Kate sank into the bubbles opposite Josh. He was watching her, but not in a leery way. She smiled at him and he winked at her.
"You're so beautiful," he said. She realised he hadn't seen her since before the funeral, over a year ago. She began to wish she'd at least shaved her legs. She blushed.
"Thanks," she said quietly, not sure whether she was wishing herself away or just wishing she could go to bed and not have to worry about anything. She didn't really understand baths with another person. She liked to lie still and relax, think about things, drift away from reality... With Josh in here, especially as they were both tall, it was just kind of uncomfortable.
Josh picked up the soap. "Want me to do your back?" he asked. Kate scooted round awkwardly and let him begin to wash her. He was a little too gentle, as if he was afraid to touch her. She almost thought he knew what was coming.
"I'm so sorry," she said, getting hurriedly out of the tub and sloshing water onto the floor. She picked up a towel and covered herself with it. "I just... I can't, Josh."
He stayed in the tub, surprised, but not overly.
"You'll get used to it... Maybe we just need exposure. It's bound to be strange at first," he said, but Kate wasn't listening. She was a terrible, terrible person.
"I... I have to go," she said, leaving the room. She dried herself quickly (and fairly ineffectively) and put on her new pyjamas, a sweater, socks, and sneakers. Then she picked up her cell.
"Castle?" she murmured when he answered the phone, feeling rather faint.
"I'll be right there," he said instantly, needing nothing but the tone of her voice. Kate took a jacket out of her closet, hardly noticing which one of her extensive collection she had chosen, and left her apartment without even checking to see what Josh was doing.
She was a terrible person. Tears dribbled down her cheeks as she thought about her stupid love triangle, her stupid mind not knowing what was real and what was not, these two stupid men who both loved her. Why should they? She had treated them so badly... They must be at least partly in love with sleeping beauty, the girl who never moved, never talked back, never disagreed...
That was unfair. They were both better than that. And she had good relationships with both of them. It was just...
She knew what she wanted. But it seemed like the wrong choice. Josh had waited for her all that time, wishing and praying for his girlfriend to wake up and come back to him, and now she had woken up and he was so happy and kind and worried and attentive...
But he wasn't Rick. He wasn't Castle. He wasn't the man who had been standing beside her when she was shot, he wasn't the man her subconscious had found, had clung on to, had been in love with... And while she really liked him and cared about him and would always be grateful to him... If she had loved him once, she didn't any more. She didn't know if she loved anyone right now, if she was in a fit state for anything.
But tonight... There was only one person she wanted to be with. And that was the person pulling up beside her in his absurd red Ferrari wearing blue plaid pyjamas and a very worried expression.
Rick jumped out of the car and looked at Kate.
"Why are you outside?" he asked. Kate bit her lip.
"Can I come to your place?"
Rick seemed very surprised, but agreed instantly. Kate got into the car and slowly put on her seatbelt.
"You're too good for me," she said quietly.
"Bullshit," Rick replied simply.
Kate felt the relief of his presence wash over her and wondered what the hell she had been thinking, letting Josh have a bath with her. But the worst part was, she knew. She had wanted to give him a chance, he was her boyfriend, she didn't know where she was at or what she felt or what love even was any more... She had been so detached from the real world, she had wanted to give it a chance. It wouldn't have been fair to him... It still wasn't fair for her to leave. She was treating him so badly... She had just run away. She wasn't dealing with anything... She was so weak.
She had dissolved into floods of tears; she loved Rick so much for not saying anything-
She loved Rick?
"Stop the car," she managed t say through her sobs.
Rick pulled over, waiting for further instructions.
"Oh, God, I'm being such an idiot. Take me back to my place?"
Rick did so without question. Kate wondered what on earth he must think of her. Maybe she would ask him later. He stopped outside her building.
"Do you mind waiting here for a bit?" she asked.
"No. Can I ask... What's going on?"
Kate admired his restraint. He wasn't demanding, just... He had a right to know.
"Josh is in my apartment. I ran out. I shouldn't have. I have to talk to him... It may take a while."
"Are you breaking up with him?"
It was a straight question. It deserved a straight answer. "Yes."
"I'm sorry..." Rick said, reaching out and giving her hand a squeeze. Kate bit her lip. He was so... everything. Everything she needed. He was her best friend. She wanted to stay in the car with him so very badly, wanted him to drive her off into the sunset where they could live happily ever after in a sexless land of solitary bubble baths and entertaining conversations...
She got out of the car.
Josh was sitting on her couch with the TV on; he flicked it off when she opened the door. His expression was stony, but he was surprised to see her back.
"Did Castle have another groupie over?" he asked.
"That's not fair," Kate said quietly. Josh's expression softened.
"No.. It's not. But you leaving wasn't fair either."
"Neither was you rushing me..."
"You said it was okay. I..." Josh was uncomfortable now.
"I know. I'm sorry. I wanted... I wanted everything to go back to normal, but it's... It's never going to go back to how it was, is it?" she asked.
"I... I hoped it could. But it seems... not. Why did you come back?"
"Because... I loved you, Josh."
He bit his lip. "Past tense?"
"Do you love him now?"
Kate shrugged. "I don't know. I don't know anything. I barely remember... I don't know what I'm supposed to do... I called him because Lanie's at work and he's my best friend. I called him because I was selfish and I wanted someone who'd do what I asked without question."
"He's like a lovesick puppy, following you around." Josh didn't say this with derision, then. It was more like resignation.
Kate smiled weakly. "I know."
"Yep.. I'm sorry, Josh. You waited, you... I don't deserve someone half as good as you."
Josh put his hand gently on her shoulder and looked into her eyes. "Yes, you do."
Kate shook her head. "I've been so selfish," she mumbled.
"No, Kate, you haven't. You've been the opposite... You've been trying so hard to please everyone else... But you need to get better. And you need to look after yourself. Stop worrying about me. I'll be okay. I love you, but that means what I want most is for you to be happy. And I don't think I was every really the one who was going to do that. If he... If he makes you truly happy, Kate, I wish you both all the best together."
Kate put her arms around Josh and gave him a long hug.
"Thank you," she said softly.
"Any time," he said gently. "You go. I'll get my things and post my key through the letterbox after I lock up."
"I'm going to miss you," Kate whispered.
"I'm going to miss you too. But Kate?"
"I'm so glad you woke up."
Kate bit her lip.
"I hope I am too."
Josh chuckled. "Don't be stupid. Of course you're glad. It would have been a damn shame if you and Castle never had a chance."
"You're being so sweet, I almost don't want to leave."
"Almost is the important word there, Kate. Look in your heart – we fixed it up nicely for you. Stop worrying so much about other people, about me, about Rick... Do what you want. In the end, that's what'll make everyone happiest."
"You're putting a lot of trust in my heart."
"I have great faith in my work."
Kate chuckled. Josh kissed her on the cheek.
"Go. He's waiting for you."
Kate was crying again. Josh wiped away her tears.
"Don't... You're doing the right thing."
"I'm so-" Josh put a finger over her lips.
"No you're not. Go on. Go and live, Kate."
Kate walked slowly towards the door and down to where Rick was waiting, leaning against the side of his car. She smiled at him.
"Thank you so much for waiting. But I think... I think I need to be alone tonight."
Rick nodded. "Fair enough," he said, getting into his car. He drove off. Kate watched until his tail lights had completely disappeared. Then she called a cab.
"Hey, honey," Rick said to Alexis.
"She didn't come, in the end."
"How long are you going to wait, Dad?" Alexis said, almost angry.
Rick sighed. "As long as it takes."
"Katie? What the hell are you doing here?" Jim rubbed his bleary eyes and let Kate into his apartment.
"Mind if I stay?"
Jim hugged his daughter tightly.
"Of course not. Your bed's made up."
Kate kissed her father on the cheek and went straight to her childhood bedroom. There would be time for explanations in the morning... Right now she just needed to sleep. She threw back the pink patterned comforter and stripped off, putting on a ragged nightshirt she'd worn as a teenager. She snuggled in her soft little bed and closed her eyes, falling asleep in seconds. She didn't notice her father coming in and picking up her clothes and turning off the light; she didn't stir when he kissed her forehead and switched off the light.
Everything could wait. Jim was a great believer in sleeping on things and waking up to look at them with fresh eyes. As he watched his sleeping daughter, he found himself begging every God ever heard of that she would wake up well in the morning, that he would find out what was wrong.
He had come so close to losing her so many times... The fear just grew and grew. But he could hear her quiet breathing, see the flickering of her eyelids... He finally had his daughter back. She looked so small, curled up in the single bed. He smiled and went to bed himself. Johanna had always said being intelligent and good looking was more of a curse than a blessing. From what he had seen of the two men in Kate's life at the hospital, he was inclined to agree.
A/N: Thanks for reading, and for all the reviews for the last chapter. I really appreciate your interest, please continue to share your opinions with me! xx