Tears in the Moonlight

Moonlight combined with city lights streams in the window, playing across her body and accentuating the shadows of her form. She’s sitting up in the bed, legs tucked up to her chest and her head in her arms. Soft sobbing noises emanate from her, but as Castle takes another step forward a floorboard creaks. Her head whips up and she looks like a deer in the headlights, eyes wide and red, cheeks wet, and body trembling like a leaf.

“Hey, Kate, what’s wrong?” He moves quickly before she can react, sitting on the bed beside her. He hesitantly places an arm around her shaking shoulders and to his surprise she leans into him, placing her hand on his chest and burrowing into the crook of his arm. Her hair tickles his chin as he rocks her gently, heart swelling with both love and concern.

He almost doesn’t catch her pained whisper. “I can feel the bullet, Castle.”

He hugs her more tightly to him. “What do you mean?”

“Whenever I’m asleep, I go back to that podium. And the man shoots me, again and again. I feel the bullet blast into me, dig into my chest, get lodged there. Castle, I can feel it there now, stuck inside me, and I can’t get it out.” She dissolves into tears again. “I can’t get it out, Castle. I can’t get it out.”

He can feel her pain as if it were his own; as he cradles her he’s nearly in tears too. One hand strokes her hair and the other pulls her impossibly closer. “It’s not there, Kate, it’s not inside of you. It’s not there,” he whispers. Her pain is breaking his heart in two, overwhelming him with its intensity. He has no idea how she bore this much, alone, at the hospital. “It’s not there,” he repeats. She’s still trembling beneath him, and he’s still stroking her hair. He doesn’t know how to do this, how to comfort her. He’s never seen her like this before, never seen her in a complete breakdown. At the most he’s held her hand, once, twice. Maybe a hug. Never something like this.

Castle feels desperately inadequate as she pulls away a little, looking up at him with a tear-streaked face. She retracts into herself a little, extracting herself from his embrace. He follows her, sliding fully onto the bed and leaning against the headboard. “Come here, Kate.” After a moment’s hesitation, she scoots close to him again and places her head on his shoulder. His arm wraps around her again, fingers smoothing her mussed hair. “It was just a dream,” he says. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”

“Castle,” she says. A film of tears covers her beautiful brown eyes. “He hasn’t stopped hurting me.”

“I know.” Castle’s silent for a moment. “When did you take your last pain medication?”

“Afternoon.” Castle glances at the digital clock on her nightstand. 3:06 A.M.

“I’ll get you some, okay?”

“’kay.” He slips off the warm bed and walks out to the kitchen. He flicks the light on and is momentarily blinded. Castle fills a glass of water at the sink and finds the pills on the counter. He takes them back to her room, where she is seated in the same position as before and is staring off into space.

“Don’t think about it,” Castle says softly. He holds out the glass and she takes it, hand shaking so much that a little sloshes out onto the blankets. He pops off the lid of the bottle and tips out two white pills. She downs them one at a time and sets the water on the nightstand. “Try to go back to sleep now,” he tells her.

“I’m scared, Castle,” she whispers. She sounds like a child, so lost and broken. “I’m scared to go to sleep. I don’t want to die again.”

“You won’t,” he promises. “You’re safe here. I’ll keep you safe.” He gently pulls the covers back over her form and she rests her head on the pillow, looking up at him. Her eyes search his, whether for truth, intent, or just for comfort. He doesn’t know if she finds what she’s looking for in them, but she takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. Like in the hospital, his hand finds hers and he grasps it firmly.

He doesn’t know how long he watches her sleep. Definitely long enough that Beckett would declare him “creepy.” But there’s no trace of Beckett in the woman sleeping in front of him, nothing left of the detective he followed around for three years. And he’s not disappointed. He feels privileged that she would show him this side of her, a side he thinks not even Lanie has seen. Even though he likes Detective Beckett a lot, there’s something about this Kate that makes him love her a little bit more.

Everything’s fuzzy as she blinks once, twice. Sunlight streams in the window, forcing her eyes to adjust quickly to the brightness. All her muscles are stiff and sore, probably from clenching them throughout the night as she lived in the nightmares.

The nightmares. Last night. Castle.

He’s no longer in the room, and for that she’s thankful. She doesn’t know how she’ll face him this morning, not after the events of last night. His embrace had been comforting, but in those same moments her walls slipped and let him peer inside. He has glimpsed her terror, her weakness, and she doesn’t like that at all. Her skin prickles and she feels vulnerable, fragile as a piece of glass.

So she ignores the pain and stands up, beginning to piece herself back together. Doing what she does best. Kate hobbles to the floor-length mirror and stares herself down, willing herself to become whole once again. She changes her bandages and dresses casually. She steels herself mentally, hardening her resolve. Once she’s satisfied with her appearance and her outward strength, she steps out of her room and pads down the hallway. Each step is painful and her legs feel extra heavy to lift. What started as a dull ache in her chest quickly becomes a living hell, like someone has poured molten lava into her bullet wound, exacerbated by her increased respiration. She pauses on the edge of the couch with her hand working its way through her hair as she rests. The blankets and the pillow are neatly folded up in the corner, the only indication Castle slept here last night. When she’s regained some of her energy she continues on to the kitchen, entering and sitting down immediately.

“Good morning,” Castle says from the stove. She can feel him studying her, so she meets his eyes with as much seriousness and firmness as she can muster. “How are you?”

“Fine, Castle,” she says. Everything in her bearing and tone clearly says she doesn’t want to talk about it. Because talking about it would mean facing it. Facing the fact that she’s not everything she pretends to be.

“Okay,” he takes the hint. “I made eggs.” He plops a steaming plate of them in front of her and uses the tongs to add two sausages. “Do you want anything else?”

“No, this is great, thanks, Castle.” She smiles at him to show him that everything is all right. Inside, it’s anything but. Though her stomach is in knots, she forces herself to consume the eggs and sausages, tensing when Castle sits down across from her.

“Newspaper?” he offers. He taps the front cover.

“No,” she replies with a shake of her head. “How’s Heat Rises coming along?”

“It’s not,” Castle says ruefully. “I discovered last night that I left an outline of chapters sixteen and seventeen at the loft, in my notebook.” He checks his phone. “And Gina wants the manuscript in…oh, great, ten days.”

“You should go get it, Castle. Gina’s not the kind of woman you want to keep waiting.” Gina’s name brings up a host of bitter and forlorn feelings in Kate, remembering all too well the events of the previous summer. She had almost told Castle she’d go to the Hamptons with him, but by the time she worked up her courage—she even broke up with Tom Demming beforehand—he had found company in Gina, his publisher.

“Don’t I know it, I was married to her.” Castle looks uncertainly at Kate. “Are you sure?”

“It’s only a thirty-five minute trip there and back,” she says. “I’ll be fine.” He still looks unconvinced, so she adds, “I could use some alone time, anyways.”

“Okay,” he agrees reluctantly. “You’re sure?”

She gives him a look. “Just get going, Castle. And bring back some coffee on the way.”

“Decaf, right?”

“Unfortunately.” She nods to him. “The spare key’s by the fridge. Keep it.” He looks at her strangely, reading more into her words than she put into the practical request. Well, maybe she did mean more by it. She doesn’t even know anymore.

“Okay. I’ll do the dishes when I get back. See you in a little bit!” He sets both their empty plates in the sink and walks towards the door. He pauses as he opens it. “Don’t forget to take your pain medicine.”

Kate sighs. “I won’t.”

He leaves, closing the door with a slight slam that makes her jump out of her skin. For a moment the world slides away and she’s lying on her back in the grass again, staring up at Castle with her life seeping out of her chest. Then she blinks and she’s back in her apartment, trembling slightly. This must be what Dr. Burke referred to as a flashback.

Kate slowly stands from her seat and makes her way to the pain meds. She then collapses on the couch with them and a glass of water. They do make it easier to get through the day, because she’s noticed that when she’s in pain she’s more on edge. When she’s on edge, more stuff startles her. And apparently, being startled can cause flashbacks. Yet another glorious part of recovery she didn’t anticipate.

Reaching out her arm to get a book from the shelf makes her chest protest loudly, but she persists and settles down with In a Hail of Bullets, Castle’s first novel. She hadn’t discovered it until the first Derrick Storm came out, when she had gone on a Richard-Castle rampage and bought all of his works in one week. It’s by far not his best novel—and that’s why she wants to read it again. It’s a reminder that not everyone’s perfect—and so it’s okay for her to not be too. She knows she struggles with that sometimes, and especially right now she needs to come to terms with it or it will tear her apart. As she turns to page two, the window catches her eye, the next building and a few beyond visible through it. A glint of sunlight reflects off the glass, and all of a sudden she doesn’t feel safe anymore. Anyone could look in and see her. Shoot her.

She stands shakily and pulls the curtains over the window, blocking out the light. For a moment she’s satisfied, but then she notices the other two windows in the room. Hand pressed to her stomach to try to assuage the pain mounting in her chest from so much movement, she crosses into the kitchen to pull the blinds in there as well. It’s not enough until she has shuttered every one in the apartment, and even then she feels watched. Stalked. Hunted.

Castle steps out of the cab when he reaches his apartment building, wondering who he’ll find inside. Even if Alexis or his mother is there, he doesn’t have much time to stop and chat. Leaving Kate all alone bothers him, though he knows it’s an irrational paranoia. She’s a grown woman, a cop no less, and perfectly capable of spending an hour or so alone.

She doesn’t want to talk about last night, and he’s not surprised. A little disappointed, perhaps, but not surprised. It fits well with her personality. He shouldn’t have hoped that that one event would open her up to him. It’ll take time, and he accepts that.

He slides his key into the lock and turns it, opening the door. An unwelcome sight greets him, and he just stands there for a second taking it in. Then he knocks rather loudly on the door and the two jump apart wearing identical startled expressions.

“Hello, Ashley,” he says.

“H-Hi, Mr. Castle, sir,” Ashley stammers, scooting a little further away from Alexis. Castle’s feelings are a jumble, amusement mixed with fatherly indignation, but mostly indignation.

“Dad, what are you doing here?” Alexis asks, jumping up. She self-consciously smoothes down the front of her dress and runs a hand through her hair. Her face is reddening with embarrassment.

“I was just picking up a notebook, but if you’re busy, I can come back later,” Castle says, still staring at Ashley. He says it in a way that leaves only one answer.

“No, uh, not—not busy, at all, sir,” Ashley says, swallowing hard. “We were just, uh—”

“Kissing?” Castle suggests.

“But nothing—nothing more,” Ashley promises. His eyes keep darting around, as if to check there’s no antique gun in the vicinity. Good, he’s scarred the boy.

Castle stares him down for a second more, then relents. “I think I can trust you with Alexis…” he crosses into his office and picks up his little black notebook. When he comes back out, they’re both still watching him with wide eyes. “But don’t make me regret that decision. Remember—I work with cops.”

“Yes, Mr. Castle. I respect Alexis. And you. I would never do anything to hurt her.”

Castle smiles, opening the door. “I’m glad we understand each other.” He steps out and closes the door behind him. He places his hands on his knees and breathes heavily. The amount of tension in that room—though, granted, most given off by him—had been terrifying. He knows he can trust Alexis, and probably Ashley too, but the image of them making out on his couch is still one he cannot abide. And yet, it’s burned into his mind.

After a moment more, he exits the building and hails a taxi back to Kate’s apartment, making a brief coffee stop along the way. He unlocks the door with the new key on his keychain—his key—and lets himself in. The apartment is dark, and he notices all the windows have the curtains pulled across them. “I’m back,” he calls into the gloom. “Sorry it took me so long, Alexis and Ashley were making out on the couch.” His explanation rings too loud in the space in front of him. “Kate?”

There’s no response. It takes him only a minute to flick on the lights and search each room for her. And then it’s clear.

She’s gone.

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