Genevieve Papineau frowned as she noted Richard Castle's vitals. It wasn't that they were off; they were actually quite good. Certainly stronger than expected so soon after surgery. But he's Richard Castle, she thought with a sigh. She'd read all the Derrick Storm books, had cried when that series ended, and was now enthralled by Nikki Heat. The release date of the next book was circled on her calendar.

She'd met him before, several times before, if book signings counted. She thought they did. He'd seemed so… vital. Positively eager to connect with his readers. Always ready with a joke and a twinkle in his eye. Perhaps not as flirtatious as in earlier years, but with good reason.

And now, here he was, shot down by some crazy person, unconscious following emergency surgery.

It wasn't lucky that he'd been shot, but If he had to be shot, then he was lucky. No vital organs had been damaged and they'd been able to remove all the bullet fragments. What a change from when she'd last seen him. Now he was pale, almost lifeless but for his shallow breathing.

Well, best move on to other patients. But something stopped Papineau in her tracks. Did she imagine it, or…? Yes! His eyelids were fluttering and… there. His right hand twitched. Good Lord, if he was waking up already, he must have the constitution of a horse.

His lips moved, but Papineau could hear nothing.

Bending over so that she could whisper in his ear, she said, "You've had surgery, Mr. Castle. You're in recovery. You're going to be fine. You need to rest now."

Standing up again, she examined his face. His lips moved again. She lowered her face closer to his so as to better hear him.

"Beckett," he whispered, and then grabbed her arm with surprising strength. "Where's Beckett?"

His eyes were open now. Those blue eyes that she'd seen sparkle with the joy of life were now dark clouds of… what? Anger? Concern? Both?

"Your wife is still in surgery, Mr. Castle. Please, let go, you're hurting my arm."

Castle released her instantly. "Sorry," he mumbled. "Sorr…" and then he passed out again.

Sometime later, when he was more or less awake, though still woozy, Castle was moved to a private room in the surgical unit. His body was aching from head to toe, his mouth as dry as… as… an extra dry martini? No, that was no good. The desert? Too trite. Oh well, for now his mouth was just really really dry. Purple prose would have to wait.

He was about to ring for a nurse when a man walked in. He was middle-aged, dark haired, a day's stubble on his face, with an ID badge pinned to his white lab coat.

After frowning over Castle's chart for a moment, the man said, "Name's McCoy. Doctor Leonard McCoy."

Castle's eyes widened.

"No," the man said, "not that Leonard McCoy."

"Where's Beckett?" Castle asked. "No one will tell me."

"You're doing fine," said McCoy. "For a man who was just shot. We'll take more x-rays tomorrow and if they come back negative then we'll discharge you."

"Beckett," said Castle.

"She's in ICU," said McCoy with a sigh. "We're keeping her sedated for now. She came out of surgery fine but there was a lot of internal bleeding. However, I think we got everything tied up and there's every reason to hope she'll make a full recovery."

"I need to see her," Castle said.

"Thought you might say that," said McCoy. "I'll get someone to wheel you up to her room. Half an hour. Then you need to get back to bed. You can't help her if you don't look after yourself."

"Thanks," said Castle. "Half an hour."

An orderly showed up a few minutes later to help Castle into a wheelchair. He'd been about to protest that he didn't need help, but as soon as he sat up he felt sufficiently light-headed that he kept quiet. Thou doth protest too soon, he thought. He did have enough presence of mind to wrap the hospital gown around his back. When he was seated, the orderly put a blanket over his lap to cover his legs.

Perfect, thought Castle. Here comes the helpless old man.

All thoughts of himself disappeared, however, when they reached Beckett's room.

"Oh, Beckett," he said.

The orderly placed him beside her bed, then said he'd be back in half an hour. Castle scarcely heard him.

Beckett was attached to an IV drip and oxygen mask. A clip on one of her fingers was attached to the heart monitor. She was pale as a ghost, the rise and fall of her chest barely visible.

Leaning forward, Castle ran a hand through her hair and took her hand. "This was close, Beckett. Too close. We've been pushing our luck for too long. One day it's going to catch up with us. Maybe we need to take some time off. Figure out what's really important."

The following day, Doctor McCoy was checking Beckett's chart while a nurse took her vitals. Just then, Beckett's eyes began to flutter.

McCoy approached Beckett just as she opened her eyes.

"You've been shot," McCoy said gently. "You're in the hospital. You're going to be okay."

Beckett licked her lips then whispered, "Castle."

McCoy shook his head. "Well that figures."

"I come bearing good news," Nurse Papineau told Castle.

"Do tell," said Castle.

"First, you're going to be discharged today," said Papineau. "Second, your wife is awake. You can go see her as soon as you sign the paperwork."

"Well that's the best news I've heard all day," said Castle. "Bring on the paper."

"I will in a moment," said Papineau. "First, well, I'm going to be completely unprofessional."

"What do you…" Castle began. But before he could finish, Papineau planted a soft kiss on his lips. Then she smiled and left him to get dressed.

"Okay…" Castle said to himself.

A short time later, Castle entered Beckett's room, this time fully dressed and on his own two legs. "Hey," he said.

"Hey," said Beckett. She was still hooked up to the IV, but there was no sign of the oxygen mask.

Castle sat beside her and gently grasped her hand. She's weak, he thought. Weak and still so pale.

Doctor McCoy entered the room and planted himself at the head of the bed.

"You should make a full recovery, Mrs. Castle," he said, "but you'll need an extended period of recuperation. Don't even think about going back to work for a few months."

Beckett nodded her understanding. Castle said, "Hey, this could be a good time to take that motorcycle holiday."

McCoy coughed. "A motorcycle holiday? Are you kidding me? Gentle recuperation is what you need."

Castle's face fell. "Okay," he said, "What kind of holiday do you suggest?"

"I don't know," said McCoy. "I'm a doctor, not a travel agent."

Before Castle's eyes could leap out of their sockets, McCoy shook head and said, "Don't even. Still, something relaxing is what you want. Maybe a cruise would be more the thing."

"A cruise…" said Castle, his eyes drifting away.

"What is it?" said Beckett.

"I just had an idea," Castle beamed.

"You've got to be kidding me," said Beckett.

A month after Beckett was discharged, Castle made some phone calls and booked their trip. They boarded a plane to Amsterdam where they checked into The Dylan, a five-star hotel in the historic centre of the city. After three nights of rest, food, canal cruises, and strolls, they flew on to Cape Town where they were now standing on a dock. At the end of the dock, tethered with several lengths of thick rope, their cruise ship was moored.

"What?" said Castle.

"We're going to travel up the coast of Africa in this thing?"

"Shhh!" Castle admonished. "The captain's very proud of his boat."

"What a piece of junk," said Beckett as she glared at Castle.

"That's what Luke Skywalker said about the Millennium Falcon," Castle pointed out.

"And then he got his hand chopped off. By his father."

"Well I promise no one will lose any body parts on this trip," said Castle.

The hull was a dull, metallic grey, some 300 feet long. The head of the ship, where the bridge was located, rose from the midsection and rested above water level. The midsection was fatter, bulbous in shape, its port and starboard sides fitted with detachable skiffs. The stern dipped below water level, but this close to the boat you could see that it ended in a round assembly that housed a large propellor. The boat's construction reminded Castle of an insect for some reason.

Castle spotted the Captain as he exited the boat and walked towards them down the gangplank.

"Look," said Castle. "Here he comes. Remember, he loves this boat, so be good."

"Castle. You know me," Beckett said with a wink.

"All too well," Castle said with a sign, earning him a poke in the ribs.

"Richard Castle!" the captain said. "Been too long." With that, he and Castle shook hands. And shook hands. And as they continued to shake hands, their smiles became strained, and then turned into grimaces, and still they shook hands.

"Oh please," said Beckett. "I'm drowning in testosterone here."

The men broke their handshake, flexed their fingers, and then the captain grinned at Beckett. "My apologies, Mrs. Castle. Malcolm Reynolds, at your service."