He's right.

She wants to be defensive, wants to get angry with him, to scream and yell at him. But he's right.

With one exception.

She does love him.

He goes silent after his tirade, but she can hear what it's cost him, can hear the way he's breathing a little harder, how it takes a moment for his heart rate monitor to slow its beeping.

When she finally looks up, his eyes are shut again, brows knit, a crease breaking the smoothness of his forehead. His nearest hand is clenched in the sheet at his side, his knuckles white.

What is she doing to him? What has she done to him?

She has to fix this.

She just doesn't know if she can.

"I'm sorry," she murmurs. It's not enough. She knows it's not enough. But it's all she has.

He doesn't move, doesn't open his eyes, doesn't speak, but he lets out a short puff of air. A scoff, it sounds like. As if he doesn't believe her or doesn't care.

The detective vaults to her feet, nearly crashing into the side of the hospital bed. Bending, she carefully slides her hand under his, unfurls his fingers from their hold on the sheets.

"I'm sorry, Castle," she repeats, hearing the break, the squeak in her own voice. "I'm so sorry."

He takes a deep breath in, lets it out slowly and then speaks, low, gravelly. "I told you. I don't want your pity."

Cradling his fingers between both hands, she leans over and presses her lips to his knuckles. "Not pity. It's not pity, Castle. I promise."

He hasn't yet yanked his hand from her grasp, though she's not sure if he's giving her a chance or if the movement would just require too much effort from his battered body.

Turning his hand, she presses a final kiss to his palm and gently lowers it back to the bed. She doesn't relinquish it though, keeps it tight between her own.

When his eyes finally open again, it's as if he can't completely close the shutters - light breaks through, a beacon for her hope. "Then what is it, Kate? Tell me, please, because at this point, I really don't understand."

"I love you."

The words come out without thought, unbidden - her heart's last ditch effort. But as his eyes widen, and then narrow again, she holds his gaze, defiant.

"What?" he rasps. "What did you say?"

She drops to a crouch beside the bed until she's just below his eye level, pulls his hand toward her until his palm rests against her chest. Taking a deep breath in, she speaks again, with intent this time. "I love you."

His gaze softens immediately, but there's still something underneath, almost hidden, but not quite. Disbelief, perhaps, and a remnant of hurt as well.

He shakes his head, and she cringes as a flutter of pain crosses his features at the movement. "Then why didn't you tell me, Kate? Why did you lie to me all this time?"

She lifts his hand from its spot over her heart and presses her cheek against his palm instead, begs him with her eyes to listen, to understand. His fingertips feather at the hinge of her jaw, at her earlobe, and she suppresses a shiver. "I was afraid."

"Of what?"

She tilts her face further into his touch, her hand still holding his captive, unwilling to let go, unwilling to let him pull away from her again. "Of a lot of things."

He sighs. "Like what, Kate?"

She lets her eyes drift shut as she speaks. "I was scared of screwing up what we already had, though as Lanie recently pointed out, what we had wasn't much."

His hand jerks against hers, and then he groans at the obvious pain. "Not much? How does three years of partnership - of friendship, I thought - equal not much?"

She opens her eyes and frowns, squeezing his fingers. "You're right. Lanie was wrong on that point. Three years of friendship - that's something. Three years of having you by my side."

His lips part, but he says nothing. His expression though - his expression speaks volumes. She knows without a doubt that those three years have meant as much to him as they have to her.

"What else?" he finally says, breaking the silence between them.

"I was afraid that if I let you in, finally and completely, you wouldn't like what you'd see."

His mouth opens fully then, but she shakes her head, cuts him off before he can make any reply. "Castle, I'm so screwed up. So unbelievably screwed up."

He laughs. "And you think I'm not? Look at me, Kate. I'm a forty-three year old man who lives with his crazy mother and his almost-grown daughter. I've been married twice, divorced twice, and I spend my days looking at dead bodies or trying to figure out how to kill people."

She gives him a soft smile. "Well, when you put it like that..."

The corner of his mouth quirks up. "I'm just saying. We all have baggage. And I'm well-acquainted with yours."

She nods. "I know you are. I just-"

"It doesn't matter to me," he says, his fingers pressing against skin as his thumb strokes her cheekbone. "What you've been through, your wounds - those things just make you who you are. What else?"

Pulling her bottom lip under her teeth, she hesitates. This- this is the biggest fear, and though she's rapidly coming to believe there's no reason for it, part of her still-

"I was afraid you only said it because I was dying," she whispers hoarsely. "That you didn't really mean it."

His eyes slide shut, his hand twitching against her. "Kate."

It's the same tone she heard from Dr. Burke, that tone that tells her he thinks she should know better, and it stirs up a sudden hurt, frustration that had taken second place until this moment.

"What, Castle?" she hisses. "What was I supposed to think? I'd given you opportunities to tell me how you felt when I wasn't lying on the ground in a pool of my own blood. You ignored every one of them."

She's standing now, doesn't remember getting up, doesn't remember letting go of his hand either. But his fingers lay slack against the stark whiteness of the sheet, and his face is a mask of mixed pain and anger.

He opens his mouth, but she's not done. "And it's not like you haven't had plenty of chances since then to say it again if you really felt that way."

"When, Kate?" he breaks in. "When was I supposed to tell you? Before, when you were with another man? Or after you pushed me away, disappeared for the whole summer and left me to wonder if you were okay, if you were even alive?"

She takes a step back, turns away from the flashing eyes. His voice has been quiet, and she suspects he's trying not to attract the attention of any hospital staff, but his words lack nothing in venom.

"I came back," she growls, still facing away from him. "And I asked you to come back."

He huffs. "Would you have tracked me down if I hadn't had the files you needed?"

She shuts her eyes, blocks out the too-white walls.

"If you thought..." she trails off, then starts again. "If you thought I was just using you for info, why did you come back? You could have just given me the files."

"Oddly enough," he says to her back, his voice still angry. "I didn't want to see you go off on your own and get killed. I care about you, Kate."

She turns back to him finally. "Really, Castle? Because I seem to remember you going on a date with a suspect and sharing confidential information with the stewardess you paraded around in front of me."

His eyes flash, his mouth tightening into a straight line, a muscle pulsing at his jaw. She can hear the frustration in his words when he speaks again. "You told me to go out with Serena Kaye, or did you forget that?"

"I didn't tell you to kiss her," she spits out. "I didn't tell you to be all smitten with her."

He scoffs. "Smitten? I wasn't smitten. No more than you were with Mr. Scotland Yard. Did I find her fascinating? Yes. I figured she'd make a good character in a book."

"And Jacinda?" she returns. "Another good book character?"

He shakes his head, closing his eyes. "A mistake."

Something in his tone, something in the expression on his face twists her guts, and she suddenly feels sick.

"Castle?" she murmurs, and he opens his eyes, stares back at her. Suddenly she doesn't want to-

But she has to know, has to know how badly damaged they are. "Did you sleep with her?"


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