She’s still, too still, frozen in place midway across the room.
It’s not that the message isn’t effecting him, it is, but for her, this is more. She rooted to the spot, and not at all the personification of badass Detective Beckett that usually comes out to play when danger threatens to knock on their door.
She’s not even his Kate is this moment; she’s smaller, younger, scared. She’s the woman who came back to the precinct too soon after a shooting, the woman who would run away to lick her wounds in a hallway after a sniper had shaken her to the core, rather than asking for help.
It scares him, and he wonders what the protocol for such situations is. He’s never born witness to one of her panic attacks, although she’s told him about them before.
He takes a step toward her, cautious and slow. “Kate..?”
She blinks, takes a shuddering heave of a sigh and a deep breath, but her eyes are still far away, unseeing; she’s a million miles away and he doesn’t know how to get through to her. Will reaching out startle her? Make her lash out?
He places one foot forward, and then another, careful to make some noise, but at the same time not too loud, not wanting to surprise her. He tries again, careful to keep his voice low. “Kate, what is it?”
She blinks rapidly, shaking her head as if to clear it. Maybe it’s worked; she closes her mouth and he can see her jaw tense as she bites down and grinds her teeth. The tears that had been threatening spill since the song began to play finally fall, one fat drop from over the rim of each eye, rolling slowly down her cheeks until they linger at her chin and eventually land on the wood floor below.
It spurs him into action. Protocol be damned, she needs a hug. He’s going to trust his instincts on this one. He gathers her into his arms, laying the briefest of kisses to her forehead before turning her around, wrapping an arm around her around the waist and shuffling them both back toward the sofa.
He sits first, stretching out and making room, then guides her by the hand down until she’s nestled into the crook of his legs, the cocoon of his body, wrapped securely in his arms. He drops his head atop hers and murmurs into her hair. “Talk to me,” he says.
She shakes her head and buries herself further back into his arms, deeper into the sofa, one hand clutched around his arm below her, the other covering her ears.
Shit. The song is still playing. He didn’t even think about hitting stop before trying to comfort her. “I can go turn it off,” he starts, but she just clings on tighter. He thanks a higher power when the final notes of the orchestra begin to swell and prays to a god he’s not sure he believes in that there’s nothing else on the memory stick. Blessedly, the universe is listening to him and when the final note subsides they are left in relative silence. Her hears the drip from the kitchen faucet that he keeps forgetting to repair, the low hum of the refrigerator, the soft whoosh of her breath as she calms down and it returns to a more normal pace.
Castle pulls the hand that’s covering her ear to his mouth and presses kisses to her knuckles, staying silent, waiting her out and taking calming breaths to settle down his own nerves until he feels her finally relax into him.
“The summer I was shot...” she starts, and that’s not at all what he was expecting. She shifts, removing her hand from his grasp, and he gets the hint, settling further back into the couch so that she can roll over to look him in the eye. Her tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, and strokes his thumb along her brow; it’s a soothing motion, he knows how difficult talking about that time is for her. He’s not quite sure why she’s doing it now, but he will stay quiet and he will listen.
He knows she still feels guilt over how she treated him, he’s knows that she’s ashamed. But they’ve hashed over it before and he’s not about to bring up old grudges while she’s in an emotionally unstable place. Though that summer still stings, he’s caused his own hurt too, and as far as he’s concerned, it’s water under the bridge.
Kate searches his eyes and she must find what she’s looking for because she nods once, entwines her fingers with his own and begins.
“The summer I was shot,” she says again, this time with more confidence, “my dad and I spent a lot of time together. We talked some, we got on each other’s nerves a lot, and we fought. Bickering, you know? Minor stuff, mainly. The result of too much togetherness in too small a cabin.”
He nods, eager to hear more. Any snippet of Kate in a setting that he’s not familiar with, Rick treasures.
“One particular night, maybe four weeks into my recovery, we both snapped. We’d spent the last week bickering over what I thought I was capable of. After breakfast that morning, I’d gone out for a walk. I didn’t return until late in the afternoon and when I came back into the cabin, he was livid.”
“He was worried about you,” Castle murmurs, circling his thumb across the back of her hand.
“Yeah, I see that now,” she says, a wry smile on her face. “At the time? Not so much.” She smirks, pulling her hand from his and giving his chest a light swat. “Now shut up and let me tell my story.”
He grins, miming the zipping and locking of his lips, the throwing away of a key.
“So he ranted and accused me of not taking care of myself. It escalated pretty quickly, and then he asked me what Mom would have thought. I threw it right back at him and told him that he was one to talk.”
“Ouch,” Castle says, imagining how much that must have hurt the man that he’s come to love as his soon to be father in law. He has a hard time reconciling the man that he knows with the man Kate has told him about from after his wife’s murder. Kate raises an eyebrow. “Sorry, shutting up.”
“Anyway, it was a good thing... eventually. We talked a lot that night. About how he handled things, about how I did. You already know how I throw myself into work; how he threw himself into a bottle.”
She sighs, closing her eyes, begins humming the song that begun all of this. He’s about to speak when she opens her eyes again and it’s not fear he sees this time but a peaceful calm. She looks happy.
“Tell me,” Castle hums, kissing her brow. He want to know how the song can have such strong and yet opposing meaning to her.
“I finally asked him what it was that made him quit drinking. Nothing that I tried had worked, no amount of yelling, screaming, or the cold shoulder. It wasn’t until about nine months after I had cut off all contact with him that I heard from a friend that he’d been sober for a few months. It was then that I tentatively brought him back into my life. It took a long time for me to regain my trust in him and we basically brushed everything that had happened under the rug. I don’t think either of us wanted to go down that road. I think we were both just so happy to have some semblance of a family back.”
She looks uncomfortable, picks at a fingernail and avoids his gaze.
“Hey, that’s understandable. Not the best with coping mechanisms here, either. We do what we have to to survive.”
She looks up and the barest hint of a smile is playing on her lips.
“So tell me,” he says, trying to bring her back to the subject at hand, “how does this relate to the song?”
“I admitted that I was still using work…” She grins, blushing a light shade of pink. “Still hiding in relationships with men I didn’t love.”
Castle raises an eyebrow at this. “Wasn’t that my line?”
“I was listening, Castle,” she says, running her hand down his side. “I was always listening. I just wasn’t ready to hear it then.”
“I know, and it’s okay. We’re here now, right?”
She nods, accepting his answer, and he leans back into a throw pillow, waiting for her to continue with her story.
“So I asked him what he did to cope now; it’s not something that ever goes away, you know?. And he didn’t say anything, he just smiled, walked over to the DVD player and hit play. Dr. Strangelove started.”
“I love that movie,” castle exclaims, grinning as certain scenes pop into his head.
“Yeah, I do too. It’s hilarious.” She laughs, but sobers quickly, reaching above him to pull the light blanket from the back of the couch and wrap it around them. “And let me tell you, we needed it that night. It had been such a stressful few weeks after I’d been released from the hospital. We laughed so hard that for a while at least, we forgot about all the bickering we’d been doing.”
She’s quiet then. Her fingers toy with the edges of the blanket, rubbing the materials between the pads of her forefinger and thumb; a self-soothing motion if ever he saw one.
“But it’s kind of depressing too,” he says, sensing her mood but nudging her to go on.
“That’s what I said. I asked him, ‘Dad, how does this help?’, and he told me that it had been playing on the TV one night while he was hold up in the drunk tank.”
He’s so confused. He doesn’t understand what the old movie, and and how she spent the summer after her shooting, have to do with the current state of events and her reaction to the song. Although at least now, he’s beginning to understand where the song might fit in.
“I’m still not completely following,” he says.
“Apparently, it was the whole package. He laughed until he cried; he said he hadn’t laughed in years, and I believed him. He was a shell of a man existing on auto-pilot after Mom died. It got to him though, that ending, with the bombs and We’ll Meet Again playing in the background.”
Castle closes his eyes and pictures the scene. It got to him too. With the song freshly playing in his mind, he can see how the older man would take it to heart.
“I guess is resonated. He told me that the bombs represented his life to him at the time, how everything was blowing up in his face, but that the song gave him hope. Reminded him of both Mom and me. He vowed that when he met up with us again, wherever that was, he’d be the man we loved and not the drunk he’d become. He took himself to AA the very next day.”
She smiles, proud and wide, teeth biting into her tongue. He could kiss her. He wants to kiss her. For all that she’s overcome, and everything that she’s endured to get to where she is. But there’s more that she’s not telling him, he knows it, and so instead he contents himself by snuggling a little closer and wedging his leg between her own.
“Okay, that makes sense actually,” he says. “For your Dad anyway, and maybe even for you. But what I don’t understand is why it had such a visceral effect on you when I pressed play earlier.”
Her face drops at the memory and he wishes he hadn’t said a thing. He forges on anyway; the damage is already done. “Kate, I think you were having a panic attack.”
She looks like she’s about to have another. But he watches as she schools her features, takes calming breaths and continues to play with the edges of the blanket. He gives her the time she needs to get it under control; he knows she has spent a lot of time in therapy to deal with this and if she needs him, she’s right here in his arms.
“I’m here,” he reminds her in a soft murmur.
“I was, or... I was beginning to, but you brought me back. Like you just did again. Thank you.”
“You never have to thank me for being here.”
She smiles, “Well thank you anyway. But that’s not…”
She seems so hesitant to say it. Whatever it is that has her so rattled is obviously on the tip of her tongue, but she looks afraid to even say it out loud. “Kate, what aren’t you telling me?”
“I use that song too,” she whispers.
“What are you saying?”
And why is she whispering?
“Ever since we...ever since you...us… Whenever I’ve felt myself getting sucked back into my Mom’s case, or hell, whenever I just miss her: Christmas, my birthday, whatever... That’s my thing now, too. Castle, I’ve played that song in my home.”
She stops, pulls back from his embrace and looks around the loft, skittish and white as a sheet.
“I played that song here,” she whispers, “a few days ago, on my birthday.”
“Are you saying?”
And now he’s whispering. Because if she’s saying what he thinks she’s saying, then that bastard has done it again and Castle doesn’t know if he can cope with the thought of Jerry Tyson once again infiltrating his personal space.
“Castle, what if he’s been here?” She grabs his arm and pulls him close, until her mouth is up against his ear and her voice is barely audible. “What if he’s listening?”
And just like that, he’s the one having a hard time breathing.