A/N: This story is loosely inspired by Stana Katic's upcoming series, 'Absentia' and is set post 6x23, 'For Better or For Worse'.
(n.) a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.
The call comes in the middle of the night and she's certain it's the drop of a body, the familiar call of a murder, and Kate sighs, rubs at her eyes as she reaches for the nightstand.
"Beckett," she murmurs, shifting into a sitting position and wincing at the time of 3:47 a.m. on the alarm clock glaring back at her.
"Kate, you need to come to the hospital. New York Presbyterian," Esposito's voice fills her ear and her heart goes still, jerks her free from the lingering remnants of sleep, and she staggers out of the bed with worst case scenarios rippling through her head and making the room momentarily spin.
"What is it? What happened?" she whispers, wide awake now and rushing into her closet. "Is someone-"
"It's him," her colleague answers and it's the solemn tone of his voice, the grave quality of words that she's heard in only the most dire of circumstances, that confirms it for her before he has to say another word. "It's Castle. They found him. Alive."
There is a moment during her drive to the hospital where she is convinced she must be dreaming.
Six years. It's been six years since he vanished on their wedding day, since the trail of her investigation into his disappearance went bitterly cold, since her entire world caved in on itself.
How could he still be alive?
She's only recently begun to accept the more likely scenarios that everyone has been drilling into her brain through the last six years. She's finally begun to mourn him, to grieve, and now, there's a chance it was all in vain. That she's betrayed him by conceding to the idea of his death, by moving on to the best of her ability.
That is, if it truly is him in that hospital bed. She refuses to get her hopes up, to believe a single word of the story until she sees him, can confirm it for herself.
Kate sucks in a breath that spears through her chest as she enters the hospital, her footsteps feeling heavy and uncoordinated on her path to the front desk. Esposito intercepts her before she can reach the nurse's station and some part of her is relieved. She has no idea what to say, to ask.
My fiancé went missing six years ago, has been presumed dead, but I received a call that he was alive and here, so can you tell me where to find him?
"Beckett, hey," Esposito sighs and oh god, he looks as if he's seen a ghost, and that has to mean-
"It's really him," she breathes out, meaning for it to be a question, but she can hear the revelation in her own voice. "I need to - where… where is he?"
"Second floor. Come on, I'll take you to his room," Espo murmurs, guiding her towards the nearest elevator, and she tries to listen as he begins to explain the information they have so far, describing how Castle was found off the coast of Delaware by the Coast Guard, giving what few details he has on Castle's condition, but all she can think about is the smile that has haunted her dreams, the blue eyes that have greeted her nearly every time she's closed hers, the arms that wrapped around her, and the hands that have held, warmed, and branded her skin like invisible ink.
"The boat he was found adrift in had three bullet holes-"
"He was shot?" she gets out and that definitely snaps her out of the haze, just in time for the elevator doors to slide open.
"Yeah, but he's stable," Esposito assures her with a hand on the small of her back, leading her out onto the floor, but she shakes him off.
She doesn't know if she can do this, if she can handle it, but before she can even attempt to decide, she catches sight of the open doorway to a room at the end of the hall, and a glimpse inside of the man laid up in the hospital bed. Her heart stops along with her legs.
"Kate," Esposito begins, his voice falling into that rare tone of concern he always reserves for her, the immediate family, but she can barely hear him past the struggle of her breathing, the thundering kickstart of her heart in her ears.
"He's alive," she whispers, her fingers automatically climbing to clutch at the chain beneath her shirt, the ring between her breasts.
He's propped up in the hospital bed, doctors and agents that she recognizes must be from the FBI all hovering around him, but she can still see his face between the ebb and flow of bodies, the crease in his brow and the frown on his lips, the desperate dart of his blue eyes searching the room.
"They'll scram once you go in," Esposito informs her from over her shoulder. "According to the doctors, he's been asking for you nonstop since the moment he woke up."
"Alexis?" she remembers on an exhale. "Martha?"
"They were both contacted, but neither have returned the calls. Probably the time," Esposito explains and she nods dumbly, tries to curl her fingers into her palms, but they won't stop trembling. "Are you… did you want me to walk you in?"
Kate forces a breath in through her nose, reinflates her staggering lungs, but she shakes her head.
"No, I just - I never thought I'd see him again," she rasps. "I'm still not convinced it's real."
She takes a tentative step forward and then another, pauses once more just outside the doorway, still hidden from view, wishing her heart would calm, but it's no use. It rabbits in her chest like a wild thing, beating for the man in the hospital room, aching like a heart on a string tied to him and tugging.
She follows the line.
The anxious chatter surrounding him falls to a low roar as she enters the room and it must earn Castle's attention, his fallen eyes slitting open, flashing the moment they land on her.
"Kate," he croaks, immediately shifting in the hospital bed and moving to rise, to get to her.
"Mr. Castle," an older man, the doctor, she presumes, protests, placing a hand on his shoulder to still him, but Castle doesn't take his eyes off of her, staring at her like a trapped animal, so needful and pleading.
"Kate," he repeats, pushing against the doctor's restraint, practically falling out of his hospital bed, and she jerks forward before he can manage to collapse to the floor. "You're here. I woke up and I - no one could tell me-" He lets out a breath, wincing at the exhale, but he won't lie back down, halfway out of his bed with his gaze clinging to her like a lost little boy. And oh, she can't handle this. She can't. "I'm just glad you're here."
"Ms. Beckett, we'll be right outside," the doctor notifies her as the two agents and a nurse file out in front of him, lowering his voice before he follows them out. "I realize you have… questions, but please, try not to overwhelm Mr. Castle too severely. We don't know exactly what kind of trauma he's undergone just yet."
Kate nods, but she's having trouble processing the doctor's instructions, the narrowed look he gives her as he leaves the room, and trauma?
"Kate," Castle calls to her once more, his voice soft and pleading. "Please, come here."
She looks back to him with her heart in her throat, roaming her eyes over his face, the burned skin, the stubble that nearly amounts to a beard, the noticeable bones of his cheeks, the beseeching expression.
"Don't cry," he breathes, finally easing out of the hospital bed, stumbling upon his first step and gripping his side, where she can see the glimpse of a bandage from beneath the hospital gown, the scattered drops of crimson decorating the snowy white gauze.
"You're alive," she finally utters, wanting to move towards him, run away from him, something, but she's frozen in place, unable to even wipe away the tears trekking down her cheeks, while he hastens his uneven shuffle towards her.
"Of course," he breathes, slowing to a stop in front of her. "I told you, never lose me."
Her chest shudders, begins to cave in on itself, on the litany of sobs threatening to breach her throat and tear past her lips, and she can't - she can't do it anymore.
Kate closes the space between them with a single step forward, mindful of his injury, but throwing her arms around his neck, feeling his lock around her body without a moment of hesitation, sealing her chest to his, her heart.
"You were gone," she sobs, can't help the ragged sound from ripping out of her mouth. "You were gone, you were dead, I mourned you, I-"
"No," he chokes out, burying one of his hands in her hair, cradling the back of her skull and pressing his cheek to hers. "No, I wasn't - they all keep asking me where I went, how I disappeared," he stammers, holding her so tight that it must hurt him, the gunshot wound he somehow sustained, but she doesn't want him to let go, to lose the feeling of his body alive and against her, of his scent in her nose, and she fists her hands in the back of his hospital gown. "They all keep saying that I've been gone for years, but I - Kate, I don't know what anyone's talking about. I don't remember. They keep asking me questions and I can't remember, can't remember anything after the crash on our wedding day."
She has to pull back at that, has to see his face, but all she's greeted with is panic in his eyes when she does, confusion and fear, and she lifts one of her hands to his sunburned cheek, swallows hard.
"You've been gone for six years, Castle," she reveals, watching the horror bloom through his eyes, feeling it leak through her guts. "I looked for you, never stopped looking for you, but there was nothing, hasn't been anything. Until right now."
Castle's hand curls at her back, fisting in the leather of her jacket, holding on.
"Where did you go?" she rasps, the question that has kept her up more nights than she can count, a mystery that has damn near driven her mad, but all he can do is stare back at her with so much anguish, it overwhelms her.
"I don't know, I don't - all I know is that I wouldn't leave you, that I would never choose to leave you, especially not on our wedding day," he gets out, his head beginning to shake as his eyes squeeze shut before they flare open again like storm clouds staring back at her. "All I know is that I love you, Kate."
"Rick," she whispers, even though it leaves her lips like a whimper, and he cradles her body once more, buries his face in her hair, and she wishes it were this easy, that she could forget the last six years too.