… … …
He barely has a second to register her soaked appearance before her hand is behind his head and her lips are upon his.
After his initial shock wears off, he is rushed with relief - that she is here and not off somewhere throwing herself into the path of a killer. He encloses her in his arms, holding her to him. He feels the damp of her clothes seep into his own but he doesn't care. All that matters now is returning her kiss, showing her that everything he said about loving her, and being more than a partner, was true. Showing her how happy he is to see her; how relieved that she is okay.
Her lips are as soft as he has remembered them to be; her touch and taste having lingered at the forefront of his mind since his bright idea to kiss her to distract that guard. Though he acknowledges that was a successful plan, it has put him through pure torture ever since. To be kissing her again - for it to be completely real - has been a dream. And, certainly recently, a dream it seemed would never come true. He can't quite believe he is standing here now… Doing far too much thinking!
Turning his thoughts to this moment, he allows himself to just feel this. His hands thread into her damp hair, pulling her ever closer. Her mouth moves over his, her kisses drawing him in as her hands slide down his back. He moves, willingly, nearer; her slender body pressed perfectly against his.
They gasp for air between heated touches and his heart is pounding and he wants to squeal with joy and pick her up and spin her round… But, it's as he contemplates how deliriously happy he is, that he is hit with the realisation that her touch is too urgent; her kisses, too forceful. This isn't just an expression of the love she can finally admit to. She is clinging to him like she needs this, but this isn't all she came for.
He tenses, an automatic reaction to this unsettling revelation. And, a split second later, he feels a responding tension beneath his hands. She knows that her secret is out.
One lingering kiss and then her lips move away. A sensation of cold sweeps into their place: Fear. He knows what's coming.
"I love you too," she tells him. Not in a whisper; not in hushed tones that might make it appear to still be a secret she's not ready to share. It is stated confidently, truthfully, and he understands why: So he'll believe her.
And he does. But he knows she has more to say and it's turning his stomach; hurting his head; crushing his heart. He wants to kiss her again - and always; prevent her from ever voicing what comes next. His head shifts, but he's too late.
"You can't make me choose."
And this time her voice is quiet. This time it breaks on the words. But it is no comfort to know that his strong, resilient partner is not at all confident in her assertion. He doesn't want to do this to her; doesn't want her torn between him and her devotion to her mother; doesn't want her to always have a niggling regret that she made the wrong choice.
"They killed my Mom, Rick…"
Tear-filled eyes look up at him with that whispered plea.
"They'll kill you," he returns, his words barely making it past the barrage of emotions weighing on his chest.
He watches her lips tremble; catches tears that drop onto her cheeks, his thumbs softly stroking her skin. And when he registers her hands, still holding tightly at his back, he is hit with another realisation: She hasn't pulled away. She's still standing unbelievably close. And as he stares into her wide, fearful eyes it all clicks into place.
She hasn't come here to tell him that she does love him, but then run off to get herself killed nonetheless. She's come for an alternative solution. She's waiting for that different perspective; that writer's twist that he has always brought to their cases.
She loves him, but she needs his help to figure out how to reconcile that with not letting down her mother. She wants to move on, but it wouldn't be right to just let go.
"We will get them," he assures her, his voice stronger now that he knows what to do. "Just give it a bit more time. We don't know enough; they know too much. If we go after them now, we won't win."
"What if we -"
"We won't," he asserts, sadly. "I'm sorry, Kate," he whispers, "But we won't."
He knows this isn't news to her. Deep down, the cop in her can see it all quite logically. But right now, she's a daughter, first and foremost.
"We're so close," she breathes.
"I know," he agrees, soothingly. "We will get there," he promises, because he knows they will. "Just a bit more time."
She nods as tears spill from her eyes and he encourages her towards him. She comes to rest against him, her head tucked under his chin as she cries.
He closes his eyes as he holds her securely. He runs a soothing hand through her hair, noting that it has begun to dry in the heat of his apartment, but it is still quite sodden. He wonders exactly how long she was out there with her thoughts.
He doesn't know - nor care - how long they have been standing there before Kate pulls back. She brings her hands up to wipe at her eyes before she faces him. He keeps his hands on her back, continuing his silent support. When her eyes meet his, she smiles, weakly, but gratefully.
"Thank you," she says, softly.
He smiles back and sees hers strengthen as she continues to stare at him. He's starting to feel a little self-conscious by the time she next speaks.
"I love you."
His smile widens as much as it can, given the painful topic that will always be with them until the time is finally right to deal with it.
He leans forward and gently presses his lips to hers, waiting a beat while she reciprocates the tender gesture.
Then their foreheads come together as their lips part, and he watches as her eyes slip closed. He wishes it could be from contentment.
"Did you eat before you went out in the rain?" he asks her, quietly.
Her eyes remain closed, but she shakes her head, the movement jostling his where they touch.
"Come on," he says, settling an arm across her shoulders and encouraging her to fall in beside him as he leads her towards his couch. "You'll eat, we'll sleep. Then, tomorrow… We'll find a way to take a step closer."
She nestles into his side, thanking him again, and, ironically, this rare showing of vulnerability warms his heart. Because she really is ready for that wall to come down. She really is in love with him.
They really are here.
... ... ...