Title: More Than Them
Disclaimer: Just finished my internship application. Take from that what you will.
Summary: They're magnets for life as well, and now that they've survived, they need to learn to navigate a life that has ceased to be his or hers. Sequel to More Than This.
Author's Note: Sometimes stories just won't let go. If you haven't read More Than This, I suggest you do, otherwise you'll be utterly lost.
He guides her into the apartment, both of them dragging, feet heavy, bodies weary, limbs uncoordinated and sloppy with their movements. He locks up and they don't even bother with pretense, chucking their jackets onto the chair by the closet, slipping off their shoes and leaving them by the door.
No one's home.
He smiles as she turns to look at him, now a good five inches shorter than he is—the perfect size. He reaches out to haul her into his chest and she comes willingly. Her forehead brushes his chin as she lets her head drop to his shoulder, arms wrapped around him, her body melding into his, all planes and curves and Kate.
One of his hands strays up to burrow into her hair, massaging through her thick locks and down to her scalp. She hums in contentment and he lets the other hand trail over her back as he stares at his apartment. Every time they nearly die he's always struck by how completely regular it looks here—how nothing changes even when he's watched his life flash past his eyes.
But something's different this time, something warm and soft in his arms, breathing against his neck; Kate is here with him, and it makes all the difference in the world.
He could stand there all day, content with her wrapped around him, in love with him. But he's starting to sway on his feet and he can feel her trembling, adrenaline leaving them in waves that crash down, pulling them under, heavy, hard, falling.
"Water," he murmurs to the top of her head, squeezing her back before gently pulling away.
She looks up at him, a smile on her face, and he's glad to see her with a little more color. Though, maybe it's a blush. He did manage to slide his palm over her ass on the way down—accidentally, of course.
"I almost want to say screw food and just stand in the shower for an hour," she admits, running a hand self consciously through her hair.
"I really would rather clean your cheek, but if we don't eat and drink, we're gonna pass out," he replies, taking her hand and bringing her through to the kitchen.
He leaves her at the counter and rummages in the fridge for two water bottles, pulling out a container of dumplings as well. He throws the carton into the microwave for three minutes and brings the waters to his partner, who's now slumped down on one of the stools.
He hands her the bottle and she looks up, curling her fingers around the plastic as she twists off the top. "Thanks."
He nods and takes a swig from his own. The water is cool against his throat, parched and dry and gone completely unnoticed until now. He watches in amusement as she drains her own bottle in time with his. They laugh quietly at the absurdity of it all, of chugging water together, of being in his kitchen under the warm lights, near the roaring fireplace, of being together here in his home, alive.
The microwave dings and he grabs the container with a cloth, bringing it over with two forks. It's not elegant, and they tear through the food in a matter of minutes. It's not much either, but they have all night to make more food, or order a pizza, since he can't imagine having the energy for anything more.
She sighs as they hit the bottom, briefly battling over the last one. He gives in. He always will. Though, giving her the last dumpling is hardly paramount to giving her heat in a freezer, or his body in a collapse; but as neither of those seemed to do much good at the time, he's happy to surrender the last of their snack.
She slumps forward and pushes the carton out of the way, pillowing her head on her arms, her face turned to him, injured cheek carefully held away from her skin. Her light-grey sweater would look more fetching without the soot from the subway and the smear of blood he thinks is probably from his own hand.
"Come on," he says softly, hauling himself up and extending his hand to her as she eyes him with contempt.
"Counter's comfy," she protests, and it's the closest to whining he thinks he's ever heard her.
"Shower will be warmer," he entices, hiding his smile, because he knows it'll just infuriate her that he's amused by her right now.
She gives a heaving sigh and lets him pull her up, wrapping his arm around her waist as he steers her through the office and into his bedroom. The fact that they don't stop at all as they make their way to the bathroom is a testament to how tired they truly are.
It honestly should be more awkward, trailing her through his loft—through the parts of the loft she's never seen. Her eyes remain fixed ahead, sometimes flicking to their feet to make sure she doesn't trip, instead of looking around, taking in the details of the parts of his life he's only ever hoped to share. But he's hell bent on cleaning her cheek and cleaning them both off before they collapse in his bed, and he can't take the time to let her look around.
Someday, he'll probably wistfully wonder if there could have been another trajectory, one full of passion and things falling off the side tables, pillows cascading to the floor. But tonight isn't about sex. It's just about them, and he smiles as they step into his bathroom. Without a woman there to impress he tends to let his room get a little man-cavey. But he cleaned about a week ago, and for that he's absurdly grateful.
He guides her over to the sink and clears some of his things away before gripping her waist. He bends and lifts her up, laughing at her gasp of shock as he easily plops her down on his counter. She weighs almost nothing—nearly the same as Alexis.
She shoots him a look as he moves around her, reaching up to her left to grab the hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol, snagging a bag of cotton balls as he goes.
"I'm not a sack of flour," she informs him.
He nods, as if it's new information, and brushes the hair away from her injured cheek, leaning close to examine the wound. It's not too deep, but there are little flecks of dirt within the narrow gash, and they need to come out. He opens the peroxide and flips the bottle over on a cotton ball, setting it back down when the little puff is soggy. She watches his movements with curiosity and a softness that throws him as he brings the ball up to her cheek, gently patting it over the cut.
She winces as it fizzes, not out of pain, but out of shock at the sound, he assumes.
"No," she says, meeting his eyes. "But the alcohol's gonna be a bitch."
He gives her a sad smile and prepares another one while he blows gently on the cut. "Ready?" he asks as he brings the cotton ball up to her cheek.
She nods and he swipes it across, recoiling at her hiss of pain. He likes taking care of her, but not if it involves watching her in pain. And he knows it's minor—a passing moment, a slight sting—but it cuts into him, some remnant from the day behind them.
"Sorry," he murmurs.
She lets out a small breath as the stinging subsides and opens her eyes to meet his, one of her hands reaching out to rub at the corner of his eye. "Needed to be done."
He nods and she smiles, gripping his arm as he tosses the cotton ball into the sink. "We need to clean your hand too," she says, tugging until his injured right hand is in her lap.
She squeezes his wrist before reaching out for the peroxide, repeating his process on his hand. But her fingers are gentle and once every little bubble has fizzed out of the cut, she blows across the back of his palm, her breath soothing and cool. The alcohol is another story. It burns, intensely, and he can only remember the feeling of his knuckles after he attacked Lockwood; it's the only pain in his hands that beats this moment.
"You really have to stop hurting this," she says, meeting his eyes, apparently there with him in the memory. "Kind of your livelihood."
He chuckles as the stinging subsides, watching the way her cheeks dimple as she smiles at him. She's so beautiful—dirty and beautiful.
"We should shower," he says, and suddenly his voice sounds about ten times louder than it has for the past five minutes, perhaps and octave higher too. Because now he's talking about water, and her naked, and he really doesn't want to send her upstairs, or do the gentlemanly thing and take the lesser shower in the guest bathroom.
He doesn't want to leave her, which is absurd, because they're just fine.
"Kind of trapping me," she says lightly, and he realizes that he's still standing in the vee of her legs.
He goes to step back, but her hand is at the nape of his neck before he can move, and then she's pulling him in to press her lips to his. It's slow, and tender, and calm, compared to the saddened frenzy of their kisses in the room. He lets his hands run up and down her sides, can't help himself, and she sighs into his mouth just before she pulls away.
"I'm going to fall asleep in the shower if we don't do it soon," she says and he thinks his eyes nearly fall out of his head, his brain pulled in far too many directions by the comment.
She smirks and pats his cheek before pushing on his chest to force him to step back. She slides down from the counter and slips around him, leaning into his walk-in shower to turn on the water. Then she spins around to face him and they stare at each other. The white tile of the floor and lower walls only serve to make the dirt stand out. They're well and truly filthy, with flecks of blood and dust and black, from something—maybe the floor—all over their clothes and skin.
He opens his mouth, pauses, and shuts it. What does he say? Does he just…start taking his clothes off? Will she smack him? Will she do the opposite?
He watches as something settles over her face—something serene, if he has to give it an adjective. Then she reaches down and tugs her sweater up and off her body, leaving her in a white tank top and red bra. He grins and she laughs at him. He can't control it. She's wearing a bright red bra and, shit, lifting her tank top off, leaving her in only the bra and her work slacks. And even dirty, tired, and slightly maimed, she's the sexiest thing he's ever seen.
"You gonna gawk or are you joining me?" she asks with a smug smile as she unzips her pants, watching as he peruses her body unabashedly.
He feels himself fumbling with his own shirt, yanking it off without really noticing. His fingers undo his fly and he pulls his pants down as she stands there in that red bra and black lace panties. And then they're staring at each other in their underwear, with steam pouring out of the shower behind her. If he weren't so thoroughly exhausted, he likes to think he'd be ripping those scraps of fabric from her body, devouring her neck, letting his hands ravage her body, and pushing her up against the glass.
She gives him a smile, as if reading his mind, and reaches behind her to undo the clasp, shimming the garment from her shoulders. He knows his eyes should be drawn to her breasts, bare before him, but he can't seem to look at anything but the little puckered scar between them—the mark that proves that she's alive, she's lived, she's risen from flames and ice and earth.
"Castle," she says gently, bringing his eyes back to her face. "Come on."
He nearly trips out of his boxers as she slides that last scrap of lace down her legs, kicking it off to meet the rest of their clothes in a disheveled pile on the floor. Her fingers reach out for his and he takes her hand, letting her pull him into the shower, stunned.
The water is warm and smooth against his skin and he sighs, watching as she lets it slick through her hair in the opposite stream, her arms raised above her shoulders. She's gorgeous. Dirt sluices down both of their bodies, turning the tiles beneath them brown and red, but he doesn't care.
He reaches out for her, pulling her into his chest so that he can look down into her face, can run his hand through her wet hair, smooth his thumb beneath her eye across her uninjured cheek.
She reaches up and rubs gently at his forehead, wiping away a smudge he remembers seeing briefly in the mirror. "Shampoo?" she asks, her hand falling to rest on his shoulder.
He nods but doesn't move, too captivated by her eyes and the feel of her slick, naked body pressed up against his. He just wants her closer, wants to stay this way, wrapped around her for the rest of the night. But it doesn't last.
She gently pulls away, pressing her cheek against his palm as he sighs. His eyes stray from her face, trailing down her body to settle on the little scar at the center of her chest. He finds he's not really thinking as he bends, wrapping his arms around her to arch her up to meet his lips. The skin is rough beneath his mouth and he presses four kisses there, assuring himself of her life and her breath and the fast pound of her heart.
She gasps softly as he makes his first contact and one of her hands comes up to fist into his hair, the other bolstered on his back to make sure she doesn't fall.
"Rick," she murmurs, her voice a whisper above the water and the sound of their mingled breath.
He stands, supporting her as she regains her footing. "I'm just so glad you're alive," he says, feeling his heart running down his arms, pouring over his non-existent sleeves. He just doesn't have it in him to keep it bottled up tonight.
She searches his eyes for a moment and then raises up on her toes to press her lips to his in a soft kiss. She pulls back, arms around his neck, and feathers her lips over his jaw as she works her way back to his ear. It's all he can do to stay standing, and he clutches at her, overcome.
"We're alive," she says before she presses a kiss to his ear.
He hums and takes a step back to bring them both under his showerhead, reaching out to grab his shampoo from the shelf to his right. She squeaks, grabbing onto his shoulders to stay upright. He laughs and lets his head rest against hers where she's still wrapped around him.
"It'll be pathetic if we end up the hospital for slipping in the shower," she says as she slides back down his body to step away, extending her palm for a dollop of shampoo.
He shakes his head and gently turns her around so he can rub his soapy fingers through her hair, lathering it until she's dripping a deluge of white bubbles down to the floor, her head tipped back, eyes closed. He ignores the sting on the back of his palm—can't find it in himself to care, not when she's humming like that, her hair sleek in his hands. He smiles and guides her fully under the spray, washing the shampoo from her hair. He runs his fingers through it, softly tugging out the knots until it runs smoothly through his fingers.
She sighs and blinks as he tips her head back up. "I don't have any, uh, girly conditioners," he says with a small shrug. "But it should comb out."
"I'll live," she decides, taking the bottle back from the shelf and pouring a portion into her hands. "Bend," she instructs quietly.
He does, rather unable to believe that Kate Beckett is washing his hair without a care in the world for the fact that his face is now level with her chest. He certainly doesn't mind. Whatever she's doing with her fingertips against his scalp has to be one of the best thing he's ever felt, and the view of her amazing body doesn't hurt either. She straightens him up after a moment and walks him back into the opposite spray, reaching up to scrub the suds from his hair.
He blinks, rubbing the water from his eyes, and she looks around. Her eyes light up and she grabs a loofa from the far corner of the stall, pouring his body wash onto it and soaking it until it's a ball of suds. She smiles and steps closer, laying one hand over his shoulder as the other runs the loofa across his chest.
He watches, rather fascinated and in awe as she washes the dirt from his body. She steps around him to get at his back and he sucks in a breath as she places the loofa on the shelf to their right, melding her front to his back, her lips meeting his top vertebra in a soft, open kiss.
She wraps her arms around him and he brings his injured hand up to cover hers where they meet at the base of his ribcage. He feels her move against his back until her chin rests on his shoulder.
"I'm hungry," she says, her breath tickling his ear.
He laughs quietly. "I was thinking pizza?"
She nods against his shoulder. "Sounds good."
He goes to turn around, to return the favor, to enjoy the freedom of running his hands over her body, but she shakes her head. "No, stay," she whispers, laying her cheek down on his shoulder and taking a deep breath.
He smiles and turns his head to press his lips to her forehead, now clean and free of dust and dirt. He catches her answering smile out of the corner of his eye.
"We're gonna wrinkle," he says and she laughs, her hands squeezing at his chest.
"Fine," she huffs, releasing him and stepping around so that she's standing in front of him again.
He feels the loss of her keenly and wastes no time in reaching for the loofa, tugging her in to wash her back by wrapping his body around hers. He bends his head to press his lips to the column of her throat, smiling against her skin when she sighs and angles her head away to give him greater access. Her body is smooth beneath his hands, and really, he could be doing more with the loofa, but he can't resist the feel of her under his fingers—the way she shivers against him when he brushes over her side to bring his soapy palms to her stomach.
He pulls back to watch his hands moving along her abdomen and then he gasps, information flooding his brain.
That's around the time I got my tattoo.
She wasn't kidding. She actually has a tattoo. She laughs as he drops to his knees, eager to get a closer look at the little phantom butterfly on her hip, pointed wings unfurled in greens and blues that contrast starkly with her pale, creamy skin.
He doesn't really give thought to the fact that he's kneeling before her, naked, his hands bolstered on her hips, face close to a place he's only dreamed about. He's just so fascinated by this little spot of color—so very unlike her now.
"Why a butterfly?" he asks, looking up at her face as she watches him, one of her hands coming to rest on the side of his head, threading through his hair.
She closes her eyes for a moment and then opens them, preparing herself for a secret he figures she didn't realize she'd lay bare tonight. "They're free," she says quietly. "And at the time, that's all I wanted."
He nods contemplatively. He can see a young, wild Kate laughing and dragging a friend—Maddie?—into the tattoo parlor, demanding this tattoo. And for all that it signified, the freedom, the trip across the country to Stanford, the release from the confines of a nice New York life, she wound up right back home, more caged than before.
His lips press into her stomach without thought, because he hates the idea of this woman caged—of all of the cages that still settle around her, around them. He's joined her in the dark, and together, he hopes they're finding the light, removing pieces bar by bar until there's nothing left but freedom.
He chuckles as something else sneaks back into his mind.
"It's a blue butterfly," he laughs, looking up at her, watching the realization crash over her face, until she's laughing too.
"I didn't think…"
"Well, it certainly isn't fake," he grins, leaning down to run his lips over the ink, her skin just as sweet there as everywhere else.
She smells a bit like him tonight, and he enjoys the change, but also can't wait until she walks out of his bathroom smelling like her, bringing her body wash and shampoo into his bed with her, all cherries and vanilla.
"I would hope it's not," she says, her fingers soft as they card through his wet hair. "Or cursed."
He shakes his head, his nose brushing her stomach before he presses one last kiss to her skin. He hauls himself up, accepting her help until they're chest to chest, clean and shiny, bodies seeking strength and comfort.
"No, I think you're safe," he says as they stare at each other. Her stomach rumbles and they laugh, foreheads pressed together. "And hungry."
"Yeah," he nods, closing his eyes for a brief moment, soaking in the last of Kate Beckett naked in his arms, in his shower, before he turns and shuts off the water, quickly walking them out and onto the cool tiles of the bathroom floor. He grabs two large fluffy towels and wraps one around her before tying his own around his waist.
He watches as she dries her body, efficient, but probably letting her chest bounce more than is truly necessary, just because she can. He's not objecting. She grins at him as she finally wraps the white terrycloth around her body, tucking it in against the side of her breasts as she moves around him to grab his comb. He watches as she runs it through her hair, pulling at the latent tangles with a small grimace. She's adorable, and he has to bite his cheek to keep from saying so.
"Do you have a hair tie?" she asks, turning to him with an arched brow, like she knows he's been observing her, and doesn't mind. It makes his chest clench comfortably to know that she likes having him watch her putter around his bathroom.
She's short circuited his brain and she has the audacity to laugh. "Hair tie, Castle?"
"Uh, not on me?" he manages. "But, Alexis or mother might."
Kate shakes her head and wrings her hair out into the sink. "I'll let it dry. You'll just have to deal with the mess."
"You're beautiful," is the first thing out of his mouth in response and he fights the urge to smack himself. There are better, more appropriate, and damn more romantic moments to say such things.
Then again, the look she gives him, tender and grateful and loving, says that she doesn't mind. "Thanks. Now, come on."
She takes his hand and pulls him from the bathroom and into his dim bedroom. He leaves her, suddenly back in his right mind, and rummages for a pair of small-ish sweats for her. He snags a dress shirt from the couch in the corner and hands them to her before he grabs clothes for himself.
They change without discomfort. They've already seen and touched and caressed each other; what's a little more skin, really? Though, as the last of her lithe figure disappears beneath his clothes, he feels his suppressed want bury itself beneath his affection, waiting until the moment they have more energy. He's going to have to work very hard not to completely ravish her the moment they wake up tomorrow.
But that's a challenge for then. For now, he wants to soak up the image of Kate dwarfed by his clothes, rolling up the sleeves of his deep purple button down, her hair leaving dark stains around the collar and shoulders.
She tosses him a smile as he reaches for the landline on his bedside, punching the fifth key for the pizza place on speed dial. He follows her with his eyes as she wanders around the room, speaking distractedly to the poor kid on the other end of the line. But if he could see what Castle sees, could watch Kate as she picks up picture frames and flips over books, he thinks the kid would have trouble speaking too.
He hangs up, stomach already churning in anticipation. "Fifteen minutes," he says as she looks up from a photo of him and Alexis at the museum, staring up at the tyrannosaurus, mirror images of wonder on their faces.
"Great," Kate says as she gives him a smile and places the picture back on the shelf. "Will you judge me if I fall asleep right after we eat?"
"Will you judge me if I fall asleep while we eat?" he laughs, walking over to take her hand and bring her out through the office and into the living room.
"My gun," she sighs as she sinks onto the couch, looking over toward her jacket. "It's locked but I shouldn't just leave it over there, right?"
He grins and jogs to the door, his muscles protesting his every move. But he's not about to pass up the opportunity to put her gun into his safe. It's just too cool.
She's laughing at him when he comes back from his office, the gun protected and out of the way, where his mother and daughter cannot accidentally find it.
"What?" he asks, plopping down next to her where she's sprawled out, legs pulled up beside her, knees bent, head bolstered on her arm along the back of the couch.
"You've shot that gun," she says as he slides himself beneath her, shifting her head from her arm to his shoulder, wrapping his own arm around hers. "I would think it's lost some of its appeal."
He looks down at her, comfortable and relaxed against his body, content in place of terrified, seeking nothing but physicality—no caving ceilings, no bombs, no freezers, just them.
"Perhaps out in the field," he agrees, carding his fingers through her damp hair. "But I've never had your gun in my safe before."