A/N: This is the whole story again, with the Caskett-friendly ending, so people don't have to wade through the alternative, more angst-ridden or tragic parts. Ignore it if you were happy reading the alternative universe scenarios. This is just the main parts of the story, with the Chapter 7 ending. It flows more easily if you read it in one piece, which some people wanted. So here it is!

Some SPOILERS for S4

Disclaimer: Don't own Castle.

~ For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul. (Judy Garland)

'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. Whom could he call to help with this? He had a man for everything. Did he have a guy who could solve this problem? Could money help? Money was no object. What could he do? 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 pair, 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.

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, for him at least.

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.

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. He took in the stark cleanliness of the ambulance interior, all plastic and metal. The flashing lights of the monitor. Nothing seemed real. 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 were watching them on a giant HD screen. 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 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 and gently ran his thumbs 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 thumbs, matching the words still echoing in his head. 'Don't die, Kate. Don't die.'

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

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. She kept glancing over at her father.

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 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.

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.

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 were 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 is not 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.

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 story might end, each more terrifying than the next.

'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.

The surgeon cleared his throat. 'As you wish, Mr Beckett. I am happy to tell you that Detective Beckett's surgery was successful. We were able to repair the internal damage. Miraculously, the bullet did not hit any major organs. It missed her heart by a matter of millimetres. However,...' But he could not finish as everyone started talking at once, hugging, crying, laughing with relief, once his words had sunk in. She was alive!

'Can we see her? Is she awake?' This from her father, who was now sitting down, as he had felt as if his legs were boneless when he realised that this first hurdle had been overcome.

'She will be out for a while. I can allow you to go in for a few minutes, two at a time, just to see her. I must warn you that there is a lot of equipment in her room and it may look very disturbing to you. She is breathing on her own, but we have her on a lot of medication so there are quite a few tubes.'

They all went in, in pairs, just to reassure themselves that she was actually alive. The euphoria of hearing that she had survived the surgery lasted only until they had caught sight of her slim form surrounded by a tangle of wires, plastic tubes and machines beeping and flashing in impossibly complex patterns. She was dwarfed by a cage put over her torso to stop the sheets touching her heavily bandaged chest. Her face was deathly white and she looked so young and helpless that more than one of her 'family' left the room with tears in their eyes. It was hard to reconcile that vulnerable, wounded soul in the bed with the fierce, fearless, strong Kate Beckett they knew and loved.

Castle waited until everyone else had seen Kate, before going into the room. He and Jim were going to stay but he had told everyone else to go home so they could get some sleep. Martha had promised to return with a change of clothes and some decent food, though neither of the men could imagine ever having an appetite again, not until Kate woke up.

After the excitement at his initial message had died down, the surgeon had explained that it was too early to be certain of anything. The next few hours would be critical. So all they could do was wait. Jim had gone to ask the doctor for more details and had made it clear that Castle was family and should be allowed to remain with Kate as long as he wanted. Castle forced himself to remind Jim that they had promised to let Josh know if there was any news.

Castle took a deep breath before entering Kate's room. His heart contracted painfully when he saw that figure dwarfed by all the medical paraphernalia. He closed his eyes briefly before walking to the bed and sitting down beside her. He took her hand, noting that it seemed just as white and frail as it had in the ambulance. They were not out of the woods yet.

The writer sat, sickened by the fact that here he was again, for the second time in a day, holding an unconscious Kate's hand and listening to the low sounds of the machines which were the only real indication that she was still alive. He leant over her, to check that she was breathing, but the sheeted cage meant that all he could see was her head. He got closer still, trying to hear any sound of life, to see if he could feel her breath on his cheek. But there was nothing, not even a whisper of air.

Castle turned his head slightly and kissed her as softly as he could on the cheek. 'I love you, Kate. Wake up and let me know how you feel about that. If it makes you mad and you want to kick my butt, that's fine. Just wake up. That's all I'm asking for.'

He sat back, keeping hold of her hand and settled down to wait for his life to start again. Right now it was on hiatus, because, while she was in this limbo between life and death, then so was he. He made a pact with the universe. If she is ok, then I don't care what happens between us. I will stay friends with her, or I'll stop shadowing her, if that's what she wants. I'll even pay for her wedding to Doctor Motorcycle Boy. Just let her get better.

It was hours later. He woke up, slightly disoriented, to see that he was slumped backwards in the chair, his head resting awkwardly on its hard, plastic back. He was still holding on to Kate's hand. He wondered what had woken him up. As he sat up and tried to get rid of the kinks in his neck by turning it from side to side, he noticed Jim Beckett, asleep on the small couch at the side of the room. Looking at his watch, he saw that it was 3am.

He stood up to go and find a bathroom. As he let go of Kate's hand, he heard a sigh, tiny but audible, even over the sound of the machines. He leant over her and saw that her head was moving slightly and her lips were open.

'Kate, Kate! Can you hear me? Wake up, Kate. It's ok, I'm here.'

She started to become more restless and he pressed the call button for the nurse. Behind him he heard her father say, 'What is it? Is she...?'

'I think she's waking up!' The suppressed excitement in Castle's voice was clear to Jim Beckett, who went hurriedly to the other side of the bed.

Kate's face had a tinge of pink to it, and her eyelids were fluttering. Her mouth was opening and closing, as if she were trying to say something.

'Don't talk, Katie. Just relax. You're ok. You're in hospital but you are going to be fine.' Jim Beckett had taken hold of his daughter's hand and was trying to sound as calm as possible.

Then a nurse and a doctor rushed in and the two men had to retreat to the side of the room as the medical staff checked on Kate.

The nurse had given Kate a few ice chips to soothe her dry throat. The doctor had checked her over and seemed reasonably pleased with her. He told them that she might drift in and out of consciousness for a while and would not be very aware of her surroundings. Castle and Jim could not help grinning at each other, still a little nervously, but more hopeful now.

For the next few hours, Kate would stir, they would give her some ice chips, her eyes would almost open and then she would slip back into unconsciousness. The doctor had warned them that she would be in some pain and that she might not be very coherent. But that did not stop them from talking to her, encouraging her, trying to soothe her, every time she appeared to be coming back to them.

At around dawn, the door opened and a tall, good-looking man in a white coat came into the room. Josh had been in surgery so Jim had left him a message.

'Um, hi. Mr Beckett, Castle. How's she doing?'

Castle had been resting on the couch, at Jim's insistence, while he took the writer's place at Kate's side, holding her hand. Both their heads turned towards the door. Castle immediately sat up when he saw who it was. Josh pointedly kept his face turned away from the writer.

'Well, she keeps almost waking up, so that's something.' Jim spoke politely but without any marked degree of warmth to this stranger who seemed to be an important part of Kate's life, though she had never shared that information with her father.

'Yes, the staff let me know the details.'

Josh walked towards the bed and took the chart out of its place at the end of Kate's bed. Both Castle and Jim Beckett felt a somewhat irrational irritation at the casual way he did that, as if it were his right.

As he read the chart, the surgeon was murmuring, as if to himself. 'Yep, that's what I would have done. Good choice. Vital signs showing strong improvement, pain med...'

He stopped as a loud gasp came from Kate. She was moving more than she had done before, squirming a little, and trying to lift her head. Josh was quickly at her side, beating Castle to it, so that the writer had to stand away from the bed, feeling useless. The surgeon put a hand behind her head, gave her some ice and wiped her face with a cloth.

This time her eyes opened fully. The vivid green irises were clouded over and unfocused, as if she did not know where she was. Castle had placed himself at the end of the bed and his heart gave a painful bound when he saw those beautiful eyes once more. Say something, Kate. Let us know you're ok, that Kate's still in there. He clenched his hands into fists, trying to stop himself from rushing to the bed and pushing Josh out of the way, so that he could be closer to Kate, so that he could talk to her and comfort her.

They all held their breath, waiting for a sign that she was truly awake. But in a moment her eyes had closed again and her breathing steadied. Josh laid her head back down onto the pillow and said, 'I just want to have a word with the doctor.' Then he left the room.

Castle went back to Kate's side and faced her father across the bed. 'She's getting stronger by the minute. She'll be awake soon and ordering us about.' Castle wasn't sure if he were trying to convince Kate's father or himself.

Then he heard Jim say, 'Her eyes are opening again!'

This time her eyelids stayed open. Castle could see the moment when some kind of awareness returned to her. Her eyes widened in shock and she tried to lift her head off the pillow, but cried out as the movement obviously caused her pain.

He put his hand under her head and helped her lift it up a little. He tried to be as gentle as possible and keep his movements steady, even though there was a tornado of emotions raging inside him. Now that she appeared to be awake, the relief was so enormous that he was surprised that he had strength enough to stand. He thanked the universe in his head and smiled at Kate, though she still seemed somewhat delirious and unfocused.

'It's ok, Kate. Try to relax. You're fine, you're fine.'

She opened her mouth and a croaky sound came out.

Her father gave her some more ice, saying, 'I think she's trying to speak.'

And, though he knew it to be selfish, and knew that he had no more bargaining power with the universe, a little part of Castle prayed that the first word out of Kate Beckett's mouth would be his name, or at least the second word, with 'Dad' being the first. He would settle for that.

Kate's voice, rasping and strained, so that they had to lean closer to hear her, was still the most beautiful sound the two men had ever heard.

'I want... Where's...'

'What do you want, Katie? What can we do?' Jim's voice was as hoarse as his daughter's, though he tried to sound calm.

'Where's Rick? Rick, I want Rick!'

Castle's heart gave a great bound at that moment. A random thought came into his head that at least he was in the right place for CPR, if he keeled over. She had asked for him first! Her first thought was of him. Then he forgot all that in the joy flooding through him that she was awake and able to speak coherently.

She was getting more and more agitated. Castle cupped her face in his hands and brought his head so close to hers that he could feel her breath on his skin.

'I'm here, Kate. Kate, I'm here.' He continued to murmur soothingly to her and, almost at once, she grew still.

'Rick, it hurts.' Her voice was weak and husky from disuse. Her eyes were shut but they opened suddenly when she felt a tear splash onto her cheek. Castle's blue eyes were bright with tears. 'I know, Kate, I know. We'll get the doctors to help with that.'

'I'll go. She needs you right now.' Jim Beckett felt his heart swell when he saw the way the other two were looking at each other, oblivious to the world. His Katie would be alright now.

She tried to lift her arm, so that she could touch his face, but the effort was too much. He took her hand in his and brought it to his lips so that he could lay a soft kiss on her palm. She moved her hand slightly so that she was now cupping his cheek. When he saw a shining bead of moisture fall from the corner of her eye and run down her face, he followed the line down her skin with a gentle finger.

'Don't cry. Everything's going to be fine.'

'Why are you crying then?' She winced with the effort of talking but still gave a small smile.

'Don't try and talk. And for your information, I have something in my eye.'

She gave a chuckle, heartbreakingly weak, but still a sound that made Castle want to shout for happiness. 'Liar.'

A clarion was sounding in Castle's head. The sound of joy at this small sign of the old Kate Beckett. One small step on a very long road, but a step nevertheless.

He couldn't help himself.

'I love you, Kate.'

'I know.' She smiled again sweetly, sighed softly and closed her eyes, unable to stay awake any longer.

He rested his forehead against hers for a moment, then sat back in the chair next to her bed, never letting go of her hand. No one was watching, so he let the tears roll freely down his face.

Thank you. He wasn't sure to whom he was speaking. But some higher power had given his Kate back to him and the least he could do was thank them.

A few weeks later, Kate was finally allowed to leave the hospital. She had a long road ahead of her to complete health, but she had made remarkable progress. Castle was there to pick her up. As he wheeled her through the door, she commanded him to stop. When he did so, she stood up and pushed the chair away. 'Kate, the car's just over there. You heard what the nurse said.'

'I can walk to the damn car. What did I tell you about treating me like an invalid?'

'Sorry, sorry. I won't do it again.' He sounded contrite, but a look at his face showed him grinning like a fool.

'Too right. Or mine will be a very short stay in the loft.' She smiled at him to take the sting out her words. Then she took his hand and said, 'Let's go home. Everyone is dying to leap out at me and yell 'Surprise!', aren't they?'

'How the heck did you know? Who told you? Lanie? Alexis? I'll kill them!'

'Well, gee, Mr Castle, I was shot in the chest, not the head. It wasn't that hard to figure out. I am a detective, you know.' She was laughing at him, as he was pouting like a little boy at having his surprise ruined.

She turned to face him. He looked so cute, with that sulky look on his handsome face, that she could not resist stretching up, brushing his silky hair off his forehead, (she was still not allowed to wear her beloved heels) and planting a short but passionate kiss on that warm, firm mouth.

He stepped back in shock and his mouth fell open. Kate Beckett had just kissed him. On the mouth. In public.

Over the last few weeks they had been getting closer and closer. Nothing obvious, just subtle little caresses and touches. They had been almost inseparable, with Castle at the hospital every available minute he had. Everyone had started to think of them as an established couple, even if nothing had been openly acknowledged.

Neither of them had mentioned the word 'love' again. Even when she had told him about breaking up with Josh, not long after she had been shot, nothing was said about 'them'. He knew she had a lot to deal with before she was ready for that. At least he now had hope that there would be an 'us' for them, at some point. When she had agreed to stay at the loft for the next stage of her recovery, the ostensible reason had been that he had better security at his building than she did at hers. But they both knew that they could not bear to be apart, even if she were just across the city in her own apartment. Yet they remained silent. It was hard to know what to say or if the other person was ready for anything to be said at all.

When Kate had been packing her things that morning, she had found one of the get well cards Castle had sent her. There had been so many; funny, rude, beautiful, poetic, silly. Every few days a new one would appear. She had no idea where he got them from, but they had been something to look forward to in the dreary sameness of the hospital routine. This one showed a grumpy Calvin going to the doctor and acting like a terror, with Hobbes trying to be the voice of reason. She had laughed when she received it, and couldn't wait to tell Castle how much he reminded her of Calvin. He had looked a little taken aback but had quickly come back with 'Does that make you the tiger?'

'Considering that Hobbes is not a real tiger, but Calvin, an outrageous, hyperactive brat, concocts all these fantasies around him, then that is a pretty good analogy.'

He had tried to glare at her but both had dissolved into laughter, a sound heard a lot coming from Beckett's room these days.

She packed the card along with all the others, and the various games, gadgets, books and magazines Castle had brought her. She planned to give most of them to the children's ward in the hospital. Except for one book. Just two days earlier Castle had given her a very old, but beautifully preserved, anthology of poetry. 'Thought you'd like a change from all the novels and magazines,' was all he would say. He had left her alone to read it. There was a bookmark in it, printed with one of Van Gogh's Iris paintings. He always amazed her that he remembered details such as who her favourite artist was.

The bookmark had been put in the middle of the book, at the page where Shelley's poem 'Love's Philosophy' was printed. Kate had lain awake for much of the night, wondering if that had been deliberate. Castle was a details oriented-person. He didn't believe in coincidence. Or was she reading too much into it? She had spent that sleepless night going over and over the last three years she had spent with the writer. The dramas, the hurt, the friendship, the shared experiences, the fun. Over and over all the conversations she had had with various people about what was going on between Castle and herself. Everyone had an opinion! But she knew that they were right. The two of them would never be just friends or partners, and the pretence that that was all they were could not go on much longer. It would all blow up in their faces if someone did not make the first move. Someone had to take that leap into the unknown. Castle had always been a great one for jumping first and thinking later. She could not help feeling a little irritated that he had decided to be cautious now. She wanted someone to dive into it with her and now Castle seemed a little afraid of the water. Well, whose fault was that? She had taught him to be afraid, hadn't she?

As Kate opened the book to that page and read the poem again, she came to a decision. Maybe the case had not been resolved; maybe she needed a lot more physical and mental therapy. But it was time to do something about Richard Castle. About them. She needed to be Calvin, just this once. Carpe diem and all that.

Kate grinned and used her finger to push Castle's jaw shut. 'Stop drooling, Castle. It's not dignified.'

She started to walk towards the car, but had only gone a few paces when she felt a hand encircling her wrist, forcing her to stop. He spun her around and stood staring down at her, a look of adorable confusion on his face.

'Would you like to tell me what the hell that was all about? Have they changed your medication or something?' He was speaking through gritted teeth.

She pulled her arm out of his grasp and started walking away again. As she did so, she looked over her shoulder at him, threw him a saucy grin and, throwing caution to the winds (and, boy, how good did that feel?), she said, in her sultriest voice, 'Nope, I'm just high on love, baby, that's all. High on love.'

Baby? Love? He let out a gasp and sprinted so that he was now in front of her. The bags he had been carrying were flung to the ground, and he used his hands to grip both her upper arms. His face looked strained and he could barely get the words out, but there was a wild look of hope in his eyes that made her heart swell with affection for him.

He spoke very deliberately and clearly, as though he were talking to someone very stupid.

'Would. You. PLEASE. Tell. Me. What. Is. Going. On?'

She just kept ginning at him.

'Who are you and what have you done with Katherine Beckett?'

He ran a hand through his hair so that it stood up at all angles. She reached up and started to smooth it down. His eyes were the brightest blue she had ever seen. They were standing so close that he could see every fleck in her vivid green eyes and detect that elusive scent of cherries that he had thought he would never get to smell again, that first terrible day when she was shot.

She finally relented. One hand continued to restore order to his unruly hair; the other cupped his cheek. His hands were now resting on her shoulders.

'For a smart man, you can be amazingly dense at times. Surely you have figured it out by now? You once told me I was a mystery to you. Well, I thought you were good at solving those?'

'Kate! Apples, apples, for God's sake!' He looked like a man at the end of his tether.

She laughed, a sound of such pure joy that his hands involuntarily clenched on her shoulders and he closed his eyes with the force of the feelings that surged through him.

'Open your eyes.'

He did so, and saw that she was now so close to him that only the tiniest movement forward would mean that their lips were touching. There was such certainty shining in those big eyes that he thought his heart would burst.

She looked into his eyes for a few moments more, the smile on her face getting wider and wider. 'The car park of a hospital was not really the romantic setting I imagined for this, but I'm not that good at romance anyway, and it's time certain things were said.'

'What things?' His voice had come out far squeakier than he would have liked, but he was beyond caring at this point.

'Richard Edgar Alexander Rodgers Castle, whatever your name is, the thing is that…' In the end, it was much easier to say than she had thought it would be.

'Rick, I love you. I love you, Rick.'

He stood there, absolutely still for the longest time, his face frozen with shock. He opened his mouth but no sound came out. He looked so much like a fish on land, struggling to breathe, that Kate burst out laughing. 'You are such a girl!'

She pulled slightly away from him, and, with a quizzical look at her still stupefied man, she said, very quietly,

'And the sunlight clasps the earth, And the moonbeams kiss the sea; What are all these kissings worth, If thou kiss not me?'

At these words, he came back to life, gave an exultant shout, picked her up and whirled her around until she was breathless and begging for mercy. Suddenly remembering that she was still convalescing, he put her down with a hurried 'Sorry, sorry. Are you ok?'

'You big idiot!' They laughed, holding onto each other, until the laughter abruptly stopped as they gazed at each other's face.

Finally, finally, he put his arms around her, she wound her arms around his neck, and their lips met. Warm mouth finding warm mouth, breaths mingling, tongues delicately touching. They drowned in the taste of each other, in the closeness of their bodies. No fantasy had ever come close to the reality of what it felt like to kiss each other.

The universe shifted. There was a new 'before' and 'after' in their lives, a much better one.

After forever, or a few minutes, or however long it took before they had to come up for air and find somewhere to sit down before their legs gave way, Richard Castle and Katherine Beckett somehow managed to pull away from each other and find their way to the car. Once inside, they could not resist another kiss, or another hundred kisses. Who was counting?

Eventually, ever the voice of reason, Kate, pulled away, somewhat reluctantly, and said, 'You know, I think we've given all the people in the car park enough of a show. Let's go home.'

He looked at her flushed face, her hair all messy, her lips red and full from his kisses and thought that he could die content right now.

'I love you, Kate Beckett.'

'I know.'

He looked at her expectantly, but she just set her lips in a straight line and looked straight ahead. She was no sentimental sap and he was going to have to work hard for those declarations.

He narrowed his eyes at her and said, in a slightly huffy tone, 'Boy, you're not going to make this easy for me, are you?'

She grabbed his face, gave him a quick but passionate kiss on the lips, and said 'Shut up, Writer Boy, and take me home. The sooner we get this party over, the sooner I can have a nap. I'm really feeling in the mood for a nap.' As she said this last part, she bit her bottom lip and fluttered her eyelashes at him.

Castle gulped and drove home in world record time, not caring that he got two speeding tickets on the way. It was a very short welcome home party, as the guest of honour was tired and needed her rest. At least, that's the writer and the detective told everybody, as they hustled their friends and family out of the apartment. Martha took one look at the two of them, smiled to herself and, sending a silent prayer of thanks to the powers that be, insisted on taking Alexis out for a shopping trip once the party was over. A very long shopping trip.

A/N: I hope you enjoyed this last one! Was it fluffy enough? Clearly this is how I hope things work out in the show, though we have as much chance of that as I do of becoming Prime Minister or Nathan's Fillion's latest flame.

- I know Kate was a bit OOC, but I wanted that to be the point. She needs to change a little, if she wants to be happy.

- Reviews: Pretty please! I wish I knew the secret to getting reviews. I know, I sound very needy. But they do help you see whether or not you should continue writing more stories. I am worried that this story sucks, is not very good, as, out of thousands (literally) of viewings, only a handful of people wanted to review it. The lack of response makes me think that I really don't know what I am doing here. That is not fishing for compliments. I am an English teacher and I know that feedback is a great way to help people improve. I am no Shakespeare, but I still want to write the best stories I can. So advice, suggestions, comments , etc., are fantastically helpful! It is a lot to expect people to spend time writing a review, but, if people don't enjoy what I write, I should just go back to writing non-fiction, which puts money in my bank account! Fan fiction is fun and I love Castle with a passion, but I do not want to put anything out there that is not good enough. If you could let me know what you thought and how it could be improved, I would be eternally grateful.

Enough, as I am starting to sound whiny! Thank you to those of you who did review it or sent me PMs. I really appreciate it.

- Here is Shelley's poem in full, for those who don't know it. It is gorgeous:

Love's Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The fountains mingle with the river,

And the rivers with the ocean;

The winds of heaven mix forever,

With a sweet emotion;

Nothing in the world is single;

All things by a law divine

In one another's being mingle;-

Why not I with thine?

See the mountains kiss high heaven,

And the waves clasp one another;

No sister flower would be forgiven,

If it disdain'd its brother;

And the sunlight clasps the earth,

And the moonbeams kiss the sea;-

What are all these kissings worth,

If thou kiss not me?