"i found the ring when i was moving my stuff out of your apartment and now everything makes sense" - pretty please :)
The look on her face haunts him, how utterly devastated she had sounded calling his name as she had trudged through the decimated remains of the bank in search of him, how she had fallen to her knees the second she located him and the other hostages, the desperation in her kiss when she’d cupped his face in her trembling hands and sealed her lips to his in relief.
He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Kate Beckett so scared. It scares him how easily he was able to do that to her and he just… he doesn’t want to be another person she has to say goodbye to, to bury. He couldn’t do that to her, he just can’t.
He puts the ring back in the jewelry box, tucks it back into the drawer before she can return, and steels himself for what he has to do.
He’s different after the bank explosion, distant and on edge the morning after they go back to his apartment, have dinner with his family, and reaffirm life against the wall of his office, in the shower, the bed. That night he’d been so raw and cut open, all of it exposed to her, and she’d held him until he’d drifted to sleep against her with his cheek to her chest, his ear to her heartbeat, until the horror had finally eased.
That had been the last night they’d had together before he began to shut her out while he shut down, using her own old coping mechanisms against her. She goes to Alexis, to Martha, seeking reason, but they’re just as baffled by the sudden darkness he carries as she is, unable to comprehend what would have Richard Castle withdrawing from life rather than celebrating it after nearly losing his own.
“I don’t understand,” she whispers when he tells her he thinks they need a break, staring back at her with hollow eyes and a frown that’s been there for days straight. “Castle, I thought - since when are you the one who has communication issues? What - just tell me what this is about.”
“I just need some time, like you needed last summer,” he reminds her, throws back at her, and it hurts to remember the summer after her shooting, where he’d had to stand by her from afar for over a month and a half while she healed in solace. It hadn’t been fair, not to him, but they had worked through it, moved past it, and she couldn’t understand why he would change that method now.
“But you won’t even talk to me,” she argues, snagging his hand in the foyer of the loft before he can walk away from her (because apparently he does that now) and squeezing his fingers tight. “Was there something… what did I do, Rick?”
For the first time in the four days since the explosion, emotion breaches his eyes, bleeding more darkness into the greys of his irises.
“Kate, I love you,” he breathes, using her grip on his fingers to draw her forward, seal his lips to her forehead. “But I just can’t be with you.”
She had nearly lost him in the bank, and now she was losing him again.
“Fine,” she murmurs, releasing his fingers and pulling away from him, giving him what he wanted. “I’ll stay at my place tonight, start packing up my stuff this week.”
He doesn’t speak, but she doesn’t need to hear anything, doesn’t need to pepper the fresh slice through her chest with salt by looking at him either; Kate glides past him for the front door, makes it into the hall, the elevator, before the tear in her heart splits wider, has her pressing the emergency stop button before she can sink to the floor of the lift, grit her teeth until breathing doesn’t hurt so much and she can leave his lobby with her composure intact.
Castle isn’t at the precinct the next day, not that she had expected him to show, and they have no active cases going, so she takes the liberty of cleaning out her desk of his things. She allowed him a drawer, much like she had at her apartment, where he could keep some of his knick-knacks and a notebook, pens, a plethora of sticky notes with Nikki Heat ideas and dialogue scribbled on the front and back of the multicolored papers. The fault lines in her heart split wider as she packs his things into a small box, biting back ridiculous tears by the time she’s laying his long chain of paperclips atop the rest of the items.
But it’s intrigue that breaches her sorrow when she thinks the drawer is finally empty only to encounter a palm-sized box pushed to the back of the enclosure.
Kate sits back in her office chair with the little black box in her fingers, her battered heart beginning to accelerate in her chest, knocking against the brittle bones of her ribcage. It’s a jewelry box, but he wouldn’t… he wouldn’t have a ring for her if he had intended to break up with her. And if he had, surely he would have removed it from her desk before he decided to end things.
Sure enough, though, when Kate pops open the box with her thumb, an engagement ring is glittering back at her.
He had wanted to marry her. He was going to propose to her. And yet, suddenly, he chooses to end the best relationship either one of them has ever experienced? No, she won’t accept that, she won’t just let him go without a fight.
Beckett pockets the ring once she’s slid her coat on, a job that used to be his, that feels wrong now that the responsibility is her own once more, and spares a glance to Ryan and Esposito.
“Hey, do you guys mind-”
“Covering for you?” Ryan quips with a hopeful gleam in his eyes.
Had she really looked that torn up over Castle throughout these last few days that even her boys had noticed?
“We got your back, Beckett,” Esposito chimes in, and yeah, she must have.
“Thanks, guys,” she attempts a smile, but the twisted thing that claims her lips feels more like a grimace.
She takes a cab to the loft, her knee bobbing anxiously in the backseat. Nothing has made sense since the bank bombing – his behavior, their breakup – but finding the ring hidden in her desk drawer has made one thing clear. Rick Castle had loved her enough to want to propose spending the rest of his life with her, and the only reason he would change his mind in such an uncharacteristic manor is if something had spooked him.
Like the idea of dying, leaving her alone like her mother had.
Kate pays the driver, almost stumbles out of the cab once it stops outside his building, but she doesn’t miss a beat after that, striding into his building with determination rushing through her veins, burning through her blood. She climbs the stairs two at a time, too antsy for another elevator ride, and has to refrain from running down the hall to reach his door.
He swings it open after three relentless slams of her fist to the surface, the indignation on his face dissolving the second he realizes it’s her.
“You don’t get to do this,” she growls, not hesitating to step inside, imposing on his personal space and catching him by the cheeks with her hands. “You do not get to force your way into my life, my job, for three years, make me fall in love with you and then just stop. You don’t get to leave me alone in this.”
He groans at the punishing press of her mouth to his, the surge of her body arching into him, feeling just how badly he does at lying to her, himself. Castle’s hands fist in the back of her coat, dragging her body up hard against his, indulging the work of her lips and clash of teeth, giving it all back to her.
“Don’t want to hurt you, Kate, just don’t-”
“You already did,” she chokes out, losing control of the shortened reins on her emotions, digging her fingers into his shoulders to survive the force of them beating against her like a harsh wave. “You give me a reason or we work this out, Castle. You are not allowed to just decide we’re over, you can’t-”
“We aren’t - can’t be over,” he rasps, his head shaking against her, his body backing hers into the still open door, nudging it shut. “I tried-”
“I love you. I’m not naïve enough to think that will stop bad things from happening, but I would rather be with you now, savor every second, than lose you and be left with the ‘what if’s,” she says fiercely into the inch of space between their mouths. “What happened with the bank… losing you would have ruined me, but I wouldn’t have changed anything. Never would have chosen not to love you.”
Castle’s chest has gone still, blue eyes wide and staring back at her. “How did you-”
“I’m a detective, you idiot,” she mutters, loosening her bruising grip on his shoulders to drape one of her palms to his throat, lowering the other to her side, to delve into the pocket of her coat. “And I found this while I was clearing out my desk.”
He stops breathing altogether the second she holds up the jewelry box between them.
“I don’t know when you planned to do it, if you - but I know you,” she whispers, the fierce ache in her chest gentling with his body towering over her, curled around her, and a wedding ring balanced between them. “You wouldn’t just… stop loving me like this.”
“I never stopped,” he protests on a ragged exhale. “Not even close, I - I thought… fuck, Kate, I don’t know what I thought.”
“Trauma does that, you know,” she murmurs, placing the ring in his hand, his to return to her whenever he decides, and banding her arms around his neck. “Over the last few years, though, you’re the one who taught me talking about it is better than bottling it up and doing something stupid.”
“Wish I’d taken my own advice,” he gruffs, curling his fingers around the box, dropping his forehead back to rest against hers. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Kate sighs and skims her nose along his cheek, submerges her fingers in his hair. “My forgiveness could be earned.”
“Oh?” he breathes, a tentative hint of a smile cracking across his lips.
“You have four days of hell to make up for, “ she muses, her thumb stretching outwards to skim the shell of his ear. “But Ryan and Esposito are covering for me for the next hour, could be a good time to get started.”
Castle lifts his free hand to graze his knuckles along her cheek, his touch so tender and good, so viscerally missed.
“Might want to pick a better hiding spot for that too after I leave,” she mumbles, flicking her gaze to the ring still cradled in his palm, and Castle huffs.
“Did you open it?”
“How do you think I know what’s in it?”
“Now I have to get you a new one,” he decides, slipping the box into his pocket, replacing the fit of it in his fingers with the bone of her hip beneath his palm.
“But I liked-”
“Ruins the surprise, Beckett,” he murmurs, earning a roll of her eyes for the ridiculous logic, but she doesn’t care. Castle is slanting his mouth over hers, kissing her against the front door and wrapping his arms around her body to pull her closer after she had spent nearly a week convinced they had crashed and burned.
He’ll propose to her someday soon and she’ll say yes, she has no doubts or reservations about that, but for now, she just wants this, him.