A/N: This story is set post 3x24, Knockout, and follows the idea that Castle never returned to the precinct after Beckett's shooting.
He isn't looking where he's going, staring at the passing cobblestones beneath his feet, allowing his mind to wander, going over the trivial things he needs to do in his head.
Eat something, shower, sleep. He just wants to sleep.
He's living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, trying to cross number 19 off his bucket list - spend a year in Paris - and so far all he wants to do is hole up in his apartment and catch up on rest that will never sustain him. He's been struggling with the fourth Nikki Heat novel for months, the words all wrong and jumbled, the story in shambles. Deciding to go to Paris had been a spontaneous choice, made solely to escape from the worried eyes of his family and the demanding screech of his publisher. It's been only three weeks so far and everyone believes he's doing well, up and writing again.
He's been lying to them all. Paris is a great relief, though, an escape where he can wallow in his sorrow rather than hide it behind a mask of indifference or feigned happiness.
His daughter makes him happy, his mother does too, but his heart still aches with what's missing. Paris allows him to feel without judgment.
He isn't looking where he's going, too caught up in the whirlwind of his mind, and he nearly knocks the woman he bumps into to the ground.
"I'm so sorry," he says immediately, catching the sharp juts of the woman's elbows to steady her before she can hit the sidewalk. "I should have-"
His sentence dies when the stranger lifts her head. Soft curls hanging limply at her shoulders do nothing to hide her face - the sharp slashes of cheekbones, the familiar flesh of long abused lips, the unmistakable pools of hazel eyes.
Not a stranger at all.
It's been over a year since he last saw her and after all this time, of all places, he's literally bumped into her in the middle of Paris.
"Castle," she whispers, her curled fingers tightening around his forearms and he jerks away as if she's burned him, as if he's seen a ghost.
"What are you doing here?"
She bites her lip, steps closer once more only to send him pedaling backwards, nearly colliding with yet another pedestrian.
"I - I went to the loft," she reveals, attempting to steer him towards a nearby bench on the sidewalk without touching him. "The day before yesterday, I wanted - I'd hoped to see you. Your mom told me how to find you."
He rubs at his eyes and forces himself to take a deep breath. His own mother had ratted him out.
"What are you doing here?" he repeats because she still hasn't explained and he still doesn't understand.
A year of radio silence and all of the sudden she's showing up at his home, asking for him? Makes no sense.
Kate shuffles her shoes on the sidewalk. Ballet flats scraping against stone, so unlike the Beckett and the power heels he remembered.
"I needed to talk to you."
"There's always a phone. Oh wait, almost forgot. You're not good with those," he snaps, surprising even himself with the density of his anger, the bitterness, but she had turned him away after he'd confessed his love to her as she bled out in his arms, and then hadn't had the decency to even call afterwards. He thinks that maybe he deserves to be a little more than bitter.
"Castle, please just hear me out-"
"The time for that has passed, Beckett," he mutters, shaking his head as he turns away from her. His apartment is the other way, but he doesn't care. He'll take a cab back to his place later, he just needs to get away from her.
"Rick." Her hand snags in his shirt, but before he can even turn to brush the offending fingers away, he hears her gasp - a sound of pain - and instinct to check on her, to care for her, has him spinning on the spot, concern betraying his indignation and flaring in his gut when he sees her clutching her ribs. "Castle," she wheezes, tightening her grip on the sleeve of his button down and trying to stand up straight even as her spine threatens to bow. It's been a year and her body is still so fragile? "Please don't go."
"I can't do this," he says, automatic, because he can't seem to move away, but he forces his hand to rise, to dislodge her fingers from his shirt. "I can't do this again."
"It was a mistake. That entire summer, everything after - I messed up, Castle. I thought I needed time, but I should have just - I should have called."
Shit, she has tears in her eyes and he's always hated seeing her cry. But a few tears and a brief explanation cannot heal all of the pain she's caused, is still causing. He doesn't think he can forgive her for this.
"We're done, Kate."
He makes it only a few steps down the street before the uneven ring of her voice follows him.
"If you still love me, in any way at all, please don't go yet."
The fury rages in his chest like a beast, clawing at his ribs and ripping his compassion to shreds, and he turns on his heel, storms forward until they're mere inches apart.
"Don't you dare use that against me," he growls, fisting his hands at his sides to refrain from shaking her. "You don't even remember that, Beckett. You didn't want to remember it."
"That isn't true!" she protests, too loud for a sidewalk in the middle of the city. They're starting to draw attention and the last thing he needs is to be recognized. But then she grabs his hand, encasing his thick fingers within the small palms of hers, and holds tight, and his focus zeros in on her touch despite his anger. "I was a mess after the shooting and I had hoped that once I was better - once I had healed - I could tell you the truth. I was hoping we could... I wanted to be strong enough to say it back to you."
He steels himself against her words, tamps down even the faintest hint of hope her explanation evokes. She lied to him, she's never wanted him; it's all lies.
"I have to go, Kate. I just - I have to go."
He tugs his hand free, trying not to look at her crestfallen face or feel the ghost of her fingers still branded into his skin as he walks away.