She's been haunting him all day. Ghosting into his thoughts, clouding his focus.
Worse than it was ever before.
And before it was constant.
Now it's just continuous.
The way she'd let him press her against the Crown Vic, mutter that he'd always wanted to do that. She'd teased the edge of his sweats, fingers stealing the heat from beneath the edge and hummed her approval, smile ghosting her lips and a flush on her cheeks, the chill of the morning air, the heat of his body or just a combination. He didn't care.
Still doesn't now.
It doesn't matter that when she'd said she'd see him later and made no move to extract herself from his grip, he'd just kissed her again, slid his hands down her body and made her shiver with the heat of his mouth, skimming her cheek, the line of her jaw on his way to her ear. He'd hummed and drew her body closer as he found the handle behind her, using the metal to jolt her into his body, barely taking half a step back to accommodate the open door himself.
He shivers as he remembers the slant of her mouth against his as she tucked her body in close.
But then she'd been gone, ducking under his arm into the car, practised and comfortable, like she's been ducking his embrace for years. He has to suppose now that she has been.
He skims his fingers over the soft leather of his steering wheel, gripping lightly, walking his fingers around the wheel as he turns the corner, almost there. She's leaning against the corner of the car, waiting for him a set of lights away, hair distinct in the breeze, arms crossed over her chest against the cold just confirming what he already knew, she's waiting where they agreed.
He didn't doubt she'd be coming with him, but he'd almost hoped to be able to hobble upstairs and steal her attention from her computer screen and usher her out the door, barely being containing himself until the elevator doors closed around them.
But that would be her own fault.
She's been sending him short messages all day – of course, he'd started it, but that had been her request. The short notification that he was home and an invitation that she could still skip out on work and climb into his bed with him. He'd reasoned she'd only just arrived so no one would miss her.
Her only response had been later. So he'd kept prompting, asking what she meant, if she was certain her paperwork held more appeal. He had given up though when she said she'd see her in an hour, he hadn't missed the opportunity to say it again – that he loves her.
As soon as the car is in sight, she step forward to meet it, already inside before the impatient taxi behind him has the forethought to stand on his horn.
The second she releases her fingers from around the seatbelt he catches them, finds hers already expecting the gesture. He flicks his eyes to her face and finds her focused on their fingers, as expected.
"Are you going to tell me where we're going?"
"You're," he corrects.
"I'm coming with you, if you want me to, but it's for you."
He swings a left and he feels her lean her elbow onto the console separating them. He likes the change, the shift in positions, in circumstances. He doubts it'll stay like this though. But that's more than okay with him, the thumb she's skimming over his knuckle is enough of a shift – no matter who drives.
"Tell me," she interrupts his thoughts with the soft request.
"We're almost there," he deflects.
She huffs and he has to smirk, skimming fingers over her palm. "You went to see someone about your ankle?"
At least she's allowing the deflection, for now. "Yeah, all good. Stay off it, ice it, keep it strapped how it was, you did all the right things." He squeezes fingers. "Thanks."
"Stop thanking me." She's serious, quiet. "You don't need to thank me for these things, this is how we work now – you don't get to be the only one-"
"I was never the only one making an effort, don't say that, Kate."
"For a long time it was the truth though, Rick. I just let you do all the work. I did have to for a while, we both know that. I had a lot of… stuff, to overcome and put behind me."
He takes the opportunity as she inhales. "You needed the time, it hurt but I get it. You know this."
"I know and I'm not bringing that up. I'm saying start letting me be in this too. It's not a big deal. I want to do this with you." She twitches the pad of her thumb over the knuckle of his own, soft and habitual.
"Then we will. Don't be mad though."
"Why would I-?"
He pulls into a spot and she's looking around, curious. Surrounded by non-descript office buildings she won't have a clue where they are going, not yet.
"Come on." He's already sliding out of the car and motioning for her to do the same, but she eyes him curious and follows his lead.
He meets her near the front of the car and slides his arms around her as she moves to turn to peer around the street again, scouting, trying to determine their location. "Hey," he greets softly, pressing his mouth to hers. He feels her skim her nose beside his, relaxing into his hold and his mouth, the twitch of her fingers tugging on his coat tells her she needed the greeting, just for a second, so he withdraws. "Good day?" he asks quietly
"Long." She settles into his side, the arm he'd been expecting to be locked with her fingers again falling over her shoulder as she slips an arm around his waist.
He ushers her into the building, up a small narrow staircase.
"Massage therapy?" she queries.
"Yeah." He kisses the side of her head. "It's going to hurt but."
"Like… You mentioned last night that-"
"You need it," he offers quietly, hand on the small of her back trying to urge her up the stairs quicker. She's moving much slower than her normal pace, no whirlwind of hair and thud of boots on the thin stairs, just her body stalling on the stairs before him.
"You've done it before?"
He nods even though she can't see, he doesn't doubt she can see. "Yeah. It'll be fine after tomorrow."
He catches her as she turns, caught in the midst of trying to urge her up the stairs – not holding her in place, just letting her move back towards him.
"Okay." She nods, deciding.
He smirks at her. The fact she had to turn and check for some kind of sincerity or some kind of signal, some clue to his intentions. But it seems she found it. "Okay?" He raises an eyebrow though, just to be certain.
"Yeah, I said okay."
He kisses her quickly (because he can) and undoes the button she haphazardly drew together herself. "I'll take this," he says softly, watching her as her eyes follow his fingers, his own eyes not following them. The smirk on her face as he opens it and she shrugs it off her shoulders has him lean in to steal her mouth again. But as soon as he's tossing the coat over an arm, she's already moving up the stairs, fingers finding his, tugging him along too.
"Kate Beckett," she supplies to the receptionist with the raised eyebrow, the one who no doubt spies the shift in the man she saw a few hours before. He's no longer distracted and on his phone, he doesn't need to be, she's here with him.
"Joe is waiting for you guys." Gesturing to the door behind her, no judgement, just knowing.
With her raised eyebrow he steals her fingers and leads her to the small exam room.
"Rick." He's greeted with a handshake, fingers dropping from Kate's. Though he notices she doesn't step forward to do the same. She's a little nervous, it's cute. "And you must be Kate."
At the outstretched she extends her own, he skims her back with his fingers quickly. He's not sure why some offer of comfort, show of support or just needing to touch her. It's more the need to be close, constant contact is becoming necessary.
His partner falls silent, doesn't engage Joe in conversation. He's curious. Not even Alexis had been this hesitant at her first session, though she'd been with him a few times just watching. So Castle engages them in conversation, prompting her. He's not sure why she's hesitated. He had had the forethought though to give Joe her history so she didn't need to explain to him about specifics, just where it's tight, where it pulls.
"Okay, I'll let you get ready," Joe says softly, warm smile as he bows out of the small room, off to do who knows what.
And then he's gone.
The deer in the headlights look she's wearing has him wanting to step forwards.
"You don't have to do this," he mutters.
"No, I want to. It's just…"
"Intimidating," he supplies. "I filled out the forms earlier when I was in."
"You came here for your ankle?"
He gives half a laugh. "Yeah.
"Take your shirt off and lie on the table for him, I'll be in the waiting-"
Oh. She's serious. "Okay," he mutters, giving her what he hopes is a reassuring smile as he settles himself against the wall and slips his phone from his pocket, already unlocking it when she speaks.
"You're unbelievable," she teases.
"I'm…" he starts, but she's got an eyebrow arched. There is no point defending it, she knows.
So he watches her, meets her eyes as she tugs the top over her head. He takes the two steps while she's disappeared and presses his mouth to hers as soon as her head pulls through, hair falling haphazardly around the fingers he's got pressed to her neck and jaw.
"Thank you," she mutters. "Really, thanks."
"You won't be thanking me for the next half hour or so."
She cringes a little but rolls her eyes, opens her mouth to respond but there is a knock on the door. "Ready?" comes the polite request, the prod that they need to get started, not wasting more time.
Castle finds the towel folded on the table behind her with one hand while the other urges her back against the table, a gentle prompt. "Lie down," he mutters already draping the towel over her body as she scoots back, swinging her legs around to lie on her stomach.
"She's ready," he answers watching his partner narrow her eyes at him, like she could have done that for herself, but as soon as the knob turns she smiles for a brief second before she rests her forehead against that little hole.
He tenses as soon as the other man comes back into the room. He can see the tightness in her shoulders, normally shrouded by thick coats or even thin shirts, but now bare on a table in front of him the tension is evident.
She needs this.
So Castle stays silent as the therapist prods her to talk, relax, gives her a rundown of how he's going to start shallow and work deeper, and to let him know if it hurts too much.
He hears her muffled response, has to smile, has to wish he could do this for her. But offering her this, he can do.
The other man is touching the curves of her back, working his way along the line of her spine, teasing the muscles there, loosening them, working around her ribs, teasing the muscles there too. Expert hands he's experienced more than once, but on his partner the hands are too large, too intense. He wants to stop it, he can see her feet shifting beneath the towel, the curl of her toes audible against the thick plastic of the table. But she's not in pain, not really, its release and she needs release.
It doesn't mean he wouldn't rather provide it himself.
But this she needs, she needs no tightness in her chest when she breaths against him, he needs to be able to wrap his arms around her and feel her relaxed and comfortable, not tense from wounds long ago healed that still restrict her movements.
"Okay, Kate?" the therapist asks as he works fingers along her ribs, following the lines of her muscles as they travel around her body, up to her shoulder and around her ribs.
"I'm good," she manages.
Joe meets his eyes over her body, giving him a wink.
She'll be fine.
Joe rests his hand on her back, tapping the skin about three inches above the newly refastened bra.
"Get up slowly."
Castle doesn't heed his advice.
But she does. She's nodding, already lifting her head as he exits the room, leaving him to stand from the chair and gather the piece of fabric he's been toying with between his fingers. "You good?" he asks quietly as he stands in front of her.
"Hmm," she hums.
"Hurt?" he asks as she sits herself up, drawing her body over the legs she's dragged up the bed, kneeling in front of him.
"Yes and no."
"It'll be worse in the morning."
"He said to take a bath," she offers.
"I know," he acknowledges. Hopes his eyes dance a little with a glimmer of inviting himself to join her.
"Okay I'm good," she mutters, finally removing her hand from her head, no more fingers touched to her forehead.
"Here," he hands her the shirt, "I'll meet you outside."
"I'm good," she says, already sliding off the table, shirt pulled over her head quickly, hand on his forearm – he can't tell if it's balance or just a want for proximity.
He tugs down the edge of the shirt, skimming the smooth skin of her stomach with his knuckles, still slick with the oil that's assaulting his senses.
"Good to go?" she asks.
He nods. "I'll take you home."
She steals her bag from his other hand, slinging it over her shoulder and sliding her fingers through his, tugging him through the door to the reception area.
"I'll see you next time, Rick." Joe waves. "Nice to meet you, Kate."
"Castle," she urges, trying to move him toward the small counter.
"I took care of it when I was in before."
She narrows her eyes at him and lets out a steady breath.
"What did you expect?" he smirks at her and waves to the two observing, knowing looks and curiosity.
She huffs and heads down the stairs ahead of him, fingers still linked with his.
He catches her as she reaches for the door, he's about to ask if she's okay, reassure her that this is how this works sometimes. He pays for things and doesn't consult her, doesn't even wait through the polite argument about his insistence. This was his idea, his gesture. So for it to be a gesture, he should be paying.
But she slips her tongue into his mouth, warm and wet, pressing his body back against the wall of the thin hallway as soon as he opens his mouth to speak.
The soft groan he lets out only seems to spur her on, cause her to nip his bottom lip and draw it into her mouth.
"Thank you," she mutters, nose grazing his cheek as she steps back, moving back to the door. "Dinner? Or is there something else I should be worried about?"
He chuckles and pretends to consider, catching her fingers, the ones curled in his lapel not two seconds ago. "Dinner," he decides.
She nods and is already opening the door, heading for the car.
"Good with lasagne?"
She hums approval and drops his fingers to leave him to get in the car.
She's already buckled when he slides in, tugging her hair from the beneath the seatbelt.
"I spoke to Alexis," he offers, "and she wants to talk to us together."
He watches her brow furrow and he stops sliding the key into the ignition, leaves it dangling in the hole, in limbo.
"What did you tell her?" She's hedging.
"We're together." He offers.
"What did she say?" She's curious.
"Nodded and said she'd talk to us later, together, if that was okay. I didn't see why it wouldn't be so I agreed."
Oh. He watches the word form silently on her lips.
"You're okay with that?" he asks quietly. She seems to be okay with that.
She hesitates. "Yes. I'm just…"
"Not used to it, I get it and so does Alexis."
"I've never been in a relationship where my," he listens to the exhale around the word, laden with a lot more meaning now, "partner has a child, let alone one who is about to go to college."
He steals her mouth before she can even turn her head to meet him. "A first?" he teases, watching her let the smile slide across his face, half a nod in acknowledgement.
"But you'll be fine."
He turns the key without looking, a silent cue that they're going to do this together.
"I know, doesn't make it that much easier though."
"Think of it like an interview."
"It will be more like an interrogation and I won't be the one with the upper hand."
He scoffs on a laugh and pulls out into the traffic. "It'll be fine though." He steals her fingers, wonders why he didn't have them in the first place.
"I know. It's just… an adjustment, for both of us I guess."
"What about me?"
She doesn't hesitate to scoff at him. "You cannot tell me you're worried about this transition."
"No I can't. But I want you both to be happy with this shift."
"I owe her answers, I know that. I probably owe her more of an explanation than I ever owed you."
He drags her fingers to his mouth, foot focused on braking for the red light. "The fact you understand that," he kisses the knuckle of her index finger, "means you already understand her more than… most people."
She flicks a finger against his chin, it doesn't escape his notice that she's scraping one of the spots she graced last night and this morning, as lost in him as he is in her.
"Go," she mutters.
He blinks, swallows.
He has to chuckle, drop her fingers and raise an eyebrow in salute, acknowledgement.
But he follows.
He's unsurprised by the way his daughter greets him at the door, arms flung around him so quickly Kate has to step further back to avoid wandering limbs, already hiding behind him.
They both know that won't save her.
Though, maybe she just needs a second to collect her thoughts after the way he's just stroked his tongue through her mouth, holding her against the wall of his elevator with his body for five floors too few.
But he needed those thirty seconds.
And she did too.
He can't help but be amazed at her, even as he greets his daughter with a casual "Hey Pumpkin" and a kiss to the side of her head, only one arm flung around her in return, the other his partner is trying to free herself from, to let him embrace his daughter.
"How was your day?" he asks, trying for normal. It has only been a few hours since she left with Lanie to go to a murder he wasn't called to – he's still undecided if he likes that aspect more or less than her being present when he is. She doesn't need guarding, but sometimes he wonders what she sees that he doesn't, what he hasn't.
With Alexis already launching into a description of their victim he tugs Kate around him.
"Hey," Alexis takes pause before devilling into grotesque details of the wounds the victim received as a result of his impalement.
"You put dinner in the oven?" he asks quietly, interrupting a description of stomach contents. (Thankfully not at all similar to their pending meal.)
"Indeed." She's already heading back across towards the kitchen, continuing, expecting them to follow.
This isn't what he expected from his daughter and by the slip of Kate's arm against his, removing her coat, touching his elbow as she tugs off her boots with apt fingers, it seems that she didn't expect it either.
Though he's not sure either of them know exactly what to expect.
It's not until he's offered his partner and daughter a glass of wine, both rolling their eyes and shaking their heads, too similar as he chops up the ingredients for a salad that things shift from stories of their days to the elephant in the room.
"You should put more ice on your ankle, Dad."
That's all it takes.
Such a slight shift to culminate in her admission – she loves him.
I hope you all survive 47 Seconds - I doubt I will.
But hopefully this can fill the void made by the anticipation of that ;)