Hey all, thanks for the great feedback on the first portion! Here is the second chapter, OR, the first chapter of the parallel story. This happens exactly as it did in actual canon. This chapter actually took me much longer than anticipated, and I'm not sure Castle is in character. All the great post-finale fics have seriously intimidated me (they're WONDERFUL) and I just hope my entry is worthy of being in their company.

Also, sorry about the crappy formatting. Anyone know how to fix?


Chapter One

The paramedics were not making any sense. They were talking, and saying words, and moving their mouths and perpetuating speech and sounds and none of it made one lick of sense. Jargon and acronyms spun around and above him, but it was like reading a version of Dr. Seuss that had been translated into Russian, then Japanese, then back to English. Halfway through the ride to the hospital, he realized he was yelling back at them. Pleadingly.

He'd grabbed Kate's phone, almost blindly, and found Josh's number (fifth-most-dialed, not that he was counting), hoping, for the first time, that Wonderboy Surgeon was not off gallivanting in Timbuktu. He'd originally thought it was weird — and then a hopeful sign — that Josh was not at the funeral.

"Hey, babe." Nope. The voice was light, friendly; did he even know what kind of hell his girlfriend was going through? Probably not. Hopefully not.

"Josh? It's Rick. Rick Castle. I'm with Kate," he said, trying to steady his voice and still listen to the paramedics spout … things. Really, he should know more of what the hell was going on. "She's been shot. I need you to meet me at the hospital. We're in the ambulance."

"Shot?" Josh said, harsh, alarmed. "What the hell? Why wasn't she wearing a vest?"

"She wasn't in the field; she was giving a eulogy," Castle explained sharply. "She's been shot in the … lung. Ribs. Near the heart. I don't know. Meet us at the hospital."

"A eulogy? The hell?" the surgeon swore, but Castle had already hung up. He'd bullied his way onto the ambulance and they were basically at the hospital.

An ER doc was waiting for them when they got there, and the EMTs rattled off more jargon as Castle was rendered moot. She was so pale, unmoving. There had been blood, so much blood, everywhere.

Suddenly Lanie materialized behind him. He'd forgotten that she'd been there; that she'd been in the ambulance; that she was fluent in doctor. They wheeled Kate into an ED bay and started adding oxygen masks, IV drips, anything. They were "stabilizing her," Lanie explained breathlessly, as she started questioning a nurse again.

"What's going on? No, tell me, what's going on?" Castle finally demanded, his voice betraying how short his fuse currently was.

"Get the boyfriend out of here," one of the doctors shouted after one quick glance at him.

"Partner — I'm her partner," Castle protested, stumbling over the words as one of the youngest nurses he'd ever seen (not in a hot way, just in a young way), guided him out.

"You need to give them space to work. You don't want to see her like this," she said, "trust me."
"What's happening?" he demanded, his head finally clearing.

"Dad!" Alexis shouted, dashing across the ED for him, feet flapping on the linoleum, Martha and Jim Beckett right behind him. "Dad, are you ok?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine," he insisted, then turned back to the nurse. "What's happening?"

"She'll need surgery to repair the damage; they're stabilizing her and then taking her up to the OR," the nurse explained. "I don't know any more, I'm sorry. The waiting room is that way —"

"Ryan and Esposito are already there," Alexis interrupted.

"What's going on?" Jim Beckett insisted, his face shocked and wan. "What is going on with my daughter?" Castle realized that he'd basically pushed the older man out of the way to climb into the ambulance, and felt a little guilty about it. Not that guilty, though.

"Your daughter was hit in the lower chest cavity. The bullet hit her spleen, liver and a lung. It looks like it shattered some ribs but missed the heart; we need to do an MRI to determine that. She'll need surgery. It'll have to start as soon as possible, and it's going to take a while. She'll be in a lot of pain when she wakes up." The only thing he could focus was her phrasing: when she wakes up. Thank god.

From there everything was a blur. He couldn't see her, touch her, anymore. There was no reassurance that she was alive; only faith. He didn't see Josh, though one of the nurses told Jim that Josh — "her boyfriend," which made Jim jerk his head — is operating on her, and that he was the best of the best. Of course he was. Kate only deserved (and got) the best. There was paperwork, lots of it, that they initially handed to Jim but who, after struggling to answer three questions about recent medical history ("Does Katie smoke? She smoked in high school and college but I haven't seen a cigarette in years") he quickly passed it off to Castle. Only, Castle's handwriting was so shaky that he passed it off to Alexis, who asked him the questions in a calm, quiet voice as he dictated the answers distractedly.

"Her last physical was in January, she was fine, they told her to stop drinking so much coffee," he muttered. Around him, the boys and Jenny and Lanie paced agitatedly, Lanie and Jenny asking medical questions (Jenny was a Med-Surge nurse at Mount Sinai) and the boys harassing other cops over the phone. The waiting room had kind of become a Beckett Command Center. Ashley showed up, weirdly, and sat beside Alexis, not saying much. Mother and Jim Beckett seemed to hit it off and frequently went for rounds of coffee. Other cops he recognized from in and around the precinct passed in and out. Lanie and Jenny eventually drooped into chairs. He didn't know where the Montgomery family had gone. There was a static tense silence that filled the air and his brain and his lungs, and he focused wholly on not thinking about what would happen — if, what if, all of it. His mother and daughter took turns sitting by him, running their palms along his forearms, trying to assuage his feelings. Alexis, who had cried at the site, started to cry again, very briefly, and for the first time in his life he couldn't summon the words to comfort his baby girl.

An hour after they got there, a nurse came by to announce that surgery had started and was expected to take between seven and eight hours. "There's a lot of damage to repair," she explained to Mr. Beckett and Castle. "They're trying to do the repair laparoscopically; it'll give her a much faster recovery time and quality of life afterwards." The bullet had taken a slight upward trajectory: spleen, liver, ribs, lung, all hit, pericardium grazed, heart just missed. The nurse had tried to talk solely to Mr. Beckett but he'd quickly interjected that Castle had Beckett's medical power of attorney, which, thank god, he actually did. She'd switched it in November after he'd made her his, as well as Alexis' legal guardian. Just in case. Now, apparently, was the case. The nurse handed him a beeper, which could go off anywhere in the hospital whenever they had updates, giving him the ability to roam around.

He stayed put anyways.

The waiting should have been enough to drive him mad, but there was something strangely routine about the whole life-hanging-in-the-balance moment. Some things did not change. There were still conversations. He was still thinking. His mind and body, while tense and nervous, were still functioning. He was begging, pleading, internally, but almost bracing himself mentally by shutting down and focusing on the normality. Still, pleasepleaseplease ran through his mind almost automatically; a mental cadence with a tempo matched to the beat of his heart. He begged a higher power he barely knew, let alone knew how to spoke to. He was in the bargaining phase — I will donate all my money to charity; I will never write again — when he noticed the boys approach him.

"Do you want to hear what they've found out?" Ryan asked, slightly nervously, crossing his arms in front of him.

The uniforms' canvas. Of course. "I'm guessing nothing turned up," he said. It wasn't even a question.

"Eh, not so, bro," Esposito said. "Based on what you saw, he was about a half-mile back, there was a getaway car. Traffic cameras outside the cemetery and tire treads narrowed it down to three cars; one of those cars was found about four miles away. Forensics is combing it now."

He shook his head. "Whoever hired Lockwood … and this guy … there won't be evidence," he sat down. "They'll have bleached it." Rubbing his face, he continued, "Track them down, see if there's anything, but — we got so close — too close," he didn't finish the sentence.

The boys understood. "When she wakes up, she's gonna want facts, she's gonna want us to investigate," Ryan said, "But we'll keep it out of this room, okay?"

Perfect. "Okay," he exhaled, relieved. He went back to pacing. Worried. Pleading. Desperately. A sick feeling of nausea waxed and waned, before eventually dissipating into a jittery, tense discomfort: Limbo.

Sometime later — he was not sure if it was minutes or hours or days — Jim slid next to him. He exhaled. "So, this boyfriend?"

"His name is Josh. He's a surgeon, they've been dating … I don't know. I was gone last summer; sometime then I guess. He … rides a motorcycle, goes on medical missions to third-world countries, runs triathlons." Rescues lost puppies, he added mentally. Paints rainbow murals for cancer kids.

"A year, huh?" Mr. Beckett said slowly. "I've … never heard Katie mention him." He sounded sad, but unsurprised.

He shrugged. "You know Kate better than anyone. She keeps things close."

"I actually don't think I know my daughter best," Mr. Beckett said, his voice light and completely free of acrimony. "She mentions you about once a week, though." Castle put his head back. He did not have time for this. "Sorry. Your mother — she's been filling me in."

"I'm scared to ask," Castle said, natural wit temporarily surfacing among worry.

"No need to worry," Mr. Beckett reassured. "Just — she mentions you. And I thought you should know."

"Thank you," Castle said automatically.

"I should be thanking you."


"You talked to her — kept her safe."

"She got shot. That's basically the opposite of safe in my book."

"She didn't go purposely running into a firefight just to get killed," Mr. Beckett corrected. "That — I think you're the only person who could have done that. So, thank you."

Castle looked at the man, hard. "I should have done more," he finally said, and meant it. He wasn't looking for pity, or compassion, or to make a good impression. It was simply fact. He should have caught that bullet. Jim Beckett seemed to understand; at the very least, he nodded. There was a sort of symmetry in their situation; nearly losing Kate, he realized, would bind him to Jim Beckett, who had lost Johanna for the very same reasons, for forever. Not to put too fine a point on it.

The hours stretched on, infinity unfurling itself. The boys ordered pizza; Alexis and Ashley started making the coffee runs instead, as Martha began to complain about her legs. Lanie sat by him and went over what the doctors had to be doing to her. The nurse came by and squealed about Josh's surgery being the ultimate romantic gesture. Eventually, Esposito flopped down beside him.

"When I was in the Gulf," he began, "One of my friends, a guy in my platoon, was shot by a bullet, stray one, in this house outside Baghdad. Nicked him, just enough, in the neck."

"What's your point, Esposito?" he said, not mean, just tired.

"He started bleeding out immediately. I was the guy who held his neck, and I was the guy they had to pull off 20 minutes later when they knew he wouldn't make it. Point is, what you did, in the moment, whatever you did, it was the right thing. Whatever happens — it's not your fault."

He stopped. "I told her that I loved her."

Esposito's solemn, stoic countenance cracked, a grin managing to break through and disrupt the lines on his face. "Finally. Took you long enough."

"So says the guy who thought he had a secret relationship for over a month," Castle retorted wryly. "Anyways. No idea if she heard me."

"You know, she's tight, but she's not dense," Esposito replied. "She broke up with Demming for you, you know."

His head lifted sharply. "What?"

"Last summer, right before you left? She broke up with Demming."

"She never told me."

"Lanie says she was going to — then she found out Gina was going with you."

He pondered. That made sense, made a lot of the year make sense.

"And, remember your first case back? The bet you guys had, about the case with the counterfeiters? Beckett figured it out about a half hour before you did, at least. She threw it," Esposito continued. "My point — don't give up on her, OK? Doesn't seem like it, but she doesn't give up on you." He walked off.

Eventually he needed to go stretch his legs, leave Limbo land, walk around. He stopped at the nursery and stared at babies, tried not to let his imagination get too far ahead of himself. He passed a door that said 'morgue.' He wandered around quiet floors and noisy ones, past waiting rooms filled with screaming kids and efficient nurses. He stared out the windows and realized how late it had gotten. It was nearly ten. The surgery was on hour six.

As he was wandering back from his leg-stretch, he noticed Alexis curled into a chair, tears dampening her face. She was wearing a lumpy cardigan and huddled in the ugly fluorescent lights, which gave the entire scene with a sort of horror-movie tinge that had been steadily building throughout the night.

"Alexis," he said, sitting down next to her. "Why are you out here?"

"Sorry," she said, unfolding her body and shaking her shoulders. "I just needed a minute." She sniffed.

"Heyyyy, pumpkin," he said, pulling her into his side and feeling suddenly, horrifically guilty that his daughter had watched a woman she considered a mentor shot, and hadn't even given it a second thought. He was a shitty father. "It's okay, it's okay. Today's been rough."

"That's an understatement," Alexis tried to chuckle but the sound clogged in her throat. "I don't think I've ever been more scared. Dad, you could have been shot. I mean, Beckett's amazing and I'm so scared that she got shot, but Dad — that could have been you. You could be on that table, or, or, dead. And I know you've done stuff you don't want to worry me about when you're with Beckett, but Dad … you could have been shot." And suddenly her body wracked with muffled tears. "I'm sorry. I'm a terrible person for thinking that way …"

"No, no, I am," he interjected quickly. "You're not terrible at all, Alexis, I'm so sorry."

"It's just … Kate … and I could have lost you. That's all," she said, crying some more.

He kissed her forehead. "I'm still here. And like it or not, I intend on keeping it that way."

She smiled, a watery smile, and he could see something still broken in her eyes. He decided not to push it.

"You know, you should go home soon. It's almost midnight." He worried about his daughter, his smart and trusty and resourceful daughter. It was the only thing he had left to give her, his worry.

She snorted. "Please. If I go home, it's just to bring you back pajamas."

"I got the good kid, you know that, right?" he smiled.

"You're calling me out of school tomorrow."

"Something I never thought you'd ask," he cracked automatically, but then the gravity of the situation hit them both again and they sobered.

He spent the final hour of her surgery obsessively researching trauma surgery, a way to distance his mind without losing it. He knew plenty about surgery already, about bullet wounds, about how to injure and kill, but rereading how they were basically taking Kate's body apart, only to put it together again, Humpty-Dumpty style, was just as terrifying as the blood still caked under his fingernails.

He dozed off unintentionally, his laptop sliding off his lap until his mother dove and saved it. When he was shaken awake, by Mr. Beckett, he saw Josh, the surgical Adonis, standing there in sea-green scrubs, his eyes tired and surgical mask dangling from his neck.

"She's out. It'll be a long road back but she's stable now. She's in recovery," he said, his voice heavy. "She'll be moved to intensive care around 3 a.m."

"When can we see her?" Lanie, thank god, asked the question first.

"In the morning. Everyone needs to go home, get some sleep, and take a shower," Josh instructed. Castle knew that he would not be doing that. He would not be leaving.

But he didn't need to worry, because the next words out of Josh's mouth were, "Rick — can I talk to you?"