Headlights on Dark Roads
"Hey, you can't be in here."
Castle startles awake from the plastic hospital chair he's been sitting in.
"Visiting hours are over," the nurse continues.
"I'm sorry." Castle scrubs his eyes with the back of his hand. "I didn't realise I fell asleep."
The nurse walks over to the end of Kate's bed and grabs the chart. She shoots him a look that's all but sympathetic once she's caught up on the file. He looks away.
It's been seven days since Kate's surgery and two days since she's been transferred out of the ICU and into her own private room. She's woken up a few times, but in pain and confusion and unable to recognise her situation. For the most part, they've kept her sedated.
"Go home," the nurse says after she had performed her barrage of standard checks that had also worked to give him a few more minutes, "Let us take care of her while you take care of yourself."
Castle rises out of the chair and leans forward to kiss Kate gently on the cheek, lingering. Finally, he sighs, straightens and says, needlessly, "I'll be back tomorrow."
He's there when she wakes up – of course he is – for good, strong enough to breathe on her own.
In the short time between him pressing the call button to notify the nurse and the doctor actually arriving, only a few words are exchanged.
Among them, with her gaze still and tempered: "I'm not pregnant anymore, am I?"
He pauses, shakes his head. "No." His voice is quiet. "You're not."
"This is the address to my dad's cabin." Kate has her bag on the hospital bed where she is currently perched.
Castle takes the slip of paper, notices a phone number is also written on it.
"The landline," she explains, "Cell phone reception is unreliable up there."
His head half-turns towards the open door, unconsciously acknowledging her father's presence just outside. Kate had told Jim to wait in the hall when Castle had arrived, his appearance unsurprising even though she had told him the night before that it would be unnecessary. "Will your dad be with you the whole time?" he says now.
"No. On the weekends, probably, but I'll be okay."
"And you're sure?" he asks, alluding to an offer he didn't make but that they both know is there.
She nods. "It's quiet there. I can think."
"Well, if your thoughts become bad company…"
She smiles a little. "I know, Castle."
He leans down to kiss her cheek: soft, tender. "Be safe, Kate."
His cellphone flashes in unknown number a week later. When he answers, there's silence but for some hiccupped breathing. "Kate?" he says, quickly ducking off the busy New York street and into a store. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, it's me," she finally answers, her voice thick.
"What's wrong?" he asks, anxiety seeping into his words.
"I don't know." He can hear the start of her breakdown – her thoughts tripping out as she cries. "I was just feeling—and I wanted to hear you—and Castle, how can you miss something you never really had in the first place?"
He's not sure if she's referring to the baby that they lost or the relationship that they didn't fight for. Either way, he finally understands what people mean when they say that their heart hurts.
"Kate," he says, tone gentle but leaving no room for a difference of opinion, "I'm coming to see you now. I don't want to do this over the phone." She doesn't answer; he can only hear her harsh breaths. "Hang in there, okay?"
He stays on the phone with her as he drives, but about halfway there, she's quiet and he realises that she's probably fallen asleep on him. He's loath to wake her up when he arrives but, without a key, it leaves him no other choice.
"Hi," she says, pushing open the screen door to let him in. Her eyes are rimmed red and it's to his surprise that she makes the move to hug him, first.
"You smell different," he murmurs into her hair, voicing the first thing that comes to mind.
"Different shampoo," she murmurs back.
"Well, you still have your Kate-scent right here," he presses a kiss along the column of her neck and that finally gets a smile – albeit tiny – out of her.
They don't speak about the reason he's up there until later on that night – under the cover of darkness in her bed.
"We weren't ready," she whispers. The two of them had been quietly curled up in each other for a while now, but it's the first time either has said anything.
"No," he agrees, "We weren't."
"We still aren't. Not by a long shot."
He strokes her hair. "But, before… everything happened… you were warming up to the idea?"
She tears up. "Maybe a little. Maybe I just wanted the choice to be mine… ours."
He hugs her tighter, voice pitched as quietly as he can make it. "Maybe one day we can try again."
"You got home safe?" Kate has the phone cradled between her ear and shoulder as she bustles around her room, trying to straighten up a little for her dad.
"Course," he answers. "Will your dad be up there tonight?"
"No, tomorrow. Morning."
"And you're okay with him staying for the entire long weekend?"
Kate shrugs, even though she knows Castle can't see her. "It is what it is. He worries, you know?"
Silence, and Kate can hear Castle shuffling around, probably on the couch in his living room.
"Yeah, I know," he finally replies. "A lot of people worry about you, Kate."
She sighs. "Nothing. Let's just… talk about something else. How's Alexis?"
"What's that playing in the background?" he asks.
She is snuggled up on the old couch in the cabin, in front of the television, while he is leaning back in his office chair, in front of his laptop.
"Annie," she replies, "The 1982 version, not the Disney one."
"Did you have dinner already?"
"I made a sandwich."
He tsks a little. "For the third day in a row? Aren't you getting tired of tuna melts?"
"Never," she replies staunchly.
"You want to know what I had for dinner tonight?"
"No, not really."
"Lasagne with garlic bread and a yummy green salad," he answers as if she hadn't spoken.
"Did Alexis make it for you?"
"You know I'm a really good cook, right?"
"Oh, my favourite part is coming up," Kate says, switching her attention back to the movie.
"Is it the part where they sing 'You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile'?"
"That would be your favourite part, Castle," she says with mirth.
"Okay, fine. What's yours, then?"
"'I Don't Need Anything But You'."
He knows that she's referring to the song, but it doesn't stop his heart from skipping a beat or two. "Why Detective," he teases, "I never expected you to like cheesy happy endings."
"Who doesn't like happy endings?" she replies.
He grins. "Who, indeed."
Two days later, he thinks about just driving up there and surprising her, but thinks better of it. He doesn't want to get shot, after all. Instead, he calls to tell her he's making a visit… while he's already driving up the pathway.
"It's too late, Kate," he says, pulling up to the cabin, "I'm already here."
The front door opens and he steps out of the car, gives her a little wave and a giant smile. "I brought groceries!" He walks around to his trunk. "Thought we could make that lasagne."
She shakes her head at him but slips on some runners and steps out to help him with the bags. "You know I have food here, right?" she comments, after her second trip.
"Oh please," he scoffs, "You've been eating sandwiches for a week."
"What's wrong with sandwiches?"
"You're clearly not an epicure."
He drops the last of the grocery bags onto the kitchen floor, rifling through them to pick out the ingredients that he needs before storing the rest in the fridge.
"I should have you over more often," Kate says, watching him from the dining table.
"You should," he shoots back, more serious than quippy.
Kate straightens up from the chair she had been leaning on and rolls up her sleeves. "Okay, Mr. Gourmet, what do you need me to do?"
In Kate's opinion, it takes way too long to make a lasagne from scratch even if the final result tastes amazing. "I don't know if it's worth it," she says to Castle.
"You're licking the bottom of your plate – metaphorically –" Castle is talking about the way Kate is scraping at the leftover sauce with her fork "—I'd say it was definitely worth it." He takes a sip of his water. "Time and patience."
"Excuse me?" She looks up at him.
"Anything truly worthwhile takes time and patience."
Suddenly they're not just talking about dinner anymore and Kate doesn't know what to say.
"You don't… I mean, we don't have to talk about this right now," Castle hedges.
She concentrates on dragging her fork across her plate. "We probably should, though, right? Talk about… us?"
"So, there is an 'us'?"
"Isn't there?" she looks at him, "It sure feels like there is."
"Really?" his eyes widen.
She lays her fork down with a clink. "Why do you look surprised?"
"Because—" he stutters "—before… when we fought, you said… you didn't want me."
"No." She shakes her head forcefully. "I never said I didn't want you. I was just—I am so fucked up that I never wanted to drag you under with me. Castle, don't you understand? That distance… that wall? It's not to keep you out, it's to keep meout… from your life and your… your happiness. I said that we're different because you're—" she drops her hands onto her lap and wrings them together as if it's physically painful to continue "—whole and I'm… broken."
"Kate…" he whispers, "…no…"
"—I know what you're going to say and it shouldn't be your job to put me back together, Castle. I don't want that for you."
"Shouldn't that be my choice?" he asks, stubbornly.
"It's not healthy," she says, "You'll end up hating me for it."
"I could never hate you, Kate." He says this with such conviction that Kate feels tears start to gather in her eyes.
"Look, Castle," she starts, holding up her hand to let him know not to interrupt her, "After the shooting and losing the… the baby and everything we went through this year – with my mom's case and nearly dying five times – I've… I'm going to regular therapy, now."
"You are?" he sounds relieved.
She nods. "I want to be better. For myself… for you. And, I mean, I know that we're already moving at glacial speed, but—"
"—Kate," he finally interrupts, unable to resist, "Stop worrying about who you have to be before you can let me love you, okay? Be better because you want that for yourself and stop thinking about steps and speeds and what we should or shouldn't be doing – couple or not. You're who I want, Kate. That's never changed and that will never change."
He clasps both of his hands around both of hers. Their eyes connect and she feels nothing but adoration when she says, "You're who I want, too."
A/N: Not as epic as the last chapter (sorry for leaving you guys on such a cliffhanger!) but there are a couple more chapters to go!
Please be so kind as to leave a review! :)