The first text comes in three weeks after the day she turned him away in the hospital. He's spent each one since absolutely miserable, moping around his loft, failing at productivity, and frustrating his daughter. But he misses her, he's worried about her, can't escape the images of her bleeding out beneath him.

He gave up on trying to contact her after he managed to fill her voicemail box to maximum capacity, his text messages, even his emails, all going unanswered. He isn't sure where she has gone, but it's obvious she wants to be alone. Or at least, without him.

Until nearly a month into the summer when his phone chirps with a new message. From Kate Beckett.

Hey Castle.

His heart skips, his hands clamming up and the phone nearly slipping from his palm. But there's more.

You don't have to respond to this, I would completely understand, but I just wanted to check in, let you know not to worry. I also wanted to apologize. For just disappearing on you. It wasn't fair, but I had to get out of the city, had to try and heal away from everything, everyone… I hope you understand.

The message left little room for response, more of an update than an invitation for conversation, but it's his first chance to actually speak to her again. He isn't going to simply let it pass him by.

His fingers type out the words, a million different sentences, paragraphs, countless taps of his thumb to the 'delete' button.

I'm just glad you're okay.

It's all he can settle on, all that really matters, and he hits the send button with a heavy press of his thumb, knowing there will likely be no response to wait for. And he's right.

In the days that follow, Rick keeps his phone on him at all times, just in case. He wills the device to buzz with another message, spends too many minutes staring at the screen until his vision blurs, but it remains silent.

Her second message comes four days later at nearly midnight.

How have you been?

Castle props himself up against the headboard, his pillow supporting his spine, and types out his response with a little less trouble than the last.

I've been better. What about you? Recovery going well?

Depends on your definition of 'well'.

Despite their conversation being through words on a screen, he can hear the sarcasm in her reply, can picture the quirk of her brow and the lift of her gaze from below her lashes, rising up to meet his. The first hint of a smile in a month cracks the corners of his lips.

Considering the hour, I had a feeling it wasn't exactly ideal. Can't sleep?

No. The word arrives alone, but moments later, seconds he spends debating on what to say next, another bubble of text floats onto his screen. I'm at my dad's cabin upstate. I thought it would be peaceful.

It's not?

The quiet can be pretty unnerving.

He blames her honesty on the late hour, her courage to share with him on the fact that they aren't face to face, hiding behind the glow of screens instead.

You're welcome to call, Detective. I'm sure my sultry voice could soothe you into slumber.

He holds his breath, hoping humor was the right choice, but in their more serious moments, though few and often far between, the lighthearted teasing is often what lifts the darkness from her eyes.

Tempting. Maybe another night.

Castle grins, asks her about sleeping pills that were surely prescribed to her upon her discharge from the hospital, his lips falling into a frown when she goes into a brief explanation of how they only make things worse, putting her to sleep but allowing her no rest, leaving her feeling like a zombie the next day.

He asks about her dad, about the cabin, the lake and the woods she described. By two a.m., Kate's replies become shorter, the time in between longer, and he knows he will soon lose her to sleep.

Thank you, Castle. For the company.


He backspaces.


Yeah, that one is safer.

Until tomorrow?

The phone remains silent. He forces himself into a fitful sleep, but when he wakes, it's to a new text message on his screen.

Morning, Castle.

After that, her texts are daily occurrences, their conversations ongoing. They talk about her dad, her physical therapy and the grueling process of healing, the breakup with Josh that took place when she was still laid up in the hospital bed. His heart skips pretty hard the day that particular message comes through.

He wants to know everything happening in her world while he isn't there, but she doesn't allow him to linger too long on the aspects of her life, forcing a balance to exist between them by inquiring about his family, his writing, his health (Are *you* okay, Castle?). He's always done a fine job of talking about himself, but he struggles now, has a hard time discussing the topics she broaches. None of them are necessarily going well. His Mother and Alexis are fine but weary whenever he's around, his writing is stilted and pained, he's okay.

Actually, that last one is something to be proud of. He's doing a lot better than he was after her shooting, feeling his heart heal a little more with each message that appears on his phone with her name attached.

The weight that took residence atop his chest, the grief of almost losing her and the misery of knowing that she is alive but not being able to see her, to speak or touch or possess the privilege of her presence, slowly begins to dissipate. He's regaining the ability to laugh, to smile and interact with his mother, his daughter, without shrouding them in his sorrow.

Alexis still isn't happy, her smiles purse-lipped and her frown prominent every time she notices the phone in his hand, but his mother openly supports his contact with Beckett, promises him Alexis will eventually come around. He tries to believe her, tries not to worry too much about the alternative.

Wish you were here. She sends it two months into her recovery, a picture of the dock to the lake accompanying the text. His heart soars, exalts with delight at the words, flutters with amusement the next message elicits. It's another picture of the water, a closer shot, and he releases a huff of laughter. So I could push you in.

You think you're strong enough to push me in, Beckett?

That a challenge?

Up to you. I'm more than happy to drive up and watch you try.

He's teasing her, banter still a frequent happening in their conversations, and he expects another smart remark, even a potential topic change – her usual diversion in the rare moments he's mentioned coming to see her.

But Kate isn't joking around when she texts him an address.

You're serious?

Because he has to ask. He has to be sure, his heart still too fragile for him to show up only to be turned away yet again.

I'll see you soon, Castle.

She most certainly will. The moment her message comes in, the words comprehended, Castle is jerking up from his office chair, sprinting into his bedroom to change, grab a few essentials for this impromptu road trip. It's early afternoon and he technically could - probably should - wait until tomorrow, it's quite a drive to her father's cabin, but he can't wait anymore.

She's given him the green light to see her for the first time in over two months and the yearning that has been swelling in his chest for weeks now is overtaking his chest, threatening to combust inside him if he doesn't comply.

Alexis is out with Paige, having a girls' day that she's failed to indulge in for far too long, and his mother is… well, he isn't necessarily positive where his mother is. He leaves a note for both of them on the island, promises to call with a full explanation later this evening. And it's selfish of him, especially when he knows how deeply Alexis would disapprove of this, but he's grateful no one is home to talk him out of racing through the front door with his wallet, keys, and an extra pair of clothes. Just in case she really does manage to push him into her father's lake.

Beckett must have gathered from his lack of response that he was already on his way because when he finally pulls into the driveway of dirt and gravel, she's sitting on the front porch, her posture stiff, her face twisted into a grimace. But once he steps out of his car, starts towards her, he catches her eyes ripple with something he so badly wants to believe is delight.

He watches her chest expand with effort as she rises to stand, the pain dull but flaring in her eyes, bleeding into the lines of her face. It spills onto the concave planes of her cheeks, the sharpened slashes of her jawline. Just as battered as he remembered her, maybe even more so, but she's draped in sunlight this time and oh so beautiful.

Castle comes to a stop at the bottom step of the porch, his gaze sweeping up to the woman standing at the top, her body a brittle statue, threatening to collapse in the gentle breeze of the wind at any moment.

"You're alive," he blurts, because while they've been talking for over a month now, he hasn't truly been able to assure himself of her survival. He hasn't been able to convince himself that seeing her pull through the surgery that saved her life, ragged and breathing in the hospital bed, wasn't a dream, that the daily texts and brief talks on the phone he's been granted throughout the last month haven't just been a continuation of the fantasy.

It's a struggle, another visible effort she has to make, but her lips twitch in the corners, attempt to form a smile for him.

"Yeah, Castle, I'm still alive," she promises, biting her tentatively upturned bottom lip.

He climbs another step, flexes his fingers at his side to refrain from reaching for her. Even if Beckett was a hugger, he would probably do damage, cause her more pain. He couldn't save her from the bullet, the least he can do is not interfere with her healing process. More than he already has, that is.

She watches him come closer, sweeps her eyes over him from head to toe.

"You look terrible."

He scoffs at that, watches that careful smile on her mouth bloom wider, blossom into a vibrant thing that has the potential to light up her whole face.

"You look beautiful," he states, taking another step, reaching the porch and standing level with her now. "Kinda terrible too, but strong."

Kate arches an eyebrow at him, her feet in flats, forcing her to tilt her chin to snag his gaze.

"Strong enough to shove you into a large body of water," she quips, surprising him and reaching up to smooth back the flop of hair from his forehead, brushing it into place with the soft comb of her fingertips. "Castle, I'm - I'm so sorry. For everything that's happened between my shooting and right now."

His lungs threaten to seize up, his tongue a dead weight in his mouth for a long second, and without thinking, Castle draws a hand up to the hollow space of her cheek. He fits his palm to the cavern of bone, watches in quiet astonishment when she doesn't panic, doesn't move.

Was it so obvious how brutal her absence has been on him?

"You needed time. I can… I can always give you that, Kate. Just maybe - don't shut me out completely?" he hedges, tracing his thumb along the edge of her cheekbone. "You're really hard to miss."

"You're not so easy either," she mumbles, her gaze fluttering to his chin, avoiding his eyes. "Why do you think I started texting you?"

"To stop me from overloading your voicemail box and bombarding you with weekly 'get well soon' messages?" he muses, feeling her cheek rise beneath his palm, but her head shakes, slow and careful so not to strain her chest.

"Checking in like that, I thought it was sweet," she admits, chewing on the corner of her bottom lip. "I'm sorry it took me weeks to respond, I just-"

"Needed time," he repeats, understanding, better now than before. In one of their phone conversations, she confessed to his assumption that she has the nightmares, just like he so often does. How every second since Montgomery and the hangar and the cemetery still haunts her. Their ways of coping are different; Kate craved solitude, the chance to heal alone, in privacy, while he desired the company of others. And that's okay, he just hopes that someday they can find an in between.

"I'll still need time," she whispers, the fingers that grazed through his hair coiling in the fabric of the shirt at his side, the contact debilitating. "Time to heal, to process everything that happened that day, to be ready for it."

Kate Beckett has never been one to talk about things, an accusation he threw at her that night in her apartment, never one to address this… this thing between them. But she holds his eyes now, her own a bright, golden flecks illuminating her pupils like the sun overhead as she stares up at him. She looks hopeful, determined, willing him to understand that she-

Oh, she remembers. She's telling him that she remembers and she's not ready, but… but she can be?

Castle brushes his thumb to the papery thin skin beneath her eye, over the small beauty mark below the corner, hopes she can read his subtext as well as he thinks he's read hers.

"I'm good at waiting."

Kate releases a breath, one that sounds of relief, and steps into him. It causes his heart to falter once again, damn near close to malfunctioning, but she touches her forehead to the center of his clavicle, the hollow of his throat, and the simple touch envelopes him in a sense of peace he hasn't felt in too long.

"Can you stay?" she murmurs, her breath warm, the fringe of her lashes fluttering against his skin. "Stay a little while?"

Rick rests his chin atop her head, feels the last of the tension laced through her spine begin to slip away.

"I had at least intended to stick around until you made good on your challenge to push me into a lake, so yes," he answers, grinning at the spread of her lips against his shirt, the squeeze of her hand at his waist. "But I could be persuaded to stay longer."

"Mm, good. May take me a couple of days to build up the strength," Kate admits, her fingers unfurling from his shirt. They drift to curl at the arm leading up to his hand still draped at her cheek, drawing it down to tangle with hers. "In the meantime, I have coffee inside, leftovers my dad brought over last night."

"Have I told you that you're an amazing host, Beckett?"

She lifts her head from his chest, her lips still strung up in the corners, and tugs him back with her towards the front door of her dad's cabin. It's been months, but he falls into step with her with ease, follows her without hesitation.