Kate tried her hide her grimace as she and Rick strolled down the beach on their latest stop along the east coast. She'd actually initially resisted going, knowing she would much rather be in New York, but between Lanie, Ryan, Esposito and, of course, Rick himself, she really hadn't been given much of a choice. But the kicker had been Eva.
"You're in no condition to go back to work," her long-time friend had told her. Her tone had been straight-forward, matter-of-fact logic that Kate hadn't been able to find fault with. There was really no reason for her to be in New York recovering when she could do it in a quaint east coast bed and breakfast. She still felt a little like she'd been coerced, but they'd been slowly making their way up the east coast and even Kate had to admit she was enjoying waking up to the smell of Rick and the seashore wrapped around her.
"You okay?" he asked, lacing their fingers together and she mentally cursed herself for not being better at hiding her discomfort.
"Fine," she replied, trying for a believable smile. She'd cut back dramatically on the post-op pain meds to the bare minimum Eva had suggested when she and Rick had gotten into a fight about it a few days before.
"You're not weak if you take the meds, Sweetheart," he said softly, squeezing her hand. "I don't like seeing you uncomfortable."
And she appreciated the concern, really she did. "I'm okay," she told him. "Really."
But, like she seemed to have a bad habit of doing even eight months into their extremely serious relationship, she'd forgotten how well he knew her, how well he could read her. He shot her a quick look before his eyes focused ahead again.
"You don't have to take the pills, but at least tell me why. I know you too well to just assume it's only about feeling weak and vulnerable." he brought her hand slowly to his mouth, mindful, since it was her left side, of the stitches.
A slow slither of heat spread through her body as his lips feathered over her knuckles. She knew he was making a concerted effort not to treat her as a delicate damsel in distress and she truly appreciated it.
But, he'd asked her a question. Her gratitude could be conveyed later. She shot him a little smirk. "Okay, Mister Psychologist. If you're so sure it's something other than not liking who I am on the drugs, tell me what I'm feeling."
If he caught the subtle dig – which she definitely knew he had – he ignored it and continued to stroll down the sand with her. "I think it's about your dad," he told her softly.
Her steps faltered and he moved immediately in front of her, wrapping both of his arms around her waist and pulling her body close as she tumbled into him. She hissed and slammed her eyes closed as the pain passed.
"You have to remember you're still fresh out of surgery for a bullet wound," he murmured and only the little smile on his face saved him from injury. They'd both had a hard time forgetting the ordeal, each of them waking the other up with terrible nightmares of the event. Hers were bad. His were worse. When she'd finally gotten him to break down and tell her about them, he'd painted a terrible picture for her of the differing scenarios that went through his subconscious. Eva telling him she hadn't made it through surgery. Watching her bleed out on the floor of the hotel. Sitting by her bedside as she flat-lined just when they'd thought she was on the mend… At least hers was the same devastating moment over and over. She hadn't jumped in front of him and he'd been the one to take the bullet.
No matter the assurances, neither of them seemed to be able to keep those fears at bay and the nightmares kept coming. They were both adjusting, and it was nice to have him curled up beside her, tucked around her when those nightmares surfaced.
He took her hand again, and they started back on their leisurely pace towards nowhere. They were walking away from the little beach house he'd rented mostly because he knew she loved the ocean. She liked that he'd filed that information away. They didn't walk much farther before he stopped again, looking out over the crashing waves.
"Kate, I know you don't want to be dependent," he said, voice just loud enough to be heard over the waves. "And I know that not only does that have everything to do with why you refuse to take the pills, but it stems from your dad's reliance on alcohol after your mother died. You don't want the pain pills to become a crutch, to drown out the feelings we both have to deal with." He paused for a moment, still looking out over the waves instead of meeting her gaze. "I admire that strength, that tenacity, that strong-jawed determination, but I don't want you to feel like you have to keep being so independent."
She blinked. He really had thought this through and, admittedly, part of it was right. She didn't want to look to the drugs when she was trying to battle through emotions and fears that were still sorting themselves out. She didn't want to start relying on the drugs to sleep, even though she knew they knocked her out cold.
He turned to her, cupping her cheek in his free hand. "Your independence is too much a part of you for it to just… go away, but I don't like seeing you uncomfortable or in pain. This is going to take some time to heal and working yourself to exhaustion to try and get back to your idea of 'normal' isn't the way to go about it."
Kate forced herself to take a deep breath, knowing his words were said in the spirit of love and caring rather than trying to decide what was best for her. It would do her no good to lose her temper and snap at him. "Rick-"
"I know," he interrupted with a warm smile. "I have to let you do this your way, but it makes me feel better to know I've told you that. You don't have to be strong around me. I love you, and that means that I'm going to be beside you for every step of this."
She couldn't stop the smile from lighting up her entire face. She'd stopped him in the hospital because the hidden romantic in her had wanted this moment, those words and outside of the emergency context. Her right hand came up to pull at his shirt, flicking at the buttons. "I know I don't have to be strong with you," she admitted quietly. "I've known that for years but… old habits die hard. I'm trying."
"I know," Rick promised. "And I'm trying too. I just… I needed you to know that."
"I do know," she replied. "And thank you, for fighting your inner nature."
He smiled and leaned down to kiss her. "It is pretty big of me, isn't it?"
"Very," Kate agreed, laughing despite herself. He chuckled with her, pulling away and turning them back the way they came. They walked in silence, all the way back to the cottage, but Kate stopped him as they reached it, moving to the edge of the water. "I want to watch the sunset," she said, pressing her back against his chest and wrapping his arms around her body. He pulled her back against him snugly and they watched the orange sun dip in the sky.
Just as it was about to sink over the horizon, Kate murmured, "Say it again."
Rick didn't need her to tell him what she was referring to and he smiled, wide. "I love you."
She squeezed his arms, tightening them around her briefly. "I love you, too."
And there we go, the ending to this little journey.
I am working on another one. However, I've had a rough couple of days, so I don't know when it's going to be up. I'd like to get a little bit more done on it before it hits "print", so to speak. There's a side story coming too because I decided to take on the challenge of Lanie and Esposito.
Thanks to those who have followed both this and it's prequel and twice as much thanks and chocolate chip cookies to those who have taken the time to leave me a review. I truly hope you've enjoyed the steps they've taken so far.
It's been a pleasure.