You are like night, calmed, constellated.
Your silence is star-like, as distant, as true.
I like you calm, as if you were absent:
distant and saddened, as if you were dead.
- Pablo Neruda
Disclaimer: Maybe my parents will buy me the rights to Castle for my birthday.
You are tired of their pitying looks.
Ryan and Esposito. Lanie. Your Mother. Your own daughter.
They all watch you as though you are about to break, especially once Captain Gates forces you to leave the precinct. You've nothing left to distract yourself from her absence, so you spend your time watching the phone that doesn't call, staring at the door that never opens. In the silence you think you may already be broken.
Your mother understands. Chin up, kiddo. Pours you another glass of brandy and watches as you down it in one, throat burning but finally feeling something other than overwhelming emptiness.
Ryan and Esposito update you on her case, but the leads run cold. Lanie pats your hand and tells you that she'll call you if anything comes up, but nothing ever does. You stare at the blank word document on your laptop and realize that she is slipping away. Two months after the words I Love You tumble from your lips and she's disappeared.
You have no hold on her. You are not her boyfriend. You're not even her partner- she said it was over. Whatever there was between you. Gone. Spilled away like the ink in your veins.
So when you ask Lanie for the address to her father's cabin, you have absolutely no idea what you are doing.
It's a long drive. Or maybe it isn't. Maybe your mind is just too much chaos to understand how time passes.
It's foolish but in this coat you can still smell her. Cherries. Ash. Familiarity. From the bombing in her apartment, the way your jacket had been the only thing to preserve her modesty, protect her, all tired limbs and eyes. If you close your eyes she is still here.
Open your eyes, and here you are. Jim's cabin sits before you, overlooking a fishing lake, and there she is on the porch, watching the way the water desperately catches the last rays of the afternoon sun before the darkness swallows everything whole.
For a moment, you are still, and so is your heart, your hands tightening on the wheel, lungs empty.
She is right there. If you get out, you can walk five paces and have her in your arms. Smell her. Tell her you love her, that you forgive her for being afraid. You are too, most days.
It doesn't seem real. In your mind, it doesn't seem real at all. Real is the blood that sometimes you can still see on your hands. Real are the ghosts in her eyes as she lies in a hospital bed.
Go to her. It will make her real. She is real. Alive.
You close the car door softly so that she doesn't hear. So that she doesn't see and so that she cannot run. Perhaps it is cruel of you to do so: Corner her like some wild animal that ought to be tamed. But you don't think you could stand one more day on this Earth with her running all the time. Your feet are tired and your body aches for rest. You just need something to revive you, however small it may be.
Her chin is resting in her hands, and you can see how delicate and frail she is by the way she hunches in on herself, her feet a pallid white against the wood of the porch step. Healthier than you remember her. More damaged than she ought to be.
As you are just one foot away, she hears your soft footfalls, tensing. You don't know what she expects, but when you stand before her and her hazel eyes sweep up to you, she is shocked. Pale pink lips falling open. No words.
You are trying to find a way to say I love you and I'm sorry this ever happened to you and you are absolutely extraordinary even when you are broken without scaring her away. You think of Rook. Rook would have a smooth line. And Storm. Storm would know what to say. Your characters are the people you want to be. You'd do anything for the right words now.
Finally, she asks, "How did you find me?"
The words are harsh, accusing. Hazel eyes narrowing at you as she lifts her chin from her hands, balling them into fists. They cut through you but so do her eyes most days, with their beauty, with their grief and their sadness. You know how to process it. You know that she doesn't mean to hurt you, she just doesn't know how to communicate well. She never has.
"Lanie. I asked for your address."
She hums at that and you hope that she's not mad. She doesn't look so mad anymore. Rests her chin back on her hands and watches the water again. You wonder how many walls she is hiding behind.
"Can I hug you?" You blurt the words out ungracefully, shoving your hands into your coat to stop them from reaching for her.
It startles her. She looks at you again, and you can't help but notice the purple bruises beneath her eyes. How much sleep has she been getting recently? Do the bad dreams keep her awake at night too?
Your name. It's not even your name, really, but something false you gave yourself. But falling from her lips it sounds right.
"Please? I'm sorry, Kate, I..."
You're pathetic. Begging for a hug. She probably pities you.
You clear your throat and try again. "I know it's been hard for you and that's why you haven't called. But I just need- I just need something. To make myself believe that you're still alive."
That she's not gone just yet.
She is sand slipping through your fingers. You need to hold on for one moment more.
Her expression morphs to one of pity and she rises from the step with her usual grace. You watch as she places a hand over her side, from when they cut her open, stuck their tools inside of her and her heart. Some place you will never be. You want to tell her to sit back down, to free her of any pain, but then she steps towards you. And gently, so gently, she wraps her arms around your waist and presses her ear to your chest. Above your heartbeat.
Your arms are around her in an instant. It is awkward. You don't do this, the pair of you. You don't talk about how you feel and you label yourselves as partners and you definitely do not hug. But you press your face into her hair and breathe her in anyway, and she smells like petrichor and it makes your heart seize then and there and you don't care an awful amount about what she thinks of you because you need this. Your hands fist in the natural curls of her hair, so soft, like her- She's soft, here, in your arms. But oh- how strong she is. She overcomes death every time. She is alive.
Kate lets out a stutter of a breath, and when you pull away her eyes are opening, wide and vulnerable. "Okay?" She whispers, hands slipping from your waist.
You reluctantly drop your hands to your side, moving away from her.
She catches your wrist, eyes imploring yours.
"I'm alive, Castle. I'm not dead. I'm not going anywhere. You understand?"
All you can think is I love you and how the words will always be stained with her blood. And you know. You know by the desperation in her words that she remembers. Remembers every word, every moment, no matter the lies that she hides behind. The downwards curl of her lips, the guilt in her eyes, the way she holds onto you as though you are hope. It's all there.
Why does she lie?
She lets you go.
Studying her, you notice that her eyes are sunken, and that her skin is as pale and as fragile as paper. Would she let you write your words on her skin? Would you ever try? Would she ever let you love her in all the ways that you want to?
Kate nods slightly and sits back down, a hand on her scars again, pressing through the cardigan she wears. It's then that you notice how casual her clothing is. Clothing for the ill. A loose vest top, leggings, a cardigan that surely cannot be keeping her warm in the chill of the autumn weather. Free of her usual jeans, high heels, leather jacket.
She's in pain.
You're only worsening it.
"Thank you." You offer awkwardly, watching the grimace play on her lips.
"Don't mention it, Castle." She says wryly, watching you carefully.
It's the same look. The same one they all give you back at home. Pity.
It's strange, she's the one that was shot. You were there. But everyone is waiting for you to fall. Why is that?
Kate rakes one pale hand through her hair, tugging at the curls as though they both her. You ache to touch her again. But no, you have no claim on her. You shouldn't even be here.
"How are you?" You ask, but you know she'll lie before the words have even escaped you.
"I'm fine. I'm fine." She nods, eyes tired. "How are you?"
You hesitate. Truth or lies?
You stick with her theme and lie. "I'm fine."
"Good… Good." She murmurs softly, looking down at her hands. Laces them in her lap. Picks at her nails.
She wants you to leave and you can't think of a reason to stay other than you love her so very much you fear it will end you.
"Did you really just drive fifty miles out here just for a hug?" She asks curiously, but you can see the smile stretching on her lips that she thinks she hides, the twinkle in her eyes.
You put that there. That happiness. For one fleeting moment, you brought her joy. It makes your own heart smile.
"It was a great hug." You say.
She purses her lips. "I don't know, I've had better."
This is okay. You can do jokes. You've always been able to make her laugh, you've always been able to make anyone laugh, whether it's at you or with you. Whatever makes her happy, you don't mind. You can take the pain. For now.
"I'll have you know that I am the master of hugs. I've received excellent feedback."
"Did Alexis tell you that?"
"I- Well- Not just Alexis."
"And she actually said you were the master of hugs?"
"She was five."
Kate chuckles, it reaches her eyes even as she places a hand over her chest. Right. The scars. You're hurting her again, even with her laughter. Is there nothing you can do right?
As her laughter fades with the sun, you force your hands back into your pockets, and look down at your feet. This trip was supposed to give you some peace of mind, and hopefully lift her spirits too. So why does it now feel like it's goodbye?
"Thank you. For coming out here."
Her voice is soft and you think you will remember it forever.
You shift awkwardly, pointing back over to your car. "I should- I mean…"
"Yeah, of course."
Her voice is less energetic now, pressing her lips together until they're a thin line.
"Is there- I mean I'm not implying anything but- Is there someone here? With you?"
Kate smiles slightly, crooked. "Yeah. My Dad. He's visiting his friend's cabin tonight. Bill. Don't worry, Castle, I'm not alone."
You don't know what to say. You want to ask to stay, so you can not be alone together, but once again you remember that you have no right. She is not yours. You were a fool for ever believing so. What did you think, that she'd ditch her heart surgeon boyfriend for you, a man that makes a living from words but cannot find them for her?
"Okay. I- I suppose I'll see you whenever you're back."
Things will not be the same. You have been kicked out of the precinct. You do not know if she'll want you back there, as her partner. Maybe it's still over.
The light fades from her eyes. "Okay, Castle."
You take a few steps backwards, eyes trained on hers. Is this goodbye? No more precinct, and she doesn't call when she promises. You cannot keep chasing after her. You're so tired. This isn't the type of life you'd ever thought you'd live- With her tragic background, like something out of a book. You never thought that you'd be so involved with such things. That you'd fall in love so hard it breaks every bone in your body and her smile puts them back together again.
"Drive safe." She murmurs, hand lifting as though to wave but merely hovers in the air.
You climb back into your car and turn the engine on. For a moment you do nothing. Sitting there, gripping the wheel, trying to convince yourself this is not goodbye. All the while you watch her and the way she watches you, drinking in her pale skin and broken body, wishing that if this were the last time you ever see her it were a happy time. Normally she is so fierce. Now she is so small.
And then you cannot stand it anymore so you hit the gas and drive away, heart thudding loudly in your chest, pulse alive and skittering around your veins.
When you remember to look in the rear-view mirror, the image of her is already gone.
You enter home and find that your mother and Alexis are both already asleep. Outside New York is abuzz, the city that never sleeps. You find that you are so exhausted that you don't belong.
There's a text on your phone. It's from her. Sitting on your bed, you open it, trying to avoid getting your hopes up.
It's an image taken on her phone of the stars in the sky above the lake. The water reflects the night sky as though it is purple, stars shining boldly amidst the blackness.
No caption. You text back: Astounding.
Barely a beat passes before she replies: It's even better in real life.
And then, another text: You should stay. If you want. They're relaxing.
You forget how to breathe.
And you forget about her boyfriend, and you forget that you have no right, and you forget that she is running. You are running with her.
Tomorrow, you say.
Tomorrow, she agrees.