The Courtyard Question
The next morning, Castle does not arrive until after her therapy session and Kate had begun to wonder if he had changed his mind and decided not to come after all. The thought had hurt more than she’d imagined it would, but to her relief he was here now, making his apologies for his lateness.
“I had to drop Alexis off at her workshop,” he explains. “She and Ashley are having problems, so I wanted to take her myself. Then Gina called and wanted to make book signing arrangements, and there was a lot of traffic getting back into the city, and...”
“It’s okay, Castle,” she says. She now remembers that even though the hospital room is consistent day-to-day, the world outside keeps on spinning. Unfortunately she’s tired now from her session and barely able to stay awake for him.
“How are you?” he asks.
“On the mend,” she says with a slight smile. “The exercises are tiring and I can’t sleep very well without being able to turn on my side. The dreams are still a nightly occurrence as well.”
“If you wanna sleep, I’ll stay with you,” Castle offers.
“That’s sweet of you, but I’ve already tried it with Lanie. Having someone there doesn’t keep them at bay.”
“I’m not Lanie.”
“Castle, it’s okay, you don’t have to,” she protests. “We can talk first; I’m not that sleepy.”
“Sorry, Kate, your poker face needs a little work,” he replies. “I have my laptop at the loft; I was planning in doing some writing at the Old Haunt. If my watching you is creepy, I can go get it.”
“Yes, exceedingly.” She cannot deny the earnest look in his eyes. He’s not doing this to make up for being late or for failing to prevent her getting shot. He actually wants to do this. Why?
He’s already told me why, she thinks, but dismisses the thought. There’s a logical explanation in there somewhere, and eventually she’ll find it. For now, she can just enjoy what she has. It’s not like it was with Josh—she’s not cheating Castle because, deep down, she feels the same way he says he does. The way she hopes he does.
“All right, I’ll fetch my laptop,” he grins. He’s the excited boy in the candy store again, and...she’s the candy.
When he returns, he’s carrying his computer and her eyes are closed. She’d tried to stay awake for him by counting up the number of times they’d done things for each other...she’d saved his life four times, and he’d done it eight. Eight? That can’t be right. She’s not even counting the phone call warning her of the bomb in her apartment because she’d heard the “Goodbye, Nikki” recording at virtually the same time. How is it possible he’s saved her life more times than she has his? She supposes that as a true cop, she puts hers in more danger more often. That has to be what it is. She resolves to work harder when she gets back to the precinct, make their numbers a little more even.
He sets his laptop on the table and boots it, sitting down again. He moves it to his lap and clicks a couple times before placing a warm hand on top of hers. Her fingers move feebly and find his, curling around them.
“Oh, you’re awake,” he whispers.
“Barely,” she breathes, eyes still closed.
“Just go to sleep. I’m right here,” he says. He begins to type one-handedly, the other still in her soft grip. He makes no move to retrieve it and, a few seconds later, she’s asleep.
She wakes gently several hours later to the tapping of keys to find him still sitting there and her hand still in his. She’s loathe to let go, but she retracts her hand and runs it shakily through her hair. He reclaims his without complaint.
“Good morning,” he greets her.
“Good mor—morning? I slept through the entire day? And you stayed? Castle, you should have gone home!”
He grins. “Just kidding. It’s afternoon. Around three o’clock.”
“Sorry. Just had to see your expression. How was your nap?”
“Don’t use the word nap, Castle; it makes me feel like an old woman.”
“Rest. Doze. Snooze. Siesta. Ooh, siesta,” he decides. “How was your siesta?”
“Pretty good, thanks.” Pretty good is an understatement. She normally has a nightmare or two every three hours, and yet she slept for four without a single one. But she doesn’t want to tell Castle exactly how much he calms her, comforts her, relaxes her. That would make him feel like he has to stay on her account. She doesn’t want him to stay out of obligation. If he visits, he should do it because he wants to.
“Glad I could help,” he smiles. He closes his laptop and sets it on the side table. “So, what now?”
“We could talk,” she suggests. “Or you could go, if you have somewhere else to be.”
“No, nowhere else.” He glances at the wheelchair in the corner. “Are you allowed outside?”
The question gives her pause. “I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a reason why not.” Castle calls in a nurse and consults her and then gives Kate a thumbs-up. The nurse helps maneuver her into the wheelchair, a lengthy and painful process. Once comfortably seated, Kate smoothes down the front of her short hospital gown self-consciously.
“Ready?” Castle asks. She nods, mouth clamped shut in anticipation. He begins to wheel her gently down the hallway and into the bright sunlight. At first it blinds her and leaves her blinking rapidly. After a few moments her eyes adjust and she finds herself in a large courtyard with paved walkways, trees, and vibrantly colored flowers. There are a few other patients milling around or sitting on the benches, but most of all everything is relaxed. Peaceful.
The slight breeze whistles through the courtyard and she feels her worries disappear, borne away on the wind. A sense of tranquility creeps over her as Castle parks the wheelchair next to an empty bench and sits down beside her. “Better?”
“Much,” she answers, lips curving upward in a smile. “It’s nice out here.”
Castle smiles in return as she looks out at the courtyard again. The clouds are reflected in her brown eyes, and he’s close enough to touch her if he wants to. But he doesn’t think she’d appreciate that right now. He was surprised she’d allowed his hand for so long earlier.
As he watches her, a sense of longing forms in the pit of his stomach. He’s glad to be here, happy she’s spending time with him. But he wants more. He longs to run his hands through her soft waves of hair, despite its being more lackluster than normal. He longs to sweep it away from her face, like he did...like he did the night he keeps visiting in his dreams. As he had held her down against the car with his hand over her mouth, he had seen the pain in her eyes, the desperation, the anguish. He had seen the tears in her eyes, had heard the whimper that escaped her mouth. She had reached up and touched his face, whether as a sign of understanding the necessity of it all or to try to push him away he doesn’t know. He prefers to think the former.
“Have they told you when they’ll release you?” he asks.
She doesn’t look at him but answers, “Maybe a week? If I have someone to take care of me at home.”
“Your dad?” He’s secretly hoping that by some miracle she’ll ask him. Castle would be delighted to take care of her. Because he wants to help, yes, but also because it would mean she did really, completely, forgive him for his part in this. It would mean their relationship has a chance.
“No, he has to go back to work. I haven’t really thought that far ahead.”
Kate Beckett, not plan that far ahead? He doesn’t believe her, not for a second. She’s been waiting to be released since she first arrived, and she doesn’t have a plan for fulfilling the requirements? No way.
“If you want, I’d be happy to do it,” he suggests softly. His voice is carefully controlled, not sounding apathetic but not overly eager either. Either one might send the wrong message, or worse, scare her off.
Her head whips around to face him, surprise written all over her face. He squirms and feels the need to support his statement with logic. “I mean, I’m a writer. I can write from anywhere. I don’t live that far away from your apartment, and Alexis has Gram. Besides, it’s not that far from my loft to your apartment if she needs me.”
“You would really do that? For me?” She still looks shocked, searching his face for motive. Her eyes are wide with disbelief.
“Of course.” He smiles, and slowly she does too.
She looks away again and asks, this time in a teasing voice, “Sure you’re not doing this just to get in my bed, Castle?”
“Wouldn’t be much point, now would there? You can’t do much more than cuddle right now.”
She turns to him, amusement glittering in her eyes. “Are you saying you don’t want to cuddle with me, Castle?”
He narrows his eyes. “Alexis tells me I’m a very good cuddler, like a big teddy bear. You’d be lucky to have me.”
“You’re still sleeping on the couch.”
Her hand finds his for a quick squeeze before she releases it. “Thanks again, Castle.”
“Always.” She smiles in recognition of the word, their word, and asks, “So, tell me what’s happening in the outside world. Espo’s mentioned Captain Gates a couple times. What did you think of her? Anything I should watch out for when I go back?”
“Let’s just say we didn’t hit it off too well.”
“Oh, Castle, what’d you do?”
With a jingle of keys, Castle unlocks the door to the loft and steps inside. “Where’ve you been?” Alexis asks disconsolately from the sofa. Her phone lies untouched on the table.
“I was visiting Kate,” he replies apologetically. “Ashley?”
“Nothing.” She fiercely wipes away a tear. “I wish he would just call so I would know either way. How long am I supposed to wait, Dad? How long am I supposed to wait for his call?”
“It depends,” Castle sits down next to her. “How long is it worth?”
She sighs. “I don’t know.”
“Only you can answer that question,” Castle tells her gently. “You have to decide at what point if he did call, you wouldn’t take him back. When the relationship has reached its breaking point where nothing is going to fix it.”
She nods. “How’s Detective Beckett?”
“She’ll be out of the hospital in a week, we think.”
“That’s great,” Alexis manages a small smile.
“Afterwards, though, I’m going to have to take care of her for a while,” Castle explains to her daughter. He doesn’t notice her slight frown. “She’ll still be very weak, so I’ll spend a lot of nights at her place.”
“’kay,” Alexis says. She stands abruptly and sweeps up her phone from the tabletop. “I promised I’d call Paige. See you at dinner, Dad.” She runs up the stairs with Castle looking after her bewilderedly. Had he said something wrong?