We didn't need a story, we didn't need a real world
We just had to keep walking.
And we became the stories, we became the places
We were the lights, the deserts, the faraway worlds.
"You gotta stop smiling at me like that," he says.
The trail is damp with today's rain; the trunks of trees are saturated with color. Everything drips and shines.
Kate moves closer to him, not just their hands entwined, but pressed arm to arm, wrist to wrist, her nose in the warm cloth at his shoulder so that she can cradle his arm against her body. That close.
She hides her mouth against him, breathing in the decay of wet, fall leaves and the warm, day-long wear of his shirt.
"Even though I can't see it, I can still tell it's there," he laughs, bringing his other hand up to sift through her hair, his thumb at her neck. "That smile. You smile at me like that all the time now. I know what it means."
The radiance is reflected in his voice, how he feels about her, how he wants her, how he waits for her.
Rick Castle - the most patient man in the world. The Boy Who Waited.
Kate laughs into his shoulder and his fingers skim her scalp, brush her hair back. "What's that about?"
She turns her head to kiss the wrist near her lips, filled with light. "Funny thought."
"Yeah? Wanna share with the class?"
"I'm happy," she says softly, surprised by it. She was going to mention the Doctor Who reference her brain turned up, but instead-
She is happy.
He halts in the middle of the path, his face so very still with stunned disbelief that she can't breathe. The western sunlight eases just over his shoulder, dappling his face with leaf-shadows and limning him with a golden glow. Or maybe it's the way her happiness has coated everything inside her like a mirror, or the moon, reflected glory.
"I make you happy," he breathes, cupping her face with his hand, smoothing his thumb across her lips. A caress, a brush of liquid gold.
"Yeah, you." And even though the honesty feels awkward in her mouth, this is their deal. He tells her he loves her and she tells him the truth, whatever it might be. This is the truth today. Holding hands with Castle makes her happy. "You."
He leans in and sneaks a kiss from her mouth, grinning against her lips as he does. She smiles into it, bites her bottom lip only to have him tug it back out with his thumb, nuzzling her nose with his. She can feel the soft whisper of his lids closing at her cheek, the trail of his lips to the corner of her mouth, his body releasing warmth between them, radiated.
"I want to do so much," she sighs, feeling his mouth work against her. Her hands fist in his shirt. She doesn't want to tease, but she wants more than the heat of his eyes on her.
"Give it time."
"I want it now. I don't want to be. . .this anymore. I want to be more than this."
"This is who I fell in love with."
Her chest squeezes. "Exactly," she murmurs, her eyes drifting to the rustling trees. "What if, by the time I figure out how to be who I am without all this baggage, without all these definitions, what if that's not who you love?"
"The you doesn't change. More is just better. More is just picking a new path, setting your face towards the light, rather than darkness. I don't love your darkness, Kate. I love you in spite of it."
She shivers, has to swallow hard. A love without conditions. "Sometimes, when we're talking, I find myself memorizing your words. They come back to me when I'm alone, and in the dark. They come back like love."
He chokes and presses his cheek to hers, arms so tight around her she can barely breathe. "Oh, Kate. Take all you need. I've written novels for you. I could write a thousand more and never say enough."
She believes him. Oh help, she believes him. All his novels, Nikki and Rook, the way she can step into his embrace with every chapter-
"Take me in the Castle," she says, crowding closer to him on the path. "Before the sun sets."
Oh. She closes her eyes against the heat flooding her body.
"I meant. Not that - though that's not unappealing - oh jeez. I meant the Belvedere Castle. Take me there. Nikki's Castle."
When she opens her eyes, his face is gilded by the setting sun, his lashes sparkling white, his face creased into a brilliant and madly charming grin. Kate slides her palms against his jaw, lets her fingers be abraded by his five o'clock shadow, darts forward to nibble at the sharp corner of his chin. A promise of later. She doesn't know when, but-
He growls and clears his throat. "All right. The Castle."
She nods, turns to take the path on her left that will take them back around-
"Kate." His fingers wrap around her wrist, tug her back. "Hold my hand. We need to choose a new path."
"No, this one-"
"Kate. A new path."
She blinks at him slowly, the low slant of sunlight illuminating the air between them, the particles on her lashes. She takes a step back towards him until their hands are no longer stretched, until they are side by side.
"You lead the way then, Castle."
She is so close. So very close.
But miles to go before she sleeps.
They arrive faster than she expected. They appear right behind the tower of Belvedere Castle, stepping from wooded seclusion to iconic Central Park with the smallest of distances. They maneuver around other visitors, tourists, art students sketching even in the fading light.
At the top of the tower, she can see the parapets below, and then the park spread before them, the treeline of branches shedding their leaves, the pond rippling and green-grey, the sunset licking the horizon with cold yellows and blushed pinks.
She turns to him, their hands clasped loosely together. It's strange how his fingers feel a part of her skin, an extension of her hand, the pulse of blood through his fingers echoed by her own.
Her ring finger is going numb, squeezed tight between his broad fingers, thick and long and wide. His fingers keep hers slightly out of joint; he makes her stretch.
But she likes it, likes feeling it. She grins and nudges his hip. "Castle in a Castle."
He gives a false laugh. "Ho-ho. And you? A fortress inside a fortress."
She rolls her eyes, but leans her head against his shoulder. Trying to be less of a fortress. "I'm taking a different path, remember?" she half-jokes, feels him turn and clasp his hands low at her waist, kiss her cheek. She misses the warmth of his hand, but she flexes her fingers and leans away to look at his face in the last of the light. "So. First step. We crossed this one off the timeline."
"You liked the white board, huh?" he grins at her, rubbing a hand up and down her back.
He pouts. "But what?"
"Our timelines are parallel. I want them to converge," she murmurs, watching him fall mesmerized by her.
After a gaping moment, and then a quick shake of her head that makes her grin, he says:
"They are, Kate."
She lifts her eyes to his, feels her mouth spreading into a smile she can't help, can't stop, powerless to the way he fills her. Making love to this man will be. . .she can't comprehend it. She wants it. She wants it and she can't imagine it.
"The sunset on your hair," he sighs, his hands lifting the waves from her face. "The light spilling around you."
"Say it again," she says suddenly, needing to ease the ache in her chest that tightens whenever her heart betrays her.
He groans and leans his forehead to hers. "Oh so much, Kate. I love you. Too much."
It works. She can breathe; her hands cradle his head. His arms tighten around her. Too much. He loves her too much.
Can he survive her? Survive her remodel, her knocking down walls? She never thought to wonder before. She wants to do this right, doesn't want to torture him. She just doesn't know how to bring herself in close while the demolition is going on.
When she opens her eyes, the castle walls are blurred and indistinct with twilight. Her body shivers in the whisper of wind that penetrates the turret.
"We're losing the light," he murmurs, shadows already clinging to his face as he pulls back from her. "We should go."
No. No, she doesn't want to. She wants to be more. Right now. She wants him, wants to be free to have him. She sucks in a long breath, closes her eyes so she doesn't have to see the darkness closing in around them.
But it's dark behind her eyelids as well. Not just dark, but darker. With scattered visions that haunt her.
"Open your eyes, Kate. It's okay. We're okay."
She does, sees him spilling with love. She lifts her hand and brushes the hair back from his forehead, her fingers drifting along his hairline, her heart caught out by unruly bangs. "You know. Don't you. You know."
"Yes. Of course I do. I'm sure of you."
Well that makes one of them.
"Don't get me wrong, Kate. I like the well-wrought phrase. But I like the story more. And everything you do tells the story."
She watches the determination line his face, illuminate his eyes. Her chest fills with splendor, fills the dark places. "The story," she murmurs.
"The story of your love," he says simply. "The story of us."
"Yes." She hooks her arm around his neck and draws in, her lips against his ear. "You write the story of us, Castle."
"I already have. It's all over the white board. Didn't you read it?"
Kate laughs against his jaw, feels his palms slide over her hips, tuck into her back pockets. She sucks in a breath, pleased with his confidence even in the face of her balk. She grins: when the pitcher balks, the runner gets to advance. Castle has no trouble advancing.
He squeezes and chuckles against her temple when her hips rise to meet his.
She licks her lip, tries to gather the thread of their conversation. "You make our story sound so dirty, Castle."
"I've never tried erotica before. Want me too? I can do that with you."
"Mm," she grins, burying her smile in the darkness at his jaw. She can't help biting his skin, the growth of stubble on his face.
"That sounded like a yes. Felt like a yes."
She laughs, tries so very hard not to encourage him. "So what do you see from your Castle? What do you see that everyone else doesn't?" She means in life, in general; she means only to distract herself from the way his hands knead at her backside.
"I see you, don't I? I saw you first from here."
"You saw me," she says slowly, but it's true. "You know when I first met you, I thought you were arrogant. That you didn't even care that people were dying. But you were playing a part. Why did you do that? Pretend to be so shallow, to be a playboy."
"Kate," he laughs gently. "That *was* the real me. Police horse naked, remember?"
She smiles, but she shakes her head. "No, it wasn't you. I saw you too, Castle. From my fortress up here." She leans back to look at him; he's gone quiet and still. "Even then, I could see the kind of father you are; I could see how you care about people being heard, getting treated fairly. I could see how deeply you love what's yours. I see the real you."
"You do," he murmurs back, nudging her cheek with his nose. He presses a soft kiss to the beauty mark under her eye. "Back then it was barely a speck, almost nothing. You saw that in me, Kate. You made me better."
The sun has gone. The tower is filled with dark shadows, but his body is warm around hers. "I don't believe it," she says. "This was you all along. Only now, you've stopped pretending, stopped putting on the act."
"Maybe that's true," he says on a sigh. "If it is, I've been pretending for all of my life. Only now have I found someone I don't have to pretend with."
She is a strong cord winding around him. Together they remain unbroken, even with the frayed edges, the weak spots. He doesn't have to pretend with her; she can be at rest with him.
Kate closes her eyes and says the only thing that banishes the darkness, within and without. For him. Because it's time for him to stop waiting.
"I love you."