Title: Physical Therapy

Rating: T

Timeline: Early Season 4

Summary: "It doesn't matter, though, does it? The fact is I'm no closer to figuring out who's hurting Castle or why he's allowing it." Beckett notices some disturbing changes in her partner after her return to the 12th. Set early in Season 4.

Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or the recognizable characters who appear in this story. Any other names, for characters or businesses, are fictional, uncompensated, or are in the public domain.

A/N: After getting stuck in Season 3 for several stories, I'm now thinking about Beckett's return to the precinct after her summer of recuperation. This is the first of several ideas for this timeframe and will differ substantially in tone from the next one I'm considering. This is AU after Rise.

"… And your new captain… how are things going with her?" Dr. Burke asks, rounding toward the end of today's session.

"Fine," Beckett manages to reply, swallowing the urge to say 'Well, she hasn't betrayed me, killed one of my parents, or been gunned down yet.' The restraint is borne from years of working with Castle – one more thing for which she owes him, she thinks with a smile. "Strict," she offers, returning to Dr. Burke's question, "but she seems capable."

Misunderstanding the reason for her smile, the therapist thinks that Beckett's pleased with how her relationship with the new captain is progressing. No need to disabuse him of that notion, she tells herself, since that will just bring up how icy the Homicide department is these days after Gates' efforts to kick Castle out were thwarted.

"It sounds as if you're making good strides in returning to your professional life," Dr. Burke summarizes. "I'll confess that I'm impressed with your efforts. It's still early and there will still be bad days," he reminds her, trying to make sure she doesn't abandon her therapy while she still clearly benefits from assistance, "but we'll endeavor to make them more and more infrequent."

"No argument here," Beckett huffs, still not entirely comfortable in her own, scarred skin or with the notion of more therapy.

"Good," Dr. Burke prompts, turning to his last, loaded question. "But before we end our session, perhaps you'd like to tell me why you scheduled today's appointment?"

Looking surprised, Beckett grows defensive. "We've talked about this," she answers plaintively, her crossed arms and stooped shoulders telling her therapist far more than her words. "I want to be better," she nearly sighs, annoyed at having to confess her weakness again. "Stronger."

"I apologize," Dr. Burke answers quickly, speaking in his smooth cadence that invites calm. "I didn't speak clearly and I don't want to put you on edge or retread areas we've already discussed," he soothes, showing that he's aware of his faux pas. "What I meant to ask is why you're here today in particular? We've adhered to regularly scheduled meetings, even with the unpredictability of your job. But you added this session yesterday, and it seems like there's something you wanted to address today but we keep sheering away from it every time we get too close."

Beckett nods, squeezing her arms tighter until she realizes that she's confirming his assessment with her body language. Forcing herself to lower her arms, she takes a deep breath and holds it for several seconds before letting it out with a sigh, hoping to lose some of her tension at the same time.

"You're right," she admits. "There's something I wanted to talk about today," she starts to explain, though each word seems to make her increasingly wary, so that Dr. Burke wonders if she'll have the strength of will to finish the thought. He again opens his expression to her, trying to convey nonverbally that he's willing to address her question but will not press if it's not forthcoming.

Beckett recognizes the expression and it invigorates her – not because of his openness, but because she doesn't want him to accept her weakness. Galvanized, she presses on. "I'd like a recommendation from you," she says, the topic bold even if her tone is not. "For another therapist."

Dr. Burke accepts this statement with a nod, thinking quickly. "Of course. I have several colleagues in whom I place my full confidence and trust. I can provide several options and, with your permission, will speak with them before your first session."

Beckett looks confused, then embarrassed. In her haste to pursue this topic, it seems she's made a critical misstep. "Not for me," she clarifies quickly. "I'm… we're… I think this is helping me," she finally manages to say while gesturing vaguely around his office, blushing to the roots of her hair.

"Please, don't be embarrassed," Dr. Burke says easily. "These sessions only really work, as I think you discovered after securing your clearance to return to duty, when there is a good rapport. A good therapist won't be offended if a patient seeks someone with whom they have a better connection," he explains generally before turning to her specific situation.

"But I will confess," he says, risking a more personal comment, "that I'm glad to hear you have some confidence in our sessions. I, too, am optimistic about your development." Shifting to her request while Beckett fights her renewed blush, Dr. Burke asks the obvious question. "Can you tell me for whom you'd like a recommendation? I trust your father is well," he adds, hoping that his patient is not looking for an addiction counselor.

"Dad's fine," she answers quickly. "Better than fine, actually. I think you were right," she continues, then sighs when her therapist's eyebrows rise. "Fine. It's not that you were right," she corrects herself with a roll of her eyes. "A theory occurred to me after one of our talks and seems to be right – Dad's feeling better about himself after being able to help me this summer. After not being around to help me after mom died," she continues with a hitch in her words, "he got a second chance to be there for me."

Dr. Burke nods, accepting these words and letting them settle while Beckett builds her courage to return to the topic at hand.

"It's Castle," she confesses a few long moments later. "I'm worried about him. He seems fine," she says as she shrugs, "but something's wrong."

"How so?" Dr. Burke asks. "Don't forget that what happened in the cemetery was terrible for him, too, though in a different way."

"I know," Beckett answers, fighting the urge to add that her silence over the summer might've affected him, too. "He's putting on an act, but his mask slips sometimes. It did the other day," she adds, "and he just looked so angry."

"You said he was angry, after you spoke with him," Dr. Burke reminds her, though she's already nodding in agreement. "And didn't he even say that rejoining you at the precinct didn't mean he wasn't still mad?"

"He did say that," she admits, still surprised she shared that discussion with her therapist. "But I think this is different."

"Why don't you tell me what happened?" he suggests reasonably. "Perhaps that will make things more clear."

"I knew it was too good to last," Perlmutter sighs when Castle steps into the apartment behind his partner, already craning his neck to take in the scene. "Things were so peaceful and professional while you were gone."

"I missed you, too, Mr. Filch," Castle replies offhandedly, still inspecting the apartment even though Beckett and her team are clustered around the body sprawled on the floor. It doesn't require an ME to explain that the victim suffered a massive blow to the head, not with the puddle of congealing blood or the obvious dent in the victim's skull.

Rather than inspect the body or listen to Perlmutter drone on, Castle drifts around the room while trying to get a sense for the inhabitant. Perlmutter seems annoyed that he doesn't have the full attention of the class, but Beckett prompts his initial conclusions about cause and time of death with an inpatient get-on-with-it gesture.

"Hey, Beckett," Castle calls out just as Perlmutter finishes his report. Apparently irritated that his soliloquy didn't enrapture the detectives or their sidekick, the ME huffs and goes about collecting his equipment. Beckett, meanwhile, pads over to Castle, who's pointing to a picture.

His thinking is readily apparent. The picture was taken here in this room, a selfie of the victim and a female friend, both smiling wide. Based on the victim's appearance in the picture it was taken recently, though it's a little difficult to tell after the way in which he was killed.

"Espo – what'd the canvas turn up?" she asks, motioning him over.

"Nothin' popped," he answers with a shrug as he bends to look at the photo.

"See that?" she asks, pointing at the upright antique desk in the background of the photo, then to the bare section of the room where it should be. "It'd be awfully hard to take that very far. But if you lived nearby…"

"On it," Esposito answers quickly, already looking at where the desk had rested as if hoping to see drag marks. "Ryan, Castle, come on. There aren't many places on this floor, we can knock it out quickly."

Castle's so surprised by his inclusion that he's smiling about doing mundane legwork. Entering the hallway, the three set off away from the elevator, each stopping in front of a different door.

"May I?" Castle asks in glee, prompting a sigh from Esposito, who pinches the bridge of his nose to show his thoughts on this request.

"Fine," the detective groans. "Just don't get used to it."

"NYPD!" Castle barks happily after knocking on the door. Esposito's still shaking his head while Ryan gives Castle a thumbs up before stretching to knock on a different door.

But before Ryan can knock, the door bursts open and a young man with greasy black hair bolts out of the apartment, sending Ryan into the wall and tumbling down. Espo's still looking up when he gets hit with a stiff-arm that knocks him off-balance. Their runner apparently played football, as both moves were nearly textbook. This doesn't bode well for Castle, who's standing in the middle of the hallway as the last obstacle between the runner and the stairwell.

"Move!" Espo yells to Castle, who seems to misunderstand the instruction. Rather than trying to get out of the way or trip the runner, Castle stands his ground, only bending his knees to absorb the impact from the fleeing suspect. They collide, going down in a tangle of grunts with limbs akimbo. Somehow, in all the tumult, Castle ends up on top of the prone suspect with his knees pinning the runner's arms, one hand on his neck, the other drawn back in a fist, and face looking murderous.

"And that's how I found him," Beckett finishes relaying the story. "I've never seen him like that. Well, only one other time," she hedges, prompting Dr. Burke's eyebrows to rise. "Ryan and Esposito were captured last year, held hostage to lure me into a trap. It almost worked, but Castle beat him senseless before he could pull the trigger."

Dr. Burke hides his surprise at this revelation behind another nod. "But you were not in danger this time?" he asks.

"No," Beckett agrees. "I was still back in the apartment. He might've been worried that Ryan or Espo got hurt," she thinks aloud, though her expression makes it clear that this doesn't seem like the right explanation, "but I wasn't even in the hallway."

"Did he strike the man?" Dr. Burke asks, looking more comfortable when Beckett answers in the negative.

"No," she answers readily. "Ryan got there before I did. Castle just blinked, dropped his hands, and stood off to the side. Like nothing happened."

"Perhaps, to him, nothing did," Dr. Burke suggests. "This sounds like an unusual situation, but not unheard of. Might it be that your current efforts to reintegrate into your role as a detective have sensitized you to the inherent danger you and your team face on a regular basis?"

"Maybe," Beckett allows. This doesn't feel quite right, but perhaps she had grown callous to the everyday dangers of the job, including the dangers shared by her untrained shadow. "I'm just worried that something's wrong with him," she confesses in a low voice, returning to what's really been bothering her. "If something's bothering him, he wouldn't talk to me about it," her tone growing regretful. "Not if he thinks it would be a burden to me."

Her last lines seem to signal the end of Beckett's willingness to talk. Dr. Burke watches as she hunches further, probably ruminating on how her shooting, and perhaps how she handled her recovery, affected others around her.

"Here are the cards for two contacts," the therapist offers gently, coaxing Beckett to reengage. "Both are excellent. Thomas is more of the benevolent grandfather model – gray hair, gray beard, seemingly as many grandkids as patients, and a laugh that rattles the windows," he offers, trying to lighten Beckett's demeanor but provoking no reaction.

"Charlotte would be more of a peer to Mr. Castle. She'll push a little harder and won't let him play with words – she was an attorney before turning to our profession. From what you've told me, Mr. Castle might react better if speaking with an intelligent woman." Again, no immediate response.

"Thanks," Beckett replies, reaching out to accept both cards without commenting on either recommendation. She still seems a little despondent, Dr. Burke thinks, but no more so than he's come to expect from his taciturn patient.

"A bit of advice?" he offers, taking one last shot at engaging her while also addressing a flaw in her plan. "You might consider how to broach the subject with him. As you've probably guessed…"

"As soon as I suggest a counselor," Beckett interjects dejectedly, "he'll ask if I'm seeing one myself."

A/N: Big thanks to my friend GeekMom who gave these first two chapters a read and encouraged me to go ahead. She also had a raft of questions for me, so we'll see if the latter chapters provide answers.