He clasps her hand in his, rubbing rhythmic circles over her knuckles. She's nervous and he picks up on it, sees the line in her shoulders, the crinkle in her forehead, the way she twirls with the ends of her hair.
He notices everything. It's one of the things she loves about him.
"We don't have to do this, you know," he says softly.
"I want to. You—"
"—will be fine. We've talked about this, Kate. This isn't supposed to be painful."
She silences him with a light kiss, squeezes his hand. "I want to do this for us, Castle. That doubt that lingers in the back of your eyes? I want it gone."
He swallows hard. "Okay. But if you feel like—"
She smiles. "I'll let you know."
It's been a week since she made the appointment, eight days after she slept in his bed for the first time.
She'd been so ready to bring him here, to lay it out on the table, but now that she's here—
She wants to throw up. She barely managed to swallow a few bites of toast this morning and she left without any coffee in her system.
Which probably isn't helping matters.
"Anything good in there?" she asks, resting her chin on his shoulder as he flips through a cooking magazine.
He shrugs. "Nothing spectacular. I'm cooking up an idea for a new breakfast food, though."
She smiles into his shoulder. "Yeah?"
She raises an eyebrow. "A what?"
"Eggs, chocolate, and marshmallow." He looks up from the page and gives her an excited smile.
"I certainly hope you're not planning on trying that out on me, Richard Castle."
His smile fades a little. "Why not?"
She nudges his shoulder. "Because it sounds absolutely disgusting, that's why."
"Beckett," he whines.
She makes a face. "Make Alexis try it."
He lets out a surprised laugh. "You won't eat it but you'll feed it to my kid?"
"She'll bounce back," she huffs. "Besides, you two have similar tastes in twisted ice cream combinations." She rolls her eyes. "She'll probably love it."
"You might be right," he admits.
She narrows her eyes playfully. "When am I not?"
"Oh, don't get me started," he teases. She laughs, gently shoves him as he wraps a hand around her wrist and tugs her closer.
"We're in the middle of a doctor's office, Castle," she says softly, nudging her nose against his cheek, anyway. She loves touching him. Ever since their almost-night a week ago, she has a hard time keeping her hands off him.
Not that he complains, of course.
"And yet…" he trails off, latching his mouth onto her lips. She curls her hand around his jaw, sighing gently as her body curves slightly into his. Her other hand scrapes against the inside of his wrist as he pulls away, tugging on her bottom lip one last time.
She swallows the words again, quells the urge to slip her mouth against his cheek and whisper them into his ear, send a shiver down his spine.
She can't. It's too soon.
But she doesn't know when the right time is.
How do you measure love, anyway?
He's her first. The realization punched her in the gut several days when she watched him push his kid on a swing, his eyes light with joy. She couldn't tear herself away from them, even if she wanted to. She sat back, content to watch for a while, but she was on her feet in moments when they reached the slide. She watched from the bottom, waited for them to slide down together, despite Alexis' insistence that she was too old to ride down with her father.
They were so adorably awkward, squished between the press of metal against their thighs.
When they made it to the bottom, he grabbed her hand and tugged her up the stairs, leaving Alexis at the bottom, giggling at their show.
"I am not sliding down this with you," she said adamantly, throwing him a look.
"It'll be fun," he promised. "Live a little, Beckett," he said, the corners of his mouth turned in the most glorious smile she's ever seen in her life.
That's when it hit her. She'd do anything to make him happy, do anything to keep that smile on his face, especially if she's the one putting it there.
"You okay?" he asks now, brushing his fingers against her cheek.
"Yeah, I'm good," she says, a little breathless. His smile is a little smug, pleased with himself to instill such a reaction to her.
She doesn't tell him that the kiss is only half of it.
"Katherine Beckett?" Kate turns her head to an aging female secretary clad in an atrocious plaid skirt and a green t-shirt. "Dr. Hiller is ready for you."
She lets out a small, shaky breath and tugs gently on his hand. She follows the woman down a long, beige hallway. The walls are bare and cold, something she still hasn't managed to get used to. His hand presses against her back now, warm and reassuring.
Her insides unclench a little as they step inside the comfy room. There's no couch, which Kate took immediate relief in during her first session. She hates the idea of being a patient, lying on some couch while a bespectacled psychiatrist takes notes, hovering over her head.
There's a vase of fake flowers in the window and a few paintings on the wall, surely meant to soothe and calm. She'll never admit it, but it makes her feel better. She plops down in a cushioned rocking chair, the place she's sat in since she first started coming.
Creature of habit.
He settles down in an armchair a few feet away, a small table separating them.
She smiles at him in the silence, wants to kiss the worry from his eyes, but she feels it, too. It doesn't gnaw at her, but it floats just above the pit of her stomach.
"Sorry about that. I'm a little behind." Dr. Hiller shuffles through the door, carrying two plastic cups. Kate's eyes flick to Castle, gauging his reaction. His eyebrows lift in slight surprise.
Yeah, Jen doesn't exactly fit the stereotype.
Her wavy hair hangs down her back, held in place by a pair of sunglasses; her bangs frame a young, friendly smile.
If she weren't Kate's therapist, she'd like to think that Jen would be someone she'd be friends with.
"Here's your water, Kate," she offers, handing her the red cup.
"Thanks," Kate says gratefully, taking a sip.
"You must be Mr. Castle," Jen says kindly, holding out her hand.
"Please call me Rick, Dr. Hiller." He gives her a soft, hesitant smile, shaking her hand.
"In that case, you can call me Jen." She smiles. "Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee?"
He shakes his head. "Thanks."
Jen settles in a few feet away from them, comfy in a leather office chair. She crosses her legs and lets her hands rest lightly on the arms of the chair.
"Shall we get started?" she asks. Kate nods, sets her cup down on the table and meets his eyes, sends him a reassuring tilt of her lips. She's too anxious for a full smile and she knows he'll see through it, anyway.
He always does.
"Let's start simple. Why are you both here?" She pauses.
Kate shifts in her chair, runs the tips of her fingers through her hair, just above her ear, before they fall down to her side, wedged between her thigh and the chair.
"I want him to be a part of this," she says quietly.
"A part of what?" Jen prods gently.
"This-this life that I've been living. I've, uh—" she sighs, feels her face flaming under the weight of her anxiety. "I've kept it away from him. I think—I've forced him on the outside?" she asks, letting her gaze drop slightly as she pulls her bottom lip between her teeth.
"Is that how you feel, Rick?" Jen prompts, resting a hand against her face.
He deflates a little, his spine curving into the chair. "I wouldn't put it quite like that." His eyes find hers, tender and soft. "But yes. I think about it."
Kate swallows hard, her fingers twitching at her sides. She wants to go to him, wants to wrap her arms around his neck and breathe and be and—
Yeah, it gnaws at her a little bit now.
A couple of things:
1) I don't know if anyone was expecting me to work Burke in here, but I obviously chose to go a different route here. The setup I used here is based on my own experiences with it. I felt like I'd be able to convey everything better if I used my own knowledge.
2) I obviously still have stories to tell. And while I haven't exactly figured out a stopping point, I'd appreciate it if you guys would let me know if you felt like it was dragging or getting stale. I don't know that I trust my own instincts as to how far I should take this.
If I don't fall asleep before then, I should be posting a one-shot in a few hours, so look for that if you're interested.
As always, I'd love to hear from you.