Title: Good For You
Disclaimer: Kind of still at college…
Summary: When the Dragon is slain, there's just a life to be lived. And sometimes there's more to learn in peace than in war.
Late sunlight glints off the high arched windows above them as he turns to look at her. She's slumped against the tan brick, head down as she stares at her blood covered feet. It's not her blood. She used her spare pair of shoes earlier in the day, so these bloody chucks are all she has at the precinct. Her blazer's not fairing much better than her shoes, and a patch of her loose hanging hair is uneven. He has no idea how that happened.
A random part of his mind wonders if she'll cut it all off again. He kind of liked her hair short like that—the pixie, power look. Of course, it's not important right now. None of her appearance is important, but for the face she's hiding behind her curtain of tangled hair.
"Kate," he says softly, taking a step toward her, ignoring the not-so-innocent looks the guard at the door is throwing their way. He figures she doesn't really care anymore.
She doesn't respond until he's directly in front of her, the toes of their shoes touching, bloody red to dirt-stained black. Finally, she lifts her head, and he's not surprised by the tear tracks down her face. The steel in her eyes is what catches him, and he stumbles back a step. His shadow falls over her face as she peers at him, blinking, like his presence is confusing.
Call? Oh, he called Alexis. And then he turned around and Kate was gone, came down here, to the street, where she's just Kate, not Beckett. Where she's small and broken and still standing tall despite everything that's happened.
"She says hi," he offers, at a loss for something better. "Told me to get us ice cream."
She doesn't smile, but her eyes soften just a hair. Oh, his daughter is totally magic, even when she's not there. "Ice cream," Kate repeats.
"Yeah. Or food. Have you eaten?" His stomach rumbles. "Have we eaten?"
"Yesterday," she rasps out. Thirsty too. He needs to get nourishment into this woman before she collapses, whether she's emotionally ready to do so or not.
"Come on," he says gently, reaching out a hand. He won't push her, but he's not going to stand back and let her go home alone. Not after all of this. Not after their fights, and horrible words, and needy kisses, and triumphant, broken, bleeding, desperate hugs.
She pauses for the briefest of moments before she takes his hand and lets him guide her down the street. She holds too tight, squeezes too much, bites her lip. He sees the strain even the walk costs her. She wants to stay strong. She wants to stay tall.
But he doesn't care if she's weak, could care less if she crumpled, doesn't give a damn if she's weeping and tired and needing. He is. He needs the too-tight grip of her fingers and the ragged, willful rise and fall of her chest. He needs her alive with him, and whether that's getting black-out drunk at his bar, or weeping together on the floor of her apartment, he doesn't care. He just needs her.
She glances at him as they walk another block, aimless. He doesn't know if she's up for a Starbucks, just to get water and a muffin. No coffee. Her system can't handle it now, not after he had to listen to her dry-heaving in the single bathroom in the basement. She wouldn't let him in—just accepted the small cup of water on her way out with barely a glance in his direction.
He doesn't know how to let go, but she doesn't seem to want him to.
"Cab," she says, her voice hoarse.
He tugs her to the curb and raises his hand. A taxi begins to meander over to them. It's the beautiful woman at his side, he's sure. He never gets this kind of service on his own. He ushers her into the back and settles beside her, smiling lightly as her fingers find his knee, anchoring her to him of their own accord.
"Address?" the cabbie asks, his gruff voice a shock to their exhausted systems.
He glances at Kate, but she's staring out the window, her free hand curled up to her chest, fingers stroking the spot he knows she usually reserves for her mother's ring. He's glad she didn't wear it today; she would have lost it. He's not sure she can bear to lose anything else.
He snaps his gaze back to the driver and lets out a small puff of breath, hedging his bets. "Broome and Crosby, please," he says.
The man grunts and turns around, bald spot shining with sunlight as he pulls back onto the street.
"That okay?" Castle asks, too late. He wants her to have the option of saying no. He doesn't, actually, but he owes it to her. She's her own person. She makes her own decisions.
"Hmm?" she mumbles, prying her eyes away from the street to look over at him.
That worries him more than anything—the lack of emotion, of care, for where she goes, how she goes, what happens now.
"Do you want to order in?"
She blinks at him. "Oh, um. Not if—I can make pasta or something."
He gives her a smile and threads his fingers through hers on his knee. "I'll make it."
She nods slowly and leans toward him. He meets her halfway, his shoulder at the ready. The warm weight of her head makes his heart soar. Her soft exhale against the worn cotton of his flannel makes him smile. He releases her hand to wrap his arm around her, and it seems like she cuddles into him without a second thought.
"Do you still have clothes at my place?" he murmurs as they wait through another light. It's the height of rush hour now and he finds the constant stop and start isn't doing anything good for his stomach.
By the way her eyes are closed and the sound of her measured breathing, it's not doing much for hers either. "Pants, maybe," she sighs out.
She took everything back—all the random clothes, extra sweatshirts and heels—to wash and repack two weeks ago. They've barely slept at all since then, and half of it was stolen on the break room couch.
"You can wear my shirt," he tells her, stroking his thumb over her shoulder, dipping into the little tear on her tricep, reaching her smooth skin.
"Not this one, I hope," she offers.
He laughs, startled, and looks down to find her smiling into his shirt, eyes closed, but teeth exposed, gleaming against the grime on her beautiful face. They're so lucky to be here, in this taxi, covered in filth and blood. He's so lucky she's still with him. The bullet missed her by an inch. Hers didn't—straight to the eyes. After that, they'd gotten the Governor easily, strong-armed him and carried him out, his lone enforcer a cold corpse with Kate Beckett's bullet lodged between his eyes.
The man who shot her last summer is dead at her hand. And now Castle has her live and breathing beside him, her fingers toying with his tattered pants.
The car jerks suddenly and she groans as they lurch forward and back.
"Pain?" he asks, shifting to get a better look at her.
"Hit the wall a little hard in that fight," she admits, sitting up so she can meet his eyes. "But I'm good."
"We should have gotten you checked out," he says dejectedly. She wouldn't hear of it. But maybe he should have insisted. What if she's got broken ribs, internal bleeding? What if it's all for naught? What if she dies in the night anyway?
"Hey," her soft voice calls him back. "You got to him before he did any serious damage," she assures him, reaching up to wipe his cheek. Shit, is he crying? He better not be crying.
No, it's just a smudge of something black. He doesn't really want to know what it is. "You sure?"
She nods. "Your hand okay?"
He glances down at his reddened right knuckles with the lone gash Lanie treated. They're sore, but not nearly as bad as the time he punched out Hal Lockwood. He's learned since then.
"They're fine," he says, giving her a lopsided grin. "Bet I'll have a good scar."
She shakes her head and takes his hand in hers, bringing them both to her chest. "So we match."
He feels himself let out a startled breath at the look in her eyes—tender, grief-stricken, triumphant, broken, whole, in love. "I love this scar," he says, his filter off as he strokes his thumb over her shirt.
She ducks her head but brings their hands to her lips, pressing a soft kiss to his injured knuckles. The cab jerks and she startles, dropping his hand as a bang sounds beside them—a car backfire. He can see the smoke puffing out of the exhaust pipe of the rusty truck out her window.
He brings his eyes back to his partner. Her face is taught, lips pressed together in a tight line. Pale—she's sheet white, her chest rising and falling with rapid, uneven breath, beads of sweat already forming at her temple.
"Kate," he says gently.
She shakes her head and he sees the blood leave her bottom lip where she's biting hard enough to leave marks. She takes a few shallow breaths and releases her lip to pant. "I…" the words stick and she makes a desperate sound, somewhere between a sob and a whimper.
"Oh, Kate," he sighs, reaching for her, giving her time to jerk away, if she needs to.
But she lets him—lets him love her, cradle her to his chest, bolster her, support her with the strength in his body and the despair for the woman in his arms. He hangs on as she shakes. He knows it's more than the latent PTSD—knows the torrent is only lapping at the dam.
By the time they reach their stop, he's shaking too. She pulls back and swipes at her eyes. He'd dry her tears, but he has to pay the cabbie and she's already gotten out on her side in a brief break in traffic. He stumbles after her, meeting her at the door. She's in a rush, striding through the lobby, even her flat soles sending ringing steps around the room.
He's right beside her, pushing the button to the elevator with enough force to break it. It's lucky nothing in his building is cheap. She's jittery, won't catch his hand or look at him, and it breaks his heart, not because she's ignoring him, but because she's doing everything she can to stay strong, just for the people in his building.
He hopes, now that it's over—now that she has closure and peace—she can learn to fall down. The doors open and she darts inside, moving into the far corner as he presses for their floor. He turns to watch her as the doors shut, leaving them alone in the elevator together, with nothing but the sound of machinery and the ragged pant of her breath to fill his ears.
"Kate," he murmurs, extending his hands for her as he slowly walks to stand in front of her where she's huddled, fists clenched on the metal bars, head pushed back into the corner.
"I'm fine," she grinds out, her jaw clenched.
"You're not," he asserts, taking her hands in his, fists and all.
"Castle," she groans on a plea.
The elevator stops and he gives her a gentle smile. No pity. He doesn't pity her, and he tries to show it. He just wants to help. She follows him with jerking steps as he backs them down the hall.
His mother's out, and Alexis is at school. He wishes he could have sent her off without the guilt. She knew she took him away from Kate, and he knew that Kate would have killed him if he hadn't gone to move her in, hadn't taken the whole day for just his kid. And God, he misses his kid.
She's safe at Columbia, in her dorm, far enough away to be removed from everything. And he's called, been there whenever she needs him. He knows she doesn't begrudge him it. He just wishes he wasn't so torn. But maybe now he won't be. Maybe now, Kate and Alexis and his mother will be one—no more separation, no more divide. Just their life together as a little family.
He releases her to unlock the door. He flips on the lights, illuminating the whole bottom floor. No shadows. No surprises. Safety. He needs to make her safe, make her feel safe.
She closes the door and stays there, palm against the red painted steel. He waits. He's gotten her home—to his home—and now the ball's in her court.
"I," she begins, staying still for a moment before she turns and straightens up, raising her eyes to his, pushing the trembling back, away, behind her. "You okay?"
It throws him, and he's sure he looks like a gaping fish, if the look on her face is anything to go by. He manages to gather himself enough to nod as she takes the few steps to him, reaching out to take his hands.
"I'm going to be fine," she says softly with steel and determination in her voice, willing him to believe her. Willing herself to believe her too, he figures.
"Never had any doubts," he tells her, squeezing her hands. "Do you want to change while I make dinner?"
She smiles and leans up to press a kiss to his jaw. "Sure."
"Got your body wash," he murmurs as she pulls away.
Finally, he sees a little bit of the spark pop back into her eyes. "When?"
He raises a shoulder. "On the way back from Columbia."
"Trying to entice me to stay here?" she asks, swinging their hands. He thinks she's kind of adorable.
He nods, grinning, can't help himself. "Not that we ended up taking even one shower here, but still. Come to think of it, don't shower without me?"
She laughs lightly and brings his hands up to her chest. "I'll take another one when you shower," she promises. "It'll be more fun if I'm not a mess."
He pouts and she smiles. "Fine."
"Feed me, and we'll talk," she says softly, squeezing his hands once before turning and fleeing to his room. It's remarkable, but he still watches the sway of her hips until she's out of sight, despite the fact that her ass is covered with dirt and the backs of her jeans are ripped.
He stands there for a long time, listening as she putters around his bedroom, turns on the shower. He snaps out of it when he realizes he's close to losing enough time to boil water and have food ready by the time she gets out. He needs to feed her before she doesn't want to eat—if at some point she stops wanting to eat.
He grabs a random box, a fast pot, and some cheese. He'd add chicken too, but any leftovers in there are questionable at best. So he settles for bow-ties and cheese, loses himself in cooking to ignore the memories of the day—the good, the bad, the horrific.
She emerges from his office just as he's pouring the pasta into bowls. She's tossed her hair up in a wet bun and she's swimming in his clothes. They throw the stark lines of her cheekbones into relief, and he decides that her two weeks of leave are to be spent eating, maybe exclusively. Well, eating, and making up for any calories lost in bed. Because there'll be some more of that too, right? He hopes so.
She shouldn't look so good in his big gray tee shirt and a pair of leggings. But she does. Or maybe she just looks like Kate, finally—like the Kate he's been hoping to meet someday—the Kate he wanted to give her the chance to be.
And this Kate looks hungry and a little lost, with red rims under her slightly puffy eyes. So she broke down alone in his shower. He wishes he could have held her through it, but she seems much better for it now. It pushes the hurt from his chest, because the look she's giving him says so much, filled with gratitude for the space and love for being there to come back to.
So he smiles softly and brings their bowls to the table. The stools are probably a little stiff for them both tonight. He's not nursing bruised ribs, but he's sore, and old, and jeez sitting down is painful.
She ducks her head, hiding a smile as she takes a forkful of pasta. "Yes, laugh at me, the man that made you dinner."
"You sound like an old man," she giggles, and the sound warms his heart even as it wounds his ego.
"So what does that make you?" he fires back around his own mouthful. They're both too hungry to care about how they look. They've seen much worse from each other.
She laughs and reaches out to pat his arm. "A little crazy."
"Crazy because you're in love with an old man?"
They lock eyes. He hadn't really meant to let that slip out so suddenly. They've been tiptoeing around it—agreed to get through the case before they fell into this. They weren't so successful. He's got nail marks to prove it, and there's a hickey on her thigh that's anything but a battle-bruise. But they haven't done the emotional stuff yet. And he didn't mean to start them on it now.
"Yeah," she offers after a moment, reaching out to wipe cheese from the corner of his mouth. He kisses it off of her finger, surprised but delighted by her reaction. "Yeah, I'm crazy all right."
"If you say 'crazy for you,' I might lose respect for you," he offers. She laughs, startled, and he grins at her.
Her face settles from caught to tender, and he mentally pats himself on the back. His Beckett-meter's been off for the last two weeks, but it's good to know that he still knows how to get her—that he still understands this new incarnation of Kate, who's smiling like he's never seen her smile before.
"I think you might be crazier," she muses as she takes another bite, leaving her free hand on his forearm.
"Crazier for you than you are for me?"
She shakes her head with a small smile. "Crazier for loving me than I am for loving you."
Oh. Well that's just not true at all, but he can't find the words to tell her, so he leans over and finds her lips instead. She tastes like cheese and stale coffee, and it's not great, but her lips are soft beneath his, and he hardly cares. Her hands come to cradle his cheeks and he steadies himself, half out of his seat as she caresses the skin beneath his eye, her tongue soft along his bottom lip.
They break apart after a moment and he stays there, his forehead pressed to hers. "Not crazy at all," he breaths.
Her eyes flutter shut for a moment and he feels her exhale across his lips as her fingers stroke his face. "If you say so," she decides, opening her eyes to meet his. The storm is fading there behind her irises, and he smiles, nodding against her forehead.
"We should eat more."
She smiles and lets him go. Her leg finds his beneath the table, her socked foot—his socks—wrapping around his calf. They share glances as they finish in silence. He can't quite figure out what they mean, doesn't know if they're 'come hither' looks, or 'I'm so glad it's you,' looks, or 'my God I'm exhausted, and this man has a king-sized bed with a memory foam mattress,' looks.
Honestly, he'll take all of the above, long as she's there with him.
She takes their bowls when they finish, squeezing his shoulder as she passes with that look that says, "Stay put, Castle." He watches her, glad for the calm he can see in her body, the ease of her movements. He gets a little caught up in how well she knows his kitchen, and how insanely good she looks in his kitchen, in his clothes, in his socks.
"You're staring," she says as she turns around, sliding the last dish into the drainer.
He nods, unashamed, smiling as she walks over to him. She reaches out and cards her fingers through his messy hair, looking down at him, eyes full with it, with everything. He curls his palm around her hip, stroking his thumb against the soft cotton of the shirt that hangs off her frame.
She's so slim, so fragile really, but oh-so badass too. Her lithe figure only seems an asset. She's fast, and fierce, and he honestly feels safe around her when they're in the line of fire. And yeah, that power dynamic is abnormal, but he hopes he can make her feel safe here, at home, when there's no badge, or gun, or fist-fight to contend with—when it's just them.
"We need to get you cleaned up," she says around a yawn.
He chuckles and stands up, towering over her, so short without her power heels. "Why don't you lie down and I'll join you?" he suggests as he takes her hands and walks backward toward his office. She shakes her head and yawns again, eyes wide and false alert. "I'll wake you," he tacks on.
Nightmares. He's sure she'll have nightmares. He'll probably have them too. And he knows, in the few nights they've really had together, that she doesn't like to fall asleep alone—that now that she doesn't have to, she hates to. The bed is too big, she told him once. She can't feel the edges, can't feel the boundaries between her and it, all of it. Pain and sadness and grief don't end, just like the expanse of sheets.
She closes her eyes as he tugs her into the bedroom. He pulls her into his chest, wrapping her up as she presses her forehead to his neck. "I'll be quick," he promises. "But I think you should lie down." She's trembling with the release of adrenaline and exhaustion.
She shakes her head and walks forward, bodily pushing him into the bathroom. "I'll sit," she mumbles, disengaging from him to plop down on the toilet seat.
He watches her for a moment and she raises her head to glare at him, challenging him to argue. He sighs and reaches for his toothbrush, brushing his mouth vigorously before he spits and sheds his clothes. He'll dislodge her to use the toilet once he's done showering. Or he'll speed up the process and be five. It doesn't look like she'll make it up and down twice.
She eyes him as he strips and turns on the water. He can't help but laugh at the rapid flutter of her eyelashes even as she tries to look at him with something kind of like allure.
"Tomorrow," he says when she meets his eyes. She laughs lightly and waves him into the stall.
It's fast. And hot. But he doesn't really care. He scrubs his hair clean and washes off the grime, grimacing at the sting over the shallow cuts and scrapes and the burn along his knuckles. Maybe they'll take a bath tomorrow.
He turns away from the door and quietly relieves himself, smiling at the absurdity of peeing in his shower just so Kate doesn't have to stand up and sit back down, since she refuses to even lie down without him. He's rather sure she won't find his gesture romantic. He hopes she's too tired to think about his bodily needs. He almost is.
He turns off the water and steps out, grabbing his towel. She's almost asleep as it is, her head cradled in her hands, bent over her knees. He dries off quickly, wrapping the towel around his waist as he pads over to her.
"Kate," he murmurs, running his hand over her hair.
She jerks up, bumping his hand. "Hmm?"
"Come on," he says, extending his hands for her.
She takes them and together they haul her up. He starts for the door but she shakes her head and pulls him over to the counter, grabbing his tooth brush. "If you don't smell, I don't smell," she mumbles as she squeezes a blob of his toothpaste onto it and shoves the brush into her mouth, brushing erratically.
He shakes his head and runs a comb through his hair—a pointless gesture, but something to fill the time. She spits and rinses her mouth once, wiping her wet hand on his towel with an exhausted smile.
He leans down and presses his lips to her forehead before ushering her back into his bedroom. He moves to grab clothes, but she snags his wrist and shakes her head, reaching down to pull her top off.
"Kate," he sighs. She's not up for sex, and he really isn't either.
"Not that," she huffs as she peels off her leggings and socks, clutching his arm to stay upright. "Just," she trails off as she stands up, beautiful and bare and battered. "Just—"
"Us," he provides with a smile, tugging his towel off as he steps in to embrace her, running his rough fingers over her back.
She sighs and shivers into him, her lips pressed to his throat. "Just us," she repeats on a whispered breath.
Yes, it's just them now. Just the two of them, with no secrets, and no lies, and no case between them anymore. He grins tiredly, elatedly, against her hair before he slowly maneuvers them back and onto the bed, following her as she scoots toward the middle.
He leaves an inch's distance between them, letting her lead. She blinks sluggishly and rolls over. For a split second, he's irrationally devastated, until her hand reaches back, blindly searching for his arm. He chuckles, half relief, half adoration as he snuggles up to her, wrapping his body around hers and threading his leg between her knees.
She tugs his hand between her breasts, rests it against her scar. "Thank you," she breathes.
"Oh, Kate," he lets out, curling around her to press his lips to her temple. "Always."
The corner of her mouth twitches up and then goes slack as she passes out. It takes him longer. He's exhausted, depleted, but the images, the memories of those bullets, of her face, of the way she swayed when she shot her shooter—they swirl behind his eyes.
But she's here. She's whole. She's breathing and beating beneath his hand, and she's soft against his chest, and she's real. She's free. They're free. This is the start of their life together—their real life, not the life they've lived for a month, stealing broken kisses and crushing hugs between breaks and after fights. Not this phantom life full of needy sex and dark, confession filled nights.
No, this is the start of their forever, and he forces himself to look forward—to look toward cardboard boxes, and weddings, and babies, and porch chairs. He falls asleep with visions of Kate Beckett in white lace, laughing as she scampers down the beach in the moonlight, grinning, daring, radiant.