A/N: Slight spoilers for 4x16, "Linchpin."
Her lungs burn and burn and burn but she keeps swimming, kicking her long legs as hard as she can, her brain screaming at her to keep going even though the surface doesn't look any goddamn closer than it did in the car. Castle is nothing but deadweight under her arm but she doesn't care. He's her partner and she'd sooner drown with him than leave him behind. She had only seconds. Precious seconds.
Finally, Beckett's head breaks the surface and she inhales so deeply that water shoots straight up her nose and makes her gag. She yanks Castle's face up to the surface and sputters, looking around to find the shore. She swims for the edge of the river, her arms shaking and aching as if she'd been swimming for hours, and makes it there, dragging Castle by his shoulders onto the cold, wet ground. Lights from nearby ships bounce off the water and she can hear the distant whine of sirens, but nothing matters because he's not breathing and she needs him to be.
"Come on, Castle, don't do this! Breathe! Breathe, dammit!" she shouts hoarsely as she starts CPR, shoving both palms against his sternum again and again. She can't tell if the water on her face is from the river or not and hates it. She shoves her mouth to his, breathing for him, praying that she can see his eyes one last time, hear his stupid laugh, see his smug smirk after he makes a bad joke, feel the brush of his fingertips when he hands her a fresh mug of coffee.
After the third time, Castle finally responds—coughing up several mouthfuls of water. Beckett's heart beats loud and fast in her chest, nearly drowning out his soft groans as he blinks up at her.
She wipes her nose, flashing him a weary, damn near watery smile. "Welcome back, Rick."
He lies there, panting, sounding exhausted. "What happened?"
"After you shot off my seatbelt, you lost the rest of your air going out the back window. I got us up to the surface. Figures. I'm always pulling your weight, aren't I?" she laughs, trying to hide the sob rattling around her ribs. The urge to cry is nearly overwhelming but she shoves it down behind her wall, behind the secret that could break them apart, because he's too good for her and deserves only lies, not truth. At least that's how she sees it.
"Are you okay?" he asks, which makes her smile wider. Even at death's doorstep, Richard Castle is still a gentleman.
"I'll be sore for a few days, but I'll live."
She turns as she hears the ambulance and the cop cars screech to a halt on the dock above them. Castle tilts his head backwards, watching the police spill out into the night.
"Here comes the cavalry. Late as always. I wonder who'll yell at us first: Sophia or Gates?"
"Or Espo. Or Ryan."
"Or my mother. Or Alexis. Or Lanie. Hell, maybe you should have let us drown. We'd be in less trouble then."
She barely has time to laugh before the EMTs swoop in and haul them away into the ambulance to check their vitals. Someone had seen their car get pushed in and called the authorities. Lucky. Too lucky.
Kate stares at her phone, her hands clasped together, kneading. Sophia had ripped them to shreds and kicked them off the case. She didn't mind that, really. She hated working with the CIA and their slick technology and cold, empty bullpen. She hated the bad coffee. She hated the way Sophia looked at Castle with those big brown eyes—like she knew every curve of his body, every slope of his smile, every punch line of his jokes. Funny how Castle was so prone to comic book and TV references but couldn't deduce that Sophia was Beckett's evil twin from a parallel universe.
Kate runs her fingers through her hair, continuing to stare at her phone. The time blinks up at her accusingly. 1:35am. She should be sleep. But she's not. It's not the case, this time. It's the cold feeling of water everywhere. It's the memory of being surrounded in inky darkness and wondering if the most important person in her life is gone. Reaching out. Finding nothing. No one. Dying alone, secrets and all.
Before she knows it, the phone is in her hand and dialing away. She panics as he picks up on the second ring and she has nothing to say yet.
Ah, hell, he even called her Kate. Damn him. "Hi. Um, I'm sorry, I was trying to text you and my finger hit the wrong button. New phone," she explains, ramming her palm against her forehead as she realizes how stupid that sounds.
"No, it's okay. I was awake anyway. What's up?"
Kate stands there, completely tongue-tied. A million words pile up in her throat. Was there a less needy way to say 'I need you'? Probably not.
In his apartment, Castle feels his eyebrow raising in confusion at the silence that greets him. He finally puts two and two together. Throw her a bone, Rick.
"Y'know, uh, I'm kind of hungry. I was actually thinking about heading to this little place on Seventh that serves breakfast twenty four seven. If you wanted to go."
"That actually sounds great," Kate replies, relieved that he had been kind enough to bail her out.
"I'll meet you there."
She hangs up and lets out a haggard sigh.
"Brilliant, Kate. Brilliant."
She's only been here for fifteen minutes and she's already laughing. No, not laughing. Giggling. Like a friggin' schoolgirl. She wishes she could blame it on alcohol but she hasn't had a drop. Maybe a sugar high. She opted for the applewood bacon and pancakes while Castle went for the country omelet and buttermilk biscuit. Their food sits half finished as Castle continues with his ridiculous anecdote.
"—and somehow, they dropped the charges and I kept the rubber duck."
Kate shakes her head. "Wow, Castle. Even for you, that's just…wow."
He grins, taking a sip of his orange juice. "It's all true, hand to God. Ask Alexis. She even has the receipt."
"I'll make sure to verify that claim," she muses, reaching for the last piece of bacon. Castle beats her to it, causing her jaw to drop as he takes a bite out of it.
"What? You had six pieces. The waiter's got a crush, obviously."
"The waiter is a girl."
He paused. "I stand by my accusation."
Kate rolls her eyes, grabbing her fork and stealing a chunk of his omelet. "See how much you like me eating off your plate."
"I prefer it, actually." She kicks him in the shin and there it is—that smug grin of his that helps him get out of any situation. Before anyone else can speak, their waitress reappears with the check, glancing between them expectantly.
"Here you go. Actually, we're running a couples' special tonight. 25% off your check."
"—officially married yet," Castle interrupts with a gallant smile and a twinkle in his eyes.
"Does that still count?"
The waitress smiles, leaving the bill on the table. "Oh, trust me. You two are definitely married. You just don't know it yet."
With a wink, she leaves, heading for another table. Kate gives Castle a glare.
"What was that?"
"Hey, even to millionaire crime novelists, 25% off is pretty good," he admits, reaching for the bill. Kate snatches it up.
"Doesn't matter since I'm paying."
"Why are you paying? I invited you out."
"Because I said so, that's why," she replies, taking out her wallet to find her credit card. Castle shakes his head, knowing it's a battle he can't possibly win. He watches her as she writes her name—typical cop chicken scratch on the signature and tip—and can't help feeling a rush of warmth at the knowledge that they had made it out of yet another brush with death. She feels the weight of his eyes, glancing upward for a brief moment before going back to the bill.
"What is it?"
"Close call today," he says in a low voice. Kate snaps her wallet closed and tucks it into her coat pocket, avoiding eye contact.
His lips part. Words jumble up in his throat. He wants to tell her he was happy they made it out alive, that he's happy to see her smile and laugh, her hazel eyes, her damned perfect hair, her glowing skin, but he can't because he's made the decision not to tell her the truth. She's radiant and flawless and she deserves lies because the truth is too painful. He gets to stay with her but he doesn't get to ask the heavy questions. Doesn't get to hold her in his arms. Doesn't get to ask her what's wrong.
In the end, he closes his mouth and glances at his watch. "Getting pretty late. We have an early day if we're gonna try to catch some leads on the case."
"Yeah," she admits. "Better get out of here."
They walk out into the cool night and take the slowest route to Kate's car. Well, the one she borrowed from Ryan, anyway. Her car is still at the bottom of the river. Rick had taken a cab and looks as if he doesn't want to catch another. She stands by the driver's side, playing with her keys like a nervous girl on a first date.
"Thanks for inviting me out, Castle," she says. He smiles and it looks sweet and private in the dimly lit parking lot.
She smiles back. They stay there, smiling at each other, for a long moment until she finally breaks.
"Need a ride home?"
He shrugs. "Sure, why not? Beats catching a cab at this hour."
Relief spreads through her. Good old Castle. He always could read between the lines.
She drives in comfortable silence—no teasing, no wild theories about the Pandora case, no bickering about Sophia—just plain companionable silence. She needs this feeling of familiarity. Being in a car so soon after the accident makes her feel on edge, but Castle's silhouette next to her calms her down. He needs to be there. He's her partner, after all.
Too soon, she pulls up to his street and parks, resting her hand on the stick shift. It's almost four o'clock in the morning and the neighborhood is empty and mostly dark. She lets out a long, quiet breath and then it happens. In the darkness, she feels his hand rest atop hers. He doesn't say anything. He doesn't look at her or joke or smile. He leaves his hand there as a comforting weight that works better than any of his speeches—wonderful and heartwarming though they are. And it's exactly what she needs.
She doesn't bother to count how long they stay that way but eventually he squeezes her fingers to let her know that he's about to leave.
"So…see you tomorrow?"
She turns to him and smiles. There are tears in her eyes. "Yeah. Night, Castle."
He leaves. She drives home and goes to sleep without a problem.
A/N: This is only my second Castle fic so be gentle. Tap that Review button and let me know how it fares. To be honest, "Linchpin" was just an alright episode to me. I think my expectations were high and I really wanted to see Castle or Beckett give the other person CPR because it would be really nerve wracking for them. Thanks for reading!