"How did you do it?" he wonders aloud, the vibrations of his voice rumbling into her back.

She shrugs. "It wasn't easy, but I had to. I had to do it for Alexis and Nathaniel."

His mouth presses against the nape of her neck, his lips soft and warm and right, and she realizes he needs to know this, needs to know what really got her through.

"You helped," she says quietly, turning in his embrace until she faces him, until she can watch the ever-present city lights glinting off his eyes. "You kept me going, Castle."

He opens his mouth, but she presses a finger to his lips, lifts herself over his broad body to open the drawer of the nightstand, her hand seeking blindly until her fingers close around cool metal.


His abdomen shifts beneath hers as he speaks, his bare skin brushing hers where her thin shirt has ridden up, causing a delicious curl of heat to spread outward through her body from that small point of contact. She braces herself with a palm against his chest, his hand immediately rising to cover hers.

Even in the dim light she can see the way his pupils dilate. Reaching up, he brushes a stray lock of hair behind her ear, his fingers tracing lightly over her skin.

She shudders under the gentle touch, everything rising to the surface in that moment - fear and hope and grief and joy and relief and her desperate, desperate need for her husband, for this second chance they've been given.

"Castle," she keens, and he pulls her down, swallows her voice and replaces it with truth beyond words.

"Is that my phone?"

It takes her a moment to process the question, her body still thrumming with release. Turning on her side to face him, she follows Castle's eyes to the small device that rests on the sheets between them, the sleek black and silver shining darkly in the stillness of the room.

She nods. "I must have dropped it when..."

Raising her eyes to his, she finds his lips curling upward. But it's not the grin she remembers from when they first got together, that look of complete awe that she really did love him, really did want to be with him. It's not the smirk either, not the expression he always wore when she pounced on him after he'd been in meetings all day, the look that said you might not want to admit it, but you missed me.

It's something else. Something tender, a little wistful. She lifts her hand, lets her fingers trace the parentheses that bracket his smiling mouth, the handsome crinkles that border his soft eyes.

She loves him. Oh, she loves him.

And for the first time, she can almost pretend that the past fifteen months never happened.

He turns into the touch, his lips glancing off her palm.

"Tell me?" he requests, and she nods, pulls her hand from his face to hit the power button on the phone.

He has a new one now, never asked her about the old one. She's glad for that.

Glancing down, she watches the screen light up with the glowing symbol that she knows will stay in place as it powers up.

"After you-" she starts, and suddenly it all comes rushing back.

The sinking in her stomach as she listened to her stepdaughter's voicemail, the rising dread as Esposito drove them toward the hospital, the terror as they waited and waited and waited.

She's told him all of it, knew he needed to know. Once he gave in, once he understood what his absence had done to them, what his distance was doing to them, she'd been there every day, helping him rebuild their relationship as he rebuilt his own strength.

She watched as he got to know his son, as he figured out what things make the boy laugh.

She watched as he used Nathaniel in place of a medicine ball for his exercises, swinging the boy back and forth, lifting him up and down.

She pushed back tears - let her joyful laughter come rippling out instead - the day she came back into the room after a phone call from the captain to find her husband tossing his giggling son into the air, catching the boy, and tossing him again.

Her heart sank to see how much it still wore him out that day, the way he moved a little slower after the game that should have been so easy. But it was progress. And he's only moved forward since. He's home now.

"They gave me all of your belongings," she says softly, lifting her eyes to meet his, solemn and patient. "Your jacket, wallet, keys. Your phone."

He nods.

"So I just brought them home," she continues. "And then one day, I accidentally grabbed your phone instead of mine. I didn't realize it until I turned it on and saw that the background was different."

She gestures toward the phone, toward the lock screen picture - Alexis standing behind Kate with her arms draped around the older woman while her chin rests on her stepmother's shoulder as the detective's hands rest on her belly, just the hint of a swell visible in the picture he'd taken only a few days before the subway.

"I love that picture," he murmurs, his hand dropping between them, index finger smoothing across the glass surface of the phone, across her slightly swollen figure.

Her chest tightens, his action a reminder of all the things he missed, of the way she'd stood in front of the bathroom mirror in the months that followed, studying the way her body was changing, imagining how it would look if Castle had been there, how he would step up behind her - his large hands caressing her, protecting her.

She shuts her eyes at the memory, breathes through it. Opens her eyes again to find him watching her, and she knows that somehow he's reading her mind.

"Kate, I'm so sorry," he whispers, but she shakes her head, leaning forward to press her lips to his in absolution.

"That's when I found your message," she says quietly, thumbing across the lock screen and typing in his password. She glances up at him, but he doesn't even look surprised that she knows it, that she knows him.

She opens the app, her finger hovering over the single recording.

"This is what kept me going," she says, lifting her eyes to his. "You kept me going."

She taps the screen, watches his eyes slide shut as his own voice rings out from the speaker. "Hey, sweetheart."

They listen together in silence, but not stillness.

Turning her body, she slides back into his embrace, letting his large frame engulf her. She tilts her head to press a kiss to his cheek at his teasing, squeezes his hand at the grief in his voice, runs her fingers over his skin at the hitch in his breathing - loves him as he listens with her.

She knows every word, every sigh, every moment of it by heart.

But this time, when his recorded voice whispers 'Always,' his breath really does wash over her ear, his chest rising warm against her back, his fingers tight against her stomach.

A click. Silence.

Castle twitches in his sleep, his knee jerking up to hit the back of her thigh. He hasn't regained his full strength yet, gets tired more easily, can't stay awake as long as he once did.

But he's here, wrapped around her in their bed.

Reaching over, she taps the home button of the phone, bringing it to life once more, the interface of the voice recorder app shining in the darkness, the message that has been her lifeline highlighted in bright blue. She stares at it for a moment.

And then hits 'Delete.'

the end

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