A/N: This is my take on what might happen at the start of Season 4. So it does contain some SPOILERS.

It starts off in Episode 1 but presents a number of different possibilities as to what might occur. I have tried to make it clear where these parallel world parts are by starting them with a quotation. I hope it is not too confusing! Let me know if it is.

This chapter fits will all the different endings coming up in the next chapters.

Reviews, either positive or constructively critical,would be MUCH appreciated, if you have a spare moment. :)

Disclaimer: Still don't own anything Castle-related, except dvds and a book!


'What might have been'

The wailing of the ambulance siren was reverberating in Castle's head, its scream the background to the endless mantra echoing in his brain. 'Kate, don't die, please don't die. Kate, don't die, please don't die.' Any other thoughts were drowned out by that awful refrain. He had a superstitious fear that, if he stopped this pleading, then Kate might lose her terrifyingly tenuous grasp on life.

For the first few minutes in the ambulance, Castle's mind had raced with a thousand thoughts. Who could he call to help with this? He had a man for everything. Did he have a guy who would solve this problem? Money was no object. Could money help? What could he do?

But money, contacts, the Richard Castle charm; what good were they to him now? Maybe they would help later, but, first, there needed to be a later, for Kate. So, for once, Castle, helpless, had resorted to the childish chanting of words designed to keep the monsters at bay. 'Don't die, Kate.' He was a wordsmith, but he needed nothing more than those three syllables which held all the meaning that life had for him at this moment. 'Stay with me, Kate. Don't leave me. I love you, Kate. Don't die.' One syllable words that said everything.

The paramedics, a calm, composed man and woman, anonymous and efficient in their green uniforms, had managed to stop the bleeding, at least temporarily. But Kate's pulse was thready and her vital signs were about as bad as they could be for someone who was still alive.

The writer had forced his way into the ambulance along with Lanie, helped by Jim Beckett who had told the crew that Castle was her husband. Hearing the lie, Castle had looked at Kate's father in surprise and gratitude, before climbing in after the gurney.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

Castle was holding tightly to Kate's icy, white hand, as if he could anchor her to life by the strength of his fingers grasping hers, keeping her with him. She lay on the gurney, her glossy hair spread around her on the pale blue cotton pillow, where Lanie had loosened it so she could lie comfortably. Those vibrant waves were incongruous next to the sickly white, tinged with mauve, hue of her face; a colour Castle had only seen on victims in the morgue. He shied away from that image, saying the 'Don't die, Kate' refrain more loudly in his head to leave no room for thoughts of mortality. Because a world without Kate was unthinkable; so he would not think it.

He had finally told her how he felt, the words ripped out of him by the shock of seeing her lying on the vivid green grass, bleeding her life away. But he had no idea if she had heard him. Maybe, if he had told her before, he could have protected her better. Maybe he would never have the chance to tell her again.

Maybe, if only, what if, woulda, coulda, shoulda. He thought he would go mad.

There were some kinds of pain he could survive, but this was not one of them. The loss of Alexis or Kate would mean that Richard Castle's body would go on, but the soul of Richard Castle, the man, would be damaged, beyond all hope of repair. He would go on existing, but it would not be living.

Castle's eyes kept darting hungrily between Kate's face and the monitor, unsure what to look at. If he did not keeping looking, he felt that she would slip away. Irrational, but this was not the time for logic. The regular beeping of the machine seemed to be driving the rhythm of his own heart. That tiny, tinny sound was so small and seemingly insignificant, but it meant the difference between a life of light or one of shadows.

He felt like a huge, merciless hand was squeezing his heart in its cruel fingers. 'Don't die, Kate. Don't die.'

'She's NOT going to die. We won't let her!' Castle, startled, turned to look at Lanie sitting next to him. He had forgotten she was there. 'I'm sorry. I didn't realise I said that out loud.'

Then he jumped out of his skin as the intermittent beeping turned into a continuous whine. He felt like his own heart had stopped. Kate was flat-lining.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

The medic pushed him aside and she went into a carefully orchestrated life-saving routine; routine for her, but for the writer, it was the worst moment of his life, comparable only to seeing Kate's snowy white gloves being stained with the obscenely bright scarlet of her blood after she was shot.

He had to let go of Kate's hand and he was filled with a dark dread that he would never have the chance to touch a living, breathing Kate Beckett again.

The seconds ticked by, somehow both agonisingly slowly and yet passing in a nanosecond. Castle pressed himself against the side of the ambulance so as not to be in the way. His nails dug into his hands as he forced himself to stay where he was and not try to help. He could hear the rasping of his own laboured breathing and yet, paradoxically, he felt like bands of steel were around his chest, suffocating him.

His writer's brain registered the details of the scene playing out in front of him. The calmly efficient paramedic used the defibrillator on Kate. The buzz of the electricity entering her body made Castle jerk as if he were the one being shocked. The stark cleanliness of the ambulance interior, all plastic and metal. The flashing lights of the monitor. The brightest colour in the ambulance was the red of Kate's blood, staining her clothes, the sheet, his hands, Lanie's hands, and her own hand where he had taken off the glove so he could feel her skin and convince himself she was still alive. The antiseptic hospital smell was undercut by the heavy, rusty, metallic odour of drying blood. She should smell of cherries, not violence and death. He closed his eyes in an agony of remembrance and regret.

The details were magnified as if he was watching them on a giant HD screen. It did not feel real. And yet he also felt like he was walking underwater where sights and sounds were muffled by the roaring in his ears and the fog before his eyes. How could everything be in viciously sharp focus and yet suffocatingly opaque at the same time?

It seemed to go on forever, but it was only a minute or two before the monitor returned to its regular beeping. The medic turned to Castle and said 'It's ok, sir. Your wife is still with us.' He forced the stiff muscles of his face into a small smile and whispered 'Thank you.'

He moved closer to Kate so that he could take her hand again. It felt colder than ever. A fragile collection of delicate bones and smooth, soft skin. He knew the power latent in those hands. They could take down a guy twice her size or make Castle feel like his ear was being wrenched off. Slender but indomitable. That was his Kate. He took her hand in both of his hands and gently ran his thumb over the back of it in slow circles, trying to infuse his own warmth and life force into her through this slight touch. Not the time for logic.

Round and round, went his thumb, matching the words still echoing in his head. 'Don't die, Kate. Don't die.'

Behind that sound, was the screaming of the siren as the ambulance sped through the streets.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

The family, that unrelated, eclectic group of people that Kate Beckett considered to be her 'folks', even if she was not even really aware that they had all come to mean that to her, were sitting in a soulless, cold, beige waiting room. Their various poses were a snapshot of their individual personalities.

Lanie was leaning her head on Esposito's shoulder, her eyes red from crying but a look of fierce determination on her face, as if she refused to contemplate anything other than a positive outcome for this day. Esposito's face was almost unreadable, his clenched jaw the only outward sign of any emotion. Ryan sat with his hand holding Jenny's, his fingers gently rubbing her skin his only movement, his face red from the effort of not letting those tears fall. Jenny kept glancing at Ryan, though whether it was for reassurance or to reassure him, it would be hard to say.

Martha, her chin up, her face carefully schooled into a neutral expression, was tenderly stroking the shiny, soft hair of Alexis, who was resting her head in her grandmother's lap. A tear occasionally made its way down the teenager's face and she was biting her lip, but she did not make a sound, merely using a tissue to wipe the moisture away.

Jim Beckett sat apart from the others, looking out of the window. He seemed to have aged ten years since the morning, his face grey and gaunt. He appeared calm, but more than one person in that room had seen into his eyes and winced. No one person should have to suffer that kind of pain. This was a man who had lost the love of his life in a particularly brutal way. And now there was a chance that his only child would be taken from him, through the machinations of the same man who had been responsible for his wife's death. It was a horrible twist of fate, a cosmic joke, that his nemesis had struck again.

Beneath that stoic façade, Jim's mind was trying to avoid thinking about something that he had managed to ignore for many years now; that urge to go to the nearest bar and drown this new-born agony in several glasses of the strongest bourbon he could find. But he resisted, because that was all he could do for Katie now.

And what of Richard Castle? He was slumped against a far wall, holding an ice pack to his eye. Martha glanced over at him and she felt a stab of maternal pain as she took in the defeated posture of her son.

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Castle had been rampaging around the hospital when they had all arrived from the cemetery. He had called everyone he knew, trying to make sure that Kate had the best of everything. He had tried to talk to the Senior Surgeon and then the hospital administrator, and anyone else who would listen.

Martha knew her son. He always thought that, with enough charm, money and connections, he could solve anything. His frustration at not being able to do anything for Kate or to be with her at this time had had him getting more and more worked up until Lanie took him aside and gave him a stern talking to.

'Castle! This is not helping! Let the doctors do their job. This is a great hospital and the guy operating on Kate is one of the best surgeons in New York.'

'I don't want one of the best. I want THE best in the country! I can have them flown here right now. I just need to know whom to call!'

'By the time anyone else got here, she could already be dead!'

Castle stopped his frantic pacing up and down the corridor and turned to Lanie in shock.

'Jesus, Lanie! Don't say that! Don't ever say that! This is Kate we're talking about. She's the strongest person I know. She'll pull through. She has….'

Then he stopped, unable to go on. Tears ran down his face, but he was completely unaware of them. Lanie could not bear the look of desolation on his face and went up to him, wrapping her arms around him. They hugged, holding each other tightly as if afraid to let go and face the reality of what was happening.

Castle smiled wryly down at the petite medical examiner and said, 'Sorry, Lanie. It's just…..'

'I know, honey, I know.'

'Thank you for keeping her alive until she had a chance to go into surgery.'

Lanie's mind went over that scene for the hundredth time. Sitting on top of her best friend on that gurney, frantically doing chest compressions, begging Kate not to die. Having to stop when they reached the O.R. Having to let someone else try to save her. The worst minutes of her life, so far. And, she knew, the worst minutes of Castle's life. They would always have that in common.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

Lanie had taken Castle by the hand and led him to the nearest bathroom, so they could wash off Kate's blood that covered their hands. That dull brown, dried up reminder that she was somewhere in the hospital, fighting for her life.

After doing their best to get clean, they had gone to the waiting room to sit with the others. As they walked through the door, Castle's heart sank at the sight of a very tall, lean, dark-haired man who was standing looking at the group. Josh Davidson.

'Hi, Josh. Glad you could make it.' Castle could not help a sarcastic tone creeping into his voice. Kate's boyfriend turned round and glared at Castle. Lanie saw the lines of stress and fear etched on Josh's movie star handsome face, but Castle was too busy deflecting his own pain into self-righteous anger at the late arrival of the person who should always be there for Kate.

'What the hell does that mean, writer boy? I was in surgery and I came as soon as I could. I would have come earlier if one of you had had the decency to call me. I only found out when one of the emergency room nurses told me!'

'I'm sorry, but it has been kind of hectic here! And we would have hated to disturb you when you were saving a life.' Again, his words dripped with sarcasm.

Castle stepped closer to Josh and they were now almost toe to toe. Despite Castle's height, the doctor towered over him.

Josh exploded. 'Where do you get off giving me attitude? She's my girlfriend and I should have been the first one to be informed when she was shot! How the hell did it happen anyway? No doubt she was saving your sorry ass yet again and she got hurt doing it!'

With that, the surgeon pushed the writer with his large, elegant hands. Castle, taken by surprise, stumbled backwards, until he met the wall. The terror and agony of not knowing if Kate was alive or dead, had boiled over into fury, a much easier emotion to deal with. He launched himself at Josh, before anyone else was able to do more than stand up.

Josh pushed Castle away by the shoulders and managed to land one punch before Ryan and Esposito grabbed him, pulling his hands behind his back. Lanie seized Castle's arm, speaking urgently to him.

'Rick, for God's sake, this isn't the time or the place for this crap!'

Her use of his first name, as much as anything, penetrated the fog of red rage in Castle's brain. He stopped in his tracks, saying, 'I know, sorry, sorry.'

Lanie spoke quietly and firmly to Josh, standing between Ryan and Esposito, who both looked like they would like to have a turn dealing with the surgeon themselves. Josh reluctantly apologised to Castle, and then left the room, without a backward glance at anyone else. Lanie took Castle to look for an ice pack, to put on his swelling eye. He was going to have a beautiful shiner there.

It had been Martha who defused the tension by saying dryly, 'What a charming man. I really understand what Kate sees in him.'

The soft laughter that followed this sally was somewhat forced, but it was a relief after the unbearable strain of the last couple of hours to be able to think about something else.

Then they continued doing the only thing they could…. Waiting.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

After the longest three hours of their life, the subdued atmosphere of the waiting room was suddenly altered in a split second, when a man in green scrubs entered the room.

Everyone stood up, as if obeying a signal.

The surgeon, a competent looking man, with iron grey hair and a serious expression on his face, glanced around at the group and spoke quietly, 'Who is Kate Beckett's next of kin?'

Jim's voice sounded hollow, as if it were coming from far away. 'That would be me.'

'Could we go somewhere and talk?'

Alexis had gone to stand next to her father, and, at this, she put her arm through his, keeping him by her side, because she had felt the tension in him and his need to get closer to the doctor.

'Whatever you have to say, say it. We're all her family here.' Jim's voice was stronger now, and the others looked at him in gratitude. Alexis felt her father relax an infinitesimal amount, only to tense again as he waited for the doctor to speak the words that could change their lives forever.

In that split second, Castle's mind was full of a thousand scenarios, about how this scene might play out.


A/N: So now I take the characters down a number of different rabbit holes. Some you may not like, but it gets better as you go along! Ignore the ones you hate!

Any medical knowledge I have was gleaned from medical dramas on tv, so please forgive me for any errors. Let me know and I will fix them.