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Precipice

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*~*~*~*

Castle and Beckett had been on the edge of something for a long time, a shift in their relationship requiring a leap of faith from both of them. Before the shooting, there was a kind of distant inevitability about it, like a bungee jump that was on the bucket list for someday. There were times, in the wake of shared near death experiences, during intimate moments on a case far from home, when she’d come close to throwing herself off the cliff, but instead let her protective instincts take over to keep her firmly in place.

Since the shooting, though, the landscape had changed. The chasm was closer, deeper and without a safety cord to ensure one survived the thrill intact. She forced herself to look over the edge, even though it made her breathless, because someday had suddenly become soon, whether she was ready or not. She knew Castle had already made the leap, with his words after the shooting and with the hopefulness he had brought to her bedside before she sent him away indefinitely. She wanted to imagine him waiting for her at the bottom, but she wasn’t sure how long he would be willing to sit still.

*~*~*~*

“And do you know what your father said?” Martha asked, gesturing dramatically at her son. “‘Don’t worry mother, I saw this work on Die Hard.’” Turning to give him a pointed look, she added, “I’m sorry kiddo, but you are no John McClane.”

“But it worked!” Castle protested.

“Well, the next time you decide to stand up to the guy with the machine gun…” Martha paused, sighing. “Please let there not be a next time.” She glanced around the table, watching as Alexis and Kate nodded in agreement.

“If you’d just let me cosign the loan…” Castle let his words trail off, giving his mother a sideways look before taking another bite of duck. Martha responded by huffing out a frustrated breath.

Castle and his mother had been sharing stories all evening, with all the embellishment one would expect from a writer and an actor. The last thing Beckett had thought she would want to be doing was reliving this day, but it turned out to be exactly what she needed. All that was required of her was that she paid attention to Castle and rolled her eyes at the appropriate times. The stories were a distraction from the gunshot and explosion that had been playing on repeat in her head all day, and Castle’s presence in front of her was a solid reassurance that he really was still among the living and breathing.

Until she had arrived tonight she hadn’t realized how much she missed Castle’s family and the sense of comfort and safety she felt when they welcomed her into their home. She and Castle had gradually been working their way back to their previous closeness, but this felt like a big leap, where before there had been only baby steps. And when Martha had folded her into an embrace as if no time had passed since she’d last visited, Kate realized how long it had been since she had felt that kind of human warmth, and how much she longed for it.

As dinner wound down, so did the stories. Martha was clearly exhausted, and as her energy faded, the conversation seemed less able to distract Alexis from her sadness over Ashley. Alexis excused herself once the dessert plates were cleared, and soon after strains of appropriately emo music drifted down the stairs from her room. Castle shooed his mother away before she had a chance to wrangle out of the clean-up.

Kate moved automatically to start the dishes while Castle refilled their wine glasses.

“You don’t have to do that.”

She shrugged. “I know, but just let me, okay?” She didn’t want to be just a guest tonight. Not when the whole evening had felt like coming home.

“I don’t have much of a choice when you set your mind to something,” he said, then smirked so she knew he kind of liked it that way. He set her wine glass down next to the sink and touched her elbow gently. “I’m going to go up to check on Alexis. Don’t leave, okay?”

She gave him a soft smile. “I’ll be here.” What she didn’t say was how much she was dreading leaving. The thought of her lonely apartment and the sleepless night ahead made her physically and emotionally weary.

As if he could read her mind, his smile was full of warmth and concern. “Good. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

It turned out to be more than a few minutes, which was entirely too much time for Kate to be alone with her thoughts. The events of the day had frayed her defenses, letting loose all the feelings, doubts and fears she usually kept buried.

For weeks now, Kate had been looking over the edge of that looming precipice, willing herself to jump. She knew that it was long past time to come clean with Castle about what she remembered and what she felt. Everything he had done told her that he would be waiting to catch her, but she had become expert at making up reasons he wouldn’t.

She knew she wasn’t exactly the same person to whom he had said those unforgettable words. As much as she was trying not to be, she was a little harder, a little more guarded. There was a lie hanging between them that she wasn’t sure he could forgive her for, even though she was pretty sure he had seen through it from the beginning. Castle wasn’t the same person either. He was patient, but wary, like a child approaching the neighbor’s dog that had previously bitten him.

Those were the thoughts in her head whenever she walked up to the edge to peer over into the valley so deep she could only see mist. They were the fears that made her swallow her words during those moments she let herself see not just the Castle who was her friend, but also the Castle with whom she saw a future.

She’d been back and forth toward and away from the edge so many times she had lost count. Sometimes during her therapy sessions she was able to sit companionably with Dr. Burke and dangle her feet over the side; the chasm didn’t seem quite so dark and endless then. There were quiet moments with Castle, especially after they had wrapped a case, where she thought she could see him down there waiting for her and it made her feel like she had all the time in the world. Then there were outside forces, like Serena Kaye, pushing her toward the edge so abruptly that she struggled to stay on top out of instinct only to wonder later why she had been fighting so hard.

The closest she had come, literally teetering on the edge, was when she found Castle today after the bank explosion. She couldn’t hide her relief, and hadn’t even really tried. She was ready to lean over the edge and push off, to throw herself into his arms and finally (finally!) press her lips to his again, damn the circumstances, damn the audience.

This time the pull back had come from, of all people, Martha, and Kate was ashamed to admit she had been a tiny bit relieved. She had turned a corner in that moment, however, because she could no longer look at Castle without being terrified of losing him. Earlier that day, he’d asked her to tell him she needed him, and it had caught her off guard because what frightened her most is how much she did. And that was before she almost lost him twice in one day.

Kate heard Castle’s footsteps on the stairs and before she could rein in all of her ragged thoughts and feelings she was overwhelmed by how much she wanted him, needed him to wrap her in his arms and soothe away the playback in her head. When she glanced over her shoulder at him, though, she was struck by how tired he looked, despite his bravado during dinner. It made her realize with a start, and no small amount of guilt, that she hadn’t given any thought about what he had been thinking or feeling. “Everything okay?”

He nodded, his expression brightening as he walked toward her. “Yes. Alexis is heartbroken, but she knows that she’s better off than if she’d hung on when it was making her so unhappy.”

“She’s a smart kid.”

He gave her a soft smile. “I think she’ll be fine eventually. My mother, on the other hand…” His brow furrowed briefly in concern.

Kate glanced up, alarmed. “Is she okay?”

“Physically, yes, but she was putting on a brave face for Alexis. I sometimes forget that my mother is closer to seventy than she’d like to admit. Today took a lot out of her. I don’t think it hit her how scared she was until it was over.”

We were all scared, Kate thought, knowing she couldn’t voice the words without losing her composure. Instead she nodded, laying down the dishtowel as she reached for his hand to give it a squeeze. It was the first moment of real physical contact they’d had since she found him in the bank and the sudden return of the need for connection unnerved her. It felt like a weakness and she had trained herself to run from those. She made herself release his hand, but it was reluctant.

She steeled herself, looked into his exhausted face and said softly, “I should go. You must be tired too.” Going home held no appeal at all, but she thought she should, for him and for herself.

A flicker of disappointment crossed his face, but it was fleeting and he smirked. “Is that your way of telling me that I’m older that I want to admit?”

She grinned. “Look, if you’re going to compare yourself to John McClane just remember he’d be in his fifties or sixties by now.”

He laughed, but then paused and looked her in the eye. “You don’t have to leave. You don’t want to be alone.” He said it with certainty, but his voice was gentle.

Kate took in a sharp breath and had to look away because, as always, he had read her so precisely that she felt naked beneath his gaze.

He reached to brush his knuckles down her arm. “It’s okay Kate. We’re all fine.”

Tears threatened and she willed them away with a deep breath, reaching for the fabric at his wrists and wrapping it tightly in her fingers. “I keep hearing the gunshot and seeing the explosion. It won’t stop and I’m afraid…” of losing you, of admitting that I need you.

Castle inched his fingers up her arms, finding purchase on her elbows and nudging her forward. She resisted the pull for a moment out of habit but then allowed herself to be pulled against his chest and wrapped in his arms. It’s what she had needed and wanted all day, to feel him solid and real and there. “I thought you were…Don’t know what I’d…”

“I know,” he whispered. And she knew that he did know, at least two times over, exactly what she was feeling. It seemed to be his superpower, to always know exactly what she needed and finding a way to give it to her without making her feel inadequate for accepting it. She wished she had done the same when their positions had been reversed.

She drew in a shaky breath. “I’m so sorry,” she mumbled into the warm skin of his neck.

“No apologies. It’s what I’m here for.”

“That’s not-” She took in another deep breath, walked up to the precipice and let her toes curl over the edge. “I’m sorry I sent you away after the shooting. You must have thought I didn’t care at all. You must have-”

“It’s not the same,” he cut in quickly.

“Hated me.”

“I couldn’t hate you.” He took a long breath, but still held her tight. “I was angry,” he admitted softly, “but I’m not angry anymore.”

She teetered on the edge again, the chasm spreading wide beneath her. She was going to have to just leap, just trust that he was there waiting. That he would be able to catch her so that they could land safely together. For once in her life trust in her heart and not her head.

She closed her eyes and let go.

“I lied to you,” she said, whispering into his chest, unable to meet his eyes. He tensed almost imperceptibly and his breathing stilled. She hesitated, but she was already falling so there was nowhere to go but forward. “I remember the shooting. Everything. I heard you.”

His grip tightened around her. He didn’t say anything, but she could feel the bones of his jaw working.

“I’m sorry…I’m sorry I let you think it didn’t mean anything to me.”

“Kate?” he asked softly, as if he wasn’t sure he was hearing her correctly.

She pulled back only far enough to look him in the eye. Her hand reached for his cheek and cradled his jaw. “You made me want to stay.”

His expression held so much feeling that the only possible response was to lean in and find his lips with hers. She had imagined this moment more and more lately. In those daydreams, it was like the extended dance remix version of their undercover kiss – the same passion and heat, but more of it. This, though, had more layers than she’d thought a kiss could, full of tenderness, promise, and unspoken love.

He’d met her more than halfway and suddenly she wasn’t falling alone. He was right next to her holding her hand. And before she could wonder who was going to catch them she realized that one of them had sprouted wings or developed super powers because they were no longer falling. They were soaring.

 

fin