Next Time

Title: Next Time
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Episode addition for 3x16 'Set Up', so spoils that!
Disclaimer: I do not own Castle.
Summary: Why couldn't he at least tell her the truth?
A/N: My first Castle fic! Well, really, we all knew it would happen one day. This was written before seeing any previews of 3x17, so may not tally with those. Just a little idea I had for how things could progress. Thank you to DNAisUnique for reading this for me.
Date: 27th February 2011

… … …

He lasted eighteen minutes before it was too damn cold. Perhaps sitting on the cold floor hadn't been the best idea, but standing lead to pacing, and he'd learned at school that you should be still when cold to let your organs have priority for your blood. He also remembered - although this was more recently learned, from an episode of 'The X Files' - that the best way to conserve body heat was to crawl naked into a sleeping bag with someone else who was already naked. They didn't have any sleeping bags, and given the situation they were in, it would be absolutely inappropriate. But the amusing thought helped ease the tense knot of fear in his stomach for just a moment. And for that he was grateful. He wasn't grateful for the crushing sensation that accompanied the return of reality.

He looked across at Beckett - at Kate - noticing the trembling of her slender frame. Her expression was still determined but he knew she was starting to waiver.

The nineteen minutes felt like hours. With no phone signal and no response to their pounding on the door and walls they had retreated to separate sides, sitting in silence. What was there to say? He knew she was frantically trying to formulate a plan. He knew there would be no plan. A miracle was their only option, and that was out of their hands.

He had left her to her thoughts for as long as he could. But now, he needed something to fill the overwhelming sense of the end being nigh... And he needed her body heat.

He stood as quickly as he could, his legs protesting the movement. She looked at him as he moved and seemed surprised when he walked across to her.

"I'm cold," he shrugged, as he lowered himself to the floor beside her. He snuggled in as closely as he could, observing her reaction from the corner of his eyes.

She looked, first and foremost, terrified, which wasn't a look he was familiar - or comfortable - with seeing on her. He'd give anything to be able to take that away.

As he sat back, she surprised him when she settled against him. He lifted his arm out from between them and draped it across her shoulders, pulling her close to him. This was not how he had imagined being sat like this with her. Briefly he wondered what he had ever been afraid of - compared to the utter terror he was currently experiencing, the thought of admitting his feelings to her seemed so simple.

"I'm sorry, Castle," she said quietly, her voice shaky from the cold. It really was kicking in quickly.

"For anything in particular?" he quipped, after all, keeping things light was part of his role.

"For getting you into this."

"Hey, you know me, I'll go anywhere to get out of the line of fire."

"Castle..." she reprimanded him. "I should have followed orders. I should have kept you out of -"

"Kate, we found the bomb. We've hit a slight snag in telling anyone that, but..." He let that trail off and then stated, in all seriousness, "You know I wouldn't have stopped. This isn't your fault."

"I should have stopped you months ago. Surely you've seen enough to write several books by now."

He released a shallow laugh, remembering a conversation with his mother along the same lines; remembering the admission he had made to her.

"I learn something new every day," he told Kate, then kicked himself for continuing to hold back, even now. They were unlikely to get their miracle. If this was the end why couldn't he at least tell her the truth? He'd been close, after the radiation scare; he'd been tempted when they realised the magnitude of the threat they were investigating. Along with Alexis and his mother, she was the most important person in his life. He wanted to be the man she needed; he wanted to jump into a relationship with her; to be there for her, and with her. He wanted to kiss her again and have her know what it meant to him; he wanted to do his little fangirly squee in front of her - to make her laugh, to make her blush, to make sure she knew exactly how he felt; how exhilarating it was to know she felt the same way. (He perhaps wouldn't use the term "fangirly squee" to her - at least not until years into their relationship - lest it lead to a conversation about how he came to know the phrase.)

"I doubt that," she uttered softly, bringing him back to the present and the stark reality that there wouldn't be a 'years into their relationship'.

They didn't need to have the fangirl conversation, but there were some things he needed to say before it all ended. Selfish, maybe, but he needed to know if she shared any of his feelings and fantasies about a future together. The worst that could happen was that she didn't, and he doubted he would be able to feel the ensuing awkward atmosphere through the Arctic conditions anyway.

It was now he noticed he was rubbing his hand lightly up and down her arm, and holding her tighter than he had last been aware of. His subconscious was steps ahead of him.

Taking a breath - not too deep because the icy air would hurt his throat and lungs - he closed his eyes and bravely began, "Actually, Kate, I -"

A scraping noise from the door had Kate on her feet, gun drawn, before he could even think to move. She stepped closer to the wall so that she would see who entered before they saw her, and she waved a hand for him to follow her.

Standing as quickly as he could, he backed into the corner, watching Kate, watching the door. His mind still hadn't quite caught up with this development, so absorbed had it been in trying to think of the best words for what he needed to confess. His heart was pounding; his chest aching as every breath drew the cold inside him. He had come to terms with dying in here - as much as anyone can accept the inevitable - now his fear was back full force as he once again faced an unknown fate.

A second later, his entire being sagged with relief, and he watched Kate's body react the same way. The door swung open, a familiar voice called out their names and then Ryan and Esposito were standing in front of them, drawing them to them and ushering them out.

It was all a blur. Paramedics, blankets, something about following them, about following the bomb... He was too cold to keep up and he reasoned that it really didn't matter right now anyway. They could fill him in on the details later. Now was the time to be thankful that he was alive; that Kate was alive; and, from what he could gather, the bomb threat was neutralised. He would see Alexis and his mother again; he would have a future.

He managed to catch sight of Kate across the room, being manhandled and prodded the same way he was. She looked exhausted; defeated; and still absolutely beautiful.

He wondered if she wondered what he had been about to say. He wondered if she knew.

And he wondered if there was a reason they were interrupted every time he was about to tell her.

In a life or death situation, when it seems that the only possible outcome is death, one is naturally inclined to admit previously concealed truths. When the actual outcome is life, that can still seem like a good idea - missed chances don't need to be missed; dreams can come true.

But when the universe seems to want to stop you from taking that step, you can't help but wonder why...

Perhaps sensing him staring at her, Kate's head turned slightly and her eyes met his. She smiled - just a slight curving of her still freezing lips - and he returned the same.

Right now, relief outweighed his disappointment, but it was still there, and he would berate himself for it at every given opportunity. But next time he felt inclined to tell her he loves her he would do it. There and then, before anything, or anyone, got chance to save their lives and stop him.

THE END