Her hand shakes and a few splotches of hot brown liquid sear her skin. She hastily sets the pot down, nursing her burned thumb. The skin is fine, just maybe a little redder than normal, but not too bad. She rolls her eyes at herself, pursing her lips and berating herself for her clumsiness. Deep down she knows it’s not clumsiness that caused the accident, but it’s easier to face that than admit she can’t even pour a cup of coffee.

She sets the pot down again and picks up the two mugs. Then Kate carefully rotates around so as not to spill any on the wood flooring of the kitchen or the carpet. With slow, shuffling steps, she makes her way to the bedroom—her parents’ bedroom, Castle’s bedroom, their bedroom, she doesn’t know what to call it. It used to be her parents’ bedroom, it’s officially Castle’s, and she spends all of her nights in there with him now—so what does that make it? It makes her head hurt just trying to puzzle it out.

She gently pushes the door open with her elbow and perches on the edge of the bed. “Hey, sleepyhead.”

Castle blinks up at her, bleary-eyed. He sighs. “Why are you up so early?”

“It’s not early. It’s past eleven o’clock.” He grunts in response. “I didn’t feel you come in last night. How late were you up?!”

“Let’s just say the sun beat me to it. But I did finish Chapter Nineteen. Is that coffee?”

She smiles. “Yeah.” He pushes himself into a sitting position and accepts the cup from her. “So, how many chapters still left to do?”

“Just one.” He takes a sip of coffee. “Hey, why are you the one bringing me coffee in bed? You’re the injured one; I should be serving you. You’re messing with the natural order of things.”

“Castle, if you’re gonna stay with me, get used to me overturning the natural order of things.” A stray lock of hair falls into her face as she smiles cheekily.

He pats the space next to him. “Come on, join me.” He holds her mug as she crawls over to her side and pulls the covers up over her legs. Castle smiles. “See, I could get used to this.”

“Don’t. When we get back to the city, it’s separate apartments for us again,” she warns. “I don’t need everyone and the third cousin asking me why we’re carpooling to crime scenes in the morning.”

“We don’t have to carpool,” he suggests, pouting. “A little harm to the environment seems a small price to pay to sleep with you.” She raises an eyebrow. “And by that I meant actual sleeping,” he clarifies. “Like, in the same bed.”

“A: no, it’s not, and B: I need to stand on my own two feet, Castle.”

He meets her gaze seriously. “Are you actually thinking about this? You’re nowhere close to getting back to the precinct yet. We can wait a while to discuss what happens with us when you do. Besides, by then, maybe we’ll be, you know, us.”

Kate frowns, returning her gaze to her coffee. A flare of anger had arisen when he mentioned she was ‘nowhere near’ getting back to the precinct, but she’s willing to overlook it for now. The constant reminders of that are getting tiresome. “I don’t know, Castle. There’s a lot of stuff I have to figure out. Recovery. PTSD. My mom. Just don’t push me.”

“I’m sorry, I—”

“I’m getting in the shower.” She slips her legs out of the bed and disappears out the door. The hot water does clear her mind somewhat, but Castle ambushes her nearly as soon as she steps into the hallway again with freshly blow-dried hair.

“Kate, I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to push you. I understand that you have more stuff to sort out than most. I told you I’d wait, and I will. I shouldn’t have assumed we could become ‘us’ as soon as you got back to the precinct. I care about you a lot, and you come foremost, above anything I want from you. Are we…are we okay?”

“Yeah, Castle, I know. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. I care…a lot…about you too, and I appreciate your giving me time.” She dips her head and walks to the door, checking to make sure her phone is safely nestled in her pocket.

“Where are you going?” he asks.

“Walk, like normal,” she says, barely meeting his eyes before disappearing outside.

Castle watches her go with unease in his heart. Nothing about the way she spoke those last words says ‘we’re good’ to him, but he’ll have to take her word for it. She’s obviously not going to reveal anything else. He sits down at the table to a bowl of cereal and the newspaper on his laptop. He’s halfway through the last mildly interesting article when Gina calls. Please tell me she’s not tightening the deadline, he thinks. “Castle.”

“Rick, we didn’t forget about our deadline, did we?”

“No…” Castle says. “What makes you feel the need to check up on me?”

“Oh, let me think…” Gina drawls. “Last minute Christmas present shopping. Nonexistent grocery shopping in general. Overdue library books. Late dinner reservations. And that’s just from the few years we were married.”

“You wound me,” Castle says, scowling. “I’m almost finished with Heat Rises. So get off my case.”

“‘Almost finished’ like you were almost finished with Driving Storm when you still had twelve chapters to write? ‘Almost finished’ like you were with Kissed and Killed when you didn’t even have a name for the main character?”

“No, not like that. I’ll get it done, Gina. On time.” Pause, and then he clarifies. “By ‘on time’ I mean by this deadline—not the last three you’ve set me for the book. Those don’t count.”

“You’d better, Rick. My desk, by midnight on the eleventh. Or you just might find your contract with Black Pawn dropped.”

Yeah, right, he thinks. Like Black Pawn would dare drop him—he’s one of their biggest claims to fame. “Just to be clear, do you mean by the first minute of the eleventh or the first minute of the twelfth? Because technically by your wording I’d have to get it to you on Friday the tenth, but by common social phrasing you actually meant by the end of the eleventh. So it’s ambiguous.”

“Only you would think that hard about it, Rick.” She ends the call, leaving him hanging. He supposes it’s no skin off her teeth if he turns in the manuscript a day early because of her ambiguity. Unfortunately for his ex-wife, she and her threats don’t scare him nearly enough to force him to. He supposes he’d better start writing anyway.

“Long walk, what’d you do?” Castle asks as she steps back into the living room an hour and a half later. She has a glass of water in her hand and seems to be moving a bit stiffer than normal. He tries to look her over and assess her physical state without seeming critical. From the way her eyes harden, he’s failed in that regard.

“Desensitization exercises,” she says tiredly. The lethargy with which she sinks down on the couch does not escape him. “Dr. Burke recommended them to me before I left.”

“Tell me about them,” Castle prompts. She looks at him quizzically. “Maybe I’ll use them as fodder for my next book. Maybe Nikki will have some form of PTSD, like you.” He notices she doesn’t seem to like the comparison all too much, so he tries to lighten the mood. “But, unlike you, she’d get shot on the run from mobsters or ex-CIA hit men.” He receives the slightest hint of a smile for that. “Although...” he murmurs, thinking aloud, “I’m not sure Nikki’s the type to get PTSD. She’s too compartmentalized, too tough.”

At once Kate stiffens and anger mixed with hurt flashes through her eyes. He tries to backtrack, correct his poor wording, but it’s too late. She’s disappearing into her bedroom as fast as she can manage. The door slams shut behind her.

Anger and hurt fuel Kate’s flight, but once the door slams she jumps out of her skin, landing on her bed in a ball. The waves of fury coursing through her negate the shell-shock for once, but as she uncurls she’s completely exhausted. She had been both physically and mentally drained from the walk, and Castle basically calling her weak for her nightmares and flashbacks, as if they were something she could control, is the last straw. If he doesn’t want to stay here anymore because I’m taking too long to get better, then he can leave, she thinks vengefully. She tries to ignore how much her heart flutters with lonely anticipation at the thought.

“Kate,” he knocks at the door. His use of her first name, far from comforting her, only angers her further. It’s been clear that he no longer thinks of her as Beckett, and she had hoped that their growing relation—no, friendship was the reason why. Now it’s clear to her that she was mistaken. Castle no longer thinks of her as Detective Beckett, his muse and inspiration, because she isn’t that woman anymore. She’s just Kate, the fallen cop who needs protecting and can’t get back up. It’s amazing that just a few hours ago she was enjoying his use of her first name and the closeness it brought them.

“Kate, listen,” he begins again. “I didn’t mean that you’re not strong. You’re the strongest, most daring, most enchanting woman I know. I just meant that I might not be able to sell it to the readers. They might not understand that even the best are still human.”

She listens to his placating words but does not deign to open the door. Though his words make sense, she cannot shake her nagging expectation for him to leave. She cannot fully accept that a best-selling author millionaire playboy is staying in a small old cabin to babysit an injured police officer who has so far rejected or indefinitely postponed all of his advances. After a few moments, she hears his footsteps recede back to the living room and she lets out a pent up breath. Though it’s only one o’clock in the afternoon, she decides to take a short nap. For a moment she considers the pain medication on the bedside table but decides to forego it. She can handle a little pain later...even if she’s not Nikki Heat.

It’s at moments like this that she wishes he had never even written those stupid books. Times like this reinforce her thought that maybe feeling nothing at all is better than feeling like this. That’s the way she felt when her mother was murdered. That’s the way she felt when her dad failed to stay sober for the fifth time. That’s the way she felt when he left with Gina last summer.

Some days she worries that she’s cut off her emotions for too long to be able to truly love again. Some days she wishes she could just crawl back into that pit and never emerge. She’s just been feeling so mercurial lately… it’s exhausting.

Her mother always said that life never delivers more than one could handle. But right at that moment, the universe seems to be trying really hard to prove Johanna Beckett wrong:

Kate’s cell phone rings, and she pulls it out of her jacket pocket. She reads the caller ID twice to make sure she’s seeing it right.

Josh Davidson.

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