Fear Itself

Kate’s hands shake. Somehow she’s gotten to this point, but she doesn’t really know how. First she’d said something about Black Pawn, or maybe something about her dad, and Castle had agreed. He’d driven her to her apartment and left her alone, promising, “I’ll be back in an hour or so.” He’d checked a dozen times to make sure she was all right, and a few more once he’d arrived at his destination. Where that is, Kate doesn’t know, but she hadn’t really been listening to all his worries and explanations. Any of his jabber at all, really. It all comes down to right now, and she won’t let her resolve fail her.

She keeps her backup piece in her safe, ever since Scott Dunn had blown up her apartment and she realized just how defenseless she was without a weapon. Not that it would have done much good in that situation, but on those inevitable days she wasn’t allowed to have her precinct-assigned piece, it was comforting to know there was a firearm she knew intimately how to use just a few feet away.

“Comforting,” of course, had been before the PTSD.

She clenches and unclenches her hands several times to try to get them to stop quivering, and then she begins to turn the dial. She knows the combo like the back of her hand; the safe is an old one she’d gotten in college to protect the small valuables in her room as well as any important notes she anticipated to have in law school. Still, it takes her two tries and a swig of forbidden wine to unlock it, and she’s both relieved and terrified to find her personal firearm still nestled in the safe where she’d left it. Relieved because nobody else had it, terrified because it stripped her of any non-cowardly reason to back out of her plan.

But she won’t because she wants to do this. Needs to do this. She’s ignoring the part of her mind telling her that Castle should be here for this, but he would just try to stop her. He would list reasons why this is such a bad idea and he’d wear down her resolve into a tiny little nub that wouldn’t get her anywhere. It’s not like she going shooting. She’s just…taking it out.

She crouches there, in front of it, for what seems like a million years. Her ankles and the bottom of her feet begin to protest loudly, but she gives them no heed until she accidentally loses her balance and pitches forward on her toes. She frantically scrabbles at the ground to steady herself. Undisciplined strands of hair fall into her face as she pushes herself back up into that crouched position, shifting slightly to relieve some of the stress on her feet. An echo of memory brushes through her mind as she stares at the gun, a promise to her and her thudding heart of the horror to come.

It’s cool on her fingertips when she finally does touch it. An arc of electricity crashes down her spine and she jolts away from the safe, bringing her finger to her mouth as if burned. Slowly she braces herself and crawls back towards it, steeling her fingers to grasp it and lift it up and out into the open. Memories threaten to surge over her, battering at her consciousness and getting closer and closer to breaking through her forced calm as the distance between her and the gun dwindles.

Before she can stop herself, she impulsively reaches in and grabs the weapon, pulling it towards her in one swift motion. Instantly she recognizes the weight difference—the clip’s missing—at the same time as the world turns gray and fuzzy and a combined heat and chill floods her body. A veritable maelstrom of sensations and memories are beating on her skull now, and she’s forced to let go of the gun once again and let it clatter off her lap and onto the floor.

She shudders, already feeling the paradoxical burn and freeze ebbing away, and peers inside the safe once again. The clip’s in the safe as well, just further back, and she examines it to see a full complement of bullets inside. Castle must have unloaded it before putting it back in the safe as an extra precaution after she ran away when she first came home after getting shot.

With practiced fingers she shoves the clip into the open space at the bottom of the gun, ignoring her hitched intake of breath at the click as it snaps into place. She holds it aloft from her as she slowly stands up, treating it with the care of someone holding a package of volatile explosives. Kate moves steadily into the kitchen, depositing it on the table. Her hands are trembling.

Giving it one last look, she hurries to the couch, using the armrest as if it were cover she could duck behind, regarding the gun like one would regard a wild beast. This is silly, she tells herself. “A gun didn’t kill you, the person wielding it did.” Her voice is unnaturally loud in the otherwise deserted apartment. She thinks about that statement for a second and then asks, “Wait, is that going to make me have PTSD about people?” She pauses to consider that and then shakes her head and continues. “No, of course not. That’s ridiculous.” She glances at the gun again, arm snaking out to pull a book from her shelf. “Focus, Kate.”

She takes the book onto her lap, unsurprised that it’s one of his—after all, there are twenty-four of them. Opening it to a random page, she rakes her eyes down it, speed reading in her jumpy state to flick her gaze once again at the firearm sitting innocently on the table once she reaches the bottom. She returns her gaze to the book and flips the page, forcing herself to finish it before taking another reassuring glance at the table.

Kate does this for the better part of an hour, the shivering gradually fading away as she sees that nothing catastrophic has occurred because of the gun in her kitchen. “Time to put it away for today,” she tells herself. Her right foot cracks softly against the carpet, startling her into jumping slightly, but she maintains her grip on the weapon despite her slick palms. Sitting ten feet away from a gun for forty-five minutes has done nothing to stop the metallic taste from seeping into her mouth and coating her tongue at the prospect of picking one up, but she’s heartened by the fact she hasn’t had a bonafide flashback. It’s progress, and she uses it as evidence to herself that maybe Castle and Shaw and Burke and Ryan and Esposito and Lanie and Montgomery and her dad and virtually everyone else in her life might be right—maybe she can get through this and be a cop again. She’s closer to it now than she has been in the last month.

She’s opening the little door to the safe—she hadn’t bothered to lock it up again in case she needed to put the thing back rather hastily—when there’s a knock at her door, and the loud, unexpected sound seems to slam directly into her stomach and render her limbs into jelly. She falls backward from the couched position to land with her butt on the floor with a loud thump.

“Kate?” Castle calls, sounding distinctly worried. “You okay? Can I come in?”

In the time it takes Kate to regain her breath enough to answer him, she can hear the key slide into the lock and the door opens. He looks surprised to find her on the floor, and she knows the exact point that he sees the gun in her hands because of the wave of shock that splashes over his features.

“Castle, don't…don't freak out,” she says calmly. She's holding the firearm like it’s a live bomb about to go off. If he freaks then she will. Panic and terror will override her; vestiges from the funeral will sweep her off her feet and into the maw of the whirlpool. She doesn’t want that, not after all the progress she’s made.

“Kate, what are you doing?” he asks in a voice that is obviously carefully measured and controlled. She drops the gun back into the safe and closes the door, spinning the little dial to lock it again.

“I’m fine, Castle,” she says, standing up shakily. “I just wanted to see if I could be around it, that’s all.”

“How long did you have it out?” Castle questions neutrally.

“A while,” she admits, walking toward him. “Please don’t be mad at me, Castle; I thought that if I told you what I was going to do you would try and stop me.”

“I probably would have,” he says, “and for good reason. But I’m just glad you didn’t get hurt.”

“No,” Kate smiles. The last kernel of fear inside her dissolves as she realizes he’s not angry with her. “I can hold a gun!” she rejoices. The elation nearly lifts her off her feet as she wraps her arms around him. “I can do it, Castle; I can do it,” she whispers into his ear, and he hugs her just as tightly.

When they finally release, he holds her arms length away from him so that he can look into her eyes. “Kate, next time you do something like this, please let me be there.”

“Yes,” She tells him seriously. “I do have something else planned, and I do want you there.”

“What is it?” he asks, wary again.

She leads him over to the couch, waiting until they’re both sitting to begin to explain. “I want to have someone draw on me.”

He just stares at her for a second. “Um…”

“I only have two weeks before reexaminations. I need to get this down before then. I need to know that I can do this.”

“Kate, just because the first time you are allowed to get evaluated is in two weeks, that doesn’t mean you have to be! No one’s rushing you. You could get reevaluated in three weeks, or a month.”

“I can’t just not do my job, Castle. I do work for a living. I promise I’m not rushing into anything, and that this is a pace I want to set and will be able to manage. I cleared all of this by Dr. Burke yesterday, and he agreed that this might be helpful as long as I don’t go too far with it. He said I’ve been making good progress, and eventually this would be the next step. If I can handle it now, there’s no reason to wait.” She pauses. “Dr. Kovaks cleared me for mildly strenuous exercise, too. Everything’s coming together, and this is part of it.”

“What did he define as ‘too far’?”

“No flashbacks,” she says with finality. She can see that she is swaying him, her logic—practiced for over an hour, but he doesn’t need to know that—is getting to him.

He sighs. “I guess I can’t keep you warm and safe forever, can I?”

“No, but it’s cute that you would try,” she grins, giving him a peck on the mouth before snuggling up against him.

“Who’s going to draw on you? Me?”

“I was thinking Esposito or Ryan because they’re NYPD,” Kate suggests. “Also, if something goes wrong and I get spooked, I need you to calm me down, and you won’t be able to do that with a gun in your hand.”

“Have they agreed?” Castle asks dubiously.

“Haven’t asked them yet. They’re going to meet me at the Old Haunt tonight for drinks and I’ll bring it up then. I’d like you to be there, but if you’ve made other arrangements I can go by myself.”

“No, of course I’ll be there,” Castle says.

“Good,” she smiles again. “Hopefully it’ll seem less, well, insane, of an idea if you’re there too.”

“Oh, you spotted the potential insanity of this plan too?” Castle teases. “Good, I thought it was just me.” She smacks him lightly on the shoulder.

Kate leads him over to the NYPD reserved booth in the corner, Castle stopping every so often to say hello to his employees. Besides Eddie the piano man, Joel the manager, and Brian the evening bartender, there are only about another ten people present, but Castle likes it that way. He’s reviewed the bar’s records every month now that he owns it, and it always operates just a margin into the black. He knows sales could skyrocket with the proper marketing—all of his over-twenty-one fangirls would be all too happy to drink in the bar of their favorite author, he’s sure—but it would ruin the tranquil, homey atmosphere of this place that’s the reason he loves it. Never mind the fact that it’ll take one hundred and fifty years to earn back what he paid for it—he’s rich already.

He orders a beer for him and water for Kate without her protesting. Besides the doctor’s no-alcohol recommendation, she’ll need to have all her wits about her if she’s going to get Ryan or Esposito to participate in her questionable plan. On second thought, he orders the boys’ favorites for them ahead of time. He and Kate will have better luck convincing them if they’re slightly inebriated.

Ryan and Esposito show up a few minutes after they receive their drinks, and immediately start up precinct banter with Beckett. “You miss us so much that you had to schedule a meeting with us last minute?” Ryan asks.

“No, just Espo, but he said it’d be rude if we didn’t invite you too,” she shoots back, and Castle snickers appreciatively to himself.

“Don’t listen to a word she says, bro,” Esposito tells his partner. “She’s been spending too much time with Castle, addled her brain.”

“Hey,” Castle responds indignantly. “Just for that, you can pay for your own drinks.”

“It’s the Old Haunt, dude. Drinks are always on you.”

“True,” Ryan speaks up. “Sometimes we come here with just our friends and the drinks are still always on you. The wait staff likes us.”

“Gee, thanks, guys,” Castle says sarcastically. “No wonder I can’t seem to make a decent profit on this place.”

“Catch any interesting cases lately?” Beckett asks the boys.

“Just the standard Jack shot Jill over Bill,” Esposito answers. “Kinda nice that all the real big psychopaths are waitin’ until you get back for the freaky ones.”

“How sweet of them,” Kate says drily. Two rounds of drinks later, she launches into the real reason she’s brought them here. “So, only two weeks until I can take reexaminations.”

“Yep,” Esposito affirms. “Ryan’s got a clock on his computer counting down the days. He misses you a whole lot.”

Ryan punches him lightly. “Do not!” Beckett raises her eyebrows at him. "I mean, I do miss you, of course, but I do not have a clock counting down!"

“Anyways,” Kate says, cutting it off before the friendly argument can escalate, “I want to make sure I’ll be able to pass when I take them and do my job after that. So I want one of you to practice drawing on me.”

Their slightly intoxicated states do nothing to stop the silent stares she gets at that. “You mean, like, to practice our Pictionary skills, right?” Ryan asks.

“No,” Kate says. “I want you to draw a gun on me.” Silence prevails again.

“You agree with this, Castle?” Esposito asks.

“I don’t have a better idea,” Castle admits.

“No,” Ryan nearly interrupts him. “No, I’m—we’re—not going to point guns at you so you can get used to it! That’s…that’s just…no! We could lose our badges for that, Beckett.” Castle wisely stays silent, as drawing a gun on your good friend with PTSD isn’t the kind of thing you bargain a week with the Ferrari for. This is more between her and them. Personal.

Esposito exchanges a glance with Ryan. “I agree. Going to a shooting range is one thing, but this is just wrong. I understand what you’re trying to do, Beckett, but this is overkill. I’ve been where you are, after I left Special Forces, but I can’t imagine trying to deal with it like this. We’re your friends, Beckett, but…” he shakes his head, “we won’t do this.”

Momentary anger flashes through Beckett’s eyes before she sighs, looking down into her drink. “I understand, guys.” Her voice is just loud enough to be heard over the piano and quiet chatter of the bar.

“I should be heading home,” Ryan says uncomfortably. “Jenny’ll be waiting for me.”

“So you two set a date yet?” Beckett looks up. He seems surprised by the question. “Uh, yeah,” he says. “Jenny actually wanted me home early-ish tonight so we can do the finishing touches on the designs of the invitations.” He glances around at them all with an almost sheepish expression, yawning in spite of himself. “She’s making me.”

Esposito looks sympathetic. “Good luck, bro.”

“You’d better get home then,” Kate laughs.

“Yeah, anyways,” Ryan says. “See you around. We should do this again sometime.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Kate agrees.

“I should be heading out too,” Esposito adds. “Come see me before your evals, Beckett. I’ve had to do ‘em, so I might have a few last minute tips for ya.”

“Sure thing.” Kate turns back to Castle after Esposito leaves. “Can you believe it about Ryan? I swear it was just yesterday he was introducing us to Jenny during that dominatrix case.”

“Yes, if yesterday was one and a half years ago,” Castle teases. “We haven’t seen her much since Ryan proposed during that fiasco with Natalie Rhodes, but that’s mostly because we’ve been…out of contact.”

“Time really flies,” Kate observes. She drains the last few mouthfuls of Castle’s drink and smiles sweetly. “Ready to go?”

He rolls his eyes. “If you’re done.”

“I am.” She links her arm through his. “Also, I’ve figured out one last person who I might be able to convince to pull a gun on me.” Castle sighs, having been secretly relieved at they boys’ refusal. But he should have known, what with Beckett’s single-minded intensity, that she would have another solution before they even left the Old Haunt.

“And who would that be?”

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