He's smiling broadly when she opens the door, a bottle of wine dangling from his left hand. She can't help but grin back when he steps over the threshold and wraps his free arm around her waist, tugging her body up against his chest. Her fingers find their way to his neck as he kisses her, twirling through the soft hair at the base of this skull.
"Hi." His voice is soft and sweet, tickling the upturned curve of her lips.
"I missed you."
"You just saw me eight hours ago, Castle." She pushes on his chest and steps back, shaking her head as she tugs the bottle from his fingers and moves toward the kitchen. "That's not enough time to miss anything."
"Not true," he rebuts, following her. "Eight hours is plenty of time. Hell, I miss you when you're gone for eight minutes."
Her heart does a little flip but she ignores it, rolling her eyes at him instead as she works the cork out of the bottle. "With lines like that, maybe you should switch to romance novels. You'd make a killing."
"Ah, but I already do write romance. As you well know." He takes the glass she's offering him, a cheeky glint in his eye. "I've seen your dog eared copy of Heat Wave. The corner of page one hundred and five is about to fall off."
Laughing, he moves around the island and wraps an arm around her shoulders, pulling her up against his chest. "How was dinner with your dad?" His lips skim over her temple and she shivers, a sizzling warmth skittering down her spine.
"How'd he take the news? Should I brace myself for an inquiry about my intentions?"
She presses her forehead to his chest and takes a deep breath, feeling his body go stiff against her. His arm falls away from her shoulders and she sways on her feet as he steps quickly away from her. She keeps her eyes closed, unwilling to see the hurt and anger on his face.
"You didn't tell him."
It's not a question. She shakes her head, finally opening her eyes and meeting his gaze. "No."
"Why? We agreed that it was time for him to know. It's been three months, Kate."
"I know. I - There just wasn't a good time to mention it."
"You couldn't find two minutes to say 'Oh, by the way, Dad, I'm dating Castle now.'?"
"It's not that simple."
"Yes, it is." His wine clatters against the island and he stalks away from her, his body taut with barely restrained fury. "Three months," he repeats, pacing in her entryway. "When are you going to stop acting like this has to still be a secret?"
"What they are you talking about?"
"No one is allowed to know about us!"
"Your mother and Alexis know. And Lanie."
"Lanie only knows because she caught us. And my mother and Alexis know because they're my family and they have a right to know that I'm in a relationship with a woman that I love. But what about the rest of our friends? I'm tired of hiding, Kate."
"If this gets out at the precinct then Gates won't let you work with us anymore."
"That's a bullshit excuse and you know it. Ryan and Esposito wouldn't sell us out to Gates. You know that. Why are you so scared of telling people about us?"
"You'll have to forgive me if I don't want to take out ad announcing to the world that I'm -"
"I'm not asking you to announce it to the world!" He stops pacing and spins to face her, his face blazing. "I just want to be able to tell the people that matter." He shoves a hand through his hair, sighing heavily. "I want you to be in this. I want to stop feeling like you've still got that one foot out the fucking door."
The silence is deafening. Her apartment breathes around them, the dim white noise of appliances and steady hum of traffic amplified in the vacuum of their muted voices.
"Beckett," she cringes internally at the slice of her surname, the acid dripping from the sharp edges of the consonants, "I can't be the only one in this. I can't hold this relationship together by myself. Not anymore."
"You knew who I was when we started this, Castle." She tries to keep her voice calm and even. "You can't expect me to change just because we're sleeping together."
"Sleeping together? Is that -" A fresh wave of anger rolls across his face, hard and fast, his eyes slipping shut in the wake of it. He takes a step closer to her and releases a slow, shaky breath. "Is that what this is to you? Us sleeping together?"
She can't speak. Can't find the words to tell him that it's not; that it's so much more than that. It's everything. Everything she'd hoped it be. Everything she never knew she wanted until him.
She's been struggling to find the words for months, to tell him how much she loves and adores him, how happy he makes her. How she feels like a whole person when she's with him. How he fills the empty places inside her chest with his love and his smiles.
Her traitorous body won't allow the words to come. Her throat is thick and closed, her lungs spasming against her ribs. The smothering panic sets in, the way it always does in these moments. The moments when her heart almost succeeds in making itself heard, in overriding her head.
She blinks at him, her eyes wide and dry. She wants to reach out. Wants to touch him and show him how she feels. But that's what led them to this place. The place where he realizes just how damaged she actually is and decides he can't take it anymore. Somewhere in the back of her mind a little voice sings a song of vindication, crowing out lyrics about the inevitability of this moment with a chorus of harmonizing I told you sos.
Castle sighs, his shoulders sagging as the fight drains out of him. She watches the shutters go up behind his eyes, watches him give up.
"Okay, Kate. Okay."
He grabs his jacket from her coat rack, thrusts his hands deep into the pockets. She hears the dull jingle of metal and feels herself sway a little on the spot. His hand comes free of the fabric, a tangle lump of keys clutched tightly in his fingers. Without looking at her, Castle isolates the key to her door and slides it from the ring, places it gently on the solid oak table. She wonders briefly how the table manages to remain standing under the weight of his actions.
His head lifts and he looks at her, eyes shining with unshed tears.
"You know where to find me."
Slowly, his hope for her to stop him cushioning his every movement, he turns and walks out the door. She watches him go, her heart railing against her ribs, feet rooted to the spot. The door closes soundly and she lets her eyes slip closed, the image of his retreating back burning bright in her mind.