Castle tapped his knuckles against the guest room door, listening carefully. When he didn't hear anything, he went ahead and pushed open the door slightly.
She was asleep, curled on one side (that was going to hurt later), with the laptop shoved to one side. Her hair was a mess across the pillow, knotted; she hadn't washed it in a few days now, since it required help.
And she hated to ask for help.
It was beginning to get old.
Castle had lunch waiting on her downstairs, just soup that he could reheat later if she wanted it. He had thought she might like to come down and sit with him, just for a change of pace, but he wouldn't wake her up for that.
He hesitated in the doorway, his eyes drawn to her, to the laptop. He could just. . .
He was already in the room.
Castle slid a palm under his laptop and lifted it, then eased down onto one side of the queen-sized bed. He held his breath as the mattress shifted, but she was out cold.
He placed the laptop on his thighs and stretched out next to Kate, easing back against the padded headboard. He raised the lid, watched the computer cycle back on, felt the fans kick in. Glancing over at Kate, he couldn't help touching one tangled curl, his fingers instantly caught in the snarl of her hair.
He didn't have the strength of will to work it free, to move away. So he left his hand on the pillow, let his thumb stroke the back of her skull, so very softly.
The laptop was on; he used his free hand to touch the trackpad of the mouse, ready to check email for his publisher's edits, but her name caught his eye.
He'd forgotten that he'd made these short vignettes and left them on the desktop. Four labelled kate, hopefully lost in the clutter of documents spread across the desktop of his computer screen. Honestly, they weren't noticeable, were they? He had twenty or more documents with snippets of dialogue, half-started scenes, notes from the precinct. Four documents with her name on them. . .
Who was he kidding? She was a detective, trained to notice things. Even drugged to the gills as she'd been, she had noticed the look on his face after his fight with Josh, even though he'd thought he'd done a good job of burying it deep.
And now that he was looking, kate2 was highlighted. Recently opened. Not only had she noticed, but she'd opened it.
Heart pounding now, Rick opened the document to refresh his memory.
He can't get over the stranger in this hospital bed, the way her body moves without her, the way this unfamiliar skin has draped over the frame of the old Kate Beckett. Those are her bones, but this is not her body. It is graceless and unnatural.
But she lives.
Oh, man. Oh, he was dead. Seriously dead. She'd read this? She was going to kill him for this. Descriptions of how terrible she'd looked right after surgery were not the way to win her heart.
Castle rubbed his hand down his face and closed his eyes. As if winning her heart were possible. As if any of these scenes were romantic love letters-
And yet they were. Love letters. Longing and aching in every word. For everything he knew he was losing, everything slipping through his fingers. It was too messed up now, too gnarled and twisted. Like her hair.
Kate kept telling him she needed to cut it, needed to chop it off because it was too hard for her to take care of alone. Castle knew that the day he came home to find it short again was the day she no longer needed him, the day she moved out.
He dreaded it.
Without looking, he used the keyboard shortcuts to quit out of the document, leaned his head back against the wall, stared at the ceiling. It didn't do any good to dwell on it.
He was caught off guard by the sudden touch of her fingers against his ribs. His startled reaction caused her hand to fall, and his tangled fingers came free of her hair to brush her cheek.
He closed the laptop and shifted it to the foot of the bed, then sat back. Kate was struggling to sit up as well; the blank look on her face a clear sign of her pain, her stress.
He just couldn't anymore. He gave in and slipped a hand under her armpit, hauled her upright with as much gentleness as he could manage. She didn't even glare at him, which made him feel worse.
Kate lay against the pillows for a long moment, blinking at nothing, taking shallow breaths. He could feel the rise and fall of her chest as it shook the bed, but he let her lay there, waiting for whatever was coming next.
This was it. This was the end of things, he knew. She'd read this, she was already itching to get out of here, and he didn't have anything left. He kept putting it all out there, his whole heart, and she kept running right over it. With a mack truck.
And while he'd like to think he could prove himself, that he could outlast her stubbornness and her insecurities, he wasn't sure he could.
He was surprised to feel Kate slumping over into him, her cheek against his shoulder.
Castle raised a hesitant hand, brushed her hair back. "Kate?"
"I'm. . .trouble."
"It's no trouble."
He could actually feel her swallow heavily next to him. Her hand came to his thigh, awkwardly, and her thumb traced the seam on the leg of his jeans.
"I'm not. . .worth this, Castle," she said quietly. But her voice held a vein of doubt that he could mine.
"You are to me."
She brushed a hand over her cheek; he couldn't see her, but he wondered if she were leaking tears again. She got so angry when she cried, helpless to the way the drugs made her body disobey her. She didn't sound angry though.
"You should know better," she said finally, curling a knee up slowly to her chest. So slowly. The movement at a snail's pace.
He waited until she had an arm hooked around her knee; he knew it took the pressure off her much-abused abdominal muscles.
"You read them."
She didn't sound embarrassed; she wouldn't be. She felt supremely unconcerned about snooping, probably a hazard of the job. He always found it thrilling, to poke around where he wasn't wanted. Kate, on the other hand, did it as a matter of routine.
"Just the first two," she admitted.
He thought back. "The worst two."
"They were beautiful," she said softly. A little reproach in her voice.
She'd managed to surprise him again. "I never meant for anyone to see them."
"Should I read the other two?"
She was silent beside him for a long time; he wondered if she'd fallen back asleep. He was more than content to sit here, feel her warm and heavy against his arm. Her hand on his thigh was too light, almost nothing.
He laughed and turned his head to look at her. Kate's eyes were closed, but she was definitely awake.
"Sorry, Kate. Not a good idea."
"I think it's a worse idea to only have half the story. Leaves too much to the imagination."
"I don't think you'd like what you'd read."
Castle froze, but his heart seemed to gallop on ahead of him. His mouth was dry as he gazed down the bed at his laptop. "I don't know how to answer that, Kate."
"You've always been honest. Don't stop now."
"Let me be honest then. I don't think *I* could survive you reading them."
For some reason, Kate turned into him, her raised knee crossing his lap, her face buried in his shoulder. Stunned, Castle brought an arm around her shoulders, then sighed as he felt the wetness at his armpit, the soak of her tears.
He wrapped his hand around the back of her thigh and pressed his lips to her temple. Not a kiss, never the kiss he wanted to give, but just the understanding he could offer.
She growled into his chest, a hand clenched in his shirt, her breathing quickening.
"I know, Kate. Just the meds. Don't worry. It'll stop as soon as you can get off them."
"I hate this," she groaned and pulled back enough to rest her forehead against his shoulder.
"You can use my tshirt," he offered, trying to get a laugh out of her. "I already got sprayed with the blender."
She choked on something that might have been the laugh he was looking for. "Blender?"
"Trying to make a fruit smoothie. I guess I didn't put the top on good enough."
She did laugh at that, then lifted her head. "We were having an important conversation."
"About writing? Nah, I don't think it's all that important. In the scheme of things."
"You know that's not what we were talking about."
"That's what *I* was talking about."
She laid her head back down on his shoulder, as if giving up.
Saved. For now. The longer he could delay this moment, the more time he had with her. In limbo, sure, but better than nothing. Better than not having her at all.
"I can do my job without you," she started.
"I don't want to stop-"
"Listen, Castle," she said sternly, squeezing his bicep with her hand. "I can do my job without you. I don't want to, it wouldn't be nearly as fun. But the way things are going-"
"You're kicking me out?"
"It's not me. I'm not even allowed back there yet. Haven't been cleared by IAB. The new. . .Captain. She's the one-"
"You don't want me back." It was amazing how his heart could be both frozen in his chest and pounding wildly. "You agree with her."
Her long silence was his death knell. He'd been avoiding this for so long, putting it off, that somehow he'd thought it had gone away.
She wanted him off the team. And he couldn't bring himself to fight her. Because, honestly, he wasn't entirely certain that he *didn't* put the team in harm's way; he wasn't sure that following around Kate Beckett was the healthiest thing for him.
And he was tired of fighting with his daughter, tired of trying to defend himself to her, defend Kate.
"I'm not worth it, Castle," she said again, as if she could hear his thoughts, and then began to carefully move away from him, sliding her knee down.
"No," he insisted, gripping her thigh to keep her there. "No, not now. You can't do *this* to me too." His arm around her shoulders slipped, hooked around her neck. It let him press his lips against her forehead, brought her closer.
It was an illusion; he knew it. But he needed it to survive.
She stilled; he felt his heart in his throat, thrashing wetly. He felt like he'd throw up, like somehow the nausea she always woke up with had seeped into his skin instead, transferred by their proximity.
He closed his eyes to the gentleness of her voice. Letting him down softly. "No, Kate. Please don't. If I can't. . .can't have you there, I need you here."
She was silent, but she'd stopped moving away. That stupid dodo bird of hope was quacking in his head again, fluttering around like it could fly, making a racket. All for nothing. He'd tried so long to kill it.
He didn't say anything more, just kept her clutched against him, tried to slow his pounding heart, tried to ignore the last ten minutes' terrible conclusion.
"It's not about the books anymore, is it?"
He trembled. Damn it. He was trembling. How ridiculous. What was he supposed to say? Do?
He was in love with her.
And she didn't want to want him.
There it was. Impasse.
"I don't know what to say, Castle."
Nothing. Say nothing. Just let me stay right here.
"I don't know if I can do this."
He closed his eyes. Breathed. He was amazed he could still breathe past the burn in his chest. His hand loosened from her thigh, but he couldn't help stroking the long line of her leg as he removed it. He slid his hips over to the side, cradled her shoulders as he moved away.
Her fist clutched in his shirt; he reached down and gently untangled her fingers, one by one. He laid her back down on the pillows, slid his arm out from under her shoulders.
He straightened up.
Her arm was out, stretched across the warm space he'd left. Her eyes were on him; he couldn't, wouldn't look at them.
This was it. He'd left it as long as he possibly could, but she'd forced the issue. His writing had forced the issue. The thing that threw them together had also split them apart.
He turned to the door.
There was need in her voice, but he didn't stop. He couldn't stop. If he stayed, he'd break down.
"Wait. I can't come after you, damn it. Stop."
Soup. He had soup for her downstairs. He'd reheat it and come back upstairs, newly put back together again, able to take it when she dealt the final blow.
And yet he kept still, his back to her, his hands clenched in fists. Because she'd asked him to wait. And he couldn't refuse her.
"I didn't. . .I just. . .I had to be honest, as you've been honest."
Was this an apology for breaking his heart, for destroying him, time and again? He shuffled forward, hand to the door knob-
"No. No, please. Castle-"
He heard her cursing behind him, the crack of something hitting the floor. He turned, involuntarily, and saw her on her knees on the floor, her forehead against the side of the bed, eyes closed in pain.
He headed back to her, scooped an arm under her knees, brought her up on the bed again. "What'd you do that for, Kate?"
"You were leaving-"
"I can't do this, Kate. Don't make me do this." Castle slide his arms out from under her, sank down to his haunches beside the bed, wrapped his hand over his eyes, tried to breathe. He was going to throw up.
"Castle, you ididot," she muttered. He felt her hand hooking around his arm, tugging him forward. "I don't want you to leave. I don't want you to leave here *or* there. And now you've made me sound like a damn Dr. Seuss book."
A hysterical laugh broke out of his mouth and he looked up at her in confusion. "What?"
"Stay. Just stay. Let me be selfish, Castle, and have you here, or there, or anywhere. I'm damned for it, I'm going to ruin you, I'm might even get you killed. But I can't. . .Please. Just stay."
Have you here. It was all he had heard. "Have me?"
Had his voice just cracked?
She was too put out with him to notice, it seemed, because she struggled again with his arm, tried to pull him closer. So he crawled back up on the bed, moving over her to get to the other side, and then dropped down behind her, exhausted.
She was breathing hard; sweat had broken out along her hairline. The fall off the bed had cost her, but she wouldn't say what. Castle curled his arm loosely over her waist, but she was already turning into him, reclaiming her earlier position. His hand went back to her thigh; she was tense against him.
"Do I have you?" she whispered.
"You never lost me."
She gave a shaky sigh and smoothed her hand out; her palm slid under the collar of his tshirt, brushed his clavicle. "Good. Good. That's. . .as far as I've been able to get."
"I know," he sighed back.
It would have to be enough.