"Hey, sweetheart."

Pursing her lips, she shakes her head. She has always hated that. Not as much as 'babe,' but still, it's enough to earn a slight growl in her voice, even though she knows it's coming. "Castle..."

His laughter rings through the speaker, makes her heart leap. God, she misses him.

"I know, Kate. I know how much you hate that."

She feels the corner of her mouth trying to turn up, but she determinedly pulls it back down.

"And I know you're holding back a smile right now, because you secretly love it when I use sappy endearments with you."

"Oh, shut up," she mutters.

She can hear the smirk in his voice, can picture it so clearly. "You're rolling your eyes aren't you?"

Damn. She is.

"I know you, Kate Castle."

There's still something about that name that still causes a flutter in her chest every time she hears it. Even now, after all this time.

"I wish you were here," his voice says, and her heart clenches at the wistfulness in his tone. "Well, no. Not really, because if you were-"

The words trail off, but she knows what he meant.

"Anyway, I'm just glad I'm getting a chance to talk to you. I didn't know if I would."

She shuts her eyes, holds back the sudden rising moisture. "Me too, Castle."

Silence answers her, and she finds herself imagining the expression on his face, the raw longing and adoration. Alexis took a picture of him once when he was on the phone with Kate while she was in the middle of a case and he was stuck writing. Her stepdaughter had sent it to her afterward with the caption 'Even when you're not together, you're sickeningly sweet.'

It was-

It was breathtaking.

The soft curl of his lips, the crinkles at the edges of his eyes, the light flush on his cheeks, the unfocused blue of his gaze as he talked to her.

Her heart pounds harder just thinking about the image.

His voice suddenly cuts through her thoughts. "I wish I could hold you right now, kiss you, feel your skin against mine."


God, she wants that too, wants that so much.

Ever since her mother died, she's tried not to let herself depend on any one person too much. But Rick Castle scaled all her walls, burrowed into her heart. She should have known how hard it would be to not have him here.

"I miss you," she murmurs, just as his voice comes through the speaker, whispering the same words.

"Kate, I hope-"

There's something like grief in his tone, and she wants to know, wants to ask him what he was going to say.

But already she can hear the increase in background noise, the confusion, the tension, a man's harsh voice yelling. And then Castle's breathing, as if he's right next to her, his words spoken as if he's leaning into her body. "I have to go. I'm sorry."

She can almost feel his lips feathering against the shell of her ear. She wants to tell him to just keep talking to her, to never stop talking to her.

"I love you, Kate. So very much."

Instinct doesn't even allow for a pause. "Love you too."

The sound of his sigh whispers across the speaker, and then his voice comes through once more, soft, gentle, so incredibly tender. "Always."

"Always," she echoes.

A click. Silence.

Rolling onto her side in their bed, she stares at the spot next to her. The spot where he should be. She sets the phone on his pillow, her fingers caressing the smooth glass of the touchscreen. His voice still rings in her ears, filling her with the now familiar blend of love and desperate, aching longing. Only he could know she'd need this - this gift of his words, meant only for her. His words brought them together in the beginning. They keep her together now.

His voice will lull her to sleep, just as it has every night since she discovered the recording on his phone two months after it happened.

And maybe in the morning, it'll be easier.

She hits play again, the memory of him filling her vision as she closes her eyes in the darkness and listens.

"Hey, sweetheart."