She's trying not to wake him; he can tell. But the pain keeps his sleep rather surface and the moment she slides out of bed and turns the alarm off before it can blare, he's awake.
Castle slides his eyes half-open, watches her from the slits of his heavy lids. He's propped up against the headboard, a mountain of pillows, entirely uncomfortable in this position, his arm in a sling to keep it immobile but his whole body aching. Kate is walking quietly to the bathroom, scraping her hair back with a hand, and she looks nervous.
First-day nervous. Cute, adorable, and a little heart-breaking. He can imagine her as a five year old with her My Little Pony lunchbox, her hair in a pony tail, making that long walk to the school, barely able to push open the heavy doors, slipping inside before they can slam shut on her.
The picture is so vivid, he can't let it go.
So he stops pretending to sleep and waits until she's made it to the bathroom, closed the door softly behind her, and then he lets out a long breath, trying to think.
He wants a way to show her. Prove that it's okay, that everything will be fine because they're doing this together.
His body is killing him. Kate tried to return the favor last night, but - no, as much as he wants her, he can't even stand to have her curled up against him, any motion or movement, any shift of position is agony.
She didn't look disappointed, didn't do anything but kiss him and then fall asleep on her side of the bed. Before he could fall asleep, of course, so that he spent an hour listening to her breathe, out of sorts because of the pain meds and the vice grip of tension in his shoulder and the need in his gut.
So he's still feeling brutalized.
Oh, that's an excellent word for it. He'll have to write that down for Nikki. Oh. . .well, huh, it has a strange connotation that he doesn't intend so maybe not. What could-
Wait. Focus, Rick. A way to show her-
He grins and instinctively lifts his legs to slide out of bed - entirely forgetful, stupid, so very stupidly forgetting - and his body seizes in a rictus of agony that pierces his shoulder and shoots down into his groin.
Ah, crap. Shit. No damn wonder Kate didn't call him for three months. This is humiliating.
He lies in bed, half propped on pillows, half spilling out of the bed, a foot to the floor, and he tries to gather back together his frayed nerves and jittery limbs.
His breath starts to catch up to his heart, his pulse stops hammering, and then he can lower his other foot to the floor, hang out there a moment.
Okay, he's got this. He needs to slide his body across the bed and use only his leg muscles to stand - minimal ab work, no upper body strength whatsoever.
And he needs to do that now. Before she gets out of the shower and finds him sprawled like a gangly giraffe. Or a beached whale. He feels more like a beached whale, or jeez, a shipwreck. He feels like his body is a damn shipwreck.
He hates this. Abhors it with every fiber in his being, and he will stand up. He will stand up like the man he is and he will not let her see this because she has to go in to work today.
She has to.
So he stands up.
Gritting his teeth and swearing under his breath, sweat beading on his forehead and his palms clammy, but he stands up.
Kate pulls the wet hair off her neck and blows a breath out, leans forward to wipe steam from the mirror. She feels. . .
No idea. It's all a jumble.
She's still edgy and paranoid, still fighting panic attacks though they mostly come when she's alone and tired and thinking she's doing pretty well. Of course.
Kate studies her image in the mirror, but she really doesn't want to do that right now. Just. Get dressed, go to work, pretend like it's any other day.
She snatches her underwear from the pile of clothes she slipped into the bathroom with her, steps into it, fastens her bra. The raised edge of scar tissue between her breasts glows like moonlight, a pale reflection of last summer's sun. Now Castle has one too. All because of this. . .
Three months ago, she would have said it was all because of her. She's not that twisted any longer, but there's still that sense of responsibility. She still carries this. It doesn't go away just because she closes her eyes to it and sticks her fingers in her ears.
The balance is finding a way to be an us with Castle and also be a detective.
Kate crushes her dress pants in her hand, pulls them on without stopping to think too much more. A purple dress shirt, because Castle-
Yeah, except he won't be there today.
Soon. But not today.
Kate opens the bathroom door, her head down to slip the last button in place, and nearly runs into him.
She gasps and clutches at his waist as he rocks back, hears the grunt of pain in his voice - already raw with it. "Castle. What are you-"
"I've got something for you. Before you go in." His eyes are closed, tightly reining it in she can tell. She knows that look. She can feel that look.
"Castle," she says softly, stroking the back of her hand up his chest, curling at his neck, away from his bandaged shoulder.
He opens his eyes to her and brings up his uninjured arm between them, fingers unfurling.
Her mother's ring.
The chain is hooked around his thumb and he lets the ring drop down his palm and swing in the air between them. She stares at it for a moment, her stomach churning and her body vibrating in time to the spin of the gold. He lifts his arm and she flicks her eyes up to meet his gaze, sees the agony he's keeping in check just to do this, but he starts to slide the chain over her head.
She takes a breath, but it's caught, he can't make the circle wide enough to pass it over her hair, so Kate has to raise her arm and help him.
Together, they slip the chain on, letting the ring fall between her breasts and hang there, warmed by her skin.
She presses her palm flat to his chest and leans in, tastes the struggling edge of his mouth as he stands there.
"Go to work, Kate," he murmurs into her kiss.
"As long as you go back to bed," she says, touching the ring at her chest once more.
His fingers come up around hers, their hands warm together, and he smiles. "Deal."
The doors of the elevator glide open and she steps onto the homicide floor, so familiar, so natural that she can feel it clench in her chest. Not even three months with Castle can compete with that, eleven years spent at the precinct, long nights staring at her murder board, the quiet pride when she first sat at her desk. And it scares her.
It scares her.
Because his loft has become her home, almost, sort of, but this-
This is her home too.
Has been for so much longer.
And she can tell exactly how easy it would be to slip back into her old routine here, working overtime, the aloneness of late nights, of crisp, early mornings. How easy it would be to become her old self again, her wary, stubborn, closed-off self.
But she won't.
She's got Castle now, and even if she did let herself get sucked in again - he wouldn't let her. He would fight her tooth and nail over it, would make her see.
It'll be all right.
Kate draws a slow breath, lets it expand in her lungs, standing still at the door of the bull pen. She can feel the eyes weighing on her, Esposito's and Ryan's among them, but this is not about anyone else - it's about her. Only her.
So she waits.
She's been here before - the return to where she's meant to be, the moment of hesitation, the way the precinct is still a removed thing, a separate thing, not a part of her. Not yet. She is on the outside looking in.
But not for long.
She savors this moment, relishes it - how it feels to crave the adrenaline and the rush, how it feels to be wary, even fearful, of it, how her heart beats too hard, how her body cants towards her team, her desk, her purpose.
Just like last summer, it's still not completely right. The picture isn't whole. Castle is at home, but he'll be back.
And when she's ready - when she's sure - she takes that last step out, the first step in.
"Detective Beckett," Captain Gates greets, her voice cool and even as she stands at the door of her office. Nothing more; just her rank and her name.
And that's enough.
"Sir," Beckett says with a sharp nod, advancing to her desk. The wooden surface is clean and empty still, like it's been waiting for her all this time.
Elephant-less, of course, but that's easily fixed. She'll have Castle bring them back when he returns in a few months.
She rests a hand on the desktop, skims her fingertips over the familiar edge, and that seems to be the signal everyone is waiting for to turn away and go back to their jobs. It's just her and Ryan and Espo now, and she can see on the guys' faces all the things they would rather die than say.
Kate smiles, waits a moment more before putting them out of their misery.
"So. The sniper. What've we got?"
They relax instantly, skirting around their own desks to come closer as Esposito starts his report, and just like that, just like that-
100 Days of Summer
Sandiane Carter: This story - wow. It's been an adventure, and a challenge, and it has showed me over and over (if I needed any more proof) just how good chezchuckles is - her endless ability to adapt, her boundless imagination. It's impossible not to be inspired by her creativity. And I've learned a lot too, about these characters, about myself, and I think - I hope - that I'm a better person for it. And I want to thank you, all of you, readers, who have so supported this story with such enthusiasm, such faith, and have lived each of those one hundred days with us. It's been amazing. Thank you.
chezchuckles: I was going to be flippant and cute, but I can't now, not after *that* lovely statement. Sigh. But SC is right - I've grown as a writer and as a person. Submitting to a shared vision for this story was hard, but so very much worth it. The characters gained depth, and had fights, and their love became messy and realistic and true.
And you had a part in that too. I listened to you when you said Beckett spent too much time at Castle's place, or that Castle was being a baby, or that Kate was being too closed-off. Kate and Castle reflected me to some extent, my way of thinking or personality, and your reviews shaped the coming chapters, and also my own life. So thank you for being instrumental in that as well.