Her heart is pounding, a loud but steady thud resounding through her chest. It's accompanied by the deafening rush of blood through her ears as she meanders through the dimly lit maze of the warehouse, her gun aimed and the safety off. She's ready to put an end to this, to be finished with the havoc Scott Dunn has wreaked on her life in the last five days.
"Dunn," she calls, cautiously rounding the corner with her weapon raised and ready to fire. "Give it up."
Beckett advances further through the path of boxes and poor lighting, gritting her teeth through the creaks and shudders of the building, the shadows dancing along the concrete flooring that continue to trick her.
"Nobody has to die," she adds, despite how certain she is that Dunn has no intention of backing down or changing his mind. If she could just coax the man out of hiding, or at least gain some insight to his whereabouts…
Movement from ahead catches her eye, the patter of footsteps and shifting noise of metal drawing her in deeper through the rows of cardboard boxes and decaying plastic. Beckett takes a steadying breath, securing her finger on the trigger, thinking that this could be it, that she might have found Dunn's hiding spot.
But when Kate inches closer, lifting her chin to see over the cover of metal bins, she's knocked off balance by the weight of Scott Dunn crashing down on top of her. A surprised gasp flies from her lips as he locks his arms around her upper body, trapping her in a bear hug hold before using his weight to send both of them slamming backwards into a decrepit row of metal lockers.
Beckett growls, but Dunn is a worthy opponent, stronger than she would have expected. He blocks the few hits she manages to land before throwing her into the wall like she's nothing more than a rag doll. He slams the breath from her lungs with a punch to her ribcage and the harsh pin of her wrist to the wall overhead, the force of the impact disarming her. Her back is connecting with concrete a second later, her gun stolen from her grip, and she looks up to see the barrel of her own weapon aimed at her face.
"That's how all my stories end," he pants, grinning down at her with victory flaring in those dark eyes. "With someone else dead."
Beckett braces herself out of instinct, ready to move, to roll to the side and dodge the shot, but expecting a burst of pain nonetheless. A shout startles Dunn before he can pull the trigger though, and he's instantly pivoting, firing his weapon elsewhere, but not before a shot is fired back.
The gun flies from Dunn's grip, spiraling across the floor, but Jordan Shaw catches the sliding Sig with the toe of her heel, her own weapon pointed downwards at the man. And it's over, it has to be over, but when Beckett turns on her side with a groan, her back throbbing from the rough fall, she realizes the worst of this nightmare has only begun.
"No," she whispers, the pain in her back disappearing, meaning nothing as her gaze wanders over to Castle. He's sprawled on the ground only a few feet away, the crimson spill of blood coloring the grey of the floor beneath him.
No, no, no. This is not happening.
"Castle," she breathes, forcing herself up and staggering towards his body only to fall back to her knees beside him. He isn't moving. "I need a bus!" she yells to Shaw, but the special agent is already heading towards the exit with Dunn in handcuffs and a phone to her ear.
"I've got paramedics on the way up," she calls back, but Beckett can't respond. Not when Castle is staring up at her, his eyes a blue storm of panic flickering with lightning strikes of pain.
"Castle, don't you dare die on me," Beckett murmurs as she presses her hands over the wound in his chest, wincing at the visible agony it elicits across his face. "Hey," she whispers, pleads, impatiently awaiting the return of his gaze. "Stay, okay? Stay with me."
His arm rises upwards, attempting to reach for her but unable make it, flopping back to his side instead. His fading eyes remain trained on her as he fights for breath, inhaling slowly through his parted lips, and god, it wasn't supposed to go like this. He was never supposed to get hurt.
She can hear people coming up the stairs, jogging towards them, and she feels the hope surge within her like a beacon in a sea of darkness. But then his eyes begin to flutter closed and the dread returns like ice water flushing through her stomach.
"No, no, Castle - Rick, please," she begs, lifting a hand to stroke back the hair from his forehead, but his eyes roll back, his head tilting into her palm, and he isn't with her anymore.
Kate rides with him in the ambulance, remains by his side until they're pushing the gurney past two swinging doors that lead him into the O.R and the nurses are corralling her back towards the waiting room.
She heard words like "penetrating trauma", "massive hemorrhaging", and the worst – "GSW to the chest", as they rolled him away and she instantly feels her lungs beginning to collapse within her own chest. The likelihood of his survival is dwindling with each passing minute and there is nothing she can do. She's already done enough.
It's all her fault.
For a long moment, she's left standing in the middle of that pristine hallway, breathing in the harsh smell of antiseptic and staring at those two swinging doors they rushed him through, not quite sure what to do with herself now. She's never been good at waiting, not knowing. But when she glances down, her gaze lands on her bloodied hands, the stains smeared across her skin, her clothes, and she has to rush to the nearest bathroom.
He could die.
She almost vomits in the bathroom sink.
Beckett pours all of her attention into wiping away the evidence, cleansing her skin of it; she's in the middle of scrubbing her knuckles raw, rinsing the scarlet stains from every crease and crevice that lines her skin, holding back the bile in her throat, when the bathroom door eases open.
Kate lifts her head from the pink stain of the water coloring the porcelain sink to see Agent Shaw lingering hesitantly in the doorway.
"He's in surgery right now," Beckett tells her, even though the agent has yet to ask. She's surprised to hear her own voice remain steady through the sentence.
Shaw nods. "I know. I just spoke with one of the nurses. I called your people and I think they're bringing you a change of clothes."
Beckett glances down to see the bloodstains still smeared along the cuffs of her sleeves. They aren't necessarily noticeable until one got close enough to see the crimson clashing with the navy blue of her blouse, but she wouldn't mind a change of clothes. She's already disposed of the leather gloves that were beyond repair.
"I also wanted to let you know that I would keep you updated on Dunn's transfer to the tombs. He's in custody, not going anywhere, so you have nothing to worry about."
Beckett nods in understanding, but can't ignore the protest swelling on her tongue. She has so much to worry about, so much more than the threat Scott Dunn posed to her life.
"I won't keep you, Detective, but honestly, I wanted to say it impressed me that you came in with him."
Kate's trembling fingers curl tightly around the slick white edge of the sink. Shaw is praising her? Now? And for one of the greatest mistakes she has ever made throughout her time on the job, throughout her entire career?
"It wasn't impressive," she argues quietly, her jaw clenched so tightly her teeth begin to grind. "It was foolish, and it may cost him his life."
"You made a tough decision on your feet, used the resources at hand, I'd say that's heroic. And Castle will pull through this," Shaw continues a little softer, tentatively reaching out to place a hand on Kate's rigid shoulder. While this woman may project a tough exterior for the sake of her profession, Kate thinks she can finally picture Jordan Shaw as the mother she is outside of the FBI. "And when he does…"
Shaw allows the sentence to trail. Kate glances over to her in curiosity, taking note of the knowing glint sparkling in the agent's eyes, but Beckett's brow only furrows deeper in question.
"He cares about you, Kate. You may not see it, may not have been ready to before all of this, but he does."
Kate's lips part in surprise, prepared to speak, object or agree, she isn't sure, but the bathroom door opens once more before she can. Lanie Parish is stepping inside, wearing a sympathetic smile and holding an armful of clothes that Kate recognizes as her own.
Kate swallows hard. "Thank you for everything, Agent Shaw."
"Hope to see you again sometime, Kate," Shaw replies with a gentle smile and a subtle wink before she turns, nodding to Lanie and exiting the ladies room.
"Oh, honey," Lanie sighs after a moment, moving forward to embrace her, but Kate only allows the comfort for a second, and then she's backing out of Lanie's arms.
"I'm sorry, Lanie, I just can't-"
Her best friend lifts a hand in understanding and offers up the clothes she brought in with her instead.
"I stopped by Castle's place, grabbed your favorite pair of jeans and a sweater for you. The boys should be here soon and Castle's family is on their way-"
"Oh god," Beckett chokes, covering her mouth with her hand and closing her eyes. His family. Shit, how did she not think about his family? "How am I going to tell Martha and Alexis? They're going to - they can't, they're going to hate me-"
"Katherine Beckett, this is not your fault," Lanie argues, vehement and protective, but Kate shakes her head.
"I brought him in with me when there was a man with a gun running around. I made him my backup. I put him in harm's way. He wouldn't have a bullet in his chest if it weren't for me," Kate mutters, her vision starting to swim again and she's forced to look away.
"I need to get changed before they get here," she mumbles, turning her back on Lanie and waiting until she hears the ME sigh in defeat and slip out of the room.
Kate strips and changes quickly, tossing the shirt she wore before into the trash. If she tried hard enough, she could probably wash the stains out, but it wouldn't be worth the effort. How could she even fathom wearing a shirt that was once partially drenched in Castle's blood?
Beckett shudders at the thought and curls her fingers around the sleeves of her sweater, reminds herself to thank Lanie for bringing clothes from her closet in Castle's guest room instead of the ones she has stored away at the precinct. The softness of one of her coziest sweaters and the worn quality of her jeans is a welcome comfort compared to the stiff blouse and slacks stuffed in her locker at the Twelfth.
Beckett takes her time walking back to the waiting room, always hating the feeling of helplessness and grief such rooms tend to hold. Maybe Shaw's right; Castle is strong, maybe he'll pull through without too much trouble.
But no one, her mind counters, is immune to the death sentence a bullet can deliver.
Kate falls hard into one of the plastic chairs lined along the waiting room walls and buries her fingers in her hair, piercing her scalp with her nails and squeezing her eyes shut to keep the tears back. He can't die, he just can't. She would do anything-
A ragged sob nearly escapes from her throat and she immediately clenches her jaw to keep the rest locked away in her heaving chest. She can't break down now, not here.
"Detective Beckett?" The familiar, but frantic voice of Martha Rodgers causes her head to snap up.
She jerks to her feet at the sight of his mother and daughter, rushing anxious and terrified towards her.
God, he can't die. He can't leave them.
"What happened to my dad?" Alexis questions once they reach her, her voice small and fragile but demanding.
Kate takes a deep breath. She can do this; she delivers bad news for a living. This is no different.
Except, it is. It's worse.
"We were closing in on Dunn, the man who blew up my apartment, and Castle went in with me. I thought he was helping an agent who had been captured, but Dunn got the drop on me and he was - Castle shot him, but Dunn shot first and then he…" Kate swallows hard, wishing her voice would stop shaking so badly, stop making the situation even worse than it already is. "Castle was shot."
Martha's trembling hand rises to cover her mouth, but Alexis just stares back at her in disbelief, tears filling the ice blue pools of her eyes.
"I'm so sorry," Kate starts, clutching a hand over her stomach, trying to keep it all in check. "I shouldn't have let him come with me. I should have made him stay in the surveillance van, I-"
"No, no, darling, shh," Martha soothes, stepping forward to wrap Beckett in an embrace, so maternal and warm. Kate can't help sinking into the hug as the rebellious tears slip free. "This isn't your fault."
She doesn't deserve the comfort, not from the mother of the man she's responsible for getting shot, but the unbearable knot in her chest loosens within the tight clutch of Martha's arms and damn if she isn't grateful. She almost startles at the feel of Alexis joining the huddle, though, snaking her arms around both Beckett and her grandmother, leaning her head onto Kate's shoulder. Over the last year, she's grown closer to his daughter, but not enough to warrant this, to earn her compassion. That doesn't stop her from squeezing Alexis's trembling arm in return.
Kate holds to both Castle's mother and daughter in the middle of the waiting room and silently prays to whatever higher power that may be listening for him to come out of this alive. They all need him alive.