There are no adjectives in his story.

No adverbs either.

No description of any kind. Just a long line of nouns and verbs that leave her feeling.

What? Feeling what? She's not even sure.

Shaken? Absolutely. Angry? Of course. Wounded? Terribly.

But safe? Oddly, yes. Though that may have more to do with the strength of his arms wrapped around her waist than with the words spoken into her ear.

He hasn't made much progress beyond what they knew at the end of the summer. A thread, here or there, perhaps. But nothing of substance. He can't dig, he tells her, not without attracting attention. Her brain fills in the descriptors. Unwanted attention. Bad attention. Gets-you-killed attention.

She shudders, and his fingers curl around her sides. Again, one palm rests over the surgery scar. How does he do that?

"You touch it sometimes," he whispers, mouth at her ear, words warm against her neck. "When it's cold. Or humid. Or when you're having a rough day."

She shuts her eyes, closing out the grim sight in front of her. She wishes, in a way, that she had never let her finger press against that screen. Had never let curiosity get the best of her. Had remained ignorant.

Because love is blind. Isn't that how the saying goes?

She shakes her head, but he says nothing. His hold on her doesn't loosen or tighten. He doesn't move away. However he does it, he apparently knows that she's just working through her thoughts, that she needs him still and solid behind and around her.

Love isn't blind.

Just because she loves him doesn't mean she doesn't see his flaws. He's not perfect.

She sees the way he is too hard on himself. Too willing to forgive others but not himself. She sees the way he needs to be liked, even by the people whose opinions shouldn't matter to him. She sees the way he writes the stories of others but all to often deflects when asked to tell his own.

She know he sees her flaws too. The way she is too quick to run away. The way she is unwilling to accept help. The way she is usually unwilling to admit that she even needs help. She knows he sees those things.

So, no. Love isn't blind. But love doesn't keep score either. And that makes all the difference in the world.

"What do you want me to do?" he rumbles.

She opens her eyes.

"I..." she begins, and presses her elbows over his arms, holding him close with her whole body. "I don't know."

He tucks his chin against her shoulder, a surprisingly intimate move that catches her a little off guard.

"I can keep doing what I've been doing," he offers. "Keep looking into it on my own."

She shakes her head.

"That's too dangerous. If someone catches on, and I don't know what you're doing...if someone has already caught on..."

She doesn't finish the sentence by enumerating the consequences. They both know what's at stake. They both know it's too much, though he would probably try to disagree, tell her that nothing is too much if it means keeping her safe, if it means giving her justice and closure and peace. But he's wrong. It would be too much. His life? Not a sacrifice she's willing to make.

"We could do it together," she says quietly. "Keep each other safe. Watch each other's backs. Partners."

It's his turn to shake his head. His jaw tightens against her shoulder.

"I don't want you anywhere near this."

She can feel him bracing himself for her anger, an assertion that this is her case, her mother's case, and she has every right to be as involved as she wants.

But she just leans further into him.

"No, you're right," she tells him. "It's not...I couldn't...no, it wouldn't be good. For a number of reasons. Not now."

The tension drains out of his body, muscles loosening. His entire embrace softens.

"So what, then?" he whispers. "We just leave it?"

The thought hurts far worse that she imagined it would. But the alternative...

She twists in his embrace until she's facing him, a conscious choice to turn her back on the board. Focus her eyes on him.

"I don't want to do that," she says, her voice low. "But if we don't do this together, we don't do it at all."

She pulls one arm free, slides her hand up his chest, rests her palm over his heart - his strong and faithful heart that is altogether too fragile for her liking - and waits until his attention shifts to her.

Not that his attention was ever elsewhere. But she wants his attention on now-Kate, on present-Kate - not on that Kate on the story board, not on that Kate that he held in the cemetery, not on the nineteen year old version of herself whose desperate grief she knows he's imagined.

"And it's not because I have to be in control all the time," she says, the slight upturn of the corner of his mouth a welcome addition to his otherwise stony expression. "It's that this matters more. Your family, our friends, my dad, you. Your lives matter more."

The sudden crush of his arms around her is good. It's right in a way she hasn't known it could be. He makes things better.

He touches things and makes them better. Herself included.

"I thought you would hate me."

His words, his broken, ugly words squeeze her and rip her apart. Castle, no.

Three years of turning him down flat, of pushing him away, of rejecting his affections - rejecting everything but his coffee (and even turning that down once or twice) - it's all taken a toll on him. She can see that now. How the confident, self-assured man is really not.

He's vulnerable. There are chinks in his armor.

And she's not sure if she created them or just revealed them. They might be the legacy of a lonely childhood and two failed marriages and single fatherhood.

He protects his heart just as much as she does, but in his own way. He's just as selective as she is in his loyalty. But to those in whom he places his trust and friendship, he is fiercely true. He's proven that. And yet, people let him down, time and again.

They cheat on him with their directors. They murder their fathers. They turn their backs on him for entire summers and let him suffer in solitude.

She wraps her arms around him as far as she can, embracing all of him with every inch of her.

"I couldn't," she whispers, her mouth brushing against his ear now. "There's nothing you could do to make me hate you. Not now, not ever."

His lungs expand against her chest, a ragged, stilted inhale.

His body feels smaller under her hands. Last night, this morning, he surrounded her. Now he's compressed, syncopated, accented in all the wrong places.

She pulls back to see his face. Instead of the pacific blue of his eyes, there's the gray of brewing storm.

Instead of the smile she secretly adores, she notices the wrinkles in his forehead that don't come from laughter.

Her hand lifts of its own accord, thumb brushing up the ridge of his nose to wipe away the furrow of his brows. He does this to Minnie, she realizes. And just like the kitten, his eyes clear and then fall shut under the caress.

His breathing evens, the jagged edge of his respiration smoothing into peace.


Every time he says her name is a little different, a little more. She leans forward, closes her eyes to join him in the dark.

"Nothing you could do," she tells him, nudging her nose against his, leaving the whisper of a kiss at the side of his mouth.

"Not now," she assures him, sweeping across the stubble on his cheeks.

"Not ever," she promises him, lips grazing his earlobe as she whispers to him in a way she's never done before.

She draws back but leaves their bodies in close contact, hips bracketed by his thighs, her soft curves molded to his form in all the best ways.

Both hands rise to feather her touch under his eyes. She waits until he opens his, watches as the blue replaces the gray.

"Rick, there is nothing you could do to make me stop loving you."

His startled laugh cuts off abruptly when she presses her mouth to his, warm and sweet and promising a lifetime that they haven't yet put into words.

"Face it, babe," she says, pushing against his shoulders to separate them slightly. "You're stuck with me. Minnie too."

He grins. She hasn't seen that particular smile since the s'morelet, which feels like ages ago, even if it was really only a couple of hours.

"Joint custody?" he asks, the twinkle back where it should be, hope radiating from every pore.

She nods.

"We'll figure it out."

He pulls her back into him, his fingers delving into her curls. And then he kisses her.

It's love and tenderness, forgiveness and apology, now and forever all rolled into one.

"Wait a sec," he says, parting their lips with a quiet pop. "Did you just call me babe?"

She shrugs, eyes glinting with wickedness and affection as she sinks into him again.

"It slipped out."

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