Notes: Spoilers through "The Limey." I started this, realized that oh, oh God, I was writing one of approximately ten gazillion post-Limey fics, and was then bludgeoned and threatened by Jillian Casey and Cora Clavia to finish and post (I don't know, it was all a blur, but there was something horrible about never posting fic again and something else almost as horrible about my teeth and pliers and then there were a lot of capital letters and swearing and it was all very scary). So, well, I'm sorry; at least you know who to blame.
Disclaimer: If Castle and Beckett were mine, they wouldn't need to get stuck on a rooftop to actually talk to each other. Title is from WH Auden's "Leap Before You Look."
"I used to be afraid of heights," she says. She rests her arms on the metal bar of the railing, swings her feet over the side of the building. Nineteen stories below, the headlights of cars glint and lurch along the darkening streets.
Castle's leaning back against the firmly shut door. She can't tell if he's finally tired of trying to pry it open or if he's just gathering his energy, gearing up for another try. "How long now?" he asks.
She closes her eyes, sucks in a breath, shivers. It's cold out. Her coat's too light. She hadn't bothered to put on a heavier one; they'd just had to do a cursory check of the roof, but a gust had blown the door shut. Usually one or the other of them thought to secure things like that. "Twenty," she says, then, on cue, her phone buzzes. She stares at the text, then revises, "thirty. Ryan says they're stuck on the Triborough."
He's quiet, ten feet away from her. Tomorrow, he'll drive over to the 12th and his elevator will stop two floors too early and he'll go off to investigate crimes with someone else. Before, he would have sat beside her. Before, he would have noticed her shivering, offered her a coat. Before, he would have asked her about her erstwhile fear of heights. Now, she twists around to see him on his phone, his thumbs dancing out a text. Probably pushing back tonight's date.
She turns back to the swirl of twilight and headlights beneath her and swallows thickly. The silence stretches, expands into the gathering darkness.
"Heights," he finally says, flatly. "Really."
She bobs her head, clenches her jaw against a shudder. "Growing up, yeah. Put me a few stories in the air and I'd worry. Not enough that anyone noticed."
"You don't seem afraid now," he notes, the cold in his voice making her tense against another shiver.
She continues doggedly ahead, trying so hard to drag them toward normalcy. "My freshman year of college, a group of us drove to LA for a long weekend. We stopped by Tar Creek Falls, climbed to the top. It was about seventy feet up – stupidly high." She gulps, continues. "I struggled for an hour. I stared down the cliff, stepped back, tried to take a running start. And every time, every time I thought I had it - I could feel my blood thrumming through my veins and hear my pulse pounding in my head and the adrenaline was enough to choke me." She pauses. He doesn't prompt her, just listens in silence somewhere behind her. She lets her eyes trip along the cars below. "I jumped, finally. But it'd taken so long."
"And that cured you."
Her throat tightens again. Her life always threads back to this, now. It's complicated. It's not fun. "Mostly. And then a month later – I stopped caring about heights."
"Mmm," she can barely hear him murmur. She tries not to slump down too much further against the railing.
"I thought I was over it. Poising myself on edges, waiting to jump with my heart in my throat." It's harder and harder to speak through the sudden dryness in her mouth. She wants, more than anything, for him to understand what she's trying to say, but she's beginning to understand that he's done trying.
"You're not." It would be a question if his voice weren't so disinterested.
And there it is again – stomach dropping out from her, scream of a pulse through her ears, fingers and legs trembling, shaking with the desire to jump. "No," she murmurs, not sure she's speaking loudly enough for him to hear. Go, go, go, she urges herself. She can. It's not so many words, and then it will be over, then –
His phone trills, making her flinch. She exhales with a feeling that's too familiar, now – hopeless relief at the reprieve mixed with a churning kind of disappointment, the wash of unreleased adrenaline rolling through her body, then fizzling away.
He turns from her, hunching up towards the door, speaking softly into the phone. Judging from the easy tone, the lilting cadence of the words that do drift over to her, it's to someone fun and uncomplicated. How many times these past few days, how many times with her heart in her throat and her stomach shuddering did she open her mouth to talk to him and - her eyes start to burn with the knowledge. She closes them, tilts her head up toward the sky, lets the sharp breeze chill her face.
She doesn't know how long it's been when the quiet cold is interrupted by the shuffle of footsteps approaching ever closer, by the shift of warm air near her as he settles, too far, three feet away, dangles his legs over the edge. She blinks, sharply, shifts forward, focuses her eyes back down on the street. It's embarrassing enough, all of it, without his seeing her cry.
Flight attendant? She almost asks, but she doesn't want to know, doesn't want to think about it. "Probably only another twenty minutes, now," she says. Her voice comes out clogged, thick. She laces her fingers together, digs her nails into the back of her hand, tries to focus on something, anything that's not how little he wants her now.
"So," he says, and his voice is just a touch softer, and he's at least not halfway across the roof at the door, so that's something, that's good, this stupid burn in her eyes and this thickness in her throat can go away now. But then he trails off, awkward, and the goddamn hammering pulse is back in her skull and she feels a ridiculous dampness trying to spill down her cheeks.
"Just tell me," she murmurs, her eyes fixed firmly at the street below.
Maybe all she needed to do was start to cry in front of him weeks ago, because he finally, finally doesn't even try to skirt around it anymore. "You remember," he says. "Being shot."
Oh. "The bombing case," she breathes. Her brain can't even give herself a generous metaphor about it all clicking into place; of course he heard her in the interrogation, it's the only scenario that's ever made any sense.
"Yeah," he says.
He won't ask her. Go, she tells her hammering heart, go, go, and she's shaking with the knowledge that she's just on the edge, balanced halfway toward the fall. You ever been shot in the chest, Castle? is what she almost says, but she stops herself. She's hasn't even broken this down in a way that makes sense to her, yet, let alone anyone else. "For so long, that wasn't – what you said wasn't the most important part of that day." She sees him flinch in the corner of her vision, but it's too much work to talk past the lump in her throat. "It's – God, Castle, you can't understand that?"
"I know. Of course I know that." The tender growl of his words is too much, it jolts through her bones, wracks her with a shudder. "But knowing, knowing that I said that, knowing that I loved you, you thought the best thing to do would be to lie to me, to leave me for months without any contact."
She tilts forward, the weight of it crumpling her inward until her forehead bumps onto her hands, still wrapped around the railing. Go, she tells herself. "It's not – I just wanted –" It's useless. She's never jumped with words. She can't, not even to save them. This awful noise somehow makes it past her lips, half incoherent growl, half sob.
"Jesus, Beckett," she hears him say, voice low and rough, not at all helping as she swallows convulsively, pulse thumping, eyes watering. Then there's the soft shuffle of fabric over concrete, his hand on her shoulder, pressing firm against the joint. "You're cold," he murmurs gruffly.
She shakes her head mindlessly, her forehead bumping against her knuckles. She's shaking, a light trembling all over, but it's only partially the bitter breeze. Her heart continues to jackrabbit against her sternum, air dragging painfully through her throat, knuckles clenched too hard around the cold railing.
His fingers leave her shoulder and her whole body hitches at his retreat, jerks in a desperate rise toward his fingers, then sinks back, defeated, settles onto concrete.
Then there's a rush of warmth over her shoulders, her back, settling around her stomach, the heat of his just-occupied jacket enveloping her, surrounding and stilling the thudding of her heart, quieting the noisy pulse thrumming through her temples.
She realizes, suddenly, shifting deeper into the warmth of his coat, that the biggest leap was one she took already, months ago, years ago, quietly and with hardly a ripple to show she'd made the jump. "I was wrong," she says. She can't lift her head from where it rests on her hands, isn't steady enough to pick herself up from this place of sudden stillness, from this muted cocoon that allows her words to suddenly tumble free. "I wanted to be ready. I loved you. Love you. I know you love –" she can't, can't quite say it after the past weeks, doesn't know if he wants it anymore, "I know you loved me."
She feels his hand on her again, not her shoulder, now, but whispering along the fringes of her hair, brushing it back over her shoulder. "Present tense," she hears him rumble, close to her ear.
She lifts her head, shivering in an entirely different way at the growl of his words in her ear. She can do this, this is the easy part, the falling, the free floating through space. The way he's looking at her constricts her throat all over; she sucks in a deep breath, shifts toward more familiar footing. "Just present?" she murmurs, going for light, but as soon as she says it she knows it's too much, she's asking more than she should want, more than he should give.
"No, not just that," he says, tilting toward her, closer and closer until his lips brush over hers, and her chest leaps and her head spins until she's entirely turned around, until she can't tell whether she's falling or flying.
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