“What do you remember about your shooting, Kate?” Dr. Burke, the dark-skinned man seated across from her, appears completely relaxed and attentive. His posture is open, inviting, and thoroughly focused. It’s obvious he wants her to feel comfortable in his presence, but it’s so different than what she’s used to it actually has the opposite effect.
“I’m not here for a psych eval,” she replies. “I’m going to be released from the hospital tomorrow and they said I should come talk to you. About things I might experience during the healing process.”
“You don’t think talking about the incident will be beneficial?” His tone is not curious or accusatory, but rather one of mild interest. He’s letting her control the situation, call the shots. She’s not used to being handed power so readily. She has to remind herself that this is not an interrogation room; there is no grapple for dominance here.
“No, I don’t,” she says firmly. “I don’t want to.”
“It’s your decision, of course. But I’ve often found that in talking it out, patients of mine can see their issues more clearly and recover faster.” He waits for her response.
“No thanks.” She doesn’t want to relive it by talking about it. Even skirting around the subject puts her on edge and makes her uncomfortable, rousing a deep ache in her chest.
“All right. Well, here’s what I can tell you: shooting victims often experience some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Are you aware of the symptoms?” Kate nods quickly, a sharp dip of her chin and back up again. “Some major things to look out for are nightmares and triggers.”
“Objects, places, or people that subconsciously remind you of the shooting. Obvious ones might be a sniper rifle or the cemetery itself, but less obvious ones might be a whistle you heard right beforehand or something as mundane as that.”
“Could it be a person?” Kate asks in spite of herself. “An action, or position?”
“Yes,” Dr. Burke nods slowly. “Why do you ask?”
She ignores the question and proceeds with one of her own, one that instills fear in her heart. “How do you know if someone or something is a trigger?” She’s thinking about Castle and his profession of love.
“If it’s a trigger, you’ll know. Triggers will set off involuntary and oftentimes surprising reactions in you, such as taking cover, crying, screaming, or evoking nightmares.” Kate frowns. She can’t imagine herself doing any of those things, except maybe the dreams. Those have already begun to haunt her.
Then his words sink in and she breathes a sigh of relief. Castle is not a trigger. He causes no adverse reaction in her, and his presence even keeps some of the nightmares at bay. She’d glad she won’t have to deal with that on top of everything else. Because most of all, she wants Castle at her side for this. She likes the thought of having her partner every step of the way.
“Hey, Dad!” Alexis greets him with a smile. “What are you making?”
Castle side-steps to cover his work before adding the finishing touches and brandishing the completed plate.
Alexis’s eyes widen. “My favorite pancakes! What’s the occasion?” She takes the plate from him and sets it on the counter. She hunts down a fork and digs in with gusto, a sight that makes Castle smile.
“Well, as you know, I’m going home with Beckett today,” Castle says, drizzling batter for another large pancake onto the pan.
“Oh. Right,” Alexis mumbles. She sets her fork down and wipes a bit of chocolate syrup from the corner of her mouth with a napkin. She’s obviously unhappy, and Castle gives her an inquisitive look.
“Do you have a problem with that, sweetheart?”
“Well…no,” Alexis looks unsure of herself. She’s doing that thing where she chews on her lower lip while she’s thinking, and despite the situation Castle can’t help but marvel at how adorable that is. “I mean, I guess not. I just wish you’d asked me first, you know?”
“Alexis, I don’t need your permission.”
She looks at him, something unreadable in her blue eyes. “I know. But…you’ve always had a bit of a blind spot where Beckett is concerned. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I mean, I do it too, but…any one of us could have been shot at that funeral, Dad. I got an up-close look at what you two go through daily, and I don’t like what I see. It’s dangerous, and scary, and risky. What if I had needed you, here?”
“I’m sorry, Alexis. Do you need me here?” Castle’s concerned gaze bores into his daughter, and she looks down with the weight of it.
“No, I guess not. I just wish you would have asked my opinion, because it affects me too.”
“Next time, I will. I’m sorry. Are we okay?”
Alexis stands up and hugs him around the waist, murmuring into his shirt, “Yeah, Dad, we’re okay. I love you.”
“I love you too, sweetie.” Alexis finishes her pancake while Castle scrapes the burned one off the pan. By the time Martha comes down, he’s got a steaming stack on a plate waiting for smiley faces. Maybe he’ll take one to Beckett.
“Are you sure you’re ready to take this step?” The doctor is standing in front of her, holding a clipboard. That packet of papers is her ticket out of here, and she’s itching to get her hands on it.
“Don’t rush into this, Katie,” her father advises her. “There’s nothing wrong with staying in here a few more days to regain more of your strength.”
She glances at Castle, who’s loitering unobtrusively by the door. “No, Dad, really, I’m fine. I want to get back out into the world, even if it does require a wheelchair for a while.” She’s smiling as she says this, practically giddy with happiness. She’s getting out of here, finally. Her patience, her pushing through the pain has paid off. She’s going home. With Castle even, her mind adds.
“All right,” the doctor agrees reluctantly. “Sign at the bottom of all of these. I’ll give you some time to read through them.” He and the nurse exit out the door, leaving the three of them alone. She peruses the documents, aware of Castle and her father chatting softly in the background. She really just wants to sign on every line and hand it back, but her sensible side forces her to read them all.
When she’s done, Jim hails back the nurse who gives them a once-over and then smiles at Kate. The normal struggle to get into the wheelchair seems to Kate to take double the regular amount of time, but at last she’s seated and ready to roll. Castle wheels her out the door, the hospital room and its horrors fading away like a long-lost dream with every rotation of the wheels.
She looks up at Castle and he smiles down at her. Suddenly the chair speeds to the side to avoid another patient on crutches and Kate winces, rolling her eyes. “Watch where you’re going, Castle.”
“Sorry,” he says. He leans down, breath tickling her ear as he whispers. “Looking down the front of your gown is just so distracting.”
“Castle!” she jerks her head away, sucking in air at the quick movement. Her chest throbs, but more importantly she can’t believe he said that. Well, yes, she can. He is Richard Castle after all.
If she could, she would slap him. Playfully. Somewhat. But she can’t; her arms don’t rise up that high right now. She settles for tucking in the front of her gown and shooting him a dirty look. From above, he’s laughing at her.
Outside the hospital, she takes in the stoplights, streets, and numerous cars like she’s never been to the city before. She’s delighting in every facet of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and she thinks she could just spend hours watching vehicles zoom by. Her dad helps her into the front seat of his car and Castle stows the wheelchair in the back before climbing in himself. Jim pulls out onto the road with ease, glancing at her every so often. When they finally arrive at her apartment complex, she asks for the key and Castle hands it to her.
She pushes open the car door and stops immediately, because stretching her arm out that far is painful. She’s reminded, constantly reminded, that she’s still weak and recuperating, but she’s determined to make it to her apartment without help. Castle and Jim both try to dissuade her as she stumbles through the front door, but in the end her stubbornness wins out and Castle fetches the wheelchair from the trunk but steers it empty.
She shudders uncontrollably as she reaches the elevator, eyes fluttering shut. As the metal box slides smoothly upward, she’s literally swaying on her feet. Castle catches her arm but she shakes him off as the doors ding open, forcing her legs to move once again. Her hands are shaking as she slips the key into the lock, missing several times in the process. She turns it fluidly and hears a satisfying click before the door swings open.
Her apartment is dark and filled with shadows. Curtains have been pulled over the windows, but she knows the layout well enough and is not afraid of the dark. She makes her way to an armchair and sinks down into it, resting her head on the back of it with her eyes closed. Neither Jim nor Castle say anything but begin letting the light back into her apartment, one window at a time. She opens her eyes again to find the wheelchair situated in a corner and Jim laying something on the coffee table. Two things.
She picks one up, turning it over in her hands so that the ring’s diamond catches and refracts the light. She slips the necklace over her head and over the purchased hospital gown. She had lobbied to wear her own clothes out, but they had insisted it would be too rough on her wounds to wear anything but these loose-fitting garments. Putting both the necklace and the watch on, like the makeup, does wonders to help her feel like herself again. The makeup had been external—she felt empowered and got sense of normalcy through it—but this was more of an internal thing. Reunited with these two items, they fill a hole in her heart that she hadn’t even noticed existed. With them, she feels complete. Or as complete as she ever had since her mother’s death.
“You okay, Katie?” her father asks, kneeling in front of her with a concerned expression.
She forces herself to smile. She must have looked a bit melancholy for a moment. “Yeah, Dad, I’m fine. Little bit hungry though. Do you think you could make lunch?”
“Of course.” Jim stands and enters the kitchen. It’ll help, she thinks, to give him something to do. She’s not really hungry; Castle’s pancake from this morning still weighs heavily in her stomach. Over the course of her time in the hospital, her stomach seems to have shrunk down to a fourth its size. She knows it worries all of them, to see how thin she’s become. But she’s convinced with good food and sleep, she’ll gain it all back again. Between her father and Castle, food is definitely taken care of.
Castle sits down next to her, taking in the necklace and the watch with one smooth glance. “Good to be home?”
She smiles. “Good to be home.”