A/N – This is my entry into The Great Castle Angst Fest of 2012. It isn't funny AT ALL, but I hope you will read to the end of the chapter before you quit and/or decide to throw things at me.:) (And I'm a whole hour ahead of the countdown clock, ER.:)

Disclaimer – I do not own Castle.


Castling


Dress, dress me down - I don't mind. Leave me to my insides.
I don't need this lonely skin anymore.
- The Narrative, Castling


Chapter 1


Kate wakes in a tangle of sheets and sweat, her hair scratchy at her neck, her mouth dry. She lies still, wondering if she will have to run for the bathroom to be sick. Sometimes she does. She carefully breathes in through her nose and out her mouth, deliberately blanking her mind, forcing back the dreams.

It helps, not to think about the dreams; even the good ones, the ones where he's there. When it's a bad one – blood covering her hands and drenching her shirt, splattered in her hair, the smell strong and sharp – it's imperative that she doesn't. Think about it.

When she can't stop herself and instead goes over and over it in her mind, the repercussions are…

Well. It's bad.

Dr. Burke reminds her three times a week that there was nothing she could have done then, and reliving it now won't change anything. Kate sometimes wonders if Dr. Burke can't help but view her as his very own Sisyphean task; if it wearies him just to see her walk in the door. It just seems so pointless now.

Six weeks since it happened. Nothing, really. But long enough that anything before seems like an almost unbearably naïve and beautiful dream. Everyone tells her she needs to give it more time, but they forget that Kate has been through this before. She knows herself, and she will never be able to let this go, to go back to whatever normal had been before the accident.

The accident. That's what everyone calls it. She has no idea why. Murder isn't an accident.

Kate carefully climbs out of bed and pulls off her sweat drenched pajama shirt. She sways a little where she stands, her head pounding, but she's not going to be sick this time. The dream was a good one. She tries to block it out, but hints of it bleed through, the colors bright.

They are at the loft; he is making her scrambled eggs. She is standing on his side of the counter so she can be near him while he cooks, can lay a hand on his back or lean her cheek against his arm.

In the dream she crowds her body between his and the stove. Kate goes up on her toes to kiss his neck right where it meets his jaw and it's all so real. The tug of his arm against her back as he pulls her closer, the prickly sensation of his cheek against her fingers, his mouth warm and firm. Not like a dream, not even like a memory, but like she is there with him, right there, and it is everything else - the loss, the sinking loneliness - that is the dream. The nightmare.

She can see the steam coming off the eggs as Castle slides them onto her plate. The fork is smooth against her hand, the orange juice sweet and cool in her mouth. She teases him, what about my coffee, Rick?

And then everything changes, the angles go wrong. He turns to her, his face ashen, weary. I'm sorry, Kate. God, I'm so sorry. He reaches for her, draws her into his arms, so solid she can still feel them, can still smell his shirt, his neck.

All false, a trick. A lie, because Castle is dead, and she can't hug him or kiss his neck or breathe in the scent of his shirt, ever, ever.

Kate abruptly sits down hard on the edge of her bed, her shirt crumpled in her hand. The realization hits her again that he is gone, that she'll really never see him again. It is as incomprehensible and unbearable as it was the first time. And the second, and the third, and the tenth, and the two-hundred-and-twenty-seventh. It will never be okay. She will never be okay.

It's starting. The panic is rising up to choke her, to rip her apart and send her spinning with nothing to anchor her. To remind her there is nothing left.

She needs to get to the bathroom and take a pill before it's too late; before the grief descends upon her, dark and smothering, hot, leaving her to sob herself into insensibility, unable to move even to call for help.

Kate doesn't have the energy to worry about herself, but somewhere in the person she used to be she feels terrible for her friends. Her dad. If she doesn't go to work someone will come to find her. Esposito or Ryan will invent an excuse to call. Lanie and her dad won't bother with excuses and will stop by the moment they don't hear from her when they should.

She doesn't want them to find her; needs to spare them that. Kate feels guilty enough for the time with Esposito and the whiskey, and for letting Lanie discover her that morning three weeks ago. She was curled up and borderline unresponsive, her eyes nearly swollen shut, stomach muscles sore with sobbing and dry heaving. It would be unconscionably selfish to allow her dad see her like that.

It's happened more than that once, but only Kate and Dr. Burke know that.

That's why she agreed to the pills. Not to help herself, but to spare everyone else. There is no help for her.

Kate's supposed to see Dr. Burke tomorrow. To pretend to push the bolder up the hill, only to see it fall again.

She is never going to stop falling.


I see signs now, all the time, that you're not dead, you're sleeping. I believe in anything that brings you back home to me. -Bloc Party, Signs


5 weeks earlier

Castle comes to slowly, the blood sluggish in his veins. The drug haze never really lifts, but it isn't strong enough to completely subdue the dull ache of pain at his chest, his leg, the base of his skull.

He struggles toward wakefulness. It's a fight to shake his drug induced dreams, but knows he must. His thoughts are hazy, his reality nebulous and fragile. Time is always bending and twisting, with no markers in this stark white room to prove its passage. It would be so easy to sink into the dreams.

The dreams where he is home, whole and safe. With Alexis, his mother.

With Kate.

When he is awake the pain is so great he can barely think of them. At best they have no idea where he is. At worst they think he is dead. Sometimes Castle isn't sure he's not.

His memory isn't reliable. Castle has been trying to piece together how he came to be here in this white room, restrained to a cot, only shadowy figures with their needles and their questions to show that he isn't the only person in the world.

It seems forever since he's had a clear recollection of anything, and when he wakes he desperately dredges up the last thing he remembers, tries with his addled mind to sort through the details, to find some sense.

The last clear memory is of the ambulance. But it started in the warehouse. It seems like that's the beginning, but it can't be. The beginning stretches back too far to see, further even than a mother bleeding out in an alley.

His head aches. Concentrating, thinking makes it worse and Castle has to take a deep breath, force his mind to focus on what he knows. To try to link together the moments that brought him here, so far from Kate.

He and Kate were in a warehouse, and he remembers thinking that nothing good ever happens in a warehouse. Some shit was always going down. They knew the suspect was there. They saw him enter after an anonymous tip had them staking out the place for hours.

Castle trips over this point every time, the anonymous tip. Now it seems suspicious, but then it hadn't seemed that odd. The case was high profile. It had been on the news; they had received dozens of tips. This one was oddly specific, but someone had to know something, and at the time they had been grateful for what seemed like a break in the case.

Except it wasn't a break. It was a trap.

But in the memory that is slowly unspooling - each piece collected and fitted with the one before it - they didn't know that yet.

They weren't stupid. They did everything right. They called in their destination to Gates. Kate radioed for backup when they saw Councilman Bauchman enter the warehouse. For two hours no one else had gone in or out. They had no reason to believe it was an ambush.

It makes no difference. Castle knows Kate will believe it is her fault. Will think she should have seen from the beginning that what seemed like a case of petty political corruption - self contained, related to absolutely nothing - was actually the case engineered to bring them down, to get them safely out of the way for good.

But it seemed so easy. So routine.

Castle takes another careful breath. It's agonizing, but it means the drugs are wearing off. He can almost think is in a straight line, and the pieces of memory are coming faster now, bright and vivid. It's almost like he's there again.


Another week earlier

The warehouse is uncharacteristically open and bright, sunlight streaming in from the upper windows. The catwalk circling the walls under the windows is clear, as is the bare floor of the warehouse itself. Deserted, except for Councilman Bauchman, who stands at the other end, his back to the wall, eyes wide, hands in the air. So easy. A sitting duck.

Kate advances with her gun trained on him, calling to him that it is over, to keep his hands where she can see them. Castle is maybe three steps behind, just enough to give her space, but still close. Just in case.

They have just reached the middle of the warehouse. He is distracted by a beam of sunlight striking Kate's hair, by the dust motes sparkling in the golden halo that surrounds her, when the councilman shouts, "Don't shoot!" his voice echoing. Castle guesses they'll never know if he means Kate or if he has had a sudden last minute change of heart. Perhaps the councilman has realized a moment too late that he is expendable.

Or maybe it is just the signal, because immediately there is a flash and a boom, the sound bouncing and rebounding off the walls. Castle instinctively reaches to cover his ears. He sees Kate falter but never lower her gun, and then in his peripheral vision men are materializing out of nothing, melting out of the walls, dropping from the ceiling.

Before he can even turn his head there is a gunshot behind him. Blood blooms across the councilman's chest as he slowly folds to the ground, his eyes still wide. Kate shouts and starts to turn but abruptly crumples to the floor, limbs askew like a puppet with snipped strings. Castle grabs her arm as she falls and sees the dart in her neck. He has split second of relief - she's not shot - before he is grabbed from behind and roughly turned around.

He is facing a man all in black, including a ski mask. He is holding a gun, and while he roughly jerks him away from Kate –he hears her body slump to the floor – his manner is incongruously casual. "Hello, Mr. Castle. If you would just step away, please. We don't want anyone else to get hurt."

"What?" Castle's ears are still muffled and everything has taken on a frantic and surreal quality. His heart is pounding with adrenaline but his mind hasn't caught up, doesn't yet realize he is afraid. The dissonance, all of it so unexpected, and his mind is on pause, drawing a blank. It hasn't been thirty seconds. "What?"

The man steps back and nods in the direction of the door. Castle looks up just as he hears another shot, and another, right before a burning pain explodes in the right side of his chest, then in his left thigh. He drops to his knees, the impact sending another white hot flare of pain up and through him, bursting in his head with a bright flash that slowly fades to black.

The next thing he knows he is draped across Kate's lap. Her vest and his are on the floor, and she's pulled off her shirt to press against the hole in his chest. Her other hand is trying to hold his leg closed. His vision is tunneling and his hearing isn't working right because she sounds like she is a long way away.

"Castle!" She is sobbing, her voice hoarse and breaking. "You do not die, you are not allowed to die!" His blood is all over her, gruesome streaks across the bare skin of her torso, stark against the white of her bra, somehow in her hair. She leans over him, the sobs tearing out of her, sending waves of pain through him every time her body jerks against his.

"They're on their way, just hold on." He can barely understand her. "Oh god…Castle…Rick…please."

She tries to rest her head against his neck, but her right arm stretched to his thigh is putting her at a weird angle. Her face is wet against his throat and he can feel her lips moving against his collar bone as she alternately pleads and demands that he live.

Castle wants to reassure her but he can't focus, or hold onto any one thought. He can't seem to inhale properly, and he can't speak past his burning thirst. Terror hits him, because he's done enough research on how it feels to bleed to death to know what that means. His vision is slowly fading out, not to black, but to white, and he knows it's the blood loss, that he's almost gone.

With seconds left he focuses on Kate. He has to tell her…but he can't get any air to speak. He must have jerked with the effort to breathe because she raises her head, her face inches from his, her cheeks smeared with tears and blood.

"Castle?" Whatever she sees in his face makes her more frantic. "No! You can't, please God, they're almost here. Please Castle! You promised!"

She is almost hyperventilating, and he can't stand it, her distress, this nightmare coming true for her again, …. .. . and he can't …..has to tell her… .. …_

The memory twists and ripples and this time there is something new. He remembers coming to, blinking, trying to clear his vision; trying to think against the pull of the all encompassing pain because this is wrong, wrong.

"Hello again." It's the polite voice from the warehouse. But he's not in the warehouse.

"Try not to panic, please. We've given you some pain medication that should begin alleviating your discomfort momentarily."

Everything is burning searing tearing pain. Kate.

"I'm afraid we had to transfuse you in the ambulance. You had us worried for a moment, Mr. Castle. Unfortunately we had to cut it a little close in there."

A man steps forward, still all in black. He checks something on one of the numerous machines and smiles at him jovially.

"It was touch and go, but you're going to make it. I'm sorry for the complications. We would have given you more medical attention at the site, stabilized your blood loss before the ambulance arrived, but your girlfriend proved rather impervious to our tranquilizers." He smiles conspiratorially, like Castle should share the joke. "That dart should have put her out for ten minutes at least. It barely held her for three. My guys had to scramble, really pull a Houdini to get out of there without her seeing them." He shakes his head. Whistles. "She's something else, I tell you what."

"Where is she?" It takes all that is left of him and still he barely makes a sound.

"You don't need to worry about Kate Beckett, Mr. Castle. She's fine. And will continue to be so, as long as we understand each other."

"Where is she?"

The man continues to smile but his eyes lose their warmth, his tone dropping the good-old-boy charm.

"She isn't here, Mr. Castle. Don't you want to protect her? Isn't that what all of this is about?"

He can't think, something…

The man in black pulls out a syringe and taps the side while another man dressed as a paramedic steps from behind him. Castle doesn't register the feel of the needle against his skin but it must have gone in, because he is whirling into darkness. The last thing he hears is the man black, suddenly loud against his ear. "This is what you agreed to. Believe me, Mr. Castle. It's for the best."


Alone in the white room Castle is suddenly struggling for air. A heart monitor is going crazy, the frantic beeping sure to bring a silent, blank-faced nurse armed with a syringe to send him swirling back to unconsciousness. He fights to take deep breaths, to slow his heart, because that can't happen, not now that he's remembered what happened.

Now that he's remembered why.


"What would you do to save her?"

"Anything. I'll do anything."


Thanks to Laura and Jessie, who talked me off the ledge with this one, and to Nic, who talked me off the ledge AND found my typos.:)

This is a departure from what I usually write, so I would love to hear what you think.:)