It's been four hours.
Four hours since she returned to her apartment and noticed the echo for the first time since she'd sublet it six months ago. It feels nothing like a home, and tonight she needs the relief of one more than she'll admit aloud.
Four hours since she spoke to Josh, reassuring him that nothing happened to her, and politely declining the invitation to stay at his place. He's a great guy – he really, really is – but she's afraid he'll start asking questions she's not prepared to answer.
Four hours since she traded her trench coat and turtleneck for an NYU hoodie made for someone twice her size. The chill that had rolled off the motel pool, plaited with a good measure of bone-deep fear, has left her with an ache she's yet to smother.
And she hasn't stopped moving.
Kate's adrenaline had spiked when Martha called about Castle's conversation – a decoded 'I love you' that had Kate barreling through the door of room 47 – and it still hadn't settled back to normal when her front door clicked shut behind her. She considered finding herself something to eat, but the acidic roll of her stomach countered that idea, so she wasted time scouring an already-clean kitchen in search of distraction, the sticky sweet smell of disinfectant only worsening the nausea.
Needing to keep her trembling hands busy, she made her way to the bedroom, pausing just long enough to grab clean linens from the closet in the hall. Then she stared at the bed in which she should have been sleeping and stripped it bare, her frustration becoming tangled in the cotton as she threw the pile aside; she took a deep breath and calmed herself with the familiarity of stretching the fresh sheets over the mattress, tucking each corner with precision and sweeping an arm across the top once the duvet was dragged into place.
She felt a little less ill, a little further from the edge, but too far from okay to slow down. The pull toward her living room meant she was even less likely to rest any time soon, but she huffed at her questionable coping mechanisms and the battle she'd lost with them long ago. Kate wound up in front of her bookshelf, a row of colorful comfort at eye level, and reached for the one most likely to make a smile appear or a tear fall.
To the extraordinary KB…
The responding whirl of emotion was something she'd come to expect, and she ran the tip of her finger over the dedication as though it might come alive at her touch, the sentiment able to wrap around her until she wanted for nothing. So often, the words had been enough – they'd carried her through times she'd been afraid to share with anyone else – but her anxiety wasn't so easily assuaged in the wake of Jerry Tyson's disappearing act and the too-sharp awareness of what she could have lost. She began to pace, an attempt to delay what the past four hours had made inevitable.
That was several minutes ago, she thinks, and now she stops mid-stride and peruses the room, one last attempt to find a reason to stay. When she fails, she slips into her sneakers, grabs her keys and wallet, and heads for the door.
His words aren't enough tonight; perhaps proximity will be.
Creeping down Castle's hallway at this bleary-eyed hour should feel more awkward than it does, but it wouldn't deter her anyway. Not when it's her only chance to get some sleep. There's no need to bother him or his family; as much as she'd love to curl into his embrace and reassure herself that he's still fine, they don't do that – she can't do that – but being this close to his home will keep the bad dreams at bay.
She presses her back to the wall and slides down the length of it, landing with a thump on the floor and feeling almost nothing. The peace is swift, her nerves calm for the first time since being bested by a serial killer, so she draws her knees to her chest, folds her arms atop them, and rests her head. Just a few hours. It's all she needs.
As she drifts into slumber, she has the passing thought that she's warmer than she'd expected to be; cozy, comfortable, and more well-loved than she can remember feeling in far too long. It allows her to sleep soundly, and she only startles awake when her shoulder is shaken by a gentle hand.
Kate blinks up at the messy hair and curious gaze. "Castle?"
Propping herself on one elbow and looking around, she realizes she's lying on the hallway floor, a pillow beneath her and a cashmere throw covering most of her body. Castle's sitting near her feet, a tray of breakfast food – and steaming coffee – in front of him. She furrows her brows and studies the scene, pushing up to scoot beside him as she whispers, "I didn't mean to sleep so long. But I-did you do this?"
"The blanket and pillow? No. My mother had gone out for a late-night liaison and came home to find you here. She figured you had a reason for wanting to stay outside, so she let you be and brought you those." Then he gestured to the tray and winked. "But this is all me. Mother left me a note, told me to be a nice host."
He gives her the coffee and she's quick to bring it to her lips, closing her eyes at the welcome burn and the cautious pressure of his palm on her knee. His question remains unspoken, but she answers anyway.
"I think I just wanted to be closer to you," she murmurs.
"I know the feeling."
She slips her hand over his as she nods, her thumb brushing his skin. "I know you do."
A/N: This was my entry into the recent Castle fic contest. While I didn't place in the top three, I'm very happy to be able to share this with all of you now. Also, many thanks to M for letting me hold her birthday gift hostage for two months.