes, go ahead."

His eyes widened. Maybe he hadn't actually meant that. "Kate, we don't have to," he said after a pause. "I…heard and we can just…wait for later," he managed, though it looked like the words cost him.

And now she had a decision to make. She wasn't whole yet. She knew that. He knew that. But now he also knew that she'd kept her memories from him—kept him at a distance on purpose—for months, even when she reciprocated his feelings. And she did. She loved him, this man next to her, who had come over to make her dinner, because he knew she hadn't eaten. This man who had followed her into hell and back. This man who held her up, and pushed her forward, who stood behind her, and with her, and without her—who was whatever she needed him to be.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I should have…" she bit her lip. "I should have told you but I…"

"Didn't feel the same?" he offered slowly and she snapped her gaze to his. He knew that wasn't true. What was he playing at?

"No," she shook her head, confused. "No, you…know that," she added.

He nodded and she saw a hint of a smile. "Damnit, Rick, you better not be teasing me right now," she snapped. The light fell out of his eyes and she sighed, reaching up to massage the back of her neck. "Sorry, I…"

He shook his head, regarding her more seriously. "I'm sorry," he told her sincerely.

She narrowed her eyes. "Really?" she asked, not accusing just…God, he was still Castle, wasn't he?

He gave her a small shrug. "Sorry, continue. I'll tone it down."

She shook her head and fought a small smile. Ass. But he was her ass, wasn't he? "It all got jumbled up," she sighed, pushing her chair back so she could stand, because she suddenly couldn't sit still anymore. "You, and the bullet, and my mother," she began to pace, twisting her hands together as he watched her move from the other side of her counter. "And I needed time, and space but I should have said…something," she found his eyes as she made another pass, her bare feet padding over the wooden floor. "Don't know what, but I shouldn't have just not called," she admitted. "And I'm sorry for that."

He nodded slowly, giving her a small smile. "Water long under the bridge, Kate," he said.

She bobbed her head. She knew that, or he wouldn't be at the Precinct, let alone sitting in her kitchen as she paced in a satin robe. God, was that really what she was wearing? Focus, Kate. "And I should have been…clearer," she continued. Boy, did that sound vague. "About what I heard, and what I wanted," she corrected, chancing a glance at him. He was just sitting there, watching her and smiling.

"What do you want, Kate?" he asked, his voice low and affectionate.

He already knew the answer. But she couldn't use that, could she? It wouldn't be fair to say, 'you already know,' and make him live with that for another four months. "You," she whispered. What? She'd said what? No, that wasn't what she'd meant to say.

His jaw dropped and hers did the same. Well, they were quite a pair. "I'm sorry?"

"I…" she stammered, feeling her cheeks heat up. How could she come back from that? "Uh…"

He was standing up and walking toward her now. Crap. And those were his hands, closing around her elbows, holding her there so he could look down at her. "Me?" he whispered.

Kate looked up at him, at the face she'd been in love with for far too long and done nothing about. "Yes," she replied. But she jerked back when he leaned down. "But I'm not…" she trailed off as one of his hands left her arm to cup her cheek. "Ready," she breathed.

He nodded and bent down very slowly to press his forehead to hers. "Because you think I deserve better than you, right?" he asked, his breath hot against her nose and lips.

Kate swallowed. He really had heard everything. "Is that why you're not mad?" she murmured, finding his eyes with hers. She couldn't move. She couldn't run. She didn't want to. But she didn't know what she wanted, because all of those very good reasons were far away, pushed aside by his body and his hands, and the eyes that were filled with so much emotion that it practically hurt.

He smiled and pressed his lips to her nose, making her release a breathy pant. "I don't deserve you, Kate," he whispered. "So if that's what's been holding you back, stop."

"But I…" He was wrong. But there was so much more to it than just that, even though that was a huge part of everything.

"I know," he told her. "And I want to help you get that closure, but the other stuff, the waking up, and showering, and not going to bed alone? Kate," he sighed, letting his other hand reach out to wrap around her waist. "I want to be that for you too."

"Rick, I…" she mumbled. What was stopping her? Couldn't she be happy and not have closure? She'd said she could that evening in therapy. She could do that. And she only wanted to be happy with him. But she just didn't know how.

"We'll figure it out, Kate," he continued, rubbing a circle against the small of her back with his thumb as her hands fisted into the back of his shirt. When had they gotten there? "Just like everything else."

Fighting it was exhausting. She didn't sleep well. She didn't eat well. She couldn't look at him without that little twinge of love, and regret, and happiness. She couldn't go a day without thinking about him, and a day without seeing him was empty. But she was still so broken. A month of therapy didn't erase the PTSD, or the paranoia, or the damage and hurt and sadness.

"It's not fair," she argued feebly, gripping his shirt tighter. "I can't ask you t…"

His lips pressed against hers before she even saw him move, and she gasped. He puffed air out of his nose at the sound, and the hand on her cheek moved to cup the back of her head, threading into her damp hair. She pulled him closer, kissing back, sucking his lip between hers, because God, what else could she do? It felt amazing. He felt amazing. And if she was going to have to step back and…she didn't want to.

This was what she wanted. He was what she wanted. And it felt amazing to stand there, with him wrapped around her, kissing him like her life depended on it. And she was better and less broken now, even if she was still a little broken. Maybe letting him in…maybe that would help. She could stand on her own; she knew that. He'd let her, pushed her to, even, during the sniper case. So he wouldn't be like Royce. And he wouldn't leave like Will. And she'd found Josh because he wasn't Rick.

But she had him now, and she wanted him, and she wanted this, and damnit, she deserved to be happy.

"Okay?" he asked, pulling back after a long moment, leaving them both breathless and totally entwined.

"Okay," she whispered, finding his eyes and watching as they widened.

"Really?" He looked so excited.

She smiled and reached up to run her fingers over his cheek. "I'm going to fight you," she told him, so relieved, but still needing him to understand.

He laughed. "So what else is new?"

Kate swatted his cheek and he grinned, bringing his head down to peck her lips. "I'm…it won't be easy," she sighed as they broke apart, because really, how could either of them just 'peck' right now?

"Kate, if I wanted easy, I would have walked away years ago," he said seriously, his eyes warm and happy. "I know this stuff. I want you too."

The other arguments, or disclaimers, or whatever they were, died on her tongue. "Okay," she nodded slowly.

He beamed at her and pulled her into his chest for a crushing hug that sucked the air out of her and made her feel safe for the first time in God knows how long—maybe since her mother had died. Holy hell. She went limp against him, smiling as he held her up, chuckling against her skin.

"Tired?" he murmured.

She nodded. She was exhausted on every level. But she didn't want him to leave just yet, or ever. But she'd settle for another thirty minutes or so. "Yeah," she breathed against his neck.

"Bed?" he asked very softly, his hands stroking over her back.

"I…" Then he'd leave, right? And for the first time in a long while, she didn't want to isolate herself. She just wanted to be with him. Being lonely and wanting to be alone had always been separate for her. She'd wanted to be alone for nearly eight months, but she'd been lonely the whole time. And now she wanted to be neither. "Stay," she mumbled into his skin. Crap, really, had she…

"You think I'm leaving?" he laughed, the sound rumbling through her ear. "Wow, I think you're losing your edge, Detective," he added, jostling her a bit. "Come on."

She didn't have the energy to bite back, and so she let him guide her through and into her bedroom, leaving the dishes behind. He left her on her side of the bed and brought his lips to hers briefly before pulling back and stepping away, leaving her just a little bit breathless. He smiled and walked around to the other side of the bed, pulling his sweater off and quickly shucking out of his jeans as she watched, flabbergasted. He was wearing royal purple boxers and he gave her a little wink when he caught her ogling him.

"You sleeping in your robe?" he laughed, climbing into the other side, his shoes and socks on the floor by the nightstand. Kate blinked. "What?"

"Nothing," she managed, shaking her head and slipping out of the robe with surprisingly steady fingers. She tossed it onto the chair and then climbed under the blankets, noting that he was watching her pointedly, a soft smile set over his face. "We're gonna have horrible breath tomorrow," she said. But she wasn't really in control of her thoughts anymore.

He grinned and reached for her, obviously unperturbed. Slowly, she scooted toward him until he was wrapped around her, her back to his front, his lips pressing into her ear. She smiled and snuggled into him, surprised, and warmed, and so comfortable that it was scary. She'd expected to be terrified of this, when the time came, but now that it had, it felt natural. It felt like something she'd been waiting for, hoping for, moving toward.

"Goodnight, Kate," he murmured, his breath hot against her cheek.

She turned her head and raised a hand to cup his cheek, bringing his lips to hers. "Night," she whispered as they pulled apart, both smiling and a little hazy.

He sighed happily and settled down behind her, drawing her close. She found his hand with hers and threaded their fingers together on her stomach, feeling herself sinking into the heavy pull of sleep, comforted by the weight of his arm around her and the steady rise and fall of his chest behind her.

As she drifted off, she thought she heard him whisper, "I love you," against her hair. And the beauty was that in the morning, she didn't have to pretend he hadn't said it.

Author's Note: I've been talking about Castle's reaction to Kate's secret with a few friends, and since it seems like he's not going to have an explosive response (I get the feeling that he's just going to figure it out himself), this popped into my head as a way, a highly improbable way, for that to happen. I do think there will be more angst on the show (I'm coming back in because I've gotten some responses that I want to react to), but from what we've seen so far, I felt like writing this. Fluffy, yes, but sometimes that's just nice to read.

It was really fun to write, and I'd love to know what you thought. Also, Happy Post-Thanksgiving to all of my Amercian readers, and just Happy November for everyone outside of the States.