Lights flashing, yelling, chaos... but most of all, the burning.

All awareness focused into a white hot ball of fire in her center, an acid sun going supernova, consuming her from the inside out.

Someone screaming from inside her head might have been her.

His voice, a constant patter, a lifeline of words that she latched onto and clung to in the blinding storm of pain. "...love...Kate...stay..."

Then something cool and blessed, and it all disappeared again.

She could feel before she could move. The maze of burning was still there, but it had faded to a tangle of hot coals, intense, painful, but not blinding and consuming. She could hear voices, arguing in the background, and tried to speak, but her eyes wouldn't open and her lips wouldn't move and her body was stubbornly resistant to any attempts to move it. She tried to understand what they were saying, but meaning was lost in the garble of heated voices.

Her first coherent thought was, If I'm paralyzed, why the fuck does it hurt so much?

She felt a hand take hers, felt something soft against her palm. Lips? And warm breath. The sensation seemed to chase the pain back into a corner.

His voice was quiet as he said, "Oh Kate, honey, please wake up."

Her brain supplied, Castle, and then finally, her mouth worked enough for her to say, "Honey?"

Her voice sounded alien to her, hoarse and creaky, but his delighted chuckle was so familiar. At first, anyway. The hint of a slightly hysterical sob at the end of his laugh held more emotion than she could remember hearing from him.

"Wha... happened?" she creaked.

"You were shot," he said. "I thought I'd lost you. But they put you together again."

"Can' move," she managed.

"It's the medication," he said. "Bullet missed the spine."

She tried to say, "Good," but it came out slurred. "Hurs."

"They'll give you more medication in a minute," he said.

"Nah' doan wanna," she managed. "Tell..."

"A sniper... I saw the glint. You moved when I said your name, just enough that it missed your heart, but there's a lot of important stuff where the bullet hit. Do you remember?"

She was quiet for a long moment, and finally her head moved in the slightest nod.

"Do you remember what I told you when you fell?" he asked, his fingers entwining with hers. She lay there for a long moment, and then her fingers tightened.

"I... 'member," she said. "Woan hol' you to it."

He made an impatient noise. "Like hell you won't."

"Cas... How bad..." The weakness of her voice frustrated her, it seemed to be fading with every word.

"Bad," he said. "But they think you'll live."

She winced. Breathing itself was painful. "Lung?" she asked.

"Yeah. And liver. You still have a spleen, but the bullet bounced a bit. Lots of damage, but nothing fatal."

That explained the burning. She could see the trajectory in her mind, could feel the tracers of pain through her gut. She managed, "Bone?"

"They took out some chips, and you've got a cracked rib. You were in surgery forever."

"You sleep?"

"I will, when they give you your pain meds."

"Nah... yet..." she said. "Still... danger..."

"You've got a protective detail, plus I hired private security. Esposito and Ryan are outside, too. The hospital is irritated with the number of people, but it would take a commando squad to get in here now."

"Nah thah... Wound. Liver's... bad. Still... risk?"

"They let you wake up because they're now reasonably confident that the repair they did on your liver will hold. You're not completely out of the woods, but you were upgraded from critical to serious a few hours ago."

Her eyes finally obeyed her, and drifted open. The room was blurry, and she blinked. It seemed to take far more effort to blink than it had any right to, but finally she could see his face, surrounded by machines and IV tubing, and managed a weary smile. "Than' you," she said.

"For what?" he asked, sounding confused. "I'm just upset that I didn't react fast enough when I saw the scope."

It took an inhuman effort, but she managed to lift her hand up a little. He caught it, and supported it, as she guided it up to his cheek. "For bein' there," she said.

"Always," he answered reflexively. "I meant it, you know. I love you."

Her dry lips curled into a weary, weary smile. "I know. Cas... Rick... You have to know... 'simportan'." Her hand hung in his, limp against the stubble of his cheek.

"I know," he said.

"Love," she managed. And then a little stronger, "Love you, too."

His lips quirked, his cheek dimpling against the back of her hand. "Will you let them give you your pain meds now?

She grimaced, and then nodded. A shape moved, and she realized that a nurse had been standing off to one side, just before the cool relief tingled up her arm, and consciousness faded.

The next time she woke, her first awareness was of the pain still burning through her torso, and her second was of the quiet sound of snoring. She opened her eyes to dimness, Castle, barely visible in the dim room, was stretched on a cot next to the bed, sound asleep.

She moved experimentally. Arms, check. Toes, check. She started to shift her hips and and came to the abrupt and unpleasant realization that she was catheterized. An involuntary groan escaped her, and Castle startled awake, shifting to her side in a moment.

"How long?" she asked. Her voice came out low and pained, but clear. The lack of muzziness in her head told her that whatever they were still giving her for pain, any morphine that had been in her system was no longer.

"Since the last time you woke up?" he asked. "Or the last time you talked to me?"

"Since I was shot," she said.

"Four days," he answered.

"And since I woke up?"

"Well, you weren't really coherent the last time, six hours ago, which was when they changed the sheets, but the last time you actually spoke to me was about 24 hours ago."

She blinked. "You' been here the whole time?" She caught the slight slurring in her voice and grimaced.

"Where else would I be?" he asked.

"Wi' Alexis," she said, and frowned. "With your daughter," she said, more slowly.

"She's been here almost as much as I have," he said. "I made her go to school, finals are coming up, but she's been coming here afterward, until Mother takes her home at bedtime."

"That can't be good for her studying," Kate said, shifting, and then gasping as the movement sent pain radiating through her chest.

"Kate!" he exclaimed, reaching for the call button, but she caught his hand.

"It's just... moving hurts," she said. "If you panic every time I have a pain, I'll have to shoot you myself."

"Still," he said. "They can give you something, make sure..."

"I don't want to sleep yet," she said.

"Alexis is doing as well as anyone could be expected to do under the circumstances," he said.

"My dad?" she asked.

"He's been here every day, but goes home at night."

She looked at the window, at the lights of the city and a sliver of orange-purple night sky. "Did they catch..."

He was already shaking his head. "You'd think, with that many cops... but it was chaos."

"Damn. We can cut off all the arms we want, but until we get the damn head... they just keep buying new ones."

"Shhh," he said. "It's a battle for another time. You're not going anywhere for a while."

She shifted again, and yelped, and then looked at him ruefully. "I'm getting that."

Bright light lanced in from the hallway as a nurse knocked and opened the door simultaneously.

"Do you want another dose of pain medication, Detective Beckett?" the nurse asked, while checking the catheter bag.

"Not yet," Kate said. "I'll let you know."

"They'll be setting you up with a PCA pump in the morning," the nurse said. "You'll be able to self-administer whenever you need it then."

"How much longer do I have to keep the catheter?" Kate asked.

"Until they're ready to get you out of bed," the nurse said. "Could be as early as tomorrow, could be a little longer. The doctor will decide."

Kate grimaced. The nurse looked at Castle and said, "Call us as soon as she needs something."

He nodded, and the nurse left, leaving the room dim again.

"How do they know I'm awake?" she asked.

"The room is monitored," he said. "Video, audio, plus your vitals."

"Vid... that's not standard," she said.

"Lets just say this is the most secure hospital money can buy," he said, quietly. "And as much as I want to be in here 24/7, I do occasionally need to attend to basic bodily functions."

"They can hear us?" she asked.

"I've been assured that they tune out normal conversation," Castle said. "And HIPAA means that anything we say will not be shared."

"They let you stay..." she said.

"Your father authorized it. It helped that you'd listed me as an emergency contact with the precinct. I'm honored, by the way."

"He must really like you," she said with a weary smile.

"He was a big part of why I asked you to back off the case in the first place," Castle said. "He came to see me. Thought maybe you might listen to me where he knew you wouldn't listen to him. I... had to try."

She blinked, and her eyes widened, and she said, "Oh. That explains..."

"I know it felt like I was pulling the rug out from under you," he said. "And that's the last thing I ever wanted to do. But between him, and Roy, and … The thought of losing you, Kate, it was so close, I was sure you were..." His voice broke, and she reached weakly up to touch his face.

"I was wearing a vest," she said.

"And it took enough of the moxie out of the bullet that it didn't just blow a hole in your chest," he said. "But that was an armor-piercing round, from a sniper rifle. They meant business."

"Why couldn't you tell me?" she asked. "Before..."

"Josh," he said. "I was trying to respect your relationship with him. That got less important when the bullet hit your chest."

She grimaced. "Does he know?"

He nodded. "He was here, once, early on."

"Just once?" she asked.

"Do you want him?" he said quietly. "Because I can call him for you."

She shook her head. "It's been ending with him for a long time. I kept trying to figure out what to say, but he was never around, so it just wasn't a priority."

"He and I talked," Rick said quietly. "I told him it was your choice, and that I would respect it, but that I wasn't leaving here until you told me to. He said something to the effect that he had never been very good at being there for you, and that you'd been pulling away from him for a long time. And that you deserved to have someone who wasn't halfway around the world most of the time. But that if you wanted, he would try."

"You're always here for me," she said. "Always. But I should still talk to him."

"During the day, probably," he said. "It's four a.m."

She nodded, and then coughed. The jarring motion brought tears to her eyes, and his hand tightened around hers. "They said you'd need to do that, it's important, to prevent pneumonia."

"Hurts," she said.

"They said that, too."

"I feel so fucking broken," she said.

"Right at the moment, your body is broken. But it will heal. It'll take time, but it will heal."

She looked at him, the frustration naked on her her face. "This isn't who I am, Rick."

"Of course it isn't," he answered, scooting a little closer and stroking her hair. "I know who you are, and 'lying helpless in a hospital bed' may describe your current location, but it certainly doesn't define you. I fully expect you to be cranky as hell about it for a good long time." Then he grinned. "But that doesn't mean that I'm above taking advantage of the chance to cosset you as much as possible."

"You make that sound almost dirty," she said, then winced as an involuntary chuckle sent waves of pain rippling through her chest.

"Plenty of time for dirty, later," he said. "I'm afraid we're limited to strictly platonic cossetting for now."

"You're assuming..." she started, and then gave him a wry grin. "Exactly what you probably should be assuming."

The grin that lit his face brought a smile to hers. "You look like a little boy who just got told the circus is coming to town."

"Duh," he said. And then he gave her a sly look. "You know, I'm told that endorphins are good pain relievers."

"I'm hardly in any shape..." she started, but he stood, braced himself solidly on the arms of the bed, leaned over, and kissed her gently. Only their lips touched, and he lingered there for a long moment, and then sat back down.

"So?" he asked. "Do endorphins help?"

She nodded, and said, "But it was better standing up."

His eyes twinkled, and he said, "I agree."

She coughed again, and the jarring brought tears to her eyes. His thumb was on the call button before she could stop him.

"Time for medicine," he said. "I have it on good authority that keeping on top of the pain will speed your recovery."

The burning was getting stronger, and she couldn't argue. She kept her eyes on his until the icy medication pulled her back under.