Learn to Have Been

A/N: This is a Season 7 supposition only. I have no knowledge of spoilers or teasers, this is purely an idea at what their winter would look like in 2014-2015 after that season-ending fiery accident.

Without the sublime efforts of muppet47 in Castling and the beautiful angst found in Jane Doe by seilleanmor, this work might not have the elements it does. My indebtedness goes to those two wonderful authors, with the hope that this is something entirely its own. We shall see.

She reminds me of now
and now and now.
I must learn
to have been so lucky.

-Another Poem on My Daughter's Birthday, Craig Morgan Teicher

In the wide and lonely bed, Rick Castle rubs a hand down his jaw and swallows, mentally edging away from the sensation in the dark bedroom.

Usually he wakes to falling. Sharp, the jerk of consciousness like being doused with cold water.

Tonight it wasn't falling off a cliff, it was flames.

Which is particularly strange, since he was never in the flames. Those are her dreams.

He lifts his arm and drops it over his eyes, the pressure grounding him in reality once more, and the night begins to filter through his senses: the soft breathing of his wife, the heavy warmth of the bed covers, the scent of musky soap. Kate's sleeping presence slowly fills in the blank spaces, snaking and twining around him and holding him to now.

He breathes. He lets out a long sigh that expels darkness from his lungs. He's okay again. Now everything is back to how it should be.

Slowly, Castle lowers his arm and turns in bed, his eyes seeking out the shape of her shoulder and the flare of her hip in the darkness. He shifts ever so slightly and brings himself within a breath of her body.

He might not remember much, but this is entirely familiar on a level that eases the fist in his guts. A gut check. Like sonar, she calls back to him in a shape right and good and necessary.

Castle tilts forward just that last distance and brings his forehead to the harsh angle of her shoulder blade, warmth seeping into his skin from under her shirt.

His body eases, his eyes close, but he's careful to keep his breathing even, shallow, careful not to wake her.

He's done too much of that, too much keeping her up at night, and she deserves dreamless.

At the back of his throat, he can still taste the gasoline as it leaked from the car.

He swallows it down, swallows again, and holds on to the warmth of her shoulder blade at his forehead like an anchor.

He wakes late. Too late. He hates waking to emptiness. His circadian rhythms are all off, have been since this spring and the accident.

Not really an accident though, was it?

Kate is there in a moment, as if sensing him, the half-hovering she does now. She smiles, a too-real thing plastered over her relief, and she sets the coffee mug at his bedside table, crawls back in with him cradling her own cup. She's delayed the morning for him because she knows; it's nearly ten o'clock.

Castle forces himself to sit up in bed, fists pushing into the mattress, and then he smiles back at her. "Thanks for your shoulder in the night."

"My shoulder-" She stops, that look on her face he hates to see. But he promised to tell her; she was furious and wounded at his silences, and he hates that more than this struck-painful look she gets when he opens his mouth. "You had another dream?"

"No," he shrugs. "I guess memory. They come like that. I don't know."

"Falling?" she murmurs, but she's careful to put her mouth to the mug as if she can bury the word in coffee.

"Something like that," he hedges. He was in the fire this time. No point in saying what didn't happen.

And yet.

Maybe it did. How is he to know? He wasn't burned, but maybe he was pulled free while the flames licked up.

Her hand comes to his shoulder and squeezes, trying for fraternal or perhaps that locker-room police-precinct stuff designed to buck them both up, but she can't quite bring it off. The gesture degenerates into her head crashing against his side and her fingers gripping the back of his neck and warm Kate Beckett plastered to him like she can't bear to let go.

They're working on it.

She's working on it; he just takes it. He curls his fingers around her thigh and holds on to her, dropping his kiss to the top of her head. He was the one in a near-fatal accident, run off the road, nearly engulfed in flames, and more and she's the one with PTSD.

He's glad it's not him. Grateful to have so much of that time gone.

So much of the time he was gone, and she remembers vividly every hollow, broken day.

He's stopped apologizing. Dr Burke made him promise to never say it again in regards to the accident, to everything he's missing.

He nudges his nose down to her temple and softly kisses her, since words aren't necessary for apologies either, since his regret isn't limited to an automatic phrase. Because he is - he is so very sorry he's done this to her. He kisses the corner of her eye where she didn't manage to clean the make-up off, kisses the sharp jut of her cheekbone where he never finds tears. She doesn't cry; there is, at least, that.

He takes her coffee from her fingers and shifts over her, putting the mug on her bedside table and conveniently landing in the cradle of her body.

She lets out a not-crying, won't-cry sigh, and her arms slowly wind around his neck. Her fingers comb through his hair, scratch lightly at his scalp, soothing herself more maybe than him.

"You remember this?" she murmurs, smiling at him. So soft, so joyful to have him here - all in a split second's time.

"I remember," he promises. Every time, every touch. He knows her fingers better than his own. Her body was carried around inside his skin, her heart in the protective cage of his ribs for the whole time he was gone - he knows it. It has to be true, or how else did he ever get back to her? "I remember all of you."

"All I ask," she sighs.

He lowers his mouth to her throat and starts his adoration there.

"Coffee's cold," he murmurs against her temple.

Kate turns to look at her mug on the bedside table, regards the thing. "It wasn't any good anyway," she sighs.

"I'm sorry," he grumbles. They both flinch - he's got to stop apologizing for everything - but she knows it's instinctive. She knows it's because he's truly regretful, because he's a good and sweet man who wants only to make it right.

"It's okay," she shrugs. "Forgetting how to make my coffee isn't really high on my list." It's a lie, it is, but she won't try to explain how desolate it made her that first week. When he stood at the counter and couldn't comprehend the machine.

She'll never make a cup as good as he does. Did. As good as her partner.

This is a new man. Her husband. He's not the Rick Castle who invaded her precinct and pulled her pigtails. That man is lost. But her husband is here.

"You've got physical therapy in about two hours," she nudges.

Castle sighs at her collarbone and lifts himself from her body; she raises her eyes to watch him go, the strong line of him and the work of muscle and bone as he moves. She draws a hand up to the back of his arm, squeezes, gets his attention even as he shifts to the side of the bed.

"Want help in the shower?"

One corner of his mouth curls in that new smile, her husband's smile. She likes that look, the heat that takes its time, checks her out. It's not the same, but it's a good one.

"Do I want help in the shower?" he echoes. He makes it dirty. She meant it dirty, even after the soft and tender way he loved her this morning. Dirty would be a relief, would break up the tight knot in her chest when she thinks about not having him.

"Should I take that as a yes?" she hums. She even finds herself smiling, a little silly with how good it feels to finally be able to do as they like.

He has PT in two hours but it's mostly to keep neural connections firing, to keep open those pathways. He's strong and he's solid, and even if his knee hurts him from time to time, she figures that's from the skiing and not the accident. This is mostly for his brain, for his memory.

"Beckett, you coming?"

She startles out of herself and finds him halfway towards the bathroom, not even looking at her.


He hasn't called her Beckett since the accident.

Stunned, she stumbles out of bed and races after him, her heart in her throat, catching him by the arm and turning him around, desperate to see.

But it's not her partner who looks back at her. Only her husband.

"What? So eager?" he chuckles. His eyebrows go up like they never did, and though his smile is soft, it's not the leer, it's not the triumphant tease that it used to be.

He's a sweet man.

But he's not really Castle.