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always the moment right before gunshot

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It’s only in dreams you can do this.
Waking, your heart is a shaken fist,
a fine dust clogs the air you breathe in;

—Margaret Atwood, "Flying Inside Your Own Body"

 

The thing about being in love with someone you're involved with in other ways is that there are stakes. Every dissolving relationship hurts, but Kate's always been good at compartmentalizing; she's always known where something was going the second it started, and no break-up has blindsided her that much. She backs out first anyway, most of the time.

But Castle is—the way she feels about him was never that straightforward, and now it is. It's pretty much as straightforward as it gets, that tight feeling in her chest when she sees him, the way sometimes she smiles when it would be smarter not to, before she knows she's going to. The problem isn't whether he loves her back; she'd know even if it were true she doesn't remember anything about being shot, about falling to the ground and watching Castle try to hold onto her consciousness by telling her the sort of truths people blurt out when they're terrified.

It's acting on it that scares her. Their friendship is solid now, their partnership is no longer a baffling choice that gets in her way more than it helps her. She has a good friend and a good partner, and if—if she goes for it, if she just opens with it, tells him she remembers, and she feels the same way, and what are they waiting for, things will become, if not fragile, breakable.

It's not that she doesn't want to. Since the shooting, there have been a lot of times she thought she'd crack and talk to him. There's no reason he should be the one to make the second first move. There's no reason she can't take that step herself. But she's only ever inclined to do it in bizarre, high-tension situations, and something feels wrong about starting a relationship after three people were blown up, or after they were rescued from smugglers.

Once, she dreams there was a funeral, and a speech, and it ended the way funerals always do: frustrating and hopeless, shaking hands as people tell you they're sorry for your loss, redirecting the line at those who've lost more than you have. A similar dream happens another time, but in this one, Castle wraps an arm around her shoulder and says, "I guess this is a bad time to tell you I love you." Kate laughs, startled, and agrees with him; the scene fades off. More than once, she dreams of muffled screams and blood rushing, her head swimming in white noise.

When she wakes up, she's glad to shake the images off. She never tries to hold on to them.

Maybe that's why she lied about the shooting. She doesn't want to remember, that's part of it, but more than that, she doesn't want something she's wanted for—a while now, she can admit that, irreversibly linked to what's probably the second worst moment of her life. She's been through a lot with Castle, and that is one of many things, that won't change, but she can't keep the good and discard the rest of that day. She's not that good at compartmentalizing. No one is.

For now, she makes it through each day. She wakes up in the morning and goes to sleep at night, and throughout she knows there are people who are there for her, people who care. She's grateful in a way she wasn't conscious of before.

And what she has with Castle, despite everything they haven't told each other, everything she's hiding, everything they don't talk about, what she has with him is good. It's real and tangible and stable the way a new relationship wouldn't be. The way she isn't. They talk and they work together, they understand each other even when they pretend they don't, and those times, mostly at night, that she's on edge and her skin feels like it's on fire no matter where her hands land, she doesn't bother to try to think about anyone else.

That's a step. The rest can come later.