Thanks to Jessie who, as usual, had to put up with a gross amount of whining, even for me.

Disclaimer - I don't own Castle. But I loved Still, you guys. I loved it so much.:)


The Calm Before


"I'm okay." Castle can't stop repeating himself, saying it over and over, like a mantra. "I'm okay." His throat is stinging and his hands are tangled in her hair, his voice muffled in her neck as he clutches her closer. "I'm okay." He doesn't know who he's trying to convince.

"I know," Kate whispers against his ear, her voice warm and gentle. "I know you are."

He's fooling no one.


18 hours earlier

Castle doesn't get spooked, not really. He's not a worrier, not a worst-case-scenario kind of guy.

So at first it he isn't particularly concerned. They're wandering around a mad bomber's apartment, but they do shit like this every day. Nothing's going to happen to him, and long ago - almost from the very beginning, if they're still keeping score - Castle learned that he couldn't dwell on all the things that could happen to a police officer on duty. On what could happen to Kate. Not if he ever wanted to sleep again.

No one is exactly blasé when Esposito radios to warn them about a possible explosive device in the building, but it's not like it's a shock that a suspect with a bomb fetish is trying to blow them up. As they head for the door it still doesn't occur to Castle to be afraid.

It's only when he's stopped in his tracks by the inexorable, metallic screech of Kate activating a bomb that he feels his heart stuttering slightly off track. He has the inane thought that it sounds like a needle scratching across a record, an overused cliché of a noise, designed to bring everything to a halt.

"What was that?" he asks. But he already knows. Knows by the way Kate is holding herself so carefully still, by the riot of panic behind her eyes. Somehow he remains upright even as his knees dissolve and the floor seems to tilt under his feet.

Now he's afraid


Now

Castle hasn't had this nightmare in months.

Tonight it begins as usual, the nightmare he'd had almost every night that summer, when she didn't die but still left him all alone. It's the one where he's holding Kate as she bleeds out in the cemetery, dead before a medic can even get to her side.

Occasionally the dream varies. Sometimes she makes it to the ambulance, but dies in route to the hospital, her life evaporating into nothing while Castle holds her hand. Other times Kate doesn't make it through surgery, and Josh comes to tell them while screaming that it's all Castle's fault.

No matter what the variation, one element remains constant. Castle's always helpless to save her.

Tonight is something new. He's in the cemetery, squinting against the sunlight, the flash of the sniper scope hurting his eyes and clenching his gut. He goes for Kate, knowing, as he'd known then, that he's too late, that she's already been hit. But this time, instead of bleeding out against the grass as he begs her not to leave him, Kate explodes where she stands. Blood and guts and bits of bone erupt in every direction, covering his hands, his face, his clothes. His arms are empty and she has left him so completely that there's nothing to hold onto. She's just gone.

Castle thrashes awake in Kate's bed, his heart pounding in his ears, the fear tearing along his skin like a live wire. There's a coppery smell in his nostrils, and his skin is tacky and viscous with the phantom feel of her blood. For half a second he's too disoriented by the dark and the adrenaline to be sure what is real.

Blindly Castles reaches out for Kate, needing to touch her, just to feel her breathe, but finds only empty sheets. His stomach flips almost up into his chest and sparks erupt across his darkened vision as panic overtakes him. She's gone.


Earlier

Castle remembers this feeling, this hot rush of fear. It washes over his skin and settles in his stomach, heavy and thick. As many times as it's happened, as many times as he's almost lost her, it seems he would be used to it.

He's not.

Not after a year ago, when he walked away after Kate refused to save herself. And a year before that, when her blood - and his whole life - spilled out bright and red across a quiet spread of green under a beautiful sky. Or the night he pulled her from the hangar, kicking and screaming. When he'd pulled her from their sunken car, lifeless and still.

Some things you never get used to.

It's not the first thing people would say about him, but Castle's pretty good under pressure. The more serious the situation, the more solid and decisive he becomes. His focus sharpens, the objective made clear. Right now Kate is all he can see.

She stands completely immobile, almost close enough to touch. Almost.

"You're not standing on a bomb," he says, over and over, as if repetition will make it true. He forces his locked muscles to relax into a causal lean against the door frame, lightens his voice to counter the weight in the pit of his stomach.

"Well, if I'm not standing on a bomb, I'm glad I'm not standing on one with you." Kate almost manages a smile.

Castle smiles back, glad that he's momentarily good for something. Positive thinking in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

He refuses to admit that Kate might truly be standing on an armed explosive until denial is made impossible by the very kind, quiet and desperately sorry captain of the Bomb Squad. Confirmation that it's a bomb is both a shock and totally expected.

Well, that's a bombshell, he thinks he should say. Inappropriate and tacky and only borderline funny, but it might annoy Kate for a second, and annoyed isn't good but it's a thousand times better than imagining her imminent death. It's the least Castle can do to help her.

The very fucking least.

The effort to stay calm physically hurts.

Castle spends the rest of the day – morning, hours, infinity – it a state of suspended, unexpressed terror.

His muscles are in knots, his mouth dry, and there's heaviness across his shoulders that threatens to pull him down and under if he doesn't fight against it with every breath.

Anything to keep Kate still standing before him. To keep her still.

When Kate asks him to leave and tells him she loves him, Castle can hear it in her voice, the absolute conviction that this is the end. It hits him so hard in the gut that he can't believe he isn't doubled over with the agony of it. His body is straining against the overwhelming urge to cross the line and snatch her against him, the fear trying to reason that if he does at least he'll get to hold her one last time.

Somehow he answers I love you too without the horror blocking his throat. He doesn't argue and walks away, but Castle can only assume the strain of standing on a bomb has actually damaged her brain, because Kate's totally fucking crazy if she thinks he's leaving her alone to die. He'd be hurt that she actually seems to believe he'll do it, if he wasn't using all of his energy to maintain this ragged, desperate veneer of calm.

In the end he almost cracks. With thirty seconds left on the clock his are eyes welling up as his insides unravel, but by some miracle his hands hold steady to enter the code that saves her life. Kate steps over the red line and into his arms.

He holds her too tightly. She's the only thing that's holding him up.


Now

Castle pulls in a heaving breath, and another, vaguely wondering if he's about to hyperventilate, and tries to pull himself together. It's too late.

"Kate," he calls, his voice twisted and choked by his heart in his throat. She doesn't answer. "Kate!" He tries to stumble out of bed but is still tangled in the covers. His balance is compromised by the sheets snaking around his legs and he falls to the floor, landing heavily on his knee. The sharp reverberation along his bones, rattling his brain, only makes him more frantic because she was right here and he has to find her before she's abducted, or shot, or blown up and shit, he's got to keep this under control, he can't…

The bathroom door flies open. "Castle?" Kate's in the doorway, backlit by the dim night light over the sink. Only her silhouette is visible, but she doesn't seem injured, or dying, or dead, and Castle thinks he might throw up from the sudden relief.

"What happened?" She's on the floor beside him, her hands hovering over his leg. "Oh God, your knee."

He's gasping, his chest hot and tight as he grabs her wrists and yanks her to him. "Not my knee," he chokes out, running his hands under her shirt, along her back, trying to explain. "You…I…it's you." The warmth of her skin and the wholeness of her body against him finally burst through the tight control he's had all day and now he's nothing but need.

Castle surges forward and takes Kate with him to the floor, his hands shaking as he protectively cradles her shoulders, her head. His mouth is on hers before she can say another word. He's lost in an overwhelming wave of longing and leftover fear, his only anchor her hot skin on his.

Kate gasps something against his mouth and lays a calming hand along his jaw, but it only enflames him more. He turns his head to capture her thumb in his mouth, sucks it hard until he feels the answering press of her hips against his thigh. He's already tugging at her panties, desperate to get to more of her, all of her, all at once.

He shouldn't be this crazed for her. It's only been hours since they'd stumbled through Kate's door and fallen on her couch in a tangle of naked skin and love and relief. He'd been so grateful for the fact of her, alive and naked in his arms, that he'd touched her like she was glass. "I won't break." Kate had whispered in his ear, but he couldn't shake the image of her standing on that bomb, eyes closed, ready to die. Her body, she, had seemed so slight and vulnerable that he couldn't help but feel he had to keep himself under control.

This is nothing like that. It's hot and volatile. A detonation.

Her panties are only half off before he gives up and runs a hand between her legs. He moves down her body, his other hand clutching her thigh, pushing her leg almost flat to the floor, his thumb digging into the soft inner flesh.

Kate arches against him hard, a startled, ragged sound dragged from her throat, and shit what is he doing. Castle pulls back, his hands hovering over her even as she wraps her leg around his to keep him close.

"I'm sorry," he chokes out, because, God, he's being too rough, he's going to hurt her. But Kate cups her hand behind his neck, her fingers cool against his burning skin.

"It's okay, Castle. I'm okay."

She's okay. She's here, alive and in his arms, and he can't hold back anymore. He yanks her shirt over her head and palms her breast, his other hand at the small of her back to drag her hips closer. Kate chokes out a gasp as she presses into his hand, and the last of his control disintegrates in a conflagration of love and lust and frantic need.

In one move he pulls Kate off the floor and onto the bed. She bounces as he crawls over her, his breath coming in hard spurts. She reaches for his shorts but he brushes her hands aside. He pulls them off himself before gathering her wrists in his hand and pulling her arms over her head, holding her spread out under him. Holding her still.

For a second Castle just looks at her. Her hair is fanned across his pillow, her eyes hot and locked on him. She's panting, her breasts dragging against his chest with every breath; every single breath that says she's still alive.

"Castle." Her voice is low and rough, and he presses his lips to her throat, runs his tongue along the hollow under her jaw as she throws back her head. "Please."

He presses her hands harder into the pillows, closes his eyes as he pushes into her, the sensation so hot, so close, so close to her, that his eyes start to sting. Kate wraps her legs around him, her wrists straining against his hands, her hips moving in time with his, and it's so perfect, so fucking perfect that he's almost angry. Angry that the universe, or fate, or Kate thinks that they will ever be over, that it will ever be time to say goodbye.

"I would never leave you." He's growling in her ear, every hard thrust of his body pulling from Kate these throaty gasps that are making him crazy. Castle runs a hand behind her thigh and pulls her leg wider, higher. His hips are flush with hers but he needs to be closer still. "Don't ever ask me to leave you again."

Kate is squeezing her eyes shut, but it doesn't stop her tears. They slip from the corners, leaving tracks against her temples that he traces with his tongue. She clenches her fingers into his, her nails biting against his skin. "No, don't…I couldn't let you…"

"No." He abruptly stops. Kate makes a broken noise, her eyes flying open as her hips press upward, almost lifting them both off the bed. Her wrists strain against his grip but Castle resists her pull, desperate, furious, that she understand. "You have to let me." He can't stop himself from pushing inside her again, one searing slide. "I'll never give up on you."

Kate twists up to him, trying to get closer. She almost sobs, and suddenly she's broken his grip. Her arms twine around him, her fingers fisting in his hair as she half sits up, her mouth against his ear, her cheek wet along his. "Don't you understand?" She digs her nails into the back of his thigh, urging him to move. "I love you, too. I love you, too."

And then she is like a flame, her skin almost burning him, wild. She's holding him so hard, straining against him to meet every thrust and Castle can't keep a rhythm, is driving into her with no finesse. "Promise," he grits out, as everything pulls tight and his vision starts to white out at the edges. "Promise you'll never ask me to leave you."

"Yes." Kate is breathing in fast little gasps, like she does when she's close. Her thighs are like a vise around his hips, her face buried in his neck. "I promise." Her voice is breathless, shattered, and her teeth come down hard on his shoulder as she explodes in his arms.

It's over then, so over, with her body clenching around him, inside and out. His arms spasm, binding her to him, and Castle hears an unrecognizable noise being torn from his throat as he follows her in a blinding burst that seems to last forever.

When he finally comes down to find Kate locked against him, alive, her promise echoing in his ears, he can almost pretend that he believes her.


"I'm okay." Castle can't stop repeating himself, saying it over and over, like a mantra. "I'm okay." His throat is stinging and his hands are tangled in her hair, his voice muffled in her neck as he clutches her closer. "I'm okay."

"I know," Kate whispers against his ear, her voice warm and gentle. "I know you are." She slides her hand down his arm and tangles her fingers with his. "Will you sleep?"

Castle pulls her against him and buries his face in her hair. "Yes," he whispers, and with the warmth of her body against him and her hand in his, it doesn't feel like a lie.

He'll be able to sleep. Soon they'll get some distance from today and what almost was, and he'll remember how to forget all the ways a police officer can be killed in the line of duty. All the ways he could lose Kate.

He'll sleep. Just not tonight.