[Author's Note: Predictably, given the title, this is a prequel to "After the Storm"/post-ep for "Always". Of course, the second part is redundant because the two are mutually exclusive. I digress. Anyway, that part is predictable. Somewhat unpredictably, this is not at all smutty. It's just kind of a thing. You'll see. Without further ado, please enjoy.]

[Disclaimer: Sadly for me, I do not own Castle or any of its characters. But that's okay because Andrew Marlowe is better than me on many levels.]

During the Storm

Hearing a tiny, constricted sob, I realize that that must be what woke me up. Hastily, I roll onto my right side, expecting to be face to face with Kate, but instead I'm greeted with empty sheets. And another quiet cry. That's when I look up.

Sure enough, I find that Kate is the source of the noise. But right now, she doesn't look like the Detective Beckett I've known for so long; nor does she look like the desperate, broken-hearted Kate who showed up at my door mere hours ago.

No, she looks somehow different: lost. Her eyes are distant; her hands tremble as she clutches a pillow to her chest. Tears stream down her delicate cheeks, and she looks so, so young. Her soft, bare skin is covered in goosebumps. Beneath them I can see the harsh tensing of each and every muscle as she struggles to curl closer to herself.

The storm raging on outside has clearly picked up since we drifted off to sleep comfortably wrapped up in each other. I almost smile picturing the way she snuggled into me, nuzzling- gently but insistently- at the underside of my jaw; feeling the contagious heat of her as she settled against me; recalling the tiny purring sounds she made as I stroked the long, lithe lines of her pliant form.

I almost smile. But at that moment thunder crashes- so loud that it seems to shake the room. Simultaneously, lightning ignites our surroundings, so the storm must be right on top of us. In the same moment, Kate inhales sharply- through her nose, to judge by her lips, which are so tightly pursed that they are turning white. Her eyes are wide and unfocused, tears still streaming from their rims, and her fingers tremble as she releases the pillow to cover her ears with her palms. She tries unsuccessfully to curl tighter, make herself smaller, but it's no longer possible. I quickly pull myself up so I'm sitting next to her- though almost two feet away- and cautiously begin to inch toward her.

Not a minute later, we're greeted with another cacophony of thunder and lightning. In the flash, I notice that all the color has drained from her face- a stark contrast to the delicate flush of her skin as I ran my hands over it just a couple of hours ago. Given the look of unadulterated terror on her face, all I can think is that I need to get through to her, to bring her back to now, to me.

"Kate!" I say somewhat loudly, trying to make myself heard through both her daze and the last of the rumblings. A poor choice.

She flinches hard enough to send her falling from her precarious position on the very corner of the bed. And I suddenly put it together: a loud noise, a flash of light, me calling out her name.

And then she fell.

She lets out a short, blunted cry as she falls, the tender skin on her back tearing against the corner of the nightstand before she lands hard on the floor. I wince while I clamber out of the other side of the bed, deeply thankful for the thick rug covering the much harder and less forgiving wood floor. Doing my best to block out the onslaught of bad memories- the flash, her blank face, the blood everywhere, that single, silent tear- I hurriedly make my way around the end of the bed to her side.

In the dark, I can see little more of her than the outline suggested by the faint sheen of sweat decorating her features. But I can see just a little more, which includes the thin, pale fingers clawing shakily at the small scar in the center of her rapidly rising and falling chest.

"Shh… shh…" I whisper, using the same soft tone I used to soothe Alexis with when she was a little girl. At the same time, I pick her up gently and move with her to the edge of the bed, cradling her in my lap. Thunder rumbles again, low and loud and menacing, and an especially bright streak of lightning illuminates Kate's panic-stricken face.

"Castle," she whimpers, clutching me around my chest and digging her short, sharp fingernails into my back.

"I'm here, Love," I whisper. I gently bring her head to my chest, making sure her ear is pressed against me. I cover her other ear with my palm, hoping to calm her by quieting the noise-and just in time: another clap of thunder rolls through the room not ten seconds later. She turns to bury her face in the side of my neck, muffling the long, shrill sound she makes in her throat, which is neither a moan, nor a whimper, nor a scream, though I'm not sure exactly what it is.

What I know- and what I care about- it that it means she is hurting. I hold her closer and lean down to whisper next to her ear, "You're safe, Kate, I'm going to keep you safe. I let them hurt you once, and I will never let them do it again. I will never let anyone hurt you like that again." She is trembling so badly that she loses her grip on me and lets her hands fall helplessly to her sides. I can hear her breathing getting more and more shallow, and it's almost more than I can bear to see her in this much pain.

I rock her back and forth slightly on my lap and make sure to take slow, deep breaths, which I hope she will begin matching by instinct. The storm is passing now- the lightning and thunder no longer simultaneous- and I can tell now that it is the flashes of light that are doing more to contribute to her panic. With that knowledge, I decide to try a new tactic.

"Come here, Kate," I say softly, picking her up with me as I get to my feet. I lay her carefully on the bed, and I retrieve the fallen pillow from the floor. Then I lift her up just a little, sliding the pillow back under her head.

"No, Castle," she moans tearfully, reaching up, trying to grab my hands as I pull them away.

"Shhh… I'm here, Kate. I'm right here," I tell her as I walk around to the other side of the bed. At that moment, there is another flash of lightning, and she screams into the pillow. I climb into the bed as fast as I can, wrapping my arms around her and pulling her close to me. "I'm here. I'm right here, Kate. Right here." For a couple of minutes she just cries against me, chest heaving, pulse galloping.

"I'm s- sorry, C- C- Castle," she cries against me.

I shift my arm above her so I can cradle her head on my shoulder. "No, Kate, no…" I say gently. "You have nothing to apologize for, Love."

"F- for panicking… like this," she continues.

"Kate, look at me," I request. Just as she starts to peek up at me, rubbing furiously at her eyes, a loud thunderclap spooks her, and I feel her flinch against me. She buries her face again, fresh tears streaming, choking on sobs she is clearly trying to suppress.

I pull back just enough to give myself room to tuck my index finger under her chin and lift up her face so that sodden hazel eyes meet mine. Her bottom lip quivers. "It's not your fault," I tell her with quiet earnestness. "You can't control a panic attack, Kate- no matter how much I know you want to. And no one could fault you for it after the day you've had."

Thankfully, she seems to accept my reasoning, responding with, "I'm scared, Castle."

"I know, Kate. I know." I reach down and pull the covers up over us, tucking her in carefully. When this is done, I snake my hand under the sheets to rub her back. "Shh… Just close your eyes, Kate. I'm going to keep you safe." She shifts in my arms a bit and nuzzles my collarbone. Once she seems a little more settled I lightly finger the scrape left across her back by the nightstand. She makes a tiny squeaking sound, but she doesn't try to move away from me. Thankfully, she isn't bleeding.

The storm seems to have died down to nothing more than a heavy rain. We lie in silence for another few minutes before Kate turns her face away from my chest and whispers, "It happens every time."

I remove my hand from her back in order to brush away tears that quickly reappear on her cheeks after I do so. I tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, silently asking her to keep talking to me. "It's just…" she mumbles, avoiding my eyes, "just that I've, uh… Well, I've been scared of storms since I was little, and it's just- now, after… um…" I gently brush one finger over the little scar at the center of her chest. Our scar. "Yeah," she chokes.

I hate to see her working herself up again, but I know it will also do her well to put things like into words- in whatever capacity she is able. She is rushing now, but she doesn't clam up: "It's- I- I'm already a little scared, and the flashes, and it gets so loud with all the noise in my head, and I can't make it stop." She buries her face again, and I can feel hot tears tracing across my skin. "Make it stop, Castle," she pleads. "Please, just make it stop."

I hug her tightly against me and press a tender kiss to the crown of her head. "I'm going to try, Kate. I promise I'm going to try." I feel her nod against my shoulder and hear her sniffle.

After a minute, she rubs at her eyes again and looks back up at me. "Castle?" she asks quietly, her voice still shaky.

"Yes, Beckett?" I ask affectionately, smiling down at her lightly. She reaches up with one hand and brushes the pads of her fingers across my forehead, cheek, nose, and lips.

"Thank you," she whispers.

I press a long, loving kiss to her forehead and whisper against her soft, radiant skin, "Always."