Author's Note: This fic is set in the future… it doesn't really matter when. Later this season, this summer, next season. Just… whatever you think. :)

Spoilers: Pretty much all of season four. At least up through "Kill Shot."


So you're having a breakdown
So you're losing the fight
So you're having a breakdown
And I'm driving and crying

Unraveled and flying
I'm coming to your breakdown tonight

"Breakdown" ~ Melissa Etheridge


Castle finds her in an observation room, the closed door his only clue to where she's hidden.

He cracks the door, peeks inside. The sound of her choked tears has him slipping into the room and shutting the door behind him quickly. He doesn't want everyone to know she's in here, doesn't want everyone to hear the sorrow spilling out of her.

She's sitting in a chair in the corner, her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped around herself. She glances up when she hears the door, but turns away immediately, ducking her face away from his gaze.

"Castle, please… leave." Her voice is tattered, torn, a stinging arrow to his heart.

He doesn't speak, just eases further inside, dares to get closer to her. He wants to help, needs to do something to make this better for her. He's never seen her like this, never seen the grief rip through her like a torrential downpour.

The closest he's ever come, he thinks, is the moment she realized she'd killed Dick Coonan.

"Kate," he murmurs softly as he stops next to her. He can't help it, he reaches out, strokes a hand over the top of her head, feels the silky strands of her hair slip through his fingers.

He needs to touch her, needs to feel her close to him.

She reaches up, tries to bat his hand away, but her fingers snag on his wrist, and instead of pushing, she latches on, curls around him. His hand tangles in her hair.

"What can I do?"

His heart is squeezed tight in his chest, constricted with an overwhelming need to ease her pain, help her through this. He isn't sure she'll let him, doesn't know if she'll take his support, even though he has to give it to her. Has to.

"Nothing."

"Please."

"I'll be fine in a minute." She wipes her hand roughly over her face, still won't turn to look at him, but her fingers don't loosen their hold on his wrist.

They've found the man who shot her.

An anonymous tip had come in, an untraceable phone call to Kate's line in the bullpen. Ryan had answered her phone because she was away from her desk and they were in the middle of a case, waiting on test results from the lab.

But the call hadn't come from the lab.

The man on the line had mentioned Martin Holst, the Navy SEAL who owned the gun that shot Beckett. The caller said to look into one of Holst's comrades, another SEAL by the name of Patrick Akers, and then he'd hung up, leaving Ryan standing at Beckett's desk with his jaw dropped open.

They'd traced the call but come up empty. So they looked into Akers. He wasn't the shooter, but he knew who took the gun off of Holst's dead body.

Hugh Mahlum.

He'd been a hard man to track down, nearly impossible to find, but their team was determined, worked themselves into the ground looking for him. And finally, finally, they'd caught a break.

Mahlum had sat stone-faced and silent in the interrogation room, hadn't spoken a word the entire time they questioned him. His eyes were flat, uncaring, so blank and disconnected that it actually sent tremors down Castle's spine.

He reminded Castle of a shark. An extremely frightening, emotionless shark.

Castle didn't think he'd ever even imagined a character as evil as this guy, certainly hadn't written one. When Mahlum looked at Beckett, or rather, looked through her, he didn't even appear to recognize her. There wasn't even a flicker in his gaze when they told him what he'd done, why he was there.

Fortunately, due to his silence, Mahlum never lawyered up. So they swabbed his mouth for DNA, matched it to what they'd found on the rifle.

He is a goner. Done for. There is no way he is going to get away with shooting her, even if he won't speak, won't give them anything. They have his DNA.

But they still don't have the Dragon, don't know who Mahlum was working for.

Kate's shoulders hitch as she shudders through another sob, bringing Castle back to the moment, back to her, instead of the vision of lifeless eyes he is sure will give him nightmares.

He knows she's holding back, trying to hold it in because he's there.

He can't stand it.

He releases her and then reaches down, gathering her up with an arm around her shoulders and one under her knees. He lifts her easily, ignoring her protests.

She doesn't put up much of a fight.

Castle sits, cradles her in his lap. She's rigid in his embrace, doesn't sink into it, doesn't relax against him. It twists in his chest, strangles him. He has to help, has to hold her.

He chokes on his need, presses his face to her hair, whispers in her ear. "Let me."

"Castle." She resists.

"Please." His whisper is splintered, cracks against her skin.

He feels her caving, feels her body ease against his, inch by inch, until finally, finally she's got her face pressed into his neck, her hand clenching around his shirt. And then she lets go, releases all of her anguish into his collarbone, her mouth open and gasping against his skin.

He holds her, rocks her slowly, murmuring hushed words into her hair. His fingertips stroke her spine, anchor her to him as she cries it out, shares her pain with him. He takes it in, shores it up, hopes he's relieving at least a little of the burden for her.

When his fingers move around, brush against her side, she shudders, arches into the warmth of his palm.

"Kate?"

"Surgery scar," she manages between shaky, gulping breaths.

His hand stills against her, cupped around her ribcage. "Does it hurt?"

She shakes her head and reaches over, threads her fingers with his and holds him there.

Love fills him, rises up his throat and threatens to spill out, as they hold their hands together, their own form of stitches over her battle wounds. He wants to press his mouth there and to the scar he knows must reside between her breasts, soothe them with the balm of his lips.

Instead he sits, silent and strong, holding them together.

Partners.

Her lips move against his neck, a whisper of a kiss, as she settles down, comes down from the barrage of tears that had assailed her. She's limp against him, relaxing, and something eases in his chest, knowing she let him help, let him hold her for just a little while.

They can go back to normal tomorrow.

But before they do, before the moment is gone and the intimacy is lost, he presses his mouth to her forehead, her cheeks; stamps his gratitude for her life, her living, onto her skin.

She lets go of his shirt, slides her hand up to palm the back of his neck and hold him close. Just for a moment.

And then she's rising, standing from his lap to look down at him. She wipes at her eyes, tries to fix the smudges of make-up under them.

"Thank you," he murmurs.

She meets his gaze, surprise etched in the lines of her face. "Shouldn't I be saying that to you?" she asks softly, averting her eyes, looking anywhere but at him.

He stands, reaches out to cup her elbow.

"I think I needed that more than you."

She swallows, watching him for one long moment before she reaches out quickly, sneaks her arms around his shoulders and hugs him fiercely.

He stands still, surprised, barely has enough time to hug her back before she is slipping away, easing to the door. She reaches for the handle, but stops, turns, glances over her shoulder at him with wide, doe eyes.

"I don't know about that, Castle."

And then she slips out the door, leaves him staring after her, his heart rejoicing.