Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or its characters in any way, shape, or form.
Spoilers for 7x14 ahead.
He couldn't breathe.
They had waited at the precinct, thinking there was no need to assume the worst until they were sure she wouldn't walk through the elevator doors with knowledge from their witness.
But he knew.
He called her over and over again, her voicemail recording like a death march in his ear. Her voice was comforting, but it meant she could be anywhere, she could be-
It wasn't hard to see; the cryptic phone call, the wicked wink. He knew.
But he didn't want to believe it for a second.
He goes home. Without her.
It's a strange feeling for him to walk into the loft alone and not see her there, waiting for him. It's strange not to be walking in with her and greeting his mother or his daughter before crawling into bed together.
It's only been a couple of hours, but God, he misses her.
His daughter meets him in the kitchen. Her concerned, "Where's Kate?" is all it takes to undo him.
He clutches Alexis to him with a strangled, "I don't know."
Her pillow smells like cherries. Like her.
He regrets going home. Gates made him leave, saying there was nothing for him to do, and that he should be with his family.
He should be with his family. He should be with Kate.
He still had to leave, despite his protests, but he wishes that he never went home. Everything smells like her, belongs to her, reminds him of something she touched. All he has are tiny remnants of her that fill him with enough grief to swallow them whole.
He wished he never went home because here, surrounded by small fractions of her, it feels like she's already dead.
A dead, cold body that looks just like her.
He sees her tied to a chair, and his body is propelled forward to her immediately.
He kneels in front of her, tears on his face while he tentatively cradles hers.
Esposito undoes the hand restraints and she pitches forward into his chest, limp and cold and dead. Where there would normally be warmth skating on the collar of his shirt, there is nothing. Where there would normally be a steady pulse jumping under the skin of her neck, there is silence.
He is not silent. He is howling and crying and apologizing to her for everything as if he's the one who did it to her. He is apologizing for the fact that she won't be his 'next time.' He is apologizing for all the things she never got to do.
But it isn't her. It isn't Kate.
It's a woman with cheek fillers and a nose job and hair colored to look like Kate, but it isn't her.
Three months without her.
He wonders how she found the strength to work his case, because it's killing him. He wonders how she looked at his face on a murder board and didn't weep in front of her coworkers, because he can't make himself stop.
By some miracle, they find a warehouse that is very likely her location.
By some miracle, he doesn't sprint recklessly inside.
They make their way through the building cautiously, clearing every single room in the large building. He tries not to get his hopes up, but that's impossible.
He knows she could be dead. But after so long, he just wants to know.
They reach a small, rusted door. Esposito kicks it in, and he holds his breath.
There she is. She has her wedding ring and the tattered remains of the clothes she was last seen wearing, and she's lying on the ground like she was dumped there. She probably was.
He's on the ground in seconds, holding her in his lap so tight that it has to hurt her. His hand presses her skull into his clavicle, where he feels faint stuttering breaths and a small whimper.
The sound of his name is so small he's not entirely sure he heard it, but he cries and holds her even tighter, rocking her back and forth.
She is here. She will be okay.
"I love you. God, I love you so much, Kate."
Author's Note: This is my first fanfic for the Castle fandom. I hope I didn't butcher it? After seeing 7x14 I couldn't not write something. It turned out different than I expected, but I hope it's okay? The only editor is me, so all mistakes and crappy plot ideas are mine. Reviews are always welcome. I love constructive criticism! Thank you for reading!