dedicated to killmypatience for her birthday
"To lose one's self in reverie, one must be either very happy, or very unhappy. Reverie is the child of extremes."
_Antoine de Rivarol_
He wants to remember.
All the details he memorized so that he could create Nikki Heat, those sparks and moments, those off-the-cuff statements and subtle gestures, he wants those. But not Nikki Heat, and not Natalie Rhodes. Katherine Beckett. Just. . .Kate.
Richard Castle sits in the hard chair and does not look at her in the too-wide hospital bed, does not watch her, because this is not her.
Instead, he remembers.
October. The first year. Her hair spikes, her eyes are intense and brittle, like autumn leaves.
He sees her pause in front of the crime scene tape. Castle is a block away, with coffee and pastries they will not let him bring on site but he doesn't yet know that. He sees her pause, sees the flutter of her lashes against her cheek, the way she has to get a grip on herself, muster the strength to pass under the tape and into the yard. He sees it, and doesn't see it (because doesn't yet know what it is), sees it and pulls out his phone immediately to take a picture, and then make a note of it. Most of his notes that first year are on paper, but a few are simply images on his phone.
Nikki Heat pauses to remember her mother.
But what is it that Kate Beckett does? Is she facing personal demons or simply gathering her thoughts before another big case? Does she need a moment to put on her game face? Is she remembering something funny and schooling her features to not reflect the humor?
This is what Castle doesn't know yet. He pretends to know, for the book, and he might be right in his assessment, but still, he doesn't know.
Kate. Thin bones in a hospital bed, white and winter. Kate pauses before a crime scene because sometimes memories are too sharp. Memories bring jagged edges that are hidden until you cut yourself on them.
This is no good. He needs more than this. Memories of all he doesn't know about Kate, memories of a mystery, this will not help him. This won't pass the time. He needs diversion. He needs Kate, and he can't have Kate, because she was shot. She was shot and she was bleeding in his arms, she was silent and staring at him without comprehension or knowledge, she was arched with pain and then rolling her eyes back into her head and not waking up, leaving him-
He needs something else. He needs Kate to live; he needs Kate alive.
She shimmers in the rain, her lashes clumped with drops or tears, but she hasn't run away from him.
Kate Beckett, with that slow, closed-mouth smile. She has laugh lines around her eyes now; she didn't use to. Not that first year. And it's not because she's older, it's because she's. . .happier. She lifts a hand and nervously brushes her hair back behind her ear, then plays with a strand, twirling it around her finger.
The hair-twirl is a sign from God.
Castle leans in, sharing his umbrella, keeping the worst of it off her. She leans in as well, a hand steadying herself against him, her lashes wet against her cheeks. He can't keep doing this, leaning in but not all the way, taking a step forward but keeping his distance. So he leans in and kisses the drops from her lashes, tastes mascara and water, the salt of old sweat, and she keeps her eyes closed even when he stops.
She opens her eyes; she is humming low in her throat and curling a hand around the umbrella's handle, over his, tugging him closer. Castle comes, obediently, and makes room to press a kiss to her temple, tasting the rain at her hairline, smelling wet tree-leaves and rich earth like an exotic, dark coffee. Spring rain, not winter rain.
"Yes." His name wasn't a question, but it's his answer regardless. He kisses her mouth, a brush of lips, dry despite the rain, his body a careful distance from hers, the handle of the umbrella barricading her. He lifts the umbrella, her arm with it, over her head, so that he can wrap his other arm around her waist, press closer.
She breathes slowly, dry and light along his lips, skirting. Kate. Her laugh lost in the grumble of thunder overhead. The sky washes out the world.
"Yes." He didn't ask a question, but she's answering back. She wraps her free hand around his neck and lifts up against him, both light and drenched, feathery and damp. He likes the way her finger curls around his ear, the way her knee rubs the outside of his leg as she moves closer. Her hand wrapped around the umbrella releases, her fingers dragging slowly down his arm to rest along his shoulder.
He kisses her again, hampered by both their smiles, too wide and long for kisses. His teeth bump hers, noses brush; he scrapes the back of his hand along her cheek and clutches the lock of hair behind her ear.
She is still humming. The sound of it echoes in his chest, reverberates. A purr that gains tone and treble. A sexiness that cascades, then cultivates in him, and then-
changes pitch. Whines.
He opens his eyes. The hospital room is at low-light; the machines keep time. Their whine carries through the room, ripens in his chest cavity like swollen fruit.
It is raining outside; he can see it through the window. Summer rain. He imagines it is colder than it should have any right to be.
When he falls asleep, it is only because he has been awake for thirty-three hours. He is sitting in a chair, the ventilator is noisy and laboring for breath beside him, but he can't keep his eyes open. He gets such a brief time to sit with her; he can't believe he's so tired. He leans forward, head in his hands, elbows on his knees, and lets himself take a long, slow breath out.
When he falls asleep-
It's cold. The wind crawls up his coat and makes his shoulders hunch around his ears. He waits for her to exit the building, then steps at her side as they head for the Crown Vic. She parked it on the street this morning.
She drives, of course, but she drives with her left hand, leaving her right hand free to slide across the center console and slip into his. He keeps the goofy smile off his face with sheer force of will, knowing she'll yank it right back should she detect any such gloating on the job. He lets his thumb stroke the back of her hand, tries not to look at her, tries not to be too obvious.
The heater in the car broke a few days back, but his hand wrapped around hers generates enough heat for him. However, Kate herself shivers, still in her coat, and her fingers are cold. He would bring her hand up to his lips, warm her fingers, but she won't let him do that either. The hand-holding in the car is one of her few concessions to the on-the-job no PDA rule. He'll take it.
He presses her hand against his thigh; she shifts a little towards him to ease the stretch in her arm. They're just headed to lunch, nothing special, but the thrill doesn't dissipate for him; anywhere with her is amazing.
Her fingers twitch, still cold no matter where he puts them. He squeezes back, tighter, but her hand is curiously slack.
His head feels heavy. He can't lift it. Doesn't want to lift it. The heater broke a few days back. She drives with her left hand, leaves her right hand for him to hold.
Say it again. Maybe it will be true this time: She drives with her left-
She is not driving. He blinks, takes in a gulp of air, shivers in the chair beside her hospital bed. Her hand is cold. She's very still. Too still. He has to stand up and drape himself over the bed railing so that he can get close enough to check. She still breathes, yes. God, thank you; yes, she still breathes. They took her off the vent as soon as the anesthesia worked its way out of her system, but she hasn't woken up yet.
It's normal they say. All in good time. She feels cold. She still breathes, but she feels cold.
All he can do is hold her hand, her right hand, and press his cold lips to the back of her fingers, and hope that the touch alone generates the warmth they both need.
It's like the night in the storage freezer has taken up inside him, a hard chunk of ice that never melts.
When he writes in the waiting room, those long times between the short times he can see her, he writes nothing of Nikki Heat. Sometimes, when he's bored, he will write Derrick Storm meeting Nikki for the first time (Storm's wife dead but not Derrick himself), and every time, Jameson Rook comes on scene to spoil things. Storm seduces Nikki because that is the kind of guy Storm can be, when he wants to be, but Jameson Rook, with his cavalier humor, his earnest loyalty, Rook ruins the scene. Rook demands that Nikki be more than just a sex-buddy, more than a seduction. Rook wants forever.
But now. What Castle writes now, instead, is a different thing altogether. Not Nikki Heat, not Derrick Storm, not even Rook confronting her with his undying love. Instead, he writes
Somehow she knows he is there. She only looks up after she finishes entering her report into the computer, and when she does look at him, her face is soft with acceptance. It's time, and she knows it. She looks like she welcomes it.
He doesn't say anything. He doesn't try to convince her, doesn't sit down in his chair beside her desk, doesn't make some smartass comment. He simply stands there, waiting for the acceptance to mature, and when it blooms into quiet joy, he holds out his hand.
She stands, turns off her monitor, grabs her keys from the desk, then links her pinky finger around his. She leads the way out of the precinct because she knows that he's come for her, only her, and she's ready to go now.
In the elevator, they aren't alone. He stands on one side, she on the other, keys in her hand, pressed against her chest as if to keep her heart inside her ribs. He watches her, and doesn't care who sees him watching, because she doesn't care who sees either. She keeps shooting him hot looks, her eyes like coals, branding him where he stands.
When the doors open into the garage, he follows her to the car, watching the keys dangle from her fingers as she walks slightly ahead of him. Jeans today, because it's Saturday and she was just catching up on paperwork, and that soft jersey tshirt open at the neck, the tail curving over her hips. She glances over her shoulder at him, one dark eye and slash of an eyebrow, the sharp line of her jaw and cheekbone, the wide mouth curling into a smile. He smiles back, lengthening his stride to catch up with her, slides his hand to her waist and pulls her against him.
She blocks him to keep her balance, shoves him away to get in the car, but she smiles, smiles the whole time. That low-watt, sensual smile. Mostly in her eyes, in her rich eyes.
He fumbles with the door handle and pinches his finger, sucks on it as he gets in beside her. Her mouth trembles in a laugh, but she masters it, gives him a sympathetic frown, puts the keys in the ignition. Turning the engine over, she puts on her seatbelt, waits for him to do the same, then snags his finger to bring it to her lips for a kiss.
"All better?" she says, her voice smooth and sensual, wrapping around his guts.
Instead of taking his hand back, he leans in and cradles her cheek, brushes his thumb under her eye. She's nearly as tall as he is, so sometimes he forgets how much larger he is than her, how his hands could frame her face and swallow all those beautiful lines. He cups her cheek, brings her close enough to kiss. Slow and unhurried, warm. She smiles against him, breaking the kiss, lets that smile hum against the underside of his jaw, kisses him again, and again.
"All better," he replies, his voice in her ear, fingers cradling her skull and bringing her ever closer.
Things were said. Just because getting shot in the gut will erase or has erased most of the important points from her mind, it doesn't mean he can go back to a place where he hasn't said those things. Because, what if she just remembers his anger, his insistence that she walk away from her mother's case? What if she only remembers his carrying her outside that hangar and letting Captain Montgomery get shot and doing absolutely nothing, nothing, to help him? What if those are the memories that stick?
He loves her. He's known it for awhile. He's tried to tell himself it was just healthy lust for a beautiful woman; he's tried to tell himself she's too good for him; he's tried to tell himself she'd be better off with fill in the blank. And while those points were true, are true, could be true, there is also the beast in the room. This beast in the room is his love her for: aggressive, unrelenting, demanding, and soul-swallowing.
When she wakes up, the first thing he's going to say to her is I love you.
And again when she has the wherewithal to remember him I love you.
And when the doctor has given her the prognosis I love you.
And again when the physical therapy has made her weary and waspish I love you.
And when she insists it's nothing and they can't do this right now or ever I love you.
He will blot out all else with the force of those three words.
Since his laptop battery died and they won't let him plug it in here in her room; since he wrote on both sides of the paper napkins he found in a drawer and he's only got just a small handful of time with her, he has stained anything he can with blue ink writing the scene as he wants it to be. His hands, all up and down his arms. The sides of his shoes. The back of his calves. And then he accidentally transferred it to her skin; all over her now lies the faint echoes of blue ink: the line from her ear to her jaw, the pulse at her neck, the vulnerable valley of her inner elbow, the cool ridge of her right hand. She is tattooed with the scene he intends to play out:
"I know," she says, her voice not her own but good enough for him. "I know you do."
"You don't need to say anything," he replies, brushing a lank of hair from her eyes, tucking it behind her ear, his fingers brushing the pillow. "Don't say anything, don't do anything. You can figure it out when you're better."
"I've known for awhile," she says, trying to explain, but he shakes his head and presses his lips to her forehead.
"Just hush. Just let me." That's all, just that. It's a big thing, he knows, for her to drop the weight of guilt that makes her punish herself unfairly, that makes her sabotage the best relationships in her life. It's a big thing he asks of her. But she's too weary and too pained to keep hold of it, he thinks. It's too much for her right now, and so he will knock it out of her hands, give her something else to hold.
"Castle," she protests, watching the thing go tumbling from her hands, the thing blocking them.
She doesn't need that. She has him instead. She has herself, her life. "You're alive, Kate. And you have to know it; I have to tell you. I can't keep quiet."
"You always talk too much," she rasps, trying to clear her throat but failing, her breathing a little too fast, her chest working to compensate.
"Hush, Kate. Breathe." He strokes the side of her cheek with his thumb; he is practically leaning over her, on his elbows so he doesn't put his weight on her, but still crowding her. He wants to be near; he has to be near.
She swallows, nods, her eyes closing again.
He shouldn't, but he can't help himself: he brushes his lips over her cheek, retraces his path with a thumb. "I do talk too much. But I never say the important things. I don't know what we are, Kate. But we are. Us. That's not nearly enough, not at all enough for what I want." He kisses her again; her eyes are closed. "Open your eyes and show me, Kate."
Her lashes flutter against her cheek, and then raise, revealing those dark depths. He sees it all. Everything. Fear and love twined together.
"I know. I know," he soothes, kissing the corner of her mouth, careful not to get in the way of her fragile breath. "All you have to do is let me love you. Time for everything else later."
I want you to be my wife. I want you to marry me. I want you. Inside. At my side. In my hands. Alive. I love you, Kate. Don't leave me.
"You're alive," he says, and opens his hand to look at the blue ink stains of his love letter, his reverie, the thing which possesses him. The gift of himself all over her skin now, transferred from him to her.
She still breathes. Inked with his joy, his resolution, his love, all of it a faded map to some lost treasure.
"We'll find it," he says, and closes his hand around her wrist, holding on.
"He does not need opium. He has the gift of reverie."