Disclaimer: I do not own Castle. None of it.
When he sees her he wants to cry with relief.
She looks like a hero in a story book, towering over her fallen enemy with rigid posture and weapon poised as a challenge. He's just so glad to see her standing.
When he sees the vacant look in her eyes as she turns around, he wants to cry for a whole different reason.
She looks like she's dead.
He embraces her gently, tentatively, trying not to smother her. He waits for her to melt into his embrace and reassure him that she's alive, but she doesn't.
He waits for the clatter of the scalpel dropping to the floor, but it never comes.
She's frozen to the spot. He pulls back to look at her, but her eyes look through him, unseeing and still. The scalpel is still clutched in her bloody hand.
"Kate," he whispers.
He palms her cheek, but she remains still. He expected something; even her recoil would have satisfied him. But she looks dead even while she's standing before him and breathing.
"Please," he tries again.
He closes his fingers around her bloody wrist, surprised be the rigidity he finds in the joint. He brushes his thumb along her pulse point to offer comfort to her as well as himself.
Her hand unclenches like a claw in an arcade game. The kind where you never win, but you keep trying anyway.
He's determined to keep trying.
The telltale clatter of the scalpel on the floor is the only sound in the room.
She's silent on the ride home from the precinct, but she curls into his side in the back of the car. She's been tightly coiled and trembling with nervous energy since her rescue. She's rigid even as she lists into him. Every movement is controlled, like she's trying so very hard to look like she's okay, but she's not doing a very good job. Her stiff knees are bouncing up and down, and her hands are trembling even as she clenches them into unyielding fists.
When they get home, she heads straight towards the shower to wash away the horror. He joins her.
It's later in the night that she finally comes back to herself.
He decided not to sleep in favor of watching her breathe and stroking her hair. Looking at her in her own clothes, in their house, in their bed… It's just what he needs.
She starts twitching and mumbling, her eyebrows knitting together before she starts to gasp for air. He rubs her shoulders and the knots of her spine until she startles awake, her eyes wide and terrified but thank God she's showing emotion.
He holds her closer while she gasps for breath, telling her she's okay and that she's here and that she's home.
He's surprised when she starts to cry. She's weeping into his shirt, making horrible keening noises, and he holds her even tighter, wishing that the past few days will go away if he holds her tight enough.
"I killed her. God, Castle, I killed her," she chokes.
"You had to, Kate. You really had to. There was no other way," he tells her, his voice a broken rasp.
"I stabbed her, with that tiny scalpel blade, and I couldn't stop, Castle. I couldn't…"
He knows he can't fix it. He knows he can't convince her otherwise. But God, he wants to try.
"You survived. You came home to me, Kate. She would have killed you if you weren't so brave, and so wonderfully smart."
"How do I just…"
"It's okay. It'll be okay." He kisses her forehead and tries to will her pain away, because the very last thing she should be feeling is guilt.
"Thank you," she says after a long pause.
He kisses her hair and relishes in the feeling of her pressed against him, her arm snaking around to rest limply on his shoulder. Her breathing eventually steadies and she seems to finally melt, the tension rushing out of her like water from a faucet.