He gets the call during a lull, after they've talked to the victim's coworkers but before they'd tracked down the boyfriend. Castle gets plenty of calls; frankly, Beckett welcomes the respite from constant Castle-chatter. She flips open her notebook again and frowns over the details.

"Esposito, any luck on that phone number?" She circles the boyfriend's name. The coworkers said he was out of town until tomorrow. Nobody knows what time he's due back and he isn't answering his phone.

Speaking of not answering. "Esposito?"

It's the look on the other detective's face that clues her in. Her eyes follow Esposito's gaze past Ryan, find Castle—

His body is rigid, one hand splayed like a claw against his leg. All she hears him say is, "When?" He listens a moment longer before lowering the phone, then turns.

"It was a stroke. They ... I have to get to the hospital."

Beckett doesn't hesitate. "Esposito, Ryan. Call me if the boyfriend turns up. Castle: car, now."

"You got it, boss," Esposito says. Ryan pats Castle's shoulder before the two detectives disappear into their car.

Castle is already seated and buckled by the time she slides in. He tells her the name of the hospital and is silent for the rest of the agonizingly long ride. Beckett knows it's twenty minutes to the hospital; it feels like an hour. The siren eats at the silence. She risks a glance at him only twice; the look on his face is too much. After all those times she's wished he would shut up, go away, and stop being Castle...Never would've thought I'd want that back.

* * *

Beckett waits at the hospital, feeling superfluous. She thumbs a magazine without seeing it until she hears a low, urgent voice at the desk.

"Alexis." The girl whirls at her name, searching the waiting room until she sees the tall woman coming toward her.

"Detective, my dad called, it's my—"

Beckett nods. "I know. I brought him." She touches Alexis' arm. "You should go see her. Room 114, down that way."

"Okay. I'm gonna—" Alexis swallows. Beckett nods at her and steps back, watches the girl walk straight-backed down the long hallway.

Esposito calls her. They've gotten through to the boyfriend; he's in the airport and will be coming to the station in a few hours. Nothing we can do right now. The captain says might as well stay where you are.

* * *

Later, Alexis comes back for her. She's been crying. "Dad said to bring you. I mean, if you want to come."

"Thank you," Beckett says softly. She follows Alexis to room 114. Her first glance is for Martha, lively eyes closed, heartbeat pumping through the monitors. Her second is for Castle.

Castle is slumped in a chair at the side of the bed. He looks exhausted. He takes her aside and tells her in a low voice about the stroke, about the housecleaning service discovering her that afternoon while Alexis was at school and he was out with Beckett, how the doctors are keeping her in the stroke ward.

"She hasn't regained consciousness." He rakes a hand through his hair and rubs at his forehead, looking ten years older. "We're holding out hopes that she'll remember she has that rehearsal on Wednesday and decide to wake up, but it's not looking good."

"I'm sorry," she says automatically.

"Thanks." He looks at her—through her—for a moment and then says, "I'm just gonna sit with her for a while."

Alexis comes to stand beside her father. "Dad, you should eat something. We've been here for hours and I can hear your stomach complaining."

"Not hungry."

Alexis looks quietly distressed. "But you need to eat, Dad."

"I'm not hungry right now, sweetheart. Maybe later, okay?" He tries a smile.

Beckett decides to step in. "I could go for a snack, Alexis. Come with me?"

The girl follows her out with a few backward looks. Beckett studies her sideways as they walk down antiseptic hallways. "How are you doing?"

"Not good," Alexis answers honestly. "I mean, yesterday Gram was healthy, happy, and generally outrageous like normal. Right now—I mean, it doesn't even look like her lying in that bed." She looks up at Beckett guiltily. "Does that sound weird?"

"No, not at all." A memory of the funeral; seeing her mother's face for the last time. "Not at all."

"Mom isn't answering her phone either. I've called her like fifty times. I mean, I know Gram is her ex-mother-in-law, or something, but you'd think she'd care enough to call me back."

"I'm sure she will. She's probably just ... busy."

They pick out a few things in the cafeteria and start trudging back.

"I wish Mom was here," Alexis continues. "Not that she would be able to help much, but my dad needs ... he needs someone to make him eat. I'm the daughter, he doesn't have to listen to me." She chews her lip. "God, he has that thing tomorrow with his publisher. I have to call her. And the theater will need to know about Gram, for the understudy—"

"Alexis." Beckett curls her fingers around the girl's hand and pulls her to a stop. "I want to make sure you understand something. You aren't alone. Okay?"

A blank stare.

"When I was only a few years older than you, I had to take care of my dad after Mom died. Both of us could barely function. It was hard at first, worse when he started drinking a lot more. Every day, I had to make sure he ate, that we paid our bills, that all the casserole dishes got cleaned and returned. People would offer to come clean or take me shopping or whatever they thought would help. The only thing I let them do was bring us food. Do you know why?"

Alexis shakes her head.

"Because then they could leave it at the door, and they wouldn't have to see my dad in his bathrobe surrounded by bottles that I couldn't wrestle away from him, or see me having a breakdown because we got another piece of mail addressed to Johanna Beckett. I didn't want them to see how much we needed help. But when I look back, I see how badly I hurt our relatives and friends by not letting them help me and grieve with me.. And I hurt myself, too, because I couldn't do it all by myself." She squeezes the girl's hand. "You're allowed to be afraid, and to be sad, and to need someone to help. Don't try to take care of everything on your own, okay? I'll do whatever I can to help."

Alexis sniffs and blinks. "Thank you," she starts to say before her face crumples. Beckett pulls her into the hug she clearly needs and lets the hospital's traffic pass them by for a few minutes.

Stroking the red head buried in her shoulder, Beckett gently says, "We should check on your dad."

"Yeah." Alexis pulls back to scrub at her face, then blows out a sigh. "Thank you, Detective."

Beckett smiles back. "Please. It's Kate."

"Kate." Alexis grins briefly. "Welcome to Team Castle."

* * *

The other two members of Team Castle are in the exact spots Beckett and Alexis left them in. Martha hasn't stirred; Castle is glued to the chair. Alexis pulls her vibrating phone out of a pocket before they enter.

"It's my mom."

Beckett holds out a hand for the sandwiches. "I've got him," she says. Alexis flashes her a grateful, dimpled smile, looking exactly like her father, and Beckett feels her heart melt. Considering how much it melted in the hallway earlier, that's quite a lot of melting.

"Castle. Time to eat. We've got tuna or ham and cheese." She holds out a sandwich, but he hasn't looked at her yet. "Castle?"

"It was so quick," he mumbles.

She sets the sandwiches down. He looks worse, actually. For the first time she realizes that he's only ever had one parent. He's older than she was when she lost her mom, but all the implications of his mother's condition have shaken him more than she thought. Beckett moves to crouch by his chair. "Are you okay?"

He ignores the question. "They keep asking me if I've observed any warning signs. I keep telling them I didn't see any, I didn't know. I should've made sure, I should've talked to her about her blood pressure, her alcohol consumption, exercising—"

She covers his clasped hands with one of hers. "Castle. Rick. Look at me. The doctors will know more later, after the results come back. Right?"

He nods.

"But I can tell you right now: there was nothing you could have done. If you'd been home, you might have gotten her to the hospital more quickly, but the doctors think the cleaners discovered her pretty soon after it happened." She locks eyes with him. "It's not your fault, Rick."

Castle frowns. "I didn't say it was."

"No, but you were thinking it."

"I wasn't."

"Were too." She smiles. "I know you too well."

His lips quirk a little. Not really a smile, but almost. "Since you used the subjunctive mood there, Detective, I'd have to agree that you do. I am a sucker for the subjunctive when used correctly." He takes a deep breath. "So. All right. It's not my fault."

"Uh-huh," she prompts, encouraged by his surrender.

"All I can think about is, what's next? How do we care for her? Can we take her home ever, or does she need to be in a place with proper care? What if she has permanent damage? What if..." He swallows. "What if she never wakes up?"

Beckett tips her head, considering his words and what's behind them. "Those are good questions. The doctors will be able to address them. But I can tell you something else."

He looks at her.

"What's important is that she knew you loved her," she says. It's maudlin, but it's true. "You probably didn't always get along; maybe she thought you had odd friends, maybe she came home singing show tunes at inappropriate hours of the night—"

There, a smile.

"—but you loved her and she knew that. Whether or not you think you said it enough, you did enough things to show it. Maybe she wasn't a mystery writer, but she had the evidence, Castle, and you know she was smart enough to figure it out."

His eyes are very blue at this close range, especially when fixed on her so closely. She can see the stubble on his jaw and the tiredness in every line of his body. She's uncomfortable but she won't move until she gets an acknowledgement.

"You're right," he says at last. "She has the evidence. You know, that actually does help me feel a little better."

"Food will help too." Beckett stands up and pulls on his hand. "Up, Castle. We brought sandwiches."

"Please tell me they had turkey."

"Sorry." She sorts through the greasy packets. "Ham or tuna. Or you can have my salad."

He makes a face. "Tuna." But after he takes it from her, he turns to look at Martha for a long moment, sandwich forgotten in his hand.


She steps closer, and like his daughter he leans into her. Beckett holds him tightly, one hand on the back of his neck. Neither of them say anything.

Eventually Alexis comes back in. They sit down to eat their cafeteria food. Esposito calls. The boyfriend showed up; Esposito and Ryan are going to interrogate him, and does Beckett want in?

She doesn't, but duty calls, as well as the Chinese takeout on the corner. Beckett promises to return as soon as possible and to bring real food. She accepts a fierce hug from little Castle and a kiss on the cheek from big Castle. Then Beckett gets in her squad car and cries for thirty seconds, wipes carefully under her eyes, and goes back to the precinct.

"All right, let's make this fast," she says to Ryan and Esposito. "I've gotta get back."

Author note: I've read fanfic for years and written many stories in my head, but this is the first I've ever published. I don't plan to make this a regular thing. I just needed to write something therapeutic. My grandmother died recently (though not from a stroke; please let me know if any of the details are incorrect) and writing this helped me feel better. I don't have a Beckett in my life; I have a whole bunch of them. Now if I could just get better at accepting their help...