Kate rode the adrenaline, staying focused on the wound itself and the need to ensure the injured party remained calm until additional help arrived. The injured party. God, no. She was applying pressure to the point of entry and calling out a series of updates and clipped commands to Jordan Shaw, all while keeping her breathing steady as a guide for the man who'd been shot in the shoulder in his attempt to save her life. There was blood everywhere, and a strange smile adorning the face from which she could never fully turn away; she had the passing thought that a movie's orchestral score would be slowing now, a montage of the star's greatest moments presented to the tearful audience as the courageous cop pled for a miracle.

The big-screen version of Nikki Heat, a failed heroine for Jameson Rook.

The comparison was over-dramatic – precisely the type of spectacle she'd expect Castle to fabricate in such an instance – and she growled in her frustration. Castle was still conscious, the blood loss seemed manageable, and there was no way she was letting him die at the culmination of a case centered upon his own fictional character; it was too meta, even for him. Eventually, she heard the commotion as Shaw's federal team scrambled into action around her, but she didn't back away until an EMT curled his hand along her bicep and dragged her aside.

Of course, being pulled away from Castle only gave her the opportunity to replay the events of the past several minutes. When Scott Dunn had fled the room in which he'd been holding Agent Shaw, Kate had sprinted after him, knowing Castle would help free Shaw in her absence. Then she'd stalked her prey until he'd – quite literally – gotten the jump on her, and she'd eventually ended up on the ground facing the wrong side of her own gun.


Kate wondered how long it would be before she'd stop hearing Castle's shout ricochet off the warehouse walls.

There had been so little time for rational thought prior to Dunn's reaction to the interruption, but she's ashamed that immediate relief had struck just ahead of the more logical fear for Castle's safety. Then she'd watched as the madman had spun toward the sound of Castle's voice and fired, Castle somehow managing to shoot the gun out of Dunn's hand just as he'd fallen. Dunn had rushed for the weapon he'd lost, Kate right behind him, but Jordan Shaw had ended it for them there; the moment Dunn had been restrained, Kate had landed hard on her knees beside Castle to tend to the gunshot wound to his shoulder.

"You should go with him. I can wrap up everything here." Shaw's tone left little room for argument, but Kate nodded anyway, acknowledgment and gratitude combined.

Sitting by Castle's side while he was transported to the hospital would leave a slow-healing ache in her chest, but there was nowhere else she could have allowed herself to be.

Upon their arrival, Castle had been swept away from her and taken into the depths of the hospital to be prepped for surgery. He'd remained conscious throughout their ambulance ride, which she'd taken to be a positive sign, but he'd also been far from responsive to the attention he'd received. His typical exuberance had been replaced by dull eyes and a mask of weariness, and while she'd assumed it was a normal reaction to the pain and chaos, the paramedics had never wavered in their care and Kate hadn't been able to tell whether she needed to be any more worried than she already was.

Settled into an uncomfortable chair in the waiting area, she scanned the hypnotic floral pattern adorning the walls and tuned out the end of the late-night television talk show humming from the far corner of the room. She was alone; only one family had been there when she'd stumbled in, and they were called away for an update on their loved one just a few minutes ago.



For an update.


How the hell had she forgotten to call Martha and Alexis to tell them what had happened? They needed to know – had to be at the hospital by the time Castle came out of surgery – and she'd been staring into space for almost half an hour already, selfishly distracted by nothing at all. She pushed herself upward and yanked her phone from her back pocket, fortunate it had survived the abuse it had endured during her struggle with Dunn, then scrolled through her contacts with clumsy and nervous fingers. Finding the name she needed, she pressed the call icon and closed her eyes against the nausea threatening with wave after wave.


Martha was breathless, maybe even agitated, but she seemed to be awake and Kate was grateful for that small favor. "Hi, Martha. It's Detective Beckett. Uh, Kate. I'm so sorry to-"

"Yes, Kate, darling. Alexis and I are almost there." She was pretty sure she heard a mumbled thanks and the slamming of a car door, but her head pushed the noise aside. "Is there any news yet?"

"Almost where? And…news?"

"The hospital, of course. We're outside now. And you can tell us all about Richard in just a minute."

The call was disconnected and Kate let her hand fall to her side as she paced the tile floor. Of course. Jordan Shaw had probably called Montgomery and either Montgomery or the boys had called Martha. She supposed it was just one more reason to admire the woman. Shaw had been able to focus on the importance of notifying Castle's family while Kate had been caught up in a mess of emotions she'd yet to rein in.

She turned at the distant chime of the elevator and forced one shaky breath before Alexis ran toward her, unfiltered fear in her wide, crystal-blue eyes. "Detective Beckett, what happened to my dad? Is he going to be okay? What did the doctors say?"

Martha pulled her granddaughter back with a gentle hand to her shoulder, but raised her eyebrows and awaited Kate's reply. Kate began to look down at the hands fumbling with her phone, but Castle's family deserved a firm and confident response, even if she could give them little else.

"We tracked down the guy we'd been after, found where he was holding Agent Shaw. The FBI team was actually across the street, following a different trail, so Castle and I were alone for the rescue. There was a confrontation and a chase and, eventually, I was being held at gunpoint, but your dad showed up and saved me…and got shot in the shoulder." She shook her head when her voice started to shake; it wasn't the time to consider all the ways things could have ended in tragedy. "He was conscious the entire time, before help came and then throughout the ambulance ride here, and they hurried him into surgery right away. Nobody has said anything to me since then."

Alexis nodded, her eyes only slightly calmer than they had been a moment earlier. "Okay, but the bullet hit him in the shoulder, so then he should be fine, right? There are no vital organs there. He'll be fine."

Kate closed her eyes, unsure how to respond to that level of hope. The truth was, getting shot in the shoulder was nothing like its portrayal in television and movies. With such prompt medical care, there was an excellent chance Castle would survive it – the blood loss had been under control and antibiotics would keep infection at bay – but 'fine' was probably unrealistic. The joint was complex, and the odds of lasting damage high. Panic wrapped tight around her chest with the realization that their odd partnership would come to an end, and that he'd be forever reminded of the way Nikki Heat had screwed up his life.

"Alexis, why don't you stay here with Detective Beckett, while I go find a nurse who can give me an update?" Martha didn't wait for a response, gliding from the room with the same dramatic flair that would be expected of her in any occasion.

There was really nothing else to be said, no small talk to be made, so Kate slumped into a chair and let her head fall into her hands while she tried to ignore the canned laughter from the sitcom rerun in the corner. She wanted to see Castle's smile and hear his jokes, but would he be willing to offer them to her anymore? Would he hate her for the position she'd put him in? Would his family hate her? As much as she pretended to be annoyed by him – and okay, a lot of times she was annoyed by him – she also knew she'd grown to care about him, and wasn't quite ready to let that go.

Castle seemed to care about her, too. And she wasn't sure what to do about that.

She couldn't let herself consider the possibilities, not when she was surrounded by the unknown and anxiety that wouldn't ebb anytime soon. He'd get through the surgery and they'd all take it from there. Kate sensed Alexis stiffen beside her and looked up in time to see Martha's return to the waiting area.

"Well, the staff is certainly friendly, but not entirely helpful," she sighed. "All they could do was confirm that Richard is still in the operating room, though they don't expect it to be much longer, and then he'll be in recovery for at least an hour or two before they'll move him elsewhere and allow any visitors."

"But they didn't say anything about his condition?" Alexis pled, standing to face her grandmother.

"No details." With a glance down at Kate, Martha continued. "I think the two of you should go back to the loft and try to get some rest. There's no reason to mope around here if we can't see him, and it's already so late. I'll call you if there is anything you need to know right away…otherwise, you can both come back in the morning."

Oh god. The loft. She was staying at the loft with Castle in the aftermath of her apartment explosion, except that it wasn't that simple – not with Castle in the hospital because of her. But she met Martha's eyes and understood that somehow she was still supposed to go back to his home and crawl into the bed in his guest room and pretend that it was all going to be okay. She wanted to protest, but that would only upset Alexis further; if Kate insisted on staying until they could be by Castle's side, Alexis would do the same.

Some part of her was still figuring out a way to keep everyone satisfied when she followed Martha's pointed glance downward, biting back a gasp at the sight of the blood crusted on her clothes, some of it still staining her hands. Castle's blood, of course. It left her with no argument, no way to convince herself that she could do anything but escort Alexis home and take a shower until the water ran clear.

There had been few words exchanged on the way back to the loft, and Alexis had only whispered a request to be awakened with any updates before she'd trudged upstairs, Kate close behind. Then Kate had slipped into the guest bathroom, careful to avoid the mirror offering reflections she'd already see in her nightmares, and leaned against the shower wall until she was cleansed by hot water and tears alike.

Overwhelmed by restlessness and uninterested in sleep, Kate shrugged into Castle's t-shirt and her own yoga pants, grabbed her phone, and padded down the stairs under the pretense of needing water from the kitchen; instead, she wandered toward Castle's office and rested in the doorway.

It wasn't enough.

She was already being kept from his bedside and she yearned to be closer to whatever part of him she could reach – the part of him that had been part of her for longer than he knew. Shuffling into the room, she lowered herself into his desk chair and absorbed the same view he took in while writing her story. The environment was so much like him – chaotic, yet strangely soothing – and she knew she could get lost in the hundreds of books adorning his shelves if she allowed herself to approach them. Leather chairs beckoned from the corners and she had to ignore their pull while she scanned the many framed pictures he kept near. Castle's desk was surprisingly well-organized, so little seeming out of place, except for the-

Was that her dad's watch on his desk?

It would probably be considered snooping, her grabbing at the box she found, but she'd thought she'd lost the watch to Scott Dunn; she lifted the box with trembling hands and brought it closer. There was a folded sheet of notebook paper tucked inside, and she'd already crossed some sort of line, so she shook off her guilt and pried it open to read the familiar handwriting on the page.

I found your watch in the wreckage of your apartment and took the liberty of having it fixed for you. I hope you're not too mad that I kept it from you, but I thought it might be a nice surprise.

Also, as I was preparing to return this, it dawned on me that it might be time to ask you out on a date. I've watched you for so many hours, minutes, and seconds – staring is creepy, I know – but when the clock strikes seven on Saturday night, I'd love to be at your door. Well, my door. I mean, my door that currently serves as your door because a serial killer set an explosion behind your actual door. Anyway, we can enjoy a wonderful dinner, forget about our yesterdays, and talk about our tomorrows.

What do you think? Can my big hand hold your little hand this weekend?

She cried. Sobbed, really. Curled into Castle's chair and wept until she had nothing left. Because at some point, not long before he'd saved her life, this man had sat down to charm her with a series of terrible time-related puns, and she wasn't sure any other two actions could have summed him up so completely. He'd taken a literal bullet for her within 24 hours of crafting a big hand/little hand joke as a way to ask her out.

It made her laugh and broke her heart.

The rattling of her phone interrupted her tears, and Kate hurried to answer. "Martha? How's Castle? Did you hear from the doctors?"

"Oh dear, yes. Yes, he's going to be okay." Martha's voice was strained, the emotion affecting her in a way Kate had never witnessed. "They said luck must have been on his side because shoulder wounds can be disastrous, but this bullet hit him the best possible spot. He'll be hurting for a while, but he shouldn't have any of the long-term trouble that they would have expected before they got a closer look at the injury. He was just so incredibly fortunate."

Kate nodded into the empty room and wiped her face with her free hand. "Can we see him now?"

"I just left his room, but it's probably best for you to wait and bring Alexis in the morning. Richard's on some pretty good drugs and really needs to rest, so there's no reason you shouldn't get a few hours of sleep too. I know he'll want to see you when he's more coherent, but you won't do yourself any good if you pace around here until then."

"Okay," she mumbled. Martha was right and they both knew it, but it didn't make it any easier to stay away.

They said their goodbyes, and Kate dropped the phone onto Castle's desk and rubbed her hands over her eyes as though she could scrub the tired away. When she gave up a few minutes later, she fastened her father's watch around her wrist, then crept around to one of the wide leather chairs she could no longer ignore. Wrapping herself in the blanket she tugged from the back of the seat, Kate finally granted herself a few moments of peace.

Guilt, self-doubt, and simple fear took over when Kate returned to the hospital with Alexis early in the morning, so she encouraged the teenager to have some private family time in Castle's room; Kate would wait patiently for the chance to speak to him later, and perhaps she'd be less nervous his reaction to her presence by his bedside. It was one thing for him to want to ask her out in the middle of a high-stakes case – especially with the drama and domesticity that had come as result of her apartment explosion – but she had no idea if he'd even want to be her shadow anymore, much less her dinner date. She ran a fingertip along the band of the watch and searched its face for answers.

"He was so excited to give you that watch, I thought his tail might start wagging."

Kate's head whipped around at the sound of Jordan Shaw's voice, and found a smirk that was both arrogant and reassuring. "You knew about the watch?"

Sliding into the seat next to Kate, Shaw shrugged. "I don't know the story behind it, though it's obvious there is one. I just know I caught Castle cradling it like it was something precious, and he was more than a little eager to get it fixed for you. He cares about you, Kate. You may not see it. You may not be ready to. But he does."

"The situation with Castle is complicated," Kate replied, blinking back tears that had no business blurring her vision when she'd shed so many already.

"Mmmm. Well, let me tell you a little story about a 'complicated' situation." Shaw settled back in her chair, and Kate knew she hadn't been given a choice about listening. "I'd been out of the Academy for a few years, very focused on my career and uninterested in external distractions, including romantic relationships. But one afternoon, there was a press conference and a million reporters with a million questions, and one ridiculous freelance journalist with a goofy smile and an interest in me that I'll never understand. Somehow, he seemed to be at anything even remotely 'press-related' from that point forward, just a step behind me…honestly, he must have charmed some supervisor of mine because he was always there, under the guise of needing a quote for whatever new article he happened to be writing."

"Anyway, I did my best to ignore him, and he did his best to make that impossible. I reminded him that I had a job to do, he reminded me that our jobs weren't so different, two people intent on finding the truth and putting together the story. When anyone on my team asked what was going on, I brushed it off as complicated, mostly because I didn't know how else to label it. No-nonsense me and the guy who wouldn't go away? Then after far too many months of pretending I was annoyed by him, and a few more months of tolerating him, I finally agreed to a date." Shaw smiled; Kate could have guessed the happy ending before any more was said. "And as soon as I say goodbye here, I'll be going home to him and our daughter and the strange little life we've built."

Kate huffed from behind a sardonic smile. "So you think Castle and I should get married and have a kid?"

"I think you can probably start with an evening at a nice restaurant, but it's your call, Detective."

She was still figuring out her next step – more likely to involve a meal than a wedding – but bit back any response that would give more of her dilemma away to the woman who knew too much; Jordan Shaw had read her disturbingly well from the moment they'd met. Fortunately, their attention was turned toward a relaxed and joyful Martha, a whirl of color joining them in the waiting area.

"Oh, I'm so sorry to interrupt you two, but Richard is asking for you, darling. If you're ready, Alexis and I will go grab a bite to eat and give you some time to talk."

Ready. That was a loaded word. Kate was simultaneously aching with the need to see Castle, while also becoming increasingly queasy at the thought of it, but she squared her shoulders and shook Shaw's hand. "Thank you, Agent Shaw. For everything. And enjoy your time with your family."

Shaw nodded, her smile sharp and kind. "I certainly will. Please give Castle my best."

And with that, Kate was left alone with Martha, under the assumption they'd hurry to Castle's room; instead, Martha curved her fingers around Kate's forearm and leaned in, her voice low.

"Richard is going to bounce back from this and be back to bothering you at the precinct in no time. He's in great spirits and he doesn't blame you for anything at all, so stop worrying yourself into a tizzy." Kate felt her the surprise flash across her face, and Martha rolled her eyes. "Oh, my dear, you've barely slept and look positively ill. But while it's wonderful that you care so much about my son, you also need to go easy on yourself. March in there, see for yourself that he's okay, and then maybe the two of you can talk about whatever is still on your mind."

Any hesitation she might have had about facing Castle was an obstacle she was willing to overcome if it meant she could escape the too-wise grin of Martha Rodgers. Within five minutes, two women had successfully splayed her open, her fears and dreams spilling from where Kate tried to keep them so neatly tucked away, and it would be a relief to hide at Castle's side. He'd see the truth, too, but she'd grown accustomed to his scrutiny and appreciated that it would take some of the pressure off when it was time to speak up.

She followed Martha's directions and a couple of quick turns brought her to Castle's door, cracked open to let the chatter between father and daughter leak into the otherwise quiet hallway. Kate pushed her way into the room and summoned a smile for both of them.

"Hi, Detective Beckett," Alexis greeted, the relief in her eyes such a welcome contrast to the terror from the night before. She bent forward to kiss Castle on the forehead, then backed away from his bed. "Dad, I'm going to get some breakfast with Gram, but we'll be back soon."

Castle may have been sad to see his daughter go, but there was no denying that he was also delighted when Kate eased into the seat that Alexis had just vacated. She twisted her hands in her lap, wanting so much to touch him, but still unconvinced of her place by his side.

"Kate, I'm sorry-"

"I'm so sorry, Castle-"

They were amused by the way their words tangled together, even as their brows furrowed with twin confusion. "What could you possibly have to be sorry for, Castle? You saved my life and then got shot for your trouble, all because I couldn't handle a one-on-one confrontation with Dunn."

"But that's all part of the job description. It says so in my copy of 'Superheroes' Sidekicks for Dummies,' and I've been prepared for this for a while now. I'm just sorry that I was reckless about it, running in and shouting like I did. It freaked him out and the whole thing could have ended terribly."

"Could have ended terribly? Castle, you got shot. That's pretty damn terrible."

"Well, sure, but you didn't get shot. Plus, Dunn was caught and the FBI can go home, so it's back to you and me…a writer and his muse, fighting crime."

He was so pleased with himself, and she shook her head at the twinkle in his eye, one that had only dimmed temporarily when he'd been lying on the warehouse floor. The image made it impossible to resist the urge to reach for him, so she wrapped her hands around the one of his resting closest to her. He was warm, safe, and solid, and the contact helped ground her when she took a deep breath and began to-

"You were in my office."

Oh. Oh. Wearing the watch made it obvious, didn't it? Shit. "I wasn't trying to snoop, I swear."

Castle chuckled. "It's okay. I think I've pried into enough of your life that you should probably go back and dig through my drawers. Maybe my medicine cabinet. Oh! I could give you the combination to my safe if you'd like it."

"Not necessary, but thank you."

It was quiet for several seconds when Castle's gaze fell to the uncomfortable hospital linens draped over his lower body, the creases on his face suggesting he was searching for a thought that had slipped through his grasp. She waited him out, certain that he was well on his way to figuring it out, the hint of embarrassment giving him away when he finally arrived at the inevitable conclusion.

"If you found the watch, I guess you probably found the note that was with it?" he mumbled.

"Awww, don't get shy on me now. My little hands are holding your big hand."

Her teasing was rewarded with a bold laugh that Castle had no hope of controlling. "I can't even blame the puns on the heavy painkillers coursing through my system."

"Nope. You're gonna have to take full credit for everything you wrote." She paused, apprehension washing over her until she shook it off again. "But speaking of painkillers, you should probably get some rest. I want you to be feeling better in time for our date on Saturday."

Kate winked, then ducked her head to cover the blush heating her cheeks. He was stammering in response, his wit slowed by the drugs – and probably the pain that managed to persist in spite of them – but it gave her the opportunity to pull her hands away, using one to comb through his hair before she whispered a goodbye.

When she pulled the door closed behind her, she fell against it and smothered her grin with the back of her hand.

Castle was right.

It was time.