A/N: Gah! I can't believe it's nearly been a month since this has been updated. I'm am so immeasurably sorry it's taken so long. In any case, thank you so much for your very sweet support so far, and I really do appreciate it when I hear your thoughts about this. Believe it or not, your reviews do change how I see the characters as I've written them, and they sometimes affect how I choose to have certain confrontations take place. So thank you for all your input, and I hope that you'll continue working with me on this.

Thanks!


Chapter Five


Hours later, Kate still isn't altogether sure what had happened that afternoon.

Angry words had been exchanged and wounds gouged open and yet... Yet he's still here telling her that he wants to work through her issues.

She can't believe that he's still here. Why would he still be willing to put himself through the torture she's raining down on him? She's not blind to the fact that her words had been merciless blades meant to cut deep.

There's a twisted part of her that she's just now recognizing exists. It's gone unacknowledged for years, maybe because no one has ever gotten this close to her; no one has ever pushed her this hard. There's just never been a Castle in her life. But now that he is, now that he insists on standing with her, she sees an ugly truth in herself.

Her wall is an excuse, a man-made construct—a her-made construct—whose purpose isn't to keep out, but keep in. It was made to imprison herself, reinforced with spiked walls to remind her that she cannot escape the prison of her own psyche. She pushes people away—pushes him—so hard because she works under this convoluted concept that if she pushes hard enough that he leaves, then she will be justified in not giving him a chance at all.

What it all boils down to is the fact that she's really just a coward.

She can see it now, but she doesn't know if she can overcome it, doesn't know how to fix herself. She doesn't know how to change it so that her first instinct isn't self-sabotage.

"How are you still here, Castle?" she murmurs, more to herself than to him.

But of course he hears her. He's always heard her, even when she doesn't want him to. Maybe that's the problem.

"What do you mean?" he asks.

She swallows, wishes her mouth would stop running away from her like that, but the words have already escaped. He's already given her so much of his dignity. Why can't she return the favor?

"I don't understand how you can still be here even after everything I've said."

His mouth spreads in a small, crooked smile. "I'm a glutton for punishment?"

She rolls her eyes, and then just like that, much of the tension that has gripped her since their fight has dissipated. He's always been able to do that. He's so good at knowing exactly what the situation calls for and how to respond, whether it be with a "Because you're tall" meant to make her smile, or a heartfelt "I thought you were a mystery I was never going to solve" that brought her out of the clawing snares of memory.

He does that for her, and she knows, despite everything she'd said earlier, that nobody has known her so thoroughly as he does.

In truth, she's the one who hides behind these exchanges. She's the one who doesn't dare to go beyond subtleties and heavy subtext-laden conversations. She's the one who hides behind anger like it could shield her from feeling too much.

He deserves more than angry words from her.

She licks her lips and scoots to the edge of the armchair so that she can rest her elbows on her knees, her gaze firmly fixed on the wood of her coffee table.

"Remember what I told you that first time you asked me why I didn't want to reopen my mother's case, and I said that it was for the same reason that a recovering alcoholic doesn't drink?"

"Yes."

She can feel the weight of Castle's gaze on her, but she doesn't dare lift up her eyes to meet his. She's afraid that if she looks at him, she'll chicken out.

Instead, she fingers the material of her pants and soldiers on. "I keep thinking about that S&M case we had, and how the roommate had killed our victim because she'd become so dangerously dependent that she couldn't let go. Castle, sometimes I feel like that with you. It's so easy for you to become…my addiction. My drug. My safety blanket. And…it isn't healthy."

His eyes study her so intently that she feels like they're drills burrowing into the very depths of her soul.

"Are you afraid of me, Kate?"

No," she replied quickly—too quickly. "Yes. I don't know." She pauses, gives him the respect of honesty and says, "I think…I'm afraid of what you could do to me."

She can almost feel him deliberating whether he should really ask the next logical question. "What could I do to you?"

"You could break me," she finally whispers, emotion cracking her voice.

"It's frightening letting another person have that power over you, isn't it?" he asks rhetorically, voice gentle. Then he confesses, "You already have that power over me."

She chokes on a silent sob. "How am I supposed to handle that responsibly?"

She hears him shifting, then suddenly he's crouching down in front of her, his large hands engulfing hers. "I was kinda hoping we could figure it out together."

She blinks back tears, panic rising in her just at the thought of everything he's placing in her incapable hands. He tilts her chin up until she's forced to meet his gaze, and his eyes are so very warm, a soft expression in them that she hasn't seen for weeks, maybe months. It's almost too much to bear.

She closes her eyes, bringing one hand up to cradle his as she leans into his touch.

"You deserve someone so much better than me."

"No," he responds sharply, and her gaze flies to his in surprise. "You don't get to say that. You don't get to choose what I want or don't want. That's my decision. Not yours."

Her breath hitches. Logically, she knows that. She knows she doesn't get to choose what his heart wants. But her fears have never been logical, and she's so afraid of him seeing all of her vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

Yet…if she doesn't give him this—give them this—what right does she have to ask him to stay? What right does she have to keep him from living his own life?

"Okay," she says suddenly, surprising even herself. "Yes."

"Yes?" he repeats, hope a dangerous entity even as his lips quirk into a small smile.

"Yes." She nods, more resolute this time. "Let's give us a chance to really get to know each other. And…we'll go from there."

His smile grows into a full-blown grin—his joy is infectious and she finds herself smiling just as radiantly—as he pulls her down off of the armchair and into his arms. The momentum of her crashing into him causes them to tumble together to the floor, and she surprises herself when she lets out a bark of laughter.

There's still so much baggage between them, but this…this is a beginning.

Kate can feel Lanie eyeing them suspiciously when the ME drops by after her shift to check on Kate. She knows Lanie will take the first opportunity to pull her away from the safety of her dad's and Castle's presence, but surprisingly, there's no monster of anxiety following the thought. In fact, if anything, Kate feels…excited to tell her friend about the new developments.

That's unheard of.

Especially since they're not really dating. They're just…getting to know each other?

That sounds ridiculous, considering everything they've been through together, but it's true nonetheless. They're both too good at hiding, and if she wants this thing between them to work—she desperately wants it to work—then they have to learn to stop hiding.

She knows it won't be easy, but the thought of sinking into them still brings an irrepressible light to her eyes.

Even the knowledge that she's being inexplicably eager to share the new developments of her relationship with Castle doesn't damper the silly giddiness that infuses her. She never realized how freeing it would be when they finally give in to the near-inevitability of their being together.

She wonders how much she's cheated herself out of in life because she's been too afraid to risk. She always thought that she's an adventurous person—someone who thinks outside the box and acts on it with boldness—but it's only now that she's beginning to see how much she's held back in living life to the fullest.

So when Lanie finally pulls Kate to her room after a dinner of Italian takeout with Jim and Castle still around, Kate complies willingly. Maybe even a bit enthusiastically.

"Alright, girl, what the hell happened today?" Lanie demands almost immediately after the door shuts behind them. "I left you a mess and I come back to find you glowing. Kate, you're freaking glowing."

Kate bites her bottom lip, a crazy, stupid-in-love smile fighting to break out, and she knows that Lanie's right. Everything is so sudden, so insanely, crazily sudden, but instead of making her freak out, it all just feels right.

"He wouldn't leave, Lanie," Kate finally confesses, awe and lingering surprise still lacing her tone. "I threw hell at him, and he wouldn't leave." She laughs. "God, he's must be crazy for not leaving."

Lanie cocks her head to the side and gives her a look that clearly says that the ME thinks that Kate might have finally lost a few marbles. "He didn't leave, so you're now off the moon? Girl, I could have told you he wouldn't leave years ago."

Kate shakes her head. "No, you couldn't. He couldn't either. Not years ago. But he can now. And now, I believe him."

Lanie studies her, the light of understanding beginning to flicker to existence in her head. It's not exactly accurate, but if Lanie had to scale down Kate's problems to just one cause, she would pick abandonment issues. That Kate is now so certain that the writer is here to stay…

Well, big would be a huge understatement.

"What changed?"

Kate lets out a self-deprecating laugh. "We fought. He saw me at my lowest and my meanest—and God, Lanie, I was really, really mean—and instead of running the other way, he just told me that he wanted to get to know the me I've been holding back from him. He's crazy, Lanie. He's so freaking crazy."

"Crazy about you, apparently," murmured the ME, her mind still a whir. "What about his 'I'm too cool for school' stunt these past couple of weeks?"

"Ah…That…might actually be my fault. Well, shared fault," she amends, remembering the biting pangs of hurt that had plagued her for weeks and even now had her clenching her teeth to ward off the tears.

"Explain." Kate quirks an eyebrow at her and Lanie stares back unafraid. "What?"

"I lied to him." She sobers when she realizes that he wasn't the only one she'd lied to. "I lied to everyone. When I told you all I didn't remember that day? The truth is…I never forgot."

Lanie's eyebrows furrow. "I can't say I'm happy that you lied to me, but I can understand why. It's easier with PTSD to just forget sometimes. Why's that such a big deal?"

"Because," Kate heaves a deep breath, "he told me he loved me. When I was lying there bleeding out, he told me he loved me. And in response, I lied to his face and told him I didn't remember anything. Lanie, at the hospital when I woke up, I told him some things are better forgotten."

Lanie winces. "Ooh, ouch." Then her eyes widen. "And he found out about it?"

"He found out, and the worst part is that I wasn't the one to tell him."

"Mm, well, I guess that explains that. He didn't handle it in the best way, but I get it. Shoot, now I feel kinda guilty…"

"Guilty? For what?"

Lanie chuckles a little sheepishly. "I kinda ripped into the guy yesterday at the morgue."

"What? Why?"

"I was mad at him. At you, too, for that matter."

"At me? Why?"

Lanie glares at her. "Don't say stupid things like, Kate, because I know you're really not that dumb. How long have you not been to Dr. Burke's office?"

And then just like that, all that giddy joy that had flooded her from thoughts of her and Castle drains away.

Kate remembers why she'd been so hesitant to dive in with him, so afraid to show him how messed up she really is. For goodness sake, just last night she'd drowned herself in the bottle even though she'd sworn—she'd sworn—never again.

Panic sets in, oxygen suddenly a precious commodity of which she can't seem to take in enough.

Who is she to think that she can really make this work with Castle? Who is she to think that she can really get better?

"Oh, no. Stop that right now," demands Lanie, her strong fingers digging into the bone of Kate's shoulders. "I can see you panicking all the way from right here, and I'm telling you to just stop."

It takes an exorbitant effort, but Kate manages to focus her eyes on the stern brown of Lanie's. "God, Lanie, what am I thinking? I can't do this!"

"Yes, you can, and I will tell you exactly what you are thinking," the ME bites out fiercely. "You are thinking that that man out there—the one probably burning a hole in your rug from pacing and wondering what the hell we're talking about in here—he will not leave. You already blew up at him and bitched at him to the best of your ability, but he's still here. He's not leaving. And girl, lemme tell you that you don't find a man like that just anywhere. You hear me? He's not leaving."

"He's not leaving," Kate mouths slowly after Lanie, the shudders she didn't even notice wracking her body now beginning to even out. Kate's forehead drops onto her friend's shoulder, and she lets out a muffled groan. "Lanie, I'm so screwed up."

Lanie snorts. "Hell yes, you are. But you are not going to give up that man because of that. You got that?"

It takes her a couple of seconds, but Kate nods. "Yeah, I got it."

Lanie pulls back as if to see how honest she thinks Kate is being. Whatever she sees—and honestly, Kate doesn't know how the ME can see anything beyond the wide dilation of her pupils—must be enough to convince her. "Good. Now, do you think you're up to telling me why you've been skipping out on your therapy sessions, or will I have to drag it out of you?"

Kate puffs out a laugh despite herself. "You're relentless."

"I'm just taking advantage of the fact that you still seem to be in a share-y mood right now. It hasn't happened much in the past couple of weeks," Lanie says bluntly.

The detective winces. "Yeah, I'm sorry about that."

"Kate, I don't need or want your apologies. I just want to know what's going on in that pretty little head of yours. You should know by now that one of the first signs of PTSD reemerging is a refusal to talk to your support, which in your case is Dr. Burke."

Kate presses her lips together and glances away. "It's stupid, Lanie."

A dark brow rises high. "Therapy is not stupid."

"No, I mean the reason I started spiraling again. My trigger." Kate takes a deep breath. "Part of it…part of it is because the anniversary of my shooting was coming up. The other part…I was just so used to of Castle being there as an emotional support that it threw me off when he wasn't there anymore. And I thought, if he could lie to me, if he could go back on his always, then why should I do what he asked? It was stupid, such a stupid, childish reaction, but I started looking into my mom's murder again. The paranoia started up first, and I recognized it—I knew that I should go see Dr. Burke, but then I was so embarrassed. I'd been doing so well, had been improving, and I didn't want him to see how much I'd slipped back."

"Kate, honey, that's what Dr. Burke is there for. There's nothing to be embarrassed about."

"I know, I know. I never said I was rational. Anyway, without Dr. Burke as my sounding board, the paranoia got worse and then the flashbacks and the nightmares came back. But the worse they got, the less I wanted to let Burke see how bad it'd gotten, and the vicious cycle just kept going on and on like that…until last night."

Lanie sighs, sitting down at the edge of the bed and patting the space next to her for Kate to sit down too. "Sweetie, you need to promise me that the next time you even suspect that you are starting to spiral again—and I hate to say, but there will be a next time; that's just the nature of PTSD—you get on the phone and you call me or Dr. Burke right away. No excuses. I've seen your sorry ass do more embarrassing things than have a relapse episode."

Kate sighs, knowing that she might not be able to do it even as she gives her assent. She wants to be better at this so badly, but she—

No, she chides herself. No excuses. She's done giving herself excuses about how hard it is to be honest and vulnerable. She has never been afraid of hard work before, so why should she use that as an excuse now?

"Okay." Kate nods. "I promise."

"Good." Lanie eyes her from her peripheral vision. "When are you going to tell Castle?"

"About this?"

The ME gives her a funny look that says all too clearly, What else? "Yes…" she drags out.

"I'm not telling him."

Lanie sits up straight and shoots her a glare. "Oh, yes, you are."

"No. No, nono. I'm not. I can't. You can't tell him, either, Lanie."

"Girl, you can't just hide this from him!" exclaims the black woman, incredulity etched into every nuance of her expression.

"I'm not—I just—" Kate breaks herself off, then tries again. "He can't know why, Lanie. He'll think it's all his fault. It'll break him."

"And you think you lying to him again won't?"

"At least he won't blame himself for something that isn't really his fault. He can't help it that I got emotionally dependent on him."

Lanie palms her face. "Oh my God, Kate, that is the dumbest thing I've ever heard come out of your mouth. If you're going to be in a relationship, there's going to be a degree of emotional dependency involved."

"Of course I know that. I just don't want him to have to shoulder this burden. I'm screwed up enough as it is. I don't want to make it even harder for him."

Silence falls between the two friends, and Kate thinks that maybe Lanie has finally decided to back off, but instead, the ME blindsides her with, "Are you still hungover?"

"Excuse me?"

"'Cause that's the only reasonable explanation for why your brain isn't working." Kate shoots her a dirty look, but Lanie ignores it completely. "As much as you may hate it, your emotional scars as just as much a part of you now as your physical ones. You can't expect to make this real with him and not tell him how much he's contributed to your emotional wounds. It's not about whom to blame or not to blame; it's about sharing your lives. Your relationship might work for now, it might even be great, but there'll always be that time bomb if you don't ever talk about it. And you know how well keeping things from him worked out the first time around."

Kate clenches her jaw as the truth in Lanie's words slides under her ribs to find its mark in the tender muscle of her heart. The majority of her knows that Lanie is right, but still, her heart aches just thinking about it. "It'll kill him to know."

"And you think the pain will be any less if you keep this from him? Kate, you and Castle are very different people. You heal best—or you think you heal best—in solitary. Castle? Castle doesn't do the alone thing. You need to understand that the victims themselves aren't the only ones who get PTSD. People who have witnessed the event can sometimes get it as well. I'm not saying Castle has PTSD; he doesn't exhibit any of the signs. But what he does have are a lot of emotional wounds that you help put there. And for him, the best way of getting over those wounds is by helping you get over yours.

"So you either get your head out of your skinny ass, and you really do this with him—truths and scars and all—or you let go before you hurt each other even worse." Lanie pauses. "Of course, with what you just told me, he's not going to let you go, no matter what kind of hell you give him, so when it comes down to it, you don't really have a choice."

Kate presses the heel of her palm into her eyes socket until bursts of light shoot through her closed lids.

God, she's going to break him before they even begin.