"We're damned by the existential moment when we saw the couple in the coma and it was we who were the cliché, but we carried on anyway." – Ben Folds, "You Don't Know Me"
Flat nurses' shoes tapped across the linoleum. Phones rang. Heart monitors blipped, one intensely more important than the others. Castle sat beside Kate's bed, watching her sleeping face with an expression that looked like it had been around for centuries before he'd ever worn it.
He hadn't seen her awake since she'd fallen behind the veil on the ground of the cemetery, and each minute that passed without her eyes open and looking at him added a weight to his heart. At this point, what he'd told her as she lay bleeding on the grass didn't matter. All that mattered was that she woke up.
A male nurse with sandy blond hair leaned through the door. "Mr. Castle," he said, "your daughter and mother have just arrived. They want to talk to you."
Castle stood, then looked back at Kate, deliberating. He felt a hand on his arm and turned to see that Lanie had stood up and left her position in the corner of the room. "Go," she said softly. "I'll watch her." He took one last look at Kate as he was leaving, and then only the two women were left in the room.
"He's gone," said Lanie, returning to her chair in the corner and opening up her magazine. Beckett opened her eyes and shifted up into a sitting position.
"Thought he'd never leave," she sighed, checking the door to make sure that Castle wasn't coming back. "Alright, new plan- next time he comes in here and I want him to leave, I'll make my heart beat 'get him out' in Morse code, and then when you hear that on the ECG-"
"Beckett," said Lanie sternly. "Are you listening to yourself? And you still haven't told me why you're hiding from him."
"I'm not hiding," she said defensively, sliding down the pillow so she was lying flat against the bed and staring at the ceiling. "He knows where to find me." Lanie huffed and folded up her magazine, exasperated.
"So you're just going to pretend you're comatose every time he comes into the room?" said Lanie, folding her arms and glaring at her best friend. "For the rest of your life?"
"See, now we're on the same page," said Beckett.
"I don't get why you don't want to talk to him," said Lanie, frustrated. She hated it when Kate kept things from her. "Earlier you two were clicking like… like mice!"
"Mice?" asked Beckett, cocking an eyebrow.
"Computer mice," she elaborated. When it didn't change Kate's expression, she said defensively, "I've been awake for over forty hours." She yawned as if to prove her point. "You're not still mad about him trying to get you off the case, are you?"
Beckett shook her head. "You know I wouldn't be," she said. "Not after everything that's…" She glanced back at Lanie, confused. "Wait, how did you know about that?"
"If a fight like that tore you two apart for good, I'd lose about half my yearly salary," she shrugged. "Don't think I'm not keeping tabs on every disagreement you have with Castle."
"But that's creepy," said Beckett.
"No," countered Lanie, "you want creepy, go another minute without telling me why you're avoiding Castle now." Beckett returned to looking at the ceiling, as if it held some escape from this conversation that she did not want to have.
"After I got shot, he said he loved me," she said after a long moment of silence. Not for the first time, she saw it all again in her head- the blood, the grass, his panicked lips forming the unexpected words.
"Oh, we knew that already," said Lanie, swatting her hand as if the anticlimactic truth were an annoying mosquito buzzing around her. Kate stared at her in shock and betrayal.
"You knew?" she said, clearly upset. "Who else knew?"
"Ryan, Esposito," she listed. "We talk about it all the time."
"And you couldn't have given me a little heads-up or something?" said Beckett. "No 'Hey, by the way, Castle's in love with you'?"
"I did!" said Lanie. "Not a week goes by that I don't tell you that you two need to hook up. And I know for a fact that Javi said something about it to you last year right before Castle left for the Hamptons."
"See, but the word 'love' was never, ever used," said Kate. Her heart rate zigzagged on the screen above her head, in confusion and anger and worry. Mostly confusion.
"So what are you going to do about it?" said Lanie. "You really can't just pretend to be unconscious for the rest of your life." No response. She honestly couldn't answer the question. "Well, the way I see it, you've got three options. One, you can have a long conversation with him about his feelings and how you don't reciprocate them at this time-"
"Alright, let's put that down on the permanent 'no' list," Beckett interrupted, loathe to a confrontation like that with Castle.
"Two," continued Lanie, ignoring her, "you can pretend you went into shock and have zero memory of what he said." Beckett grinned and nodded. "Or three, you can say it back."
"I like option number four," said Beckett. "Hit my head against the wall and actually go into a coma." Lanie shook her head, strands of hair slipping out of the clip she'd tucked all her hair into hours ago.
"Go with number three," she urged, and it wasn't just because of the bet. Beckett had been through a lot, and Lanie wanted to see her happy. Castle would make her happy. He always had. Kate just leaned back against her pillows and stared forward into nothing, lost in her troubled thoughts.
When Castle came back in, Beckett lapsed back into her fake coma. He took his seat beside her bed and returned to his perusal of her face, searching for a sign of awareness, of recognition. He needed her to wake up, he had to know, not from a doctor or a nurse, but from her, that she was okay.
Screw it, she thought, taking Lanie's advice and opening her eyes. Castle tensed and leaned forward. "Kate," he whispered, patting her hand like he was checking to see if she was really awake. "Kate, are you here?"
"Hey," she responded weakly, trying to act like she'd just woken up.
"Oh my God, she's up," said Lanie. Her acting had not improved since she and Esposito had been attempting to hide their relationship. "I'll go get a doctor," she muttered, using it as an excuse to leave them alone. Castle turned to watch her leave, and while he was still looking away Kate spoke.
"I heard what you said." He whipped back around, eyes wide.
"What?" he murmured, shocked and not completely sure that he was ready to face this. The truth was, equal parts of him had been for and against hoping that she'd remember his confession before she went under. Sure, he wanted her to know the truth and didn't know if he'd ever find the courage to say it again, but he also didn't feel ready for this conversation, especially if she was going to terminate their partnership because of his feelings for her.
"When I was lying on the ground," she explained. "When you said that you loved me." She said it in a rush, like she just wanted to get it all out.
"Oh." He considered calling a nurse for more morphine. The only thing that made it better was that Kate was probably just as uncomfortable having this conversation as he was. "Listen, we don't need to talk about that right now. I mean, you should let your dad see that you're okay, and Josh-"
"Who called the ambulance?" she interrupted him abruptly. He didn't quite understand the significance of the question. "Who called 911?" she repeated.
"Uh… I don't know, Alexis, or maybe your dad," he said, still unsure where she was going with this.
"And did anyone do first aid?" she asked. She continued to baffle him, slipping into her interrogation tone. "Apply pressure? Check my pulse?"
"Yeah," he said, remembering this in the whirlwind that the event had been, "Lanie came over and helped you."
"Did you get in her way?" asked Beckett, her tone now full-on accusatory. "Hinder her work in any way because you couldn't get out of her way, had to stay leaning over me so you could tell me that you loved me?" He didn't say anything. "Castle," she sighed, looking away from him. "I appreciate the gesture, it was really… sweet…"
Dammit, she thought. What was her problem? She knew there was more to this, knew she didn't just want to "let him down easy." Yes, she admitted to herself, she had feelings for Rick Castle. The exact definition and extent of those feelings, she wasn't quite sure, but she knew that she just couldn't get over the fact that he'd said goodbye instead of helping her.
"I should go tell everyone you're up," he muttered, standing. She grabbed for his arm to stop him, wrapping her fingers around his wrist.
"Rick," she said. "Wait." She wanted to tell him how she really felt, how she'd planned to tell him right before he ran off to the Hamptons with Gina, how much that had hurt her, how she secretly loved his books, how much it meant to her that he was always there for her. "I could have died, Rick," she said, unable to stop the vicious words spilling from her mouth. "What then? Everything's okay because your last words to me were 'I love you'?"
"Hey, I said that because I thought it would keep you there," he replied, just as fierce. "I thought if you felt like you had unfinished business here, it would make you stay."
"What unfinished business?"
"Well, to start with, crushing me," he said, reaching yelling volume. "Only you know what, Kate, I don't think you needed to stay for that, you've already done it enough."
"Oh, so it's okay if I go ahead and die then?" she asked. It felt good to shout, even if it couldn't possibly be good for her. Her heart rate was spiking erratically up and down, and she could see nurses and doctors converging on her room. Plus, part of her hated to fight with Castle. Another part relished in it.
She waited for some vitriolic response from him, but instead he broke down. Castle sunk back into his chair and took her hand which had still been clutching his wrist. He bent his head downward, obscuring his eyes from her. She wondered if he was crying and didn't want her to see. "No," he whispered finally. "No, it is not okay for you to die."
"Yeah, it would kind of suck," she said, earning an amused smile from him. She smiled back, wishing they could forget about the past few minutes. "God," she sighed, "I hate how complicated this is. I mean, the least we should be able to do is to deal with the problem at hand before we move on to other ones."
"What do you mean?" asked Castle.
"I mean," said Beckett, "I was just shot. Maybe we should wait until I'm recovered enough before the screaming matches start up again."
"Sounds like a plan," he agreed. "So what do we do until then?"
"Just be Castle," she shrugged. "Make me laugh. Bring me bear claws." He laughed, a genuine one, and clapped her hand between the two of his.
"Okay," he said.
"I'm sorry," he said quickly, not quite sure what he was apologizing for but hoping it would be enough to get the two of them back to normal.
"Sorry for yelling at you," she said. All in all, it was one of their easier fights, resolved and ended quickly. Neither of them even had to storm out- not that she could.
So he'd said "I love you." So she didn't know if she could say it back. It was okay- they'd work their way through it, the same way they worked their way through arresting his friend on Valentine's Day, and that suspended moment back in Los Angeles that left both of them confused and aching for more. They'd move along and hope that in the long run, everything would go back to normal- maybe even better than before.
"I'm not going to take back the 'I love you,'" he said.
"Didn't think you would," replied Kate.
"Things are going to get awkward," he threatened, still light-hearted as ever. "Might even get hard for us to be around each other."
"Good luck with that, then," she said with a smile. Yes, she decided, they were going to be just fine.