Two girls worked over a black lab table, scraps of litmus paper strewn around them. "Taste test next?" one asked. Her friend confirmed it with a nod and the girl reached for one of several small plastic cups in front of them. She dipped her tongue into the thick white liquid, smacking her lips together obnoxiously as she tasted. "Definitely milk."

"Obviously," her friend sighed, marking something on a lab sheet. The other girl set down the first cup and took another, trickling it into her mouth. She paused a moment.

"Tap water," she said, sounding a little uncertain. Her friend bent down to draw a check on the sheet. A choking sound from somewhere above her made her look up. The other girl was gagging, keeling over onto the lab table. Her flailing arm sent the array of sample beverages soaring across the room. Another classmate screamed.

Beckett's car darted forward, the engine revving. "Slow down!" she practically shrieked, glaring at Castle. He was sitting in her seat, driving a car that was never meant to be maneuvered by a non-cop, and he wasn't even listening to her.

"Relax," he said. "This isn't Driver's Ed, I know what I'm doing." He reached up and angled the rearview mirror.

"What are you checking?" she asked, watching the mirror cautiously, sure that he would snap it off. Civilians weren't supposed to be behind that wheel, and especially a rampaging storm of destruction like Castle. (She mentally resisted a Derrick Storm pun. Not the time to be obsessing, not over his books.)

"My hair," he explained. "I've got this cowlick thing-"

"Look at the road!" she ordered. He rolled his eyes but nevertheless directed his gaze toward the vacant street in front of him. They were heading back to the precinct after wrapping up a case, and after days of being berated by him, she had finally allowed him to drive the car. At the time, she had expected that he would follow her directions. In retrospect, that was ridiculously nearsighted of her.

"So, now that you're sitting in that seat, do you see what I meant about the wire poking into you?" he said after a moment, eyes obediently trained on the asphalt front of them. She rolled her eyes and ignored his comment, subconsciously wedging her thumb between the wire and her back.

They'd almost reached the twelfth precinct when the car suddenly skidded and sagged, indicating a blown tire. Beckett would have thought that they'd run over a nail (and, of course, blamed Castle for an entirely unavoidable accident) were it not for the sharp gunshot preceding the deflation of the tire. "Castle, stay in the car," she commanded, for once sure that he would listen, if not for the severity of the situation, then simply out of fear for his own life.

She stepped out of the car, sliding her gun out of its holster and surveying the empty alley she had made the mistake to instruct Castle to take a shortcut through. It was so cliché, she reflected, a darkening alley, a shot tire. But she wasn't a defenseless victim, she was a trained cop and she wasn't about to let someone take the car, or whatever it was the shooter wanted. (Silver lining- she could blame Castle if anything did happen.) "NYPD, show yourself!" she called, carefully watching the surrounding area. There were too many shadows and corners, and she cursed herself when she realized that the man with the gun already had Castle out of the car.

She glared at him and could tell that he was nothing sinister, just a guy looking for an easy carjacking who hadn't expected the police. "Put down the gun!" He did, dropping it as he shoved Castle against the pavement, hurdling over him and running around the corner. She sprinted to follow him, temporarily ignoring Castle's whimpers of pain. She chased him as far as she could up the sidewalk before he managed to escape and blend into the mix of taxis and pedestrians. Not for the first time, she reflected how much easier it would be to chase criminals in a wide open field out in the country instead of this tangle of the urban city.

She radioed a description of the would-be robber back to the precinct and felt thankful that he had been so scared and apparently inexperienced. Otherwise, he might have shot Castle.

Castle. He'd hit the ground pretty hard. She jogged back around the corner, expecting to see him standing by the car, perhaps rubbing his head, with some sarcastic remark that he thought was witty. But he wasn't moving.

Beckett sat in a waiting room chair, uncomfortable by itself but made all the more uncomfortable because she couldn't stop fidgeting. It was ridiculous that she would be so worried; she was trained to be stoic, to stay calm, but every time a doctor walked into the room she was sitting in, she went crazy wondering if he was coming to talk to her, if it was good news or bad news.

Finally, a tall man in a white lab coat stepped into the room and called out her name. "That's me," she said, standing up. The hospital knew who she was because she'd given her name when she'd brought Castle in, but they also had her name because she was listed under Castle's people to call in an emergency, a fact of which she had not been aware until today. The gesture felt oddly touching. She stood up and walked with the doctor to a hall full of hospital rooms and waited outside one of the doors with him.

"We think Mr. Castle is about to wake up and it would be better if you were there when he did," the doctor explained.

"He's going to be okay, right?" she said, annoyed at how frantic she felt.

"He'll be fine," the doctor said. "No concussion. He might have some bad bone bruising, though, and no doubt he'll be disoriented."

"Have you called Martha and Alexis?" she asked, realizing how worried his actual family would be if she was freaking out.

"They're on their way," he assured her, opening the door. He stayed in the doorway while she walked in and sat in the chair beside Castle's cot. It was unnerving how still he looked. He was always moving, impatient and jittery with a child-like excitement. She took his hand, unsure of what else to do. She could feel his pulse, and it helped to calm some of her fears. His eyes blinked open, surprising her.

"Hey," she whispered. He smiled.

"Hey, Nikki."