This story is officially my longer one-shot ever, which is exciting! Also my first contribution to Castle Fanfic Monday, even though it was technically semi-written in time for the last one and I got lazy and didn't finish it.
In this mystical universe, Smith didn't leave Castle high and dry with regards to evidence in Dial M for Mayor. Poor Castle. Lyrics belong to Frightened Rabbits' "My Backwards Walk," and we can alllll thank Chuck for that.
my faults and cracks.
A season four AU: Kate doesn't call when she gets back to the city, and Castle stops waiting.
i'm working on erasing you
i just don't have the proper tools.
There comes a point when you just have to... stop waiting for the phone to ring. It takes Castle an inordinately long amount of time, of course. He waits in the weeks following the hospital, writing with his phone on the loudest setting and placed immediately next to his computer in case the speaker blew out and he missed a vital call. He waits as the summer fades into the fall, and he starts leaving his phone around the house instead, forgets it in the nooks and crannies of the couch. He waits as he starts to 'lose' his phone on purpose, until the damned object starts mocking him. He waits until he doesn't wait at all.
He still parses through Smith's information, when it arrives, investigates discreetly. Ryan lets it slip, one Madden evening mid-October, that Beckett is back at work. And then Sito calls in the middle of November, right around her birthday, to tell him that she's doing well, that she's alive, that she's going through a rough patch but she'll be fine. Castle wants, with everything in him, to be able to check in on her himself, but he was the idiot who agreed to I'll call you, okay? and he's paying his penance.
He's paying a penance he doesn't think he deserves at all.
In the weeks that follow, Castle ditches his phone number entirely, and he officially stops waiting.
Of course, for all of this not-waiting, he sees her at Ryan's wedding. He walks through the door, alone because his daughter apparently can't resist the pull of a Lady Gaga concert, and she's standing off to the side, stunning and healthy and alive. For all that he was angry, for all that she left him alone for months without any sort of contact, Castle couldn't have possibly imagined how badly he needed to see that she was okay. Her face is gaunt, her waistline too small, and she looks ghostly and frustrated and just– amazing.
She freezes when she catches him looking. When she sees him at all.
"Castle," Kate breathes, and it's like some sort of revelation. She looks inexplicably nervous, turning away from the couple with whom she was chatting without even a backwards glance and making her way towards him.
The way she whispers his name, the way it carries through the hallway to him, reminds Castle of why, exactly, she sounds so surprised to see him, why she's so caught off guard, and he snaps back to attention, nods at her as she approaches.
Her face freezes at that, eyes wide and frightened in the dim light of the church. Her hair falls over her face, some sort of silk wall hiding her from him, before she nervously pulls a hand out to curl it around her ear. "You look, uh. Good."
Now that she's closer, it's all much clearer: aside from the ways her body has changed in the seven months since he last saw her, she looks like she's barely being held together. Her hands tuck and untuck her hair around her ear, and she's struggling to meet his gaze dead-on. It makes him hurt for her, but he's so, so angry.
He grunts in acknowledgement, gestures behind him to the doorway. "I'm here for Kevin, so I'm going to just–" It hurts more than he expected, being around her.
Kate's eyes snap to his in surprise, and she ends up looking all the more surprised when her eyes meet his, like she's not used to looking someone in the eye. It doesn't stall him, of course; he makes it three steps before her voice pipes up from behind him. "Castle, wait–"
But he's done waiting. He walks in alone.
The reception is a loud affair, full of O'Malley and Ryan cousins and nieces and uncles and Castle manages to blend into the crowd, avoids even Lanie and Espo because wherever they are, Kate'll be there too. He hangs out with a particularly handsy great aunt of Jenny's for a while, and when he finally manages to extricate himself from her, he finds himself face-to-face with a fifteen-year-old kid looking to dance with him, which is all kinds of awkward.
He dodges the teenager, makes his way over to the bar, plopping down on one of the stools to just get a sweet sweet moment of relief. The bartender wanders over, offers him some Guinness and even though Castle finds the taste acrid and bitter, he's a strong believer of when in Rome so he accepts with a nod of his head, turns at the last minute to see Kate darting through the crowd towards him.
She's rather breathless when she finally reaches him. "Hey."
Oh, they're doing the casual thing. Cool. "Hey."
She curls her hair around her ear again, and it irritates him only a little that he knows that's a nervous tick of hers. It would be so much easier if he could just bleach his brain of all of it.
Kate settles on the stool opposite him, stares him dead in the eye. "I've missed you." Looks like she's just cutting to the chase, then.
The bartender comes back with his pint and Castle nods at him once, takes his time looking at the glass in the hopes that all the anger he's been holding inside for so long won't bubble out, that he won't explode. He grapples for some... human... to say. "I've only ever been a phone call away, Detective," he finally offers, and he's proud that there's only a trace of anger left.
Her whole body deflates at that, her mouth opening and closing around the air for a moment, like a fish. Her gaze jerks down to her hands, like she needs something to look at instead of his face. "I needed some time."
"You said a few days."
"I needed more."
Castle tries very, very hard not to snort at that, and fails spectacularly. "Yeah, eight months. I got the hint, Beckett. Don't worry about it. It surprises me it took you this long, really. You should've thought of the just-never-call-Castle-again thing years ago. You could have ditched me at the precinct that much sooner."
"No, Castle, that's not–" She takes her time, redirects. "I needed to heal. I didn't mean to push you away."
"Yeah, well, that's too bad, Beckett." This is Ryan's wedding, and Castle is trying his very best to be civil, to not completely lose his cool in public. It's very, very hard with Beckett around, with months of hurt and silence between them, with an unacknowledged Kate, I love you hovering in the air, so he just aims for seething instead of raging. "I watched you die in that ambulance, you know that? It just would've been nice to get a hey, Castle, I'm not dead to quell the nightmares every once in a while. But hey, maybe I'm a high-maintenance guy."
He's struck again by how fragile she looks, the whole picture of it only accentuated when she looks up from her hands and stares at him, tears in her eyes, and murmurs, "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, me, too."
He leaves his Guinness on the counter, his heart in her hands, and the O'Malley wedding behind him.
Of course, the damn file comes back to bite him in the ass. Smith calls him, again, only a week later, to give Castle some details about a case that Beckett is apparently working against Weldon, and while Ryan had given him a courtesy call a few days prior ("Bro. It looks bad."), it's impossible to believe that Beckett could think Weldon to be a murderer.
Even more confusing is why Smith thinks any of this is relevant at all.
But Castle takes Smith's intel and smuggles himself into the Twelfth at noon the following day, which is typically the only time that Beckett is guaranteed to be on a coffee break, because she likes to go to the cart down the street for her third or fourth of the day. (He really, really needs to start forgetting all of these details. So much memory space that could theoretically go to remembering people's birthdays, or, ooh, memorizing all of the A words in the dictionary...)
Of course, he's there all of a minute, whispering excitedly to Kevin and emphasizing that Weldon is not their killer, when all of a sudden all the air is sucked out of the room.
When he turns around, Kate is standing just outside the elevator, gaping at him. She takes one quick glance around the rest of the bullpen – they don't call it a fishbowl for nothing, he supposes – and then rushes forward, grabs his sleeve, and yanks him into the break room.
And then she rounds on him. "What are you doing here?"
She looks better than she had at Ryan's wedding, like she's pulling herself together week by week and it's all just one step at a time. He likes that her cheeks have filled out fractionally, that her eyes are a little brighter, and it takes him a second to register what she said. He's still a little stunned, frankly, wondering how he ended up inside the break room when he was just at Ryan's desk a moment ago.
He really, really just wanted to avoid her altogether. Looks like that's not happening. "Ryan told me about the investigation. I'm here with some info."
It seems to just make her madder. Why is she even mad? Kate pulls herself up to her full height, rounds in on him with a finger jabbing at his chest. "I'm the lead on this case. You come to me with your info."
He snorts. "You've made it very clear to me that you don't want me to come to you with anything, Detective."
Again, she flinches at the name, but instead of deflating, she seems to get taller with her anger, her finger retracting back to rest at her side in a clenched fist. "This is my case, Castle. Your personal vendetta against me is not a factor here. Don't you dare go behind my back again."
"My personal vendetta? You're the one who got hurt and sent everyone away. You're the one who broke all of this, Kate." He steps towards her, encroaching on her personal space. "This is your case? Fine. I gave Ryan the info. And here's–" He rips a corner off of one of the pages, jots down seven numbers in quick succession "–the number of the guy who gave me the info."
He thrusts Smith's phone number towards her, holds it out across from his body and hopes, desperately, that she'll just take it and leave him. Smith's number might be his last tie to her, the last thing keeping him from being completely gone from her life, and he's just exhausted, tired of the whole charade. He may be done waiting for her to call, but clearly he's still holding on to her, and she's angry at him for some reason, seething in front of her even though she's the one who said she'd call, and he's just... Done.
Kate doesn't take the number, staring at his outstretched hand warily.
"Whose number is that?" she finally murmurs, her voice deadly.
Fine. She wants to make it hard? He can deal with that. "He goes by Smith." He steels himself. "Before Montgomery went into that hangar, he sent a package to someone. Someone he trusted. It contained information damaging to the person behind all this. But the package didn't arrive until after you'd been shot, until after you'd disappeared on all of us, so someone had to keep you safe. Smith wanted it to be me, but I haven't exactly been able to contact you, so I've been investigating it all year. And, for some reason, this case ties into it. You can contact him if you want intel."
Even though there's a bustle of officers just outside the windows of the break room, it's only deadly silence that greets the end of his rant. Kate takes a step back from him, betrayal etched into the edges of her face, but still makes no move towards the number. "This is a part of my mother's case? You're a part of a my mother's case?"
"A part of this–" he protests, but she switches tacts immediately.
"You're the one who changed your number, Castle! You want to talk about not being able to contact me? You're the one who gave up."
Oh, fuck that. "Gave up? I hung around the phone for seven months, Beckett, waiting for you to call when you recovered, when you got back, when you got a case, when you decided to let me back in. It didn't happen, and I wasn't damn well going to wait fifty years to see if you'd decide to take me back."
"You could have contacted me when you got the call from this... This mystery man in the shadows, Castle! This is my life. How the hell could you do this?"
"Just because we weren't speaking, doesn't mean I wanted to see you dead," he spits at her, feeling all of the anger and frustration of the year well up in him again.
It seems to take her aback. She looks, somehow, hurt. "And now?"
"Now... You were never going to call me. And you're right. It is your life. I'm not a part of it anymore, so I won't be a part of it anymore."
She snatches the number from his fingers. Glares at him. Opens her mouth. "Get out."
Castle regrets it, of course, after. He was pissed, and hurt, and, for some reason, when it comes to him and Beckett, yelling from the one tends to just result in yelling from the other, and then it's just a pile of yelling and there's hurt and anger and untrue words and always, always regret afterwards. He just reacted. Even though he hasn't seen her lately, he still gets the occasional update through the grapevine, and he knows her, knows that basically gave her the key to running herself ragged and getting herself killed.
But he still did it. So he has to live with it.
It doesn't mean that he can't get updates from Ryan and Espo still, though, even though Espo's first text message is a very angry What the hell did you do to Beckett, bro? that he doesn't have a good answer for. They inform him that she's falling down the rabbit hole, that she's spending her nights on the break room couch and her days drinking coffee after coffee (and it's of the monkey-pee-in-battery-acid variety, which Castle, as an occasionally sensible human being, frankly finds a little insulting).
He spends half of his days writing Nikki Heat, a sudden burst of inspiration coming in from left field that he's almost entirely convinced himself is not because he's seen Kate lately. The other half, he tries to solve her case. It's his fault; he got angry (he's still angry), he gave her the intel, and it's his job to help her pick herself up. Not, of course, in person, because if she wants him she can damn well find him, but he can help (indirectly) solve her case.
He was meant to be letting go. But he's just holding on tighter.
March marks two months since he's last seen her, and even then, he only sees her on the news after he hears about the bombing downtown. She looks amazing on camera, of course, just like she looks amazing in person, just like she is amazing in person. He watches the news obsessively, struck by how appalling it is that anyone would try to bomb a rally, struck by how much he misses the precinct and the work he did there. He finally caves, agrees to meet the boys for drinks just so he can get an update on the case.
"Kate's here," is the first thing Espo announces when Castle walks towards their booth at the Old Haunt. Castle freezes instinctively, does something of a pirouette around to find her, but Espo follows it up with, "In the bathroom." When Castle turns back, Espo looks highly, highly amused at Castle's inadvertent (and inelegant) almost-dance moves, but his eyes are soft, understanding. Castle had expected anger and hassling over the whole Beckett situation. What has Kate told them?
Kate. He still has time to run, and he pauses, deliberates.
He sits down.
The boys both stare him down from across the table, and it all feels oddly like an interrogation, even though the rest of the bar is lively and, if Castle does say so himself, busy. "So how's the new book?" Ryan finally asks, and it strikes Castle suddenly that, if Ryan and Espo are on one side of the booth, it'll have to be him and Kate on the other. This all feels oddly like a setup, and if he had to guess, he'd say that the whole thing stinks of Lanie, but what is he supposed to do? He's done with Kate, but he loves her, he loves her, he loves her.
"It's coming along... Slowly." He's proud that he answers it with only one eye trained on the doors of the bathrooms. Except–
"Hey, Castle," a voice pipes up from behind him, and he very nearly jumps right out of his seat, one knee jerking up to hit the table, and it's only through the tears of pain in his eyes that he manages to look up and see Kate, healthy-looking, smirking, happy.
And then, very carefully, her face goes completely blank. The contrast had struck him, initially; how happy she looked to see him now, how furious she looked last time they had seen each other. The blank suits the situation more, but the happy tells Castle something he can't quite put his finger on.
The boys slip out of the booth, murmuring something about getting a round of beers and there's a lot of pushing and side-eying that just makes Castle shake his head. When he looks up, Kate is doing the same, like they're still in sync and it's just not fair. She sits down across from him, pulling one of the glasses of water that were in front of him over to her side, the napkin underneath it clinging happily, unwilling to be separated from the glass.
Castle very stubbornly decides that he is not the napkin. He's very definitively one of those... Wooden coasters, or something. The ones that don't stick. The ones that let the glass go.
His head jerks towards the retreating backs of the boys. "They trick you into showing up, too?"
"No," she says immediately. "I asked if I could come."
"Yeah." She peels the glass away from the napkin. Her hands are at the paper napkin in front of her, tearing it into tiny little pieces like some sort of nervous tick. "I'm sorry I kicked you out of the precinct." Kate takes a deep pull of air in. "I get why you hid it from me. You, uh, loved me."
Oh. It's all his brain is able to articulate for a full ten seconds, doesn't even make it out of his mouth this time. Well, isn't that just par for the course. "You remember."
It's odd, but it feels a little bit like he has no more anger left to generate. Like he's just maxed out, and he instead just feels overwhelming tired. She's made it very clear how she feels about him; seven months' worth of silence were rejection enough. He finds that this new information is just another blip on the radar, even though it hurts, it hurts hurts hurts. But. "For whatever it's worth, I'm sorry I hid it from you. And sorrier that I gave it to you... like that. I hear that things haven't been easy for you lately."
She huffs out a laugh. "You hear correctly." Her eyes are still on the napkin in front of her. "Actually, I'm back in therapy."
"Back in therapy?" That wasn't part of the news he got from Espo and Ryan.
"Yeah," she breathes. "I went when I was trying to get cleared for duty, but it turns out I still needed it." One shoulder comes up sheepishly, and Castle is beginning to think that the poor napkin really can't be ripped into smaller pieces. "I was running myself ragged with the news that there was someone out there – Smith – who knew what was going on, who had the details. I actually brought him in and interrogated him once." She huffed out a laugh. "And it almost cost me my job. It, uh, turned out to be the kick in the ass I needed, so. In a weird way, thanks."
Castle suddenly comes to the realization that there's quite a lot of information that Espo and Ryan left out, and somehow, the news that she's trying, that she's growing, warms him. He sincerely wants her to be happy.
"Well, then, you owe me one."
"Do I ever."
Oh. Her sincerity throws him off.
It actually ends up easing some of the tension, and although he and Kate don't actually have a direct conversation again, just the two of them, the boys come back and the four of them end up laughing the evening away. The boys give Castle some of the updates on the bombing case, which definitely adds a somber element to the conversation. All Kate adds to that part of the evening, though, is, "It really makes you think about the things you don't want to put off anymore." It seems pointed, and he doesn't know if it's directed at him or not.
When the night comes to end, he slips his jacket around his frame and watches Kate do the same. And then she looks up at him, eyes bright and hopeful. "Hey, Castle?"
"Thanks." She pauses. "For everything."
It feels oddly like an ending, like this whole ten months of not-waiting hasn't counted and this, right here, is where their relationship ends. A final goodbye.
The closure he's been looking for.
In the cab on the way home, he types the numbers he still has memorized into the message app on his phone, and texts her his new phone number.
The chasm between them is wide, and although they occasionally text niceties, or even sometimes case details, they still barely speak, still a palpable awkwardness in the air. The anniversary of Kate's shooting officially marks three months since Castle has last seen her face-to-face, but maybe that's okay. Maybe this is as far as their relationship can go, maybe too much has changed.
It's nine days after Alexis' graduation, and she and Martha are off in Europe celebrating, so Castle plans out the day carefully with distractions and things to check off his to-do lists... But, of course, the best laid plans, and all, and he actually ends up waking at noon and pouring himself a very small glass of scotch with a sigh. The day everything changed, the day that led to the not-waiting. He needs to mourn.
Until he hears a knock on the door.
It's actually surprising that he didn't anticipate it, really, although the fact that it's the early afternoon and he's sitting at his kitchen island may allude to the fact that he anticipated it a little, subconsciously. He doesn't want to think about it. Castle moves to open the door, and even though he knows who's on the other side he doesn't expect Kate to look so fragile, small and pale and still, still much healthier than the last time he saw her.
He doesn't especially want to let her in to his home for the first time in over a year, just wants to mourn the ending of their whatever and to spend his day very carefully not thinking about the way her blood felt as it bubbled between his fingers, the way he was so sure that her eyes would never open again.
He steels himself, and lets her in.
There's a palpable awkwardness between them now, none of the comfortable familiarity of their first three years together. Of course, they've barely spoken in a year, and the rare times they have spoken there was a lot of yelling involved, a lot of hurt feelings, a lot of anger. A lot of things that still simmer under the surface every time he thinks about her, which is more often than he'd like, but he just can't let her go.
She's the first to speak. "I was scared." He doesn't exactly have anything to say to that, so he elects not to. She rambles on. "There was someone out to get me, and you said... what you said... And there was this wall inside of me that I was so sure was tied to my mother's unsolved case, and I... made the wrong call."
She's looking haggard, desperate, and it strikes Castle that there's a faint bruise on her face, that she looks all the more scared now. "Kate–"
"I made the wrong call, and when I came back, I didn't know how to fix it. I was scared. So I didn't fix it, and I needed you, and I'm so, so sorry for everything, I love you, too, of course I do, I shouldn't have sent you away or I should've called last summer or any time since, I wanted to all the time, I'm sorry–"
He cuts her off with a hug, clutching her tightly to his chest. "Kate," he says again, overwhelmed with it, with the honesty she's been so hesitant to show him. They stand there for a long time, her arms curled around his back and her face pressed into the side of his neck, her tears leaking down under his shirt.
It takes them a while, but when they finally part, she brushes the tears off her face and he just rests his hands at her elbows, steeling himself. "Kate," he starts a third time, "I stopped waiting for you to call."
The grief just spills right out of her face, and although she contains the tears, everything else about her just shuts right down. She looks as fragile as she did at Ryan's wedding, the first time he'd seen her since the shooting, and he hurries to finish the thought. "But I never stopped hoping you would."
Kate grins then, and it lights up her whole face. It's the smile he sees in his best dreams, the ones where she's happy and alive and this huge chasm between them doesn't exist anymore. "Last week," she starts, taking in a deep breath, "Last week, my mom's case – my case – opened up again, and some of the intel you gave me... Anyway. I almost died, and all I could think about was you." She steps back, distances herself again, and then seems to think better of it and steps towards him. "I know that it seems like I cut ties with you because I didn't want you in my life, but I... do. Want you in my life. Even now. Do you think that we could be... friends?"
He realizes, suddenly, that this is what he wanted: an apology. And explanation, an acknowledgement that something wrong happened, and he realizes that he's tired of being angry, of blaming her for everything. His heart swells at her, here, and it's not enough but it's a step in the right direction. "Yeah, Kate. I think that we can be friends."
But even as he says it, he's brushing closer, his hands again at her elbows, his face leaning in to so, so softly brush his lips against hers. She sighs, opening up to him, hands suddenly at his cheeks and it's all so, overwhelming gentle, still so much hurt between them. When they separate, he brings her in for another hug. He didn't stop waiting at all, did he? "I'm still mad," he murmurs.
"I know. You should be."
"I don't trust you."
"I missed you."
Her tears soak through his shirt. "I missed you, too."
It's not perfect. But it's okay.
there's no way i'm forgetting this.