As Kate steps into the office, her eyes roam the room. They have before, of course, but this time it’s not because of an overhanging feeling of fear. This time it’s because this is her last visit to this office, a place that has contributed to her recovery more than she can say.
“Please, have a seat,” Dr. Burke requests with a gentle smile.
“Thanks.” Kate does, sinking into the cushion more so than she has in the past, when she was perched on the edge of it ready to run at the slightest provocation.
“It’s good to see again, Kate,” Dr. Burke says.
“You too,” she replies, meaning it.
“Am I correct in assuming this will be our last session together?”
“Yeah,” Kate smiles. “I’m requalifying on the twenty-first.”
“Do you believe you are ready?”
The corners of his mouth rise. “I think you are as well. But tell me, how have your last few weeks been?”
“Well, Castle and I are still together. We worked with a guy from my precinct to practice for the tactical assessment and Castle and I have been to the shooting range a couple times.”
Burke narrows his eyes shrewdly. “What did this ‘practice’ entail?”
Kate sighs. “Basically me hunting him through some doors and him pointing a gun at me.”
To his credit, Dr. Burke neither sighs nor gives any indication that she was wrong for implementing such forceful tactics on herself. It is almost like he was expecting it or used to it from her. …Which he probably is.
“And do you feel that has helped you?”
“Very much. I can do the things I need to do my job now.”
“What about emotionally?”
That stops her a moment. “I’m…I’m more confident. It helps not having to worry—as much—about whether I’ll be able to handle myself. It makes me more focused on getting it done rather than pausing to wonder ‘will I be able to.’”
Burke appears pensive, thoughtful. “Tell me about your shooting, Kate.”
She takes a deep, steadying breath as she recovers from the abruptness of the question. But when she starts, her voice is neutral, calm and assured: “It was my Captain’s funeral, Captain Roy Montgomery. They asked me to give the eulogy, and I agreed. I was standing at the podium. My partner was a bit off to my side, and my fellow detectives and best friend were among the crowd. I was only a few sentences in when I heard the shot, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground with Castle lying over me, staring at my chest in horror. He…” she falters for a moment, remembering the anguish in his eyes and voice, telling her he loved her. “He begged me to stay. I lost consciousness, fell in and out through the ambulance ride and in the operating room.”
“Very good,” Dr. Burke praises. “Yes, that is what I’d hoped you’d achieve. You have nothing to worry about for the psychological exam, Kate. You’ve come so far since the day I first met you at the hospital. You have a lot to be proud of.”
“I know,” Kate smiles, dipping her head slightly, “thank you.”
“Best of luck to you, Kate, in all your future endeavors. And if you ever feel the need to talk again, my door is always open.”
“How long have you been up?”
“What are you doing?” He approaches her with sleep-blurred steps, placing a hand on her shoulder. She’s seated on an extra tall stool in his kitchen, somehow managing to tuck her legs to her chest too. The dark sky outside the window holds her gaze. “Come back to bed. You should be well-rested for tomorrow. Today.”
“I’m okay here.”
He encircles his arms around her from behind, burying his face in her silky hair. He holds her for a few seconds, then whispers in her ear, “Please?”
At first she doesn’t move, just sits, statue-like, mind filled with an inexplicable haze that crowds out all else. She hears him but doesn’t hear him, ears working fine but brain not ready for signals from the outside world when so much is going on inside. Then, like falling through the ice into freezing water, she registers his words and shivers slightly. Kate slides forward off the stool, standing on unsteady legs. “‘Kay.”
Castle smiles in relief in the darkness, hand reaching down to interlock fingers with hers, and she lets him lead her back to their bedroom.
But she doesn’t sleep, and knowing that he doesn’t either, each of them breathing softly and slowly in a futile attempt to fool the other. Around three o’clock her eyelids finally begin to dip lower, to stay closed longer, and utter exhaustion overtakes her disquieted mind.
In the morning her alarm wakes them earlier than either of them are used to anymore, and she immediately slips out of bed and closes the bathroom door before he’s even managed to peel open his eyes. When at last some measure of awareness has returned he registers the sound of the water running and pulls himself out of bed to put on his blue robe and head out to start a pot of coffee.
Caffeinated, he thinks, for this morning. Her dietary restrictions have been all but lifted, and with the amount of sleep she got last night she’ll need it. His own actions seem sluggish, as evidenced by the way he smacks the back of his hand accidentally against the metal faucet.
Swearing lightly under his breath, he heats a pan for eggs and cracks several into a bowl with a dash of milk and sprinkling of salt and pepper. Kate appears minutes later, hair just drier than ‘dripping’ and says quietly that she’ll take over from there so he can shower. He agrees readily, relinquishing the spatula to her.
Kate absentmindedly moves the eggs around, listening to the steady sizzling of them in the pan. “Good morning,” greets a chirpy voice from behind her, causing her to jump and a few scraps of cooked egg to leap out of the pan. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you,” Alexis says.
“It’s fine,” Kate replies, heart racing.
“So, this is the big day, isn’t it?” Alexis tells her. “Nervous?”
“Only a little,” Kate replies. “What are you doing up so early?”
“I wanted to wish you luck,” Alexis says brightly. “Besides, once Dad drops you off at the precinct, he’s going to be a mess until he hears from you how it went. I’ll keep him company hear and prevent him from wearing a hole in our floor with his incessant pacing.”
“Good idea,” Kate laughs in agreement, “thanks, Alexis. I think I get a break around lunchtime; I’ll call him then. Eggs?”
“Sure.” Kate serves them and starts two halves of a bagel going in the toaster. “But seriously, Kate, you’re going to do great.”
Despite the fact that Alexis has no information off which to base that statement, it buoys Kate’s confidence a bit more.
“Hey, where’s mine?” Castle asks indignantly, walking into the room in fresh clothes.
“I annexed them,” Alexis tells him with a sly smile, gesturing at her plate.
“They’re still in the pan,” Kate rolls her eyes.
“You are evil,” Castle informs Alexis as he goes to retrieve his food.
Once breakfast is finished and the dishes done, it’s time to go. Castle gives his daughter a quick kiss on the top of the head, saying, “I’ll be back soon.”
“Good luck!” Alexis calls after them, running up to envelop Kate in a hug. The soon-to-be-hopefully-reinstated detective grins and returns it, trying to use it to master the churning of her stomach.
The drive to the precinct is one of the quietest she can remember that wasn’t during one of their fights. When they arrive, she doesn’t ask him to, but Castle accompanies her inside, leaving her to wonder whether she wants him to or not. She steps up to the counter and explains what she’s here for to the woman behind it, who directs her to wait off to the side for the arrival of Lieutenant Johnson, who’ll be in charge of her reexamination. She does as ordered, only vaguely aware of Castle sitting in the seat next to her.
Johnson doesn’t keep her waiting long, and the large, imposing man greets her with a very firm handshake. “I’ve heard good things, Beckett. Ready to go?”
“Yeah,” Kate nods. She turns to Castle. “See you later.”
“Love you,” Castle says.
“I love you too,” she replies, smiling as bravely as she can muster.
Without looking back, she lets Johnson lead her out of the precinct and to his squad car. He only has to drive for about ten minutes to reach the NYPD-owned facility large enough to accommodate their needs. Johnson greets the uniforms inside genially, all the while leading her past the lobby and into the actual testing area. The obstacle/agility course is located outside, and though Kate is initially self-conscious of being watched, she doesn’t have too much difficulty completing it. Her time is mediocre by her standards but still a passing time, and she knows that she could have shaved off a few seconds if she’d executed that barrel roll a bit better and not favored her right side. Kate doesn’t know if Johnson noticed that or not, or whether it will count as points against her, but either way she did manage to make it through the course without any loud protestations from her scars. Her running time is a bit better than she expected, and she’s pleased with it.
The shooting range is next, and Johnson seems a mite bit impressed with what she can do with her Sig Sauer. He says nothing, however, and just dismisses her for a thirty-minute lunch break with the reminder that she’s not to leave the building and that there are well-stocked vending machines in the lobby.
Well-stocked proves to be true, but not cheap--she ends up shelling out $4.50 for a bottle of water and bag of chips that she barely tastes. All of a sudden there’s a screeching of metal chairs and she has company at her small table, Ryan and Esposito grinning at her in their identical way. “Hey, Beckett,” Espo greets her. “We were in the neighborhood, thought we’d drop by.”
“Yes, well, we’re technically not supposed to be here, so we can’t stay long,” Ryan adds.
“Thanks for coming,” Kate says, both surprised and grateful.
“How’s it going so far?” Esposito asks.
“Pretty good. Just psych left, although that one might be the one I’m most nervous for.”
“Hey, if you start to feel overwhelmed, just imagine Castle kissing you,” Ryan suggests.
They both look at him. “Where did that come from, dude?” Espo asks.
“It’s what I do with Jenny when I get fed up with paperwork,” Ryan ducks his head.
Esposito rolls his eyes. “When did you go so soft?” he grumbles, but Kate’s just laughing. The last thing she expected to be doing in the minutes before judgment time. “We’d better go,” Esposito says. “Kick ass in there, Beckett.”
She raises an eyebrow. “It’s a psych session.”
“Okay then. Keep your cool in there so you can kick ass later with us, Beckett.”
“Better.” She stands. “Thanks for coming, guys.”
They’re gone barely a minute and she’s barely picked at the food that's making her stomach roll unpleasantly when Johnson returns, beckoning her to him. He directs her to the room of the NYPD psychiatrist.
Kate pauses in front of the door as Johnson retreats back down the hallway, finger resting gently on the knob. With a deep breath, she pulls it open, admitting herself into a semi-dark room with a middle-aged woman with highlights sits at a high desk.
“Detective Beckett?” the woman questions, tone more neutral than she had expected.
“Yes, that's me,” Kate answers. She reminds herself that this woman is not Dr. Burke and is not her personal resource for counseling, something it seems she’d forgotten on the ride over. The woman isn't here to help Kate, just assess her. This is going to be nothing like her sessions with Dr. Burke.
The thought instills even more fear into her.
Desperate for a soothing distraction before the woman starts analyzing her—as if she hadn't the moment Kate walked in—her thoughts stray to Ryan's suggestion from a few minutes ago and an unbidden smile curves her mouth slightly upwards.
“Have a seat, Detective,” the woman instructs. “My name is Hanelle Victoria, and I've worked as a psychiatrist for the NYPD for twenty years. I'm going to ask you some questions to make sure you are prepared to return to active duty. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” Kate replied, leaning forward slightly in her seat.
“How much do you remember of your shooting?”
Wow, this feels like the first time she’d stepped into Dr. Burke’s. She’d exactly this uncomfortable then, too. Except then it hadn’t counted for anything; she could have run screaming out of the office and no one save Castle would have known and cared, but now such a response can ruin everything. Everything. “I remember everything,” she says quietly in a much different voice than the one running rampant in her head. She is in control.
“Tell me,” Victoria demands.
“I was standing at the podium, giving a eulogy for my former Captain. Before I knew anything had happened, my partner tackled me to the ground, and there was this huge pain in my chest. Looking back on it, I guess I heard the gunshot as well, but it didn’t register. I passed in and out of consciousness in the ambulance and during surgery.” She tries not to make it sound as if she’d memorized it, as that kind of preparation isn’t likely to go over well in this setting. It’s enough information that the psychiatrist will believe she’s not avoiding anything, but not so much as she could share.
“The gunshot didn’t register?” Victoria blinks, leaning forward. “You were an NYPD detective, and a gunshot didn’t register?”
Kate frowns, agitated. “There was a lot going on. And no one expects there to be a gunfight at a funeral!”
The psychiatrist purses her lips slightly, writing something Kate can’t quite see on her report. ‘You were an NYPD detective…’ Kate doesn’t like the way she used ‘were.’ “And how do you feel the shooting as affected you physically?”
“I passed the obstacle course,” Kate replies. “Therapy was hard, but I got through it.” Victoria jots something down.
“Do you feel ready to be back in the field, knowing the physical strength, flexibility, and agility that might be required of you during, say, a takedown?”
“What about emotionally? Dreams, nightmares? Lost friendships? Where is your partner now, the one who knocked you down at the funeral? The other detectives you work closely with at the Twelfth, have you kept in contact with them?”
It takes a moment for Kate to digest the question, long as it is. “I had nightmares at first, but they’ve tapered off.” She doesn’t say why, not that she fully knows herself. Castle and time, she suspects, have something to do with it. “My partner took care of me back when I couldn’t do much for myself. He’s been…indispensable in all of this.” She smiles slightly in spite of herself. “Esposito and Ryan, the other detectives, we’ve had lunch a few times. It’s been hard to schedule with my recovery and their working long hours, but we did. They wished me luck for today.”
More notes on her report. “Other friends, outside of the police force?”
“My best friend, Lanie, I’ve probably seen most of all besides Cas—my partner. Phone calls, lunch, texts.”
“There’s just my dad, and he stayed with us a while in the beginning. Now he comes over for dinner.”
“Detective, would you say your shooting has brought any positive results into your life?”
For once, Kate doesn’t know what the right answer is and is groping blindly. “Not that I can think of, no.” She can’t mention Castle. Partners aren’t allowed to form romantic relationships within the NYPD.
“So you would say that the person responsible for all of this caused you a tremendous amount of pain and took away two months of your life.”
“That just about sums it up, yes,” Kate says cautiously.
“So when you get your badge back, and your gun, are you going to go hunting him?” In response to Kate’s stare, Victoria continues, “It would only be logical. He took away precious months of your life, and it’s only fair that you should take some of his—whether that be jail time, or…something else. What would you say the correct punishment for the shooter would be, Detective Beckett?”
Her nails are digging into the skin of her hand. “I would follow every lead to its end. I would leave no stone unturned. But if I reached that end and no clue was left, I would stop. I would put it away, because to continue would just be letting him steal more of my time.”
“Like you did with your mother’s case?”
“I put that away,” Kate states, tongue stiff in her mouth.
“Yes, admirably. But after what cost? What emotional toll? Research has shown that PTSD can be especially acute in those that have gone through trauma before. At nineteen, that can’t have been easy for you.”
“Is losing a parent so brutally ever easy for anyone?”
“True enough, detective. But most don’t have the chance to spend every waking moment using police resources to try to track down her killer.”
“I put it behind me,” Kate says, deadly serious. An extra long scribble on her report.
“Detective, I have one final question,” Victoria tells her. “Do you feel that you are able to uphold the oath you swore as a cadet graduating from the Academy? Do you still swear to well and truly serve the city of New York without favor or affection, malice or ill-will, preserve the peace and prevent to the best of your ability all offenses against that peace, and that while you continue to be a police officer you will to the best of your skills and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully, according to the law?”
“You may go, Detective Beckett. I have all I need here,” the psychiatrist dismisses her. “Your captain will have my assessment and your results by the time you get back.”
Kate walks back to the lobby with only one thought in her head. Did I pass?