A/N: This story is based off of the idea that season 8 took an alternate path after the events of 8x02, XX. I intend for a chapter to be posted every day from now until the impending Christmas holiday and I hope that, similar to last year, this story can be seen as a way of showing my appreciation this holiday season to all who take the time to read my work and show me such beautiful encouragement.
"And the night smells like snow.
Walking home for a moment
you almost believe you could start again.
And an intense love rushes to your heart,
and hope. It's unendurable, unendurable."
- Franz Wright, "Night Walk"
She doesn't know what exactly possessed her to call him last night, to leave him a voicemail when he didn't answer, requesting that he meet her at their old favorite cafe that she hasn't been to since… well, since they had rushed inside on a rainy day in late July over two years ago, seeking shelter and a decent meal.
Kate fiddles with the lid of her travel cup, resisting the urge to nervously jiggle her knee beneath the table and check her phone for the seventh time since she arrived ten minutes ago. When she had called last night, it had been late, nearly three in the morning, and she had known there was a chance he wouldn't answer, had bet on it actually. Speaking to him again was a terrifying idea, but if she was going to embrace it anyway, she wanted it to be in person.
So she had called him at 3 a.m., left him a brief, awkward message asking him to meet her in this secluded, hole in the wall cafe in SoHo, not too far from his loft, and ended the call with nothing more than her millionth apology and a whispered goodnight. Not that she had slept.
Nerves like razor-winged butterflies had inhabited her stomach for the night, for the morning that followed, and now they swarmed, shredding her insides. He may not even show.
Kate sighs, frowning down at her cooling cup of coffee. Black. She had given up on trying to make it like him, on hoping a talented barista could match it, and so she had desensitized her taste buds, drank her coffee bitter and black for the last two years.
Her back is to the door, because she can't bear the agony of looking up every time she hears it open, can't handle the disappointment that will flare each time it isn't him. Her fingers do pause in their fidgeting, though, when her ears catch the push of the door, when the spill of midmorning light reflecting off of the glass entryway spills onto the surface of her table.
Somehow, without even looking, she knows it's him. Still attuned to his presence, her body straightens with awareness, her nerves rioting worse than ever, and her chest expands with a deep breath. It has to be him.
Beckett doesn't turn her head, waiting for him to make the first move, allowing the opportunity to back out before he can step back into the whirlwind of her world, if only for a matter of minutes.
His footsteps are soft, quiet, but demand her attention the second they come into view. Richard Castle doesn't pause, though, slipping into the seat across from her without a second of hesitation, and it shouldn't give her hope, there's nothing left to hope for. But it does.
Kate lifts her eyes to meet his across the table, those same bright blue eyes she had fallen in love with, only… they no longer shine, not for her anyway. There is something soft and subdued lining his lips, blooming through his irises, but it isn't enough to mask the pallor to his skin, the dull shade of grey coloring those eyes she can barely recognize. He's thinner too, she notes, his cheeks far more hollow than she ever remembered, and tired. He looks so very tired.
"Kate." Her name coming from his lips is almost enough to make her cry on the spot, but Beckett swallows down the treacherous rise of emotion, attempts to muster up something akin to a smile for him.
"Castle," she replies, his name a precious, beloved thing on her tongue. "How are you?"
Gentle confusion creases his brow and Rick tilts his head to the side, eyes her cautiously, warily. "I thought you… I didn't know we were meeting just to - to have small talk?"
"Is that okay?" Oh, and she thought the swarm of nerves in her stomach had quieted, but no, it's wide awake and flaring now.
"I - yes? Just after almost two years of radio silence, I didn't exactly expect this," Rick hedges, his palm rising to rub at the back of his neck. "I figured you'd only want to meet to discuss something case related. Or the divorce."
She gives up on the fight with her jittery knee, allows the anxious habit to prevail. "No, not exactly. I just… wanted to see you."
"Oh." Castle, to his credit, is handling any apprehension or discomfort far better than her, clasping his hands atop the table and taking a deep breath to steady himself. "I'm not - I'm good, I guess. Well, kind of. Okay, no. I've been better."
Her lips quirk. Perhaps not as calm and collect as she had thought.
"How are Alexis and Martha doing?"
"You just talked to Alexis the other day, didn't you?" he questions, an edge to his voice that she hadn't expected. She had prepared for anger though; she deserves it.
"She only called me to consult on a case, one that coincided with the firm's," Beckett informs him with a light nod. "I haven't seen her since… I haven't seen her. And she wasn't calling to speak with me, just the Captain of the homicide division."
Castle deflates a little at that, but not with relief. "Oh," he repeats, his lips settling into a frown that appears all too normal, the lines bracketing his mouth far too severe. "Well, then you know she's doing well, taking the P.I business by storm. And Mother is well… you know her."
A chuckle scrapes past her lips, a mangled thing that hasn't crawled up her throat in a long while. She had seen Martha twice since their separation, once in the beginning, when the older woman had stopped by the precinct, and again six months later, to deliver the same, soft-spoken lecture. She hadn't told Martha the truth, but she had given the other woman a hint to her logic behind leaving, and since then, his mother had backed off.
Part of her wishes she hadn't.
"Are you doing okay?" Kate sobers at the simple question, the rehearsed I'm fine already forming on her tongue, but her head is already shaking. "Beckett?"
"No," she mumbles, lowering her eyes to the unfailing safety of her coffee cup. "Castle, the main reason I called you here was to apologize."
"For the last two years, for destroying our marriage, for… for the night I walked out to begin with," she rasps, and no, no, she swore she would not cry. Kate blinks back the stinging threat of moisture, forces herself to stop being a coward and to meet the brittle concern in his gaze. "I thought I was doing the right thing, that I was protecting you from getting hurt or - or worse."
Castle's confusion dissipates beneath the suspicion that swirls in his darkening eyes that narrow in on her. "Protecting me? Are you saying… I had been right, hadn't I?"
"No, I knew whatever it was, whatever changed your mind about us, it was connected to that case, to Bracken-"
"I never changed my mind about you," she murmurs, fighting to keep her composure, but he's beginning to lose his.
"You chose a case over our marriage."
Horror blooms in her chest, spreads like disease to her face, consuming every ounce of control she may have had left. "I didn't-"
"You did," he hisses, squaring his jaw, the tendons in his neck bulging against the barrier of his skin. "You walked out that door that night and you never - you never came back home because you'd rather chase down demons. I can't… I had never believed Bracken would be right."
"He was not-"
"Being my wife never could have been enough for you," he mutters, his anger fading, that hollowed out sorrow returning to claim him, engulfing him as he rises from the seat across from her, his eyes hardened and aimed at the door. "This was a mistake."
"Castle, wait," she gasps, staggering up from her chair and following him out of the café and into the bitter December air, a sharp pain reverberating through her chest with every step. "I'm the one who made the mistake," she calls after him, dodging pedestrians to catch up to his quick stride, curling her fingers around his forearm and bracing for him to shrug out of her touch.
But he doesn't. Castle doesn't slow, but he doesn't slap away her fingers either.
"I'll tell you everything. I'll explain all of it and then I'll mail the papers." Rick stumbles over a crack in the sidewalk, but her grip restricts him from falling, steadying him. "Castle, I know I don't deserve the time, but can I just have a few minutes with you?"
He stares down at her as if she's struck him, confused and hurt, and oh, Castle. She yearns to soothe him, to make up for all of the irreparable damage she has done.
Rick doesn't answer her, shaking her hand from its place on her arm and clasping it firmly in his before her heart can sink, starting towards the once familiar path down Broome street with a blank expression and determination in his stride.