Kate feels terrible admitting it, but Lanie's call provides her with the ideal means for escape.
She should have been having a perfectly lovely time with Colin. He was quite the gentleman, made very pleasant conversation, even got a genuine laugh or two out of her. But she knows exactly why she ended up in that dimly-lit bar with him, why her whiskey sat half-untouched and her skin itched with the desire to bolt when he excused himself to use the restroom, why she remained mostly silent while her gracious companion filled in the awkward silences with small talk.
Damn that man. That insufferable, frustrating, confusing man. The one who built up her hopes with a pledge to help her tear down her walls, the one who made her believe it would finally be worth the effort to do so. The same one who's currently out cavorting with a blonde flight attendant, making her doubt everything she'd come to believe about their relationship and the promise of a shared future together.
How could she have gotten it so wrong?
She's the first to acknowledge that they'd never explicitly stated what it was that they were building toward. Their commitment to each other had always been constructed of thinly-veiled innuendos and subtext, but there was a rock-solid foundation of friendship and trust underneath it all. She's certain they were on the same page. Or at least, they were, until the bombing case. That's when everything just...changed. There's no explanation for his sudden about-face, and the whole thing has her miserable and out of sorts. She thought they were done playing games.
So at ten-thirty on a Monday night, she finds herself driving to the OCME building after making what she fears was a flimsy, painfully transparent excuse to Colin about an urgent consult with Lanie on a pending case. She's not proud of it, but she needed to get the hell out of there and can't bring herself to worry about his possible hurt feelings. And in truth, she is headed to see Lanie (who's working late tonight), but only to chew her ear off about Castle for a while.
She leans forward and presses her forehead to the cool steering wheel after coming to a stop at a red light. Is this what things have come to? Lying to escape the company of a thoroughly pleasant and attractive man? Pining for her erstwhile partner while he bandies about town with one of the bimbettes that he had convinced her he was done with? Her head hurts and her stomach churns with the implications. God, she needs to vent to her friend. Now.
Castle feels terrible admitting it, but Alexis's call provides him with the ideal means for escape.
He should have been having a perfectly lovely time with Jacinda. She was bubbly, attentive, and certainly knew how to stroke a man's ego (he imagined she was proficient at stroking other things as well, even if he hadn't yet allowed their relationship to progress that far). But he knew exactly why he ended up in that shiny five-star restaurant that serves obscenely tiny portions, why his food sat half-eaten and his skin crawled every time every time Jacinda flirtatiously ran her hand over his forearm, why he could only smile half-heartedly every time she made a vapid remark about her twenty dollar neon-pink cocktail or how handsome he looked in red.
Damn that woman. That infuriating, bewildering, remarkable woman. The one who built up his hopes with the intimation that she was finally ready to tear down the walls keeping them apart, the one who made him believe that she wanted him there when they were finally reduced to rubble. The same one who openly lied to his face, over and over, making him doubt everything he'd come to believe about their relationship and the promise of a shared future together.
How could he have gotten it so wrong?
He's the first to acknowledge that they'd never put their intentions into words. Their relationship had always been based more on what was implied than upon straightforward declarations, but she was his best friend and the only person in the world he trusted as much as his daughter. He would have sworn they were of the same mind about this, but since the bombing case, when the truth came out about her memories from that fateful day last May, he questions if they ever were. He can't understand why she wasn't honest with him from the get-go, and the whole thing has him feeling angry and betrayed. He thought they were done playing games.
So at ten-thirty on a Monday night, he finds himself taking a cab to the OCME building after making a pale, pathetically transparent excuse to Jacinda about his daughter being exhausted and asking him for an escort home. He's not proud of it, but he needed to get the hell out of there and has a hard time imagining that she has any inkling she just got ditched. And in truth, he is headed to pick up his daughter, who's working late tonight (and who also assured him that she could get home on her own just fine, but that's beside the point).
He tips his head back against the cracked vinyl of the taxi's backseat, jostled by the uneven pavement under the moving vehicle. Is this what things have come to? Lying to escape the company of a thoroughly delightful and beautiful woman? Pining for his elusive partner while she pretends to not comprehend the depths of his feelings for her? His head hurts and his stomach churns with the implications. God, he just needs to hug his daughter. Now.
"Hold the elevator please!'
Kate's relieved when a hand shoots out and blocks the closing doors, but the relief falls away just as quickly when the owner of said hand is revealed to be Castle. Her heart and mind clash violently at the sight of him, all at once pleased at his presence and yet still smarting from his recent rejections. She doesn't want him to know that, of course, and schools her expression into one of casual indifference.
For his part, Castle's obvious surprise at running into her hastily morphs into an impassive mask. She can't help but wonder what the hell happened to her partner, the one who wore his heart on his sleeve and professed his love for her daily with soft eyes and sweet smiles. The temptation to turn on her heel and make for the stairwell is powerful, but she's too damn proud to tuck her tail between her legs and run, so she steps on beside him, determined to prove that she can be just as cold and detached as he. They both face the closing doors, careful not to look at the other.
"Consult with Lanie?"
She can't imagine that he actually cares why she's here so late when their case was closed only hours before, but she also knows all too well that Castle abhors a vacuum and would rather fill the void with meaningless chit-chat.
"Hmmm? Oh, yeah. Just following up on a case." It sounds like a lie, probably because it is. "Here for Alexis?"
"Yeah. She asked for a chaperone home tonight." Maybe it's her imagination, but his explanation sounds just a feeble as hers.
They fall into a most awkward silence then, the kind that exists between two people who know there something is terribly wrong but aren't willing to confront it head-on. Kate fights the urge to fidget with discomfort, telling herself five more seconds...five more seconds and the doors will open and we can escape and go our separate ways… just five seconds…
So of course that's the exact moment the elevator decides to lurch to a stop and the overhead light flickers off. The dim, yellow emergency lamp clicks on a second later, but there's no downward motion, leaving them still and stranded. In a very, very small space. Together. For God knows how long.
Shit shit shit.
"Oh you have got to be kidding me," Castle mumbles, echoing her own thoughts, as he jabs at random buttons on the panel to no avail. "This is the morgue. They can't lose power! I mean...they have to be able to preserve the bodies right?" He glances to her, obviously horrified by the thought.
"Don't worry Castle, they have backup generators to maintain the refrigeration units." She retreats into the corner farthest from him, until she she can rest her weight against the hand rails. Anything to put some distance between them. "I don't think they power the elevators though. Probably not considered a priority. We'll just have to wait for the electricity to return."
"Great. Juuuust great," he grumbles, turning his eyes skyward.
As though she wants to be here? She rolls her eyes but her disdain is lost on him since he refuses to look at her. "Just relax. I'm sure we'll be moving again soon."
"Not soon enough." He turns his back to her completely, and it makes her blood boil hot beneath the surface of her skin, this surly attitude and petulant behavior of his. What the hell did she do, anyway? She's had just about enough of his bullshit, and her frustration finally gets the better of her.
"Well I'm so sorry that you have to spend a even a moment longer than necessary with me, Castle. I'm sure you'd rather be out parading your new girlfriend all over town."
He spins around and even in the low light of emergency lamp, she can plainly see the fury blazing in his eyes.
"She's not my girlfriend. And besides, what I do outside of the precinct is none of your concern, Beckett."
Oh, so that's how he wants to play this, huh? He's going to pull the mind your own business card? It'll be a cold day in hell before she backs down now. Besides, it's nice to finally see some emotion out of him, even if it is anger. It's a million times better than his apathy.
"Gee, that's funny Castle. For years, since the first case we worked together, you've been trying to drag me into your personal life, involve me whenever and wherever you possibly could. And now, suddenly, it's none of my concern?" Her voice comes out in a mocking mimic of his own as she takes two steps in his direction, her chest pushed out and her shoulders thrown back defiantly.
Her outburst only serves to fuel the fire of his wrath, his back straightening and eyes widening at her display of brass.
"You've made it perfectly clear that you're not interested in being a part of my life, Beckett, so yeah, where I go and what I do and who I do it with are none of your goddamned business." He's closed the distance between them now, the two of them practically toe to toe, their eyes almost level with the benefit of her four-inch heels.
She's ready to send the volley right back at him, but his words have her coming up short. Perfectly clear? Not interested? What the hell does that mean?
Her mouth opens and closes several times, almost fish-like, before she finally finds her voice. "What on earth are you talking about Castle?"
"What am I talking about? Seriously, Beckett? You're going with denial? Fine! Then I'll spell it out for you. I'm talking about you continuously lying to my face for months. I'm talking about you hearing exactly what I said to you as you lay bleeding out in that cemetery last spring. I'm talking about you not having the guts to just admit you don't feel the same and allow me to get on with my life."
His words reverberate within the close confines of the elevator, and she can only stare at him in horror. It's not just the impact of hearing that he knows; knows that she heard him, knows that she lied about it. It's the fact that he believes she doesn't care, that she doesn't love him just as deeply, doesn't want him just as badly. The thought stabs at her heart, sharp and unrelenting, her despair surely bleeding out into her face and her posture.
She staggers backward, shrinking under the weight of his revelation and withdrawing to her corner once more. When she can rest her weight against the rail and is sure her knees won't give out, she whispers, "How can you believe that?"
His face transforms then, the anger falling away into something more akin to bewilderment, but in her devastation, she doesn't give him a chance to respond before she's speaking again, her insistent heart thudding with a deafening volume in her ears now.
"All this time, I've been working to be better, to get to a place where I could give myself to you completely and without reservations. I've been seeing a therapist all year with that goal in mind. And yes, I lied, and I'm so sorry I did that, that I kept the truth from you, because you are the single most important person in my life and I hate that I made you believe you were anything less."
Bewilderment has given way to shock now, his mouth agape and his eyes saucer-like at her confessions, but she can't slow down now, can't stop. There's still one more thing he needs to know.
"Castle, I do love you. I do. So much. I've loved you for so long I can't remember a time when I didn't."
It hits him like a one-two knockout punch, the adrenaline rush of his outrage draining from his veins and leaving him wobbly-kneed, while an entirely new surge enters his bloodstream, fueled by her declarations. He mirrors her movements, backing into the corner of the elevator opposite her to steady himself, his mind racing in circles, the same words repeating on a never-ending loop.
She loves me?
Is this - is she for real? If asked, he'd struggle to convey just how long he'd ached to hear those words fall from her lips. And yet here she is, giving them willingly, pleading with him to understand where her heart truly lies, and he finds no small amount of irony in being a writer that suddenly possesses no words.
She loves me.
Wow. How did they screw this up so spectacularly?
Kate shuts her eyes then, her face twisted into an anguished grimace as she grits out, "Just say something, Castle. Please."
He opens his mouth to speak, but try as he might, no sound emerges. His mind has been wiped clean, his voice arrested in his throat, and it's all because of the woman standing before him. The absurdity of it isn't lost on him, the fact that his muse wields the power to steal away the very thing that makes him who he is.
She opens her eyes again, now glistening with unshed tears, and that's when it dawns on him; there will be plenty of time for talking, but right now, it's time to finally act. No more analyzing, no more second guessing. No more waiting.
He takes two long strides in her direction, erasing the distance between them, and he can see her visibly tense as he draws near. Her wariness wounds him, but he can't bring himself to resent her when all he's done is go out of his way to hurt her recently. Her apprehension is more than justified.
"Kate," he murmurs, reaching out to take her hands in his, his thumbs gently stroking her knuckles. He looks down at their linked fingers, all at once fascinated and thrilled by the contact and already wanting so much more.
When he looks up again, he finds her eyes boring into his own, and there's so much yearning and desperation in her gaze, it makes him forget his misguided anger from only moments ago. Yes, she hurt him, but it wasn't done with malice. He knows that now. And when it comes to keeping secrets and inflicting damage, he's not exactly innocent, either.
She loves me.
That's all he needs.
Keeping one hand clasped with hers, he slowly raises the other to cup her cheek, reverently running his fingers over the silken warmth of her skin. She allows herself to relax into his touch, something deep within her finally releasing at the contact, then liberated altogether in a long exhale as her eyes drift closed again.
He can feel the strident beat of his heart again his ribs, threatening to burst from his chest with its endless chant of she loves me, and oh, how he loves her too, more than ever, even in the wake of yet another disastrous misunderstanding. It's never been more obvious that their communication skills are seriously lacking, but for now, he's eager to move past this, and forge a new path together.
"Kate. Look at me."
Her eyes flutter open, and he finds exactly what he's looking for there; love and acceptance and permission. He sees a future that he wants to grab onto with both hands and never, ever let go. It makes him smile, his face splitting with the joy of it, and his relief is palpable when that delight spreads to her face as well, her growing grin dazzling him.
"I love you, too."
Her smile grows impossibly wider at that, and she frees her hand from his in order to lace her arms around his neck, drawing him near as his hands migrate to the small of her back, holding her body securely again his own. They tip their foreheads together simultaneously, reveling in the closeness, the intimacy of just breathing the same air for a beat. He uses the moment of quiet to calm his panicked heart over how close they came to missing their chance again. Who knew it would take a power outage to bring them to their senses?
Kate pulls away just far enough to look into his eyes, her gaze flitting down to his lips and back up again. He's pretty sure he knows what she wants, and he's more than ready to give it to her.
"Castle?" She tilts her head coyly, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, and ooooh, how he wants to do the same.
"I think you should kiss me now, don't you?"
He leans in and captures her mouth instead of responding, drowning in her taste, her smell, the warmth of her body pressed against his own. His tongue glides past her lips only to be met by her own, wrapping her tightly in his embrace and pinning her against the wall of the elevator, and she seems only too happy to let him if the soft moan she releases is anything to go by.
When they break apart, they're both panting and staring at the other with glazed, darkened eyes, their hair mussed and their clothes askew. As far as Castle's concerned, she's never looked more beautiful. He tucks a stray strand of hair behind an ear and feels her shiver, delighting in the effect he has on her, but he can't bring himself to be smug about it, not when she possesses the same power over him.
He has to fight his baser instincts and not dive right back in, the siren call of her body almost overpowering. There's so much to discuss, so much between them to settle once and for all, secrets that still need to be revealed. They've been masters of avoidance for years, skirting their real feelings and conversing in subtext, and it's long past time to speak plainly and lay all of their cards on the table. They owe it to each other, especially if they want any real chance at a future together.
Kate beats him to the punch, though. "So...what happens now?" He hates the uncertainty in her voice, and vows to do everything in his power to regularly remind her that she's it for him, his charmed third time, his last and only. His always.
"We figure it out as we go along." He smiles and shrugs at her. They'll have their clashes, of course; they're both too strong-willed and stubborn not to, but he's also confident that they'll be amazing together. He'd put money on it. "We stop keeping things to ourselves. We talk, even when it's hard. And we love each other every step of the way."
That earns him a smile as she murmurs, "Well, looks like the wordsmith has finally returned."
"Oh, I have no doubt you have a multitude of other ways to render me speechless, Beckett."
She laughs at that and he thinks it might be the most enchanting thing he's ever heard. It feels like it's been ages since they had fun together, and he's dying to get back to that.
"But first, we need to talk, really clear the air. I don't want there to be any more misunderstandings. I won't let us screw this up. I can't. You're it for me, Kate."
She smiles sweetly at this declaration, nodding as she leans in to place a soft kiss to his lips, before nuzzling into his neck and settling into his arms, content to just be held for now.
"Does needing to talk preclude you from coming home with me tonight?"
"Huh. That's strange."
"My dad made such a big deal out of picking me up, but he just sent a text to say something unexpected had come up and he's wondering if I can get home on my own now."
"I hope it doesn't involve any flight attendants."
Alexis shoots a sly smile at Lanie; the ME knows all too well how Alexis feels about the possibility of her dad returning to his old ways, especially after all the venting she's done about it the past few days.
"You and me both. Well, in that case, I'll clear out. Is there anything else you need before I leave?"
"Nope, I'm all set. Thanks for your help today." Lanie reaches into her scrubs to retrieve her buzzing cell phone as she's talking.
"Lanie! Hey, it's Kate."
"Hey, where are you? You said you were on your way over…" Lanie glances at her watch, "...like an hour and a half ago! I was actually worried that you might have gotten trapped in the elevator when the power went out. Anyway, what happened?"
She can hear laughing on the other side of the phone (giggling, really, which is so uncharacteristic of her friend) and is that...yes, that's definitely a man's voice she hears. And not just any man; that's Castle.
"Kate...where are you and who are you with and exactly what are you doing?"
"Lanie, there's so much I need to tell you, and I promise that I will. Just...not tonight, okay? I just didn't want you to worry."
Lanie frowns at that. Kate is being cryptic, for sure, but she sounds...happy. Hopeful. More upbeat than she's sounded in a long time. And for now, that's good enough for her.
"Okay, I'll let you go then since it sounds like you have company. But you will call me tomorrow, do you hear me Kate Beckett?"
"I will. I promise. Goodnight, Lanie."
Lanie just stares at her phone after Kate disconnects the call, as though it will reveal her friend's secrets to her if she just waits patiently enough. But no, there's nothing more to be gleaned from the device, and she's left to wonder what exactly those two were in the middle of.
She looks up to see Castle's daughter staring at her quizzically. For a split second, Lanie considers sharing her suspicion that the girl's father probably won't be home tonight, but then decides it's not her place to do so. She'll find out soon enough anyway.
"Looks like we both got stood up tonight, Alexis. C'mon...I'll walk you out."
Prompt from Lou: Beckett puts Colin in a cab after one drink and goes to the morgue to pick up/rant to Lanie. Castle dumps Jacinda and goes to the morgue to pick up Alexis. There's a power outage and they get stuck on the lift together.
A/N: My dearest Lou! I hope I did this justice for you and that it will give you a happy (if momentary) reprieve from the craziness of moving/the new job/real life in general. And to the rest of you, thank you so much for taking the time to read. I hope you enjoyed the story, and as always, if you feel so inclined, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.
And if I may take a moment to SQUEEEEEE! For the first time ever, a friend created some artwork for a story of mine, and I'm completely blown away, both by her generosity and her talent! Thank you SO much, Kelsey! And to Alex and J, thank you for taking my nonsensical ramblings and helping to sculpt them into something readable. You're both lovely humans.