A/N: Inspired by a fantastic idea (that I believe I did so little justice) from the lovely Anabela.
She hasn't unpacked.
The light duffel bag she had hastily packed that night after returning from her talk with Rita remains filled, organized a little more conveniently but otherwise hardly touched, and she's reluctant to change that. She had thrown in enough clothing to live on for a couple of weeks – a multitude of blouses, a few pantsuits and pencil skirts, and two pairs of shoes that fit well with most of her daily attire.
Perhaps it was a little presumptuous to think that she could have all of this laid to rest within two to three weeks, but she'll work her hardest to achieve the goal, to refrain from returning home to pack another bag's worth of clothing.
God, just the thought causes her chest to burn and tighten with the threat of caving in again. She wants the majority of her wardrobe to remain in the closet they share, hanging and folded and stacked alongside his.
Beckett sits back on her heels, bent over the overflowing duffel and frowning down at the contents. It's been three days since she had walked out and her heart is still throbbing with the large crack she's made, the jagged edges infected, pumping guilt and grief through her veins. She misses her husband.
Kate bites her lip to keep from crying – she's already cried twice today, that's the limit – and stands with a wince, her bones feeling frail, laced in imaginary aches and pains born of her own self-inflicted suffering. Her apartment is cold and lonely, as it's always been and yet somehow worse now, even darker after once experiencing his light.
Her cousin, Sophia, had conveniently found a new place a few weeks ago, closer to her job with a rent price she couldn't pass up, and Beckett had been undecided on what to do with the place. Until now.
Now, the Tribeca apartment was to serve as her temporary haven once more. Though, it felt like anything but sanctuary.
Beckett trudges her way from the bedroom into the adjoining bathroom, her bag of toiletries clutched to her chest, and turns on the shower while she unpacks the travel sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner. She's aware that it's rather ridiculous, treating her old apartment like a hotel, but it felt better than allowing herself to unpack her things, to even fathom the idea of being comfortable here again. Not without him.
She showers methodically, almost mechanically, standing beneath the scalding spray only long enough to wash her hair and scrub her body clean. Her flesh and bones yearn for a good, long bath, but she won't allow herself that luxury. Punishing herself, Burke would probably call it, disciplining herself in the only way she currently can. And oh, wouldn't her therapist have an absolute ball with her emotional instability if she were seeing him right now.
Kate rubs the lone towel hanging on the rack through her hair before she can further in psychoanalyzing herself, squeezes the excess water free from the lengthening locks, and proceeds to wrap it around her body. She's forgotten to eat, she realizes as her stomach growls at her from beneath the fabric, angry and mistreated, but her appetite has disappeared, the thought of food stirring the nausea in the empty pit.
Toast, she tries to compromise with herself while she tiptoes out of the bathroom, Castle always managed to cajole her into at least a slice of warmed bread during the times she's felt too sick to eat. Castle would have coaxed her into a slice of toast with some fruit on the side, a glass of milk for protein and calcium…
The frown creasing her lips has her rethinking the idea as she returns to the drab bedroom adorned only with a bed, the basic furniture pieces she had left behind prior to moving into the loft, and the lamp near the doorway. All of her personal décor was in their bedroom at home, or incorporated into other parts of the loft, and Sophia had of course packed up all of her things, leaving Kate's old bedroom depressingly bare. It fit though, helped with her theme of temporary, motivated her to get back to the comforts of her true home quicker.
Kate kneels before the duffel bag once more, plucks a pair of black cotton underwear and one of her few pajama options from the piece of luggage. She slips the large t-shirt over her head before she can think about it, draws the collar to her nose and hums at the lingering scent of his aftershave.
She had packed two of his shirts, the two she favors most, two that are essentially her own. He'll notice that they're gone, he notices everything, but she doesn't mind, hopes it helps, honestly, and reassures him that she has no intention of keeping him off of her mind. Quite the opposite, actually.
Kate stands, steps into the underwear and smooths her hand down the length of his t-shirt, fingering the hem that grazes the tops of her thighs. He likes to tease her about this one, always shooting her a knowing look each time she wears the thinning material to bed. She's had the faded red nightshirt for over five years now, adopting it during her first stay in his home, when she had lost almost every scrap of clothing she had owned to the explosion of her apartment or relinquished them to the dry cleaner's for the week.
Rick had knocked on the door of the guest bedroom that first night, not long after she had climbed up the stairs and left him sitting alone with the hot chocolate Alexis had made for them, and held up a folded stack of varying pieces of clothing donated from his daughter, his mother, and himself.
"It's not much and don't feel obligated to wear any of it, of course," he had told her with an oddly shy expression claiming his face while his body swayed, nervously shifting from foot to foot. "But I thought… well, you need pajamas, right?" He had shrugged, so sheepish and adorable and causing her heart to flutter in all of the worst and most wonderful ways. "Oh, and here's a spare toothbrush."
She had smiled at him, giving up on holding back the lift of her lips, and accepted the clothes, and the toothbrush he offered her.
"Thank you, Castle."
She had run into him again that night, at around two a.m. when her insomnia had prevailed and her thirst for a glass of water had sent her tiptoeing down the stairs. She hadn't expected him to emerge from his office, dressed for bed but wide-awake, writing she had concluded. She hadn't expected for the pleased look on his face once he noticed her attired to elicit a pleasant fluttering in her stomach either.
"Good choice," he had smirked, joining her in the kitchen, retrieving his own glass from the cabinet. Kate had nudged him with her shoulder, rolling her eyes for good measure, but the large, engulfing red t-shirt she had found in the donated pile of clothing was comfortable, warm and light on her skin. And it carried the faint scent of him in the fabric.
Beckett blinks against the memory, forces herself out of the bedroom and towards the kitchen that holds the meager haul of groceries she had picked up earlier, but she can't stop herself from toying senselessly with the fabric draping her body while she snags a piece of bread from the box next to the microwave, fiddles with the toaster.
The shirt has a growing hole in the shoulder now, gaping to leave a stretch of skin just above her collarbone bare, a feature Castle has taken advantage of many times. Her husband is probably the reason the tear in the material continues to widen. She hooks her thumb in the hole, her fingernail dipping inside to pierce her skin like his teeth sometimes would-
Kate draws her hand away, nearly jumps at the pop of her toast, unthinkingly scalds her fingers on the hot bread.
She growls, sucking on her seared index finger and reaching for a paper towel. She's never going to be able to put an end to LockSat if she can't even remove her toast from the damn toaster without doing damage.
Or be alerted by the vibration of her phone on the counter without jerking.
Beckett reaches for the device with dread, knowing that at this time of night it can only be one of three options: the precinct, Vikram, or her husband. She doesn't feel up to facing any of them, doesn't feel strong enough to be the Captain of the Twelfth, to delve back into the investigation consuming her life, to try to explain to Castle why she can't come home yet without telling him the truth.
Kate answers the phone before it can go to voicemail, pinches the bridge her nose at the solemn greeting from Vikram on the other line, at the proceeding but brief progress report he had promised to deliver.
"You're sure you're up for this, Beckett?" he asks once he's read out the summary of information. Nothing new, not yet, but it's okay. They're still in the beginning stages of this investigation, still digging for information and searching for leads, but they're moving forward, still making progress, no matter how small. "It's not too late to take a step back."
Beckett drops her gaze to the t-shirt adorning her body, takes a deep breath of the man clinging to the material. She has to get this done, flush out Bracken's partner and neutralize the threat to her life, to her happiness; she has to get back home to him without worrying about what dangers may be following her there.
Kate curls her fingers into her t-shirt. "I'm sure."
The sun still rests below the horizon when she slips into the loft, toeing off her shoes near the front door to avoid waking him with the click of her heels. It's been a month, a full month since she's been inside the loft, lived in her home and slept in her bed, and the reality of it has the gaping wound split down the middle of her sternum stinging, spreading the ache through her bones. She's beginning to question if taking down LockSat is worth the misery of staying away from the loft, from him.
But it isn't the time to mull over that decision, not now. She came here with a mission.
Kate tiptoes through the loft, through his study and into their bedroom, pausing once inside to admire him in the predawn light, the final vestiges of moonlight bleeding across his chest, kissing the exposed side of his face. Beckett sighs and turns her back on Castle's sleeping figure to slip into their closet, finding her desired pieces of clothing in seconds, tossing them into the compact duffel.
She had planned to grab her clothes and go, but hesitates before she can exit their room, her eyes landing on the bureau against the wall. She doesn't need any of the contents inside and yet…
Kate bites her bottom lip and pads silently across the room, eases the middle drawer open and runs her fingers along the folded array of Rick's t-shirts, withdrawing three more before she can reprimand herself for it. Perhaps it's silly, pathetic even, but sleeping in his clothing, coaxing her mind into believing he's there, wrapped around her, is the only way she can find rest most nights.
"Stealing m'shirts?" The duffel hanging from her arm nearly flies to the floor when she spins, her heart pounding ridiculously hard, but it's only Castle, watching her with soft, sleepy eyes that flutter with the struggle to stay open. "S'okay, Kate. Take them."
Her fingers obey his slurred command, dropping the t-shirts from their grip into the small piece of luggage, but her feet follow the unspoken orders of her heart, lead her towards the bed, tug her down to her knees next to the mattress' edge.
Castle doesn't speak, staring at her through the slow blinks of his hazy eyes, but he does reach for her, brushing his palm over her cheek, his fingers through her hair. Kate catches his wrist, covers the back of his hand with her own and turns her head to smear a kiss to his warm palm.
"Go back to sleep, babe," she whispers, proud of her voice for holding steady despite how fragile it sounds to even her own ears.
The frown lines surrounding his mouth deepen and Kate lowers her hand from its place atop his, traces her thumb over the downturned corners, but the carved in creases of sorrow refuse to disappear from his skin even as his eyes drift closed at her touch.
"I love you," he mumbles, the hand cradling her jaw slipping to drape along the side of her neck.
Kate hunches forward, hovering above him so she can press a kiss to his forehead, inhaling the comforting scent of his soap and sleep on his skin, gently withdrawing his hand from her neck to rest beneath the comforter.
"I love you too," she breathes into his hair, squeezing his fingers once before letting go. Beckett rises from the floor, the caps of her knees already aching from their time against the hardwood, and starts back towards the door. He's already drifting away, his eyes closed and his face slack, breathing steady, and despite how she has managed to taint the word, she speaks it into the silence before she departs. "Always."
The next time she comes home, her duffel slung over her shoulder, a small stack of his t-shirts are already arranged on her side of the closet, waiting for her, but she doesn't need them.
She's here to unpack.