The first thing she noticed when she woke up, the burning smell of antiseptics aside, was the hand wrapped around her own. A big hand, strong and encompassing.

That's what triggered the flood of memories.

The funeral, her eulogy, the folded flag.
A new widow, an old widower, a best friend.
Blinding pain, strong hands, three words.

"I love you." She heard the words as if he were whispering them in her ear, see the terror in his sea blue eyes as if he were inches from her face.

"I love you, Kate."

She was brought back to reality by the hand holding hers, just reminding her of its presence. It was so soft, so comforting. She could ignore the hospital smell and the stiff sheets beneath her and the growing pain in her chest- all she could focus on was that hand holding hers.

And on impulse, she squeezed.

"Love you, too," she murmured without opening her eyes, her voice muffled by the days she's spent asleep.

"Wh-what? You love me?" she heard a voice ask, cracking from surprise and disuse. There was a scrapping sound that must have been a chair pushing backwards and then: "Katie, are you awake?" The excitement was growing in the deep voice, and it shocked her so much that she forced her eyes open.

Josh was hovering above her, holding her hand tighter now, a brilliant smile spread on his face, strands of well-groomed black hair spilling into his hazel eyes.

"You're awake!" he cried, beaming, holding her hand tighter still. She watched from her horizontal position, frozen in horror as he turned his head, obviously speaking to someone she couldn't see from her vantage point. "She's awake!" And then, turning back to her, pushing the hair matted to her forehead out of her eyes, "I love you, too, baby."

She forced a smile on to her face- it was weak but it seemed to please the man currently invading her space. "I need to-" she motioned sitting up, and he immediately backed off, grabbing some pillows to support her and helping her upright.

The pain in her chest seared more painfully than ever.
It had nothing to do with the entry wound approximately 4 centimeters from her heart.
It has everything to do with the sight before her.

Sitting, in a chair at the foot of her bed, was Richard Castle. He was in sweats and a t-shirt, his elbows on his knees, his head lifted just enough to capture her eyes with his own. He looked like he hadn't slept in days, proof lining his jaw and clouding his eyes.

Beside her, Josh was talking about how she must have heard him, how much he loved her, how worried he had been, how much he loved her- but he went out of focus and all Kate could see or hear was sitting at the end of her bed, looking at her with a slack-jawed look that said more than words needed to.

He knew who she was talking to.
She knew he knew, it was all over his face.

Even as Josh started pressing a kiss to her temple, murmuring more words of love and comfort in her ear, she held Rick's gaze, trying to transmit everything she was feeling.

She loved him. Loved him. Him.

And then her gaze dropped his, reluctantly. The raw moment disappeared faster than flash paper and her gaze was suddenly on Josh again, smiling softly.

She had never told Josh she loved him.
She had never really planned to.

But they all had roles to play.

Her hand reached up, touching his face, gently, her thumb brushing his cheek, letting the false smile reach her eyes. She cared for Josh. She did.

Rick rose, slowly, a new kind of sadness in his eyes. He thought he'd lost her, and for four days, it was his biggest fear, regret, and nightmare. Now he knew he'd lost her, and to add insult to injury, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was his in the first place.

He had never imagined admitting defeat.
He had never really planned to.

But they all had roles to play.

His hand reached out, closing around the doorknob, twisting, letting new harsh lighting pour into the hospital room. He cared for her, more than three words could even express. So he left.

"I'll go get the doctor."


Thanks to Emily, for making me get out of bed to write this.
(seriously-this may never have been written if she didn't demand it so).

Reviews are much appreciated :)