And all my stumbling phrases,
Never amounted to anything worth this feeling. . .
So I was screaming out a language
that I never knew existed before.
-All This & Heaven Too, Florence + the Machine
She had nothing to offer him in return.
When he entered the bullpen with coffee and made his way over to her desk, she saw the very slight pause in his walk when he noticed.
She was using his pen; it was in her hand.
She took the coffee from him with a smile, the pen now resting against the coffee, symbolism inherent in every gesture even if she didn't want it to be, watched his eyes track her movement, then lift to meet her gaze.
She said nothing, only sipped at the coffee and waited on him.
He sat down heavily, breaking the connection.
Apparently, it was not for today.
He sat on the couch; she took the stiff-backed armchair and appreciated his silence as she interviewed the witness. The young woman told her story in halting, stilted words, as if the ones that were coming out of her mouth weren't the ones she meant to say. He kept back, unobtrusive in the evening shadows, letting her do all the prodding.
When she had finished taking notes, she capped the pen - his pen - and slid it inside her jacket pocket, touching the outside of the material as if to be certain it was safe.
The witness shook her hand but didn't stand with them, instead watched from hollow eyes as they left.
Back outside her door, he took a long, deep breath and looked over at her.
"This doesn't ever seem to get easier."
She shook her head. "It shouldn't."
She noticed that he stood off to one side as Lanie indicated the stippling around the victim's gunshot wound.
"Close range," he noted, but did not look.
She turned back to the body, tried to see what it was he would not. Male. Latino. Dark hair shaved close to the head, tattoo on his wrist, another on his upper thigh. Eyes closed, lurid bloom of a gunshot wound on the chest, frozen in place now and blackening. Destroying another tattoo that reached shoulder to shoulder.
She thought she knew. She thanked Lanie, turned back to him to lead him out of there. When the doors swung shut behind them, she reached out and took his arm, keeping him from moving further away.
"That's not me," she said.
He paused, but wouldn't look back. She supposed that was a good rule, generally speaking. Don't look back.
"I know," he said finally.
She had no right to ask for more.
"All right," she said softly instead, releasing his forearm.
At that, he did turn back, his face shadowed by lines. "I know it's not."
"But it doesn't mean I don't see it still." He looked away from her, eyes roaming the empty hall. It was cold even out here. "See you."
See her. Dying in the grass.
She had nothing to offer him in return.
It was blue, the sky with brilliance and the river with monotony - a study in contradictions. The sun warmed her hair, heated her shoulders, as if making up for the weeks of rain. The docks were crowded with pleasure boats, white hulls and towering masts splicing the horizon. He was behind her, the yin of shade to her yang of light.
The takedown was simple. The woman dropped her gun to the wooden dock the moment the detectives confronted her. It was over before it even started. She made sure the boys had the woman under control, watched them begin to walk her back to the car with handcuffs on, meek and weeping.
At her six, he waited; she could feel his tension in the afternoon air.
He was tugging at the vest as if it were suffocating; she laid her hand over his and shook her head. He ceased, but his mouth twisted.
"Not yet. Wait." Because she knew how easily things could get away from them, how the worst happened when they thought it was already over. She holstered her weapon and started back behind the rest.
He sighed and followed her off the dock, through the gate, back to her car. The boys had already loaded the woman into the back of theirs, were pulling out.
She waited until the last car was crunching gravel and disappearing, then she reached out and ripped the velcro at his side, giving him permission. He shrugged out of the bulletproof vest, held it in one hand as she lifted the trunk of the Crown Vic. He tossed it in and rolled his shoulders as if trying to rid himself of that heaviness. His face had not yet lightened though.
"It went down just fine," she said, her chest tight as she looked at the vest he couldn't stand to wear.
"She didn't even point the gun at us."
He said nothing. His hands were in fists. She bit her lip and glanced towards the water. The line of masts, the bland water, the sun that had come out today. She didn't know what to do when the darkness was his, and not hers.
Well, maybe she did. "Come with me," she said, and unlocked the doors to the car.
"Where we going?"
She said nothing, just smiled at him with soft invitation. He got in the car.
She drove carefully, avoiding the worst of the traffic by taking side streets, glancing over to him every so often to make sure he was still with her.
When she got to the office building, she parked in the underground lot, got out and waited on him. He sat in the car for a second, then got out as well and followed her to the elevator. She pressed six and watched the confusion and curiosity on his face as he tried to solve the mystery.
The doors opened on a bank of elevators; she led him to a hallway and down to the left, passing quiet doors without windows. He was just at her back, warm and present, and she knew the mystery surrounding their location had pulled him partially out of his distress.
She opened the last door on the right before he had a chance to read the name on the plaque, the sense falling over her once again that everything could be handled, could be fixed. That is was going to be okay. Inside the waiting room, she approached the receptionist with a smile.
"Can I see Dr. Burke? It's-"
"Oh, I remember you." The woman checked her computer with a quick glance, as always, so warm and receptive. "He's actually just about to finish. I'm sure he'll talk to you for a few minutes before his next appointment."
She stepped back and gestured for him to sit down; he waited until she had picked a seat and then sat beside her, his hands between his knees. She relaxed back into the chair, her body automatically at ease, a conditioned response from months now.
"This is your therapist's office," he commented.
He watched her for a moment, then dropped his eyes to the floor.
"He wanted me to bring you in for a session with me. When I thought. . .that I was ready."
His eyes jerked back to hers, disbelief rippling across his face. And honor. Some humility last of all. His eyes filled with something she hadn't wanted to recognize, but now, maybe, she could. Something that overrode the rest of it, made the darkness lift.
Just then, the anteroom door opened and her therapist loomed in the threshold.
He gave her a slow smile. "You've brought Rick Castle with you," his deep voice rumbled.
She glanced over at her partner; his eyes went back and forth between her and Dr. Burke. She realized she was smiling and stood up.
He stood as well, hastily, holding his hand out for Dr. Burke to shake.
"This is Dr. Burke. My therapist," she began.
It was only the start.
The life she'd saved.
The pen in her hands, heavy and dark, reminded her of him. She kept it on her at all times, had it in her jacket pocket as she dropped him off at his loft. The pen both a weight and a force.
He held open the passenger door and hung on it to lean back into the car. His face was relaxed, the lines had smoothed away.
"Thank you," he said softly, his voice barely audible over the sounds of traffic.
She smiled back at him, all of it in her chest, warm and tight and tender.
"You'll come again?"
His sharp intake of air. "Any time."
She relaxed her grip on the steering wheel. "Next Monday. Three."
He nodded solemnly, but his mouth was lifting at one side. "I'm there."
She hesitated outside the elevator door, on his apartment's floor but unable to move. The ring dangled on its chain between her fingers, hitting her thigh.
She had gotten home, stepped into her dark and empty apartment, and had known exactly what it was she needed to do. What she had left.
Now was the time. She made her steps purposeful down the hall to his door, paused a moment to collect herself again. She raised her hand to knock and the door opened, a bustling blur of red hair and smooth skin colliding with her.
Alexis jumped back, hand to her throat, gave a tight laugh. "Oh. Sorry."
"I was just about to knock."
"I'm on my way out. Go on in though; he's. . .in the study." There was a look in his daughter's eyes that cautioned her; something clever and calculating that she'd never seen before.
"Okay. Thanks. Have. . .a good time."
Alexis gave her a four-fingered wave and waited until she stepped inside before shutting the door after her and locking it from the outside.
She took in a deep breath in his entryway, her hand tangled in the chain. She glanced down and toed off her heels, curling her feet against the cold hardwood. She stepped towards the hall that led to his study, soft-footed.
She wouldn't let herself hesitate any longer, walked through his study door, surprised by the darkness inside.
It took a long moment for her to understand what it was she was seeing. He had turned at her entrance, standing before his desk with a tablet in his hand, his face a startled blank.
But she only had eyes for the lit up board behind his desk, the faces so familiar, the details all facts she had memorized, the one case she'd spent the last thirteen years trying to shake. Trying not to carry around with her like scars.
He let out a long, shuddering breath and bowed his head.
"What. . .are you doing?" she asked, stepping further into the room. The darkness closed around her, but it couldn't touch her.
"I. . .don't know what to say." His voice was thin in the air, almost strangled.
"It's my mom's case." The chain and the ring seemed heavy in her hand; she turned her eyes back to him, still not comprehending. He looked guilty, but why?
"It is." He seemed a part of the dim room, like he lived in here. The light she'd seen in his eyes earlier this afternoon had all but faded. It weighed on her, that her mother's case brought him down here with her.
She shrugged. "Okay."
He glanced up and nodded as if to himself. "You want to see?"
No. But. "Okay." She walked further into the room, came to his side in front of the storyboard. Murder board now.
"This is what I've got." He called up each photo - the people connected with her mother's case - one by one, showing her the information he'd typed in below the name, the ways they connected. He was concentrating on Dick Coonan, she saw, and he'd unearthed details she'd never known. He had two blank spots with question marks and she couldn't decipher their meaning in the bigger puzzle.
"Some of this is new," she said, stepping forward to peer at the board. She felt it again, opening up before her, and the chain swung against her leg with her steps. She closed her eyes, ignored the board for a moment. "This isn't what I came here for."
When she turned around, he had already turned it off, was setting aside the tablet that let him control his toy, his hands empty now, his face also curiously empty.
"What did you come for?" he asked. His voice sounded breathless.
It was dark in the room; the city lights from the long windows gave her just enough illumination to see the glint of the chain and the ring in her hand. She lifted it, cradled the ring in her palm.
She had something to offer him now.
He watched her walk back towards him; his fists clenched as if he was suppressing some desire to move.
When she stood toe to toe with him, his warmth radiating out of his skin and into hers, she reached down for his clenched fist and brought it up between them. He relaxed his hand automatically at her touch; she spread his fingers out and dropped her mother's ring onto his palm.
He clutched it, his eyes darting up to hers.
"For the life you saved," she said softly, closing her fingers around his.
"Kate." Her name was breathless on his lips, eternal and imbued with meaning, the sound of hope and disbelief and hope again. It was everything she had been missing.
He opened his hand and stared down at the ring, then used both hands to slip the chain on over his head, the ring falling just below the hollow at the base of his throat. With his head down, he pressed his palm over it, sucking in a breath, closed his fingers around it in a fist.
"Castle." She tasted his name on her tongue, rich and without doubts, and he lifted his head to meet her eyes. "You don't have to wear it-"
"No, I do," he interrupted, fingers still clenched around the ring. "This is mine now."
The possession in his tone knocked her breath out, made her stomach clench with awareness. She felt the board behind her, unlit though it was, and wished things might be different, wished the burden was gone.
But at least it was shared.
He brought his free hand to her cheek; she lifted her eyes back to his. He leaned in, breath against her skin, a gentle touch of his lips to her forehead, pressing there, resting. She closed her eyes, soaked it in, brought an arm up around his back in a loose embrace.
Her hand came to his against his chest, her fist wrapped around his fingers, still over the ring.
And then she spoke the words that were her true offering, her real sacrifice, life for a life:
"This is a promise." A breath passed between them. "This is my promise to you. If you'll wait for me."
He let out a shaky sigh. "As long as it takes."