For the anon on tumblr who wanted them to talk about Royce.
I hope you enjoy it.
She was off the whole day, and he wasn't entirely sure why.
She was quiet when he brought her coffee that morning, barely even smiling at him as she took it and he didn't see her drink it throughout the day. He caught her lost in thought at the murder board, leaning against the counter in the break room, and when he asked her if she was alright, if she was feeling sick, if she was really okay she brushed him off with fingertips to the back of his hand, quick barely there smiles, breathy 'I'm fine's as if that was going to make him believe her.
Their one year was in a week, so he knows he didn't miss that. Montgomery's anniversary was the week after that. Mother's day was coming up? Maybe that was it…
When he offered to take her home, make her dinner, she surprised him, asking if they could go to the Old Haunt instead.
Which is exactly how they ended up sitting in his bar at 6:30 on a Thursday night, surrounded by only the bartender and a few other regulars nursing decade old heartbreaks with two glasses of the best whiskey in the place sitting in front of them. Kate ran her fingers around the edge of her glass, staring at the amber liquid, her shoulders slouched as she leaned forward on the barstool with a furrowed brow.
He lifted his glass and took a sip.
If the past 5 years had taught him anything, it was how to wait her out.
Turns out, he didn't have to wait too long.
"Two years," she murmured.
He sat up straighter, his mind flying back to two years before trying to figure out what he'd forgotten.
"Royce died two years ago today," she murmured, answering his question for him.
He closed his eyes, his mind going back to the moment he got the call from the boys, not Kate, because they wanted to make sure that he was there before she knew (though he'd never tell her that he was already in a cab on his way to the scene by the time she called him). He remembered watching her argue with Montgomery, entirely unprepared to handle the situation because her mother's cold case was one thing but this was fresh and they had leads and he'd never seen her so hell-bent on working an active case, following her to L.A. just to keep her safe; the couch that felt just as intimate as a bed, his belief that if he would have reached the beach a minute later he would have found her standing over a bloody body with a bullet (or more) missing from her gun.
They never talked about any of that.
She slid the tumbler closer to her, cradled it between her palms on the bar and closed her eyes, breathing out once before she opened her eyes.
"One of my first days on the job," she said softly, "My first case, actually, as a beat cop… before he knew about my mother. It was a simple, so simple. The guy still had the gun on him when we caught him, but I talked him into putting it down. I shouldn't have even been doing it…" she shook her head, "But after we officially closed it Royce took me out for a drink and he said, '… Kid, I don't how you ended up here, but the force is lucky you are,' she pursed her lips, looking up at him, "He always believed in me, Castle. Even after he knew about my mom. He told me it gave me fire –"
"If what your father has told me is any inclination, you've always had fire," Castle said, interrupting before he could stop himself.
She stared at him, her mouth glaring but her eyes smiling gratefully and he picked up his glass, taking a sip of it, his unspoken invitation to continue and an apology all in one.
She took a deep breath.
"He'd helped me pick my dad up at bars when I was too tired to do it myself. He was always there to help. But he worked me. He turned me into the cop I am today – loyalty, strength, determination – I learned that all from him. He never once treated me like I was broken because of what happened, and Castle –" she said, looking up at him with shining eyes, "I… I didn't have anyone else to tell me I wasn't."
The silence settled over them for a moment, the pain in her eyes making him ache for her.
"And you never got to say goodbye," he whispered.
Her face crumpled for a moment, her gaze falling towards the glass on the bar.
"I didn't even know he was in trouble… " she swallowed, "… I could have helped him."
"Or it could have killed you, too," he reminded her quietly.
"I should have helped. He was my friend," she insisted quietly.
"Maybe he felt like he had no right to ask you for a favor."
"He thought I hated him," she murmured, "He wrote me a letter, apologizing for what he'd done. He died thinking I was angry with him."
"And were you?"
She sat in silence for a moment, looking down at the table before she lifted her glass to her lips for the first time, taking a long drink.
"I used to think I was," she answered quietly, "but not anymore. My mom, Montgomery, Royce… what use is it being angry at someone who can't fight back?"
"Or the people you love," he added quietly.
Her eyes flashed up to his for a moment before they fell back to the table, almost as if she was ashamed to meet his eyes, like she was trying to apologize.
He knew. He always knew. From the moment he heard her say it on the phone the only time he ever met Royce he knew she'd loved him.
As if she had to apologize for loving someone that was there for her, who made her feel important and useful and safe. As if she had to apologize for loving someone before he came into her life, maybe even after he came into her life. As if she ever had to apologize for loving.
He reached out, took one of her hands from her glass and held it lightly in his own, running his thumb over the back of her hand.
"You said earlier," he whispered, "that Royce made you into the cop you are today, but I don't think that's true. Your strength? Your loyalty? Your drive? That was always there. I think he helped you realize just how much of those things you had."
She flipped her hand over in his, squeezing his fingers so he continued.
"He cared about you, Kate. Esposito told me that he retired because he never thought he would be able to do better than you. And then he betrayed you, Kate. And he knew it. And letting down someone you think the world of –" he swallowed roughly, his mouth dry as he thought to just over a year before, when he had done that exact same thing, "- It's a tough pill to swallow… But I also think he'd want you to be happy."
She looked up at him, her eyes searching his.
"I think he'd want you to think about the good times you had with him, the drinks and the jokes and the funny stories. I think he'd want you to enjoy yourself, let go… Live your life by your own rules and not be defined by what you've lost."
Her eyes widened slightly, and she stared at him, her mouth parted slightly before she smiled slightly at him, biting her lip and shaking her head.
He held her hand tighter.
"Do you have to go home?" she said softly, suddenly, pulling him out of his thoughts roughly and he answered her immediately.
"No, I don't. Alexis has exams this week and mother is going out with friends."
"Come home with me."
He raised an eyebrow at her in surprise.
He didn't think she'd want company tonight.
She stood up, her hand still wrapped around his, smiling shyly.
"Thank you," she said.
She didn't answer. Instead she tugged him upright. She pulled him away from the bar and he made a mental note to slip his bartender a couple extra bucks the next time he saw him, unwilling to stop Kate from moving.
The moved out on the street and she listed into his side, leaning up in the darkening night on the empty street and kissing his cheek softly.
"No more 'if only's," she whispered into his skin.
He turned to her, asked her what she meant by that but she simply smiled, pressing herself up onto her toes and kissing him softly, breaking away far too soon for him to respond, leaving him dazed because that was the first time she'd ever kissed him in public (did she realize that), before she tugged him in the direction of her apartment.
More than halfway there, her fingers still intertwined with his own as the streets became busier and more crowded, he decided it didn't matter because he may not have known what her whispered words meant but he knew what they sounded like.
And they sounded like a promise.