Grail Chapter 7
She was warm.
It was the first sensation that flooded her as consciousness surfaced. Kate never woke up warm anymore. Sometimes covered in sweat, sometimes coiled up in her sheets, legs twisted tight, but always with a chill creeping. Most days she couldn't tell if the cold was slipping in from the room, or seeping out from her bones, but either way, it was always there.
But not today.
Today, she might as well have been lying on a beach, baked with sunshine, caressed by warm winds.
And there was something else strange about this awakening. There was a comfortable weight across her waist, another against her chest. Not enough to pin her, but enough to hold her firm, keep her grounded.
She breathed deep. The weight on her chest stirred slightly. Something scraped lightly against her skin there. Her brain finally began to register the scents she had taken in: sandalwood, Aveda hair gel, and Castle.
Her heart skipped a few beats before she remembered.
Castle was in her bed.
She opened her eyes then, saw his hair ruffling in the slanting moonlight from her window every time she exhaled. He was still asleep. She watched his ribcage expand with every breath, his backbone disappearing under the edge of her navy blue sheet.
He was sprawled on top of her; there was no other way to describe it. One bent knee over her leg, arm wrapped possessively around her middle, hand tucked securely between her flank and the mattress, shoulder over her ribs, cheek and chin pressed into her chest just below her collar bone.
Not that this was at all out of place. He had possessed her pretty thoroughly the night before.
Delving tongues and nipping teeth and ripping fingers and squeezing palms had given way to patient lips and thorough caresses. The hurry dissolved when they found themselves naked, skin to skin.
No advance, no retreat, just desire coalescing.
She remembered moments and images in waves, and suddenly she remembered his eyes, how they fixed on hers, refused to let her disengage. She had never experienced that stark intimacy in bed—filters off, soul bared. It had terrified her, and it had freed her.
She must have slept hard—no dreams, good or bad, had interrupted, and she had no idea what time it was.
They had fallen asleep still tangled together in the early twilight, so spent from the emotional upheaval of the past days that neither could even think of budging from the bed for clothes or dinner or anything other than the sensation of pressing against each other.
But, oh, food. She shouldn't have thought of food. She looked over to her clock. Only midnight. There were still places that would deliver at midnight.
She suddenly wanted chow mien.
Fuel for another round. Maybe two. They had lost time to make up for.
Her stomach growled loudly as if answering her brain, and Rick's ear being so close to the noise, it was enough to wake him.
He inhaled deeply, nuzzled against her chest, and then spoke in the deepest, sexiest voice she'd ever heard from his lips.
"Definitely not a dream."
He lifted his head and looked down toward her pinking skin, scraped a bit by his stubble.
He smiled up at her with his ten-thousand watter.
"I would never have drooled on you in a dream."
She giggled at him. She couldn't remember the last time she had laughed, even just this little bit.
He pulled the sheet up and swiped at her skin.
"Sorry, I guess suave and debonair are kind of out the window now."
He lifted himself to settle his hips between her legs and put his weight on his elbows on either side of her ribcage, then pushed up to plant a comfortable little kiss on her lips.
She was grinning when their lips parted. She hoped he still understood that she could tease, even after everything else that had happened this week.
"I don't want suave, Castle, I want you."
He dropped his forehead to her sternum and shook his head.
"Oh, you wound me!"
He laid his cheek between her breasts and looked up at her, one eyebrow raised in mock interrogation.
"So did I dream this part, or did your stomach just wake me up?"
Only Castle could pull it off while lying on top of her with his head pillowed against her breast.
She figured she was past blushing about anything after their earlier activities, but she scrunched her lips to one side in a little self-deprecating grimace.
His eyes darted to her clock. She saw the wheels turning.
"Ping's is still delivering."
"Did my stomach somehow communicate directly with you that I wanted Chinese, or am I just that predictable?"
"In synch does not equate to predictable."
She looked at him with a pout as a disconcerting thought hit her.
"But if we're going to order, we have to get out of bed."
They hadn't exactly stopped to grab their phones on their way to bed.
"This is a definite downside."
He pressed his lips to her neck, just beneath her ear, and continued.
"I could probably think of a few ways to distract you from you insistent stomach."
"Mmmm. Yes, you already have."
But it growled again, completely without consulting her libido. It was his turn to laugh, just one loud guffaw.
"Apparently I have been overruled. Okay, how's this. Since we are lacking in cell phones, I'll go out there—" he gestured toward her bedroom door "—and find wherever I left mine, call in the order, search for wine in your kitchen, and then bring the fruits of my hunting and gathering back here, and you don't have to move."
She looked at him through her lashes, feigning disbelief.
"You would do that for me?"
"If you haven't figured out by now that I would do absolutely anything for you, then I have grossly underestimated your ability to ignore the obvious."
He lifted his warmth off of her, slipped out from under the covers, and found his boxers and undershirt. He spoke in mock-seriousness as he tugged them on.
"However, the next time we're in bed and need sustenance, you'd better have actual food in your fridge, or our phones better be in arm's reach, or we'd better be at my place, where there is always food in the fridge."
She smiled at him as he backed out of her bedroom door, heart on his sleeve, joy not containable in the blue eyes that didn't want to look away.
Too much warmth was welling up inside her at the thought of every one of those scenarios now being conceivable.
She reached over and turned on her bedside lamp, took a moment to stretch all her long-unused muscles.
She heard Castle ordering in Chinese. Rick loved Ping's because the guy that answered the phone most nights would put up with his terrible accent and poor grammar and still put their order in correctly. She had asked him once long ago why he was always on the phone so long when he ordered, and he'd explained that Jinfang was teaching him new vocabulary words.
There was a moment of silence after he ended the call.
The she heard his voice, quiet but urgent, as he called to her through her door.
"Kate? I think you need to come out here."
"What? I'm supposed to be the one languishing in bed in a post-coital haze. Why do I have to get up?"
"Just put on some clothes or something and come on out here."
He was worrying her now. She snatched her robe from the back of her bathroom door and rushed out with it half-tied. She slowed as she took in the site before her in her moonlit living room.
Castle had his back partly to her. She could see his profile in the moonlight, though, and his eyes were fixed on a figure staring up at her Alex Gross painting.
She stepped up behind him and he reached for her hand, then squeezed it tightly, still not breaking his gaze.
"I've been trying to figure out if this is you being caught up in the chaos or you creating the chaos."
It was her same clear, no-nonsense voice; it was the inflection she used when she practiced her closing arguments in front of Kate's dad the night before the end of a trial.
Johanna turned then, looked at the pair of them, smiled when her eyes fell on their clasped hands.
"How long have you been out here?"
It had just struck her that her mom had overheard their most recent conversation, and who knows what else. A long-forgotten but easily remembered sense of daughterly outrage at this intrusion upon her privacy flickered to life.
"I wanted to come say goodbye, Katie."
Her indignation from a moment before deafened her to the meaning of her mother's words for a moment. When it registered, her heart sank. Funny that she hadn't realized it had risen a bit in the past few hours from its usual spot near the pit of her stomach. Words finally spilled out of her mouth, slightly desperate, slightly irrational.
"What? Where are you going?"
She had just come back. Not yet-not nearly long enough yet.
Her mother raised an eyebrow and quirked half a smile. Funny also how she'd never noticed her mother did that just like she did.
"You don't think I want to lurk around here all the time waiting for you two to give me grandchildren, do you? I have other places to be."
Kate's eyes went wide and she glanced briefly over at Castle, who she was surprised to see was grinning despite his best efforts to hide it.
Through the lightness of that moment, her sadness snuck back in. Her mother, whatever version of her was standing in her living room and having this conversation, had been back in her life for the better part of a week. Before this, she'd even stopped having dreams about her. She had started to forget the sound of her voice, the expressions she used, the twinkle in her eyes when she teased.
"But I'll be back when you need me."
She had been too afraid before now of ending the illusion to do the one thing she craved most, missed more than all the rest.
But now her mom was leaving anyway and there might be no other chance.
She took a hesitant half-step forward, and Rick released her hand, moved his to the small of her back to propel her.
He said the words quietly, just to her, giving permission for this suspension of disbelief.
As she closed the distance, she reached out, still afraid her mother was an image that would dissolve through her hands. But she didn't disappear.
Kate's fingers met the soft cotton of her mom's sweater, slid around her waist; Johanna's warm, solid arms encased her shoulders, pulled her head down into the curve of her neck.
"But I need you all the time."
Her perfume-that warm, spicy one she wore in cold weather. It filled her nose.
"Oh, baby, you want me all the time, I know that, and I wish I could make that happen. But you have the one you really need now. And knowing he's with you lets me leave feeling certain you can be whole again, that you almost are."
Kate was crying now, silently but forcefully, clutching the folds of material at her mother's back.
"I love you."
Johanna pulled away slightly, forced Kate to look up while she spoke.
"I love you so much. And I am so proud of you."
She glanced over Kate's shoulder.
"Both of you. You're going to be fine. Just take care of each other."
Rick cleared his throat—his voice sounded watery when he answered.
When Johanna spoke again, her solemn expression had softened with a tiny grin and a gleam in her eye.
"Unfortunately now that this-" she pointed back and forth between Rick and Kate "-is actually happening, I'm not going to be able to read the rest of the Nikki Heat books."
"What? They're excellent! You know how much I've always loved his stuff. You were the one who wouldn't read it. And then to have him start writing about my daughter? You have no idea. I'm just going to have to skip the R-rated material. Rick, can you put in a code word or something?"
She was back to the exasperated teenager. Back to that comfortable annoyance from right before…
"Kate, you never said your mom was a fangirl."
Castle was amused. Amused to the point she would never live any of this down. She looked over her shoulder to answer him.
"She is not a fangirl. She's a fanmom. Big difference."
"As much as I hate to break this up, it's time for me to go."
She pulled Kate in for another tight hug.
"I'll see you again."
"Yes, you will."
Kate opened her eyes to a different darkness. She was back in bed, clutching Rick's neck.
She loosened her hold and pulled back to find him awake, wide-eyed and stunned. His arms were clutched around her, chest warm, breath coming quickly, mouth slightly agape.
"Were you…? Was I just…?"
She knew she was making no sense. None of this made sense. Why was the hair on the back of her neck standing up? Why was her heart pounding so hard she was sure Rick could feel it through her ribcage?
He engaged her eyes, shut his mouth, swallowed once, and then spoke with unruffled resolution.
"I saw her, Kate. I heard her talking and laughing. She told us to make her grandchildren. She told us she was proud. We were there. Your mother was there."
But they were back in bed, no robe, no t-shirt or boxers on, clock reading 12:18.
He continued in the same steady voice.
"I think I should call Ping's before they close."
She shook her head slightly trying to clear it, stared off for a moment.
She was trying to wrap her mind around this, but as she failed miserably at it, she realized maybe the trick was to not try quite so hard to explain it.
She let go of his neck, goose bumps still covering all her exposed skin.
He started to stand, but she put a hand against his chest to stop him when she noticed it.
His cell phone was on the bedside table.