Title: Taste of Snow
Author: Elliott Silver
She was there, of course, although he wasn't sure anyone else was. The winter blizzard had shut down the city, and with it, most of the crime as well. If people were stealing, killing, drinking, or breaking any other law, no one was going to know until the snow stopped, but that didn't stop her from being at her desk.
She didn't look up as he came over, though he knew she knew it was him. She always knew.
He didn't sit down, and she finally looked up.
"Why are you here?"
"Why are you?" she asked sharply. She looked pale and fragile in the fluorescent light, all the angles of her face sharp like knives, the light in her eyes like fever. He of all people should have known by now how dangerous she was, how full of sharp broken pieces that cut when he touched her. He knew that too well, and forgot too often. "I thought you were in Los Angeles."
"I was." He breathed, and was startled to find how hard that was to do suddenly. "But I came back." Suddenly he didn't know what to say. "I always liked snow better than sun." He didn't tell her he'd been on one of the last few flights to land before the New York airports closed, or that he'd played a very big role in not getting diverted to Boston or Philadelphia, or worse, Newark. He'd only known he needed to come back, come home.
She arched an eyebrow while filing a report, a motion he also knew too well. She didn't believe him, and as much as said so when she rose and walked away. He didn't know how to tell her he was sorry, sorry about what he had said before he left four days ago.
"And what about you?"
She turned to face him, squaring off with him, hand on her hip as his coffee machine bubbled and brewed. Her eyes blazed.
"And what about me, Castle?" It was a challenge as much as an accusation.
He couldn't summon an answer quickly enough, and she brushed past him angrily.
He followed her back to her desk, but still didn't sit down. He was half afraid she might shoot him if he got that close to her, and more afraid that he deserved it if she did
"It's gone midnight on a Friday night, and the city closed all non-essential services five hours ago. The airports are down until at least the morning, most of the roads are unplowed until the snow stops, and the forecast seems to predict another 36 hours of precipitation."
She signed a form, folded it neatly, and shrugged. "The heat went out in my place, so I came here."
"I think the heat went out here too." He shivered in his coat and blew into his gloveless hands.
"I'll be fine."
"I don't believe you."
She looked up angrily, and he could see how tired she was. He doubted she had slept much in the last few days, maybe even as little as he had. They'd both been through the wars, and maybe they both wanted it to end.
"Come with me," he said before she could respond.
"What?" Confusion splashed over her face.
"Come home with me."
"No way." She pushed her chair back from the desk, away from him. It was a motion that wasn't lost on him.
"No." She sounded exasperated, and obstinate, and worst of all, hurt.
"Look, Alexis is in California with her mom and my mother's still in Florida – "
" – so you can have your choice of three bedrooms, all of which lock, in case you were worried – "
" – and since there's nothing going on here –"
" – that other people can't handle – "
" – plus, I can offer you central heat – "
" – a well-stocked kitchen – "
" – running water, fluffy towels – "
" – and anything else you want."
She opened her mouth to argue, to sass back something spectacular, but she had nothing. He was right, and the irritating part was that he always was, at least when it came to her. Sometimes she thought he knew her better than she knew herself. She was tired, cold, and hungry, and if her worst enemy had offered her a warm bed that moment, she probably would have agreed.
"Please," he said again.
She was just so tired of fighting, he could see that now in everything she did. He was too.
She finally just nodded her head, rising slowly from her chair. He helped her into her coat before she could change her mind, and wasn't surprised that she'd forgotten gloves and a hat as usual.
They walked out together into silence only snow can bring. The city was muffled and sleeping, the world wrapped in thick layers of white. Tall banks of snow and ice rimmed the streets from the first rounds of plows, but most of the sidewalks were still caked with the twenty-six inches of snow that had fallen in the last six hours.
Despite it all, the hassles and cancelations, no one could say it wasn't beautiful, this shocking precarious wonderland, this winter storm that had made everything familiar unfamiliar.
He moved off, crushing holes into the drifts, and she followed him, carefully stepping in his footsteps as they headed haphazardly towards the intersection. The traffic lights blinked in oddly muted colors, cars, buses, and even yellow taxis long since cleared off the impassible roads. Streetlamps burned with a hazy incandescence, no less than the bright-dark sky above them.
The only sound was the crinkle-crunch of the snow beneath their feet and their breath, fogging in the cold air.
It was like another world, and as he stopped and waited for her in the drifts, Castle thought maybe it was. She had stopped in the middle of an unplowed street. Flurries stuck to her like static, wreathing her dark hair and shoulders. She turned her chin up towards the sky, letting flakes coat her face and dark lashes, tangling in her hair. She looked like a statue, or a goddess, powerful and enchanting and seductive and alone. He wondered if she felt that as keenly as he did, as he had come to feel since he met her, since he had loved her.
He walked back to her, knowing even then, if not before, that his world had come down to this, this simple thing, that he wanted, even needed, to be with her, however he could.
Snow rustled down on them, melting out buildings, cars, shop lights, droning Christmas carols, perhaps even fear.
"It's all so different," she said, maybe in wonder or awe, or just acceptance.
"It could be," he answered her.
Snow poured from the sky around them, the rest of the world dark smudges against this furious, beautiful whiteout.
"I'm sorry," he said as the snow fell between them, the artificially bright sky flaring above them. He took her hand in his, bare skin to bare skin, and held it. She didn't pull away. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean what I said."
There was a long breath between them.
"Yeah Castle," she said finally, not looking at him. "I'm sorry too."
The snow hit him hard and true, a perfect pitch. Wet crystals plastered his face and trickled down his neck into his coat. He shivered as freezing bits slithered down his spine. He shouldn't have expected any less from her.
He turned to her, but she was already diving away, her laughter drifting towards him. He lobbed a handful of snow back at her but she ducked.
"That the best you have, Castle?" she taunted him, as she popped up to throw another. His second shot caught her squarely on the nape of her neck and by the way she froze and squelched her body forward, he could tell most of it had gone down her back. He managed to get behind the opposing snow bank before she returned volley, though not quick enough to avoid two expertly packed snowballs to his shoulder and arm. He aimed one directly for where she had been but her laughter had drifted down the street, and he had to run to catch up with her. He wasn't sure how many snowballs passed between them as they dodged their way to his place, but her laughter was silvery as the snow, as true as the storm, something he hadn't heard in a very long time or perhaps at all. He passed close to her, dodging her shot, and pelting her solidly in the head and arm as they tangled. He wrapped her arms close to her body, tackling her to avoid another lashing, but she caught her foot under his knee and they both crashed down into the snow. His weight pinned them into a cool, blue world, two snow angels without wings.
She looked up at him with her dark, snow-fringed lashes, her cheeks rosy with cold and laced with sparkles of snow and ice.
He reached for her, touched her cheek with his hand to brush away the wet flakes, his finger raking the curl of her lower lip.
Snow trickled off her face in droplets, like tears, and he realized they, neither of them, were fighting.
She whispered his name, and it was soft and warm against his face.
He leaned to her and kissed the corner of her mouth, the ribbon-bow of her upper lip.
"You taste like snowflakes," he said.
Somewhere in the bright darkness, a horn bleated and they both started, scrambling up from their secret sanctuary, as a plow tootled through, shoveling dirty layers of snow into crumbling barriers at the side of the street, leaving only sticky, icy black pavement behind.
The white world merged back into this, theirs. A dark world rough-coated with sand and salt.
They stood and brushed matted snow from their jackets.
"We should – "
"Yeah." She didn't look at him.
It wasn't far, and their boots made squelching noises as they climbed the stairs, leaving gritty puddles of icy snow on the floor. They said nothing as he turned the key in the lock and opened the door. She followed him inside, standing neatly on the doormat in her wet boots and jeans. He rushed past her, tearing off his jacket and tossing it haphazardly on the coat-rack, where it snagged lop-sided and limp. Unconcernedly he pulled off his boots and socks, dropping them in sopping balls to the polished floor. Chunks of snow fell from the frozen crevices of his jeans to the floor, plopping and crackling as they hit the hard wood, glistening like crushed diamonds.
He turned back to her.
She was struggling with the large buttons on her coat, her fingers stiff and cold.
He went to her, knowing only that he should. Then he bent and unraveled the icy laces on her boots, tugging them and her socks from her cold feet, brushing away the lacy patterns of ice crusted to her jeans. He rose and stood before her. He reached for the buttons on her coat and slowly undid each one, pulling the sodden jacket away from her, as if pulling a chrysalis from a butterfly. She was shivering, and he took her cold fingers in his and blew on them, warming each of her hands in his own.
Her eyes were large and dark as she pulled her hands away from him and stood for a moment, once again alone and remote, untouchable, unreadable, unreachable.
Then she reached out, touching him very gently on his stubbled cheek, her cold fingers tracing the lines of his ruggedly handsome jaw.
She breathed – he didn't – and his name was on her lips as she kissed him, slowly, unhurriedly.
His hands came up behind her, pulling her against him, binding their two bodies together.
He felt the breath in her lungs, the steady beat of her heart, the furious pounding of blood in his ears. Her hands were cold on his face, framing it, as she drew him to her, met his mouth with hers, sucking his breath from him, giving him her own.
He didn't know how long they stayed like that, until her hands came to rest on his shoulders, and she spoke, her voice a low whirr in the darkness.
"Castle, say something."
He realized his eyes were still closed and he opened them slowly. "I don't want to say anything, I don't want to stop this, I don't want to wake up if this is a dream, tell me this isn't a dream." His words all ran together.
"You dream about me, Castle?" He wondered if she was teasing, how she could not possibly know how much he had wanted her and for how long.
"All the time." His answer was reverent, almost fervent.
"What happens in these dreams?" she asked, curious.
"Let me show you." And he kissed her again, hard and unyielding, forcing her to open her mouth to his. Her hands wound around his neck as she pulled him closer, kissed him back. He pinned her against the strong door behind them, and she gasped as their teeth knocked together, a blinding electric shock. He could taste the snow, cold and magic, on her tongue.
He kissed her everywhere he could think, every place he had dreamed – her beautiful cheekbones, the hollows below her dark lashes, the commas of her eyebrows. He was delighted with the hum in the back of her throat as he sucked on the lobe of her ear, teased it between his teeth, kissing the curls of her neck, the softness where her veins carried blood to her heart. Her skin was cold under his hands and he warmed her with his mouth.
Her cool hands fumbled along the thick waistband of his jeans, skimming along the not-so-firm-as-they-had-been planes of his chest. She pulled the damp sweater over his head, letting it fall to the floor with a wet thump, as she ran her long fingers over the burls of his shoulders, the ridges of arms. Darkness flared behind his closed eyes as she kissed the lines of his collarbones, flicked the hard buds of his nipples with her warm tongue.
Somehow they moved into his bedroom, shedding wet clothing until there was nothing left between them except the melted patina of snow glistening wetly on their skin.
"I want this slow," he tried to tell her as they folded into one another on his unmade bed.
Her eyes glowed darkly, wickedly, as she looked up from kissing her way down his chest.
"Why, Castle, were you planning on making this a one-time deal?"
She kissed further, until he gasped.
"I wasn't." It was like everything she did, on her own terms, the way he loved her. But it was a surprise to him, sharp and gut-wrenching, how much she wanted him too. He'd always thought he'd fallen in love with her, in a one-sided, star-struck way, and yet somehow over all the time he'd loved her, she had loved him too. He wondered how it could all be so frustratingly simple.
He had never known how two people could fit together like this, like the way he rolled against her and made her gasp as he touched her, the crescent moon of her hip, the long lines of her legs, the soft triangle of her warmth.
If he was honest with himself, he would have been scared when it came time, but he felt the same fever burning under her skin, wild and breathless as she waited for him, sprawled on the dark tangle of his bed in the dogwood light of snow from his window.
But then she was pulling him towards her, into her, and he felt the bite of her nails against his shoulders, the way she sucked in breath and then, almost in relief, let it out very slowly. He hadn't at all realized he had been holding his, until they started moving, rolling against each other, a slow pitch and crash as he found her mouth again, kissed her hard and desperate as he felt her give way, shuddering into him, closing around him, so that he too came, her name in his voice against the snow and darkness.
Their breath rattled in the still room, as the snow drifted outside the window, casting the room in a blue glaze. He pulled the covers over their cooling skin and kissed the edge of her shoulder. Her body was smooth like a river stone as she settled against him, the soft line of her back against his chest, tangling her legs in his. He wrapped her against him, feeling the slow, sweet pull of sleep and the deep hold of her as she curled herself to sleep in his arms, in his dreams.
He woke to the blue light of morning, frost and tiny flakes wisping from the sky.
He woke alone.
Panic, icy and heart-wrenching, clutched at his chest, and for a second, the room spun.
He flung over the covers and half-hopped, half-hobbled into his boxers, half-crashing out of the bedroom.
She turned to look at the clatter, pivoting on the kitchen barstool to face him, coffee mug still halfway to her mouth.
He leant on the railing for support.
"I thought you left."
He moved toward her as she took a swallow of coffee. A half-eaten waffle was on the plate in front of her, and several stacked on a plate by the sink. She was barefoot and only wearing one of his shirts, rolled up to her elbows. The kitchen smelled sweet, like batter, like home.
"Why did you think that?" Her voice was calm and steady, unflappable.
He poured himself coffee and splashed milk into it so he had something to do.
"It's just – " He didn't know how to say what he wanted, unless he said what he wanted. "It's just that I've loved you for so long, and I don't want last night – it was – I was – everything," he tried again. "I respect you, and every day I'm grateful to work with you, and if this means I can't work with you anymore, or if we can only work together, I'll – I will – respect your decision, and -" He felt his chest constrict, and wondered why only she had that effect on him. "Whatever you need, a friendship, a partnership, a relationship, I'll do it."
"Castle," she made him breathe. "I told you way back when that I was a one-and-done girl."
He watched her face as she spoke.
"And – " she looked at him with her deep brown eyes, hopeful and a little scared. "I'm done," she finished.
She tasted like coffee, black and unsweetened, as he kissed her, long and hard and slow, holding her to him as if he might never let go. He never planned to.
Her smile was wide and beautiful, her laughter silvery as snow, as he carried her back to the bed.
"It's a different world," he said, tasting her words from the night.
"Yes," she answered him. "It could be."