A/N: So here's the next installment since it seems I've committed myself to actually writing this one all the way out. Unfortunately, I still have to warn you, it hasn't gotten any more pleasant. Yes, eventually there will be a happy ending, but this isn't the end and there's not much happiness here. Sorry.

Beckett keeps glancing over to where Castle sits half in and half out of the open door of a squad car. A detective bends over him, she thinks it's a guy named Monahan, but she can't be sure in the dark. He's questioning Castle, and she's relieved to see that he seems to be answering. If he is, it will be the first he's spoken since she took the gun from him back in that room she would rather forget.

Which was okay, she did enough talking for both of them, coaching him on what to say when help finally arrived. What had to stay in, and more importantly, what parts to leave out. Explaining how to be truthful without being precisely forthcoming when they give their statements. The trick is to tell only some of what happened without ever denying there was anything else. It's a fine line to walk for someone who knows the way that defense attorneys grab onto every little discrepancy, someone who's seen perps go free on the slimmest of pretenses, but tonight it's necessary. For both of them. She can only hope his guilt doesn't loosen his tongue.

She's under no illusion that the story won't eventually have to come out. But their captor, a man she now knows is Malachi Baerman, the managing partner of Club Marquis, is still only semi-conscious. The officers are busy sorting out who else was involved in producing the club's violent videos, and at least for tonight, they have some breathing room. They have a chance to collect themselves, an opportunity to have a hand in exactly how and when they finally reveal the details, a way to salvage at least some of their tattered self respect. She's sure they're going to need it.

Really, really sure, especially if the way Ryan and Esposito are reacting is anything to go by. They came over as soon as the EMT finished treating the whip marks on her back. She knows they saw the state of her clothes before she changed into the tee shirt and sweats someone found for her. She suspects they heard her refuse hospital treatment. Now they're shuffling around in front of her, Esposito's face closed up like a fist, and Ryan staring at the ground, pushing a stray pebble around with the toe of his shoe. She knows what they want, and suddenly, their reticence infuriates her.

"For God's sake, I'm not going to break if you say the word," she snaps.

They look up at her in surprise, Ryan's gaze glancing off her own to settle somewhere over her left shoulder. Esposito scowls even harder and clears his throat. But neither of them speak.

She huffs out a breath and forms her words with exaggerated clarity. "I do not need a rape kit. If I did need one, I would get it done. In case you've forgotten, I'm a cop and I know how important it is."

"Right," Esposito says gruffly.

Ryan's eyes are still pinned to some indeterminate point behind her. "Um, okay, that's good," he mutters.

Beckett just closes her eyes. They won't like it, but she mentally adds getting the two of them off the case to the list of things she has to do before all the sordid details come out. She sighs; it's a long list, and suddenly she is very, very tired.

They're taken back to the precinct in separate squad cars, interviewed in different rooms, kept apart because that is protocol and with one of their own as a victim, the NYPD isn't taking any chances. She doesn't know what he's said, but when she emphasizes the whip, minimizes the sexual contact, and pleads exhaustion for her lack of details, they accept it, so he must have stuck to their story. Or refused to talk. That possibility worries her and she tries to get him alone, if even for a moment, but every time she catches sight of him, his expression is wooden and he flinches away. Finally, she gives up.

It's close to midnight when they're allowed to go home. Castle's in no shape to drive and his Ferrari is still parked somewhere back at the crime scene, so they send him home in a black and white. She catches the uniform assigned to drive him and makes sure he'll see him all the way to his door, asks him to make sure Martha is home, and tells him to call her if the loft is empty. Then she heads for her own vacant apartment.

Her apartment feels cold when she finally arrives, the echo of her footsteps louder than usual, but she shrugs it off, heading for the shower. That's what she wants, the sting of water against the nicks on her back and buttocks, beating down on her until it washes this night away. She shucks off the tee shirt and sweats, holding them between her thumb and fingers as she stuffs them deep into the trash. She knows they have nothing to do with what happened to her; she wasn't wearing them until after and they don't even belong to her, but she doesn't give a damn about logic at the moment. She wants them off and gone.

She turns the water on as hot as she can stand and steps into the shower. For a long moment she just stands there, eyes closed, and lets the spray pound down onto her. The cuts on her back prickle and burn but the pain feels good, the way you relish a sharp pinch that lets you know you've woken from a nightmare. She grabs a bath mitt and starts to scrub. She wonders why she doesn't feel much cleaner when the hot water gives out and forces her to leave.

She dresses and pads back out into her kitchen, grabs a glass and roots through her cabinets in search of a brand of forgetfulness that will work for her. The tequila and rum on the front of the shelf hold no appeal. They're too reminiscent of pleasant times, shared laughter and easy company. She digs in the back until she finds the bottle of amber liquid. Whisky is what she wants, its peaty, smoky curl on her tongue making her think of burned and buried things before its hot burn in her gut wipes everything away. She pours herself a large shot and takes a long swallow, then regards the remaining liquid for a moment before refilling the glass and carrying it over to her couch.

She's truly exhausted, her mind fuzzy and her edges frayed, but she shies away from her bed. The thought of sleep, alone, with only the dark meanderings of her mind for company, keeps her out of the bedroom. Instead, she turns out the lights, grabs a blanket, wraps it tight around her shoulders, and curls up in a corner of her couch. Sitting in the half light of the streetlamps that filters in through her windows, she sips the whisky and lets silent tears trail unheeded down her cheeks.

She wakes with her heart pounding and her breath coming in rapid gasps. She knows she must have dozed for a couple of hours because there's a sharp crick in her neck from where her head has rested awkwardly against the arm of the couch and the cuts on her back are dried and stuck to her top. But now, a panic attack has her in its grasp. She knows what to do, practices her breathing, counts backwards from one hundred, until the immediate physical symptoms have passed. Even then, a sickly dread pools in her gut. It might be anxiety left over from the attack, but it feels like more than that. This worry has a specific focus.


It's still hours before dawn, she shouldn't take the chance of disturbing whatever sleep he might manage, but the worry makes her nauseous, so she finally picks up her phone and dials. It goes straight to voicemail. It means nothing; she knows that. She cradles the phone and tries to convince herself that everything is okay, but her mind insists on playing back his face, his broken, crumpled expression, as he held the gun to his cheek. Her anxiety spirals out of control. She's pacing now, quick strides taking her towards her door and back again as she loses her nerve. Finally, she realizes there's another solution. She grabs her phone and dials another number.

"Hello," Martha's sleepy voice answers after several rings.

Beckett lets out the breath she didn't even know she was holding. "Martha, it's Kate."

"Kate? Is something the matter? It's four AM."

"No … yes … um, could you do something for me?"

"Darling, if it's important enough for you to call at this hour the least I can do is try."

"Would you check on Castle?"

There's a long moment silence on the other end of the line. "Kate, what happened tonight? Richard hasn't said a thing."

"Please, Martha, don't ask me that. Don't ask him either. Please." She hates her frantic pleading tone, but the thought of someone prying into what they've been through runs through her like a hot knife. A knife they'll both have to face when they tell their stories tomorrow.

"Relax, darling, forget i asked."

"Thank you. Would you call me after you see him? I just …"

"No need to explain, but why don't you stay on the line, I'm almost there." Beckett can hear the creak as she opens the door to his bedroom. "He's asleep," Martha whispers into the phone.

"No, I'm not," Castle mutters in the background. "Is that Beckett?"

"Do you want to tell her you're okay?"

"No. Just tell her I'll see her tomorrow," he says in a tired voice, then flinches when he hears Beckett's sharp intake of breath come through the phone. His mother has put the phone on speaker and the sound makes it clear she heard his brusque response.

"Richard," his mother chides him.

"It's okay," Beckett says, knowing his assurance of tomorrow has answered her most important question.

There's an awkward moment of silence before Castle releases a shaky sigh. He beckons for the phone. "I am glad you called," he finally whispers.

She lets out the breath she didn't know she was holding and speaks softly into the phone. "I know. I just needed to hear your voice." Then she thumbs the button and ends the call.

There's really not much else they can say right now.

Beckett retreats back to the couch. Talking to him, if you could call it that, has eased her most immediate worry, but sleep still eludes her. Eventually, the oppressive silence of her apartment becomes too much. It won't be the first time she's gotten to the precinct before first light, but it will be the first time the case that sends her there is her own.

She pulls her hair back into a severe bun and dons her usual turtleneck and blazer. When she feels the grip of the collar around her throat, and the restrictive tug of the blazer across her shoulders, her skin prickles with unease. Even the minimal bind of clothes she wears everyday is too much to take, makes her flex her fingers and roll her shoulders to reassure herself of their freedom.

She can't spend the day this way, her skin crawling every time an innocuous bit of clothing pulls at her limbs. She lets out a little huff of exasperation; she hates to feel this weak. Still, there's nothing she can do to stop it so she peels off the offending items and shrugs into a loose, draping top instead. Then she heads for the precinct.

She's deep in paperwork when Ryan and Esposito walk in. They have a hushed conversation over by their desks. She knows it's about her even though she can't make out more than the anxious susurration of their whispered words. She pointedly ignores them. Finally, her lack of reaction provokes them into action, or maybe they just reach some sort of decision. Either way, the whispers stop and Esposito walks over to her desk and hovers there silently.

"What?" she asks. Her irritation comes through more strongly that she intended, but damn it, this will be much easier if they'd stop treating her like some sort of fragile flower.

"We, uh, didn't think we'd see you in here so early."

"Yeah, well, I couldn't sleep. Figured I might as well be productive," she tells him flatly. Then she waits for the question he really wants to ask.

"You know we got taken off the case?" he asks carefully.

"I do. I'm the one who requested it."


But she's ready with an explanation and cuts him off. "For obvious reasons, I'm off it too. I wanted you two available when we catch our next body." It's not the truth, but it should salve their egos enough to forestall their questions.

"I guess that makes sense," he says uncertainly.

He hovers for a moment longer and she can tell he isn't sure whether or not to believe her, but she's made it too hard to push the issue so finally he walks away. She lets out a sigh of relief. It's not that she likes lying to her partners, but until she figures out how to get everyone to just forget last night and go on, she doesn't have much choice.

She can feel them watching her as she goes through the mundane motions of any other morning without a case. Whenever she glances up they turn their eyes away, but still it goes on. She tries to imbue her actions with some sort of exaggerated normalcy, as if she can make sure that the way she reaches for a stapler today is exactly the way she has reached for it every other day before. It might convince them, but it gives her an uneasy sense of unreality. She feels like she is sleepwalking through one of those semi-lucid dreams. The kind where you know you are sleeping and yet find yourself powerless to prevent your unconscious self from walking off the cliff you know is right around the corner.

It's almost a relief when Captain Gates finally walks in. Beckett jumps up before Gates can reach her office and catches her at the door.

"Sir, can I speak to you for a moment?" Gates waits expectantly and Beckett is forced to go on. "In private, sir?"

Gates nods and leads her into her office, removing her jacket and settling herself behind her desk before looking up at Beckett. "What can I do for you, Detective?"

Beckett finds herself nervously fingering the edge of her top as she searches for the right way to present her request. Her outfit feels unprofessional, vulnerable, and for a moment she curses the weakness that made her succumb to her irrational fears of confinement and forgo the armor of her usual clothes. She forces herself still, squares her shoulders and takes a deep breath.

"I wanted to talk to you about my statement ... and Castle's too. I know we'll need to give a full account but I was hoping it could be kept under wraps, at least until we know if it'll be needed. I can assure you that the details from last night have no real bearing on the ongoing investigation and I just think that I … we … can be more effective in the future if those details don't become common knowledge."

"And you want me to just take your word for that? You're not going to tell me so I can decide for myself?"

Beckett holds firm. "I'd rather not, sir. The thing is, we have Baerman dead to rights on multiple charges. He'll be looking to trade information in exchange for any kind of plea, and the DA will probably give one to him. I'm okay with that; we need to mop up the rest of this operation before they hurt anyone else. But that means he'll never see the inside of a courtroom except as a witness. You'll never need us, so it wouldn't hurt to seal our files. We have to tell someone and the DA will probably need to see it, but everyone else …" she trails off, chewing her lower lip as she waits for an answer.

Gates regards her impassively for a long moment and Beckett wonders if she's going to turn her down. Finally she speaks. "You know, Detective, contrary to popular opinion, I do have your best interests at heart."

Beckett thinks that point might be open to debate, especially since she's already been forced to say far more than she wanted, but Gates isn't looking for her opinion.

"I'll make the necessary calls," Gates eventually says.

Beckett breaths a sigh of relief. "Thank you, sir."

Gates gives her an assessing look, then her expression softens. "If I was in your shoes, Detective, I'd ask for Julie Sokoloff from SVU."

The suggestion is more than Beckett expects. "I will, sir," she stammers.

"Do you think Mr. Castle has any particular preference?"

"He seemed okay with the detective from last night. Monahan, I think."

"Then I'll arrange that as well." Beckett's still fumbling for some appropriate show of gratitude, but before she can find one, Gates's face hardens once again. "Is there anything else?" she asks.

"No, sir."

"Then we won't speak of it again unless we have to."

Which only makes Beckett more grateful, because forgetting about the whole ordeal is exactly what she wants.

When she first sees Detective Sokoloff, she almost regrets taking Gates's advice. The detective is not at all what she expected. A stocky, buxom woman in her middle forties, she is dressed in casual clothes that, along with her physique and kind expression, give her a somewhat motherly appearance. Beckett can easily see her comforting the sort of victims SVU encounters on a regular basis, but comfort is the last thing she wants right now. A glance at the woman's eyes, however, reveals a keen intelligence and the matter of fact way she deals with the preliminaries eventually starts to put Beckett at ease.

"Sorry about the surroundings," Sokoloff says, waving a hand to indicate the bare walls of one of homicide's interrogation rooms. "We've got nicer rooms for our interviews in SVU but after talking to Captain Gates, I assumed you didn't want to be seen down there."

"You assumed correctly. But it's okay … not like I'm not used to being here, even if I am usually on the other side of the table," Beckett replies with her best attempt at a wry smile.

If that smile looks more like a grimace, Sokoloff doesn't comment on it, simply getting down to business. She elicits the details from the previous night without offering either judgement or sympathy, asking the necessary questions in a clear, calm voice that allows Beckett to find the detachment she needs to retell her tale. In fact, relating it this way, in these surroundings, is actually helpful. Sokoloff is satisfied with the facts, doesn't push for any emotions or reactions beyond those required to understand what happened, and by the time Beckett has finished, it's almost as though the whole incident happened to someone else. It surprises her, but for the first time since she woke up bound in that horrible room, she feels able to take a deep breath.

Her relief is short lived.

"Just a few more questions, but these may be a little harder for you," Sokoloff says.

"Okay," Beckett replies with a nod.

"Before this incident, did you and Mr. Castle ever have a relationship of a sexual nature?"

Beckett's gaze flies up, but she sees only calm impartiality in the other detective's expression. "No. Never."

"And, to be very clear, you have said that, despite achieving an erection, any sexual acts performed by Mr. Castle were done so under extreme duress?"

Beckett can't help the gasp that escapes her.

"I'm asking because I have to," Sokoloff explains gently, then waits for her answer.

Beckett swallows thickly, her mouth suddenly dry. "Yes. I want it to be clear that he would have died before he hurt me. Literally died. But the alternative Baerman offered was even worse than what he made us do."

"He threatened to rape you himself. Is that correct?"

"Yes. So I begged Castle to do whatever he asked. It's very important that everyone understands I told him to do it and I was glad he was capable of it. I don't know what would have happened if he wasn't."

"Understood. I think that's everything I need," Sokoloff says when Beckett finally falls silent. "You did just fine, Detective. I'll get this typed up and you can sign it this afternoon. Don't worry, no one will see it. I'll type it myself," she adds when she sees a flash of worry in Beckett's eyes. "One copy for the DA and another will be sealed before it's put in the case file." Then she gathers up her notes and starts to leave.

Beckett manages to regain at least a small measure of her earlier composure. "Thank you for making this as easy as possible."

Sokoloff pauses by the door and regards Beckett with a perceptive gaze. "Nothing easy about it. I know you think you've got it under control, and as a cop you've certainly had plenty of practice when it comes to compartmentalizing, but don't make the mistake of thinking that solves anything. My advice is that you find someone to talk to, or it's all going to come back when you can least afford it."

It's a struggle, but Beckett keeps her face bland as she nods in agreement, because talking about this any further is the last thing she wants to do. It doesn't fool the other detective, who gives a low sigh of resignation.

"Don't say I didn't warn you," Sokoloff mutters as the door closes behind her.

Beckett rests her elbows on the table as the door clicks shut and leaves her alone in the interrogation room. She buries her head in her hands and presses her palms against her temples as if that desperate pressure can somehow squeeze out the sound of Sokoloff's last words and leave only her fragile sense of normalcy behind.

No new cases come in, so she spends the rest of the day at her desk, fending off Ryan's and Esposito's concerned looks with a veneer of calm and repeatedly checking the halls for Castle's appearance. It's mid-afternoon before he finally arrives, his glance sliding away from her as he follows Monahan into one of the interview rooms. He hasn't shaved, and the dark circles under his eyes betray his sleepless night, but he appears otherwise intact, if subdued. She tries to take comfort in that.

When Castle emerges an hour later, he heads straight for the elevator. She jumps up and follows him, shoving a hand between the closing doors and ignoring the way he flinches when she steps into the enclosed space with him. There's a long moment of silence while the door slides shut. He has his arms wrapped around himself, although whether the gesture is for protection or because he no longer trusts himself around her is not something she can discern.

"I told him everything," he finally says in a broken voice.

"I know. We had to, but Castle, no one else will know. Gates agreed to keep it under wraps unless it's needed. The files will be sealed and when Baerman makes a deal, that will be the end of the whole thing. We were taken hostage and no one will ever know anything more than that."

"I'll know," he whispers. Then he closes his eyes. "You'll know," he says even more softly.

She reaches out to comfort him and can feel the vibrating tension of his muscles under her hand. "Oh, Castle … I don't care. I told you that."

He just shakes his head as the car grinds to a halt. "I need to stay away from … here … at least for a little while," he tells her.

"I understand. I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything about a plea. Then, when it's finally over, it will be easier to come back."

He gives her one last look that's so devoid of hope it almost rips her in two. "Maybe," he says as he walks away.

She feels an almost visceral pain, although whether it's fear or anger, she really can't tell. All she knows is that maybe is not the right word. It's not their word, and while she believes she can put this behind her, she doesn't understand why he won't try to do the same. It leaves her hurt and scared and more than a little pissed off because she can't cope with maybe when what she really needs to hear is always.

It takes longer than she expects for the DA to make a bargain with Baerman and each passing day only increases her anxiety. She wonders if maybe she was wrong, if somehow that twisted, evil man is willing to take the fall for his co-conspirators. But it doesn't add up, she can't picture him taking a death sentence silently. Besides, the prospect of telling her story at a public trial simply doesn't bear imagining, so she puts it out of her mind and focuses on the body that finally drops on their watch.

It's not a very interesting case, but when Castle fails to appear at the crime scene, Ryan's brow wrinkles and he starts to comment on his absence. A sharp glare from Beckett silences him before he ever finishes the question and when she leaves the room, Esposito digs an elbow into his ribs and delivers a glare of his own.

"You an idiot, man?" he asks Ryan.

"No, I just wondered-"

"Yeah, well quit wondering and start thinking before you speak, because you do not want to ask her that question."

"But aren't you worried about him?"

"Sure I'm worried, but he's got a family to look after him. She only has us and she's made it very clear she doesn't want to talk about it, so until we know something different, we're going to give her what she wants and not fucking talk about it. Got it?"

"Got it," Ryan agrees, but when Beckett comes back, he keeps his eyes on her and the worry lines stay between his brows.

Beckett knows they're watching her, knows they don't quite believe her facade of normalcy, but other than Ryan's one almost question, they hold their peace and do their jobs. She does the same. Gradually, at least during the daytime, she manages to forget the axe hanging over her head.

Nights are a different story. She stays at the precinct as late as she can without raising even more questions. When she finally has to go home, she buys herself a few hours of restless sleep with the help of her bottle of whiskey. She knows she can't go on for long like this, but Baerman's plea has to come through soon and if it doesn't, well, she's pretty sure she'll need more than alcohol to get her through that circus.

She has almost given up hope when Gates finally calls her into her office one afternoon a few days later. In her exhausted state, she finds she's unable to read Gates's expression and has to wait, her every nerve jangling, for the captain to tell her the deal has come through. Her relief is so great, she doesn't register the details of Baerman's plea, just the fact that this nightmare is finally over and the threat of exposure gone for good.

"Sir, I promised Castle I'd let him know when this was over and I'd rather do that in person. Do you mind if I take the rest of the afternoon off to do that?"

"Does this mean I can expect Mr. Castle back at the precinct gain soon?"

"I hope so."

Gates makes a disgusted noise in the back of her throat, her expression sour, but she waves her hand towards the door. "Go on then. Tell your author he's off the hook. I suppose I'll survive his return."

"Thank you, sir."

Relief lightens her steps as she heads for the elevator. She's so happy to know that the days of anxious waiting are over she never considers that Castle may not be as ready to put it all behind them. It never occurs to her that the real nightmare might be just beginning.

Her fist on his door echos the hammering in her heart as she waits for someone to answer. Eventually she hears a slow shuffling of feet and the door swings open, Castle standing on the other side. He doesn't look good. He's dressed in a tee shirt and jeans that look like he's been wearing them for a while. His hair hasn't seen a comb yet today and his cheeks are shaded with stubble. But it doesn't matter now, because things can finally get back to normal.

"It's over, Castle," she says in a rush, waiting for relief to light his eyes. "It's over. Baerman took a plea and we can finally forget all this."

He doesn't answer, just moves away from the door to grant her entrance. He ends up standing by his couch, his back to her and his fingers clenched against the leather. She can hear his breathing, harsh in his throat, as if even the act of living is too painful for him.

"Can you really, Kate? Because I can't," he finally rasps out.

"Can I what?"


"Yes, I can and I will. So should you."

There's an undertone of anger in her voice now, because damn it, why won't he just let it go. She's arranged everything, held herself together by sheer force of will in order to reach this outcome while he's sat here in his loft drowning in self pity, or self recrimination, or whatever it is that's making him act this way. She is over it. She wants her life back, wants to sleep at night without needing the dull burn of alcohol, wants this all to become no more than a fading memory, but she needs his help and he's refusing to cooperate.

Hell, he's refusing to even look at her.

"Don't you think I want to forget?" He turns his haunted eyes towards her. "I can't even sleep. I keep having dreams about it."

"So do I. So what? You know that's normal. Did you think we'd get away without even a touch of PTSD?"

"There's nothing normal about these dreams."

She doesn't quite understand what he's trying to say. "Maybe you just need to talk to someone."

"And say what?" He gives a mirthless laugh. "'Hey, doc, I raped my partner, and guess what? I enjoyed it-'"

"You didn't rape me!"

"Than what would you call it? And, in some other universe, that might even be forgivable since there was at least a gun to my head. But now I dream about it and the same thing happens. I dream about being in that room with you, doing what I did, and when I wake up …"

He breaks off with a strangled sob. She reaches out to comfort him but he flinches away, leaving her standing there with her arm outstretched and a fist squeezing her heart.

"I dream about it, and when I wake up I'm hard as a rock. I don't even think there's a word for what that makes me."

Except she knows the answer to that and she knows she's to blame. All the years of her not being strong enough to accept what was right in front of her are what led them to this. Months upon months of him holding back are what make his body reach out for what his mind tells him he can't have. The last thing she wants to do is jump into the murky pool of their relationship at a time like this, but she doesn't see any other way to get through to him.

She reaches out again, wrapping her fingers around his arm. This time she doesn't let him shake her off, keeping her grip firm until he's forced to turn and face her.

"Castle … Rick, it only makes you one thing - the man who loves me. It makes you frustrated, and tortured, and totally human and it's all my fault."

She knows she should say the words, tell him that she shares his feelings, but even now, her fear gets the better of her and she can't quite choke them out. Instead she slides her hand up to his head, her fingers threading into his hair, and pulls him down into a kiss.

At first he doesn't respond and his lips are slack underneath hers. But she can feel the breath hitch in his chest, and after a moment, the gentle curl of his fingers against her back. She puts everything she can't say into the kiss, slicking her tongue across the seam of his lips and delving inside when he finally parts them. She knows the moment the dam breaks, when he gives back all that he's getting and his torrent of emotions floods into the kiss.

She feels the first, faint stirrings of panic when his arms close more tightly around her but she pushes them down. This is Castle. She knows him, inside and out, and knows he would never hurt her. But it makes no difference. Just days ago, the innocent pinch of a tailored blazer set her nerves on edge, and she's helpless before the onslaught of irrational fear that swamps her when he presses her back against the wall and his lips trace a hot line down her throat.

Her hands fist in his shirt and his name catches in her throat when her chest constricts. She starts to struggle, her heart hammering against her ribs.

"Castle," she finally manages to choke out. "Castle, stop."

Her hands push against his chest as the claustrophobic feeling nearly overwhelms her. She finally gets through to him and his mouth leaves her skin as he pulls away a little bit. It's not enough, but at least she can breath again. He looks at her, confused, and she knows the moment he finally understands the panic written on her face because his arms fall away from her and the hope dies in his eyes.

He lets out a strangled sob. "Oh God, Kate. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. All I ever do is hurt you."

"No, you don't understand. Rick, it's not you, it's me."

"What difference does it make when what happened in that room took away any chance we ever had?"

"It doesn't have to be like that," she says, frantic to get her point across. But she knows her words are not enough even if he was capable of listening to them right now.

"Yes, Kate, it does." Tears are streaming down his face. "Please, just go before we make this any worse."

She doesn't want to leave it like this, but he's disappeared into his study and closed the door behind himself. She's scared and shaking and nauseous as the aftermath of her panic curls sourly in her gut. There's nothing left to do but go, the sound of his door latch snicking shut behind her echoing as loudly as a gunshot in her mind.

She makes it downstairs without falling apart, makes it all the way to the corner of his building, the sheer force of her will holding her shattered emotions at bay. But finally it hits her and she staggers into the nearest alley, her arms wrapped around her waist.

The next thing she knows, she's bent double, her forehead pressed to cold brick as she retches up her anguish into a puddle on the dirty pavement. She stays there long after the spasms have receded, the taste of bile as bitter as failure on her tongue. The hollow ache in her gut makes her wonder if maybe he was right after all.

It's over, she thinks, it's really over. Only now that thought brings absolutely no comfort at all.