"Should have taken the anti-cold medication, Beckett."
She growls at him and tugs the comforter to her chin, but his hand is rubbing those soothing circles on her back like they have been for the last three days and her aching bones relax, sink deeper into the memory foam mattress. Where she has spent a large majority of the last week and a half.
"Feel awful," she rasps, attempting to clear her throat and failing, feeling the coughing spell rioting sharp and angry in her chest. She wheezes as she turns further away from him, burying her cough in her elbow. Rick combs her hair away from her face while her lungs rattle against her ribs, holds the strands in a ponytail secured by his fingers at her nape and continues carding his free hand along her scalp, through the oily locks that evade his grip. "Probably look awful too."
Kate listens to him scoff at her back before he leans closer, drops a kiss to the skin of her shoulder, where his t-shirt leaves the bone exposed. She knows by now that when it comes to them, looks have fallen low on the scale of importance, overruled by a connection that's only grown stronger within the last four years, but it's only been a mere week and a half, not even a full two weeks since she finally joined him on the other side of her wall, since she dipped her toes in sudsy bathwater with him and found she had been dying to dive in all along.
Though, she wouldn't have minded a little bit of time to enjoy the bliss that comes with embarking on a relationship first before allowing him to see her at her worst.
"I'll admit, the green pallor to your skin isn't your best look," he murmurs, sweeping her hair over the opposite shoulder once the heaving of her ribs has ceased, grinning against her nape when she weakly tries to elbow him away for the remark. "But you're still hot."
"With fever," she mutters.
He huffs, his breath cool as it puffs along her skin. "Still the most gorgeous woman I could wake up next to."
His voice softens over those last words, the teasing giving way to sincerity that still tends to make her a little skittish, but fills her heart with warmth too, with reassurance and certainty that crushes the doubts before they can bloom into nagging thorns of insecurity.
Kate reaches back, searches for his hand amidst the mess of sheets at her hip, and brings his knuckles to her lips. She keeps his hand tucked beneath her chin as she descends back to lie on her side, submerged back in the comfort his bed has offered her for the last two weeks.
But time in his bed had been more than comforting in the beginning. It had been fun, exhilarating to entangle herself in his sheets, in him, to find peace and contentment in his space. That is, until her throat had become dry and scratchy, her nose stuffy and useless, and her head thick with dizzying exhaustion. The fever and the stiffness in her bones had come shortly after, and at first, she hadn't caught it, hadn't understood why her body was turning on her without reason. Until the obvious conclusion dawned on her.
Apparently, a flu shot and a strong immune system had been worthless against intimate contact.
She had caught Castle's cold.
"Before you pass out on me, I made you some toast if you think you can handle it," he coaxes from her back and with her face half hidden by the comforter, Kate lets the smile claim her lips for a brief moment, wonders if he can feel it with his hand beneath her chin, if he can sense it in that creepy yet endearing way he's always managed to.
"Just gimme a minute," she slurs, listening to him sigh, but he doesn't push, doesn't try to lecture her. He lowers himself to lie behind her, fits the front of his body to her back and snakes an arm around her waist, draws patterns along the length of her abdomen.
Within minutes, the comforting position she's grown to love will overheat her and she'll have to squirm away in wordless askance that he'll follow without question, but for now, she embraces the surrounding warmth of him, appreciates it.
He's good to her, aware of what she needs, whether it be a hot meal or a few extra Tylenol to lower the fever, a warm bath or simply some space from his hovering presence, and for the first time in over a decade, she doesn't mind having someone around to take care of her.
"Gates is going to kill me," she mutters into her pillow, peeling her eyes open and blinking away the grit gathered in the corners of her lids. She's slept so much in the last 24 hours, slept hard and long, and though her body won't let her accomplish much, consuming a piece of toast sounds like an attainable goal for the morning. "Already missed a day, and then last week too-"
"Kate, you can spare a couple of days every now and then. You've hardly taken time off all year," Castle reminds her, easing his hand from beneath her chin to brush away the sweaty strands of hair that clung to her forehead throughout the restless night.
She had woken yesterday with his cold from nearly a week ago seeping into her pores and constricting her lungs, beating within the confines of her skull and clinging to her skin even in the shower where she had hoped the scalding water and soothing steam would wash the feeling away. But within the same hour, she had ended up hunched over the toilet bowl with Castle holding her hair back.
It takes some energy, far more effort than she would like, but Kate rolls over until she's met with the firm line of his outer thigh. She presses her forehead there, hums at the relief that spreads through her skull from the pressure and the accompanying comb of Castle's fingers through her hair, massaging her scalp.
"Your cold passed in two days," she grumbles, nuzzling deeper into his touch despite her indignation. "Mine should have at least receded by now."
"We're all different," he shrugs. "And the worst of it was over in two days, but you know it still hung around for the rest of that week."
She manages a noise of acknowledgement, recalling the days that followed after the worst of his cold had struck. She had hated leaving for the precinct the next morning without him, especially after the night they had spent together, but she had returned to his loft by the end of the day, received a subtle but approving nod from his daughter who had answered her knocks on the front door, and spent the rest of her evening taking care of him. In every way she knew how.
"Oh." He snaps his fingers and she grunts at him for it, the crack of noise reverberating through her skull. "But we haven't tried the one remedy that I'm almost positive cured me."
Her lips curl against his thigh at that. "Castle, if anything, that remedy is what caused this."
"I don't remember you complaining," he hums, and she doesn't have to look to know his mouth is splitting with pride, that his eyes are flickering with vivid recollection.
"Not complaining," she yawns, forcing her elbows into the mattress and pushing up. Castle subtly assists, curling an arm around her waist to help her find a balance that will hold, anchoring her as the room tilts and sways. Her stomach rolls for a second and Kate holds her breath, waiting for the brief nausea to recede. "If I didn't feel like I was going to pass out, I'd take you again right now."
His chuckle is soft against the crown of her head. "I love it when you talk dirty to me, Beckett."
The click of the front door shutting rouses her, reminds her that falling to rest against Castle's chest was not her objective.
"Toast," she mumbles, but the footsteps resounding through his office distract her and she glances up to see his daughter entering the open doorway with a white paper bag and a pill bottle in her hand.
"Hey guys," Alexis chirps, though she offers a sympathetic look when her gaze lands on Kate. "I picked up the Tylenol and the soup like you asked, Dad."
"Castle, don't make her run errands for me," Kate sighs, wincing at the fire cascading down her throat as she swallows.
"Well, technically, it was an errand for me," he points out, accepting the takeout bag and the bottle of Tylenol clutched in Alexis's palm.
"It's no problem, Kate," Alexis assures her, reaching out to squeeze Beckett's shoulder with a reaffirming grip that has Kate's chest feeling a little lighter. Ever since the day his daughter walked in to find them intertwined on the couch, a welcome shift has occurred in what was once a bitter relationship between acquaintances. No longer does Alexis eye her with resentment and wariness, no longer does she expect Beckett to handle her father's heart so carelessly. Kate isn't certain what solidified it in Alexis's mind, but within the last two weeks, she has gained his daughter's approval, as well as her friendship. "I had the day off anyway. To avoid being the next person to fall ill, though, I may head over to Paige's for a while."
"That's fine, Pumpkin," Castle responds, uncoiling his arm from around Kate to ensure that the soup makes a safe deposit to the nightstand. "Just text me if you need anything. I'll be here with Kate all day, but if you need me to-"
"Dad, I promise to text you if I need you, but really, I'll be fine," Alexis assures him, already drifting towards the wall of bookshelves and even through the fog of fever and the unpleasant sensation of her throbbing corneas, Kate notices the moment his smile dims, the gravity of his little girl all grown up making itself known.
Beckett relocates his hand atop the sheets while Alexis spares a glimpse to the gaping mouth of the bag hanging from her shoulder, digging through the purse to find her phone, and Castle accepts the cover of her palm with the embrace of his fingers, offers her a grateful squeeze.
"And the same goes for you two, text me if you need anything else. I'll be home before dinner if you want me to pick something up," Alexis suggests, but Castle shakes his head.
"I was actually thinking of cooking tonight. I've been browsing through recipes-"
"While you should have been writing," Kate mumbles, attempting to straighten up against the pillows and the headboard at her back, but involuntarily tilting towards Castle and propping her shoulder against his to guarantee her body will remain upright.
"Do not belittle the importance of my culinary findings. I intend to concoct a meal that will not only be delicious, but also beneficial to your sore throat and current sinus issues," he informs her with a proud smirk that has Alexis chuckling.
"I'm intrigued to see it, Dad. Talk to you guys later, feel better, Kate."
"Thanks again, Lex," Kate murmurs, earning a kind nod and a genuine smile from the girl while she turns on her two inch heels, strides out of the room leaving a flash of red hair and the violet fabric of her sweater smeared across Kate's vision.
"I'm not sure what changed between you two, but I'm really glad my kid adores you again," Castle admits once the front door has clicked shut.
Kate releases a quiet breath of laughter and turns further into his side, resisting the ridiculous urge to curl up against the broad wall of his chest like a child.
"I think when she saw us, saw me stick around while you were sick and even when you were better, it proved something to her," Kate explains on an exhale, lifting the heavy weight of her head from his shoulder – God, she's so out of it. She doesn't even remember lowering her temple to the rounded bone – and blinks up at him. She's coherent, she is, but she's also drained, on the verge of collapsing back into the mattress, and she wants to ensure his understanding of this before she does. "I think she saw that I loved you. And I think that was enough for her."
Castle's hand rises to cradle her jaw, his eyes so blue and lovely in the spill of late morning sunlight leaking in through the blinds, and for a wonderful handful of seconds, she forgets all about the misery laced along her bones, layering her skin. For a long moment, her focus is only on him and the way he looks at her, gazes down at her with the love and adoration she's worked so hard to feel worthy of.
And it's such a beautiful revelation he's brought her to within the last two weeks, that she was worthy of it all along.
"Love you too, Kate," he murmurs, grazing his thumb along the thin skin beneath her eye, slowing at the kiss of her lashes to his fingertip.
She reaches out with her free hand, eyes still closed but the rest of her senses awake and relishing in the presence of him, in the warmth and the scent of his aftershave and the coffee he had earlier in the morning. Her hand unfurls at his chest, her palm blossoming over his heart to feel its strength.
"Stay like this," she whispers, feathering her fingers down along the ripples of his ribs.
The hand that isn't busy supporting her jaw, caressing the blade of her cheek, splays at her back with the arm that hooks around her waist, draws her in until she's practically curled up in his lap and it feels so nice, so snug and secure, she doesn't care that it makes her feel coddled and childlike. Not anymore.
"For how long?" Castle asks, his breath breezing through the wisps of hair at her forehead.
She sighs, knows he's only asking for the sake of her soup and the toast still left untouched next to it on the nightstand, but her lips quirk with memory and Kate peels her eyes open to meet the swirling sea of his. "Forever."