The last thing Kate Beckett heard before her world went dark were Castle's heartfelt confession 'I love you, I love you Kate' then the world was gone. Her next memory she felt herself materialize in her childhood home. She stands there, confused as she looks around. She glances down at herself and sees she's still in her uniform pants, shoes and undershirt with a hole where the bullet entered. She doesn't dare touch it she just looks around again, her brows furrowed in confusion. She doesn't understand what's going on. How did she get here? Why isn't she in the hospital? Is she dead? Was Castle hit? So many questions running thorugh her mind faster than she can even begin to find answers. She's suddenly rooted to the floor, unmoving as a voice from her past comes from behind her. A voice long dead, since she was nineteen, the voice of her mother "Hello Katie dear"

"Mom" the word seems foreign as it escapes her lips in the barest of whispers. After agonizing minutes, or at least it feels like it to her it's likely only seconds, she turns around and there before her is her beloved Mother dressed neatly in the clothes she was wearing the night she died only without the knife holes

"Mom?" Johanna Beckett nods and opens her arms, Kate runs into them like a child and clings to her for dear life

"Am I dead?" Johanna shakes her head a bit as she smooths her hand over Kate hair

"No dear, not yet. You're in the space between life and death, a space where I get to show you things to help you decide not only life or death but if you choose life where you truly want to go. Tell me Katie, who among the living do you want to see most right now?"

Kate doesn't even have to think about it, she steps back and looks at her mother "Rick... I need to see Castle Mom, to know he's okay"

Johanna tips her head a little and nods "That depends on what you call alright Katie" With that said they both dematerialize and rematerialize in Kate's hospital room where Kate's body lays on life support, her father dozing in the corner chair, and a very sickly, exhausted, obviously thinner Castle sits next to her bed, his hand holding hers as though it's his touch keeping her alive.

"oh god..." is all Kate can get out of her mouth.

"It's been a month Katie, he and your father haven't left your side for longer than it takes to use the bathroom or shower. Your father's remembering to take care of himself but as you can see, Rick hasn't been. His grief is greater than the strength he has to move from that spot"

Kate tries to touch his face but her hand passes right through him, she closes her eyes and takes a breath to stabalize herself though inside her heart is aching as she turns and walks back to her mother "What are these choices you were talking about?"

Johanna gives her the smallest of smiles "Well Katie, there's three paths that you can take when you wake up. The path with Rick now that his feelings are known, the path with Josh because he's safe and you're hiding with him, or a path with neither of them. Which do you want to see first?"

Kate looks back at Castle longingly for several moments before answering "Show me what my life would be like with Castle... please"

When they materialize they're in the loft, Alexis is sitting on the floor with a two year old girl wearing a party hat. There's a large banner reading 'Happy Birthday Johanna' covering the window and there's balloons everywhere. Kate's sitting on the couch with a newborn boy in her arms laughing with joy at the scene before her looking truly happy and whole. Castle shuffles into the room wearing a party hat himself even though it looks like a horn with as tiny as it is compared to his large head. He swoops down and sets a birthday cake on the coffee table. Martha swings in the door with the boys and Lanie just in time and they all burst into happy birthday to the squealing little girl who's jumping and clapping. Kate tips her head at the scene, tears dripping down her cheeks as she reguards the little girl. She's practically a clone of herself only with Castle's gorgeous blue eyes. She covers her mouth to stop a sob after the girl blows out her candles and Castle leans over kissing all over the girls face, then moves to her on the couch kissing the baby once then drawing future Kate into a clearly loving and adoring kiss for several seconds. They whisper 'I love you" to one another with a set of smiles that would light up a blackout. After a long moment they turn and watch as Auntie Lanie starts helping the little girl with her presents. Kate finally finds her voice, though it's tear filled

"Is this real? Mom? Is this real?"

Johanna steps up beside her and wraps her arm around her. "Were you to choose Rick? Yes. He'd stay by your side unwaveringly until his body grows too old to sustain life, which is a very very ripe old age I'll add"

Kate closes her eyes, more tears falling as she watches for several more minutes. "Okay, show me what happens with Josh"

When they appear it's in a house that she doesn't recognize at all. She see's herself sitting on the couch with a nearly empty bottle of tequila in her hand, drunk as she's ever seen herself. Future Kate's head turns as the phone rings, she ignores it and takes another long swig from the bottle. When the machine picks up, it's Josh saying that he knows he's been gone for three months but with the tsunami that hit Haiti he has to go there to help for the next two months. He doesn't even say 'I love you' when it hangs up, Future Kate laughs deliriously

"Three months? Try all but a week after our wedding you son of a bitch. I lost everything... everyone and for what? An absentee husband and me jumping down the rabbit hole that almost killed my father? I hope you drown!"

She tips back the bottle and downs several swigs before tossing the empty bottle onto a pile of others then flops out on the couch more to sleep. Kate turns away and looks green

"That's really what it'd be like? How?"

Johanna watches her sadly "When you married Josh you had your friends by your side. But Josh didn't want to share you so one by one he alienated them all. Rick stuck it out the longest, though inside he was dead just going through the motions of life. The day you said I do to Josh was the day his heart and soul died. In reality he didn't leave on his own volition. You had just had an argument with Josh about him leaving for yet another Doctors Without Borders mission and were thrust into a high speed chase after a suspect. In your emotional state your cruiser rolled through a guard rail and slammed into a tree. Of course your first thoughts weren't of yourself but of Rick, but it was too late for him. Two low branches had come through the window and door. One had impaled him horizontally through his chest, the other had gone through his head. He never knew what hit him but a large part of you died with him. You started drinking the night after the funeral and never stopped. Your captain caught you drinking on the job and fired you on the spot. So you started to drink more..."

Kate was shaking by then, her entire body, tears pouring down her face like a torrential rain storm.

"Stop... please stop Mom... don't tell me any more. Just show me the third path" She wipes her face clean and forces deep breaths to center herself for what's coming next.

They appear at the 12th, Future Kate is wearing her hair short again and she looks exhausted. Thin as she can be and still function she works non stop on paperwork even though the bullpen appears empty and it's obviously late. Kate's eyes move to Castle's chair and sees his jacket, she smiles a bit then notices it's coated in dust. There's a picture and a eulogy card on the seat and her body goes still. Johanna's voice comes gently

"As explained before, this is your future if you choose neither of them. You still have your friends but you never socialize with them after work like you used to. Rick, well Rick was killed in a mugging as he left the Old Haunt drunk as can be after watching you have your latest one night fling to handle your hormones. It's been over a year but you still haven't found his killer. At this point you don't even investigate mine, which is fine with me I'll add, you spend your every waking moment searching for his killer. Your friends stay by you but you're colder than you've ever been. The light in your eyes is gone and your soul has gone grey. On this path, you don't have a life you simply exist"

Kate moves around and draws her fingers through Castle's jacket then looks over her desk. All the silly things he'd gotten for her over the years is still there plus a few she doesn't recognize. She has pictures of him, Alexis, Martha on her desk including one that looks like a wedding photo of Alexis and Ashley. She takes a shuddering breath and swallows

"Take me back to Castle" is all she says as she moves back to her mother's side.

They reappear in the hospital room, Castle hasn't moved but Jim now sits beside him engaging him in half hearted conversation telling him stories about Kate as a child, stories Castle has always wanted to hear but they don't seem to bring him the joy they normally would. Suddenly Kate turns her head as Josh appears in the doorway

"What the Hell? What are you doing here Castle? You've already put her in a coma with your stupid crusade to find her mother's killer, what are you hoping to achieve? Maybe lure them here? Get the hell out of here"

With that Josh sucker punches Castle causing his chair to fall over sideways and take out the rolling table. Hospital security rushes in and Josh initially tries to have Castle thrown out before Jim speaks up

"I don't think so Josh. I'm her father and I decide who stays and goes. She has been in a coma for a month and this is the first we've seen of you since you punched Rick in the waiting room while Katie was still in surgery. I don't want to hear your excuses and I doubt Katie would either. You take yourself and get out of this room and don't come back unless Katie specifically requests it when she wakes up. Oh, and Josh? Start looking for another line of work because I reported your first attack on Rick and I'll be reporting this one also. I will also be recommending he press assault charges since he didn't even raise a finger or speak a word to you before you hit him. Now go, now!"

Kate can't believe what's playing out in front of her, she can't remember EVER seeing her father so angry before. She'd never imagine Josh hitting Castle either but there it was.

"Is this live? I mean... as it's happening now?" Johanna nods a few times

"Yes Katie, what you're seeing is what's happening at this very moment" They watch security remove Josh from the room then Jim helping an obviously weak Castle back into his freshly arighted chair. Jim tries to get him to lay down but all Castle does is retake her hand and squeeze gently. Kate swallows hard and looks at the floor as Castle starts to whisper to her how much he misses her, loves her and that he'd give anything to see her smile again. As soon as Johanna knows she'd heard it they return to her childhood home where Kate sits down on the couch with her face in her hands.

Kate has no idea how long she's been trapped in her mind but she finally lets her hands down and looks to her mother beside her.

"Will I remember all of this when I wake up?" Johanna nods

"Yes you will Katie, and for the first time in your life you'll actually believe it happened too"

She reaches over and smooths Kate's hair back from her eyes.

"Have you made your decision?"

Kate takes a deep breath before asking "One more question... What happens to Castle if I were to die?"

Johanna searches her daughter's eyes a moment "Well there's no point in sugar coating this Katie. If you die, then the night of your burial Castle uses his key to get into your apartment where he takes your off duty firearm from your drawer. He goes to your grave, lays in the fresh dirt and commits suicide. A week later he's buried next to you via his family and your father's wishes"

Kate looks destroyed at that future, it worse than him dying from accidents because it's a conscience decision on his part that he can't live without her. Her eyes focus on the floor in front of her and takes some deep breaths.

"Alright, I choose life and I'll choose happiness"

Johanna smiles and gives her a big hug "That's my girl Katie, just don't run away when you wake up. I know you'll be in pain but embrace him, hold him close. He will heal your injured heart and soul just like you heal his. Don't keep on as you have, with one foot out the door justifying it with my murder honey. I don't want you to sacrifice a chance at happiness to chase ghosts. You wont let me down if you choose life honey, I'm very proud of the woman you've become and I always will be. Just stop running from love, from him, it's time Katie"

With that she kisses Kate's cheek and forehead, hearing her precious daughter tell her that she loves her then without hesitation puts her back into her body so she can wake up.

The first thing Castle notices after Jim leaves to go to the restroom is her hand twitching around his and her eyes flickering. This is the first movement she's made in a month and his eyes start a small glimmer of hope as he hits the call button for the nurses. When the nurses arrive Kate is now squeezing his hand as she comes closer to being awake. The doctor with the nurses quickly remove the ventilator and watch her vitals carefully. She lets out a groan and smacks her lips a little making Castle chuckle. He leans over her so he's whispering into her ear

"That's right Kate, come back... come back to me, to everyone. We miss you so much, come back to us"

It's another few minutes but she finally blinks open her eyes, it takes a moment to orient herself before looking at Castle a long moment. He looks worse in person, her voice is weak but there

"Castle hey... you know, five o'clock shadow looks sexy, grizzly adams not so much but I love you too"

His eyes light up like head lights, his grin splitting his face as he leans down and kisses her lips softly a few times, which she returns.

"I'm going to let the others know you're awake while the doctor takes a look at you then I'll be back, I promise. Stay awake for me okay?" Her smile is tired and weak but her voice has steadied out as she raises her hand slowly to his cheek