Disclaimer: Still not mine.
Notes: Spoilers through Kill Shot. Huge thanks (I suppose "thanks" is the right word) to Cora Clavia for mercilessly pestering/encouraging me, and gigantic snuggles to Jill, who will hopefully always be around to gently inform me that the word "shut" is spelled with a u instead of an i.
It's true, he doesn't sleep because there's a shooter out there terrorizing New York City, but he spends more than half the night in the darkness of his office, tracing spiderweb-thin threads along the edges of Kate's board instead of sifting through obscure paintings to unearth the sniper's trajectory.
He thinks he understands the swirls and eddies of her grief until he sees her curled in a heap in the hallway, badge and gun and jacket puddled on the floor near her thigh, breath broken and jagged. Then, he realizes he never really understood at all. His heart thumps its own jackrabbit beat of panic when he sees the bandage around her right wrist (he'd caught the edge of the gauze with his gaze earlier, but he'd been distracted by the quickness of her breath, the too-tight curl of her shoulders), a jagged line of blood leached through, and his first image is her with glassy eyes and a bottle and a dully glinting knife, hunched on the floor of her bathroom, normally an impossibility, utterly inconceivable, but now, now the hazy concept of that knife will haunt him.
He flails for words; he's rarely out of them, and though throughout the years they've been laced together by laden looks and finger-light touches, he's used to the bulk of their substance in dialogue.
"Kate," he chokes out, desperate, sliding slowly down the wall next to her. His right knee cracks loud and sharp and he watches the sound jolt through her body and what he would give to pull that noise back into himself, to pull into his chest everything in the world that is dragging these sounds out of her, to quietly implode with the force of it all.
He was too late to get to the bullet. It's only fair.
"No," he thinks she says, waving him away with her bloodied wrist and gasping frenetically.
He stretches out a hand and lays it on the middle of her back, riding the trembling sweep of her vertebrae, skirting along the edge of the sucking undertow of her pain.
After, when he tugs at her to come home with him and she says no he thinks even he can understand, how hard it must be to live with the forceful edge of this much hurt always battering against her, how little space it must leave for any other kind of real feeling.
The concave arc of her cheek is less severe, the shaded hurt of her eyes a little less pronounced. He thinks maybe he is slowly sucking it into himself, this dull pain just beneath his sternum, this inability to fall into a dreamless sleep. He hopes only to hide it from her. So he takes the coffee from her at the next crime scene, but he doesn't drink, just lets it warm his cold hand and stares at the corpse, the neat sweeps of blood sprayed along the ribs and knuckles. When they get back, he discreetly lets the cup thud to the bottom of the trash just outside the precinct elevator. The fingers of her right hand twitch at the heavy sound, the muffled echo that she wouldn't have missed. He flinches, waiting for a reprimand, a confused look, but she doesn't turn, doesn't even ripple as they go past her desk, thread through the hallways and down the stairs, back to evidence. He has the energy only to follow silently.
"Why?" he asks when they hit the concrete, light-hazed room. She reaches under a table and drags out a hulk of gray-green metal. He feels the muscles of his throat jump inward, constrict around his larynx. The sharp arcs and rigid line of that gun will be forever etched onto his darkest moments.
"It's the –"
"I know what it is," he says. It's hard to speak around the tightness of his throat; his voice comes out in a hushed, vehement whisper. The knowledge of this particular gun is inscribed onto his being. He doesn't need to hear it from her lips.
"Esposito brought me here," she says, slim fingers pale and steady around the barrel of the gun. He feels words catch and stick in his constricted throat, and after a minute when he can't seem to stop convulsively swallowing, she keeps talking. "I wanted to share it with you."
Thank you, he thinks he should be able to say, but he can only choke out, "I'm fine." He won't be fine, though, with the cold mass of the rifle so near him, a slope of spring-green grass, the unwavering, flat line of a heart monitor starting to catch at the edges of his vision.
She's looking down at the barrel of the gun. "Esposito said it was just a tool," she murmurs. "I don't know. It helped me, I think. Made it more concrete."
She needs things to be tangible; she needs to reach out, pin thoughts down, feel the sleek lines of a murder weapon, of the rifle that sent a bullet brushing along her heart. He deals better in conceptuals, the airy ether of words and constructs; the gun that sent her flatlining is too much, far too much for him. "I'm so glad it helped," he says, but she's standing in the hazy light holding the gun that tore a hole through her chest and he needs to go.
She catches him in the hallway and whispers the edge of her knuckle along the back of his hand, the only way, he'll think later in his more strident leaps of fancy, that she can say I see you, I know you.
When he wakes that night with a start, the hazy wisps of the dream still curl softly around him in the dark: the sharp, clear flash of light off the glass of a scope, the refraction of that same light through her tears, the monotone wail of the heart monitor that, this time, doesn't jolt back to a thready rhythm.
The third night it happens, he feels the hollow tension through his muscles and knows that any chance of rest is irretrievably lost. The raised ceiling of his loft is all at once closing in, and he's moving automatically, the cool leather of his jacket over his arms, the chilled curve of a steering wheel beneath his palms, the soft, steady resistance of the brake under the ball of his foot.
He realizes he always knew where he was going when he looks up at the window of her darkened apartment, finally feels the right amount of oxygen, clear and cold, rush into his lungs, finally catches a thread of air above this inexorable pull that's slowly, ever so slowly, dragging him down.
"I see a therapist," Beckett says to him. He's been parked outside her apartment for the past five nights. He's never been an alcoholic, but he thinks he knows how they might feel, now, the crushing, chest-hollowing panic and need. Last night was the first night he tried to resist the pull; he wound up gasping for air that wasn't there in the late-night inky darkness.
He's not sure how he's supposed to respond. He'd gotten so good with her, words for her shifts and falls, pushing and pulling at just the right angles, but this, navigating this dark swirl of their trauma, leaves him spinning in hopeless circles. Sometimes still tension ripples through her body at the sliding screech of a chair across the bullpen's floor, the too-loud snick shut of the interrogation room door. Sometimes still he can see every hour of her sleepless nights, deep shadows smudged beneath carefully-applied concealer. "Does it help?" he asks.
"Yeah," she says, "it's good." He can see the slender column of her throat working, a wealth of words snagged there. She picks up her coffee, fingers curling around the paper cup, and turns back to the murder board.
On the twelfth night, he's slumped in his car, drifting in the cold in a half-awake haze, thick wool blanket wrapped securely over his shoulders (a precaution after night number three, when it took two hours for color to leech back into his bloodless fingers and toes), when the windows of her bedroom are suddenly shot through with light.
He doesn't think about it as he fumbles the car door open, as he trots across the street, as he stumbles up the stairs to her apartment, fingers still clutching the blanket like a cloak over his shoulders. It's not until after he's rapped his knuckles on the solid metal of her door that he considers what a truly horrible idea this is, knocking right after she's turned on her bedroom light at 3:27 in the morning. He considers bolting down the hallway, but then there's the gentle sound of a deadbolt turning, and the door is swinging open into her lamp-lit apartment before he can do any more than shift his balance forward to the balls of his feet.
Her eyes are dark and her cheeks are smeared with hastily-brushed-away tears. Her lips twist up, an attempt at a self-deprecating smile, and she steps lightly aside. "Come in," she murmurs, her voice matching the muted shadows, the dark glow of the living room.
He moves quickly, afraid she'll suddenly remember when it is and who she is and slam the door shut, but then he's standing in front of her, awkward and purposeless, in flannel pajama pants and a sweatshirt and a wool blanket, and what's he going to say – I saw you turned your light on? "Thanks," he finally settles on, a nice, neutral word.
She shrugs or sighs, the line of her shoulders raising and then dropping slightly in the acceptance of an inevitable visible only to her. She's wearing black leggings, a ribbed tank top, some kind of gauzy, unbuttoned long-sleeved shirt. Her hair is in a messy ponytail. His fingers, his forearms twitch with his barely-suppressed need to reach out, to touch some part of her too-pale skin. "Coffee?" she asks.
He's not dumb enough to turn down anything she'll offer him at this time of morning. "Yeah."
"I only have regular," she warns as she turns, walks into her kitchen. He watches her elbow bend, the fabric of her shirt stretch taught over the arc of her shoulder. He can picture her drawing the cuff up over her wrist, swiping the fabric over her tear-streaked cheeks. Enough, he thinks, enough.
"I was outside," he says. He feels the weight of everything still unspoken bowing his shoulders, pressing him slowly down into the smooth tile of her kitchen floor.
Her hand pauses for an instant as she reaches for the coffee maker, then continues smoothly on its path. He's stopped, standing four feet away from her, close enough to close the distance in two short strides. The room fills with a low buzz, the gurgle of heating water, then the whirr of grinding beans, before she speaks. "I know. This is, what, the tenth night?"
"Twelfth," he responds, automatically, before the meaning of her words catches up to him. "You knew." Something clenches deep in his chest.
She tilts away from him, staring at the coffee maker. "I wasn't sure what to do. It –" she brushes her fingers over the left side of sternum, "it can take a while to catch up with you. I didn't want to push."
He's not sure how he's supposed to respond. He pictures her, standing near her window in the dark, staring down at him in his car, half-asleep beneath her apartment like some kind of stalker, like some kind of moron. "So why turn your light on tonight?"
She tilts her body another degree away from him, so he can just catch the sharp, shadowed edge of her cheekbones, a fraction of the tense line of her jaw. "I had a dream. I woke up feeling so alone. I thought you might feel alone, too. I didn't want that."
He has no idea what kind of nightmare she must have had that she is still this close to tears, that she turned on her light knowing that it would eventually lead to his seeing her in this state, that she is standing here, telling him outright that she felt alone, telling him outright that she worries about him. He shifts closer to her, forces his twitching fingers to stay clenched around the ridiculous wool blanket, still wrapped awkwardly over his shoulders. "It's not so bad, outside your apartment." He swallows, feels a shiver race along his spine, casts about for words that describe this welling need for her at three am that's grown from deep within him, that turns the air to a liquid that stagnates in his lungs when he can't look up at her window.
The coffee machine gurgles, hisses. The steady rhythm of her breath stumbles into itself, collapses into a heaving mess. He closes the distance between them, wraps his fingers around her elbow, carefully, gently, firm but feather-light, guides her around so she's facing him once again. Her earlier effort is erased - her corneas are starbursts of broken capillaries, strikingly red against the darkness of her pupils. When she speaks, her voice is low and throaty but shockingly steady.
"This shouldn't be your life." She rocks back as she says it, tugs her arm out of his grasp, and it rushes at him, all at once, the extent she's trying to pull away.
"You think you can change that now?" he growls, edging into her, the fear of her taking another step back making him panicked, making his head spin in the muted shadows of her kitchen.
She bites off a strangled sob. "You have to go," she chokes out, her voice cracking, breaking on the last word.
He thinks of himself as overly persistent, but he goes when she tells him to, since he's realized how important she is, since he thought he might prove himself by giving her the space she so desperately loves. The night he tried to convince her to drop her mother's case. That horrible, interminable summer. Every time she's smiled at him and he hasn't pushed her further. Every time she's been near tears and he hasn't dragged her into his arms. It hasn't worked badly, necessarily – he can navigate the contours of a brilliant smile that he didn't even know existed the first year they met – but it occurs to him that it really hasn't worked out that well, not when she's curled over and wracked with tears in the middle of her kitchen, not when he's spent the last dozen nights waiting wedged uncomfortably beneath his steering wheel for the chance to catch the shadow of her shadow. He steps forward, resolved. "I can't."
Her chest heaves as she drags in air, straightens. He can see it, almost, her tangible resolve to push him away, latticing from the tips of her fingers up her forearms, wrapping around her biceps, her shoulders. "I'm sorry," she starts to say, her voice still scraped raw but not wavering quite so much. It's slowly splitting him in two - he can't handle her shot through with emotion, breaking apart in front of him, but, for just a flash, he wants the wild abandon back, wants her to let herself fully feel again.
He edges even closer, the sadness in her eyes dragging him slowly, inexorably toward her. "I can't keep walking away," he hears himself say, his voice a far-away echo. The push and pull is killing him, how she drags him toward her when she's feeling whole and shoves him away when she's feeling wounded. For better or worse, and he can't, he won't, keep being there only for the better.
Her hands hit his chest when he's right in front of her, her fingers splayed, pressing hard away, and he can see it in his mind: he'll stumble back into the counter. She'll stare, shaking and crying and resolute. He'll step toward her. She'll push back. He'll turn and he'll walk away. And who knows how long, this time, until they find each other again.
He won't do that again. He reaches out, releases the wool blanket, his fingers clenching around her elbows as his body reels back from the force of her shove so that she's pulled with him, falling into his chest as he bends his knees, takes the kinetics from her palms through his chest and grounds himself, finds the energy to absorb the crash of her body into his.
"Damnit, Castle," she growls into him, but he's past listening, past everything but the jut of her hipbone into him, the solid force of her elbows beneath his fingers. She angles her face to him, all clenched jaw and streaked tears and flashing eyes, and he can't help but tilt forward, brush his mouth over hers softly.
The scrape of her teeth jolts him, but he's still not prepared for the shock of desperation that crackles through both of them, a steady current of energy that has their mouths fused together and her body pressed sharply into his and his brain stuttering over the heat of her skin, the urgency of her lips.
It's not until her fingers are fumbling with the waistband of his pajamas that he even tries to get his head above water, to still their frenetic pace. He starts to drag his fingers from her ribs, where he'd been tracing every rise and fall, to curl them gently around her hands, but his index finger stumbles, on the way, trips over a tiny ridge just under her left breast. The way she shifts and sucks in air, he knows it's not just pleasure. "Let me," he says, not quite sure what he's asking for.
She stills, draws back from him, watching him darkly, nearly hesitantly, before she's in motion again, shrugging out of her long-sleeved shirt, reaching down and shucking off her tank top. She's not wearing a bra – of course, idiot, he tells himself, she'd been in bed – and his eyes can't help but trip over the heavy arcs of her breasts, so at odds with the sharp jut of her clavicles, the severe outline of her ribs that speaks to every missed meal, every tense and sleepless night. Her scars shine slightly even in the dim light, glistening pinks that don't tell the story; there's no flatline beneath the divot in her chest, no well of blood beneath the neat line under her breast. She looks down, shifts her weight onto her right leg, scrapes her teeth over her lower lip.
It's not so bad at all, he starts to say, but it's trite, meaningless, compared to what she's giving him. He reaches over, spreads his right hand over the left side of her sternum, his thumb covering the bullet's entrance, his index finger brushing along the line from Josh's scalpel. Her chest hitches under him, and he has to still, dig the fingers of his left hand into his palm to himself back together, to stop this impulse he has, singing through his veins, to step forward and crush his lips into hers.
Her lashes flutter, her eyes shutting quietly, her breath still rapid but the quality changing, growing ever deeper. "I always feel it," she whispers, shifting into his hand.
Her sternum presses up and into his palm with every breath, the bone jutting sharp into the heel of his hand, and nothing that he can give her will ever be enough.
No. That's not true. He has something, tangles of threads, spooled out along the sleepless nights he doesn't spend outside her apartment, snarled in his late-afternoon office. He tenses, his fingers twitching against her skin.
"What is it?" she asks, her words a breath of air.
It's the last thing he wants to give, the taste of her mouth still on his tongue, the salt of her tears still faint on his lips, the bare skin of her chest hot underneath his hand. It's the only thing he can give that makes any sense at all. He sucks in a final gulp of air, holds it in his lungs like a prayer, feels the razor-sharp words welling up from his chest.
"It's about your mother."