A/N: I seem to keep making bad things happen to Castle characters. During the Knockdown rerun, everyone on Castle Chat was talking about this what-if scenario and I felt like writing it. Possible spoilers for the finale.
They say it's impossible to stop time, but it's not. Just listen to the sound of a gunshot across the room, watch the blur of the bullet as it slices through the air towards the one you love. Time stops for everyone. No one moves, no one speaks, even thought is frozen. The moment stretches on for an eternity, unending, and you find yourself wishing the damage would get itself done already, just to end this excruciating moment.
And when it does, when the bullet strikes, everything starts up again in fast-forward, as if to make up for the pause. Ryan and Esposito are immediately on Lockwood, disarming him and pulling him aside, handcuffing him. Castle's sprinting those few feet to where Beckett's fallen, bleeding on the wooden floor of the precinct. He crashes to the floor beside her even faster than she did.
"Kate, Kate," he said, his hands flying over her, unsure of what to do. There was blood- too much, far too much, pooling with sickening speed around her side and spreading across her jacket. The red contrasted sharply with the gray. He couldn't even tell exactly where the wound was, with all the blood. "Are you okay?"
"Peachy," she coughed, and he was stunned that she actually managed to roll her eyes at him. The precinct looked blurry to her, jumping in and out of focus. He alone remained sharp and clear, worry and panic etched in every line of his face. She glanced down and saw all the blood, bit back her instinctive alarm, and looked again. She could feel it. She hated that she could feel it, a biting foreign body lodged in her torso, letting loose all the blood she held so vital. "It's ironic, you know- I usually solve these things."
"Good use of irony," he muttered, moving away the corner of her jacket and pulling back her shirt to see the point where the bullet had hit her. The skin around it was raw and ragged, ribbons of blood dribbling out of the torn hole in her flesh. Almost without realizing what he was doing, he pressed down on the bullet hole, praying to whoever was listening that the blood would stop coming out, that she would be okay.
"Oh," she gasped as he pushed down. "Castle-"
"You're going to be fine." He said it like an order, daring someone to contradict him. Her breaths came in sharp gasps, racketing through her chest, which was rapidly beginning to ache even more. She felt like it was going to crumble in on her. Her head and heart heavy, she shook her head no. "You are," he insisted, scrabbling at her bullet wound. "Come on, Kate, come on. Just stay with me." He hadn't told anyone to call an ambulance, but he assumed that someone- Montgomery, Karpowski – already had. She was, after all, bleeding quite a lot.
"Trying," she mustered, her strength fading fast. She blinked, realizing with a shock of fear that she'd allowed her eyes to slide shut.
"Stay with me," he said again. His hand moved, her blood making it slippery. "Come on, Kate, don't- don't close your eyes. Come on. No. No! Come on! Always, alright? Always. Always." He was still mumbling that when the paramedics loaded her into the ambulance.
Cold- freezing, actually. That was the first thing Beckett was aware of after she lost consciousness on the floor of the precinct, how intensely and bitingly cold it was. She shivered, winding her arms tightly around herself. After what could have been a long time or a couple of seconds- time didn't seem to be moving the right way- she realized that she was standing in the same freezer she'd been locked in with Castle. He wasn't there now, though, and neither was Jamal's corpse. She was, however, not alone. A woman stood across the freezer from her, turned away from her. Despite this, Kate knew immediately who she was.
It was the identity of this woman, and what that fact must mean, that frightened her more than anything else that had happened that day. It confirmed something she'd been worrying it about. It also confirmed something she had originally negated, but was now rethinking due to evidence that directly contrasted her first opinion.
The first thing her mother's presence confirmed was that she was dead.
The second was that there was an afterlife, be it lonely and uncomfortably chilly.
"Damn it," she huffed under her breath, kicking the frosted metal wall behind her in irritation. It didn't hurt- she hadn't expected it to.
"Kate, calm down," said Johanna, walking towards her.
"No, I don't want to calm down!" she replied, her voice rising. "I am dead! I'm lying in a morgue somewhere. Oh, God, Lanie…" She ran her hands through her hair, a nervous habit she reserved for only the highest level of freaking out. "Oh, Castle, Dad… Damn it!" She kicked the wall again.
"You're not dead," insisted Johanna.
"Yeah, I am," said Kate. Something stirred within her- she'd never thought she'd be able to argue with her mom again. "I got shot, and then everything went black, and now you're here! So, unless I was very heavily drugged this morning, I'm pretty sure I know what's going on. And… and what's going on is, I'm dead!"
"I'm a hallucination," Johanna assured her.
"No, you're not," she sighed. "You're dead, and I'm dead, and I guess this is where you go when you die."
"No," said her mother, "this is where you go when you're lying in a frigid hospital and you've got stock footage of a giant freezer ingrained in your memory."
"Oh, what do you know? You're just a hallucination." She seemed to be having a lot of trouble making up her mind, and it was probably due to the fact that she appeared to be stuck in limbo.
"Kate, trust me, you're very much alive," said Johanna. "You can wake up and kick all the walls you want if you don't believe me. I wouldn't, though, seeing as you're already in the hospital and a couple of broken toes would just add on to the medical bills." Kate opened her mouth to say something about the fact that she'd been shot while at work factoring into the whole medical bill business, but her mother was already yanking open the heavy freezer door to leave. Bright light flooded in, obscuring the freezer.
She opened her eyes, and she was lying on a hospital cot, being observed worriedly by Kevin Ryan. "Ryan?" she murmured, blinking away the lingering disorientation.
"Uh… no," he said quickly, standing up and moving away. "Crap, Castle was supposed to be here when you woke up. Just go back to sleep." He moved towards the doorway.
"What?" she asked, sitting up and immediately regretting it. Her head hurt and her chest hurt.
"He's coming, just 'wake up' when you hear him sit down, okay?" said Ryan, looking back and forth between her and the hallway, down which she guessed Castle was walking. She had no idea why he was being so weird, but she had to admit that lying down again sounded good, so she went along with it.
Minutes later, Kate blinked open her eyes to see Castle sitting beside her, watching her with intent. "Hey," she whispered, attempting to prop herself up without shifting her chest or her head.
"Kate," he said, his voice flooded with relief. He choked her name out, and she appreciated in that moment the amount of pain he would have been in if she'd been right, if Lockwood's bullet had indeed killed her. "I thought… Oh, God, I thought… but they said…" For a writer, he seemed to be having a lot of trouble forming sentences.
"Shh, I'm okay," she reminded him, when a thought struck her. "I am okay, aren't I?"
"You're fine," he said, smiling, grateful for the knowledge that she would make a full recovery. "You're better than fine, you're… you're perfect."
"Mm-kay," she said, still exhausted and in pain. She wondered for a second how much morphine was in her system. "I'm just going to pass out for a while." He smiled, patted her hand.
"I promise I'll be here when you wake up," he said. She glanced up at him and smiled back, anticipating what he was about to say. "Always."
"So why'd he have to be there when Beckett woke up instead of you?" asked Esposito as he sat down beside Ryan in the waiting room with a hot cup of coffee in a Styrofoam cup.
"'Cause it's romantic," he shrugged. "Ergo they get together, ergo we rake in the cash from Perlmutter and Holloway."
"Quit saying ergo," said Esposito. "In what universe are hospitals romantic?"
"Of course they're romantic," said Ryan. "Don't you ever watch Grey's Anatomy?"
"No," he said slowly, staring at him. "Do you?"
"No," said Ryan quickly.
"And since when is Holloway in on the bet?"
"I don't know, couple months?" he shrugged.
"Yeah," said Esposito, "remind me again why we're going against a psychologist in a bet centered on people's emotions?"
"Come on," said Ryan. "It's Castle and Beckett. They're more meant-to-be than Meredith and Derek." Esposito stared at him again. "Jenny likes the show," he said defensively. "It's an intense medical drama, there's nothing wrong with- I'm going to go get some coffee." He walked away, flustered, leaving in his wake a laughing Esposito.