A/N: Forever ago, the lovely Maddy sent me a ton of gorgeous poems by Tyler Knott Gregson and I've been obsessed with his work ever since. This piece is inspired by two of them and extremely long overdue. Happy belated birthday, Maddy!
Set post 4x10, 'Cuffed'.
"In the darkest part,
in the middle of the night,
I need you most."
She has a nightmare about tigers when she finally sleeps, a roaring beast ripping her and Castle to shreds, jerking her awake with the tear of claws through her flesh and his blood the last thing she sees.
Kate clutches her chest, her scar throbbing in time with the thunder of her heart, her hair clinging to her neck like the clothes to her sweat drenched skin. And she just can't stop seeing the sight of Castle bleeding to death beneath the beast playing like a loop in her head.
She slips from the bed, wavering as she stands, but staggering to the door of her room, snagging a pair of yoga pants from the floor along the way, clean socks from her bureau, and a hoodie slung over the edge of her sofa. She manages to remember her keys and wallet, shoving them in the jacket pocket before she's stumbling out the front door, sleep and nightmares still crowding her eyes, the need to check, to know with certainty that he isn't a feast for a wild animal, pushing her forward.
It isn't until she's sitting in a cab, dozing with her head continuing to drift towards the car's window that she realizes what she's doing, what time it is.
Her phone – oh, wow, she'd brought her phone – buzzes in her palm, the screen illuminating the time of nearly 5 a.m. and a message from him.
I don't remember if Gates gave you today off, but I just wanted to give you a heads up that I think I'm going to need the day. Couldn't sleep tonight. Hope you're sleeping soundly, Detective. Text me when you wake.
Oh, if he only knew.
She spills out of the cab mere minutes later, paying the driver and hustling through the brisk, pre-dawn cold consuming the air, nodding to the overnight doorman who already knows her too well, and riding the elevator with her eyes closed.
Kate walks down the hallway that leads to his front door with some of the haze her dream had left her in clearing, pausing before the door with hesitation, and she almost wishes for the confusion her nightmare had left her in to return, to fill her with the pure need to see him and nothing else.
No more uncertainty, no more waiting, no more of wanting what she can't have.
Less. For once, she wants less of it all.
Less boundaries, less space, less secrets. A lot less waiting.
Kate closes her hand around the handle of the door, tries her luck, and makes a mental note to give him a lecture on leaving his door unlocked in the dead of night. But she slips through the unsecured entrance nonetheless and silently shuts the door behind her, ensures it's locked this time, and tiptoes in her sneakers through the foyer, towards his bedroom.
His door is partially open, the bookshelves allowing her a peek inside, and this should be enough – witnessing him alive and breathing in his bed, shirtless and proving to her that the streaks of red and missing chunks of flesh she'd seen so vividly in the dream were just that. Just a bad dream.
It should be enough, but it's not. Not when she wants so much more.
Kate pushes on the door with her fingertips, grateful when it opens without making a sound, gives her the opportunity to drift inside his room, along the side of the bed his back is turned to. She takes a careful seat on the edge of the mattress, slipping off her shoes to shift closer, study his sleeping form for a long moment before reaching for him, dusting her fingers along the bare skin covering his spine.
Castle surprises her when he startles, but the jerk of his body is subtle, brief, before it's relaxing again and he's slowly turning on his back, as if he knew right away that the whisper of a touch belonged to her.
"Kate?" he murmurs, his brow furrowed and confusion blended with the exhaustion amidst his face. "I know I texted you, but – I wasn't even totally asleep yet, am I dreaming?"
A breathless chuckle rises to her lips while she shakes her head, relieved just to hear his voice, to hear him speaking words and not screaming in agony.
"No, not dreaming, Castle," she sighs, letting her eyes linger on his unscathed chest. "I was already in a cab when you texted me."
"Why?" he asks, concern filling his eyes. "Are you okay? Did something-"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she promises, curling her fingers into a fist atop her thigh to stop from extending her arm towards the riot of his hair that calls for the comb of her hand. "Just had a dream about the tiger and – how things could have gone in there."
He hums in understanding, shifts the rest of the way towards her until he's lying on his side and staring up at her.
"One of the reasons I think I stayed awake the entire night," he admits, patting the empty bed space beside him. "Try to lay here for a little while."
The instinctual protest already arises to her lips. "Castle-"
"Just to sleep, Kate," he assures her, dropping his gaze to the clutch of her belongings bundled in her hand. "I'm tired of watching you die in dreams too."
Beckett drops her wallet, phone, and keys onto his nightstand, sheds her hoodie until she's in the thin t-shirt she had tugged on to sleep in three hours ago, after they had given statements at the scene and parted ways for the night. She slides beneath his sheets, clears her mind as she succumbs to the open arm he offers her with a friendly shrug of his shoulder, as she presses her chest to his until she can feel his heartbeat thriving to meet hers, until their legs are irrevocably tangled and there are no illusions to how alive he is.
"Kate," he murmurs, but she wants less of that too. Less talking, less explaining, less trying to figure out where they stand when she can hardly hold herself up anymore.
These last few cases, hunting down a sniper while she'd fought to keep her head above water, trying to survive being locked in a basement with a feral tiger, have left her hollowed out and ragged, desperate for rest, to find it with him.
"Shh, just sleep," she repeats on a mumble, sealing her cool palms to the warm skin of his back, burying her face in his neck as he shivers, draws the sheets up around their shoulders.
"What time do you need to wake up?" he murmurs, dislodging the loose bun at her nape to brush his fingers through her hair, trace his fingers down the tip of her vertebrae.
"Whenever I want," she hums, nuzzling her nose to his clavicle, inhaling the scent of his aftershave and a lingering layer of soap, the oil and heat of his skin. "Day off."
"Don't be gone when I wake up," he mumbles, one of his hands nestling in her hair, cradling her so tight and close, a position that would suffocate her with anyone else, any other time, but right now? She welcomes it, burrows as deep as possible into the cove of his body around her, lets him make her feel safe.
"Be here," she yawns, her lashes grazing his skin once more before her eyes finally fall shut and she's able to drift into a sleep with no dreams, only the warmth of his body encompassing her and keeping her under.
They dance together at the reception for Ryan and Jenny's wedding a few days later and he holds her body as close as he had in his bed last week, slotting every piece of them into place, inhaling the scent of her hair and settling his palm warm and heavy at the base of her spine.
And to his shock, Kate doesn't stop him. She embraces the crowding of his body, melts against him and meets his eyes with a smile.
"Thanks for being my plus one," she murmurs, her arm curled around his shoulder and her body swaying with his to the languid beat of a love song.
"Are you kidding me?" he chuckles, unable to help the flick of his eyes to her mouth when she pins her bottom lip between her teeth. "The pleasure's all mine, Beckett."
She grins and releases the hand curled within his, wraps her arms around his neck instead and tangles her fingers in the fine hairs at the nape of his neck, sending tiny jolts of electricity down his vertebrae.
"How much have you had to drink?"
Kate scoffs and draws one of her hands back, tugs at the lobe of his ear. "Not even a full glass. Why? Not comfortable with this?"
He quickly catches her hands before she can slip them from his neck, circling his palms at her wrists and rearranging her arms, lacing his own around her waist and keeping her close.
"Probably too comfortable," he admits, but her smile doesn't dissipate, the light in her eyes doesn't dim.
"Yeah? Me too," she hums, swaying in his embrace even as the song changes, increases in tempo.
"Will this… can it continue?" he inquires around a swallow, the hope in his stomach swirling with the butterflies swarming his insides, and Kate cocks an eyebrow at him.
"We can dance all night if you want, Castle."
He huffs, watches the smirk claim her lips, and shakes his head. "While I could not ask for more where tonight is concerned, I meant - after tonight."
Her bottom lip falls victim to her teeth once more and he scrambles to explain, to eradicate any hesitation or risk taking a step back from this glorious advancement in their relationship, this wonderful way to ease the struggle of waiting.
"I know that we're - that you're not ready yet, and I'm completely okay with that, with waiting as long as you want, I just meant-"
"Shh, I know what you meant," she murmurs, the fingers at his nape combing through his hair, soothing the tension at the tip of his vertebrae, sending relief spiraling down his bones.
"Oh, good," he breathes, brushing his thumbs at her waist and feeling her spine curve towards him. Interesting. "Would it be too forward to offer you a key?" he asks, probably sounding too eager, desperate, but he doesn't have the will to care, to stop. Not when Kate Beckett is watching him with amusement lacing along her lips and something soft sparkling gold in her eyes. "Or I could just leave one in a secret place, and then you can come over whenever you want if that's-"
The returning press of her body against his, as close and as intimate as it had been in his bed the other night, bordering on closer, has his words coming to a halt, the dust of her lips to his ear stealing his breath entirely.
"Castle, I really appreciate you respecting my... my wall," she starts, her words hesitant, nervous, but then he feels the swallow of her throat, the surge of courage against his cheek, and Kate squeezes gently at his nape. "And I still want to take things slow, but I was actually hoping you would come home with me tonight."
He goes still on the dance floor, pulling her to a stop along with him, and even as Beckett withdraws slightly to glance up at him, he can feel the hammer of her heart beating between the tight seal of their bodies. Nervous, as if she thinks his answer would be anything other than positive.
"I - but what about... are you sure?"
She relaxes in his arms, draws her hands down to rest at his chest while hers expands with a deep breath.
"We've been in a lot of bad situations before, but the tiger is pretty high up there," she murmurs, toying anxiously with the lapels of his suit, and he wants to ease the tension for her, make it less of a struggle for her to get the words out, but his breath held captive in his lungs has turned the idea of speaking into a less than feasible one. "And since the other night when I had that dream... I've been thinking that maybe there's no point in waiting, that it's dangerous to wait, when I could lose what I want."
He narrows his gaze on her, ensures he's understanding correctly, has it confirmed as one of her hands ventures higher, tentatively cradles his jaw.
"Me?" he breathes out, watching the smile bloom shy and lovely across her face.
Her eyes scan the room, lingering on their friends - Ryan and Jenny lost in each other in the middle of the floor, Lanie and Esposito laughing over drinks near the bar - before returning to him, descending to his mouth in prelude to the brush of her lips.
The kiss is chaste, a brief feathering of her lips on the sidelines of the dance floor, but it has his heart fluttering as if it was his first kiss all over again, their first kiss. Even better.
"Yeah, Castle," she whispers, grinning against his mouth before she pulls back, lets him see her smile. "You."
"Sometimes I want less,
less clothing and less waiting,
less words and less space."
-Tyler Knott Gregson