Kate dedicates all of her free time to Castle in one way or another once he's released from the hospital with a clear diagnosis, but an unclear recovery plan. Doctor Kieffer had run a multitude of tests, confirmed the paralysis, and concluded that the only option to attempt recovery was therapy and a potential surgery in the future if no progress was made. The man had set Castle up with a month's worth of appointments, but Rick had accepted the news with a frown, his lips in a thin line and his eyes sullen through their exit from the hospital, more hopeless than she had ever witnessed him.
Beckett had threaded her fingers through his in the lobby, squeezed his hand in reassurance, and received the surprised lift of his eyes to her in return. Still so surprised every time she engaged with him like this, with the initiation of touch she had deprived them both of for the last three and a half years.
Touching had always been something she had been careful not to indulge in when it came to him, knowing from brushes in the past that it would become too much, too addicting, and she had been right. A single day of holding his hand and innocently grazing her lips to the skin of his forehead and she had already advanced into falling asleep on his shoulder and twining their fingers together as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
"It'll be okay, Castle. No matter what," she had promised him on the sidewalk before he could follow his mother and daughter into the town car that had been called in advance for them. "Nothing has to change."
He had given her a deadpan look, narrowed eyes and a wry twist of his lips, but she had been telling the truth. The rich sound of his voice may be missing, nothing more than a memory for now, but he still had his other four senses. He was still Castle.
"We'll just do a lot more texting, learn some sign language, it'll be fine," she had murmured, squeezing his hand again before moving to step away, to let him go back to the loft with his family, but Castle hadn't been willing to release her hand.
"You might as well join us for dinner, kiddo," Martha had stated with an amused grin, already slipping out of the backseat to sit up front with the driver, leaving enough room for her, but it hadn't been her place and she had bit her bottom lip, shifted away from him-
Castle had tugged gently on her hand, shot her a pleading look that she had failed to resist, not this time, and she had told herself only this once, but that had been a lie. Whether it be dinners and days off at the loft or practicing her ASL lessons before bed in her own apartment, the majority of her time manages to be spent with Castle in some way or another.
They had both downloaded apps onto their phones that first night, practicing daily and learning to exchange words and bits of conversations little by little with their hands. When Castle is too lazy, though, he'll snag a piece of paper, write her a note and hold it up for her to read.
You don't have to learn too, Beckett. I'm mute, not deaf.
"I want to learn," she'd replied, snatching the pen from his fingers before he could come up with a new protest. She's aware that she doesn't need to know sign language to communicate with him, she's aware that she doesn't have to be at the loft so often, but leaving him alone hurts too much, elicits a rush of guilt and a hollow spot the sound of his voice once filled, aching and raw in her chest. "I'm where I want to be."
The smile had stretched across his lips, tentative and lovely, relieved. She had always been able to read him, but even more so now, able to determine even the slightest difference in his facial expressions, in his smiles.
"Besides," she had mused, rearranging herself on the sofa they shared, nudging him with her shoulder as she'd reclined into the cushioning beside him. "I thought you'd be totally into having a secret code, Castle."
His eyebrows had hitched just before his lips curled into a grin and he had leaned past her for the pen she had stolen, slipped it from her grasp to scribble on the notebook that he now keeps glued to his side at all times.
Only you would manage to make sign language sexy.
Kate smirks at the memory, only a week old now as she steps out of the elevator, adjusting her grip on the bag of takeout for four, and starts down the hall, digging her recently acquired key from her coat pocket with her opposite hand. But before she can reach Castle's front door, it's swinging open and a flash of red is storming towards her.
"Alexis?" she calls in concern just before the girl can blow past her. "Hey, what happened?"
His daughter comes to a stop, her eyes shimmering with frustration and moisture, her bottom lip trembling and her brow fiercely knit, a crumpled piece of paper in her fist. Ever since Beckett had made it a part of her routine to stop by at the loft on a regular basis, she and Alexis had found an unspoken middle ground. Beckett was aware that his daughter still didn't necessarily approve of having Kate in her father's life, but she wasn't going to protest it and had proceeded to treat her with a polite form of indifference.
"Nothing," Alexis mutters, blinking a few times before meeting Kate's gaze with barely restrained irritation. "It's nothing. Dad was just being a little…"
"Difficult?" Kate supplies with an arch of her brow and Alexis sighs, nods in reply.
"We never fought like this before the accident, and I know I should be more patient, sympathetic, but his fuse is just so short and I should be able to handle it, but he - you're the only one who can calm him down," Alexis admits with a frown claiming her mouth and splotches of color staining the apples of her cheeks. "You're the only one he'll practice ASL with without getting upset, you're the only one who understands what he's saying just by the single sound he makes, you're the only one who can comfort him, and I just - why you?" Alexis demands, confusion and hurt swelling in her eyes, the paper in her hand falling, revealing a crumpled up flashcard. "I'm his daughter, I-"
"That's exactly it," Kate interrupts gently, choosing her words carefully, prepared for a verbal attack from the girl she balances on eggshells around most days. "You're his daughter and you are unquestionably the most important person in his life, Alexis. But you're also his little girl and I think it's hard for him to push all of this off on you, to let you carry any of the weight this… impairment has brought him."
"But he's fine doing it to you?" Alexis challenges, crossing her arms over her chest, but the ice shards of her eyes are melting, some of her defenses lowering, and Kate seizes on the opportunity.
"Your dad and I are partners. More so now than ever," Kate explains, flexing her fingers around the plastic bag in her grasp. "Relying on one another, having each other's back, is what we do."
Alexis doesn't speak for a handful of seconds, each one ticking by at an agonizingly slow pace, before she purses her lips, drops her eyes to the foot of space between them.
"Were you partners last summer? When you left him alone for three months?" Alexis questions quietly, the venom in her voice gone, but it doesn't stop the words from stinging. "When you broke his heart?"
Kate releases a soundless breath, the air rushing past her chapped lips. "I can't change the choices I made, Alexis. All I can do is make up for hurting him, be there for him now, prove to him, and to you, that it won't happen again."
Alexis glances back over her shoulder, her gaze settling on the partially closed front door, and sucks in a breath.
"You make him happy, you know," she murmurs and Kate swallows against the climb of color she can feel scaling her throat, the acceleration of her heart in her chest "I know I haven't been your biggest fan, Detective Beckett, but I'm grateful for that."
"Me too," she confesses, earning a surprised return of Alexis's eyes to her most definitely reddened face. "And it's Kate, you know that. Now, why don't you come back inside with me, I picked up Chinese on the way here."
Alexis's lips twitch ever so subtly in the corners as her gaze darts to the bag Kate lifts from her side.
"Dad will like that. I think he's going crazy from soup and soft foods," Alexis chuckles, turning back towards the door and holding it open for Kate, following in after her.
"I ordered him a lot of lo mein. Noodles of a different variety at least," she muses, allowing Alexis to accept the bag of food while she slips out of her coat, hangs the trench in the closet.
A few steps forward, out of the foyer, reveals Castle on the couch, a mini dry erase board that Alexis had purchased for him online now in his lap, a scatter of colored markers on the coffee table in front of him. His eyes are bright when they find hers, a brilliant shade of blue that compliments the smile he wears as she draws closer.
"Hey, Castle, throwing tantrums I hear," she teases, quirking one of her eyebrows at him, but he waves her off, reaches for the black marker and scribbles something on the white board beneath the apology he has prepared for Alexis.
I may not be able to speak, but my hearing still works perfectly.
Her heart drops with the realization, picks up again, and she sighs, plops down next to him on the sofa. Alexis is in the kitchen, distributing food from the takeout boxes onto three different plates, and Beckett capitalizes on the moment of privacy with him, leans into his side and presses her cheek to the rounded edge of his shoulder.
Castle's hand abandons the board, migrates to splay at her knee, his thumb circling her patella out of habit.
The tap of his marker to the board draws her attention to where he has the communication tool balanced on his knees.
"Yeah," she murmurs, covering the hand on her knee, fitting her fingers between the spaces of his. "Are you?"
He shrugs and Kate raises her head, meets his eyes when he turns to face her. Never before has she taken notice of their age difference, never before has he physically appeared the near ten years older than her, but since the accident, he looks ragged more often than not. Exhaustion and frustration deepening the lines carved into his face, the crows' feet branching from his eyes, the parenthesis bracketing his mouth that used to be from nothing more than excessive smiling. He may not be able to speak, his voice may be gone, but he was still her partner, still a best-selling novelist, still the man she… loves. And she had to convince him of that.
Beckett bites her lip and lifts her free hand to his throat, trails her index finger down the outline of his trachea, stalling in the hollow of bone at the base. Castle watches her with curious eyes and bated breath, but she's serious when she speaks.
"Just because this isn't working right now doesn't mean you have to change, Castle. It's only been a week, your voice could still come back," she reminds him, ignoring the doubt that dulls his vibrant eyes. "But regardless of what happens, we're going to get through this. Together."
Light ripples through his eyes, the fingers at her knee tightening, and his mouth opens, the 'thank you' silent but readable on his lips.
Alexis is calling them to the table, the sound of silverware and glasses clinking in the adjoining room, and Kate uses their tangled hands to haul him to his feet, standing with him there for just a moment before she drags him and the marker board attached to his hand to the dining area.
He's been staying home from cases more often since losing his voice, answering Kate's texts with thin excuses that she never buys, his lack of speaking ability discouraging him from spending much time outside of the loft. Communication without his words is an unending, obscenely frustrating struggle, and attempting it at the precinct would be a nightmare. But he regrets his choice when Kate shows up on his doorstep the night of his mother's one woman show a few days later, that full smile that reveals a glimpse of her teeth and reaches up for her eyes on display as his mother invites her in with a flourish of her arms and an unending string of compliments.
"Oh, Katherine! I'm so thrilled you could make it in time, darling! Richard has been utterly miserable without-"
A strangled rasp of protest is all he can manage, but it's enough to silence his mother, evoke an amused smirk of Kate's lips as she accepts the glass of champagne from Martha and enters the living room. She takes a seat beside him on the sectional that's been pushed out of the way for his mother's makeshift stage of the open floor, her thigh pressing against his, the warmth of her body searing through his clothes.
"Hey stranger," she murmurs, nudging him with her shoulder while she settles in close, and the curve of his mouth is genuine for her, the smile she pulls from him so easy. "You're going to hate yourself for skipping out on this most recent case."
Castle arches one of his eyebrows at her in response, tilts his head towards her in askance, and she's right. After regaling him with details of the fairytale themed murders, he's cursing himself for staying home and pouting the days away instead.
Though, with all of his free time, he has been improving rather impressively with his signing skills. He's sure she'll be able to read his lips, she's become quite skilled in configuring the silent words that form, her eyes always trained on his mouth, but he lifts his hands anyway.
Thank you for coming.
The pride that sparkles gold in her hazel eyes is the best reward he could have hoped for.
"Alright, everyone, two minute warning," his mother calls from the kitchen. "The show is about to begin!"
"No place I'd rather be, Castle," Kate murmurs, reclining back against the sofa, into the tentative curl of his arm around her shoulders when her body leans into his side.
He notices Alexis's eyes flicker their way from the armchair a few feet away, her lips in a subtle grin, her eyes sapphire with approval, and when did that happen? But he doesn't have the time to figure out his daughter's change of heart before his mother is sauntering towards the middle of the room, shooting him a wink as she assesses the scene in front of her, and clears her throat to begin her monologue. His attention is stuck on the woman tucked into his side, though, unable to concentrate on the flair of dramatics they've all gathered here to witness.
Kate has been coming by for the entirety of the two and a half weeks since he had been discharged from the hospital, and in the beginning, he had feared that he'd become an obligation to her, that it was her guilt drawing her to the doorstep of his loft so often. But she wouldn't smile at him the way she does, caress him with her gaze, out of guilt, would she? She wouldn't stay after dinner and discuss his daughter's internship with her, share a glass of wine with his mother and listen to her latest Broadway endeavors if that's all this was. She wouldn't smear a kiss to his cheek every night at the door, and curl up on the couch with him like she is in this very moment out of guilt. No, not Kate Beckett.
This isn't guilt, isn't pity; she's where she wants to be.
After the conclusion of his mother's performance, after they both wish her, the playwright Alexis is reluctant to see go, and his daughter a good night, they're both left standing alone in the living room, Kate's bottom lip trapped between her teeth as she spares a glance towards the door.
It's nearing eleven and he expects her to inform him that she has to go. They've run out of reasons for her to stay and besides, despite the extra time she's been spending with him, it doesn't change the fact that they're still waiting, that there's still a wall between him and her heart. She has to go. It's unavoidable.
Beckett sighs, knows it just as well as he does, and Castle follows her to the door, retrieves her coat from the closet and holds it up for her to slip her arms through. He takes his time easing the silk of her hair from the collar, smoothing his hands down her shoulders, listening to her breath hitch.
When Kate turns around to face him, to say goodbye, she drops her gaze to his mouth, and oh, that's so unfair. It's bad enough when she reads his lips, watching her eyes study the words forming without sound, but this? This is how she would look at him regardless of whether he could speak or not, the flick of her eyes to his mouth and back again.
It hurts, strains the single cord connected to his voice box that is undamaged, but he fights to set free the whisper of her name.
Surprise ripples through the amber pools of her irises, the flecks of gold shining brighter, illuminating the traces of green surrounding the midnight pools of her pupils, and thank god the vocal therapy finally has a payoff.
"You - is it coming back?" she breathes with subdued hope in the back of her throat. "Your voice?"
He wants so badly to nod, to tell her yes, but it would be a lie, too soon to make the promise. The hoarse whisper of her name had been the most he's said since the accident and it had taken far too much effort. With a quiet sigh, he's forced to raise his hands between them, the gestures still slow, awkward, but Kate understands, makes the translation before he can finish the full words. She had picked the wordless language up even quicker than he had.
Only a little.
"Better than nothing," she points out, but he frowns.
"It has to be," Kate argues, wiping his mind clean of any and all he had hoped to communicate through the movement of his hands, the weeks of study gone when she touches her fingers to his cheek, drapes her palm at his neck, the heartlines of her hand traveling over the thud of his pulse point. "It's enough for now. Enough for me."
His head begins to shake again, because no, how could this be enough for her? A man who struggled to speak to her, who could manage no more than the pathetic rasp of her name when he had so much more to say, so many words, confessions, promises, that he should have said when he had the chance.
A strangled noise catches in his throat, grief for all of those missed opportunities, mourning for all the times he allowed subtext over blatant honesty.
She isn't ready, despite being here with him now, the last two and a half weeks of standing by him, her walls were still in place and nothing changed that. He reminded himself of the reality time and time again, but how many more chances would he have to tell her the truth? What if the next thing he lost wasn't his voice? What if it was worse?
"Castle?" she murmurs in concern, but he shakes his head again, catches one of her hands at his jaw, brings it to his chest, and places her palm flat over his heart. It isn't the correct sign, isn't part of any language at all, but somehow, Kate is able to distinguish what he's saying all too easily.
Timing is bad, he attempts to sign with one hand, trying so hard to ignore the train of her gaze on the hand he has pinned to his chest, hoping she can't feel how harshly his heart pounds to meet her palm. But you need to know-
Kate catches his hand mid-sentence, traps the words with the curl of her fingers. His heart sinks, rejection coiling around the exposed muscle, but her eyes have shifted to their hands, to the fit of her fingers between his, the tangle of digits and flirt of palms.
"I know you have a lot to say," she tells him, a wry curl to the corner of her mouth. "But there's a few things I need to say first."
His brow arches in response, surprised, but Rick nods for her to go on, intrigued and afraid of what could come out of her mouth next. She looks determined but apprehensive, her free hand clenching in the front of his dress shirt, and he wonders if the beat of her heart matches the nervous patter of his.
"Castle, when the car went into the Hudson, when you were unconscious and we just kept sinking, I thought I'd lost you for sure," she admits, the line of her throat rippling with a rough swallow, her eyes darkening, murky like the waters of the river. He still felt guilt over that, ridiculous and unwarranted, he knows, but guilty nonetheless for leaving her alone in those terrifying moments, for failing as her partner. "Then the next day with Sophia... I thought I was done, that I was going to die, but the worst part was knowing I was never going to see you again."
Something breaks within his chest, his lungs shriveling into nothing as the breath rushes out of him, and Castle lifts his hand from over hers atop his sternum, cradles the slash of her cheek in his palm and strokes her temple with the stretch of his thumb. He gives up all hope of breathing normally again when she offers him a gentle smile, her face tilting into his touch and her eyes fluttering closed, as if she savors his touch.
"I've told you before that I know I'm not the easiest person to get to know, to - to care about. Know I don't always let on what's on my mind…" she muses, echoing words from years past, memories of a lonely summer spent with someone who wasn't her swirling in the back of his mind. "But I need you to know this."
Kate's chest rises with the breath she inhales, the soothing sensation of her thumb at the corner of his eye bracing him for whatever big reveal is about to fall from her lips, but really, nothing can prepare him for what she's about to say.
"No matter what happens with your voice, whether it comes back or you never speak again, you have to know that I - I loved you before the accident, quite a while before," she confesses, her eyes shy, flickering from his wide eyed gaze to the hand still resting over his rioting heart, and her lip between her teeth. "And I loved you after it, Castle. I love you now."
For a split second, he's too shocked to move, the numerous 'I love you's in her voice, a daydream brought to life, playing on a dizzying loop in his head, but then he's surging for her, banding his arms around her body as he kisses her, pressing his aching smile to her lips.
A chuckle scrapes its way up her throat, trapped between them, but then Kate is rising on her toes, the hand at his cheek sliding into the soft hair at the base of his skull, the stroke of her fingers sending electricity down his spine.
Her back bumps against the door and he draws away for a breath, bumps his forehead to hers.
"S… stay," he gets out, painfully, his eyes fluttering.
His heart exalts with relief when she nods, nose colliding with his before she leans in to sear another kiss to his mouth, suffusing him with warmth and want and affirmation. Kate reaches for one of the hands spanning her waist, twines their fingers and begins to lead him towards a bedroom she's never seen.
Her coat disappears in his office, landing on the sofa near the doorway, her heels near his desk, shirt and pants on his bedroom floor, and they've barely made it to his bed before he's branding the words into her skin with the feathering of his lips.
I love you. I love you. I love you.
The kiss of morning light and the cool whisper of air along her exposed back coaxes her awake, her eyes fluttering open to land on the man lying next to her in the bed. Castle's eyes are closed, but his hand is awake, the tips of his fingers mapping out the river of her spine, the landscape of her bones, traveling up to her nape to caress the baby fine hairs at the base of her skull.
The smile is already flirting along the edges of her lips, her body still gloriously loose and sated from the night before, but her heart is giddy and alive with this newfound pleasure of standing on the other side of her wall with him, the remains of brick and mortar nothing more than rubble at their feet. She's convinced that he can sense her smiling, his eyes peeling open mere seconds later, and he touches his thumb to the upturned corner of her mouth, grins when she turns her head just enough to brush her lips to his palm.
She watches Castle swallow with some difficulty, but the smile on his lips doesn't fade, even as he opens his mouth, attempts to speak with great effort.
"Kate," he rasps, the scrape of his voice a welcome sound to her ears. "Hi."
Beckett laughs softly and uses her elbows to crane her body towards him, breach the small space of empty sheets to dust her smile along his.
"What's that, four words in just twelve hours?" she mumbles, pride and hope swimming together in her chest. She had told him the truth last night, she would love him with our without his voice, but she knows how badly he wants it back, how he yearns to speak again.
"In…" Castle pauses, steadies his breathing and tries to clear his throat, though they both know it's no use, but he won't give up. "Inspired."
Her laugh is louder this time, muffled by the skin of his cheek she presses her lips to.
"You'll be talking again in no time," she sighs, believing it, and Castle's cheek rises beneath her mouth.
He whispers her name, nothing more than an exhale, and she hums her response, slips her knee between both of his and patiently waits for the words attempting to form. It takes him a few minutes, his chest straining with effort, his throat rippling with too many hard swallows, and Kate strokes his side, strums the cage of his ribs to soothe the building frustration until the tension in his body recedes and he releases the words into her hair.
"I love you too."