I had a hard time deciding which universe this would belong to, and in the end I had to wait till the new season premiered. And then things intervened. Sorry for leaving everyone hanging, and thanks to everyone who's still here.


The first time she wakes, it's to hands around her throat, inside her throat, a suffocating panic she can't even thrash away. She hears herself making garbled, unintelligible noises, and then there's Castle's voice, soft in her ear, telling her over and over that she's all right, and even though there's still something she can't swallow, and still something holding her down when all her instincts want to punch, she makes herself believe his promise as the dark wave comes to bear her away.

There's a time after that, and another, and each time he's there, a soft whisper of safety she clings to while her body rails, and then falters and fades. Later, the great obstruction in her throat is gone, to be replaced by a hot, terrible fire, each muscle separately burning, lava flowing through her veins. She hears Josh in those times, and sometimes Castle, sometimes both at the same time. Sometimes she's not quite sure which it is, but she clings to the voice as it calls her name and begs her to stay. She would like to stay, but it's not her choice. There are weights on her ankles in the darkness and the only way to escape the fire is to let the heaviness drag her down.

And then she wakes to a coolness in her mouth, something fresh and unexpected. There is pain where the worst of the fire once was, but it's distant, muffled. One hand is cold, but the other is cocooned, pleasantly warm. She concentrates every gram of energy she possesses and manages to move her thumb.

'Kate!'

It breaks through the hum in her ears as something real, something outside herself.

'Kate! Do it again. Please, just do that again.'

For a moment she drifts, forgetting what she's done. Why is everything so far away, so dark and difficult?

Thumb. She needs to move her thumb.

She tries and tries and finally has to relinquish the fight, plummeting back into the darkness, not even sure if she's managed to do it again or not.

The next time, she wakes to words, a soft steady stream. Words that carry her back to awareness of self, of the muted burn in her chest, of the large, slightly sweaty hand she holds. She listens, captivated, to the sound of his voice, only gradually understanding that it's her own story he's telling her. It's Castle, reading her the newest Nikki Heat.

She squeezes the hand and the words immediately stop. A brief weight settles onto her forehead.

'Kate? Are you here?'

It seems a strange way to ask for her. Of course she's here, where else would she be? She wants to tell him that, but her voice is gone. And then, so is she.

The next thing she hears is Josh's voice, gently urging her to wake up. This time, when she opens her eyes, she knows that something's different. There's a corner somewhere that she's turned. She blinks, and the light hurts, but it's a different hurt, like a hangover after a night on the town she can barely remember. She hasn't had one of those in a very long time.

Her mouth tastes like hangover as well, something coating her teeth like rust. Dry rust, dry rot. She swallows and finds her throat still hurts. Her chest still burns, and when she instinctively gasps against the sudden intrusion of light directly into her eye, she can feel the sharp stab of broken ribs, and beneath her left arm, a hollow ache like someone's clawed a great chunk of her torso away.

'I know. I know,' Josh murmurs. 'But I need you to try to wake up, Kate. Wake up, and we'll give you something for the pain.'

She tries to answer, but it comes out an inarticulate moan. It doesn't sound like her, it doesn't sound like anything recognisably human, and she shudders, ashamed, which just brings on a fresh wave of agony.

'Okay, here. Shh, here we go.'

She hears something clicking near her ear, and a few moments later, something cool and refreshing has entered her blood, something like an old Pepto Bismol commercial, coating and soothing, creating a protective barrier between her mind and her body, cocooning her thoughts in their own tiny bubble where she's safe.

She's ready to slip away again, but Josh is still there, urging her to open her eyes, and this time when she does there's a warm glow to the world, a muzziness like vaseline smeared on a camera lens. It makes him look softened, like an aging diva, but it can't quite smooth the furrow of concern away from his forehead or calm the real fear lurking in the back of his eyes.

'Hey,' he smiles. 'Welcome back.'

She tries to answer, but she can only manage a croak. He reaches for a cup, fishes in it, and holds up an ice cube. She would like one of her fancy coffees instead, even precinct monkey piss, but she manages to make her mouth open enough to receive it. The ice is cold, delicious, not enough to remove all the rust, but enough to wet her mouth so that speech becomes vaguely possible. 'Am I okay?' she finally manages to ask, though her tongue feels twice its normal size and won't make certain sounds.

'You were shot in the chest,' Josh answers, placing another ice cube in her mouth. 'The bullet only grazed your heart, but it tore up your left lung, so we've had you sedated on a ventilator to control your breathing while some of the damage healed. You've still got drainage tubes in your chest, so you'll need to be careful how you move, but overall you're making excellent progress.'

He's avoiding her eyes, she realises, slightly proud of herself for not losing all her detecting skills. 'What're you not saying?'

'I'm not not saying anything,' he swears, raising his eyes at last. They're glassy, his thick lashes stuck together with unshed tears. 'You're going to be fine. It's not going to be easy for the next few weeks, but you're going to be fine.'

He raises her hand to his mouth and kisses her fingers. She hadn't even realised he was holding her hand till then, but now that she has, she realises he's disengaging and she doesn't want him to leave. Castle wouldn't leave, she thinks, but then he's not here, is he, so he must have gone home at some point.

'Is Castle...' Her energy is already going, or the drugs are putting her back to sleep, because she has no idea how to finish that sentence once she's started. Not to Josh, anyway.

'He's been calling me like hourly for updates for the last five days.'

'But he was here.'

'No.'

'He was. I heard him, he was reading to me...'

Josh lays her hand back on the bed, uses both of his to knuckle at his eyes. 'No. He tried to see you at first, but they only let immediate family into ICU.'

'And you.' Something cracks in her chest, sharp and nothing to do with bullet-fractured ribs.

'Rank has its privileges.' Josh smiles, thin as it is, and stands up, leaning over to press a kiss to her forehead. 'I'm actually on shift, so I can't stay any longer, but I'll come back when I'm off. Your surgeon will be by later, and if he decides you're ready to be moved out of here, you'll be able to see anyone you want.'

There's something in his voice she can hear, but she can't ask what it is because she really is beginning to feel quite numb all over, and when she opens her mouth it's like she's forgotten how to make the words come out. And to be honest, maybe she doesn't really want to know.

She closes her eyes and sees an image of Castle's face, as if it's burnt into the thin skin of the lids, as if his voice is etched on her eardrums, saying that he loves her, begging her to stay. Not real then, no more real than him sitting beside her, reading to her, holding her hand. None of that was real, and this time it's disappointment she tastes as she lets go and drifts away.