Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Castle, just the thoughts in my head.
Summary: This wasn't one of his books and they couldn't predict the ending, but that didn't mean their story wasn't open for revisions.
Spoilers: Setup, Countdown and really anything before that.
Author's Notes:While far from my first fanfiction, this is my first foray into the world of Castle. They apparently bring out the hopeless romantic in me. This is the longest and most overtly romantic one-shot I've ever done. It picks up from the end of Countdown and spirals out of canon from there. Not eactly timely, I know, but I thought it would be a nice interlude before the new season starts on Monday. I hope you agree. Do let me know what you think.
As always, this is dedicated to my best friend and beta, Joy, the Toby to my Sam and the one person I trust to tear into anything I write. Thanks for making going through edits so much fun.
"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart" ~ Woodsworth
The rhythmic sweep of the windshield wipers, punctuated by the occasional roar of the high-performance engine, cut through the silence of the car's interior, affording the only soundtrack to his journey away from Manhattan, away from her. Castle sighed as he squinted into the murky darkness, easing back on the throttle just enough to coax the Ferrari off of the Parkway and onto the old Montauk Highway.
Of course it was raining.
Wasn't it always raining in those chick flicks when the leads reach some sort of romantic impasse and he sullenly drives off into the sodden night, while she watches the same rain as she pines from her window? Rick snorted at the image; this was no romantic comedy, and while he might have been playing the role of the brooding, but lovable, male lead, Detective Kate Beckett was most definitely not yearning for him while she gazed longingly out over the Manhattan skyline.
No, this wasn't a movie; it was déjà vu. He was right back where he'd started last May, retreating to the Hamptons to nurse his wounds and leaving his partner in the arms of a man who clearly didn't deserve her.
Despite his mood, an irrepressible smile tugged at his lips as Rick settled back against the plush leather seat, rolling the word around in his head, testing the weight. He liked the fit. While his stint with the NYPD may have started as a way to get inside his new character's head and, if he'd played his cards right, also her bed, Castle had to admit that his motives had transformed pretty quickly. They grew, much like he had these last few years, shifting and changing with each new day spent at her side, with each new case they solved together. Now, try as he might, the trappings of his old life would no longer fit. Somewhere along the way, his millionaire playboy, best-selling author shell had cracked, revealing the friend, colleague, father, son … partner within. Like someone coaxing a butterfly out of its cocoon, Kate had patiently drawn his better self into the light to bask in the warmth of her smile. His current situation notwithstanding, Rick had no intention of leaving his place within her orbit anytime soon.
They say that nothing puts the important things in your life into sharper focus than nearly dying. Well, after facing down his own death twice—three times if you count the radiation scare—in the last twenty-found hours, Castle's vision had never been clearer and he had no trouble seeing what he wanted.
'Thank you, Castle, for being there.'
Beckett's whispered words, nearly lost in the frost-laden air of the freezer, had been a warm balm to his heart, beating back the paralyzing numbness just a little longer. For one blinding moment, heat had suffused his limbs as he'd tightened his hold as best he could, breathing back the only promise he knew he could keep.
Until recently, it had been a pledge he'd reserved for his daughter. Aside from Alexis, the concept of forever had been something for romance novels, a genre Castle had no experience with. Even his time with his second ex-wife, both times in fact, had been coloured with the understanding, at least on his side, that it wouldn't last. Nothing ever had, not until Beckett had crashed his book launch, hauled his ass in for questioning and changed his life forever.
It wasn't love at first sight—okay maybe it was lust at first sight—real life just didn't work that way: but from the moment he'd locked eyes with her across the interrogation room table, Detective Katherine Beckett had stirred something deep within him that he thought he'd buried a long time ago.
Castle had been captivated by her haunting beauty, a stunning contrast against the darkness she dealt with everyday, and fascinated by the tragic story he'd caught glimpses of within the depths of her eyes. He'd been high on the thrill of discovery those first few weeks, his heart racing with gleeful anticipation every time he peeled back a new layer of the 'Beckett Onion', as she mockingly liked to call it. However, the deeper he dug, the more entrenched he became. Soon, Rick was seeking answers to questions like, 'What made Beckett smile?', 'What would make her happy?' His quest for the latter had nearly shattered their fragile friendship, but then much to his surprise, she'd given him a second chance. At present, Castle was on chance number three, and while it seemed that the bond between them had grown so strong neither could pull very far away anymore, he wasn't going to risk screwing this up.
'So why do you keep coming back, Rick?'
When Beckett had cornered him with that question in her apartment a few months ago, he'd faltered, his heart hammering in his chest as he tried to find an acceptable response, one they were ready to hear. Rick had been skirting the answer for quite some time, coming closest to admitting the truth when he'd confirmed his mother's suspicions that research for his books had long since stopped being the reason he came running to Beckett's side as soon as she called. He could tell himself that it was the satisfaction of solving a new puzzle that brought justice to victims and closure to families. It would at least be partly true, but he wasn't fooling anyone, not even himself anymore.
Rick wasn't entirely sure it was love that he was feeling now. He just knew that as he'd watched the clock on that bomb tick its way down to zero and certain annihilation, he would have given up his entire fortune if it could've bought him one more second with her.
So why, after they'd cheated death twice, was he putting over a hundred miles between them? Rick sighed; as much as he would've liked to have ended this ordeal of a day by reaffirming their lives and finally closing the last few millimetres of distance between them, she wasn't ready. Doctors Without Borders Boyfriend had realized just how lucky he was and had come back. In fact, Kate was probably warming herself back up with Dr. Motorcycle Boy at this very moment and as much as Castle wanted to be the guy with whom she dove into things, he was not about to upset the already delicate balance that was her happiness.
No, it wasn't a movie and it wasn't one of his books, either. Besides, even if it was, he'd done all the edits he could. Any further rewrites were up to her.
The steady patter of raindrops against the loft windows blended with the low hum of the television into a tapestry of white noise that drew her closer and closer to the edge of sleep. Wrapped in the cocoon of a heavy quilt and her boyfriend's arms, Kate's attention drifted from the images on the screen to the soothing rhythm of the rain outside. It seemed a fitting end to the day, letting the world wash away the stain of the horror it only narrowly avoided.
A heavy shudder raced down her spine as the reminder of just how close to catastrophe they'd come edged its way back into her consciousness.
"You still cold, Babe?"
A belly full of take-out and the bone-deep fatigue that came from the exhaustion of her adrenaline reserves left Kate sluggish, and her mind took its own sweet time to catch up with Josh's question.
He tightened his arms in response, brushing his hands up and down her sides in an effort to stave off the tremors that still wracked her body at random intervals.
"You were just on the edge of severe hypothermia, Kate. It's probably going to be a while before you feel completely warm again."
"''m fine," she muttered distractedly, burrowing deeper into his embrace, letting him assume that it was the after-effects of being locked in a deep-freeze that had left her body a shivering mess. After all, she couldn't tell him the true source of her disquiet.
Their near miss would never hit the news and they'd been sworn into silence. Kate could never tell him just how close they'd come to being ground zero of an attack unlike the US had ever seen. She couldn't tell him that less than three hours ago, she'd watched her life tick away in the red digital read-out of some misguided patriot's attempt at a wake-up call. She couldn't tell him that as she'd clutched Castle's hand and found peace within her partner's gaze in those last few precious moments, her boyfriend had never even crossed her mind.
Kate's eyes trailed up to the shutters that concealed the makeshift murder board detailing her mother's case. There were a lot of things she couldn't tell him.
Every time she tried to picture the conversation, her mind balked, unable to conjure up his reaction. Would his eyes cloud with anger that she had kept this from him, or worse, pity? She honestly couldn't even begin to guess. Kate had no experience to go on. Her time with Josh had always been about escaping work and the darker corners of her mind, about reconnecting with Kate, the woman.
However, it was becoming increasingly apparent that the lines which had once so clearly delineated Kate from Detective Beckett were barely visible now. Where she used to take comfort in the separation of her work and personal lives, she now felt stuck with Josh. She'd long since lost sight of the road back to the place where she could just be 'Kate'; but she was afraid to tear down the last vestiges of her walls, of revealing the pieces of her soul she'd always kept in shadow out of fear that he might not be able to handle what she revealed.
She'd told Castle once that all she really wanted was someone she could dive into things with. It was only now, as Josh's fingers drew what she assumed were intended to be soothing patterns along her spine, that Kate was beginning to truly understand what she'd meant.
Josh may have sacrificed a part of who he was to try and make 'them' work, but she wasn't sure if she was willing to do the same for him. Kate knew it was selfish, but all she really wanted was someone she could feel safe enough with to lift the veil a little, who would push through the darkness and see the woman within. Someone she could just be herself with, all of herself.
'Someone like Castle.'
Apparently her inner voice was starting to sound like Lanie.
Richard Castle just couldn't stay behind the lines. Until he'd weaseled his way into her life, Kate had mastered the art of compartmentalization. Everything and everyone had their place and she'd liked it that way, or so she had thought.
Then she had suddenly found her favourite author attached to her hip. Within moments of their pairing, he'd begun systematically tearing down the walls she'd worked so long to build. Instinctively, she'd fought back, hard, resisting as best as she could, determined not to give him the parts of herself that she kept so close to her vest. Still, bit by bit, Castle had edged his way in, shaving off one tiny part of her heart at a time, but then he'd truly surprised her. Instead of coveting each new discovery like some hard-won trophy, Castle had cherished each piece of herself that she'd relinquished, tucking them deep into his soul along with those he held most dear. It had been the last thing she'd expected, and the effect had been profound. Soon, she had found herself wanting to share, grateful for the help in shouldering a burden that she had only recently found too heavy to carry alone.
"Where'd you go, Kate?"
Josh's voice cut through the fog of her mind with the cold efficiency of one of his scalpels.
"Hmm?" she mumbled, less in the mood to talk than she had been all evening.
Her boyfriend shifted, trying to capture her gaze, but her hair effectively shielded her from his inquiring eyes.
"You're a million miles away, Kate. What are you thinking about?"
After years of training to perfect her interrogation technique, Kate thought she had mastered the ability to mute her body's reactions. Unfortunately, said body decided to rebel and her spine went rigid as she scrambled for an answer that wouldn't lead to more questions. She took too long, however, and his next question stopped her cold.
"Or should I ask who are you thinking about?"
Kate ducked her head even deeper into her chest, her heart breaking as she felt him ease his body away from hers.
"Josh…" she whispered, well aware of the conversation that needed to happen next, but completely clueless as to where to start.
He'd stayed home for her, but now the distance between them was insurmountable.
It was getting late, but Rick wasn't all that surprised to find a light burning in the living room window as he pulled the car up to the summer house. He'd phoned Alexis earlier, needing to hear his daughter's voice and let her know that everything was fine. He hadn't intended to come out and join them in the Hamptons, but the loft had been too cold and too quiet. He kept replaying the day, the fear, the frustration, the flash of something real that had arced between him and Kate as they'd faced down certain doom. Rick had found his finger hovering over her name in his iPhone, so he'd reached for his car keys instead.
As he was nearly bowled over by the full-body hug from the red-headed hurricane that was Alexis Castle, Rick was glad he'd come.
"Whoa," he gasped, steadying himself as he absorbed her momentum. "To what do I owe such an enthusiastic welcome?"
Alexis finally eased her grasp on her father, pulling back just enough to fix him with a look that took his breath away. The mix of relief, residual terror and love threatened to swell his heart to painful proportions.
"Oh, Baby," he murmured, pulling her back tightly into his chest as a sob broke from her lips. "It's okay, Sweetheart, we're all okay," he whispered, dropping a kiss to the top of her head.
"I was so worried, Dad." Her voice was muffled by his jacket. "After you called, Gram was so relieved. I think she's gone to bed now, but I just can't stop thinking. I just had all these images, y'know? Like, what if something had happened to you or Detective Beckett?"
Castle couldn't help but stiffen at the mention of Kate's name.
Alexis loosened her hold and gazed up at him, her brow creased in concern. "Oh God, did something happen to Beckett?"
Realising just how worried she was, Rick was quick to ease her anxiety. "No, Honey," he replied, extricating himself from her arms. "Kate's fine; we're all fine. I'm sure she's home, safe and sound and Josh is taking good care of her."
He ducked around Alexis and made a bee-line for the kitchen, careful to avoid her gaze. He knew that if she could see his face, she'd read right through his mask of nonchalance and this conversation would suddenly become a lot harder. Unfortunately, he just couldn't keep the edge out of his voice and she pounced on it.
"Except that you'd rather be the one doing the caring." Trust his daughter to cut straight through to the heart of his problems.
Castle turned back to her and leaned heavily against the edge of the counter, heaving out a weary sigh. He was suddenly exhausted. "It's complicated."
Alexis merely arched an eyebrow in response. "Dad, it's been complicated since the day you met her. That's not what's bothering you."
Rick flashed her a fiery glare of frustration before remembering who he was dealing with.
Alexis approached her father cautiously, unsure of her footing for the first time that she could remember. While it was often joked that she was the true parent in this relationship, her dad had always been her rock, equally quick with a ridiculous joke or a supportive hug, and seeing him so lost was more than a little unsettling. Easing herself into place beside him, she cautiously ran her fingertips over his larger hand, drawing his gaze to hers. The storm of emotions roiling within their blue depths sent icy tendrils through her veins.
Slipping her fingers around his she squeezed tightly. "What happened out there today?"
Silence hung like a fog over the apartment, muting even the persistent patter of the rain outside. Kate sat on her couch, head in her hands, trying to piece together the chain of events that had led her to this point. Forty-eight hours ago, she would've never imagined that she would find herself still recovering from mild hypothermia and a touch of PTSD, newly single and fighting with everything in her being not to go and knock on Castle's door.
'I'm not the one you want, Kate. I'm not sure I ever was.'
She'd wanted to argue with Josh, wanted to tell him that he was being paranoid, that she was in this as much as he was, but it would've been a lie. If she had learned anything from the ordeal of the last few days, it was that life was too short to waste time lying.
In the end, the break-up had been surprisingly painless. He had done most of the work, cutting through the crap that had built between them with a surgeon's precision. It wasn't completely without drama, however. Josh had hurled accusations that she had been using him as a substitute and she'd charged that she'd been nothing more than a booty call between missions. When the dust had settled, the cord between them had stretched so thin that it had been easy to snap.
Now, she was free, and the realization scared the hell out of her. Free to do what, exactly? She knew that the sensible thing to do would be to pick up the frayed ends of her life and figure out who she was without Josh. The problem, however, was that she already knew. It was hard to admit, but for as long as she'd been with Josh, Kate had never really been with him. Josh had never managed to come close to touching her heart. She'd never given him the chance, but then you couldn't give your heart to someone when it already apparently to belong to someone else.
'I never told you how much I love you.'
It felt like trying to recapture the threads of a dream, but Kate was sure those words had tumbled from her frozen lips before the world had gone dark. Had she imagined it and if not, had Castle heard her?
The better question was did she mean it? On the surface, yes, she did love Richard Castle. The man who had started out as an annoying gnat, ceaselessly buzzing around her, had evolved into a trusted friend and partner, and despite all her efforts to the contrary, she did love him for it. But did she love him, love him?
As icy darkness had crowded her mind, her memories going dark, one by one, like theatre lights, Kate had clung tightly to one word, two syllables shining through the fog, keeping her tethered to this world.
He'd said it more than once, and the weight of the word each time settled solidly over her heart. It was a word she had never expected him to say, let alone mean, when she'd first met him, but time after time, Castle had shown her just how seriously he took his promise. No matter how hard or how far she tried to push him away, Castle just kept coming back, edging closer every time, equally prepared to face down her demons or the latest horror New York's underbelly had decided to throw at them.
"I've gotten used to you pulling my pigtails."
Kate was more than used to him; she'd come to rely on him, and the realization was just this side of terrifying. Somewhere in the last few years, his presence at her side had become the one constant in her life and she'd nearly lost that today. They'd nearly lost each other.
"A sign from the universe," she whispered, unable to stifle the wistful smile that tugged at her lips. There were only so many times one could brush up against the edges of death before realizing just what was important in life.
'You don't want to let the universe down?'
A watery laugh slipped from her throat as Lanie's voice in her head was supplanted by that of a certain famous novelist.
She needed to see him … now.
The urge gripped her suddenly, yanking on the choke chain around her heart and dragging her to her feet. A glance at the clock confirmed that despite the early gloom of the evening rain, it wasn't overly late. She felt lightheaded and just a little unhinged, but before she could talk herself out of it, Kate snatched up her keys and rushed out the door.
Alexis surreptitiously swiped at the tears threatening to break free from her lashes. They'd migrated to the couch in the sunroom and as her dad had woven his tale of the last 48 hours, she'd never been so grateful for the solid warmth of his chest behind her.
She'd almost lost him today. She'd almost lost both of them.
He'd left out large swaths of details claiming the protection of national security, but Alexis had learned a long time ago how to read between the lines. Somehow, and in some way, he and Detective Beckett had faced down their deaths today, twice if you counted the freezer incident from this morning. While the understanding of what she'd almost lost was horrifying enough for her, it was obvious that it had shaken her father to his core.
The man in question sighed heavily, her body rising and falling with his breath.
"Y'know how they say your life flashes before your eyes?" he asked.
Alexis hummed in acknowledgement, craning her head to take in his face. She'd never seen him look so haunted. His eyes were glassy, distant, and she was certain that whatever had happened this afternoon was playing out in front of him. Carefully, she slid her palm into his and it diverted his attention. He held their joined hands up, regarding them thoughtfully.
"She did that then, you know," her dad mused, squeezing Alexis' hand, his original thought derailed for a moment. After a few beats, he refocused and continued. "We had a couple of seconds before … and I thought I'd have panicked, but all I could think was 'I need more time.'"
Alexis bit back a gasp as she put the pieces together, the picture of what he wasn't telling her becoming suddenly much clearer. A tear finally broke free, sliding a cool trail down her cheek, but she didn't turn away, knowing he still had more to say.
"I got my wish," he said at last, a rueful smile tugging at his lips. "I've got time now, but to do what? She still goes home with Dr. Motorcycle Boy and I'm just the guy who-" Her dad's ever-running mind stalled, seeming to stumble over the words that that just wouldn't leave his lips. Even now, after everything they'd apparently been through, he still couldn't put a name to the feelings that were so clearly spelled out on his face. He seemed afraid to put it out there, like if he did, it would become somehow more fragile than it already was.
His daughter, however, had no such qualms and frankly, she was getting tired of dancing around the subject; she finished the thought for him.
"You're just the guy who loves her."
His body deflated beneath her, as though finally giving voice to the truth released some unbearable pressure in his heart.
"Yeah," he answered heavily, pulling his arm from around her shoulders to run a tired hand through his hair. "I guess subtlety has never been my strong suit." A mirthless laugh escaped his throat in a puff of air across the top of her head. "I think she's the only one who can't see it, or maybe, she doesn't wanna see it. Either way, it's obvious that the sentiment isn't mutual." He still carefully avoided using the 'L' word.
Alexis' heart actually hurt at the defeat that laced her father's tone before his words settled into her mind and her analytical side kicked in. She lapsed into silence as her dad absently threaded his fingers through her hair, the rhythm calming, allowing her to focus her thoughts and flip through nearly three years of memories, replaying every interaction she'd ever witnessed between Detective Beckett and her dad. She just couldn't believe that her father's feelings were a one-way street.
She was still preparing her rebuttal when he seemed to come back to himself with a gasp. "God, I'm sorry, Sweetheart," he said, carefully extricating himself from between her and the couch. "I should never have dumped all this on you."
Alexis opened her mouth to protest, but he was already on the move, putting as much distance between them as possible.
"You should get some sleep, Honey, it's getting late."
Brows furrowed, she launched herself from the couch, trailing after him as he snatched up his coat from the back of a nearby chair and headed for the patio doors that opened out onto the veranda.
"What about you, Dad?" she called after him, stilling his hand on the doorknob. She knew better than to try and force the subject back to the source of his uneasiness, but she didn't feel right leaving him alone.
He threw a smile over his shoulder that didn't come even close to his eyes. "I'll be fine. I'm just going to get a bit of air. I'll be right behind you."
He was out the door before she could formulate another word, disappearing into the darkness that shrouded the yard beyond the reach of the windows. Sighing, Alexis let him go, knowing there was nothing more she could do.
Without her father to focus on, the last of Alexis' adrenaline reserves leeched from her body, leaving her limbs weak and her head heavy. It was definitely time to get some rest. Rounding the breakfast bar, the teen ran her hand along the marble countertop, absently holding herself upright until her fingers brushed along the cool metal and glass of her cell, stalling her retreat. Cradling the device in her palm, she wondered. The numbers 10:12 glowed up from its face - not all that late, especially by cop standards. Scrolling through her contacts, Alexis hesitated over Kate Beckett's name.
She and the detective weren't exactly close, but watching her dad's life become ever more entangled with his muse, Alexis had found herself wanting to connect with the woman, wanting to understand Beckett and to let Kate know her. She'd never really had much for female role models in her life. Her dad had never brought any of his girlfriends home, but Katherine Beckett had been slowly filling in the spaces in their little family unit these last few years and Alexis just wanted to bridge the gap. Maybe this was her chance. Near death experiences were as good as an excuse as any to send someone a text message, right? Besides, Detective Beckett would probably want to know that her dad was still having trouble dealing with what they'd been through, and there was no one better suited to dragging him out of his mood.
Resolved in her mission, Alexis tapped on the screen and started typing.
The universe, apparently, had a warped sense of humour.
Kate breathed out on a sigh as she pitched forward and pressed her forehead against the cool wood of the door to Castle's loft.
'I wish this were one of your books, Castle, and you could re-write the ending.'
Kate bit back a laugh; despite his insistences to the contrary, her life what not like a novel. If it was, she wouldn't have driven halfway across Manhattan after breaking up with her boyfriend, still shaken from too many brushes with her own mortality, in a desperate bid to see the one man who could help her make it all make sense … only to find him not home.
The laugh escaped this time, falling flat in the empty hallway as she turned and leaned back against the door. Of course he wasn't home. Castle didn't brood; that was her M.O. He was probably out celebrating his new lease on life at the Old Haunt or with the boys or…. Kate's heart clenched painfully as she shut down that train of thought before it could reach its logical conclusion.
The memory of him walking away with his arm slung around his ex-wife's shoulders materialized before her, taunting her with the possibilities. This time, Kate wasn't sure she could handle history repeating itself. However, muse or not, she technically held no claim over him. As far as he was concerned, she was still with Josh and he was free to do whatever he wanted with whomever he wanted.
Still, the look in his eyes back at the precinct had dared her to hope, something she'd been doing, despite her best efforts, for a lot longer than she would be willing to admit.
'You know, I was thinking…'
Heart thrumming with adrenaline and the giddy elation of having had her life snatched from the jaws of destruction, she'd been ready for it, ready for whatever words he'd been planning to end the emotional stalemate they'd been living in for months. She'd been ready to move forward, ready to stop fighting and just let go. It was that rush that led her here tonight, like a homing pigeon drawn inexorably to its roost.
Now that her brain had caught up to her heart and the flutter in her chest had evaporated, Kate felt ridiculous. Until three hours ago, she'd had a boyfriend. She and Castle were just partners and even that, sometimes, was up for debate. He was probably out indulging in one of his deep-fried twinkies of a girlfriend, and she needed to go home and get her head on straight.
Kate shook off her thoughts like water droplets before pushing up from the door and retracing her steps to the elevators, determined to put Richard Castle out of her mind and start rebuilding the walls that had held her together for the better part of the last ten years.
The sudden vibration against her thigh as her finger connected with the elevator call button startled her into stillness.
It couldn't be.
Sinking her teeth into her lower lip, Kate thrust her hand into her pocket and dragged out the phone like she was ripping a bandage off a fresh wound. The breath she'd been holding rushed out in a whoosh as her brain registered the ID on the screen.
It wasn't him.
It was his daughter.
A faint wisp of fear wove its way up her spine as her thumb hovered over the icon that would open the message. Alexis didn't text her often and when she did, it was usually something related to her dad. Any other day, Kate would've smiled at the knowledge that this young woman trusted her enough to seek her council, but tonight, still shaken and brittle, the detective couldn't help but let her mind head straight to worst case scenarios.
Sucking in a breath, she clicked open the message.
'R U OK, Kate? Dad's still pretty freaked.'
The air rushed from her lungs, taking with it the crap she'd been feeding herself about her famous shadow. The picture she'd been trying to paint of Castle, the irresponsible, arrogant playboy was bullshit and she knew it. That man had disappeared a long time ago, replaced by the one who rushed home to his daughter after a particularly bad scare, who made her pancakes and camped out on her couch to 'protect' her from a killer, who refused to leave her side even when they waded into waters too deep for his lack of training, who followed her stoically into the jaws of death, whispering the vow of 'always' and making her believe it. The thrumming within her ribcage was back, reaching painful levels that had nothing to do with adrenaline.
The soft 'ding' of the arriving elevator snapped her into action, crystallizing her focus. Tapping the 'reply' button, Kate stepped into the waiting car, mentally calculating drive times. Her message complete, she sent off her query to Alexis, a gentle smile tugging at her lips, her eyes dark with determination.
As the doors slipped closed, she muttered to herself, "I respect the universe."
The rush of the waves lapping against the shore gently rocked his senses, taunting him with the promise of sleep if he would just let himself go. The freshly-washed grass rustled in the light breeze that swept what was left of the clouds off of the waxing moon.
Castle drank deeply from the well of fresh air and tranquility, trying desperately to ease the turmoil that still plagued his heart and mind.
He couldn't stop thinking about her, torturing himself by replaying their last moments in the precinct over and over, rewriting the ending, editing out Josh's arrival and playing through the scene he'd hoped for when he'd been about the suggest that they get out of there and take advantage of their new lease on life. He'd had no solid plan at the time, but over the last few hours, Castle had built elaborate scenarios, each ending with him making her understand just how serious he was when he'd promised her 'always'.
The cold had been urging him indoors for a while now, icy needles working their way up his spine, fighting for his attention. He welcomed the cold, however, letting the chill remind him of how close he'd come to losing her, locked in that freezer, their bodies pressed together for whatever warmth they could salvage.
'I never told you how much I l-'
He knew he'd never hear her say the words that had been on the tip of her tongue that moment in anything other than a life or death situation, but he didn't need to. He knew she felt it by the way she'd clung to him as her mouth had descended over his one night in a grimy alley with a thug bearing down on them. Sighing, Rick raked his fingers through his hair, remembering the path hers had taken that night, only a few months ago, when the kiss that had started out a cover had become so much more. He could still feel her pressed against him, her body taut with anticipation, the force of her lips breaching what was left of the walls around his heart, spilling out everything he felt into the kiss. The memory had melded with his imagination, colouring his scenes with her unmistakable scent and taste.
Castle shook his head in disgust. He'd be relegated to writing Harlequin Romances if he didn't pull himself out of this maudlin fog. Pushing himself up off the rock he'd settled on after wandering aimlessly up and down the beach, he stretched out his overused muscles, biting back a groan at a few unexpected cracks and pops. Closing his eyes, Castle turned his face into the wind, letting the breeze brush away the cobwebs in his mind before turning and starting up the path to the house.
She had to have to wrong address.
There was no way this three-story period mansion with multi-level wraparound decks and a roof dotted with dormers and massive brick chimneys belonged to Richard Castle. It was such a departure from the clean, modern lines of the loft that she was sure that someone would show up at any moment to drive her from the property.
However, Castle's Ferrari stood in the large roundabout driveway and the windows seemed to glow in welcome.
'He's out back. Follow the lights.'
Kate glanced one more time at Alexis' last text before getting out of the car. The air was crisp, fresh with the scent of wet leaves and salt, and she took a moment to suck it into her lungs, hoping it might ease some of her disquiet.
She was really here, in the Hamptons, at Castle's house, following her heart and her 'sign from the universe' for the first time that she could remember, driven by this need to see him that just wouldn't go away. Now, however, as she scanned the grounds, spotting a row of patio lights that led around the back of the house towards the beach, the fear that had held her back a year ago, when he'd invited her up for a weekend, blossomed in her chest. Panic edged up the back of her throat, shortening her breath.
Could she really do this? She'd told Castle that she'd wanted to dive in, but what if the pool wasn't deep enough? What if Castle couldn't be everything she needed?
'He already is.'
It was the truth; she was only now willing to admit it. Sometime, when she wasn't looking, he'd become her everything: her friend, her confidant, her biggest fan … her partner, in just about every sense of the word. Kate's heart swelled almost painfully at the realization, but it was a good pain. It was pain that reminded her she was alive and he was alive, and that she should damn well stop wasting time. Tightening the belt around her coat, Kate set off around the house, and along the path to the sea.
He spotted her long before he got back to the house. Her statuesque profile was unmistakable, starkly backlit by the house lights, reminding him of one of his Nikki Heat dust jackets. He just didn't believe was he was seeing. She had to be a product of his overworked mind and desperate heart because Kate Beckett was back in Manhattan getting reacquainted with her boyfriend, not standing by his pool looking vaguely lost and uncertain.
Digging his knuckles into his eyelids, Castle rubbed out the grit borne of more than 48-hours without sleep, blinking a few times to refocus.
She was still there and she was beautiful, looking incongruously tiny in a pair of sensible flats, her hands stuffed into the pockets of her peacoat. She watched him warily, eyes liquid in the patio lights reflecting off the fish pond he'd had built when Alexis was little and had planned to grow up to be a marine biologist. Every muscle in Kate's body was strung tight, legs ready to bolt at the slightest provocation. Castle was almost afraid to approach her, but when he finally managed to snag her gaze, the maelstrom of fear, determination and hope he found in her chocolate depths knocked him back on his heels and tugged solidly at something deep within his chest.
Edging closer, Castle had to consciously force himself to stop before he covered the last few feet between them. He ached to crush her into his body like he had that afternoon and beat back the chill that he hadn't been able to shake since he'd left her side.
Instead, he broke the heavy silence that had settled over them like a blanket with a rough-edged, "Hey."
The hint of a smile tugged at her lips and she forced herself to hold his gaze. "Hey, Castle."
His mind was a jumble of questions, piling one on top of each other as he tried to sort through to what he really wanted to know. However, all he could manage to ask was, "How did you find me?"
She arched an eyebrow and he caught a glimpse of Beckett for the first time since this woman he barely recognized had materialized in his backyard.
"I am a detective, Castle."
There was no way he was leaving it at that. Cautiously eating up the distance between them one inch at a time, he angled his head, assessing, looking for the chink in her armour, waiting for her to crack. It didn't take long. Beckett slipped away, leaving Kate looking more vulnerable than he could ever remember.
Sighing, she continued, dropping her gaze to her feet. "Your daughter gives good directions."
Rick's heart sank. Had he really seemed so pathetic that his daughter had decided to step in on his behalf? Had Alexis dragged Kate from her boyfriend's arms out of some misguided hope that the detective might be able to haul him out of the darkness that had been choking him since the adrenaline had worn off and he'd found himself alone with this thoughts. Sure, Kate was probably the only person who could, but he'd rather flounder in isolation than have her pull him up onto dry land out of some sense of duty.
Her fingers ghosted across his cheek, her hand dropping back to her side before he'd snapped out of his thoughts and noticed that she'd erased the remaining space between them. His disquiet must have been etched across his face, because she ducked her head to snag his gaze and in one swift move both killed his fears and opened up a whole new line of questions.
"Alexis didn't ask me to come, Castle," she whispered with startling intensity. "I was already at the loft."
Kate held her breath as she willed his ever-whirring mind to piece together what she wasn't saying, what she wasn't ready to say. The fire that flared behind his eyes when her words clicked in his brain was like lightning, flashing across the darkness and triggering an answering thunder within her heart. Still, she knew what his next question would be and he didn't disappoint. Castle's brows furrowed and the fire was replaced with an earnest concern that left her wanting to burrow herself into his arms and never come out.
"I imagine he's probably at home," she replied, knowing he was an expert of reading between the lines.
His brows shot up into his hairline and the fire was back, burning brightly, melting the ice that had settled in her veins since last night and drawing her deeper into the warmth of his body. She raised a tentative hand to his chest, fingers tracing the lapels of his jacket and dropping her eyes level with the column of his throat as the courage that had propelled her this far vanished in the face of finally putting her heart on the line.
The fingers that trailed along the curve of her elbow, however, gave her the strength to make that last leap.
"You know, Castle, almost dying-"
The shudder that racked his body with her words derailed her train of thought. Instinctively, she sought to comfort him, sliding her hands up the rough material of his coat to cup the cool skin of his cheeks.
The gaze that locked with hers was so full of heartfelt pain and repressed desire that Kate couldn't help the bubble of desperate laughter that escaped her throat. Overwhelmed, she leaned her full weight into him, tucking her head under his chin. He kept his arms to his side, but she could feel his body yielding, inviting her closer still.
"God, Castle, this is so clichéd, but after everything we've been through … it's like my life has been distilled down to what really matters." Another watery laugh broke across her lips. "This afternoon in the street, all I could think was 'I need more time.'"
A gasp tore from Castle's lips as his words from earlier echoed in the still night air. His heart screamed, 'me too!' but he pressed his fists into his thighs, fighting the nearly overwhelming urge to wrap her up in his arms and never let go. Fear kept him in check; afraid that if he moved too soon, he'd snap them out of whatever spell held them in its thrall. Biting the inside of his cheek to keep himself focused, Rick willed her to continue.
Kate fought to keep herself together. The terror, despair, desperation and hope of the last few days heaped one on top of the other, threatening to crush her with their combined weight. Taking a deep, steadying breath, she nuzzled her cheek into the wool of his coat, searching for the right words.
"I needed more time because I'd realized that I still had so much left to do, that what I had in my life wasn't what I truly wanted."
Her head rose sharply with his sudden intake of breath before his whispered words ghosted over the top of her head.
"And what is it you want, Kate?"
She couldn't meet his gaze, not if she wanted to get words past her lips. Burrowing deeper into his coat, she whispered one word.
Silence enveloped them. She'd never known Castle to be so still; she was beginning to wonder if he was even breathing. Doubts poured into the silence, crowding out all other thought, tripping her heart rate to an unbearable level. Pulling away, she began to backpedal.
"I mean, I as a partner, a friend, a-"
Her struggle was silenced by his lips slanting over hers. Castle's hands dove into her hair, pulling her closer as he found an angle that drew her deeper into the kiss, his tongue plunging into her mouth, blowing away any remaining thought like a hot summer wind. Shaking off the shock of the sudden onslaught, Kate sunk into his embrace, sliding her fingers behind his ears and pulling him closer still. It felt strangely like coming home.
He was going to spontaneously combust. Her lips trailed fire in their wake as she traced a warm wet line up behind his ear before returning to fuse her mouth solidly again with his. Castle drank deeply, teeth rasping over her bottom lip before soothing the spot with his tongue, drawing a familiar whimper from the depths of her chest. An answering shudder rumbled through his body and he slipped a hand to the small of her back, pressing her tightly to his core. He was done hiding, done sublimating his need for the woman in his arms.
She broke from his lips on a gasp, his name dragged from her throat, a warm wave breaking against his open mouth. Opening his eyes, he was pinned by her gaze, hot, but still haunted, reminding him just how precarious this new balance point was, a solid warning tug on his reins that he knew he must heed. Leaning in, Castle captured her lips once more, gently this time, easing them both down from the dizzying heights of arousal, content in the knowledge that there would be time to fan the flames later, when they had more solid footing with each other.
She let him lead for once, running her fingers over the shell of his ears before dropping them to steady herself against his chest. Drawing away slowly, Kate ducked her head, pressing her forehead into his cheek, her heart threatening to beat its way out of her chest.
This was real; there was no brushing this off, no running, no turning back.
His hand settled at the nape of her neck, fingers threading soothing patterns through the shorter curls beneath her chestnut mane. Sighing, she melted back into his body, smiling as this time, his other hand stole around her waist.
"Hey," he rasped in an echo of their earlier exchange.
Chuckling, the tilted her head up to meet his eyes, her answering smile erasing the uncertainty she could see still hiding in their depths.
"Hey," she replied, her grin turning sheepish. "So, now what?"
Castle sighed, pausing to formulate his answer. "Now, I think we move forward. I don't know about you, Kate, but I'm done pretending." He squeezed her neck gently before continuing. "If I've learned anything from the roller coaster of the last few days is that life's just too short. One minute you're glaring at me from across the bullpen for distracting boys with my Walken impression, the next we're watching our lives tick down to the last second, or staring down some psycho with a gun or …." He ran a shaky hand through his hair, collecting himself.
"I'm not in any rush, Kate. I'm just saying that I can't keep doing this without you knowing just how much I l-" She silenced him with her fingers pressed against his lips, the frustration and hurt colouring his irises squeezing her heart, forcing out the fear that had seized it a moment ago as she'd watched the words about to spill from his lips.
Castle grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand away, twining his fingers with hers and holding tightly. "Even if I don't say it tonight, you already know it's real. It doesn't change anything." His voice vibrated with an intensity she'd never seen in him before. She twisted her arm from his grasp and slid her fingers along his jaw line in a gesture of apology.
"I'm no good at this, Castle," she whispered. "I'm going to screw this up."
Her partner's laugh startled her, a ray of light cutting through the darkness that surrounded her heart.
"I'm not exactly the poster child for healthy, adult relationships either, Kate," he murmured into her curls before pulling back and snagging her eyes. "We'll figure it out. You just have to promise me one thing."
His gaze had sobered again and she unconsciously held her breath. "That you're in this as deep as I am; that you'll try just as hard."
Kate stared back, marvelling at how far they'd come in an interval that seemed both a lifetime and an instant. She only had one word to give him and it was the same gift he'd given her a while ago. Trailing her fingers down over his coat, she reached out and snagged his hand, running the pad of her thumb over his knuckles.
The unrestrained joy that lit in his eyes drew a grin across her lips, but he simply nodded his head curtly and replied, "Okay."
Turning, he broke their connection for just long enough to slip his arm around her shoulders and steer her back towards the house. "C'mon, I think we both need sleep and after a good night, or-" he stopped, leaning into her body to glance at his watch on her opposite should. "Rather, a good morning's rest, I'll treat you to my famous Pancakes à la Castle. "
Kate chuckled as she tucked herself deeper into his side, relishing the warmth and the chance to slip back into their well-worn roles after feeling like her life had been turned on its head over the last few hours.
"Just how famous are these pancakes, Castle? Do you make them for all your conquests?"
Castle's step faltered for a moment, but a quick glance confirmed the gentle tease behind her words, complete with arched eyebrow. Smiling, he dropped a kiss to the top of her head, his heart an exquisite ache in his chest as she tightened her hold around his waist in return. Maybe this wasn't one of his books and he couldn't predict the ending, but he was going to make sure that they made the most of filling the blank pages that lay ahead of them together.