Her duffel bag is light, easy enough for her to carry without issue, without needing any help, and it's a relief to not need assistance in completing a simple task for the first time in the last three months.
She loves her father, will forever appreciate him for devoting an entire summer to ensuring her comfort and a healthy recovery, but neither of them are wired to stay cooped up in a cabin and she was grateful each time he went out for a couple of days once the constant, everyday care was no longer necessary. At least one of them could be free for a while.
Kate flexes her fingers around the bag's strap, lets it bump her outer thigh as she steps out of the elevator, and attempts to walk down the hallway to her apartment in normal, steady strides. She's better, she is, she's just… tender, that's all.
She fishes her keys from the pocket of her jeans, not necessarily eager to return to her lonely apartment, but ready. Her lungs fill with determination as she inhales a deep breath, slows before she can reach her door, but all of her carefully constructed motivation withers at the sight of a package sitting just outside.
For a second, her heart splinters with paranoia, but the possibility of a threat begins to fade away as she studies the simple brown box with a playful, pale blue address card stamped atop the upper left hand corner, a parade of elephants lining the decorative packaging. She has no idea what this is or who had sent it, but she strongly doubts the man who shot her would mail her a bomb or a parcel full of poison with pretty blue paper with parading elephants lining her address.
Beckett reaches forward to unlock the door first, having to nudge with her shoulder when the it sticks to the frame after lacking use for so long, and grits her teeth as she bends to retrieve the box, tucking it under her arm before stepping inside.
Her place looks the same, untouched, and it sets her heart at ease, but stirs a sorrow in her chest too. The last time she had been here, she had been sitting on her couch with Castle and the boys after Montgomery had been killed, after she and Rick had fought just a few feet away from where she stands now.
We are over.
Kate blinks and places her duffel on the foyer's floor, reminds herself that she really needs to get some cleaning done before she heads back to work next week, at least sweep the floors and cleanse them of the thin layer of dust that's gathered over the hardwood. She can see that the small cluster of plants she had been tending to in the far window have succumb to the neglect, withered and dead in the sunlight, and she sighs, feels a pang of guilt for the mistreated basil and rosemary, but really, they'd never had a chance with her.
Nothing ever does. Everything she comes into contact with seems to do the same – wither and die.
She rolls her eyes, getting a little melodramatic there, Beckett, and locks the front door, slides the deadbolt into place, and continues on into the kitchen. Beckett sets the package down atop the counter, studies the address to ensure it's correct, but it's her name, her address, and she searches for a knife in the drawer near the sink.
She slices through the tape with care, just enough to ease the lid of the box open, reveal the matching blue layer of crepe paper covering whatever the cardboard contains. It floats to the floor as she moves it out of the way, reaches inside to withdraw the remaining contents, confusion drawing her brow into a deep crease as her fingers drift over something soft. She closes her hand around the plush material, lifting a stuffed elephant to the surface, and something in her heart goes still, melts at the same time.
It's a plush elephant, sinfully soft and grey, long floppy ears and velvety feet, soulful black eyes and a curved, downy trunk.
And she doesn't even have to guess to know it was him. That Castle sent her this.
Kate draws the stuffed animal to her chest as she dips her hand back into the box, pulls out the black pair of women's socks stamped with a pattern of elephants, male and female, with twined trunks decorating the fabric. There's a card too, an adorable cartoon elephant that depicts the one in her arms, reading 'You're Elephant-astic' across the top.
She smiles despite herself, tries to conceal it, but can't. And for a second she forgets – forgets the fight, the funeral, the last three months she spent trying to heal but knowing full well that she was hurting him in the process – and it almost feels like none of it happened as she stands in her kitchen with a plush elephant held against her heart, a pair of themed socks on her countertop that she'd never have worn otherwise, and the card in her fingers that she's almost afraid to open.
But she's done being afraid, especially of something meant to do the opposite of hurting her, and she flips the card open, scans her eyes over the impersonally typed note, but they're still his words written across the white interior.
I saw this online, thought of the elephants you've always kept on your desk, and I just hope this can make you smile.
Simple, sweet, breaking her heart in two.
The things he would do to make her smile and she couldn't even answer one of a full month's worth of phone calls. She had been healing, she had needed that time away, she reminds herself, but… but maybe she handled everything wrong where Castle was concerned. She'd needed her space from everything, him included, but perhaps she could have told him that – told him anything – before leaving without a word to hide away in the woods.
He loved her, had loved her that day in the cemetery when the life was bleeding out of her, and loved her when he sent her this care package, speaking the words without saying them.
She wonders if he still loves her now.
Kate lowers the card to the counter and closes her eyes, hugs the elephant to her chest and buries her nose in the fur of its head, pretends that - even though she knows the toy probably came from a factory somewhere - it holds his smell of coffee and books and the gentle touch of his aftershave.
She'd missed him. She hates to admit it, had refused to all summer, but she can let the thought free now.
She opens her eyes and glances back towards the box, checks the delivery date, wincing at the information – this box has been sitting on her doorstep since July, because he hadn't even known where she was – and god, she's not ready. She wants things with him, had been allowing fantasies to slip through the cracks of her dreams on days when she was too weary to resist, and she wants to be better, to be more for herself, for him, for them. But what if she's already missed her chance?
What if she waits too long, hurts him too deep, and those secret hopes remain nothing more than just that? Secret daydreams that never come true because she let them pass her by.
She may not be ready to dive in, she may still be broken and on the verge of disrepair, but she places the elephant down on her counter next to the socks and the accompanying card, and turns back around.
I love you. I love you, Kate.
The least she can do is test the waters.
Her heart is pounding painfully against her scar, cleaving through the middle of her sternum, and she presses her knuckles to the pulsing piece of raised flesh between her breasts, tries to soothe the throbbing to no avail. She already knows it isn't going to stop, not as long as she's standing in front of his door, nerves ricocheting through her ribcage like stray bullets, and Kate lifts her fist from her chest to knock on the door before she can talk herself out of it.
She holds her breath while she waits, her lungs ready to burst by the time the door finally swings open, reveals a startled but subdued Richard Castle who regards her with trepidation and uncertainty, with deep lines of resentment rising to his features.
Her tongue feels heavy, useless, the nerves fluttering in her throat and constricting it at the same time, and he's beginning to scrutinize her with his gaze like he's worried she may collapse at any moment.
"Kate? Are you-"
"You sent me an elephant," she rasps, the first words to tumble from her mouth, and her eyes widen with self-induced horror, but Castle simply stares back at her in surprise he tries to hide behind hardened eyes.
"I wasn't sure if it'd still be on your doorstep when you got back from… wherever you went," he murmurs, shrugging his shoulder, aiming for nonchalance, but his movements are jerky, as nervous as she is. And hurt, she's definitely hurt him.
"The cabin, my father's - I'm sorry. I just got back today," she breathes, unable to provide her lungs with the necessary oxygen, her respiratory system going into overdrive just to suck the air in without choking on it and her words. "I'm sorry, for a lot of things, but you… you sent me that package and it's – it's one of the sweetest things anyone's ever done for me."
Rick rubs at the back of his neck, dropping his gaze to the floor. "I'm glad you like it."
"I love it," she whispers, twisting her hands in front of her, her ribs threatening to collapse inwards under the weight of tension, the desolation claiming his face. "It was thoughtful and kind and it reminded me of how much I missed you."
Her breathless confession has his eyes ascending back to meet hers once more, skeptical and wounded, exhausted. "If you missed me, Beckett, you could have returned one of my calls."
"I know," she owns up to that, nodding her head in concession. "I couldn't - I was in no state to talk to anyone over the last three months, but it wasn't fair of me to do that to you, Castle."
She watches his lips purse, like he wants to forgive her, his fingers twitching at his sides like he wants to touch her, but refuses to let himself.
She wants to change that, soothe his uncertainty and her own.
"You said you had no clue what we are."
Shock ripples, electric and bright blue, through his irises and she forges on while she has him stunned, listening to her without his guard so high up.
"And neither do I, but all I know is that we're something, that I want… I want to be more, that I want to be that with you," she struggles to explain, but he's hanging on her every word, intent and willing her to continue, not confused by her fumbles at all. "I needed that time away at the cabin to not be reminded of my shooting every single second of every day, I needed to not be anything. I needed to be better and not so screwed up-"
"You're not screwed up," he argues without hesitation, his chest expanding with confidence as he takes a step forward.
"I wanted to be healed before I saw you again," she sighs softly, rubbing her fingers to her chest out of nervous habit. "I wanted to be in a place where I could accept everything that happened that day."
His eyes narrow ever so slightly on her and she knows he figures it out mere seconds after she says it, concludes all too easily that she remembers after all.
"That is, if I'm remembering everything correctly," she whispers, her heart soothing from its thundering race, fluttering like butterfly wings that brush her sternum instead as he trails tentative fingers to her cheekbone.
His eyes caress the harsh lines of her face, the bones that she knows have her looking hollow and sickly, but he doesn't look repulsed or worried; he looks at her with the adoration he's always held in the depths of his eyes for her, no longer subdued, still hesitant, but on brilliant display nonetheless.
"I love you, Kate," he murmurs, so much better coming from his mouth while they stand in his doorway, alive and without death looming on the sidelines, and warmth spills out through her chest, quiets the ache lacing through her scars. "And we can get to that place together if that's what you want. Because all I want is you, in any way I can, just-"
And screw it, she shifts forward, into his chest, and releases a shuddering breath of relief when his arms rise to wrap around her in an embrace.
"Deal," she chokes, hearing the laughter tumbling past his lips as she fists her fingers in the back of his t-shirt, closing her eyes when his lips press against her temple. "Thank you for sending me that elephant package."
"You'll even wear the socks?"
She laughs, watery and soft against his shoulder, and turns her head, grazes her nose to his throat as she nods. "I'll wear them my first day back at work. Good luck charm."
"You don't believe in luck," he reminds her as he rubs a hand up and down her spine, but there's a smile in his voice.
"No," she concurs, her cheek resting just above his heart without her heels to lift her higher. "But they're special and they'll make me feel safe."
A gentle sigh leaves his lips as his fingertips trail up the ladder of her vertebrae, into the locks of her hair to smooth along her scalp.
"Does this mean we're partners again?"
"Never stopped being partners," she murmurs, splaying her hands beneath the blades of his shoulders.
"Then I'm coming in with you to work again?"
He says it like a question, but there's no uncertainty in her answer.
A/N: All credit and thanks for this idea go to gbastian on Twitter for tweeting about the company that creates these adorable, themed care packages.