He holds her hand on the ride back to her apartment, his palm sweaty and warm against hers. She wants to lean into him, to let his body bear the weight of her heart, but she holds herself apart, letting the press of their palms and the whisper of his slacks against her thigh be enough for now. The conversation they need to have is long overdue and though she wants him badly she knows that she has explanations and amends to make before they can even think about anything else.

The cab rolls away, tail lights flickering, as she leads him into her building. She'd had to drop his hand to fish her keys out of her purse and she can feel him standing close behind her, the heat from his chest pushing against her back. It makes her brave, makes her want to turn around and split herself open for him right there on the sidewalk. Exorcise the pain and anger under the watery light of the street lamps so they can go upstairs and fall into the shadows of her bed, finally on the same page.

Castle stays close to her on the short trip to her door, never letting more than a few feet separate their bodies as they navigate the hallways and elevator, the tips of his fingers brushing lightly over the small of her back at entirely random intervals. She lets them into her apartment and watches him look around, scouting for differences. He won't find any, she knows, but she gives him the time he needs to look and reassure himself. A sharp intake of air catches her attention and she turns around halfway to the kitchen and finds him still standing in her entryway, eyes fixed on the side table.

Oh.

He reaches out and runs his finger along the beveled edge of the wood and then looks up at her, his face a question mark, and she's not sure if the shine she sees in his eyes is real or just a trick of the light. Kate gives him a small smile, weak but real, and pulls him into the apartment with a wave of her hand.

"Wine?"

She realizes it at the same moment he does, sees the shadow of memory roll through his eyes. Shaking his head, he steps into the kitchen and leans against the island, hands shoved hastily into his pockets, hair flopping loosely over his forehead. He looks like a teenage boy wearing his dad's tux for prom and she wants so badly to go to him. To brush the hair from his forehead and take him in her arms, kiss the sad exhaustion from his face.

"How about coffee instead?" He suggests and Kate nods, turning to pull down two mugs.

Castle pushes off the island and moves to her coffee maker, automatically starting the process of brewing a pot. It's a routine they perfected over the months they were together; she prepares their cups with cream and sugar while he handles the coffee. Her chest clenches at the familiarity of it, the memories hitting her hard and fast. How he used to laugh at her insistence that, even though they used the same materials, his coffee always tasted better; the way they'd stand together in her kitchen, murmuring to each other quietly, his strong arms wrapped tightly around her waist as they waited for the pot to finish. Sighing, Kate pushes away the memories and turns back from the refrigerator, the carton of cream grasped tightly in her hand, finds him watching her with unmasked curiosity.

"This feels -"

"Weird?" She offers, an awkward laugh hanging in her throat.

"Right," he finishes, a sad smile rolling across his lips. Her skin prickles and she sways, her equilibrium compromised by the rush of love that surges through her veins.

"Castle-" she starts, her tongue thick and heavy. She stalls when he reaches out and wraps his fingers around her wrist, thumb brushing lightly over the base of her palm.

"Coffee first, okay?"

Kate nods, watching as he slowly drags his fingers off her skin, the tips hesitating for just a second before breaking the contact completely. She turns back to the cups, sucking in a shaky breath that she hopes he can't hear or at least has the compassion to ignore. The coffee finishes and she hands him the mugs, watching as he pours them both a serving with a steady hand. Circling the island, she kicks off her shoes and sinks down onto the tall barstool, her mug clasped tightly in both hands. Castle tugs off his jacket and slips the knot on his bowtie before joining her, unbuttoning the cuffs of his shirt as he sits.

She stares at the side of his face for a moment, watching his jaw work as he thinks. She knows he's taking his time, trying to get the words right, because this is important but she really needs him to pull the trigger already. He turns to look at her when she murmurs his name, his expression guarded.

"Why did you come tonight, Kate?"

"I told you. I knew it was important to you."

"That's the only reason?"

She swallows, fights the urge to look away from his penetrating stare. "No."

"Then why?"

"Because I miss you." His eyes slip closed and he takes a deep breath, the rapid expansion of his chest pulling the starched shirt tight. She gives him a moment and then continues, trying to keep her voice steady. "I miss you and I wanted to see you. I wanted to try to -" She turns on the stool, orienting her body in his direction; if she's doing this, she's going to face it head on. "I want to fix this."

His eyes are stormy when he opens them and looks at her, his brows pulled into a tight knot. "Can we? Fix it, I mean."

"I hope so," she answers without hesitation.

"I don't know, Kate. I want to but I -" He swallows and looks away, his hands toying with the still full mug of coffee.

"You what?"

"I don't know if I can do it again. Not like that."

A cold fist clamps around her lungs, choking the breath and hope out of her in one violent spasm. "Okay," Kate whispers, her fingers twisting into the bunched silk covering her lap. "I understand that. But," she clears her throat, bringing her voice to full volume, "can you hear me out?"

"You mean you're actually going to talk to me? That's a first." His tone is heavy and she rocks back a little on her seat from the blow of his words, a pained whimper trapped deep inside her chest. Castle drops his head and shoves a hand through his hair, his face weary. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."

"No. You're right." He swivels to look at her and Kate blinks back the tears prickling hotly behind her eyes. She'll get through this. She has to. "I don't talk to you and that's not fair. It's not because I don't want to, though. I do. I just -" She sighs and jumps off the stool, the hardwood cold against the soles of her feet. His eyes track her as she paces, the movement shaking the words loose, pushing them up her throat.

"You accused me of having one foot out the door."

"Kate - "

She waves a hand at him, stems the flow of his words. "You were right. But it wasn't for the reasons you thought. It wasn't because I wasn't committed or because I didn't want to be with you. It was - God, Castle. Do you have any idea how terrifying it is to be in a relationship that you're fairly certain is going to be the last one you'll ever have?"

"Yeah, I think I do," he answers and she stops pacing, takes two steps closer to him.

"I was scared. I still am. And I shut you out because of it. I made you doubt me. Us. And I'm sorry for that. I'm so sorry that I - I couldn't give you what you needed."

"What I needed?" He shakes his head, fingers gripping his own knees. "All I wanted or needed was for you to talk to me. I don't need soliloquies or full paragraph speeches but I do need to know what's going on inside your head. Four years of following you around have given me some idea but I'm not a mind reader, Kate. I know you play it close to the vest and I respect that but sometimes I need -"

"More," she finishes, trying to ignore the spiral of hope that twists through her chest at his switch to the present tense. "I know."

"I love you, Kate. I love you and I hoped that this," he waves a hands between them, "meant the same to you but -"

"Don't," she chokes out, an angry knot of emotion clogging her throat. "You have to stop saying that. Nothing has ever meant as much to me as this. Nothing." He stares at her and she steps closer, her voice shaking. "You have to know that. You have to know how much I want this. How much I love you."

"No, Kate, I don't." His voice is soft and she closes her eyes and lets it drift over her, the comforting tone gentling the wild pounding of her heart. "How am I supposed to know that if you never say it?"

Kate opens her eyes and meets his. "I love you." Her voice is strong and clear, the words finally finding their way through the crack inside her chest. "I'm in love with you, Castle. I have been for years." She feels the dam break, tears slipping slowly over her cheeks, and she lets them flow, does nothing to stem the tide. "And I'm sorry it's taken me this long to be able to tell you. I'm sorry I hurt you. That was the last thing I ever wanted to do. I just - I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to let go of the fear and allow myself to be happy."

Castle holds out a hand and she takes it, his palm warm and smooth as his fingers wrap around hers. He pulls her forward and she steps between his legs, sighing as his arms band tightly around her, one hand sweeping over her waist and the other climbing up to nest in her hair. His neck is soft against her nose, the scent of starch and his cologne filling her lungs. Her stomach lurches when his lips skim over her forehead, his words gently rustling across the fine hair at her temple.

"I'm sorry too." She raises her head to protest and his fingers tighten slightly around the base of her skull, holding her steady against him. "I always assumed that when we finally did this, it would be easy. That we'd have gotten through or past all the obstacles and that all we'd have to do was just make the decision to be together. Clearly, I was wrong. Very, very wrong." He laughs against the side of her head and she smiles into his neck, her fingers twisting into the loose material gathered at the small of his back. "I was scared too, Kate. Scared that you'd never let me completely in and that I'd have to live with only being able to know and love the parts of you that you wanted to share. I should have told you that before. I should have forced the conversation instead of letting it fester, hoping that it'd just resolve on its own."

"We both could have done things differently." Kate leans back, sliding a hand around to rest on his chest, her fingers curving into the solid wall of muscle. She feels his breath catch under her palm, watched his eyes flutter briefly. "But you," she swipes her thumb along the edge of his buttons, feels his fingers tighten at her waist, "aren't to blame for this. I held back and ended up pushing you away and I'm -"

His lips coast over hers gently, stealing her unspoken apologies, stopping her heart. Sliding her hand up, she cups his cheek, the tips of her fingers tracing over the lines radiating out from the corners of his closed eyes. He breathes into the kiss, her name a quiet sigh on his tongue as it slips over the soft edge of her bottom lip.

"No more blame." He pulls back and catches her eye, thumb drawing a tight circle under her left ear. "No more apologies. We need to move forward, not keep looking back." He dips back down and kisses her again. Kate sinks into his chest, her fingers fisting in his hair. Castle resists her attempts to deepen the kiss, sweeping his lips over hers again and again until she stops pushing and submits to his slow exploration. His thumb drifts over her cheek, smudging the lines of dried salt that mark her skin, a low hum vibrating in his chest. "Tell me again," he whispers into her mouth, his voice shadowed by need.

"I love you." She paints the words onto the curve of his jaw, her tongue darting out to smooth the rough edges. "I love you so much."

The air rushes out of her lungs as he crushes her to his chest, her ribs compressing in the vise of his arms. "This isn't going to be easy," he mumbles into her hair, the current of his breath caressing the slope of her neck.

"I know."

"We're going to have to work for this. A lot."

"I know." She kisses his neck, tastes the staccato drum of his pulse. "I'm ready." Her hand curves around the base of his skull, an anchor. "Are you?"

"Dear god, yes."

Kate laughs into his shoulder as his arms loosen, his broad palms skimming over the cage of her ribs. He grips her sides and pushes, breaking the connection between their upper bodies. The light shining in his eyes highlights the dark circles of grief growing under them, casting a shadow over his tentative smile. The urge to kiss that smile, to feed off his joy, wells up in her chest and she darts forward, flicking her tongue briefly over the corner of his lips.

"We should probably take this slowly," he says, his thumbs rubbing aimlessly over the beaded bodice of her dress. "One step at a time."

"Okay."

"Okay?" He looks mildly stunned, his lips quirking down into a tiny frown.

"Okay," she repeats. "I want this to work, Castle. I know I need to earn your trust again and I know that's going to take time. We'll do this your way."

He stares at her for a moment and then pulls her back into his embrace, his lips glancing over the shell of her ear. "What if my way starts with taking you to bed right now?"

Kate tries to stop the violent shiver that wracks her body but can't; the deep timbre of his words dripping down over her skin like kerosene, the soft sweep of his tongue against her neck the only spark she needs to set her entire body aflame. "If that's what you want," she murmurs, her breasts scraping over his chest.

"What do you want, Kate?"

She answers him with the surge of her hips, the hot press her of lips against the underside of his jaw. With a low growl, his arms wrap around her waist and he stands, hauling her body up with him as she squeaks into his neck. She always underestimates the secret strength hiding beneath the business shirts and blazers, his massive arms and chest more than capable of bearing the weight of her body. Her heart.

He carries her to the bedroom and strips her dress off slowly, takes his time rediscovering the dips and curves of her body. He worries her neck with his lips and teeth, his warm hands questing restlessly over her naked skin, pulling moans and whimpers from the recesses of her chest. She gives of herself freely, lets him feel and hear the depth of her desire and need for him.

He whispers his love to her as she lies pinned beneath him on the bed, her skin flushed and buzzing. For the first time, she responds in kind as he sinks down onto her, into her, his body blocking out the rest of the world. She pays her penance with the roll of her hips, the arch of her back, the whimpered pleas dancing on her tongue; finds forgiveness in the give of his lips, the quiver of his abdomen, the reverence in his eyes. They push each other higher, the room singing with the echoes of their cries, until they peak and stall, hands clasped tightly as they crash back down, together.

fin


AN: Seriously huge thanks to everyone that followed and favorited and reviewed. This fic has been a labor of love for me and I never would have been able to finish it without all of your support and encouragement. 'Til next time.

Jenny