Learn to Have Been
Kate stands at the crest of the hill, the snow layering the yard, the wind wicked as it eddies. Winter plays against the waves at the horizon, but all she sees is that they've come full circle.
She hears Castle attempting a quiet approach behind her, his feet on the wood of the patio, then the light crunch of his shoes through the snow to reach her side.
Castle takes her hand and wraps it around a mug, and immediately the warmth burns her cold fingers; she stares down and inhales the steam of espresso.
"How?" she asks. The house is crawling with agents.
"I just did," he shrugs. "Walked right in. Easier to ask forgiveness than permission."
"Oh, your usual m.o. then?" she chuckles.
He smirks back, but there's this latent tension riding on the judgment of the cup in her hand.
After that surprisingly good cup of station brew that he somehow magicked into existence (of which she only got a few sips, so even now she's not sure it wasn't just wishful thinking on her part), she's got her hopes entirely too high. When she glances at his face, eyes squinting against the weather, she knows he does too.
Kate takes a tentative sip of the espresso and has to close her eyes, press her lips together to keep from shaking with relief. It's exactly right, that special blend of rich, heavy flavor and foam, and it is exactly what she needs. And didn't know she needed.
She blinks and stares down into the cup.
"I should be," she starts, clearing her throat when it cracks. "Should be making you coffee."
Castle draws his arm around her and tugs her close, making a buffer between her and the wind. She keeps the espresso pressed protectively to her chest but turns her head into his shoulder.
"Been waiting to surprise you with that," he whispers. "Macchiato is next."
His nose buries itself in her hair; she can feel him smile at her jaw but his sigh chases soon after it.
His father is dead.
Kate slides her arm into his coat and takes another step into him, their hips bumping. When the garage had lifted, Kate was the first to open her door, first to jog across the headlight-bathed gravel, first at the older man's side.
Signs of decay, skin blue-dark, rigor mortis well set. Bloodied bandage at his side. Kate had tried to be circumspect about her inventory. "Did you happen to overhear anything while you were in the kitchen making me coffee?"
His fingers grip her shoulder and release. "A few things. A partially-healed knife wound in his - his side. Under his ribs."
"Fatal?" she murmurs.
"They weren't that forthcoming." Another sigh. "But it seems like."
Kate takes another sip of her espresso, eyes closing to the winter white. "Anything else?"
"Not from them." His fingers burrow into the hair at her neck, his thumb rubbing over the knobs of her spine. "But I'm starting to think Volkov took me to his boat, held me there until my father found him. And then... just pieces."
Kate opens her eyes and lifts her chin to catch sight of his face. "You want my theory?" she says carefully.
She doesn't smile, just keeps studying him until she's certain he's up for this. "Jackson Hunt is a loner - a rouge agent, at the worst, a legend at best. He tracks Volkov to the boat. He finds you, but being on his own - no back-up - and with you..."
"Out of commission," he supplies. "Head injury, too confused to help the great escape."
She nods. "He's backed into a corner. The mission goes bad trying to get you out of there. He manages to bring you to land."
"No blood on the clothes you were found in, but for a spot on your scrubs, which Lanie supposes was from walking - your cuff dragged through it as you walked."
"So he uses a stealth attack, maybe takes out some guards, unchains me-"
"Unchains you?" she gasps, jerking to attention.
His mouth opens and closes again; Castle's hand comes up to his neck and he swallows roughly.
Kate flinches. "Your neck? Oh, God. Castle. He put a chain around - around your neck?"
"In a cage," he hoarses. Something so dark flits across his eyes that Kate can't move for a moment.
A gust of wind pushes her off-balance and into him. Castle drops his arm to catch her, hugging her tight. But he's the one shivering.
Kate clutches the espresso, lifts her hand to the back of his neck, stroking her fingers along the skin.
"So if he's not wounded," Castle starts. He takes a breath. "If he wasn't wounded then, why did he leave me to wander the road?"
Kate angles her body into his, but Castle doesn't want sympathy; he wants the story. She knows him well enough by now that she doesn't stop theorizing, even though she can feel him struggling.
"Volkov came after you both," she states. "That was the black Mercedes that Campbell says cut him off. You and your father were on foot, slow-going, and so - what other choice was there? He led Volkov off the scent; he doubled back and laid a false trail, leaving you on your own."
"And then?" Castle rasps.
"Well, I suppose it was a rather epic showdown. You'd been picked up by Campbell, so Volkov went to ground. Hunt went after Volkov once you were safely home. And since you were reportedly amnesiac, Hunt didn't come to us at the loft and try to explain."
"No, he wouldn't, would he?"
Kate goes quiet at the present tense construction, but Castle sighs and dips his chin to the top of her head.
"I mean, he wouldn't have." He lets out a growl and his grip tightens. "He never explained himself. Never even tried. He fed me half-truths at every encounter-"
"It's okay," she says quietly. "Because he saved your life, Rick. He rescued you; he brought you home. Whatever he didn't do, he at least did that."
"And then he exacted vengeance and brutally murdered Gregory Volkov," Castle mutters. "Dumped him in Central Park where he knew you would catch the case. And then crawled off to die, damn it."
"He protected you," Kate says carefully. "By ending it. But he was injured. Maybe it was just that knife wound and he hoped to recuperate off the grid - there was no way we'd be showing up here any time soon. Or maybe it was worse than that, and he knew you'd - you would know what to do."
Castle grunts. "Like call Agent Danberg? I'm not sure he had that in mind."
"Are you so sure?" she whispers. "Because Sophia Turner was Danberg's partner and she knew your father. Or of him."
Castle goes silent, maybe working on the elements of their guesswork, plugging pieces in where they might fit. She's been thinking about this all night, the story, because she's not sure Castle will ever get some of those memories back.
She's not sure she wants him to. She's willing to do without his sardonic sense of humor and his fantastic coffee if it means the more horrific details are also gone. He's learning the coffee, and his humor as well, and while it seems like other things have floated to the surface, she hopes a chain around his neck and a cage stay buried and gone.
"We were supposed to be married here," he sighs. "And now it's a crime scene."
Full circle, back to where they should have begun.
No, not begun. They don't begin with a wedding - they began years ago, when she opened the cover of one of her mother's books and fell into it. They began when he stared back at her from the other side of the interrogation table and offered to let her spank him.
They were supposed to have been married here, but at least this time, he stands with her. They survey his Hamptons home in winter silence, the yard covered with a thin layer of snowmelt, the pool closed up and the lights turned off. She wonders if he remembers anything of their plans for that day, their wedding day, since other things are coming to him now.
"We were supposed to be married here," she says finally. "And then you were taken from me and I - whatever else he did, Castle, he made it possible for us to be here now."
The gruff tug of his arms around her nearly knocks her off her feet, but she clutches his coat and hangs on, enduring the rough embrace.
"I wish I had seen you in your mom's dress," he husks.
"You did," she whispers, biting the inside of her cheek. The wind takes her words and maybe he doesn't hear it, maybe that memory can be lost to the wind as well, that morning when she twirled around in front of him and spun on the tips of her toes, showing off the dress before they started their ill-fated wedding day.
"Do you still have it?" he asks. His body turns aside from hers, giving her a little space, and she lifts her eyes to him. He frowns. "Kate? You didn't - it's not ruined is it?"
It is ruined. But not like he means. "I have it. It was my mother's." And it's cursed. She'll never let those traditions go any further, though she can't bear to give it away.
"Could you wear it for me? Just to see. One time."
She stares at him, his request like a fist in her gut. "Wear it. Like a-"
"What I missed," he says, a wrinkled-eyed smile. "Please? Private fashion show. I love the dress you wore to ours, but your mother's... and that day. So much is gone. I want it back."
Kate slides her fingers between his, squeezes. She can do this for him. She can. The dry cleaners even got the smoke out of the dress - it was the same place he sent all of her stuff after her apartment blew up.
And really, in the grand scheme of things, donning her mother's wedding dress and modeling it for him - letting him peel it off again - that's a much brighter picture than she imagined nearly ten months ago.
"I'll do that. It's - here actually. I didn't want it in the loft. Everything from that day got sent here." The gifts, the party favors, the decorations...
"Oh." His face falls and he seems to register something of the emotional impact it is for her, because he opens his mouth as if to say never mind.
"Tonight, Castle," she tells him. "After the Feds are done with us, we'll make new memories. Okay? New for us both."
Castle blinks and then grins at her, a wolfish thing. His free hand comes to the back of her head even as he moves in to claim a kiss, tugging her roughly against his hips with their joined hands.
She swallows a moan and lifts into him, cold and hot together, and the nip of his teeth at her bottom lip has her flaring brighter, going up on her toes.
The espresso cup falls and clunks against the snow, coffee staining the white, soaking in.
Castle breaks away, breathing hard, chuckling, and he nudges his nose into her cheek, angling her head back to the house. "Are they gone yet? I want to get this started."
She laughs a little breathlessly. The crime scene technicians are still up there. The CIA agents swarming the place. No one is looking their way, but she's certain the Men in Black have missed nothing.
"They made Volkov disappear, but at least they can't whisk away our home," Castle laughs.
She shakes her head, buries her face against his neck where it's warm, away from the wind, the house no longer in sight. He shelters her, arms coming around her body, and he drops his mouth to her ear.
After a moment, he starts giving her a running commentary of what's going on back at the house, of the body being taken away, the guys in suits talking to even more suits who have just shown up. She's not sure when they'll get some privacy, but listening to his wry snark in her ear makes her relax. It's all Castle, her gracious husband, and even if the coffee has spilled, he can make her another.
She hasn't lost him; he's found.