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Second to last chapter. Thanks for reading.
Castle ordered a private car to get them home. Montgomery, Esposito, or Ryan would have gladly driven them, or he could have simply called a cab but the private car would be far more comfortable and keep Kate's bruises from prying eyes. She didn't have to say she felt self-conscious. He could read her body language, the way she ducked her head, pulled her hair in front of her cheek. It made him want to get her home that much faster.
There was the first challenge. He smirked to himself as they settled into the backseat. How ridiculous was it to think of this issue as a challenge after the day they'd had? He decided to just ask her. "I'd really like to bring you back to the loft. I think we'd both be more comfortable but if you want to stay at your place we can go there instead."
Kate was silent for a moment, looking out the tinted windows into the darkness that had settled on the day. Then she turned back to look at him. He looked so hopeful, she felt a warmth flooding her chest. "The loft sounds nice. I'd like that."
Relief washed over him as Kate leaned back into the soft leather seat. As he put his arm around her shoulders he felt a brief moment of apprehension, realizing how quickly she had acquiesced. That wasn't normal but then again, nothing about today had been. As she angled more of her weight against his body he decided to stop driving himself crazy. She was here and they were going home. He placed a light kiss on the top of her head. They spent the rest of the ride in comfortable silence.
Kate didn't know how long she'd been in the shower when the knock at the bathroom door shook her from her thoughts.
"I'm fine." She called out to him. "I'll be out in a few minutes."
"There's no rush. I just wanted to make sure you were OK." Castle kept his tone as light as he could, given the circumstances.
He'd been nervous letting her shower alone. As she toweled off she smiled a bit at the thought. Normally he wouldn't have hesitated to jump in with her and most days she wouldn't have stopped him.
When they got back to the loft all she wanted was a hot shower. She needed to wash it all away, the blood, the dirt, the feel of him on her.
Rick worried. "I'm not trying to be a pain here but you're exhausted and between the effects of the drugs and everything else. You could pass out and…"
"I'm fine, Rick." She interrupted. He was right. She was exhausted but she just needed to step into the water and make this day disappear. Somehow her brain couldn't find the words to explain that to him.
"OK. Just do me a favor and leave the door unlocked. You can have your privacy but if something happens I'll end up breaking down my own bathroom door and I don't think either of us wants that." He tried to grin but she noticed it didn't reach his eyes. She nodded, willingly agreeing to the compromise.
The first thing that shook her was the hair. She wasn't expecting to see the blonde locks in the mirror and it stopped her cold. Then she inspected the bruises on her neck and her swollen cheek. She knew it hurt, felt the swelling, but hadn't known how bad it looked. After a few deep breaths she began to undress.
Kate was already strangely accustomed to the black marks around her wrists, having stared at them for so many hours. It was the bruises on her thighs that startled her. She knew they were there of course, had talked to the doctor about them but had never inspected them her self. Suddenly her mind flashed back to the floor of the van, Viktor above her, and her stomach turned at the memory. She stepped into the shower closing her eyes and tried to settle her mind as the warm water ran over her body. Viktor and Zukov were dead. The case was over. She was here, safe.
As Kate struggled to control her thoughts a small half grin formed. She wondered if Castle was waiting on the other side of the bathroom door and she couldn't help thinking back to one of their first mornings together. Slipping from her bed while he slept, she saw no reason to wake him while she got ready for work. She stepped into the spray of water and was adjusting the temperature when the rustle of the shower curtain startled her.
"Castle! I thought you were asleep."
He gave her a lazy grin as his eyes swept over her body. "I'm awake now and I thought you could use some help washing your back." He met her stare raising his eyebrows as his eyes darkened.
"I seem to have managed to wash my own back up to now." She teased even as she stepped into his embrace.
"Well you never know when you might miss a spot." He leaned down, kissing her soundly.
As the kiss broke, his lips began to trail down her neck. She whispered breathlessly, "I really do have to get to work."
"Then we better get you clean." His grin turned mischievous as he reached for the sponge hanging on the faucet.
"Let me get my body wash." She smiled and tried to reach past him towards the shelf on the opposite side, quickly losing her balance as their legs tangled in the narrow confines of the tub. Trying to break her fall she made a frantic grab for the shower curtain. Metal rings popping against the strain as the curtain tore from its fasteners.
He reached out and caught her but the unexpected maneuver caused him to slip as well. He managed to stop their descent by catching hold of the rim of the tub, holding her underneath him, just above the hard surface below.
"Are you OK?" He looked down at her startled expression.
"I think so but I don't think my shower curtain was quite so lucky." The curtain torn down was laying half across Rick's back, half outside of the tub. The spray of water was quickly covering the bathroom floor. He lifted her up, leaned back and turned off the water as they looked around assessing the damage. His one arm still wrapped around her, her forehead fell onto his chest as they both chuckled.
She shook her head, looking up at him. "I'm going to be so late for work."
He smiled back kissing the tip of her nose. "Next time, we try this in my shower."
Kate wandered downstairs wearing Castle's luxuriously soft robe he'd left hanging for her on the bathroom door. She found him in the kitchen making a tray.
"Hey, I was about to head back up."
"Well, I beat you to it. What's this?" She surveyed the counter and felt her stomach growl.
"I know you said you weren't up for food but I thought a little something might settle your stomach before bed." There was a bit of toast, crackers, cheese, and some cut up fruit.
She couldn't help but give him a weary smile. "Thank you." She slid onto a stool at the counter and began nibbling on the small feast he'd laid out.
He sat down next to her and brushed a damp piece of hair behind her ear. "Blonde, huh. I'd never pictured you as a blonde."
"And you never will again." Popping a strawberry into her mouth she read the unasked question in his eyes. "I did it the first time I worked the case. The senior detective back then thought it would make it easier for me to get into character. This time it was a matter of remaining consistent with that image." The weariness overtaking her was edging into her voice.
She was peering down into the tray but Castle could tell she wasn't actually seeing it. He fought to bring her back. "So I take it these blonde tresses will be turning brunette soon?"
"Definitely." She tried for a smile but couldn't quite manage it, the fatigue seeping into her bones.
"Good. I could get used to blonde but I prefer the original." He reached over and kissed her forehead. "You're exhausted. Why don't we head up to bed?"
She nodded, taking his hand and following up the stairs.
Kate thought she'd be the one to wake them up with nightmares. She was surprised when it was Rick's sudden movement that startled her awake.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." He repeated over and over, his breathing ragged. "You were…I thought…" He closed his eyes hard, tried to control his breathing but he still couldn't finish the sentence.
"I'm OK, Rick. I'm right here." She took his face in her hands, slowly turning him towards her. "Shhh. I'm alright."
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." He ran his fingers through his hair and looked down at her apologetically. "Everything you've been through." He gently ran his thumb under her bruised cheek, cupping her face. "And I'm waking you? I'm so sorry."
She gave him a small smile then, looking into his eyes and kissed him softly. Then she curled up into his chest, pulling fistfuls of his t-shirt in her hands as if to bring him closer. He wrapped his arms around her and held her to him, both of them falling back to sleep without another word.
Of course that wasn't the last nightmare of the evening. She woke up too, closer to dawn.
"No! Stop!" She cried out, holding her throat, gasping for air.
Her back to him, Rick reached out and touched her shoulder. She visibly flinched at the feel of his touch and he recoiled as though he'd been shocked. Damn.
He wasn't sure what to do. Half afraid she'd bolt from the room if he tried to touch her again. "Kate?" He said softly, desperately trying not to make it worse. "Kate, it's OK."
She sat on the edge of the bed her head in her hands, visibly shaking. She let his voice penetrate the fog of the dream and forced her self to take a steadying breath, then another. Then she turned her head to look at him.
The look in her eyes, fear, confusion, sadness, it sent the breath from his lungs and he instinctively reached out for her one more time.
This time she accepted, letting him pull her back into bed. Voice trembling, she let out a ragged breath. "I'm sorry."
"Hush. There's nothing to be sorry for. Just come here." He was holding her now, tracing soothing circles over her back. "You're OK, Kate. You're safe here." His voice rough with concern as her tears dampened his t-shirt. "Everything's going to be OK." He continued to murmur words of comfort to her until they managed to slowly let sleep overtake them once more.
When they finally left the station the next day Kate was pale and dark circles were showing under her eyes. It had been a long afternoon but Kate had insisted on getting this over with.
"What is taking them so long?" Worried and exasperated, Castle was pacing in front of the Captain's desk. "Why are they grilling her like this?"
"They've got a cop laying in a hospital bed on a ventilator and a possible leak inside the department. Internal Affairs is just being thorough." Montgomery closed the file he'd been reading. "Tell you what. I'll go check out how it's going in there."
"Thanks, Roy." Castle sat down next to his desk as the man walked out. That's when the name on the folder caught his eye. Beckett. He couldn't help himself. He opened the file quickly recognizing the newly printed post incident report. His first reaction was to put his speed reading skills to use before Montgomery came back but he hesitated. Reading it felt like an invasion of her privacy. As much as he wanted to know everything that happened, it was right there at his fingertips, he just couldn't do it. She trusted him. Trusted him enough to come to his home, let him take care of her when she was hurt. He knew her well enough to realize how huge that was. He wanted to know but the decision should be hers. Maybe someday she would tell him but if not…
He looked up to see Kate walking into the bullpen with Montgomery. Castle sighed in relief. It was time to take her home.
"Kate!" Alexis bounded across the loft to give her a hug but stopped short. "You're…blonde?"
The two women looked at one another, then started to giggle.
"I know, right. I have the same reaction every time I look in a mirror." They hugged, both smiling, the anxiousness of the moment disappearing in friendly humor.
"Are you keeping it?" Alexis asked making a conscious effort to concentrate on the hair and not the bruises.
"No. I actually kind of hate it." Kate gave a tight smile and suppressed an eye roll. "I can't wait to change it back to my regular color."
The redhead's eyes lit up. "We can head to the salon tomorrow. I'm sure they can take care of that in no time."
Kate was unaware her hand had gone to the bruise on her cheek. "Thanks Alexis but not just yet. Maybe I'll make an appointment for later in the week." Walking into a precinct full of cops was one thing. Dealing with a salon full of gossipy hairdressers was something she wasn't quite ready for.
The subconscious gesture didn't slip past Alexis. "OK. Well, I just got home. I need to go upstairs and unpack. What are we doing for dinner, Dad?"
Castle shook himself from his reverie, having been absorbed in the moment between the two most extraordinary females in his life. "Ah…I'll have to check the fridge. We might order in."
"How about a movie night?" Alexis called down as she continued to ascend the stairs.
"Maybe, Sweetie." Castle turned to Kate. "Are you up for that tonight?"
The tightness she'd felt in her neck all day began to lessen as she let the stress and anxiety she'd been carrying ebb away. She gave him a small smile. "Yeah. Movie night sounds nice."
As the credits rolled no one moved. Alexis had fallen asleep, curled up in the leather easy chair. Lying on the sofa, Kate's head rested against Rick's chest, listening to the comforting sound of his heart beating. It was the first time in days she'd felt good, normal, safe. Rick's loft felt like a cocoon. She appreciated being included as part of the Castle family, even if it was just for a short while.
Castle was lying there watching her. Her breathing soft, muscles relaxed, the stress that lined her face earlier, now gone. He just wanted to freeze this moment, not wanting the world to steal her away. As if reading her mind, Rick spoke. "You could stay. Stay here with me, with us. You could keep your apartment, or not, whatever you want." His mouth went dry as he felt her body shift to look at him. "I like having you here. This could be home if you want it."
Kate stared up at him, eyes wide, lips parting. She couldn't breathe.
"You don't have to answer now. Just think about it, Kate." He reached down, guiding her chin up to him, kissing her gently. His breathy whisper so quiet she could barely hear it as she gazed back into soulful blue eyes. "I just need you to know, I want you here."
Kate's head spun as she snuggled back onto his chest. She truly didn't know what to say.
So what did you think of our Caskett moments? I'm very curious to hear. One last chapter to go!