A Father's Love

Chapter 5

Castle came to visit her everyday after that, staying for long stretches at a time, reading to her or napping while she slept in a cot that the nurses set up for him in the corner of her room.

Kate's doctor took him aside as he was leaving that first evening and thanked him for whatever it was he'd said to persuade her to remain under their care until she was officially ready to be discharged. Castle shrugged off the man's thanks, insisting that is was Kate herself who had made the decision. The cot had appeared for him the very next day, "compliments of Doctor Fletcher," the nurse had discreetly informed him out in the hallway, making certain to be out of range of his partner's superhuman hearing.

That was one moment, among many that were to come, when he would feel a better man because of the impact and influence Kate Beckett had upon his life. That he was good to the core was undeniable, but his daughter had previously been the singular inspiration to draw his best traits to the surface, and now he could be grateful for both of them. Some people exist to take and think nothing of it, and some people live to serve and to make others happy. Richard Castle was one of the latter, and he drew immense pleasure from the smile or the chuckle or the comfort he was able to bring his wounded partner during that precious time.

After another six days had passed – days in which he cajoled Kate to eat: high calorie, protein-rich foods that would build her strength and give her energy to begin work on her rehab – the doctor judged her fit for discharge into Castle's care.

They spent valuable time in the hospital getting to know one another on a much deeper level than before, without the pressure of anyone they knew from work or their families watching them while they transitioned from partners and friends into something closer and more solid.

Without discussion, they rid themselves of old boundaries they'd once fought so hard, and it now seemed so pointlessly, to maintain. They talked openly for a change. One or other would ask for clarification whenever they backslid into old habits and subtext reared its confusing head to block the way for clarity. And although still some distance from becoming intimate, Kate's reserve fell away and Castle was able to perform tasks for her that would previously have seemed unthinkable. When the nurses weren't around to help her to the bathroom, he would escort her to the en suite and stand guard outside the unlocked door in case she fell or needed assistance with anything. He held her hand and wrapped his arm around her waist as she took painfully slow steps from her room to the end of the corridor, rubbing her aching back and tense shoulders when she sank down to rest on the edge of her bed afterward. He smoothed lotion into her hands and arms to counteract the drying effects of the hospital's overheated environment, and he massaged her feet late at night to distract her from the phantom post-surgery pains zipping through her chest as nerves and muscles knit back together.

His reward for all of this was that she allowed him to see her vulnerability, that she permitted him to stay when she was at her weakest or felt her sickest, that she let him care for her without complaint because to do so did them both good. Finally they agreed on that – they had become a team, far stronger in their little unit of two. Better together from now on, than apart with her reserve and dignity preserved, which would have been to her ultimate detriment. He still averted his eyes when necessary, kept his touching to a minimum, maintained a level of respect for her that he had no idea Kate found a little frustrating. He wanted her to come to him when she was ready. He would not push, he dare not ruin this. He had no idea that his partner craved his touch as much as he yearned to feel her warm skin under his hands. But she was healing, and they had time. He felt that they had time.

They watched trashy TV together and griped their way through the local and world news, arguing over politics, scoffing at the unreal life ideas peddled by the vast tribe of New York morning show co-anchors, with their fashion segments, gadgets, and their perkily-delivered "tips and strategies" for everything from money management to child-rearing; fun pleasures their busy lives never normally allowed time for. Silly as it seemed, hours spent like this brought them closer still.

While in the hospital, they also passed a good portion of their time making a plan for where Kate might want to go once she was well enough to return home. Castle vetoed the cabin up front, and for a time Kate fought him, so stubborn and desperate was she to retain some control over her independence. But after much wrangling, truth telling, and a little sulking, they settled on the loft. With its secure, manned entrance, elevator access, everything spread out on one level, proximity to the hospital should they need it, and access to an excellent physical therapist who could, at least initially, make home visits, it seemed like the safest, most comfortable option in the short term.

Secretly, Castle harbored dreams of moving them out to the Hamptons for the fresh air and the beach, to see sunshine on Kate's pale skin as she lay on the deck or swam in his pool, to hear her laughter ring out as they chased the waves or collected shells on the shoreline. But he kept that hope tucked up his sleeve for a time, a little down the road, when she might have adjusted to this new relationship they were just beginning to grow into. He could take baby steps. He'd waited this long for his dreams to come true. He was a patient man and she was worth it, he now knew that without any doubt.

Eventually, it was decided that Kate would take Castle's bedroom at the loft and he would sleep in the guest room upstairs. She had eyed him closely when he'd suggested this. He'd just confessed to being in love with her, and in all their years of working together his attraction to her, and hers to him for that matter, had not exactly been a state secret. But Castle was being careful, respectful. Kate would have a lot to cope with, both mentally and physically, when she got out. She smiled inside as she watched him display levels of maturity and self-restraint she'd never have believed him capable of in their early days of working together. But Castle was taking cues from all he'd learned about Kate over time, and privacy and dignity were two of her personal watch words.

This assessment was reinforced just as keenly by time spent talking things over with Kate's dad during early visits to the hospital that week, when she would doze off a lot of them time and the two men were left to keep one another company for quiet stretches. The last thing she needed was for him to push any emotional or relationship agenda at this point. There would be time enough for their lives to change in greater ways once the dust surrounding her shooting had settled and her body began to heal itself. He could wait as long as it took. The gains they'd made already kept him up at night, a perpetual hum of excitement for life buzzing through his veins. He felt stupidly grateful to be alive, and he thanked the universe everyday for Jim Beckett and his staunch belief and unfailing trust that Castle could make a different in his daughter's life.

As for the rest of the clan, Alexis was away in L.A. for the summer staying with her mother. Though this was a fairly recent decision, Castle kept his daughter's hastily devised plan to make herself scare to himself. His mother would mostly be spending her days and nights with her latest paramour. Mercifully, they would have the apartment to themselves.

He arrived bright and early to pick her up on the morning of her discharge – or Project Break-Out, as they had dubbed it. When he reached her room, he found her sitting in the armchair once more, as he had done a week ago, only this time she was dressed.

He smiled to see her wearing actual street clothes. "Someone's eager to leave this Fun Palace," he joked, but her serious expression never wavered.

"Can you sit for a second?" she asked, nodding towards the edge of the unmade bed.

Castle dumped the bag he was carrying and nodded. Worry knotted his insides. He'd been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Happiness like this didn't last forever. He'd just hoped to get Kate home and settled before their next hurdle presented itself. But he bluffed his way through his nerves, giving her a confident smile as he obediently sank down onto the hospital bed. "Sure. What's up?" he asked, pressing his hands together between his knees to stop them from shaking.

"What are we doing?"

"We're busting you out of here," he joked, trying for a laugh, a smile, anything to lighten the deadly cloud of seriousness marring her face.

"Not that. I mean what are we doing?"

He knew exactly what she was asking – this was Beckett, always looking for the problem before it arose. "We're taking you home to heal. We've talked about this, Kate. We both agreed this was the best plan."

She shook her head. "I…I'm fine with that. I'm on board. I'm talking about us. What are we doing, Castle?"

"Well, I wouldn't dare speak for you, but I'm…"

What was he doing?

"Yes?" she pressed, leaning forward in the chair.

"I'm trying to be there for you. However you need me to be right now."

"And what about you, Rick? What do you need?" She watched his face, her soulful, hazel eyes roaming over every inch, looking for clues, searching out trouble.

"I need to see you well again. That is my first and only priority right now."

"That's commendable, but—"

He cut in. "Kate, where is this coming from? What exactly are you worried about?"

"I'm worried about you. Castle, I know you. It must be killing you not to fuss over me, not to touch me…maybe even kiss me?" She blushed a pretty shade of pink as she admitted this. "You won, you know. It's okay to celebrate."

"I won?"

He frowned, but she was smiling.

"The fair maiden?"

He cleared his throat. "I…I don't understand." Kate Beckett referring to herself as a fair maiden was astounding for starters.

She sighed a happy sigh. "We're leaving here together. Together, Castle. You know you can hold my hand, right? And you can smile if you want. I don't even mind if you punch the air a little. Okay, once. I don't mind if you punch the air once." She chuckled.

"You don't?" Castle began to smile too.

"No. Because I want you to be happy. You make me so happy."

"I do?"

"Yes," she grinned, looking a little silly. "And if I'm not so good at showing you right now, I apologize. I've been a little preoccupied with trying to heal. But I will get better."

"Of course you will," he reassured her, though Kate could see they were speaking at odds with one another.

"No. I mean better at this."

She beckoned him closer, so he slipped down off the bed, came to the edge of her chair and crouched down on one knee in front of her. "I will," she smiled, tugging on his jacket lapel, glancing at his lips before leaning forward to kiss him.

She slid a hand into his hair and cupped his ear with her other fingers, moaning when their lips met. Castle had to fight the urge to haul her into his lap and carry her back to her hospital bed then and there. The sweet, gentle caress of her tongue seeking his, and her lips, soft as velvet, claiming his startled mouth, was abruptly interrupted when they heard the sharp clearing of a throat behind them.

When Castle rose to his feet, he turned to find an amused-looking Jim Beckett hovering in the doorway with a 'cat that got the cream' grin on his face.

"Am I interrupting something?" the lawyer asked.

Their "yes" and "no" answers had him chuckling. "Good to see you're both on the same page, as usual," Jim Beckett quipped.

"Hi, dad," Kate grinned at her father, blotting her kiss-swollen lips on the back of her hand. Her face was a little rounder than it had been a week ago, and though not exactly glowing with health yet, there was an entirely new and luminous light in her eyes for reasons her dad took some pride in having helped along.

"Hey, Katie," her father smiled back, leaning down to kiss her on the forehead. "Rick," he nodded, warmly shaking Castle's hand. "All ready to go, I see."

"She's been dressed since 8 o'clock this morning," the nurse who'd arrived with a wheelchair informed them.

"Tattle-tale!" Kate teased the nurse, who clucked and chuckled at the gentle banter.

While Kate dealt with the necessary paperwork, Jim and Castle stepped out into the hallway to make some space in the crowded hospital room.

"I can't thank you enough for getting her to agree to all of this," Jim told the writer.

"It was my pleasure," Castle replied. "Getting her well again, helping her to take care of herself...that's in all of our interests."

"I know she can be proud…too proud for her own good sometimes, but she listens to you. She respects you, son."

Castle smiled, a little embarrassed by this effusive praise from Kate's father. "Took a while, but I think we're getting there."

"And it's more than respect. I hope you know that, too," he said, clapping Castle on the back. "She doesn't always say what she's feeling, but—"

Before Jim Beckett could go into any more detail, Kate was wheeled out into the hallway.

She eyed them both suspiciously. "What are you two ladies gossiping about?"

"Nothing," they answered in sync.

"God that must be how we sound to Ryan and Esposito. No wonder they think we're disgusting," Kate groaned to her partner.

"Disgustingly cute," Castle corrected, earning a laugh from Jim Beckett.

Her father rubbed his hands together. "Right. I'll just go get the car. I'll bring it around front. Take your time," Jim told Kate and Castle.

"So?" Castle waggled his eyebrows once they were alone. "You ready to blow this joint, Detective?"

"You bet," she nodded, smiling as she took his hand and stretched up to meet the kiss he leaned down to gently press against her lips.

Further down the hallway, in the shadow of a doorway, stood Dr. Josh Davidson. As the heart surgeon watched this touching scene, he crossed his arms, slowly shook his head, and then turned on his heel and walked the other way.

Kate adjusted her purse on her knee and released the brakes on her wheelchair, eager to get moving. When nothing happened, she turned to glance up at her partner to see what was holding them up.

"You comin', Castle?" she asked. "Let's go home."

Castle whipped his head around, smiled down at her and nodded. "Sounds perfect, Beckett. Yeah, let's get you home," he agreed, giving her shoulder a squeeze.

"Let's go home," he muttered to himself again as they pushed off down the hallway.

Before he turned the corner, he couldn't resist one final backward glance at the departing figure of his former nemesis. Seemed Kate was right all along, and they would make it out to Long Island, sooner than he'd ever dreamed possible, to lie side-by-side on the warm sand, listening to the waves crashing on his East Hampton beach. He had won the fair maiden, and so that made today the beginning of their happy ever after.

The End

Thank you for reading. Happy 4th July Weekend if you're celebrating. Be safe.