Disclaimer: Castle and its characters belong to Andrew Marlowe and ABC.
For a long while, the two were still and silent. Their tangled hands were still warm over his pounding heart, but neither spoke. Her forehead once again leaned against his, and her eyes were tightly shut, even as his own roved her face.
More than once he opened his mouth, but quickly closed it again. As his mother had pointed out months before, the writer seemed to have a hard time finding the right words when it mattered.
How could he express the depth of his feelings for her? His fear of losing her? His gratitude for the promise she'd made? His determination to keep his own vow to guard her life, to help her find justice and closure?
So for once in his life, Richard Castle said nothing.
He waited her out, and eventually felt the warm wash of a sigh as some of the tense shoulder muscles under his hand loosened.
"It's late," she whispered, her eyes still closed. "We should get going."
He stayed quiet, but when she looked up at him at last, his heart broke at the hurt he found in her eyes.
But maybe this was progress, he thought. At least she wasn't shutting him out this time. She wasn't pretending everything was alright. She was allowing him to see her at her weakest, and that was a gift he didn't take lightly.
He opened his mouth to say something, anything to take away that look in her eyes, but she turned before he could find the words, squeezing his hand briefly before she let it go.
She walked away, and he followed, their feet echoing on the bridge for a few moments and then crunching on the gravel along the road.
Silently, she replaced her helmet and swung her leg over the bike, holding still while he did the same. She reached behind her to tug on his hands, pulling him forward, bringing his warmth tighter against her back. He said nothing.
The ride back to his loft was as quiet as their earlier trip. She didn't turn her attention away from the road in front of them. His own focus centered on the warmth she radiated through fabric and leather, the compression and expansion of her stomach against his hands as she breathed and the shifting of her back against his chest through every turn. She was wounded, but alive, gloriously alive, and for that he was thankful beyond measure.
The past few months and the last three years flashed through his memory. All the times he'd made her smile. All the times he'd hurt her and she'd taken him back. All the times they'd saved each other's lives.
He thought back to that terrible day in the cemetery, the moments before she lay shot and bleeding out under his hands. She had turned to him as she gave the eulogy, met his eyes as she spoke of finding "someone to stand with you." It was more than he'd anticipated. Their fight had left him desperate and hopeless. Even after saving her life by manhandling her out of the hangar, he'd wondered if she would ever forgive him for forcing her to leave Montgomery to die alone.
But she had. Her confession of wanting him there had made his heart soar, even in the midst of his grief. And then…and then, he'd spotted the glint of a sniper's scope and hadn't been fast enough to knock her out of the way, to keep her safe the way he'd sworn he would.
He tightened his grasp on her involuntarily, and felt her take in a sharp breath before pressing back into him a little further. She knew, somehow, just what he needed as reassurance. It wasn't the first time her words or her touch had made things better, had quieted the noise in his head.
Her hand on his knee had pulled him from his guilt. A bump of her shoulder and an offer to buy him a drink had rescued him from his own misgivings about his friendships and his judgment. A single word had quelled his jealousy. She knew him.
It was still dark out when they arrived at his building, the gray of dawn not yet appearing on the horizon. She parked under a streetlamp, and Castle stood carefully, unwrapping his arms from around her waist with a gentle squeeze.
"Breakfast?" he asked, as she stood too, pulling off her helmet and running her fingers through her silky tresses.
"Not today," she answered quietly. "I'm going to head home and try to get some sleep, assuming I don't get called in. You should do the same."
"Not sure I'll be able to sleep, honestly," he said, unstrapping his own helmet and tucking it under his arm.
She reached up to smooth his unruly hair, and his eyes closed under her brief touch.
"Give it a shot. I'll call you if a body drops."
He opened his eyes and nodded, noticing that her gaze seemed to flicker from place to place – her bike, the streetlamp, the windows of his building – before finally coming to rest on the zipper of his jacket. He swallowed thickly and watched as her eyes followed the bob of his Adam's apple.
"Sure you don't want breakfast?" he asked again, lifting his free hand to squeeze her shoulder.
She gave him a small, weary smile, and he knew the answer even before she spoke.
"Thanks for the offer, but I'm not hungry."
He tried not to let his disappointment show, but silence took over again as they stared at each other. Finally, she broke their eye contact, and he saw her hand beginning to lift her helmet.
"Hey," he whispered, and she paused, taking a deep breath, still not looking up at him.
He lifted his free hand to cup her chin
"Are we okay?" he asked softly.
Her jaw clenched and her eyes became a little shinier for a moment as she met his searching gaze. She shook her head.
He dropped his hand, felt his whole body sag in defeat, his shoulders slumping as he looked down at the ground to regain his composure. But then he felt her hand squeezing the tight muscles of his neck, her thumb straining up to brush just behind his ear, the nail rasping against the sensitive bare spot between lobe and hairline. It was enough to bring his focus back to her face.
"But we will be."