A/N: A fill for the anon who sent me this prompt: "Slight s8 au. Everything goes wrong and from a few months Castle and Beckett's separation turns to a few years They meet once more after a few years & due to a blizzard/thunderstorm Beckett offers Castle to spend a night in her apartment. Castle wakes up in the middle of the night to find Beckett crying & realises how bad the past few years have been for her." Which quickly got out of hand...
"Back into the frost
and I only have your hands
to stop my freezing."
-Tyler Knott Gregson
The entire world has gone white around him. The tall buildings of the city nothing more than hazy shadows amidst the sky of grey that moves with snow flying sideways, his sense of direction no longer existent, and life hasn't exactly been going well for him throughout the last three years, but he hadn't expected dying lost, alone, and in the middle of New York's worst blizzard in decades, to be his fate.
Castle turns in another circle on the sidewalk, but it's pointless. He's been wandering for over fifteen minutes now, not intending to become lost in the snow; he'd only meant to walk downtown to the Old Haunt, the idea of riding out the incoming storm alone in the loft a harrowing idea. But it had only been flurries falling from the sky then, not this blinding whirlwind of white.
He'd just kept walking when the snow had picked up, intensified, eventually attempting to feel his way through each step with his hands out in front of him, searching for shelter, but he has absolutely no idea how far he's walked or where he is and his phone has no signal and when did he become so damn stupid?
After she left you.
Castle sighs and squeezes his eyes shut, tries to think, to come up with a solution like he used to do with such ease whenever he would write one of his characters into a seemingly impossible bind.
But it's been a long time since any words have come to him, since he's written anything at all.
He's so doomed.
His spine stiffens, like lightning to a rod, at the sound of the voice. Her voice.
Could hypothermia already have taken over his brain?
He has no idea where her voice is coming from, but he turns towards it, stands stunned and still as he witnesses Kate Beckett emerge from the abyss, hustling towards him with wide eyes and red cheeks that burn vibrantly in the colorless streets.
"What the hell are you doing out here?" she demands, and the closer she grows, the more he's able to see - the harsh slashes of her cheek bones, the strokes of purple beneath her eyes that are striking amidst the white of the world around them, and the concern that bleeds through her gaze, warms something inside of him. "Rick, can you hear me? Come on, let me get you inside before you go into shock."
The word tumbles past his lips, awkward and heavy, his mouth too numb for speaking, but she's right. Kate is wrapping a gloved hand around his bicep, guiding him through a blizzard - he's definitely in shock.
She had been making a fresh pot of coffee, intending to curl up on the couch with a cup and a book to read through the storm, to take a chance to clear her head and relax for just one single evening, but when she had drifted towards the small collection of novels near the window, her attention had snagged on a figure standing dazedly on the sidewalk outside.
It was when the man had spun around, moving slow and searching, that she had been able to catch a glimpse of his face through the gusts of snow and her heart had soared and sunk in the same breath. She hadn't been positive, yet she had known that it just had to be him.
Richard Castle. Standing outside her apartment in the middle of a blizzard.
Freezing to death.
Beckett ushers him off the sidewalk, through the lobby and into the elevator she doesn't often use, since she really doesn't think he could handle the stairs right now.
"Castle?" she calls again, her heart beating too fast, his lack of response suffocating her insides with worry.
He's leaning against the wall, dressed in nothing but a scarf and a pea coat that isn't thick enough for this kind of weather, staring down at her like he's looking at a ghost.
It isn't exactly untrue.
Kate purses her lips and peels off her gloves, takes his limp hands and removes his own gloves as well before trapping one of his palms between hers, rubbing back and forth in hopes of creating friction, in eliciting warmth beneath his chilled skin.
"God, what were you doing out there?" she groans, more to herself than him. "How did you even know where I was?"
"Didn't," he gets out, his syllables dragging, but the icicles of his fingers begin to twitch and she releases his hand, grabs for the other even as the elevator doors slide open on her floor. "W-wasn't looking for you."
Her lungs tighten, restricting her of air for an extra second. That hurt more than it should have.
"Cruel joke," he adds, his throat working through a swallow. "I-irony."
"Knowing you, I would have assumed you'd call it fate," she sighs, leading him out into an empty hallway, rhythmically squeezing the hand still in hers while walking towards the open door of her apartment.
She'd simply raced out of the building in nothing but leggings and a sweatshirt, hastily stepping into a pair of boots she'd had near the door, and if she's shivering after only a few moments in the cold, she can't even fathom how Castle feels.
"F-fate would imply that I was meant to - to find you," he carries on, stepping inside the apartment with her, but she allows him to lean back against the front door the second she shuts it, his legs on the verge of giving out on him if he travels any further. "Or th-that you wanted me to. And you didn't - don't."
"Castle," she sighs, drawing his frozen hand to her neck and dropping her chin to rest atop it, to trap him there against the warmth of her skin, heating as her pulse picks up and the anguish flushes through her blood.
"L-left me," he continues, gritting his teeth as they begin to violently chatter. "You gave up on our m-marriage, then just disappeared-"
"I did not give up on our marriage," she hisses, his words drilling into a well of grief inside of her that hasn't been tapped in at least two years now, causing a terrible leak that spills through her guts like acid, trickles into the hole inside her chest where her heart used to be.
Her heart is standing right in front of her, with blue lips and heartbroken eyes.
"I was trying to save it, to save you, and myself, but it - it was a mistake and they took me away because they said it was too dangerous-"
His brow dips into a crease, the movement in his face eliciting a wince that tugs at the corners of his eyes.
Kate drops her head to his shuddering chest and closes her eyes even as he goes still at the touch, just for a moment. It's so much, too much, and she's still so overwhelmed by the fact that he's here, that she's seeing him again for the first time in almost three years, that she can't even think of how to begin.
"You're freezing, let me get you set up on the couch, make you something hot to drink, and we can talk, okay?" she whispers, lifting her head to find his eyes so devastatingly blue, a dark azure that pinches her lungs with sorrow.
"Everything," he mumbles, his head nodding slowly. "You'll tell me."
"Yes, Castle," she concedes, easing him up and away from the hard surface of the door and steadying him with her hands on his sides. "I'll tell you all of it. Everything."
His entire body burns as he regains feeling in his limbs, little sparks of fire zipping up and down from the tips of his toes to the follicles of hair atop his head. It's almost as bad as the freezer all those years ago, but he had slept through the immediate recovery for that near death experience.
He's been wide awake for every agonizing second of this one, unsure if the presence of Kate Beckett beside him again for the first time in two years and seven months is a balm to his suffering or an extra source of torment.
But despite his anger and confusion, the utter swell of need at the sight of seeing his wife again, all he can think about in that moment is how grateful he is for the way she attempts to ease the process of his adjusting body temperature by clamping his fingers between her palms, warming his toes with a heating pad she drapes over his feet, and occasionally stroking her fingers over his ears that ache from the inside out.
"First, tell me what you were doing out there," she bargains, diving right into it and sitting on the edge of a coffee table next to the couch she has him laid up on, wrapped in every throw blanket she must own, and pushing a mug of something that steams into his palms.
"I wanted to go to The Old Haunt," he manages, words like ice in the raw cavern of his throat, cutting into his trachea with every breath, soothed when he takes a sip of the tea in his cup. "Wasn't snowing like this when I left."
"Did you watch any of the weather reports from the past two days, Castle?" she murmurs, not reprimanding him, but seemingly lost in confusion over why he'd be outside when the entire city has been prepping for a blizzard all week.
His explanation doesn't necessarily sound like a good one to him either.
"I was hoping to get there before the blizzard rolled in, didn't - want to sit through it at the loft," he mutters, swallowing another mouthful of tea, closing his eyes as the taste of honey and lemon sluice down his throat.
The last time he'd been sick, a rare occassion for his rather impeccable immune system, she'd stayed home from work on the worst days of it, cooked him soup, made him tea, just like this. The honey and lemon method common for sore throats, but so much more effective after hearing how her mom used to make it for her any time she'd fallen ill in those 19 years of intact innocence.
"No Alexis this week?" she asks quietly, but Rick shakes his head.
"Lives in LA now. Runs a business from there, quit being a P.I's assistant to save the earth."
"Good girl," Kate murmurs with a smile that is far too sad. "If anyone can do it, I'm sure it's her."
"Your turn," he prompts, clutching the mug as another shiver wracks through him, but it's nothing compared to the flood of emotion that quickly consumes him when Kate takes a deep breath, begins to tell him the story of LokSat, starting from the night she first walked out on him with a bag in hand and agony cracking through her eyes, concluding on the moment she had appeared at his doorstep for their second anniversary with takeout and a promise sparkling in her eyes.
"After that last night we had together," she whispers, her bottom lip between her teeth, the limp curls of her dark hair curtaining around her face as she trains her gaze on her knees. "Our 'time in'. I got a text from Vikram that our operation had been blown, that I needed to disappear, but I wasn't going to do that. I didn't want to. Castle, I never planned to leave the city, to leave you," she laments, lifting her eyes to him, not even trying to hide the tears that streak down her hollow cheeks.
It has the resentment he's invested in her wavering, the need to console her, to wipe away her tears, surging like a natural born and instinctive tidal wave through his chest.
He hates her for this, hates her for lying, hates her for leaving, for breaking his heart then and doing it all over again now. He hates himself for finding her today without even trying, hates the last three years, hates it all.
"I was leaving the loft and I called Vikram, told him I wouldn't go anywhere, that I'd rather fight than run. I wasn't even a block away when someone grabbed me while I was passing an alley," she murmurs, returning her eyes to the floor. "The GPS on my phone while I was talking to Vikram was the only reason your stepmom, Rita, found me. I'd passed out after the second stab wound."
He spills the hot tea in his lap.
"Castle!" she gasps, jerking up from her spot to retrieve the mug, to snatch the drenched blankets from his legs before the heated liquid can burn through, but he grabs her by the arm before she can do anything.
"Stabbed?" he chokes, his hands immediately reaching for her waist, snagging in the hem of her shirt, but Kate makes a sound of disapproval, stills him with the curl of her fingers at his wrist.
"You don't need to see," she whispers, but he doesn't loosen his grip on her, shakes his head as he sits up and shoves the blankets from his lap, the empty cup tumbling to the floor.
He rolls her sweatshirt up her stomach, her fingers clinging loosely to his wrists the entire time, but not stopping him, letting him reveal the scattered knife wounds along her left side, the identical sizes and shades of faded purples and paled pinks.
"Kate," he rasps, one of his thumbs stretching from the grip of her shirt to press the pad of his fingertip to one of the smooth scars, a sob threatening to catch in his throat.
He'd seen her mother's coroner's report, the knife wound that had been fatal, and there was at least one matching scar marring his wife's abdomen.
"They found me in time, but Rita took me to a safe house, until she was the one to end things, until the man behind LokSat was subdued. But I - I lost my entire life in those two years I was gone." Her voice shakes and he tears his eyes from her injuries, to the trembling lip trapped between her teeth and the moisture in her gaze that she has on her massacred abdomen, her torso. "I was gone."
His mouth is too dry for words and Kate must take that as shock or horror or anger, all of the above, as she lowers the sweater and his hands back to her hips.
"How long have you been back?" he gets out, the question like sandpaper rubbing against his lungs.
"A few weeks," she murmurs, stepping out of his grasp, something like shame glimmering in her dark eyes, and bending to gather up the mess of blankets at their feet. "The first few days… it was like I wasn't even me, wasn't real, and that was okay, Rita told me to lie low for a little while, just to be safe. I wanted - all I wanted was you, but we'd been apart for nearly three years, and I didn't even get to say goodbye."
He staggers to his feet to follow her as she deposits the mug into the sink and carries the bundle of soiled blankets to a stacked washer and dryer across the one bedroom apartment he hasn't even taken the time to examine. All he knows is that it isn't hers.
"I barely even remember most of it," she mumbles, shoving the fabrics into the washing machine, "Just days of waiting for it to be over, to come home-"
"Why didn't you contact me?" he asks, his heart sluggish to start, still sheathed in ice, cracking along the edges and splintering sharply through his chest. "I spent so long looking, Kate. I hired the best agents, Ryan and Esposito made you a top priority missing person's case, I - I looked everywhere-"
"The CIA made it impossible to find me," she rasps, scraping a trembling hand through her hair, keeping her back to him as she fumbled with the laundry settings. "Made it impossible for me to do… anything. All I know is that it wasn't in New York. Wasn't allowed to know anything else. Rita said this apartment had been secured, I could stay here as long as I needed."
Castle glances around, almost expecting to see cameras in the corners of the ceiling, monitoring her like the prisoner she had apparently been turned into.
"But I wasn't going to stay long, Castle," she breathes, turning to face him with remorse overwhelming every inch of her face. "I just needed - I needed to remember who I was before all of this, before I even began to find you too."
Rick raises a hand to his eyes, presses one of his knuckles to the socket, attempting to get a hold on the amount of information proving too much all at once for his brain, leaving him to wonder if this really was some hypothermia induced dream, if he was really lying on the sidewalk outside still, stuck in the subconscious part of his mind before it gave out entirely.
"You should sit down, eat something," he hears her murmuring, her hands on his waist, steadying him as he sways. "Come on, lie down and I'll check what I have on hand."
He nods because his tongue is a dead weight in his mouth, refusing to work for him anymore, and lets Kate push him through the foreign living room, through a doorway that leads into a small bedroom, far smaller than her last apartment's, and help ease him onto a bed that smells like her.
He doesn't think he can do this, but his body refuses to rise, his eyes too heavy to open anymore, and the last thing he's aware of is Kate tucking a comforter under his chin and brushing her fingers through his hair.