EDIT 4.22.12: I just uploaded a video on youtube that I made as a sort of promo for this fic. Go check it out at http:/ youtu. be/ KpXfi9WGlhk (minus the spaces and fill in the back-slash), and let me know what you think! :)

A/N: This is not a happy fic. There will eventually be a happy ending (or at least, some semblance of one) because I'm a hopeless sap, but the process of getting there is not happy. So...consider yourself warned?

Also, all I know about PTSD is what I've read off of Wikipedia and a couple of other internet sites. Obviously, I'm not an expert, so I apologize ahead of time if I misrepresent anything in this.


Spoilers: Through promos for "Headhunters" 4x21. I'm ignoring all the leaks about the season finale though, and this takes place around mid-May, 2012.


Disclaimer: I think I would go the way of a certain fictitious head writer for Temptation Lane if I were a part of Castle's writing team and had this happen. Fortunately for my continued well-being, I remain simply a fanfiction writer.


RELAPSE


Diagnostic Criteria for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

C: Persistent avoidance and emotional numbing

This involves a sufficient level of:

- avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, such as certain thoughts or feelings, or talking about the event(s);

- avoidance of behaviors, places, or people that might lead to distressing memories;

- inability to recall major parts of the trauma(s), or decreased involvement in significant life activities;

- decreased capacity (down to complete inability) to feel certain feelings;

- an expectation that one's future will be somehow constrained in ways not normal to other people.

An excerpt of the stipulations set forth in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (Text Revision) as seen on Wikipedia (date accessed: 2012 April 02)


It's the second time in six months that she's gotten black-out drunk, and she instinctively knows that this episode is going to be a hell of a lot worse.

The paranoia (there's a sniper behind every closed door) hunts her relentlessly, but she's experienced that before and she knows that though her physical response (increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sensory overload) makes her feel like she's close to a panic attack, her mind recognizes it for what it is. So it's not that. Nor are the delusions any more intense than the first time a sniper case triggered the onset of her posttraumatic stress disorder, and she figures she'll never not relive the memories. So that's not why either.

Not to say that either of those issues are easy to deal with, but they are nonetheless effects that she's dealt with before.

This though…This she hasn't.

This time she's alone. Really, truly alone.

(He's gone, even though he's there every day, and within the rubbles of her demolished wall there is only a malnourished heart too easily crushed beneath the feet of indifference.)

This time it's just her and her screwed up head seeing rivers of blood and glints of metal through windows that have now become her prison bars. Sirens and car honks are her heart monitors and resuscitators and the half-empty bottle of vodka on the table, her scalpel.

She's spiraling again, and she doesn't think she can stop it because this time a part of her doesn't want to bother trying.

(Not when I love you, Kate is inseparable from a bullet to her heart. Not when she completely missed it when always somehow became fun and uncomplicated is just what I need in my life right now.)

She thought she was okay, that she'd made it past the grappling fingers of her trauma.

It turns out she'd only put a bandaid on an amputated limb.

She's a fool for thinking that she could ever have anything resembling a normal life.

...

"Captain, I'd like to request a vacation leave."

"How long, Detective?"

"I... I'm not sure yet."

"Everything alright?"

"Yes. Fine. I just need some time to get my head back on straight."

"Alright." Gates studied her with disturbingly deep-seeing eyes. "Beckett, you're better without him."

Out of anyone else's mouth, those words would have sounded grossly patronizing. But she could tell that Gates meant every word that she spoke.

"Thank you, sir."

When Castle wakes up, he's still tired.

Not the I-partied-too-hard-and-now-I'm-reaping-the-consequences tired, nor is it the stayed-up-all-night-all-week-to-break-a-tough-case tired. No, this is the heart-sore, heartbroken kind of weariness that drags down his very soul.

He's been feeling this kind of tired a lot more often these days.

He knows the reason why, but he's also gotten really good at avoidance and self-deception these days.

His dreams—nightmares—are a factor, and he knows it's bad when the horrific memories of Montgomery yelling at him to take Kate away from the hangar and the blood that had fanned out beneath his dead body and the guilt of not being able to save him, to save anyone, are easier to face than the truth that she is—was—his best friend and she'd violated that trust.

Some things are better not remembered, she'd said, and he agrees. Too bad nothing he's done—not the flight attendant who's only fault was that she was the complete opposite of Beckett or the detective who's as gray as she is by the book—can make him forget his love for her.

There's a thin line between love and hate these days, and he fears that the caustic emotions will burn—have burned—a hole in his soul.

He gives himself another five minutes of wallowing in bed before he prepares to face the day before him with a smile plastered on his face.

He thinks—he knows that both his mother and daughter know that it's all an act, but he can't help but play the part in front of them too. If he allows himself to look at it closer, he'd have to admit that he's not putting on a show for their sake but for his. He can't afford to let anyone else see the shattered pieces of him because he won't be able to pick up the shards if he does. His broken self needs to stay to himself, just like his pitiful attempts at gluing the jagged edges together do.

The first thing Castle notices when he walks into the homicide division at the 12th precinct is Ryan and Esposito talking in hushed whispers. This by itself isn't what he'd call odd per se, but what is strange is the fact that they keep casting glances over at Beckett's desk. Beckett's empty desk.

"Hey guys. Where's Beckett?"

"Gone," replies Esposito.

"Gone, like for a dead body? Why didn't you guys go?"

"No, bro, gone as in taking a vacation gone."

He doesn't know why the fact that she hadn't called him to tell him that she was leaving exacerbated the aching hole in his chest, especially considering the distance he's been putting between them lately, but it does. It stings and he's afraid that this kind of pervasive hurt will never stop.

"How long?" he asks, trying to make his tone as nonchalant as possible.

Esposito and Ryan shrug in tandem. "Don't know. She didn't say."

"Huh."

He's more than a little confounded and it's obvious that the boys are too. In the four years that he's known her, Beckett has never once requested an extended leave.

"You think it has anything to do with her shooting?" wonders Ryan.

Castle startles and stares at the detective in confusion. "Her shooting? What does this have to do with her shooting?"

Both Ryan and Esposito shoot him identical incredulous looks.

"You're kidding right?" Esposito's expression turns thunderous. "You don't know?"

"Know what?"

"Last year today was the day she got shot."

...

When she applied for leave, Kate had originally wanted to leave the city for a couple of days. She needed time to get away from it all, away from Castle and his flavor of the week. Away from the overwhelming sense of inferiority that had risen up in her in recent weeks. (She's not good enough as a woman, and apparently she's not good enough as a partner or a muse.)

She'd thought maybe she could go back to her dad's cabin. It'd worked well enough the first time around.

But when she finished packing her duffle and grabbed her helmet, ready to leave behind the city for a while, she realizes she can't do it. She can't leave.

It would be better if the reason is because she's seen through to how much of a coward she is being, but the truth is that she physically can not leave.

Standing just beside her front door with a hand on the doorknob and the other grasping her bag, she freezes. The thudding of her heart beats too loudly in her head, and a rush of white noise drowns out any possibility of logical thought.

Outside these four walls, there is a sprawling city filled with towering skyscrapers and not enough cover. There is a sniper waiting for her to lower her guard (and really, what's the use of even having a guard when it'll be too late to take cover by the time she's attacked?). There is a Dragon who wants her dead because her mother dug too deep and now she's dug too deep, and she's been living with the sword of Damocles hanging over her head for so long that she just knows that the blade will fall soon.

She can't leave.

She's trapped in the jail of her own mind, the walls of her apartment closing in on her until she can only see the narrowest of tunnels.

There's no light at the end.

She could see no end at all.

...

Castle can't breathe. His heart chokes up his throat and his vision swims with dizzying bursts of light and dark behind his eyelids.

He can't believe he'd forgotten, can't believe that he'd been so absorbed in his own dilemma of heartache that he'd neglected to spare even the briefest of thoughts to the ongoing trauma the woman he still loved is struggling through.

It's likely they'll never be anything more than friends, if even that these days, but this is something that he should have been cared about for anyone, never mind a woman he yet to figure out how to excise from his brain.

It makes him sick to the stomach to realize that she is God knows where trying to figure this out on her own. "Did she say where she was going to go?"

"No. I got the impression she wanted to get out of town for a while though."

The to avoid you goes unspoken but it convicts him with just as great a force.

It's so easy to forget that just one year ago, Kate had survived a bullet to the heart by merit of nothing but sheer willpower. It's so easy to put out of mind the fact that her episode of PTSD just six months ago had very nearly crippled her, both physically and mentally.

She's still broken, and he knows that she must hate knowing that.

He should check up on her. He should be with her. He should be there. He should—

He shouldn't.

He can't.

Not when he's pushed her so far away this past month and half that he doesn't even know whether they still count as friends anymore.

Not when he doesn't know whether he can trample on his own heart so that he could look after hers.

But he also can't abandon her for the sake of self-preservation.

She needs someone right now, even if she'll deny it to her last breath, and if he can't be the one...

Lanie. A girlfriend. That's what she needs.

He needs to talk to Lanie.

Lanie isn't happy to see him. She hasn't been happy to see him in weeks.

He knows it's not a coincidence that she's been icing him as long as he's been cold-shouldering Beckett.

What are friends for, but to convict indiscriminately based on one side's story? he'd initially ridiculed in his head.

Now, he can only hope that Lanie's tenacious loyalty to Beckett would mean that she knows what's going on with the detective.

"Castle, what the hell are you doing here?" the ME throws at him without preamble.

"Have you talked to her?" he asks instead of responding.

Her expression is too carefully blanked. "Who?"

"Don't mess with me right now Lanie. You know who."

"The hell I do. You could be referring to your string of blonde bimbettes for all I know."

"Beckett. Kate. You know, your best friend?"

Lanie's casual facade falls away in an instant, and this time when she glares at him, he sees all the anger that's banked up there. "You do not get to use that tone with me, Richard Castle. You have no right. You have no right to take that position from me, abandon her, and then come and accuse me of neglecting her. You don't think I'm worried about her? Who do you think was the one who sat through late night panic attacks with her and cried with her when you decided to play all these stupid games with her heart?"

She gets up in his face and though she's a whole head shorter and then some than he is, she shoves him hard enough that he stumbles back against one of the autopsy tables. "Damn you Castle! There aren't a lot of people I hate, but you're getting pretty close to the top of that list juat about now. She was doing so well! Why'd you have to do that to her? Why would you spend all this time convincing her that you're for real, and just when she believes, you take it all away from her? Why?"

And then she does something that he never thought he would have ever witness in his life. The stalwart ME who has been such a rock for their team suddenly breaks down in tears.

"What am I supposed to do? I'm so goddamned worried about her but she keeps dodging my calls and every time I show up at her apartment she puts on this show for me, and I called her therapist's office and even though they refuse to tell me anything on account of ethics and all that stupid doctor-patient privilege, I just know that she hasn't gone in weeks. And now she's even taking off from work and I feel like I'm such a useless best friend that I can't even make her see that she doesn't have to go through this alone. Why did you have to go and break her again? Why Castle?"

He can't respond. He can't even breathe.

Too much. It's all too much. Too many revelations he'd been too blind to see. Too much hurt that she'd kept to herself, too much hurt she never allowed him to see.

The knowledge that she doesn't trust him is too much.

He can't, he just-

"Dad? Dr. Parish? What's going on?"

"Alexis," he breathes, and the sight of his daughter in scrubs and holding a clipboard in her hands still hits him like a punch in the gut every time.

Lanie recovers first even though she's the one who has to wipe away her tears and her smudged makeup. "Nothing, Alexis. It's fine."

Alexis has never had a high capacity for tolerating lies. "No, it's something."

"Alexis, let's not talk about it right now," he says, but even he can tell that his tone is more weary than commanding.

"It's about Detective Beckett, isn't it?"

"Alexis…"

"No, Dad, you need to know. You and Dr. Parish both need to know."

"What?" asks the writer and ME simultaneously.

"Mr. Beckett just called. He said that both your phones went to voicemail. Detective Beckett was supposed to arrive at his cabin two hours ago, but she never arrived, and she's not answering her phone either."


A/N: It was really hard deciding to actually write this. Beckett is such a strong woman and it actually hurts to write her having a complete breakdown. But while Beckett is strong, she's also very fragile, and I think it would only take a push in either direction for her to either fall down again or break out of it completely. The show, I think, is taking the direction of her recovery. As such, I wanted to explore the other possibility.

Anyhow, I don't know how long this particular story line will take before I'm happy with where it ends, but in the meantime, I hope you'll all be gracious to indulge me in my yarn-spinning. :) Thanks!