She shakes her head. "No. God, Castle, I'm sorry. It's none of my business if you-"


The detective turns her head away, closes her eyes, taking a deep breath. If he... well, she had no true claim over him did she? It's not like she had made her feelings known, not really. She'd thought, after that day on the swings, that they had an understanding. But looking back? She was purposefully vague, still holding her cards close to her recently mended chest. So if he did-

A large, warm hand covers hers, prying her fingers from their tight hold on the sheet. "Kate, I-"

"I don't know," she murmurs, hears him suck in a breath. "I don't know how to...but-"

His fingers tighten around hers, and she opens her eyes, sees the clench of his jaw, the shimmering blue of his eyes. It steels her resolve.

"I don't know how, but if you still-" she grits out, can't quite finish the thought, terrified that maybe he doesn't, maybe she's too late.

"If I still what?" he asks, his voice gentler than it's been since she arrived.

Her eyes drift shut once more. "Love me. If you still love me, then I think-"

His grasp on her hand tightens almost to the point of pain. "Kate..."

She's never heard her name in quite that tone - hushed, reverent. It pulls her from the grief roiling in her gut, pulls her back to their joined hands, and she opens her eyes. Her stare rests on their fingers for a moment, but when he repeats her name, she meets his gaze.

"I do," he whispers. "And I didn't."

His fingers desert hers, rise to curl around her wrist, but she doesn't respond, can't quite manage. Just stares at him.

"I do love you," he says softly. "So much. And I didn't sleep with her."

She jolts forward, finally, pulls from his grasp to lean over the bed, to set one hand on his chest, the other at his cheek, her eyes intent on his. "You do? And you didn't?"

He chuckles. "This is starting to sound ridiculous, even for us."


"Well, the whole 'do' and 'didn't' thing," he starts to explain, but she shakes her head.

"No," she clarifies. "I mean, why didn't you sleep with her?"

He stares at her for a moment, his eyebrows furrowed.

"She wasn't tall enough," he answers slowly.

The detective straightens, looks for signs that he's joking, but finds nothing.

"Her hair was the wrong color," he continues.

She raises an eyebrow. "You've never had a problem with blondes in the past."

He shrugs, winces, and she presses gently on his chest, a reminder to stop moving. "Maybe not, but she smelled funny too."

She can't help a slight smile at the way his nose wrinkles. "And what exactly did she smell like?"

"Airplanes. And airplane food. Rubber chicken."

"Not peanuts?" the detective asks.

Castle shakes his head. "They don't serve peanuts anymore. You should know that."

"So," she muses. "Not tall enough, wrong hair color, and she smelled funny. That's why you didn't sleep with her?"

He nods. "Contributing factors. But Kate?"

She feels the breath leave her as his hand settles over hers on his chest, fingers squeezing.

"Hmm?" she hums.

"Mostly it was that she wasn't you."

Her gaze flits from their hands to his shoulder, to the white bandage that wraps around his flesh. And she has to close her eyes, has to shut out the white walls, the could-have-beens and the regrets, the wasted time that almost became all the time she had.

Not what she needs to focus on. Not when he's alive. Alive and holding her hand. Alive and stroking his thumb over the pulse point in her wrist.

"She wasn't you," he repeats. "I kept closing my eyes, but-"

The image springs to life in her mind, his hands bracketing the other woman's waist, her fingers delving into silky brown hair, his mouth on hers. Her stomach churns.

"I closed my eyes," he says softly. "But it seems my imagination isn't as good as I thought. Also, please don't tell her I said this, but my mother was right."

The detective opens her eyes then, finds him watching her. "Your mother?"

He nods. "Apparently love isn't a switch that you can just flip."

She lets out a choked laugh. "Your mother said that? Dr. Burke said the same thing."

She expects him to find that funny, that her therapist and his self-appointed 'life coach' would say the same thing. But he doesn't laugh, doesn't even smile.

"Kate," he whispers, and there's something in his voice, something broken that she doesn't understand. "You talk to your therapist about me?"

She nods. "Sometimes."

He looks stricken. Why does he-

"Castle, I thought you knew I was talking to someone," she says. "Didn't you?"

"Yeah," he murmurs. "Yeah. I mean, I figured at least. About the shooting, about your mom and Montgomery."

"All of it, yes."

"But me?" he asks, and she sees the light that had come back to his blue eyes beginning to dim. "Kate..."

"You're-" she begins, hating what she has to say, hating that she'll probably hurt him again, knowing that she has to say it nonetheless. "You're tied up in everything, Castle."

His eyes slide shut, and she watches the muscles of his throat work as he swallows.

"No wonder you didn't tell me," he whispers. "God, I've been so stupid. I never wanted-"

She leans forward, doesn't wait for him to open his eyes, doesn't wait for permission, just cuts him off, pressing her lips to his.

His swift intake of breath speaks his surprise, and he tries to turn his head. She doesn't let him. Her free hand comes up, cups his ear, holds him in place.

He groans something that sounds like her name, and she takes it inside her, gives it back with the same breath.

She waits, keeps on kissing him until he finally settles and starts kissing her back. And then she pulls away. Pulls away, but stays close, hovering over him. "You're tied up in everything."

His eyes open, and she tweaks his earlobe. "You're my partner, Castle. You're supposed to be tied up in everything. I don't want you to be anywhere else. You're the light, the good in all of the bad."

He closes his eyes again, but the lines of his face have softened, one corner of his mouth turning up as he speaks. "I think of murder and I think of you."

"Now you've got it," she whispers, smiling, her fingers gentling against him, stroking his ear, his temple, his cheek, running her thumb under his eye, across the dark shadows that speak to his weariness.

She presses her mouth to his once more, and this time his response is immediate. He gives back as good as he gets, his teeth closing gently around her bottom lip, his tongue soothing the flesh with a soft warmth.

She's always known he was good with his mouth - his ability to charm certainly has as much to do with his words and that smile as it does with his looks or his personality - but this, this is new. New and yet so familiar, beyond what she remembers from that night in an alley more than a year ago.

This is them - their partnership - give and take, thrust and parry. Banter. Teasing words and smoky eyes and soft smiles.

She slants her mouth over his, her nose brushing his cheek, and he sighs into her. His grin twists their lips, and she laughs against him.

"What?" he murmurs, the words vibrating into her skin. "Are you laughing at me?"

She drops another kiss on his lips and pulls away enough to meet his eyes. "At both of us."

His fingers curl around her forearm where it rests lightly on his chest, and he raises an eyebrow.

"It's not funny, not really," she says quietly. "I just- I was thinking that if we were as in sync with our talking as we usually are with our theory-building or as we apparently are with our kissing-"

Little crinkles form at the edges of his eyes, and the sight takes her breath away for a moment. Oh, she's missed those.

"Things wouldn't have been nearly so complicated," he finishes for her, and she nods.

"I wouldn't have put you through all of this, and you probably wouldn't be in the hospital," she says.

His fingers tighten on her arm. "And I wouldn't have pushed you away and made you think-"

He cuts himself off, shutting his eyes before he continues. "Kate, I don't ever want you to think I don't love you."

She lifts her hand, brushing the hair back from his forehead. "I know. I know now. And I'm sorry, Castle. So sorry that it took all of this happening to get me to tell you how I feel."

"Me too," he whispers. "I'm sorry. I never wanted to hurt you."

"Wouldn't be the first time for either of us," she says, running her thumb over his eyebrow. "Probably won't be the last either."

A resigned sigh answers her, but then he chuckles too. "Going into this with eyes wide open then?"

She nods, laughs when she realizes he can't see her - his own eyes are still shut. But he does open them then, and they brim with what she'd seen for so long, seen but never fully identified: love.

"I've missed that sound," he says softly. "I've missed making you laugh."

She purses her lips, smiles at him with her eyes. "I've missed laughing at you."

His gaze narrows, but he's still smiling, and she finds she is too. He strokes his thumb across her wrist, and she leans down, touching her forehead to his.

"I was reading this poem, while I was in the waiting room," she says quietly, nodding and bumping their noses when his eyes cut toward the book still resting on the bed at his side. "There was a line. It said: 'Expect the end of the world. Laugh.'"

He makes a little sound in the back of his throat, something that sounds like recognition. "I remember that poem. Berry. I read his stuff in college. The title's something about a crazy farmer? And then it says, 'Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.'"

It shouldn't surprise her that he knows it, but it does, and she lifts away from him, smiling. She nods.

"That's what I want," she says. "Someone who will stand with me, who will help me see the good. You do that."

His hand slips down to cover hers again, pressing her palm against his bare skin, just over his heart.

"I want-" he says, his voice rough. "I want that too, Kate. So much."

"We'll be going against all the odds," she whispers.

He laughs. "Between the two of us, we've survived two explosions, snipers, a knife fight, a trip to the bottom of the river, and numerous gun battles."

"And a tiger," she murmurs.

"And a tiger," he agrees. "I think we can make it."

"Do you really think so?" she asks. "What if our luck runs out?"

He squeezes her hand. "Then we'll make it through that too. What was the last line of that poem?"

The steady thud of his heart, the feel of his chest rising beneath her palm - all of it crashes over her as she answers. "Practice resurrection."

He nods, and tugs on her hand until he can press his lips to her fingers, whispering against her skin. "You've come back to life once. And I'm pretty good at following you."

Author's Note: Thank you to the wonderful ColieMacKenzie for all the input, proofreading, and letting me use some of our conversations in this story. You are very much appreciated, my friend.

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