A/N: Y'all are lucky that I read chezchuckle's beautiful post-ep fic Uncomplicated before I finished writing this. Otherwise, one or both of Caskett would've ended up dead for sure.
Thank you all you wonderful readers who have left reviews/favorited/author-alerted my other fics. I'm sorry I haven't gotten around to responding to you all, but know that I really appreciate the amazing support I've gotten here so far! :) Hope you enjoy this one!
Spoilers: While this is technically a post-ep for "The Limey" (4x20) it's pure speculation about "Headhunters" (4x21) based on the promos.
Disclaimer: Andrew Marlowe and ABC Studios seem to be doing a bang-up job of hooking the audience without my help, so unfortunately, I'm just another one of those crazy shippers who enjoys speculating without the benefit of making a monetary profit. Meh.
He sees it happening again right before his eyes, and this time it's all his fault.
"You're a writer, Castle, not a cop."
"I can take care of myself."
"Kate, please. Stay with me, Kate. Don't leave me. Please. Stay with me, okay? Kate, I—" his voice breaks and he feels the tears run hot trails down his face until they mingle with hers. "I'm sorry, Kate. Kate, I'm so sorry."
Pain. There's so much pain in her eyes, and he wishes he could take it away.
So many damn wishes.
He wishes he hadn't been a stubborn jackass.
Wishes that he hadn't wasted these past few weeks with his petty retribution when all he'd really wanted was for her to notice why he was being a jerk and to tell him of course she loves him and to knock it off.
Wishes he hadn't been so foolhardy and full of himself to think that he could play with the big kids on his own.
Wishes that he'd listened to her for once in his life and let the real cops do their jobs.
Wishes that he'd stayed out of the line of fire and that she hadn't at the last minute seen the perp draw a gun on him.
Wishes that she hadn't been quick enough to take the bullet meant for him.
Then her eyes flutter shut, and he wishes that he'd told her that he loves her one more time.
"You feel like he's cheating on us?"
"You can see them pulling away from each other."
Ryan, Esposito, and Lanie are all there with him outside the emergency room. Esposito has his arm around Lanie as she buries her face against his shoulder and sitting next to them is Ryan. He's usually the most emotionally expressive one out of the three detectives, so it disturbs Castle a little bit that his face is completely blank.
They don't speak to him, and he wishes he could think of something to say to them.
The reality though is that he'd betrayed them as much as he'd betrayed her when he chose to shadow another detective.
It's amazing how clear everything gets when faced with life and death. (He should know this by now. Why hasn't he learned?) It's only now that his blinders of self-pity have been ripped off that he sees that he's been tearing apart their family in this endeavor to protect his dignity.
A stupid and pointless move, he now realizes.
"I don't know what's been going on with you these last couple of days, Castle, but you've been a flat-out asshole. She was going to tell you how she felt! And then you come driving up with your blonde bimbo—oh, excuse me, flight attendant—right after I tell her that you aren't that man anymore. Thanks for proving me wrong, Castle."
"Lanie, I…I didn't know."
"Oh yeah because that excuses everything. This is the second time you've done this to her, Castle. And you wonder why she doesn't tell you how she feels? You have a real knack for making her feel lower than dirt."
"Hamptons. Ex-wife. That's all you get from me. You want more? How about you actually ask Beckett for once? Of course, that's assuming that she'll even talk to you anymore."
She says it like she has no doubt in her mind that Beckett will make it through this, and he wishes that he doesn't have all these worst-case scenarios running through his head.
It had been the only thing Lanie said to him when they'd arrived at the hospital, and he's pretty sure the only reason she had said anything at all was because she was so angry at him.
But she had said it, and he wishes that he really had a time machine to go back and redo these past few weeks.
He's never thought of himself as a bad man. Immature, yes, but not bad.
Even that time with Gina, he thought he'd been doing what was best for them. After all, she was with Demming and she was the one who'd said she didn't want things to be awkward between them. So he'd thought that if he could show her that he wasn't hung up on her, they could at least keep their partnership intact. He never could have imagined that it would become one of the biggest mistakes of his life.
But this time…
This time he'd been intentionally cruel. He'd been hurt and so he'd lashed out.
He could make himself feel better by saying that he didn't think she'd be hurt by his blowing her off and parading Jacinda in front of her face, but he finds that he can't lie to himself anymore.
He'd done it on purpose.
He'd wanted to break her, and he wonders when he'd become so vindictive.
He wishes he'd stopped their destructive pattern of writing misunderstood subtext when he'd had the chance. He could have changed everything, if only he'd manned up and confronted her about her lie. Even if he'd had his heart broken, at least hers would still be whole and she wouldn't be lying there once again on an emergency room table, fighting for her life.
Instead he'd pushed her down and spat in her face because he was too afraid of rejection.
He thought he'd grown up. It turns out he's just as irresponsible as he ever was.
"How the hell did you let this happen again, Castle?" The voice booms from down the hall, and Castle looks up to see Josh coming down on him like an avenging angel of wrath.
Much like last time, her blood stains the heart surgeon's scrubs, but this time he doesn't just shove Castle. He punches him in the face, then grabbing the lapels of Castle's jacket, slams him into the wall.
"You made me operate on her twice. Twice, you bastard! Twice I had to stop her from bleeding out from the inside. Twice I had to let another doctor try to save her life because I had to be professional and do my fucking job. How about you Castle? Your job is to be her partner. How could you let her get shot again?"
Josh doesn't let him get another word in as he leans his face intimidatingly closer and practically growls out, "I let her go because you were what she said she wanted, and I'd never want to be the cause for her unhappiness. But if this is what you give her in response, I don't care if she shoots me, I'm not letting you near her again."
Josh shoves him one last time before turning and stalking off to change out of his bloodied scrubs.
Castle stares at Josh's retreating back blankly for a while and sees a man with a love so selfless that he'd let her go when he thought she'd be happy with someone else, a love so strong that he would what's good for her instead of what's good for himself.
It makes Castle want to curl up in shame.
The only weakness Castle thinks he can see in Josh's love is that Castle would never be willing to just let her go like that. Not without a fight.
And then he realizes that he's done exactly that.
He doesn't care who witnesses it when his face crumples, and sobs wrack his body with convulsions.
"How are you doing?" Castle asks tentatively as he takes a seat next to her bedside, and he dimly notes that the seat cushion is still a little warm from either Ryan or Esposito.
They'd tried to convince Josh—albeit rather half-heartedly, which he doesn't blame them for—to let Castle in to see her, and it hadn't been pretty. In the end, it had been Jim Beckett's reassuring hand on Castle's shoulder that did the trick.
Part of Castle had been elated to have Jim on his side. The other part of him had been ashamed because that action had been something a father would do for his son-in-law, not the man who might have both literally and figuratively broken his daughter's heart.
The author in him can't help but notice the ugly poetry of it all. Just a month ago, there would have been no dispute that he'd be the first one to see her, the first she'd want to see. This time, he'd had to wait his turn until Jim, Lanie, Ryan, Esposito, and even her ex-boyfriend had their time with her.
Somehow, between it all, he'd forgotten that as much as he'd been waiting for her, she'd been taking a chance on him. He is only just remembering that his track record really doesn't work in his favor, and for someone driven by control and order, she would have had to abandon a number of personal doubts.
So of course he goes and blows it with his rebound blondes and breaking up their partnership.
She's sitting upright with her pillows stacked behind, but she shuts her eyes when she sees him. She's silent for a long time, and when she finally does speak, her voice is quiet and weak but threaded with resolve. "I'm tired, Castle. Can you please...just go?"
"Right. Of course." He stands up abruptly and thinks that this is why he needed to see her first. But that's selfish and her dad and her friends—their friends—deserve to be the ones who are reassured first this time. They weren't the ones who abandoned her. They weren't the ones who'd gotten her shot.
He hovers by the door and once again, he's struck with this sense that this has all happened before. "I'll come see you tomorrow," he says, but it comes off as a question.
She doesn't respond.
He comes by tomorrow like he said he would and discovers that Detective Slaughter had dropped by with a gift-basket. Slaughter really doesn't seem like a gift-basket kind of guy, but Castle acknowledges that he shouldn't judge the man by his usual gruffness and irreverent line-walking. Castle had spent enough time in Slaughter's world to know that a lot of things aren't clear-cut, and though he thought that he knew this truth already, he didn't really.
Besides, it was Slaughter's case that got her shot.
No, contests the unrelentingly candid voice in his head. You did that with your stupidity.
He pushes it down ruthlessly.
She's sitting up again and fingering the hospital gown over her ribs where they'd sliced into her once again. This time, the injury had been less severe. Instead of nicking her heart the way the sniper's bullet had, this one was a .38 round that had struck one of her ribs and lodged there. The bone fractured and there were some bullet fragments to dig around for, but all in all, this surgery had gone far smoother than her last one.
At least this time, she hadn't gone into cardiac arrest.
She spots him, and her eyes don't light up like they had the last time. Instead, her eyebrows furrow slightly into something resembling a frown.
"Hi," she says, and she doesn't sound particularly happy to see him.
"Hi," he responds, putting down his bouquet of flowers on an empty space on the table wordlessly. He doesn't think he can use the flower-shop line twice in a row, and his clever writer's mind deserts him. He sits and makes an aborted move to cover her hand with his. The way he tries to smooth out the movement so that it looks like he was going for his knee the whole time is awkward and obvious.
She doesn't make a quip about it, and he finds himself disappointed that she hadn't taken the opportunity to poke fun at him.
It's like he said last week (in a bout of spiteful malice); they're usually more in sync than this.
"How are you feeling today?"
"Better. I can't really tell with all the drugs in my system though."
"That's good. That you feel better I mean. Not that you have all these drugs in your system." He knows he's in danger of rambling, so he cuts himself off by rubbing his hand down his face. He searches for another topic but his mind is infuriatingly blank. He's never had this much trouble finding something to talk to her about before, and he hates the awkwardness between them. So he says the first thing that comes to mind and wishes immediately that he hadn't. "Do you remember what happened?"
He gets her attention with that. She narrows her eyes and then responds, "You mean yesterday's gunfight or last year?"
His mouth works but nothing comes out. He didn't mean to confront her right now when she's still weak with blood loss. That could wait until his hands stop shaking from remembering just how close she had come once again from losing her life, and again, it's all his fault.
"I…" He hesitates.
"Forget it," she spits out, shaking her head. "It's not like we make much of a habit of talking anyway. Ironic when that's mostly my fault."
She closes her eyes, tilts her head back on the pillow and sighs before bringing her gaze back to him.
"I figured it out sometime when I was hooked up on the morphine. Appropriate, don't you think?"
"Figured what out?"
"Why you stopped waiting."
He wants to tell her that he never stopped waiting, but that would be a lie, wouldn't it? Because he had stopped, and worse, he'd punished her for it.
"I don't blame you. Not for that anyway. I know I shouldn't have lied, and God I can't apologize enough for what I did. There's nothing I can do to make it better, but...but I'd thought…I'd hoped—" she breaks off with a dry laugh. "I guess it just goes to show how not fun and so very complicated I am, doesn't it?"
"I didn't…I didn't mean that, Kate," he finally says, his voice pleading her to trust him again.
"Yes, you did. You might not always mean it, but a part of you—maybe a big part of you—wants someone with less baggage, someone light. It's the same part of me that wonders why I couldn't have wanted someone like Tom or Josh more than you."
He feels his heart in his throat because this might be the first time Kate has ever admitted in actual words that she wants him. Then he feels tears sting his eyes because he's given her so much doubt that she wishes she could want someone else.
"I'm sorry, Kate. I'm so sorry."
She flinches, and he's shocked to see swirls of dark pain whirling like a maelstrom in her eyes. "Don't. Apologize."
"Don't. I don't want to hear your apologies. I really don't."
A nurse comes in to check Kate's charts and by the time she leaves, Kate has her emotions tightly under wraps again. Castle has tried that and knows that it takes a lot of energy—more than she has to spare right now—to bully wayward feelings into submission. He wishes he has the right to tell her that she could let it go with him, that she doesn't always have to be in such strict control, that she could show him anything and he wouldn't leave.
(But he did leave, and he hates himself a little more with each passing moment.)
"When I figured it out about the interrogation room," she begins, "I thought it must be the drugs talking. I thought, surely you'd confront me about it. You wouldn't just assume. But then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that our whole relationship is based on not confronting each other about the things that actually matter. We're good at picking on each other and reading subtext, but we suck at talking. I'm not saying I blame you. In fact, I know this lack of communication is mostly my fault. But God, Castle, I'm so tired of guessing about this and hinting at that. So I want you to do what you should have done when you found out. Ask me."
The words get stuck in his throat because even now, he's afraid. Afraid that she'll take away all hope completely. Afraid that all this lead-up will only result in her telling him that yes, she heard him and no, she doesn't love him.
Then he sees the bruises under her eyes and the sunken cheeks on her face and he knows he was one inch—maybe even quarter of an inch—from losing her for good.
So he does as she tells him to. He asks.
"What do you remember?"
She doesn't even hesitate this time. "I remember everything. I remember the thud of the bullet as it slammed into my chest. I remember first the shock of it hitting me, and then the pain of it as it stole the very breath from my lungs. I remember you tackling me to the ground and the world suddenly spinning above me. I remember that the sun was shining too brightly for a funeral and the grass too alive for the death that surrounded it. I remember screams in the distance and either Esposito or Ryan yelling that 'Beckett's down.' I remember you saying you loved me."
Castle feels his heart implode upon itself. Not because she finally told him the truth, but because he finally, truly understands what she was trying to tell him that day on the swings.
She wasn't ready. She wasn't ready to tell him that she heard him because she hadn't yet learned to separate the confession from the bullet, the love from the destruction. In her mind, her getting shot and his telling her he loves her were invariably linked.
And in these past few months, she'd been learning. Maybe she'd even succeeded in excising the demon from the memory because that day in the interrogation room with Bobby the suspect, she'd been able to use the bad without tainting the good.
He should have been proud of her.
Instead, he'd knocked her down again.
"Oh God. Oh God, Kate." He says her name over and over again and wishes he could think of something more informative to say, but his heart breaks every time he thinks about how wrong he'd gotten everything.
"I also remember that this time, you said 'I'm sorry' instead."
She shrugs like it's no big deal, but he feels like he's just missing something just beyond the grasp of his understanding. And then he realizes that she's right: their problem is that they spend too much time trying to figure out what the other person is saying without just asking.
So he prompts her. "I don't understand, Kate."
"I told you I don't blame you for not wanting to wait anymore. I'm too screwed up, and you're too…" she trails off.
"I'm too me," he finishes bleakly. He is too him. He gives up too easily, finds another woman to try and replace her too easily, finds another detective to try and replace her too easily…
He is too much the Richard Edgar Castle he'd made himself to be all these years that he's forgotten what it's like to be the Richard Alexander Rodgers who wasn't afraid of being genuine and loving deeply.
"No," she refutes resolutely. "That's not what I was going to say."
The fire behind the assurance surprises him, gives him hope that he's afraid to believe in.
"Then what, Kate? What am I too much of?"
She glances up at the ceiling as if there's something written there that will give her inspiration, but she doesn't seem to find because she drops her gaze with a heavy sigh to lock eyes with him. "You're too…not in love with me."
He gapes at her, mouth open, eyes wide, and mind completely blown. "That's not true. Kate, that's not true at all. I love you. I never stopped loving you."
Funny. All those months of waiting for the right time to tell her again, and he never imagined that the words would come so easily to his lips. They taste so good that he says them again. "I love you, Kate."
She doesn't respond the way he imagined she would.
She shakes her head. "It's okay, Castle. You don't have to say that. I've been shot before. It's not your fault. I don't need a pity party."
"Kate! It's not a pity party, and it was my damn fault, but that's not why I'm saying it. I just—I love you, Kate," he says again and wishes that there wasn't that desperate edge to his tone. But he is desperate, so very desperately in love with her, and he despairs at the thought that he'd singlehandedly rebuilt the walls he'd spent so long trying to take down.
"Then why? When you thought I was dying again, why did you say 'I'm sorry' instead?"
He remembers the pain in her eyes and it's like he's been slammed in the chest with a jackhammer when he realizes that the pain was there because she thought he didn't love her. Because everything about his actions these last couple of weeks screamed that he was done waiting. Because he hadn't said it when life and death hung in the balance. Because in almost the exact same situation as ten months ago, he'd replaced words of love with ones of apology.
"Oh God," he breathes. "That's why you don't want to hear me apologize. You thought…you thought it meant that I didn't love you anymore because I apologized instead of telling you I love you."
"I don't blame you for not wanting to wait anymore. It's been a long time, and you have no obligation to wait."
"Kate, it's not like that. I just…I acted that way precisely because I'm so in love with you. I thought that you hadn't said anything because you didn't feel the way."
It sounds so stupid when saying it out loud like this. It sounds childish. He wishes he could make it sound less petulant, but the only way to do that is to come off as spiteful. He doesn't really want to continue making himself sound so bad, but this is the new thing they're doing. They're going to talk. Open and honest communication. If Kate could do this, then so could he.
"I wanted to make myself stop loving you, thought I could turn it off like a switch. So I tried going back to what I was before, to the partying and the fast life, but everything was too…empty. You'd given me purpose and I couldn't go back to the way I was. So I tried to shadow someone else. I thought…maybe solving crimes and putting bad guys in jail would be fulfilling enough. I thought that if I could shadow someone else and still take satisfaction in taking in the bad guy, I could let go of you. But that didn't work either. Slaughter taught me all kinds of gray and while he'd be a fun character to have in a book, he's a terrible person to have to be around all the time. Moral ambiguity is all good and fun in fiction, but life isn't fiction, and he doesn't have your sense of justice, of fighting for the victim. He left me feeling cold after each case when you make me feel like I've done something good with my life."
He pauses to see how she's taking all this and he's both heartbroken and relieved to see the glimmering sheen of tears in her eyes.
"All this time away from you and all I've managed to do is fall more in love with you. And Kate, I need you to hear this part. Really listen to me. I don't regret not being able to stop loving you. All I regret is my being too stupid and scared to prove that I could be a bigger man, a better man than I have been."
"I thought," she hiccups, "I thought I was too much work for you. That you wanted fun and uncomplicated."
He can't take it anymore when the first tear drops down her cheek. He lunges up out of his chair to wrap one of his arms carefully around her injured torso while the other cradles the back of her head against his chest.
"Slip of the tongue. I meant to say that I want complicated. I want so complicated that we can't untangle ourselves from each other. And fun. Because we are fun, Kate. I have more fun and fulfillment and rightness with you than with anyone else, other than Alexis. And I want love. So much love that we'll make even Ryan and Jenny cringe."
The sound she makes is an awkward cross between a laugh and a cry, but it's the sweetest song he's ever heard.
Her hands came around his back and grip hard onto his jacket. He lifts his head and even though she's pale and her hair is stringy and her face blotchy with crying, she's never looked more beautiful than this.
So he does the inevitable and kisses her, gentle at first and aware of the fact that she's still sitting in a hospital bed, but she's the one to pull him closer and lead their kiss deeper. He shudders at the feel of her tongue in his mouth and he relishes the way her slender fingers curl into claws in his hair.
This is what he'd been so close to losing, so close to throwing away and the thought of never having this connection appalls him. So he leans a little more of his weight on the bed and tangles the hand on her head in her hair so that he can angle her just a little bit to the right and oh!
For the next several minutes, his thoughts consist of only the warmth of her mouth and the grip of her fingers and the softness of her skin and the magic that envelops them.
It's the quickening beep of the heart monitor that pulls them out of their absorption with each other, and when the nurse comes rushing in a moment later to see why Kate's pulse had suddenly spiked, it takes all of their considerable acting skills to put up a convincing innocent front.
The nurse narrows her eyes at them, but she leaves moving much slower than when she came in.
Castle feels his face nearly split in half with the massive grin his lips are stretched into, and his eyes soften when he spots the coy smile on her—the one with the bottom lip tucked between her teeth and her eyes glinting with dangerous amusement—that he doesn't even realize he'd missed all these weeks.
He kisses her again because there's no way he can not kiss her when she smiles like that.
She yawns and he remembers that she'd just been shot yesterday. So he helps her move her pillows and lower the bed so that she's lying flat on her back. He pulls up the chair closer beside her and takes her hand captive.
She smiles at him, and as her eyes drift shut, she mumbles, "I love you, Castle."
"I love you too," he says, and he knows she doesn't hear him, but that's okay. This time he will keep saying it when she wakes up too.
A/N: These past couple of episodes have made me really just want to pound Castle into the ground. I don't care how hurt he is, two wrongs do not make a right, and you'll have a hard time convincing me that he doesn't know that he's being flat-out cruel. Not that I'm letting Beckett off the hook, both for the initial lie that sparked this all and for calling Detective Inspective Hunt out for drinks at the end of the episode. However, it's obvious by the promos for the next episode that she's really torn up about having waited too long to make a move with Castle so she gets a pass for now (meaning for this one fic).
Also, the reason I give in this fic to explain why Kate didn't say anything is one that I came up with when I was on Wikipedia looking up PTSD. One of the diagnostic criteria caught my eye, which said something along the lines of the person suffering from PTSD has a tendency to avoid people, places, or things associated with the trauma that might lead to distressing memories of or an avoidance of talking about the event at all. Given that Beckett obviously experienced an episode of PTSD, I thought that this was a very valid reason for lying about what she remembered until she could sift out the good so that it wouldn't be associated with the bad. But of course, this is just a theory.
Oh, and the closest I ever got to medical school was taking AP Bio in high school. Suffice to say, I apologize if any of the limited medical stuff I mention in this is way off.
Lastly…thank you Andrew Marlowe and company for Lanie! I've been shamelessly abusing her in these last two fics as my mouthpiece, and I have something half-written up right now (that may or may not get finished depending on the muse) where I have her ripping into Castle again. Ah…gotta love Lanie. :)