“This can’t go any further than it already has,” Royce tells her gently. “You know that.”
And Kate nods, swallowing hard, but she doesn’t say much except a short, “Of course.” Smiles like it’s silly of him to even think that’s what she meant, and excuses herself.
She heads straight to the women’s room. Despite everything else she is proud of herself for keeping it together long enough to get out of sight before she half-collapses, legs shaky and mind whirling, against the closed door of the precinct bathroom. She gives herself five minutes to force back her hurt and compose herself; when she gets home she lets herself cry, but the moment’s passed and the tears don’t come as freely as she’d thought they would.
And life goes on. She goes to work, trades jokes with Royce and tries to ignore his small gestures of affection, tries not to think too hard about the obvious concern with which he inquires after her on the occasions she slips into telling silence. Lets him gently encourage her efforts to catch her mother’s killer, pretends she doesn’t miss the way he used to comfort her when she came up against a dead end. She never wishes for his strong arms encircling her, tentative at first, then more assured, until he’s pulling her tightly against his body. She finds a way not to want his soft, careful kisses in her hair and murmured words of comfort she never quite heard but never quite needed to hear anyway.
The thousand small kindnesses that Royce showers her with now (out of guilt, because he knows, even if he’ll never admit, that he should have stopped them both earlier) shred at her insides but after a while it’s like she doesn’t even notice anymore. She graduates, and parts ways with Royce, and shoves every thought of him so far from her mind that it takes killing Dick Coonan to shake the memories loose. And she never again lets anyone get under her skin the way she let Mike Royce.
(Until Richard Castle.)