His heart was pounding profoundly inside his chest. He couldn't quite explain it, but he was nervous. Just hours ago, he had been standing in this very hospital, scared to death that he would never see her again. But Kate Beckett was a fighter. He had no doubt about that. She would never give up so easily. He could count on that. It was one of the many reasons why he loved her.
Castle paused for a moment, letting that sink in. Acknowledging his feelings and giving voice to them had been a big step for him. He had spent so long holding it in. He wished the moment could have been better—All right, a lot better—but he couldn't help that now. When Beckett was shot, he felt like his world was ending. And if that was to be their final moments together, he didn't want it to pass without letting her know the truth about how he felt.
He ducked his head down as he walked passed the two uniform officers guarding the entrance to Beckett's room. He paused, and stepped back, checking his reflection in the slit of a window on the door. Reaching up with a shaking hand, Castle anxiously adjusted his hair. He had no idea why he was so nervous. This was a happy occasion. Beckett was alive, and he was going to see her again. He took a deep breath, and waited until his stomach stopped doing flip-flops. When he was settled, he exhaled slowly and reached for the door handle.
It was hard not to let his disappointment show on his face when he realized she wasn't alone. Josh was there, sitting next to her, speaking to her in soft, intimate tones. Castle stood still, frozen in place, feeling like some weird voyeur, watching as her boyfriend held her hand and lightly comb his fingers through her limp hair. He pursed his lips and gazed at her, milking in the image of her alive and sitting up, breathing. She was looking worse for wear. She looked tired, but when her eyes alight upon him, her entire demeanor seemed to change drastically. Her expression brightened, and her eyes seemed to spark even more with the magic of life.
"Hey, Castle," she said, interrupting whatever it was her boyfriend was saying to her. She obviously was still groggy, and it was reflected in her voice, but it lightened his heart all the same to see her cheer up, if just a little.
Josh, on the other hand, seemed disgruntled with the intrusion, but he covered it quickly. He momentarily glared at Castle, before turning his attention back to Beckett. He squeezed her hand, regaining her attention.
"I'll see you after my rounds?" it was meant to be a statement, but Castle could hear the subtle inclinations that turned it into a question.
Beckett gave him a soft nod in response, looking slightly confused over the question. Josh sighed as he stood up. He paused, glancing over at Castle, before bending down and brushing a kiss to Beckett's forehead. She closed her eyes briefly, and said something in response, so softly that Castle couldn't hear what was being said. Josh frowned in response, but gave a curt nod.
Turning around, the cardiac surgeon walked towards the door. Castle stepped aside to let him pass, and while he did so, Josh gave him a pointed look. Castle held his breath, not wanting to create any sort of scene that may disturb Beckett's recovery. He could still feel the sting in his shoulder from when Josh had shoved him earlier that day. He didn't begrudge the man for his actions, knowing he'd probably react similarly if their roles had been reversed. But Beckett's recovery was more important than worrying about his bruised ego or hurt feelings over his previous altercation with the good doctor.
Josh sidestepped around him and, after one last look in Beckett's direction, left the room. Castle waited for the uncomfortable moment to pass before giving Beckett a small smile, which she returned. It wasn't the usual bright smile she graced him with, but it was still something.
"Hey," he said softly, shifting awkwardly on his feet.
"You're staring at me," Beckett noted with a slight furrow in her brow. "I must look… really bad."
"No," he objected quickly, shaking his head. "I… I just never thought I'd see you again."
His candidness seemed to temporarily catch her off guard, but it was not unwelcomed if he was reading her expression correctly. He inhaled a small breath, and walked forward, holding up the bouquet of flowers he'd brought her.
"I heard you were opening a flower store," Castle said with a slight quirk of his lips, going with his default coping mechanism of humor to lighten the mood. "So, I thought I'd pitch in."
He sat down in the seat Josh had vacated, and gently set the flower bouquet down on the side table by her hospital bed.
Beckett glanced around weakly at all the flowers surround her bed. "They were all here when I woke up," she said in a quiet voice. "I think they're mostly from the precinct." She took a soft breath, struggling to shake her head. "I don't think I'm going to live this one down, Castle."
"Probably not," he agreed with small smirk.
She smiled back, and though it wasn't as sparkling as it had been before, it was still beautiful. She was beautiful. Even with pale skin, tired eyes, and limp hair, she looked beautiful. He couldn't take his eyes off her. He couldn't stop watching her. She would always be beautiful in his eyes. Always. She was alive, smiling up at him like he was a bright light in the dark, illuminating her world.
Beckett let out a soft sigh and leaned back into the pillows, briefly closing her eyes as she allowed herself to relax. It touched him deeply that she didn't mind him seeing her like this. It brought him comfort knowing that she trusted him not to judge her for needing a brief rest.
"I heard what you said," she murmured in soft sigh.
"Yeah, I um…," he started, but stopped himself short, suddenly realizing what she'd just said. "You heard? You… you remember me tackling you?"
She nodded slightly, wincing when the movement caused her pain. Her hand came up to her chest, and her eyes closed as she breathed through her nose. "Yes," she answered in a hoarse voice, forcing her eyes open as she met his startled gaze. "I remember everything."
His jaw went slack. He didn't know what to say. This wasn't the first time—nor would it be the last—that Kate Beckett would leave him speechless. She stared at him expectantly, blinking slowly. His eyes darted all over the place, until he found purchase in hers. He closed his mouth and pursed his lips, swallowing thickly.
"Kate… I… I… um… I can—"
"It's okay, Castle," Beckett said softly, struggling against exhaustion. He could see it in her eyes. She was tired.
Her hand moved and her fingers curled, beckoning him. He knew immediately what she was asking without her having to give it voice. Castle enclosed her hand in his, intertwining their fingers together, palms kissing. It felt so intimate for such a simple gesture. It seemed to soothe her. He squeezed her hand, and she offered a weak squeeze in return. Closing her eyes, she took a long pause to inhale a short breath.
"I… I'm not expecting anything, Kate," he assured her, not wanting to put any pressure on her to give him a response. She had enough to deal with as it was, what with the lengthy recovery she had ahead of her.
Beckett nodded, flashing him a weak smile of gratitude. "It was nice," she spoke quietly. "Hearing you say it, even if it was…"
"I meant it," he interjected before she could finish her thought.
Her eyes shot open and she stared up at him with what he could only describe as awe. "You… you did?"
"Yes," he said.
Her nose wrinkled adorably as her brow furrowed. "Castle… Rick… I… I don't know what to…"
"Shh," Castle gently shushed her. Feeling brave, he reached up and tenderly brushed her hair back from her pale face.
Her eyes closed at his touch and he could have sworn she leaned into it. "Sorry," she murmured, forcing her eyes open. "I'm really tired right now."
"Of course," Castle bobbed his head, releasing her hand and standing to leave. His mind was still roiling with the revelation that she remembered his confession of love. If it wasn't for her condition, and much needed recovery to come, he would have persisted and asked if those feelings were returned. But he couldn't do that now. Beckett was clearly exhausted from the surgery. And she needed to rest. "Of course. We'll talk tomorrow?"
"Do you mind if we don't?" came her soft reply.
Her words stopped him halfway to the door. He arched his neck and glanced back at her with a questioning look.
She gave him a weak smile of assurance. "I just need a little time."
"Sure," he acquiesced, not wanting to put any more pressure on her.
Her smile grew just a bit. "You're a good friend, Castle."
He tried not to let the label of 'friend' get to him. There was no reason to expect anything from her yet. After all, now wasn't the right time for such things. She had much more important things to think about, like recovering from getting shot in the chest. And… much to his chagrin, she obviously still had a boyfriend. In the end, her happiness was more important to him than his own. So, he inclined his head in understanding, deciding to let the subject lie in rest… for now.
But before he took his leave, Castle licked his lips nervously, and hesitated before asking, "How much time?"
"I don't know… a few days, maybe. I'll call you, okay?" Beckett replied, her words feeling oddly like a break up.
Castle didn't know what to make of it. But he knew one thing for certain: He wouldn't push her. Not now.
"Okay," he agreed with a nod. He headed for the door, giving her one last look, watching as her eyes slowly closed and her breathing even out as she fell asleep. He sighed, and carded his fingers through his hair, wishing that so many things hadn't been left unsaid. Later, he assured himself, when she was feeling better they would have their talk, and he'll find out just how much she remembered, and how much his declaration would change things.
Pulling his eyes away from her sleeping form, Castle ducked out of the room, his heart still hammering as profoundly inside his chest as it had when he'd first arrived.
It had been a long three months since he'd last seen or heard from Kate Beckett. And Rick Castle missed her.
His life felt empty without the fierce NYPD detective in his life. And it didn't help that her absence also meant he had no answer to his graveyard declaration of love.
Over the past months, he'd run through their last conversation over and over again in his mind, questioning whether or not her assertion that she remembered everything had been real or not. He kicked himself for not pushing for more information, but then he would recall her pale and tired appearance. She'd just survived a traumatic event, and Castle knew better than to pressure her for more when she needed time to recover from that.
However, it still hurt when she then disappeared.
He had tried not to dwell on it, but it was difficult, which was why when Gina asked him to do a series of book signings throughout the city, he'd eagerly agreed—anything for a distraction. But he soon discovered that the book signing events that usually brought him so much fulfillment felt dull and boring without the shining light of Kate Beckett in his life.
So now, he just sat there, signing book after book, giving perfunctory answers to fan questions, his heart was just not in it like it had always been before. Nothing was genuine. Everything ran together. It was bland. Boring. Another book dropped down in front of him. He let out a depressed sigh.
"Who should I make it out to?" he asked, reached out for the book and prepping the marker to sign his name.
"Kate," come an eerily familiar voice.
Castle's head jerked up, his eyes wide in astonishment when he saw the beautiful face of Detective Kate Beckett, framed by her luscious brunette curls. She was thinner than normal, her sharp features more pronounce, yet all the same, she was beautiful. Her hazel eyes were alive with hope.
"You can make it out to Kate."
He signed her book and then went on to the next person in line. To be honest, Castle had been too stunned by her sudden appearance to do anything different. The rest of the event went by in a blur, his mind dwelling on the return of Detective Kate Beckett. Soon it was over and he was thanking the bookstore employees as he made his way out. As he shook the last bookseller's hand Castle spied the tall brunette out of the corner of his eye. She was leaning against the building, head bowed as she lazily flipped through the pages of Heat Rises.
Castle debated whether or not to say something, but at that moment, much to his dismay, his anger over her three-month long silence and disappearance overwhelmed him. So, instead of stopping and talking with the woman he had been in love with for much longer than before he'd given it voice, Castle walked right past her.
"Castle!" she called out after him, not even bothering to keep the hint of desperation from her voice. "Please, wait!"
Inhale sharply through his nose, Castle spun around and glared at her. "I did," he all but snapped. "Three months. You never called."
"And I'm sorry about that. I really am," Beckett had the decency to avert her eyes apologetically when she spoke. "Look, I know you're angry—"
"Oh, you're damn right I'm angry," Castle growled, chest heaving with each breath. "I watched you die in that ambulance. Did you know that?"
She shook her head.
"Do you know what that's like?" he went on. "Watching the life drain out of someone you—" He paused, looking at her, unsure whether or not he should say it. Did she even remember? Or was their brief conversation in the hospital lost in the haze of post-surgery medication? After a brief internal debate, he decided to just say it, damn the consequences. He wasn't ashamed of his feelings. "Someone you love?"
Beckett stood there, stunned into silence that he actually said it. Avoidance had always been their thing. But Castle was done with that. Three months of nothing had made him restless and tired of such obfuscation. She swallowed, and he couldn't help but be mesmerized by the motion of her throat when she did so.
"I… I told you," she said, her voice a little shaky. "I needed some time."
"You said a few days," he snapped.
"I needed more," she shot back defensively.
"Well," he shook his head, taking a step back, not really comfortable with having this discussion in the middle of a public sidewalk. "You should have said that."
"Castle, wait… please," Beckett begged, following him as he turned to leave. "I'm sorry. I am. And I did mean to call. I did. I just… I… I needed some space and time to just work through everything."
That made him stop and turn. "Josh help you with that?" he regretted the retort the moment it left this lips.
Beckett stood there and stared at him for a long beat. "We broke up."
"Oh, you did?"
"Yes," she said, taking a step closer to him. "And… I think you know why."
"Do I?" he questioned, unsure if he really did. His anger had lessened somewhat and was no longer strong enough to fuel his rage. Her confession left him feeling bereft of any desire to fight.
She nodded slowly, bringing a hand up to brush her hair back from her face, stalling for time. "I really liked him, I did," she explained. "But that wasn't enough. I wanted more… but not with him."
"Kate?" Castle held up his hand, trying to get her to stop as he sensed the direction she was headed. His heart clenched inside his chest as he once again began to feel some hope that the future he'd dreamed about—a future with her—could become a reality. This conversation was too intimate to have in such a public place, but she persisted, undaunted.
"I heard you, Castle," she confessed, her voice breaking ever so slightly with as all the raw emotion came to the fore.
"So you said," he replied, glancing at her cautiously. "I wasn't sure you remembered."
"Well, I do," she asserted, meeting his gaze so he knew she was serious. "Did you mean it? It wasn't just some graveyard confession to keep me alive?"
"Can it be both?" he asked in a futile attempt to lighten the mood.
Her lips tugged upwards ever-so-slightly. "Yeah," she breathed out in a soft laugh. "Yeah, it can be both."
They stood there for a long moment, simply staring at one another. The rest of the world seemed to pass by them. They only had eyes for each other. He could hardly believe this was happening. Part of him just wanted to stop time so that this moment could last forever, but he was dying with anticipation.
Beckett took the final step forward to close the distance between them. She reached out with her free hand, trailing her fingers down his arm until she found his. He took over then, gently interlacing their fingers until their palms were kissing. It felt oddly reminiscent of that day in the hospital. Castle stared down at their joined hands, and then glanced up expectantly at her. She took a deep breath, as if needing tall to build up courage for something important.
"Those words saved my life," Beckett said. "Gave me a reason to fight. To… get better."
She shushed him with a soft smile. "Please, Castle… just let me say this."
She squeezed his hand in thanks, and then pursed her lips as her expression turned serious. "After my mother was killed, something inside me changed. It's like I built up this wall inside. And I don't know, I guess I just didn't want to hurt like that again. I know I'm not going to be the kind of person that I want to be, I know that I'm not going…" she hesitated for a brief moment before continuing, "…I'm not going to have the kind of relationship that I want until that wall comes down. But… I find that I can't wait that long. If the past three months have taught me anything it's that life is too precious to squander on 'what ifs' and 'if onlys'."
"Kate?" Castle shook his head, brow furrowed in confusion. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying I don't want to wait anymore," Beckett said, staring up at him with large, luminous eyes. "That… I heard you, and… and that I love you, too."
And before he could respond, she was pushing up on her toes and kissing him.
Prompt: RISE AU 'I love you too'