Castle and Beckett were huddled together in the freezer.
'I can't feel anything. Huh. I always thought that being a cop, I'd take a bullet. Never thought I'd freeze to death.'
'Hey, we're not dead yet.'
'I just wish this was one of your books and you could re-write the ending.'
'For being me, for going rogue. Getting you into this.'
'Shh. Castle, you were right. We found the bomb. We were just too late. Thank you…for being there.'
Kate looked him in his eyes, but her frozen eyelashes and how badly they were both shivering made focusing a challenge. She loved his eyes. Not only that color blue, but the way he seemed to see inside of her. It felt as if his eyes penetrated her soul. Others often joked about how they would finish each other's sentences. That was only possible because no one had ever known her the way he did.
'We have to be realistic. We are not going to make it.' Kate was not afraid; she was resolved to the inevitable.
'Kate, don't give up. My Kate is a fighter.'
Even half-frozen that elicited a Beckett smile. 'Your Kate?'
'We are partners, together. Even to our last breaths,' Castle croaked out.
Castle rubbed his shivering hand up and down her arm. Anything he could think of to make this slightly less awful for the woman he loved. Then an idea came to him.
'Kate, there really isn't anything to be afraid of you know. If we don't make it out of here, it won't be painful. It will feel like we are drifting off to a twilight dream world.'
Even now he could make her smile. Somehow ease her burden. Even when that burden appeared to be certain death.
'There is something I need to tell you.' Kate reached for his face and turned it towards hers. 'Castle — Rick, I love you.'
She wanted to say so much more, but her lungs were burning. Lengthy conversations were no longer possible.
Thoughts mercilessly consumed her mind. She was unable to free herself by expressing them. Kate wanted to say, 'I know what you must be thinking. What kind of a person would say that at a time like this? I haven't forgotten that I am in a relationship with Josh. I don't cheat. You wouldn't respect me if I did. Your opinion of me has always been important to me. I've never thought of myself as extraordinary, but I try everyday not to disappoint you.'
Castle's mouth gaped. His eyes locked on hers. He raised his hand to lovingly caress her cheek. He hoped he was being gentle; he had lost most of the feeling in his hands. Then the frigid air caused his hand to jerk, hitting her face. Thankfully she too had almost lost all sensation in her face. That did spark a Beckett smirk.
She forgave him with one of her for-Castle-only smiles.
'Kate.' He battled to find the right way to ask her. He didn't want to seem accusing, but he needed to know, he was desperate to know. Maybe she was right and their time on earth was coming to an end. He had waited for almost two years to hear those words from her.
His voice was barely above a whisper. 'Would you have told me if we weren't about to die?'
She tried to force the words to come out, but they wouldn't. Kate was fighting this war on two fronts. She was remorseful that it had taken her this long to tell him, and breathing, let alone speaking, was becoming increasingly painful. Reluctantly, she settled for saying 'no' by shaking her head.
After a few seconds of pensive consideration she found her voice. Albeit sluggish and heavy.
'Castle, if by some miracle we are rescued, I am still dating Josh.' She wanted to shift her position to snuggle even further in to Castle, but the bottom of her pants had frozen to the floor. Without intervention, their time was really growing short.
'He is a good, decent man, and I really like him,' she finally forced out.
He wouldn't have thought it possible, but he was now even more confused.
He meekly asked, 'But you love me. Or were you just saying that to give me a something to hold on to before I died?'
She managed to convince her cramping muscles to reach for the back of his neck and slowly pressed their foreheads together.
'If we have five minutes, or fifty years, I will never lie to you. I do love you.' The declaration lacked the force it deserved.
'Then for the sake of God, why wouldn't you want to be … together? You must know that I love you?' His voice was so strained he was unsure if she had heard him, despite their proximity to one another.
'Castle, the timing has never been right for us. One of us has always been with someone. I have always been attracted to you.' She paused, waiting for him to pick up the conversation. When he didn't, she continued. 'It was after the Dunn case that I began to imagine us as a couple. I knew then you had strong feelings for me, that it was more than just physical. You have to remember that I was staying at the loft. I didn't know how long it would take me find an apartment.' Her body spasmed and she hit her head against the container. 'I was in a fog for weeks. When I was almost ready to suggest we go on a date, Ellie happened.'
The grimace on his face showed the pain he didn't verbalize. The stab to his heart would have been difficult to describe. Thankfully, when he open his mouth to try and explain, she covered his lips with two fingers. It was gentle, even comforting, but left no doubt that she wanted to be the one who spoke next.
'I'm not blaming you. I hadn't given you a reason to believe in the possibility of us.'
Kate's face turned into a canvass with the words 'guilt' and 'embarrassment' prominently painted across it.
'I was hurt. I was jealous, rejected and angry. I needed something to make me feel good again and Tom was there. He would have been good to me.'
Castle could be silent no longer. He held up his hand for her to stop talking.
'If these are to be our last moments, could they please not be with the woman that I love telling me about another man.'
'Rick, I would never had started dating Tom, if not for Ellie … If I had accepted your invitation to the Hamptons, you wouldn't have started with Gina … then Josh never would have happened. But I am in a relationship.'
He mumbled the name Josh under his breath in as disdainful a way as he could muster.
'I get you don't like him. Believe me when I tell you: I didn't like Gina, Natalee, even Ellie and Meredith. I could only envy them.'
Kate looked at the door of the container, then at the ceiling. Anything to give her a few seconds to consider her next move. She had been as truthful with Castle about her feelings as she had ever been. The question was: does she continue being truthful or does she tell a dying man what he needs to hear? No. Love means honesty. And she couldn't face Castle if they were saved and she had lied to him.
'Josh is a good man. He cares about me and would stay forever.'
There it was, the unspoken elephant in the room. Even in this dire moment Kate used subtext to convey her message. Old habits die hard.
Castle understood. She loved him more than Josh, but didn't believe that he would stay for the long term. Thoughts of the Balthazar Wolf case came to mind. "Guys like David don't leave." Why did she feel this way? Was it his reputation? Surely she knew by now that he wasn't the guy on page six. Was it a well-hidden insecurity within her? He had to know. If these were to be his final moments in corporeal form, he needed this answered.
He was painfully aware that they are both of the verge of losing consciousness. Breathing had become painful. Vision was blurring and the cold had made his fingers and toes excruciatingly burn.
'Why don't you believe that I would stay with you forever? How can you love me, and not trust me?'
Kate opened her mouth, trembled, and crumpled in his arms. Even as fate seemed to have taken her from this earth, in her last seconds of semi-consciousness, she was relieved that she would no-longer have to see the suffering on Castle's face.
Castle shook her gently, then more forcefully, he was desperate. 'Stay with me, Kate. Please, don't leave me,' he pleaded.
When Castle regained consciousness, his senses were scrambled. His heart raced and his muscles were tight. Even though it was almost eighty degrees in the ambulance he couldn't free himself from the belief that he was freezing. He tried to sit up and the paramedic pushed him back down.
The panic in his voice was palpable, 'Where's Beckett?'
He tried to sit up again. Castle was weakened from his ordeal, but surging with the adrenaline of desperation.
The next voice he heard caused him to question if he was really conscious. Josh was in Haiti.
'She's going to be fine. You both are fine. We got to you just in time.'
'Josh?' Castle still wondered if this was reality. 'I thought you were in Haiti?'
'I didn't go. Some things are more important to me than my DWB missions.'
As Josh spoke, he looked over at Kate. She was leaning against a police car wrapped in a blanket.
Castle knew that look and he hated it. He had tried to convince himself that she was just a distraction for the handsome doctor. Castle was forced to accept that this was not a man simply looking to entertain himself with the physical pleasures of being with a beautiful woman. This was a man deeply committed to said woman. As he too stared at Kate his mind began to replay her words from the freezer: 'He cares about me and would stay forever.'
He began to contemplate what he would say to Kate. Do they pretend that it never happened? Doesn't love mean putting the other person's happiness above your own? She is happy with Josh. Whereas, he himself is miserable, but that didn't matter. He had to make it as easy for her as possible. He would be her friend, if that's what she needed.
Castle walked over to her. His walk was dangerously close to faltering. Partly because of his hypothermia, but mostly because he had no idea of what he would say once he reached her. Once he had traversed the fifty or so feet that separated them he was required to say something.
He meekly settled for, 'Saw your boy's back in town.'
Kate looked at Castle, silently pleading for the wisdom to know what to do or say next. She opened her mouth but didn't speak.
He had told himself that he would do anything for her: that started now. Castle smiled and said, 'No one ever has to know what was said in that container.'
Kate rewarded him with a smile. She put her hand on his arm and even though she remained mute, the messages were clear: she has told him that she understands how difficult this was for him; she appreciates his sacrifice for her happiness; she can trust him with anything.
So why is Kate unable to trust him with her heart? He is her best friend. She was serious when she said that she would break him out of jail. She would be there for him, and he would be there for her, always.
When she finally regained the power of speech she said, 'We need to talk.' But she wasn't looking at him.
She had looked 360 degrees around her in a desultory way, before finally landing on Castle's eyes with laser-beam focus.
'Castle, we will talk. And I mean really talk. There have too many things left unsaid between us for too long.'
He didn't know what to say, so he settled for, 'Shouldn't you spend some time with Josh?'
His tone was difficult to decipher. It was as if he was resigned to the inevitable. That Kate would say they could only be friends because of Josh. The admission that she loved him would become the equivalent of a foxhole conversion. Once the specter of their imminent demise was removed, Kate would want things to return to their pre-container status.
'Probably,' she said.
Castle's optimism over her declaration that they needed to talk instantly vanished. Josh was clearly still in the picture and was now the focus of her attention.
In Kate's mind things were far from that certain. Right now she wished that her decision was easier. If Josh had gone to Haiti, had said he didn't trust her, had yelled at her about doing her job, anything that could justify telling him that he wasn't there for her and that this wouldn't work out. But that's not him. Josh was a great guy. He had made the grand gesture of backing out of a trip that was very important to him because she was upset that he was leaving. When they had spoken before Castle regained consciousness he was understanding, even compassionate about Castle, and grateful to Castle for wrapping Kate in his jacket once she had passed out. She really liked him. Maybe more now than ever.
But she was in love with Castle. She had felt forced to admit it to him in their moment of desperation. To her it hadn't been a revelation. He said it would be their secret and she believed him, but they both now knew.
How were they supposed to go on as if nothing had happened? Kate loved him and never wanted to hurt him. But spending every day with him, with his knowledge that she had chosen to stay with Josh, was cruel. Should she end their professional partnership? Kate didn't think she would survive that. In that instant she knew what had to be done. The decision was made. The heart wants what the heart wants. She was blessed and cursed by having the affection of two great men. That couldn't continue. It wasn't fair to any of them.
'Castle.' She touched his cheek tenderly. 'I have to go and talk with Josh.'
Josh watched the scene unfold from the ambulance. He knows her too; he isn't blind. Her first word upon regaining consciousness had been 'Rick'. Understandable under the circumstances, but it was so much more than concern for a colleague. Her face told him everything that she wouldn't. He had asked her many times if they were more than friends and partners.
She always answered the same way: 'We haven't done anything inappropriate.'
Josh sometimes wondered if Kate fully understood her own feelings for Castle.
No matter how many different ways he asked the question, she wouldn't answer it directly, only saying, 'you don't have anything to worry about.' She had never cheated on a man in her life and never would. Then she would always add, 'Castle has too much character to make a move on a spoken-for woman.'
Kate's admiration for Castle was sometimes a bitter pill to swallow.
She may be with him, but to Josh it was abundantly clear that she is in love with Castle.
Kate walked over to where Josh was watching her and Castle's interactions. 'Josh, we need to talk.'
Josh smiled and pulled her in to a friendly embrace. When they released each other, he lovingly raised his right hand and swept a rebellious strand of her flowing brown locks behind her ear. When he had finished he leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
'It's alright, Kate.'
He glanced in Castle's direction.
'I know that this conversation would be difficult for you. I understand. I wish you two nothing but happiness.'
With that, Josh turned and walked away.
A/N Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks to SonicMessiah for all of her help.