The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You
A/N: Spoiler Alert. I caved and watched Sneak Peak 5. This was the result…
Chapter 5 – Doors To Manual
"Right, we're all done here," says the doctor chirpily. "Keep it covered for a few days, and I'd stay off the stilettos if you can," he adds, staring down at Kate's skyscraper heels, then adds for Castle's benefit, "Sorry to spoil your fun, buddy."
Kate nearly chokes on her own tongue, and Castle goes one better, dissolving into a coughing fit so violent that he falls out through the curtained off area and into the corridor.
The doctor eyes him with momentary concern and then goes back to observing Kate's bandaged foot.
"Like I said, keep it clean and dry. The stitches will dissolve of their own volition. Now, I suggest you sit tight for a few more minutes while we complete your paperwork, and you get your sea legs back. Take as long as you need."
He stands up from the stool and sticks out his hand to Kate.
Castle is hovering at the edge of the curtain looking like a beaten dog.
"It was a pleasure to meet you, Detectives," he says enthusiastically, shaking Kate's hand and then turning to do the same to Castle. "You keep riding that Love Train," he adds cheesily, winking at Kate, and slapping Castle heartily on the back, before taking his leave.
And then there were two.
Kate sinks back against the pillows, while Castle maintains his distance over by the edge of the cubicle.
"Castle," she says, not wanting to lose the forward momentum she has finally managed to establish within herself.
He sways, but doesn't move any closer, and he seems unable to look at her. She'd hoped for more than this after exposing herself in front of a complete stranger.
"Rick," she tries, and his head snaps up at the sound of his Christian name tripping off her tongue.
"Okay. Enough. You've had your fun, Kate. The Love Doctor isn't here anymore. So you can drop the act," he says stiffly, then looks at his shoes and scuffs the floor with his toe. "Let's just get the damn paperwork and get the hell out of here. I need to call Jacinda."
She says his name again, and this time he looks at her as if she just kicked Alexis and then slapped his mother.
"Stop it! Stop…toying with me, Kate. Just…just stop, would you? Please?" he grits out, the initial flare of anger draining away to something torturously exhausted and beaten down. He ends on a plea.
Kate is shocked by his outburst, by the anger, the hurt and the pain she's just heard in his voice. Her face is red, heat flaring up her chest and running up her neck. Did she do this to him? Is that even possible?
"Castle, what on earth is going on? What do you think I'm doing here?"
She watches him clench and unclench his fists. He's so wound up, energy racing through his body despite hours without sleep.
"Castle…talk to me," she says, gentling him with her voice. "Please?"
But he still looks completely out of it. He starts to pace, unable to stand still. When his silence drags on Kate realizes that there's obviously no way he's going to talk to her, so her only hope is that he will listen.
She clears her throat and begins to speak.
"I'm kinda reaching here…but I thought we were making some progress earlier…in front of the doctor. Was I wrong, Castle? Because I think…I know that you heard what I said."
He abruptly stops pacing and looks up at her sharply.
"Heard what, Kate? When?" he asks, studying her face closely, his voice a rumble of barely contained anger.
"That you heard me…just now, with Dr. Benedict. Trying to tell you what I should have told you a long time ago, Castle. That…that I love you. That I've been in love with you for so long now that the beginning part is just a blur somewhere back on the horizon."
He stares at her as if she's speaking a foreign language and the subtitles are in Swahili.
"Rick?" she prompts, holding out her hand to him and praying that he'll accept it.
He resolutely holds his ground.
"Do you have nothing to say to that?" she asks, her brow wrinkling. "You can't have nothing to say to that," she says in disbelief. "Castle?"
He pauses a second, and then seems to make a decision.
"Oh, I have plenty to say, Kate. I've had plenty to say for a longtime, but you…you just didn't want to listen, did you?"
His anger flares again, and a bitter sarcasm infuses his voice. His eyes are a steely, flinty blue she's never seen before.
Her face flushes again, and she feels like he just slapped her. This wasn't what she was…no. Not at all.
"Castle, did you just hear what I said? I'm in love with you. Does that…I mean, you can't…" she runs a hand through her hair, disbelieving. "Does that mean nothing to you?"
He looks straight at her, meets her gaze levelly. But his eyes are dead, until he sees the tears rise in hers. Then he blinks, just once, but she sees it. Sees something chip off, a piece of flint falling away.
"You heard me," he says finally, and Kate sits up straighter, tries to bend her sleep-deprived mind around whatever it is that he's trying to tell her.
"I…Castle, what are you talking about?"
"You heard me, in the cemetery, Kate, and you've been lying about it all this time."
He's got her, and they both know it. There's no dancing out of this one.
He cuts her off. "Interrogation room."
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she says, panicking.
"You're sorry? Oh, well great, thanks. That makes it all okay then," he says sarcastically.
"Don't Kate. Just…don't," he says, pacing away from the bed again.
"What do you want me to say? How…how can I fix this?" she asks, desperate to do anything if he'll only give her another chance.
"Fix it?" He seems to puzzle the question for a bit. "Fix it? Oh, I don't know. How do you repair months of enforced separation and rejection, followed by more months of denial and holding at arms length, served with a big side order of lukewarm affection and lies?"
"Lukewarm? Lukewarm?" she asks, anger and humiliation flaring inside her. "You may have managed to choke out that you loved me while I lay dying on the grass, Castle. But you didn't seem to have the guts to repeat it to my face once I was conscious and able to listen to you. How was I to know you even meant it? Ever heard of deathbed confessions? Cause they work just as well for the living as they do for the dying."
He looks broken in two when she's finish with that one, and Kate's not sure where this is headed next.
"So, what…was I supposed to take Josh out with a single blow to his cut glass jaw, or just profess my love for you right there in front of him? Is that how it was supposed to work, Kate?"
"He meant nothing to me by then, Castle," said Kate flatly.
"And I was supposed to know this big secret how, Kate? Because you never talk about any of this stuff."
He has a point, but she's in no mood to concede it.
"Well, if we're talking about secrets, Castle. How about this one for humiliating? I was on the verge of telling you how I felt about you two summers ago, and everyone at work knew about it. In fact, I was about to tell you that I would go with you to the Hamptons when Gina showed up, and you sailed off into the sunset with her, and disappeared until the Fall. So don't tell me about separation and rejection, because I've had a belly full."
His phone takes this moment to spring to life once more, the screen lighting up where he's left it lying on the chair. It dances and buzzes tauntingly across the surface.
They both stare at it in horror.
"And you remember when you accused me of hiding in nowhere relationships with men I didn't love? Well you were right. But I never figured we'd be where we are now and you'd be doing the exact same thing," she says, looking pointedly at his phone.
"Touché," he replies bitterly, pressing the reject call button, and then dropping the phone onto the bed beside her, almost as if he's handing her control.
He sinks down onto the plastic chair, and props his elbows on his knees, dropping his head into his hands, all the fight seemingly drained out of him.
They sit in silence for a couple of minutes. The hospital buzzes around them, somewhere out beyond the curtain.
Kate's head throbs, and she lifts her fingers to massage her temples, allowing her eyes to fall closed.
"I didn't know, dammit. I didn't know," he repeats, his voice full of frustration and longing for all that lost time, and when Kate opens her eyes he's staring at her.
There's pain there, but somehow it's a different kind of pain. It burns less brightly, and it's coated with regret, softened by hope.
"Kate…my god," he groans. "Why didn't you say something?"
But it's not really a question he expects her to answer. They both know that.
"We really made a mess of things," he says, rubbing at his jaw, head ducking down.
Silence falls over the little room once more, and they're both lost in their own thoughts for a moment.
"So…you're in love with me?" he asks suddenly, stunning her with a ghost of a smile.
It comes out of nowhere, and is more, way more, than she could have hoped for.
"I might be reviewing my options," she deadpans, and he roars out a laugh, throwing his head right back, eyes falling closed, slapping his thighs with his hands in delight at her joke.
It breaks the tension clean in two.
Kate smiles at his uncontrolled laughter, amazed he still has the energy after this long, distressing night.
"You're lying, Detective. I know all your tells," he warns her.
"That so?" she asks flirtatiously. "Then what does this one mean?" she asks, swiftly leaning over and capturing his mouth with her own, her hand sliding around the back of his neck to pull him to her and hold him there.
When she pulls away he's dazed and speechless.
"Not sure. You'll have to show me again," he says when he finds his voice, eyes twinkling with joy and pure excitement.
Kate reaches out, takes his hand.
"Oh, Kate," he says, his voice low and adoring, breaking over the words. "I love you, so, so much it pains me."
His eyes glisten with the confession.
"That doesn't sound good," she replies, tilting her head to the side to observe him with a look of amusement shot through with tenderness. "How about we just work on the loving part and ditch the pain thing?" she suggests, smoothing her fingers over the back of his hand.
"I would like nothing more," he says, standing to kiss her gently, until a swell of need rises between them, shocking them both apart.
"We need to get out of here," says Kate suddenly, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. "Hand me my shoe?"
She watches in amusement as he kneels in front of her and slips her shoe onto her foot. "I seem to recall owing you breakfast," he says, rising up to kiss her on the nose, his hands resting on her thighs; heavy and warm, anchoring her.
Castle steps closer, trapping her between his legs, then he wraps his arms around her and pulls her against his chest, enfolding her in a fierce embrace.
"No more secrets, and no more summers apart," he whispers into her hair.
Kate's smile drops from her lips, and she pushes back on his shoulders to look up at him.
"Then there's just one more thing I need to get off my chest."
Castle swallows, and his eyes search hers, a hint of the old fear returning.
"Tonight, in that alley…I lied when I told you I accidently kicked that bottle over. I actually picked it up and threw it at the wall so you wouldn't leave," Kate confesses. "I didn't know what else to do and you've been so distant…"
Castle cuts her off.
"I know," he admits, quietly.
"You…how?" she asks, disbelieving.
"I couldn't leave, Kate. You asked me to wait, to listen to you, and as mad at you as I was…I couldn't deny you that. I've never been able you deny you anything. So I'd already turned back when you threw the bottle against the wall."
She's stunned. Simply stunned by all of it.
"So…why didn't you call me on it? I lied to your face," she says, her cheeks flushing with shame.
Castle shrugs, looks a little sheepish.
"You were bleeding, I never could resist a damsel in distress, and you'd just admitted that you cared about me, Kate." He shakes his head, "I needed to hear how our story would end."
She launches herself at him; arms, legs, heart, all wrapped around him, good and firm and strong, this generous, patient, kind, silly man.
"Write it with me, Castle?" she whimpers, tears leaking down her face. "Write it with me. Please?"
"Until we run out of words, Kate. Just try and stop me."
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