Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I used to watch the show.

Kate Beckett has finished an appetizer of mozzarella and tomato–succulent, late-season, heirloom tomatoes–and is digging into her entree when her cell rings. She's having dinner alone at an Italian place that she and Castle had loved. She's gone there a lot since his disappearance; the sympathetic staff always makes sure that she has a table in the rear, where she can have her privacy. Light from the single candle makes her engagement ring sparkle. She'd had to have the band resized, but it's as dazzling as ever.

"Hi, Espo. What's cooking?"

"He's alive, Beckett."

The words tumble into her ear, and her hand trembles so hard at the shock of them that she almost drops her phone into the pale green pool of olive oil on her bread plate. "What?"

"Castle. He's alive. He was airlifted to NYU Hospital. Where are you? Ryan and I will pick you up."

"At a restaurant. I'll hit lights and sirens and be there in five minutes. We can meet at the front desk." The cheese that she'd swallowed just before answering the phone feels like a ball of lead in her gut. "Are you sure about this, Javi? No possibility of a misidentification? We've been disappointed so many times."

"Positive. No question it's him."

She hurriedly pays her bill and asks the waiter to wrap up the rest of the meal, which she takes with her to the hospital.

The boys are waiting when she comes through the door, and they share a long, three-way hug. In the elevator, which fortunately is empty of everyone but them, she asks, "They really found him in the ocean? In a–what did you say?–a bullet-ridden dinghy off the coast of Delaware?"

"Yup. Coast Guard Captain recognized him. Radioed for help."

He's alive, the doctor tells them as soon they burst onto the sixth floor. Not conscious, not awake yet, but alive.

Martha is on the way from her studio, and Alexis from Columbia. For a few minutes, at least, she'll have him to herself. Ryan and Espo stand back, let her look through the interior window at the man she'd thought she'd never see again. He's so thin. Really, really thin. His cheekbones are so prominent that they look as sharp as steak knives. Where the hell has he been? She takes a deep breath and walks heavily into his room. There's a straight-backed chair next to his bed; she pulls it as close as she can and holds his hand, strokes it for a long time, but he never stirs. She sets her dinner next to him, on top of the blanket, in the probably insane thought that if her touch doesn't bring him around, the smell of his favorite lasagne will. It doesn't. When his mother and daughter arrive, she gives them the room.

Castle's safe, and she has a case to solve. His case. She tells the boys that she's going to dash home but will meet them at the precinct in an hour. She's voraciously hungry. She hadn't realized just how much she's hungered for him. While the lasagne is warming up in the microwave she changes, then eats standing up over the sink. Every bite, every flavor that she can separate from another, reminds her of him. She's sorry that she didn't ask for the tiramisu, too. Back in her car, she uses her teeth to rip open the package of sesame breadsticks that the waiter had thrown in the bag and devours them on the way to the Twelfth.

That was three days ago. With Castle still unconscious, she, Esposito, and Ryan had followed a trail to Gloucester, Massachusetts, where they made a shattering discovery. At a secluded waterfront campsite they had found Castle's belongings, including his wedding tuxedo, his watch, and newspaper articles about his disappearance. She's standing next to it now, staring at a sleeping bag, food, and books. He'd been living in that tent for some time, and made no attempt to come home, or even to get in touch with her or his family. She's had only a few moments to absorb all this when her phone rings: Castle is awake. The news is not the thrill that it should be: right now she wants to send him back into a coma, the son of a bitch.

He's had a few minutes with his mother and Alexis, but keeps drifting off, even as they alternately pepper him with questions and hug him. Much as he loves them, the person he's desperate to see is Kate. When the nurse alerts them that she's almost there, the two redheads go out into the corridor. Through his inside window he sees someone approaching who looks like his favorite detective, but he knows that it's not she. The resemblance is strong, but it can't be. And yet she comes in, and shuts the door behind her.

"Hey," she says.

He tries to return their familiar greeting, but it sticks in his throat. He raises his hand instead.

"Where have you been, Castle?"

"Right here," he croaks, his mouth suddenly as dry as Death Valley.

"This isn't a joke."

It isn't? The woman in front of him is twice the size of Kate. Whoever it is does a great vocal impression, he'll give her that. "What did you do with my fiancée?"

"What?"

"The woman I was supposed to marry yesterday."

"I repeat, this isn't a joke. We were supposed to get married in May."

"I know we were. May twelfth. Yesterday."

"It's October twenty-fifth," she says, the date drenched in acid. "Where have you been all this time?"

Jesus, it is her. It really is. And she's pissed off. A scale-busting Beckett is even scarier than the 125-pound version that he knows and loves, but who is now apparently trapped inside an XXL body.

"You're so much, uh, bigger." That's the wrong thing to say, but he's so aghast that he can't stop himself.

"Are you calling me fat, Castle?"

"No, no, not fat." Except there's already the beginnings of a triple chin.

"For the past five and a half months I've been eating for two, you know."

He can't catch his breath. Can't believe it. Can't chastise himself enough. If he had a hair shirt handy, he'd ditch the hospital gown and put it on. "Oh, my God! I'm so sorry. You're pregnant? I can't believe it! That's fantastic. How are you feeling?"

"Pregnant?" she responds, drawing back a little. "What makes you think I'm pregnant?"

"You just said that you've been eating for two."

"For two meaning you and me, you idiot. I thought you were dead. At first I was eating in grief, and then I was eating on your behalf. If you couldn't have pancakes with gallons of maple syrup any more, or glazed doughnuts, or bacon, or cheeseburgers and French fries, or cream of mushroom soup, or lasagne, or hot fudge sundaes, then I was going to eat all your favorite foods for you. Did I leave any out?"

"Whipped cream." He blurts it out unintentionally, hopes that she doesn't hear the horror in his voice.

"Of course, and whipped cream! I remember how you used to like licking it off me. God, I loved your doing that. And now I love licking it off myself. I didn't realize that it comes in so many flavors. Like peanut butter-chocolate. And strawberry. That one is sort of the color of a nipple."

He goes still at the thought, especially when her tongue appears and swipes the corner of her lip, perhaps in the quest for nipple-colored whipped cream.

"Oh, and speaking of whipped," she opens her purse and starts rummaging around in it, "I think I have some of those Russell Stover Milk Chocolate Whips in here. Yes!" Looking triumphant, she holds up a ziplock bag of candy. "Want one? They're delicious."

"No thanks. I'll just stick with my IV drip for a while."

"Your choice, Castle, but you're missing out." She pops one in her mouth and sucks on it, and her nascent jowls quiver.

He watches a look of ecstasy bloom on her face–a look identical to one she used to have when he–. No. No. He can't bear to think of it.

"You could do with a little more meat on your bones," she adds, taking another chocolate from the bag. "A lot more." Looking him over appraisingly, as if he were a side of beef hanging in a butcher shop, she frowns. "You'd better not have lost any weight from that magnificent ass of yours. I like to have something I can hold onto."

Before he can come up with a reply he sees her eyes dart to the table next to his bed.

"A gift basket? Who's it from? I thought your being here was still a secret."

"Bob sent it. Bob Weldon."

"The mayor? That's nice." She takes a few steps forward and examines the basket. "Good taste, too. This is from Dean and Deluca. Mind if I help myself to the cheese crisps?"

Before he can finish saying "be my guest," she has removed the bow and red cellophane.

"Yum," she says dreamily, closing her lips around the crunchy treat, which disappears instantly. "I'll try these honey-roasted almonds, too." She pauses. "But back to the point. Where the hell have you been?"

"I told you, Kate. Right here. I know you say that it's October, and judging from the top of a tree that I can see from here I understand that it must be fall, but I swear to God I don't know anything. The last thing I remember before waking up today is some jerk running me off the road when I was driving to our wedding."

"Really?" She clenches her jaw, plucks a chocolate-covered macaroon from the basket and dispatches it in two bites. "I find that hard to believe. Impossible, in fact."

The only thing more shocking to him than learning that he has been gone for almost half a year is how much food she's consumed in the last few minutes. He tries to ignore that and concentrate on what she's saying. "Why are you so angry, Kate?"

"Are you kidding?"

"I'm serious. I don't know why. What did I do?"

"I never took you for the camping type, Castle. You were appalled last year when I suggested we go on a hike in the Adirondacks and spend one night in sleeping bags. One damn night."

"Camping?" he asks weakly.

"Yes. You've been camping in Massafreakingchusetts. Nice little set up, a tent, food, battery-operated heater, portable DVD player. Looks like you've been there for months. Your tux was there, too. Your wedding tux. What was that all about? You have a hot date in Boston or something?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Okay, then. Here are some photos to jog your memory." She glares and drops a manila folder on his bedside tray. "I need to calm down, and try to understand why you're lying to me. I'm going to go out and get something to eat. It might be a little while. I haven't had a decent meal today."

She's almost at the elevator when she turns back. Hurt and confused as she is, she still loves him. She opens his door just wide enough to poke her head inside. "Hospital food sucks. Do you want me to bring you something? A milkshake?"

He's tempted to say yes, and get yourself a Diet Coke, but instead just shakes his head.

TBC