by Sandiane Carter and chezchuckles
Kate Beckett leans against the concrete outside the bookstore's entrance. She's been to enough of these to know the drill at a booksigning, and even though she tries to suppress it, she gets a fangirl's thrill at knowing he's there, her favorite author.
Okay, so she can admit to herself that it's not entirely because she's a fan. There's more there.
This is why she's here. Because she has admitted it to herself, sometime in the three months in which she tried to ignore it, tried to push it away, tried to tell herself that *last* summer had inured her to him.
It hasn't. It didn't. She's still hopelessly-
But that's not going to come out of her mouth. Not today. Not any time soon.
When Ryan and Esposito told her how doggedly Castle had worked on the case, how he had been at the precinct until Gates kicked him out, how he had smuggled all the pertinent information about the sniper back home and continued to work on it-
After that, she realized she's got to face it. Face him. And explain. Somehow. Without really saying the thing she can't say yet, the thing she won't say yet, because it would be unfair to say it and then ask him to do nothing.
Not yet. Not just yet.
But she is going to explain. She will have to be careful about her words, choose the precise ones, get it exactly right, no room for misunderstanding.
Kate clutches his book to her chest and keeps her head down, running through lines as she waits. Honestly, she didn't expect Castle to be this angry with her, but she recognizes that the source of his anger is really his deeply-rooted. . .
Feelings. (Love.) For her.
Kate clutches the book harder; the bottom edge digs into her hipbones.
Yes. Okay. She takes a deep breath and eases up a little, controls her heart rate through sheer force of will, locks a steel clamp around the struggling, panicked thing in her chest.
It's okay. It wasn't okay the day he walked into ICU with gorgeous flowers and entirely too-needy eyes. It wasn't okay when the memory of his confession rolled over her so suddenly that her hand under Josh's clamped down too tight on the bed railing. It wasn't okay when she had to look into those same blue, beseeching, grief-haunted eyes and somehow not see that face against the too-blue sky, the agony and desperation and pleading.
It wasn't okay then. But it's okay now.
That's what three months of solitude did for her. Castle was only part of the biggest problem, a thread running through every issue her heart balked at. No. Not a thread, nothing so thin and meager and fine. He was a chain, a link by link enslavement to the core of grief and vengeance and righteous indignation she has always carried around inside of her.
How did he get there?
Kate sighs and chews on the inside of her cheek, tilts her head back against the brick.
No point in questioning it any longer. She's let go of the how and moved on to the what next. There's not any reason to go back. She knows what she needs to do, and she knows exactly what she wants.
Because she's sorted. Her heart is sorted.
The only thing that remains to be seen is if Richard Castle will wait.
If he will wait for her.
Why is it that nothing seems right when she's not around?
Castle knows the answer to that question, but three months of silence makes him wish he doesn't, makes him wish it were different. Three months of a Kate Beckett vacuum requires more effort, more energy than he can spare; he can't fake it any more.
He just can't.
Castle swallows back the knot that rises in his throat whenever he dwells too long on her, rubs at his eyes. The line has already formed just past the barrier; usually, Castle would be making eyes at the women, doing that cutesy four-finger wave, all smiles. This afternoon it takes everything in him to plaster on a mask of polite interest, sign the book, and reply with banalities. He wishes he could get out of here.
"Make it out to Kate."
He would know that voice, the shape of her hips, the line of her fingers across the book - he'd know it anywhere. After three months or three years, he'd know it.
Seeing her, so beautiful, so confident, knocks the wind out of him. He can't look at her anymore, can't do it.
How can you love someone so very much, and hate her at the same time?
He scrawls his name across the dust jacket, hands it over, glances down the line.
You know what we are, Castle? We are over. Now get out.
It's what she wanted. He's out. No reason to come back. Castle keeps his eyes on the line behind her, ignores her determined hesitation just long enough to make her doubt herself. Good. He's tired of this, and he's angry.
Three months, Kate. Three months don't get washed away just because I love you, just because nothing seems right without you.
Esposito and Ryan must have told her he had all the files, all the meager fruit of their vain investigation. She's just here looking for her evidence, here to use him.
Castle grits his teeth and raises an eyebrow at her, staring her down with as much nothing on his face as he can possibly get there.
She moves on.
As he should too.
Outside the bookstore, Castle catches sight of her dark hair framing the pale line of her face, the brilliant cover of his book peeking out from behind her clasped arms.
Kate is nothing, if not determined. He can be determined; he walks right past her, headed for the street; he's going to hail a taxi and ditch her. Going to walk right past her and not look, not give in.
Of course he can't.
What was that about moving on? Not going to happen any time soon.
Especially when she sets her jaw and lets him know that Josh is out of the picture, then stalks off.
Damn it. He's even watching her walk away. He's watching her-
He's crossing the street after her, hurrying to catch up even as he winces at his own humiliating desperation.
He won't call after her. He won't-
She turns, just that pause in her stride as she hits the edge of the park, her hair spilling over her shoulder, her eyes too wide, too dark in the pale slash of her face. She looks. . .disappointed.
It hurts. It hurts too much, and he doesn't want to go back to that hurt. Anger is easier, and tidier, and doesn't ask him difficult questions. Anger holds on better; anger masks the truth.
She eyes him as he crosses to her; her hair in waves around her face, long and sun-kissed. He knows she spent the summer at her dad's cabin; Jim called a few times to keep him up to date, entirely of the man's own volition, when Kate was out if earshot.
The sunstreaks look good on her. It's so good to have this picture of her to carry around in his heart, rather than the exhausted, raw Beckett who, even when smiling at him in the hospital, was so pale and withdrawn and faded, like the bullet had taken some of her life force with it.
"We should talk," she says, and it's so her. It's her. Nothing soft in her voice, just a firm determination to have it out.
Castle feels awkward standing out on the sidewalk, so he gestures towards the park, guides her further in. She drops to a swing, leans her head against the chain, her eyes on the book she cradles in her hands.
Now she wants to talk? Three months of nothing and now?
So he listens. He listens because after three months spent in an agony of confusion, hurt, and silence, hearing her voice again is just. . .the very thing he needed. And though it doesn't clear up anything at first, just hearing her try to explain gives him relief.
He listens. And he hears what she isn't saying.
She's not saying it loud and clear.
If Rick Castle was part of all the stuff she was trying to sort through, and now she's sorted, and she's back? He hears exactly what she's saying. She wants the thing (love) he's offering, but she's stuck, she's crawled up in the tower of her mother's case and she's not coming through it, out of it, until it's done. She can't. There's a wall around her that hems her in.
So what is there left for him to do but lay siege to that wall? She can't be the person she wants to be, she can't be in the kind of relationship she wants with that wall inside her? Fine. He'll amass an army to ride out against it; he'll bring on the demolition.
His heart aches to see her flickering smile, the tease of her eyes from the curtain of her hair. He needs more than this, longs for more than this, but there's no way she'll say more.
"So what are you going to do about it?" she asks. She means about Gates kicking him out of the precinct, and his newfound determination to get back in. He knows she means that, and that alone, but what he hears is something different, a challenge to his heart. She's thrown down the gauntlet, and he is going to take it up.
"Everything I can. Everything I've got." He pushes at the ground with his feet, rocks the swing back; her eyes track his movements. His jaw works as he debates his next words; so much has built up these last three months. "Because you're worth it, Kate."
Castle lifts his eyes to her finally, meets her gaze directly, letting her know exactly what he means, and yes, Kate, you should be afraid.
I'm coming for you. I'm coming for your heart. And I'm not giving up.
Castle stands, the swing bouncing with its relative weightlessness; he holds out his hand for her, willing her to take it.
"Come on. Let's do this."
She studies his outstretched hand for a heartbeat longer than he would like, then touches her fingers to his palm. He grasps her hand and tugs; she comes easily, too close, practically in his arms.
She's got the book cradled against her chest; it keeps a small distance between them. Her eyes drift to his, then down to his mouth, then flicker back up to his eyes.
Castle still has her hand. He slides his palm up the outside of her arm, to her neck, and leans in to brush a barely-there kiss to her cheek.
"You might not know this. But I'm excellent at climbing walls."
He didn't lie to her. He is angry still. But those words she's given him, those words she's extended tentatively as a peace offering, keep twirling in his mind, and it feels good, after those three months of desperately trying – and failing – not to think about her.
He understands. Rationally, as far as arguments and logic go, he understands. It makes sense. Kate doesn't feel she's ready; she doesn't want to jump into a relationship if she cannot give it everything she has. Although that didn't seem to bother her with Josh, the sneaky little voice at the back of Castle's mind murmurs.
Shut up, the rest of him answers. Josh is gone. He needs to focus on Kate, not on his own, stupid jealousy issues. Josh is in the past. He won't lie; the very thought has a delicious taste of triumph to it.
Easy, tiger. Just because she's single doesn't mean she's necessarily going to fall into your arms.
Well. Unless you play your cards right.
What he needs... What he needs is a battle plan, a strategy that will take into account the forces at his disposal, an assessment of the shape and strength of his enemy. Of that wall inside. He needs to think of Kate Beckett as this unassailable fortress - no windows, no doors, no openings of any kind.
He needs to lay siege to her.
And when she has no supplies left, no food, no water, nothing to sustain that wall, then she'll have to surrender. Right?
She'll have to lower the drawbridge and come out, vulnerable, armor-less, and he, Richard Castle, will be there.
He will be waiting for her with open arms, with an open heart.
Because he's known, for a while now, that this stubborn heart of his won't settle for anything less. It's all or nothing.
It will be Kate Beckett, or nothing.
"Everybody's gone, Castle."
A ragged breath and a sigh of frustration.
He loves her. He loves her and he doesn't think he can sit at the table and watch her struggle not to fall apart. Only. . .if he stands up and wraps his arms around her, he's afraid of how small she'll feel, of how her composure will finally break. So he looks at her with longing while she lifts her chin, tilting her head back to keep tears from falling.
"I'm still here."
He should've thought before he spoke, but it's out there now. It seems to have no effect; she's still struggling to show nothing.
He makes a stand. This is what Captain Montgomery taught him, to step up and take the heat, to make a stand. Because sometimes loving someone means doing things that hurt you both, that feel wretched, if it's for her own good.
For her. Because he loves her, because she's extraordinary and what else is he going to do?
"I'm not going anywhere," he says, shifting around her dining room table, the light dim, her bright shirt making her lips look red, her eyes too dark. "I'm not going anywhere, and we will get this guy, Kate."
A lone tear escapes her left eye, sails down the angular line of her cheekbone, collects at the corner of her mouth. Castle reaches out with his thumb and smooths it away, the moisture soaking in to the chapped edge of her lip. She's gone still before him, and there's knowledge in her eyes.
She knows. He's certain she knows.
But she says nothing.
He wonders how much she cried, alone in her father's cabin this summer, the sounds of water and the wind in the trees her only companions. How many times did she dash away her tears with only the back of her hand, a bite to her bottom lip?
Too many times. Her lips are red not because of the rich fuschia of her shirt, but because of the teeth marks, the broken open places, the line of chapstick rubbed off.
He wants to heal those lips.
Castle swipes his thumb along the frown line that trails down from the corner of her mouth. He captures her chin and tugs; she doesn't make a move towards him, but those eyes are so dark, framed by the thick eyeliner, the long sweep of heavy black lashes. Those eyes with their knowing resignation.
Castle adjusts to her; she's nearly as tall as he is, even without her heels, and her body is all hard lines and jutting ninety degree angles, all of it softening as she rounds towards him.
He kisses her slowly, a sweep of his mouth against hers, languorous, and then her lips part and he hums low in his throat as she grants him passage. Castle is exacting, thorough, his exploration so detailed that she leans closer, her hands at his biceps as if holding on.
He uses his teeth on her lower lip, soothing with his tongue, catches her scattered breath as she lifts into him, her hips firm and angled, canted towards his.
He wraps his right hand behind her neck, his fingers in the strands of her straight hair, baby fine and soft, sliding along his knuckles.
There is knowledge in her kiss as well.
If this is what she spent three months getting straight in her head, he's fine with this. Last summer, he spent three pointless months trying to forget her; this summer, he spent three miserable months trying to convince himself that he did not, in fact, need her.
He was wrong. She's unforgettable; she's all he needs.
She takes the first step back. Which is fine, because that will never be him; he will not be the one to slow them down, halt the pace, erase what little progress remains. So it would have to be her.
She has a hand to her mouth, her eyes turned away from him. There is a long silence, not awkward, but waiting.
"Thank you," she attempts, but her throat is raw with sex, and he has to close his eyes and make a concentrated effort not to take her back. "For being here. I need my partner on this."
With her emphasis on partner, he knows she's trying to remind him of what they are, what she can give. He leans across the barely there space between them, angling his mouth towards her cheek for a gentle brush of his lips. "I need you too," he whispers back, his voice at the shell of her ear. A ripple of awareness slides across her skin; he can see its wake.
Kate raises a steady hand to his shoulder, fingering his collar, her eyes regretful. He stays perfectly still, afraid to spook her. She turns her face to his and adopts the quiet and introspective Kate he saw sitting in a swing beside him, the day of the book-signing.
"You know what I have to do, Castle."
He nods. But there's no escaping this now, whatever this is. Nothing and everything. "We'll get it done."
That kiss clings to his skin, burns at the back of his mind for hours after he's left her apartment. It reminds him of the way he obsessed over their undercover kiss for weeks, in what seems like a different life. Not even a full year has passed, and so much has changed.
But this hasn't. This thing between him and Kate, the irresistible attraction, the sparks that mask what goes on at a deeper level – it's the same, only a thousand times stronger. Exactly like that kiss was.
No excuse to hide behind this time, no false reasons. Only Kate Beckett's mouth opening for him in her dim, silent apartment, her body pressed to his, raw and open like this gaping hole she's left in his heart.
Ah, but he's working on this. Working on mending his damaged heart muscle; working on tearing down those walls of hers. Working on Kate Beckett.
Which is why, when the man calls, says he's a friend of Montgomery's, Castle doesn't hesitate, not for one moment. Kate needs this, this case solved, needs the closure and the avenging of her mother's death to liberate her from that the demanding claws of grief.
And *he* needs Kate.
When he hangs up the phone, however, his spirits are somewhat crushed. This leaves him nowhere. The files that Roy kept don't make it possible to expose the guilty party – they can only serve for blackmail purposes, serve to protect Roy's family, protect Kate.
If she stops digging.
He keeps turning it in his mind, examining it from all sides, a little more desperate every time he comes back to his starting point. There's no other way. Hopefully they will find the guy – surely some evidence will surface, some new fact will arise to their attention – but in the meantime… Kate has to stop.
She will hate him for this. If she ever finds out, if she realizes he got this call and never told her – they'll be over then. They'll be done, for good this time.
Unless. Unless the siege comes through. Unless he can show her how good they'd be together, unless he can crawl under her skin, into her heart, close enough that even when she finds out, she won't be able to disentangle herself from him.
This is a perilous mission, one that doesn't have many chances of succeeding.
But it's all he's got.
And as he speaks to his mother, pleads in hushed tones with her, argues fiercely than he just can't, *can't* lose Beckett again, he gets a sudden flash of inspiration.
Kate cannot go anywhere near the case… But no mention has been made of him.
What is there to cry about? Is it a mournful thing to know that the man who loves you (who you love) has your back?
Still, she has to chew on the inside of her cheek to hold back a fresh wave of tears. She told herself she'd have that one session to cry, and then it was over.
Kate steps off the elevator and back into the lobby of her therapist's building. His offices are on the fourth floor, and she likes staring out the window as she talks, giving up pieces of herself to a man who makes notes.
Not like Castle makes notes. Because Castle makes notes with joy, gleeful over some new scrap of psyche. Her therapist makes notes precisely, controlled, with a complete lack of comment.
She talks as best as she can and waits for his next question.
She's back because she froze, because Castle, unarmed, stood right behind her and yet still trusted, still believed that she would take care of things.
Take it easy, Kate.
Impossible. She saw the gun, she froze. She heard Yancey yelling at her and she froze.
So yes. It *is* a terrible thing to know that Castle has her back. She wants him to be safe with her, but he's not. Not safe with any part of her, not in her heart and not in her job.
Take it easy, Kate.
Almost as if the sound of his words in her head conjures him, there's Castle. He's leaning against the concrete façade of the building, a knee up with his foot planted behind him. He huddles in the army jacket, black tshirt under that, his head down as if he's bracing himself in a biting wind.
But it's sunny and warm, and he shouldn't look so miserable.
"Castle?" she calls, pausing in the sidewalk only to be jostled from behind. She slides closer, unconsciously brushing back her coat to check her gun's clearance. Too many people, too close.
She used to love that about the city, now it puts her on edge.
Castle straightens as she comes closer, reaching out a hand as if he wants hers. She glances down to his open palm, the five fingers wriggling at her in welcome. She hesitates, but slides her hand in his.
He smiles, and all that misery evaporates.
"Hey, Castle," she says softly, watching him. "What're you doing here?"
"Waiting on you."
Without her permission, the conversation floats back to her from yesterday. She thanked him for having her back and always never came out of his mouth. As if there might be a statute of limitations on this. Whatever it is.
"How long have you been waiting?" Her session ran over; she's been there for nearly two hours.
"As long as it takes, Kate."
Her stupid heart speeds up, and he cracks a wide smile, as if he knows.
"As long as it takes."