Title: Maybe I'll Miss You
Spoilers: Set during 4x13, An Embarrassment of B*tches, but no real spoilers
Series: Set in the TARDIS-verse, after Unexpected Light, and before Stupid Mouth Shut. Other stories in the series are TARDIS: Time and Relative Dimension in Space; Calculation; Nighthawks; Circle 'Round the Sun.
A/N: I'm not writing. This is me not writing. But this is for Docnerd89, who is having a rough month and needed a Time Out.
Word count: ~3700
It's not just a cold, wet nose lodged in her armpit. It's not just a pointed, panting reminder that it's oh-dark-thirty and she's not sleeping. It's a metaphor. A metaphor with the saddest eyes in the world.
Second saddest. The thought comes unbidden—definitely unbidden—as she flops on to her back and reaches out to drag her fingernails over the wide, flat expanse between Royal's ears.
Kate's eyes drift half closed to the soothing, regular thump of the dog's tail against the nightstand. Her mind wanders. The tired lines of her face soften to the kind of smile she doesn't usually allow herself.
She's just on the edge of sleep. Dangerous waters lapping at her toes as her thoughts wash back and forth.
Not so sad lately. That particular thought saunters up from the still-tingling expanse of skin on the back of her hand. From her palm where he anchored his fingers against it and every arch and whorl and crease sparked to life and strained toward him. That particular thought curves around her elbow and shivers up her biceps, trails along her collar bone and ripples over her scalp.
Not so sad. The thought comes again as her lids fall closed and she sees them. The two of them. Their hands. His face. Not sad. Questioning. And without meaning to—without even knowing what her answer might be—she gives it. Not yet. Not no. Not never. But . . . not yet. He wishes it were different. There's no doubt about that. She wishes it were different. But. But . . .
Not so sad. Her mind repeats it. Emphatic. Clear. A little defensive. Because there's regret in the geometry of his fingers as they curl in on themselves. Regret in the space of half a breath when they uncurl again. When they extend toward her like scouts boldly striking out ahead of an expedition. Like he might ask the question again. Like her answer might be different if he does.
There's regret, yes, but something else that chases his sadness to the margins. Makes him shy and grinning and clumsy as he backs his way to the door. Something that makes her laughter chase after him. Makes regret feel more like anticipation.
The bed dips to her right and Kate pulls up out of almost-sleep with a gasp. Her hand, wrist, elbow fly up from the mattress and she's open mouthed and disoriented until she feels it again. A cold, wet nose pushing under her arm. Seeking the warmest, driest part of her with pinpoint accuracy.
She jerks the blankets back with an annoyed twitch, but the scolding words die on her lips. Royal looks up at her, paws defensively flanking his nose, ears flat and sorrowful against his head.
"You miss him," she says aloud. His ears quirk up for a fraction of a second. His tail gives a single thump, but it's a good one. Solid enough to shake the spindle-legged night table. To make her cell phone jump on its surface.
She bites her lip and looks at the dog again. He's not so sad now, either. More like patient. More like he knows that she's listing the reasons why she is not going to slide the phone off the table and into her hand. Like he knows that's exactly what she's going to do.
She rolls on to her right side. Drops one heavy, tingling hand behind Royal's ears and reaches for the phone with the other. She rests her chin on the mattress, her nose inches from his.
"You miss him," she repeats. A whisper this time. "Me too, buddy. Me too."
Castle knows he made a mistake. A big one. He just can't decide what it was.
The obvious answer is touching her in the first place. That's against the rules. The day-time rules anyway. There are other rules, but he's not thinking about that right now, because he made a mistake.
If that—if touching her—was the mistake, it was just the first domino. He sees them falling again now. He brushes one of his thumbs over the other, and he's back with her. Back in the moment when she fits her palm against his—the moment he feels the weight of her gaze on his thumb, on the back of her own hand—they all fall down. And he's not what he's been pretending to be: The friend. Eager but casual. Helpful but a little distant. Standing on his own. Waiting.
And she's not either. Not what she's been pretending to be. Because a sound escapes her. A fragile, eager "oh." And she lets go, just for that second. Lets her hand be heavy in his. Lets her shoulders bow toward one another, toward him, even while one corner of her mouth, then the other, lifts just a little. Even while the lines around her eyes catch light, not darkness. Just for that second.
That might be the mistake. Because when she raises her eyes to his, he knows—he knows—exactly what she sees. Exactly what he is: A fool needing her and needing her and needing her.
But here's the thing. Here's what has him pacing the perimeter of his desk, the outlines of the living room rug, the dangerous path to his own front door. Here's what has him wondering what the mistake really was: She looked. She saw. And she didn't look away. Not at first, anyway. And even when she did . . .
When she did, it was something else. Something inviting him to dip his head. To follow, give chase. To come after her and not take some day for an answer.
And maybe that was the mistake. Drawing himself apart from her. Away and out the door. Saying some day back to her, not in so many words. In the way he watched her watching him. All the way to do the door and through it, he watched her watching him.
And he was the one who looked away, just for a second, and when he looked back, she was still watching. Giving him a wordless answer to his last fumbling words. The ones he pretended weren't for her: Maybe. That was the answer she was giving him. Maybe I'll miss you a little.
And the possibility of even that much has him at his own door again. This time he's actually twisting the handle. He yanks his hand away and falls with his back against the door. His heart is pounding and he can't. He can't. There are rules, even in the dead of night.
He takes a breath and then another. Snaps his eyes open, because that is not helping, the image of her hand in both of his. Her eyes flicking up to his and back down. Coming to rest where he's stroking her skin. Where she's letting him. She's letting him, even if it's just for that moment.
He levers himself off the door and trudges back through the living room. His foot comes down on something hard and oddly shaped. He stumbles and goes down on one knee as whatever it is it skitters away. Not too far away, though, because his hand lands on top of it and . . . Ew. It's the once-frozen marrow bone that Royal had gnawed on just long enough to get it well and truly disgusting.
Castle starts to haul himself back up. Changes his mind halfway there. Folds himself into a heap on the floor instead and leans his back against the couch. He wipes his fingers on his jeans and looks down at the glistening, oozing bone. He's smiling. He can't help it. He's smiling.
His heart gives a painful little lurch and the smile fades a little. He misses the damned dog. He misses the warm, solid fact of his flank against his thigh. His patient stillness under Castle's over-the-top affection. His nose nudging his palm, asking for more. Asking for comfort and companionship.
Maybe that was the mistake. The dog. Opening that door, even a crack. Surrendering to that need to lavish attention, affection. To give too much. He has to be careful.
Castle looks at the door again and thinks about building a barricade. For her sake. Because maybe isn't no, but it's still not yet.
He thinks about building a barricade, even though he's really tired of walls.
The phone is in her pocket and it's staying there. Zippered safely away. She only brought it because it would have been insane not to. It's after 2 AM. It's January, and she's freezing even though she's pretty sure that she and her 4-legged companion have been doing something like an 8-minute mile. Of course she brought her phone. It doesn't mean anything.
She glances down and the dog smiles up at her. Smiles. She rolls her eyes at herself. It's such a Castle thing to think, but there's no other word for the tongue lolling to one side. The bright eyes and perked up ears. Royal is smiling and so is she.
Kate tucks her chin into her collar and puts on a burst of speed. The dog huffs out a breath and matches her. Outpaces her, his tail streaming out behind him as his body practically jack-knifes. He's eating up whole squares of sidewalk in a single bound and he's about to jerk her arm out of its socket.
She laughs through her teeth and pours a little more into it. Runs through clouds of her own breath. Solid puffs that hang in the air and break apart around her face.
Up 'til now it's been aimless. They've been looping around blocks. Burning off dangerous want in a widening spiral. She's been careful. Sure to keep them carefully clear of an imaginary boundary.
She's always careful. It's second nature now after four months like this. Four months wandering New York at night. Four months hardly sleeping, though that's been a little better since . . . Since.
A street sign catches her eye and she can't believe it. She trips. Goes down and the heel of her left hand bears the brunt of it. Her right knee catches the sharp corner of a walk-up step and she bites off a curse.
Royal yelps as the leash jerks tight, then bounds back to her. He lets out a low whine and presses his belly to the ground, nose between his paws again in a silent apology.
"Not your fault," she mutters. She reaches out with her good hand and rubs her thumb in small circles between those sad brown eyes. "Wooster and Canal, buddy. How'd we get here?"
He cocks his head to the side at the question and she laughs. He looks like he's thinking about it. Like he'd explain it to her if he could. Like there's a story he wishes he could tell her.
Kate sighs and drops her head against her knees. Regrets it instantly as her injury throbs. She ought to go home. Ought to climb back in bed and at least try to sleep.
But she knows it's hopeless. She's still wired. The run had kept it at bay a while. Kept her skin from singing.
But she's shivering now, and it's not the sweat cooling on her skin. Her heart is pounding and it has nothing to do with the demands she's been placing on her body. Nothing to do with the soreness she can already feel creeping into her cold muscles.
She slides the phone from her pocket. Winces as raw skin drags against the teeth of the zipper.
Royal pushes forward on his front paws. He lets out a short yip and does an excited little dance. He looks embarrassed as he settles back into an obedient sit.
Embarrassed? Kate shakes her head at herself. At Castle, because apparently he's with her even when he's not.
She toys with the phone. Looks up at the offending street sign again, then back at the phone.
Royal's gaze follows hers. He thumps his tail against impatiently and gives another little yip.
It gives her an idea.
He doesn't believe it at first. The chime, cheerful and faint. He doesn't believe it. Wants it too badly to believe it. But there it is again. No louder this time, but surer somehow.
Castle jerks his knees in and presses up. His lower back arches in protest and he wonders how long he's been sitting there on the hard floor.
His socks skid as he takes the turn into his office too quickly. His shoulder slams into a shelf and the half a dozen hardcovers he hadn't really gotten around to putting away come tumbling down. He dances backward a second too late. The corner of the last book drives into the exact center of the top of his foot.
The pain is shocking. He curses and aims a petulant kick at the pile of books and stubs his toe. Of course he stubs his toe.
But there's the chime again, and suddenly he doesn't care. Suddenly he's hobbling at speed. He falls across the bed in an inelegant heap and shimmies madly for the nightstand.
He jerks the drawer open and claws at the hodge-podge of things he's wedged in there. Magazines, junk mail and . . . hand towels? He doesn't even remember those. Barely remembers burying the phone deep in the drawer to keep himself honest. To keep himself from making another mistake before he'd figured out what the first one might have been.
The chime sounds again just as he comes up with the phone. He swipes at the screen and taps the message. Does a double take when he realizes it's not the seven letters he was expecting. In fact, there's no text at all, just an attached audio file.
He can't make sense of what he's hearing at first. Street noises and snuffling and something jingling. Tags. The tags on Royal's collar. And something else. A low voice, just for a second, followed by two short barks and a sad whine.
His heart thumps. He doesn't understand and ever since . . . Well. He's in the habit of imagining the worst. Ever since.
The phone chimes again. Lights up and there they are this time. Those seven letters and then some. He laughs out loud. Clutches the phone to his chest and laughs from his belly, then peers at the message again: Time Out. In canine.
He wants to go to her. Of course he does. But he waits. Finds cover behind a thick patch of brown, long-dead ivy and curls his fingers through the chain link fence.
She's flying down the long side of the tennis court. Royal is a golden streak behind her. She stops short and skids sideways. Her chin tilts up and her hair spills down her back, thick waves sliding free of a sloppy ponytail.
She laughs. Cuts it off with a guilty hand clapped to her mouth and a guilty look up at the light flicking on behind a window not so high above the park.
But she's still laughing, just quietly now. Royal rears back and she catches his paws. Buries a smile in his neck.
She looks younger. Years younger. She looks like the care-free girl she should have grown up to be. Deserved to grow up to be.
It takes Castle's breath away. He wants to go to her, but he waits.
Suddenly she's off again, and he realizes she's hurt. She's favoring her right knee. Every third stride comes with an awkward hop. She stops again and the dog goes wild, head and paws low to the ground, butt waggling furiously.
She leans down to scratch along his jaw, then spins away, running full out, even though it's clearly costing her.
Royal bounds after her, then stops suddenly. His ears flick upward and he lifts his nose skyward. Kate stops a second later and watches him.
She makes Castle an instant before the dog does, and she smiles. Oh, she smiles.
And then she catches herself. Dips her head and when she looks up again . . . well, she's still smiling, but it's the everyday version.
No, he thinks. Not everyday. And not for everyone. Usually just for him. Even when things are hard—rough and fragile, and there's been a lot of that lately—she keeps it in reserve for him.
He catches his breath. Smiles back and reaches into his pocket. Draws his arm back and flicks his wrist.
Royal goes absolutely still, then explodes into movement as the tennis ball arcs over the high fence, lands, and bounces. Once. Twice. Royal leaps and catches it in his jaws. He bears down on Castle just as he closes the gate behind him.
He buries his hands in the thick fur of the dog's neck and mutters a lot of nonsense. She's moving toward them and he's suddenly nervous. Suddenly doesn't know how this will go.
She's there now. Right in front of him and he still doesn't know. He busies himself wrestling the tennis ball from Royal's mouth.
"He knows drop, Castle," she says with another smile. Not the one he caught her in, but not quite everyday either. "Drop, Royal!"
The dog opens his jaws instantly and sits. Castle stumbles back, wincing as he comes down hard on his injured foot. He tosses the ball and Royal runs after it.
"You ok?" She has a hand on his elbow already and she's not sure how that happened. She thinks about snatching it back, but that's worse isn't it?
His fingers close over hers and he makes the decision for her. Draws her elbow around his and pulls it in tight to his side.
"I'm fine," he says quietly. "You?"
"Me?" She looks startled. "I'm fine . . . just. I couldn't really sleep."
He doesn't say anything. Just smiles and pulls her along at a leisurely pace.
Royal has the tennis ball cornered. He bats it back and forth. Pops it with his paw and snaps at it as it catches air. Drops it again and gives chase as it bounces away.
"I mean . . . the dog kept me up." She's babbling, but she can't stop. He's just smiling and there. Tall and solid by her side even though it's January and sunrise is a life time away. He's there and the words just keep spilling out. "He missed you."
Castle stops. Tugs on her elbow to keep her next to him and turns toward her. He doesn't say anything. He still doesn't say anything.
"Well he would, wouldn't he?" She snaps and rounds on him. "Miss you. After the steak and Mr. Squeaky and the couch . . ."
He's not just smiling now, he's laughing. Laughing at her and . . . oh god.
"My knee. You were talking about my knee, weren't you?" She closes her eyes, but she can feel it. His shoulders are shaking. The laughter ripples down his arms and right through her and she lands a half hearted punch against his biceps.
"I was totally talking about your knee," he says finally.
When she opens her eyes, he's right there. His breath is right there, mingling with hers.
He waits for her to look at him. Waits for her to look away, but she can't keep it up for long. She can't do it any more than he can keep from leaning in, meeting her halfway.
"I missed him, too," he whispers as his lips find hers. Once. Twice. "I missed him the minute I left."
He slides his arms around her.
She steps closer. Her fingers creep under his collar. One hand, then the the other. She finds bare skin and traces circles on it. Smiles, fierce and satisfied against his shoulder as he gasps a little and something else ripples through him. Through her.
He turns the tables, though. Ducks his head and kisses her again. Hard and certain as he tugs the last of her hair free from the ponytail and drags heavy, insistent fingers along her scalp. Runs his palm over the hard knots of her spine and fits himself against her.
She feels off balance. Like she's falling. She is falling, suddenly. Or swaying anyway.
He is, too, and their kiss breaks off with an awkward oof from one of them. He stumbles one way and she stumbles the other and there's this annoying space between them all of a sudden.
She takes a step toward him, but he holds up a hand and her cheeks go up in flames. She jerks her head to the side, alarmed at the swift, sudden tears tickling inside the bridge of her nose.
He reaches for her. Takes an awkward side step and slides an arm around her waist. Ignores the fact that she's pulling away and presses a kiss to her cheek, then nudges her head downward.
Royal's tail swipes back and forth over the cracked green paint of the tennis court. His upright spine and innocent eyes strongly suggest that it must have been some other dog who'd wedged his way in between them and left the tennis ball behind, but as long as he's here they might as well throw it, right?
Castle has to relinquish her waist as he leans forward, but he catches her fingers and holds them fast. He stoops and grabs the ball from between the dog's paws.
Royal watches with laser-like focus as Castle fakes a couple of times, then finally throws.
"He really did miss me." Castle can't fight back a grin. Can't even tone it down as he watches the tawny streak darting in and out of the shadows, an occasional flash of bright green leading him on.
Kate lets go his fingers to slip her arm around his waist. She raises on her toes and lets her teeth just catch the angle of his jaw. "He really did, Castle."