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Italicized sections are flashbacks.

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And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

- Anaïs Nin

The silence is deafening. Her apartment breathes around them, the dim white noise of appliances and steady hum of traffic amplified in the vacuum of their muted voices.

He stands in the entryway, hands fisted tightly at his sides, knuckles blanching from the force of his grip. His body is vibrating with rigidity, his neck and shoulders tense lines, jaw clenched and twitching. Her chest heaves with the aftershocks of her last verbal attack, blood hot and thick in her veins.

He breaks first.

"Beckett," she cringes internally at the slice of her surname, the acid dripping from the sharp edges of the consonants, "I can't be the only one in this. I can't hold this relationship together by myself. Not anymore."

"You knew who I was when we started this, Castle." She tries to keep her voice calm and even, desperately seeks some kind of center. "You can't expect me to change just because we're sleeping together."

"Sleeping together? Is that -" Anger rolls across his face, hard and fast, his eyes slipping shut in the wake of it. He takes a step closer to her and releases a slow, shaky breath. "Is that what this is to you? Us sleeping together?"

She can't speak. Can't find the words to tell him that it's not; that it's so much more than that. It's everything. Everything she'd hoped it be. Everything she never knew she wanted until him.

She's been struggling to find the words for months, to tell him how much she loves and adores him, how happy he makes her. How she feels like a whole person when she's with him. How he fills the empty places inside her chest with his love and his smiles.

Her traitorous body won't allow the words to come. Her throat is thick and closed, her lungs spasming against her ribs. The smothering panic sets in, the way it always does in these moments. The moments when her heart almost succeeds in making itself heard, in overriding her head.

She blinks at him, her eyes wide and dry. She wants to reach out. Wants to touch him and show him how she feels. But that's what led them to this place. The place where he realizes just how damaged she actually is and decides he can't take it anymore. Somewhere in the back of her mind a little voice sings a song of vindication, crowing out lyrics about the inevitability of this moment with a chorus of harmonizing I told you sos.

Castle sighs, his shoulders sagging as the fight drains out of him. She watches the shutters go up behind his eyes, watches him give up.

On her.

On them.

"Okay, Kate. Okay."

He grabs his jacket from her coat rack, thrusts his hands deep into the pockets. She hears the dull jingle of metal and feels herself sway a little on the spot. His hand comes free of the fabric, a tangle lump of keys clutched tightly in his fingers. Without looking at her, Castle isolates the key to her door and slides it from the ring, places it gently on the solid oak table. She wonders briefly how the table manages to remain standing under the weight of his actions.

His head lifts and he looks at her, eyes shining with unshed tears.

"You know where to find me."

Slowly, his hope for her to stop him cushioning his every movement, he turns and walks out the door.

Kate stands motionless in the living room, arms limp at her sides. She wants to chase him down, to give him her battered and bloodied heart. Rip the organ from her chest in the middle of the street and hand it to him. It's his.

She's his.

She wakes slowly, her body heavy and warm. His arm is thrown over her waist, elbow bent, fingers curled into the soft skin at her ribs. The sheet slips down her legs as she stretches, her protesting joints and muscles making themselves known. He sniffs and tightens his grip, pulling her closer, his chest pressed firmly into her back.

"Tell me this isn't a dream."

The rough timbre of his voice, scratchy with sleep and disbelief, undoes her.

"Nope," she sighs, rolling over in his arms and sliding one leg between his. "Very much not a dream."

He runs a hand through her hair, traces the pads of his fingers down the line of her neck. His eyes rove her face, and she tries not to flinch under his naked examination. She knows he has questions. They didn't really take the time to talk before, caught up so completely in the pull of each other's bodies. Of finally being able to give in.

"Ask me."

He sighs and closes his eyes, the hand on her neck going still. She leans forward and presses a kiss to his shoulder, rests her nose against skin. He smells like cologne and sex and man and she feels the fire ignite in her veins again, her body coming alive in his arms.

"Are you staying?"

She pulls back slowly, the cool fabric of the pillowcase rustling under her head, and examines his face, his eyes screwed tightly shut, worry lines creasing his brow. It's not exactly the question she was expecting but she's not surprised by it either. She knows she's given him absolutely no reason to trust her. Has actively worked to destroy his faith in her.

Her hand moves to his cheek, fingers running along the stubble at his jaw. He opens his eyes slowly, fear and hope warring on his face.

"Yes, Castle. I'm staying."

His entire body shudders with relief and he tightens his arms, gathering her up against his chest. He buries his nose in her hair and she presses her lips to his neck, tastes his pounding heartbeat. Her hands roam across his chest, tiny circles meant to sooth and calm. She feels him start to react to her, the heavy blanket of sleep falling away, leaving his body warm and thrumming under her hands.

He tilts his head down until his lips are brushing her cheek, paper thin kisses that make her ache with tenderness and want and so much love.

"I love you, Kate."

His words are a hot current against her ear, feathering her hair across her neck. She surges forward and takes his mouth, presses her lips insistently to his. He groans and wraps a large hand around her neck, pulling her deeper into the kiss. Rolling them over, he pins her to the bed with his strong hips and broad chest. He pulls away and hovers over her on bent elbows, his eyes dark and bottomless.

"We have to talk. I need to know what happened."

"Later," she murmurs, lifting her head off the pillow to chase his mouth. "I promise, I'll tell you everything."

She scrapes her nails down his back, runs over the curve of his ass, the coarse hair on his thighs. His eyes flutter shut when she starts the return trip, the tips of her fingers ghosting over his hips and ribs.

"Kate -" His voice is strained, teetering on the edge of control.

"Later, Castle."

She arches up into him and sucks on the ridge of his collarbone, her teeth nipping at the thin skin. He collapses back onto her, his body winning the battle for now. His hands perform a slow and thorough exploration of her skin, seeking out the places that make her sigh his name into the early morning light.

Her skin turns red as she sways under the water. The shower is scalding but it's not enough. Not enough to make her forget. Not enough to cauterize the open wound of her chest.

He left.

She repeats the words over and over in her mind, trying to make them real. Turning into the unrelenting spray, she closes her eyes and tries to block out the image of him walking away.

He didn't look back.

The air feels like molasses as she shuts off the water and steps out of the shower, her limbs heavy and hot. She dries herself hastily, staring at the shirt hanging from a hook on the back of her bathroom door; she'd pilfered it from him early on, wanting to have something of his for the nights they spent apart. Her hand shakes as she reaches for the limp cotton, beads of water running off the tips of her fingers.

Pulling it slowly from the hook, she turns and deposits the steam dampened shirt in her laundry basket. She wants to pull it over her head and crawl into bed, drown herself in his scent. But she's not that person. She doesn't do things like that.

Which is exactly the problem.