Skip the Charades
Let's skip the charades
You're seeing right through me anyway
Can we just speak plain?
We're playing for the same team
But I'm the one that's acting like
I'm so strong
You're the one that's acting like
-"Skip the Charades," Cold War Kids
Castle had slipped on converse shoes and grabbed his keys, forgetting his wallet, and run out of the loft. His phone was in his back pocket, and he tried calling Kate twice before he gave up on that and focused on getting to her. Just getting to her.
The elevator was slow in coming. How long had it been since Kate had walked out the door? Ten minutes maybe. He couldn't be sure. Fifteen, because Alexis had been crying and they'd sat together for a minute on the couch. A minute to grab his shoes and scoop his keys off his desk.
She'd be in the car by now. If she'd even brought the car tonight. Yesterday she'd mentioned parking the Crown Vic a block away and walking in. How tired it made her. Tonight she was more exhausted than last, but she'd not mentioned having the car.
It was possible that Kate had taken public transportation then, and he knew how much she despised using a cab when the subway was available. At midnight? Not sure. He couldn't be sure about anything, really, but he did know-
The elevator doors opened. He'd taken half a step inside when-
She was curled in the corner of the lift, her head bent forward, her body slack. She didn't stir at her name.
"Kate," he murmured, dropping to his knees in front of her.
Castle grabbed her by the shoulders to lift her up; she moaned and came around, her eyes slowly opening. He got an arm under her legs and then his thigh at her back, giving him the leverage to lift them both up off the floor of the elevator.
"Castle," she sounded confused, and then her whole body jerked, curling into a fetal position. He felt her muscles spasm so hard that his arms shook.
The second he was off the elevator, he settled her back onto the floor of the hallway, standing over her, trying to work his thumbs into the stiff places at her ribs. She jerked again with the pain, curling around his hands, and then let out a long, slow hiss of breath as the pressure wrestled her muscles into alignment again.
"Shit, Kate," he breathed, realized that his legs were shaking and had to sit down on the floor next to her. He used his thumbs to massage circles into that place just below her sternum where the pain built and cramped, where her muscles seized.
"Couldn't get up," she said, her words coming in jerky gasps. She was used to it; he was used to it. Didn't make it any easier to see her collapsed and unconscious in his elevator because of it. "Think I passed out."
"Yeah. But I got you."
It took a long minute of his fingers working at her muscles before she could uncurl a little, straighten her legs. Then she put her hands over his and just sat with him in the floor, breathing, her eyes closed as the sweat cooled on her forehead.
Castle wanted to weep, but he stayed in his hallway, listening to the rattle of her breath, feeling the occasional spasm of her poorly healed muscles under his fingers.
"Come back inside."
"I need to go home."
"Come back inside, Kate." He couldn't help it. He pressed his lips into the top of her head and closed his eyes, breathing her in.
"I shouldn't. Alexis-"
"Alexis sent me out after you."
It was only because he still had his fingers digging into those knots that he felt the catch in her breath.
"She. . .did."
"She did. Come back inside." And then he didn't wait for affirmation, just got to his feet, hauling her up with him. Kate stumbled and leaned away from him, but he kept her at his side, towing her towards his door.
"You and I are going to have a talk about this." She was unable to stand up straight because of her abdominal muscles, but he dragged her down the hall as best he could, both of them made off-balance.
"Not this, this." He gestured to her as if to encompass her still-rebelling body. "This, this." He moved his hand between them. "Because I'm done."
Did he imagine the hitch in her voice? "Done pretending nothing's wrong. This is bullshit, Kate."
"If you're going to curse at me, then at least give me a chance to catch my breath," she muttered, leaning against the wall as he slipped his key into the lock.
The door opened on Alexis's worried face before he got a chance to work the tumblers. "I thought you were gonna-" She stepped back when she saw Kate, something on her face that Castle couldn't understand.
"Alexis, help me," he said. Alexis came to Kate's other side even as the detective muttered that she could walk just fine.
"Really? Because I'm bearing at least half your weight here," he muttered back, he and Alexis maneuvering Kate to the couch.
"I've just got to ride it out. You know that," Kate managed, but her hand reached for Alexis's as the girl stepped back. Alexis squeezed it, the two of them clinging to something that Castle just didn't get, didn't understand. More had gone on there than either had said, despite what Alexis had confessed to him just a few minutes ago.
"I just don't want you to die," Alexis said in a rush and buried Kate in an awkward hug. Kate's eyes closed in pain, he saw, but she hugged back. Another surprise.
"I'm not trying to die, Alexis," she said.
"But you-" Alexis shook her head and moved back. "Never mind. I won't do this again with you. . .Dad. I'll be upstairs if you, when you need me."
Castle watched her go, then turned back to Kate. "Neither of you are going to tell me what that's about, are you?"
He sighed and sat down on the couch beside her. "How're the abs?"
"Killing you. That's a great segue, actually." He tried to make a joke of it. "You know what's killing me?"
She rolled her eyes at him, evidently trying to reestablish some solid footing with him, but now that he had her off-balanced, he was determined to push, to push her hard.
"*You* are killing me, Kate."
"Thanks," she said, her face a cloud. "I'm trying to keep you out of this, Castle."
"Not what I mean," he said, and brushed his finger down her cheek as she struggled to sit up straight. "And you know it."
"I don't know most of what you talk about these days." She winced as she moved and bit her bottom lip. She laid against the arm of the couch for a moment.
"You're killing me, Kate. All I want is you. Not the 12th, the police work, the access, the story. That can rot. I want you. And sure, you show up after midnight a couple nights a month, but you keep carefully just out of my reach even though I can see you want the same thing-"
"Castle," she moaned and struggled to get off the couch.
He reached out and nudged her shoulder, all it took to topple her when she was in pain like this. She hissed in a breath as she fell back. "Not fair."
"No, it's not. I'm done being fair. Being fair sucks."
"Castle, we can't afford to be selfish. This is more than just dangerous; it could very well get us both killed. Alexis needs her father-"
"I am already in this, Kate. As Alexis herself pointed out to me, it's not like people will believe us if we say we mean nothing to each other. Keeping our distance, pretending you mean nothing to me?"
He watched her, saw the way it broke her just to hear it, even if it wasn't true. And that's how he knew for certain, that's how he could keep going, even though she hurt to hear him say it.
"I'd do anything for you, Kate. And half the city knows that. Including your mom's killer. He probably knows it the best. So keeping your distance is pointless."
She didn't say anything to that, just kept her eyes closed like she couldn't face it.
"I'm just pretending that I'm okay, Kate. I'm waiting up for you every night and getting by with emails and a handful of phone calls. But it's not working for me. I'm miserable. And then I look at you, and. . ." He looked at her now, curled around her belly, her face twisted with something that look a lot like grief. Castle sighed. "So why are we doing this to ourselves?"
She had brought her feet up on the couch and now put her head against her knees, breathing in and out. When he let the silence go on, stretch out, she turned her face to him slowly, her eyes opening.
"I'm miserable too," she said.
He nodded. He could see that.
"God, I'm miserable every day," she groaned, rubbing at her face. She slowly slumped back until her head was propped against the couch, her knees sticking up from his couch like two jagged rocks.
"So stop," he said with a shrug. "Let it be. It's too late now, Kate, to keep me out of the danger. I put myself in it, when I had the doc look at your mom's case. You warned me back then that I had no right-"
She shook her head. "Castle-"
"You warned me that you couldn't let it go," he finished, sliding his palm over the cushion to scoop up her hand, squeeze it.
She bit her lip again, chewed on it. "I can't let it go. And if it gets you killed, I'll. . .I don't think I'd make it," she whispered and turned her head to look at him, such regret etched into her face.
"Yes, you will," he answered. "Because I made you promise to look after Alexis. And because you're a survivor. You keep on."
She shuddered, something like a groan coming out of her mouth. "That'd be worse."
"Just so we're clear," he said softly, tugging on her hand to make her look at him. "I don't plan on getting killed."
She lifted her head, rolling her eyes for effect, but he could see the wound behind the flippant gesture. "Well, neither do I."
"Kate. Can't I just. . ." Castle trailed off, not sure how to ask for the thing he wanted, not sure he should, even now.
Forget it. No more talking. He was done.
He reached for her, both hands, and took her.
Kate felt that jolt of startled awareness, and then his mouth was demanding hers, insistent and possessive, laying claim. She acquiesced out of surprise, felt him invade the shoreline of her lips, and then he laid her to waste with the edge of his tongue, slaying her protest.
Curled like she was around the still aching ribs, she found herself made small by the force of him against her, finding a strange thrill in the weight of him as he bore her down. She felt her head hit the arm of the couch as his mouth traveled over her, and she raised her hands to ward him off.
Instead, she found herself curling her fingers in his shirt and tugging him close, closer, digging for skin. When she met the warmth of his sides, she flattened her palms out then skimmed up his back, relishing the shiver that worked over his body.
He broke the kiss to nibble at her jaw, taste her earlobe, bite the tendon at her neck before moving down. She gasped and sought the smooth pulse at his temple with her mouth, stroked her hands along whatever she could reach, arched against him-
"Ah!" she hissed, bringing her knees up reflexively, cutting him off as the jagged lightning of pain ripped down her middle.
Castle paused, a hand traveling between them to touch her sternum; she trembled, pressed her hands against his back to keep him there, even as the path of the agony traveled in her chest.
Heat seemed to fuse between them and concentrate itself in that line down her chest; she tried to ride it out, blinking fast. Castle lifted his head and kissed her eyebrows, gently, reverently, then the spots on her cheeks where the heat flushed, then the corner of her mouth, an eyelid, that spot just before her ear.
The burn curled tightly, and then seemed to rest just at her upper left rib, like a whipcord snapping back up. She took in a shaky, deep breath as an experiment, but the tight, cramping pain was mostly gone. Just that knot against her rib and the ghost of a burn.
His hand at her stomach pressed, gentler now, and she moved her knees down, let him closer, slowly stretching out until her body was flat against the couch.
"It doesn't hurt so much," she whispered, pressed her mouth to his ear. She realized her hands were shaking and made fists against his back.
"No," she insisted. "I mean. At all. Something snapped and. . .it's dissipating."
"Something snapped?" he asked, raising as if he was going to get off of her. She pressed him down instead, lifting her hips to meet his, and he groaned. "Kate. Oh, oh, don't. Don't do that."
She did it again, pleased at the freedom of movement, more pleased with the look on his face, the control she exerted.
And then she realized what she'd done, and how, and why they shouldn't, and she froze. "I'm sorry. We can't-"
"Oh hell no," he groaned and leaned down to take another kiss. And another. A longer one that made her hands flatten on his shoulder blades and her thighs shift wider.
"Castle-" she tried again.
"No," he said, more forcefully, and slanted his mouth over hers, slow and silky now, gradually building the heat before easing away from her lips. "We can. We will. No more distance. No more pretending."
His hips met hers and she bucked up instinctively, opening her mouth to him. She felt her ankle slide off the couch as she tried to get leverage, and it jerked her back to awareness. She held him off with a hand, trying to see past the intensity of his needy eyes.
"Not. Not on the couch. Alexis-" she muttered, and his daughter's name was like the magic word. Castle stopped, breathing hard against her, and lifted up. For a moment, he sat there, getting himself together, and then he raised her up as well, easing her against his side. They sat shoulder to shoulder, catching their breath.
"Not here," he agreed and ran a hand through his hair, his eyes boring into hers. "But soon."
Kate glanced involuntarily to the hall leading back to his bedroom, but just nodded. Soon. She couldn't believe she'd agreed, but she realized she meant it. It was inevitable, had always been inevitable.
"Say it," he said softly, and leaned over to press a chaste kiss to the corner of her mouth.
"Soon," she said, finding it hard to breathe again, feeling the hitch at her ribs.
Castle noticed it, but stood and offered her a hand, which she took, expecting him to walk her to his door. Instead he headed towards his bedroom, tugging her after him.
"Castle! Not. . .not *this* soon."
He paused, and she felt the stretch of their linked hands between them, but then he gave one of his leering grins. "What a dirty mind you have, Detective. I only meant to tuck you in. It's late. You need sleep. Just like last night."
She gaped at him for a second but followed when he led her back down the hall to his bedroom. She stood at the threshold, wanting him to stay with her and knowing it wouldn't be smart.
But still. . .
"You need to heal, first," he said softly, as if he could read every thought in her head. Castle pressed his palm just below her breast, his fingers spanning her ribs. "You said something snapped. That could be bad, or it could be what you needed. Either way, no more. . .aerobics tonight."
She felt her lips twitch but didn't give in to the urge to grin. "I don't have pajamas."
"Wear one of my shirts. I'll get a pair of Alexis's pajama pants. You'll be set."
Kate watched him for a second, saw the insecurity asserting itself again, the hesitance. But he was right; this was it for them. They'd just been making themselves miserable. She needed to make sure he understood. Even without the 12th, without her mother's case, without resolution to any of it, this was it for her.
She pulled her lip out from between her teeth and gave him a smile, lifting her hand to lay it against his chest.
"I love you too."