Parallel Play


because i can't imagine my life without you.
-valkyrie


"You have a little crush on Agent McCord, don't you?"

A swift look his way and her eyes narrowing is all he gets. But though she tries, it doesn't hold up.

"Come on," he starts in again. "Admit it. You have a girl crush on your older, more experienced-"

"I'm gonna stop you right there."

"Ain't no shame, Beckett," he rumbles, has to pause to take a deeper breath. "You can have a crush on her. I completely understand. I have a little crush on her too."

Her head whips back to him, all amusement gone. "I'm going to forbid you from ever shaking her hand again."

Castle laughs, but he knows it sounds off, a little flat. He's still going to try for her though, since she's doing her part. "It's not my fault. You just go on and on about her. Agent McCord this, my new partner that..."

"Not trying to rub your nose in it," she says quietly, a flash behind her eyes.

He doesn't want that. There's been enough of quiet Beckett, reserved Beckett, uncertain Beckett. "But after you extol her virtues ceaselessly, you can't fault me for having a little crush. Just like you do."

"I don't have a crush on her. I like her."

"Exactly."

"Shut up."

"Oh, Agent Beckett, make me."

But she doesn't do that either, just falls right back into that wordless watching, eyes dark wells, so deep. Her thumb brushes over his hand and she leans in and strokes through his hair, still studying him.

He tries for light-hearted again because he doesn't like her so hushed. "How could I not have a crush on her after she backed you up?"

"How's your breathing?" she says, her voice that low tone that means she's struggling masterfully for control.

"I'm okay, Kate," he gives in with a sigh. The hospital bed is raised to keep fluid off his lungs and he's pretty comfortable, and he knows he's going to drift out any second now, but he wishes he could make that smile return.

Instead he lifts his hand form hers and touches his thumb and forefinger to her cheekbone. Like a Vulcan mind meld. Only it's right over a nasty bruise that she's covering artfully with make-up.

And he's not sure he'll ever know enough to read her mind.

"Happened to your cheek?" he murmurs. His arm is shaky and instead of letting her see how hard it is to hold up, he caresses her neck and down to her shoulder and finally her arm in a controlled descent.

She finally averts her eyes. "Parker."

"Hurt?"

"Honestly, not even on my radar at the moment. You know. My fiancé being in the hospital." She looks like she's trying again, but her lips twist at the last second, can't quite bring it off.

"Parker," he prompts. She knows him well enough by now that she'll finish the story, right? She ought to anyway.

"Elbow to the face. Took my gun."

"Ouch."

But his heart double-thumps in his chest at the image, and the flicker translates to the monitor, causing her to snap her eyes to it. She stares intently at the screen that shows the too-fast rate, and he has a window onto her world. What it must have been like for her all last night, willing his heart to steady.

"Kate."

Her eyes drag slowly back to his, reluctant to give up her vigil. "Agent McCord backed our play. Came in after me and got Parker."

"See? I told you I had a crush on her," he rasps.

And this time the smile is back, dipped in grief but evident, a rainbow of bruising on her cheekbone to match.

"Yeah, okay," she whispers, suddenly leaning in close. She rests her unhurt cheek against his shoulder and sighs, her breath catching like she needs to cry. "Okay, a little one."

"I thought so," he murmurs, lifts his other hand to cup the back of her head. His lips brush her forehead in a kiss and her breath falters once before forging ahead, steady and sure, confident.

McCord would have looked out for her. Partners.

At least there's that.


She has dreams about the waxy feel of his skin under her fingers, the puffiness around his eyes, the grey tinge to his face. She cuts her sleep down to four hours, which is acceptable especially since she's been given some slack at work, and at least four hours doesn't allow it to be recurring.

She has other dreams instead.

She can't keep her head up and the others come for her.

She had to wait for the paramedics.

She had to wait because his veins were blown in his right arm from the shots he'd been getting all day just to keep him stabilized and when she yanked up the sleeve on his left arm, the crook of his elbow was too thin, too slippery, the skin like paper but without the telltale blue.

She was afraid. She was afraid; the bus was thirty seconds - a minute - away.

She had the shot but she didn't know how to use it. She had her shot and she didn't - she couldn't - take it.

The paramedic on scene yelled non-responsive as they shoved him into the back of the ambulance and she crawled up after him feeling like ice water lived under her skin. Grief rushing in to swallow her. A live thing with eating mouths, chewing her inside out.

She had the shot but she didn't know how to use it.

The paramedic who got there first grabbed it out of her hands and stabbed it into his heart.

She had the shot but she'd had no idea how to use it.

And then in the ambulance, another blow to the chest - hers or his, she can't differentiate any more - and the adrenaline punched him back to life.

A rhythm. A response. She sat on the metal bench, shoved to one side by the paramedic who kept telling her don't touch him, I need you to remove your hands and she watched with those hungry mouths inside her, her eyes eating him up.

She had the shot and she almost wasted it. She didn't know what she was doing. She had no idea what she was doing.

What was she doing?

She wakes with a gasp and Martha catches her before she can fall off the stool, a soft Katherine, dear in her ear, and her hair petted away from her sweat-damp face. Kate sits up from where she was draped over the bedside rail and half on him, presses her palm against her forehead and swallows.

"He told me not to pick up," she apologizes.

"Well. I don't think that entirely excuses it. But." It's left hanging.

"I wouldn't have told you either," she admits, eyes casting back to him. "Selfish."

"For him?"

"Yes," she rasps and settles back on the stool. She stole it from the nurses' station because Alexis and his mother and just...

It's what she deserves.

"Well. That does excuse it," Martha sighs softly. "Now that you're awake, I'm going to call Alexis - the phone won't work in here. I'll be out in the hall."

"Yeah, go ahead. Please."

"I was going to make a Starbucks run. Want something?"

She shifts her eyes back to his mother and nods slowly, how odd it is to have Martha be the Castle. A stand-in. A cardboard cutout.

She opens her mouth to ask for black coffee, but Martha waves her off as she heads for the door. "I know your order. Who doesn't know your order if they've spent any time around my son?"

Oh, rhetorical question. Kate closes her mouth as Martha leaves and turns her eyes back to Castle.

His are open. He smiles his tired smile, his not-quite-with-it smile, and his hand lifts from the bed and settles over her knee, his arm through the bed rail to get to her. How he will always get to her.

"Hey," he rumbles.

"Hey, babe," she whispers back.

She had her shot and she had no idea what to do with it.

"Oh, no. Don't. If you cried now, Beckett, it would really ruin things."

And of course, she does. But she keeps it as quiet as possible.

His eyes have already closed.

All she ruins is her mascara.


McCord collects her later, brings eyeliner with her and hands it over. Kate sneaks to the bathroom and reapplies, but she has no foundation and the bruise is too prominent.

This will have to do.

It will just have to work.