"I should've made her stay home," Castle said as he paced back and forth across the waiting room.

"You had no way of knowing her appendix would rupture."

"She's my daughter! I should know what all of her internal organs are doing."

Kate wanted to point out the absurdity of that statement, but knew now wasn't the time. She'd mock him for it when Alexis wasn't in the operating room. She doesn't think she'll ever forget the look of terror on Castle's face when the call came from Alexis's school that she had collapsed. He was barely composed enough to speak, forget driving. Luckily he didn't argue when Kate said she was driving him...in a squad car...with lights and sirens on to get through the red lights.

"I wish they would've let me see her before the surgery."

"You heard the doctor, Castle, there was no time."

"I know," he mumbled as he took off his suit jacket and tossed it on a chair. "I just wanted to tell her I love her. I can't remember if I told her this morning. I wanted her to know before she went in for surgery."

"I'm sure she knows. I don't know if I've ever seen a father and daughter as close as you and Alexis. Trust me, she knows you love her."

That earned a half smile from Castle, who was still pacing furiously. "You think?"

"Yes. Now will you please sit down? You're making me dizzy."

"I can't sit. God! How long is this surgery? It's been hours." He looked back and forth between his watch and the clock on the wall. "Has time stopped? Beckett, let me see your watch."

She released her wrist from his hold and looked at the time. "It's only been 18 minutes since they went into the operating room."

"No, you're lying. It's been like 10 hours or something."

Kate checked her watch again. "Nope, sorry, 18...make that 19 minutes." She watched as Castle finally sat down across from her, quiet and still for the first time since they arrived.

"You know, before Alexis was even born, my mother told me that parenting is not for the faint of heart. I always forget what that means until moments like this. You feel so helpless."

Kate didn't know what to say. She didn't have a child, so she couldn't truly appreciate what Castle was feeling. "Have you heard from your mom?"

"She's scheduled for the next flight back to New York. Unfortunately, even the all powerful Martha can't beat Mother Nature. With all the storms in the Midwest, she doesn't know if she'll be able to get a flight out today." He chuckles. "She finally lands another television role and this happens. I just hope she doesn't take this as a sign to not do TV anymore. Then I may never get her out of my house."

"Well, maybe she'll audition for shows filmed in New York." She thought for a moment. "What about Alexis's mother?"

He shook his head. "I debated leaving her a message, but I'll call when it's over. Meredith wouldn't do much good here anyway. She'd either go into full panic mode or try to arrange massages for us all to help us relax." He noticed the look on Kate's face. "I know, but don't judge. Some people just aren't cut out for full time parenthood and she's one of them. Meredith is more like the fun aunt. She loves and adores Alexis, but she doesn't know what to do when it's not all fun and glamour 24/7." He sighed and rubbed his eyes. "How long has it been now?"

"Twenty-four minutes."

Castle groaned in frustration. "This waiting will kill me. I should've been a doctor. This way I could be in there performing the operation myself."

"They don't let surgeons operate on family."

"What if the doctor gets distracted and slips, leaving her horribly scarred?"

"Why would he slip?"

"Freak earthquake, sneeze, hot blonde nurse in low cut scrubs..."

"Okay, okay, okay. The surgeon will not slip, no matter how hot the nurse is."

"You think the nurse is hot?"

She rolled her eyes. "I'm not blind." There, that would cheer him up.

"Oh, it's no fair to tease me like that when I'm too distracted to properly picture it," he pouted.

"That's the idea." Her phone beeped, indicating a message. "I need to step outside for just a second to check this. It's Ryan."

"Is it about the case?"

"I told him to call if they found something. You want to step out with me?"

"No," he shook his head. "I'm going to stay in case Alexis needs an emergency transfusion. We're the same blood type."

"Can I get you coffee?"

"Do I look like I need the caffeine?"

"Good point. A sandwich? We missed lunch."

"I'm too nervous to eat. Thanks, though."

"No problem."

"I don't just mean for the offer on the coffee and the sandwich," he stood and walked toward her. "Thanks for waiting with me while I wring my hands and babble like a fool."

"You're welcome, Castle," she said genuinely. "And you didn't sounds foolish...well, not too foolish."

"Yeah,' he nodded. "You'd better call Ryan. It could be important."

"Okay. I'll be right back. You stay in the waiting area and don't attempt to go past that door," she pointed at the door leading to the surgery ward.

"Would I do that?"

"Castle," she warned.

"Okay," he held his hands up. "I promise."

"Good, because I would hate for Alexis to wake up and have me standing over her bedside because her dad got kicked out of the hospital."

/

"It's Beckett. What's up?"

"Tell Castle he was right. It was the sister, Elena."

"I thought evidence pointed to the stepmother?"

"It turns out she discovered what Elena had done and didn't want her life ruined over murdering Ines, so she covered to protect her daughter."

"Parents misguidedly trying to protect their children," Kate mumbled. "Good work," she said to Ryan. "I'll be back when I can. Alexis is still in surgery and Castle is here all alone. His mother is having trouble getting a flight back into town because of the weather."

"How is Alexis?"

"Ruptured appendix. They were rushing her into surgery as we got here. Castle didn't even get to visit with her."

"Ouch. How's he holding up?"

"He's a nervous wreck and he's not even bothering to try and hide it. If surgery doesn't end soon, I think I'll have to tie him to a chair to stop him from bursting into the operating room."

"Do that anyway," Ryan laughed. "He'd probably like it."

"Shut up," Kate said, trying not to laugh. Though, she had to admit Ryan was probably right.

/

Castle paced the waiting room floor for what felt like the millionth time. He couldn't sit still anymore. He didn't know what to do. He knew what he wanted to do, but if he ran into the operating room he'd be thrown out and wouldn't get to see Alexis when she came out. Not to mention Beckett would kick his ass.

He just kept going over this morning in his mind. Did Alexis show any signs of being sick? She didn't eat much, but that's not uncommon when she has a test, like she did today. She said she was tired, maybe her cheeks were a little flushed...

"Castle," Beckett tapped him on the shoulder.

"Ah!" He jumped up. "What is it? Alexis? Is she okay," he asked frantically.

"I'm sure she's fine," she said, "but she's still in surgery. I was just letting you know I'm back from my call. Are you okay?"

He sighed. "I was going over this morning, trying to remember if Alexis seemed sick at all."

Kate sat on the couch. "Why are you torturing yourself?"

"I'm a writer-coming up with worst case scenarios is my specialty, remember?" He sat next to her. "If I noticed she was sick, I could've made her stay home."

"You would've been out all day with Ryan, Esposito, and me," she pointed out. "They're only just wrapping up the case. Meaning, Alexis would've been home alone when she passed out and you...you would've been the one to find her."

Castle rubbed his eyes, trying to rid that image from his mind. "I would've stayed home with her if I knew she was sick."

"See, 'if you knew.' You didn't. Sometimes, you can't know."

Just then, Ryan and Esposito came into the waiting room, carrying bags with them.

"Hey, how's Alexis?

"Still in surgery," Kate replied. "But Castle and I have been talking and we've agreed that none of this is his fault and Alexis is going to be just fine. Right, Castle?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Castle..."

Ryan shook his head as Esposito began to talk. "If you want, we can go into that operating room and keep an eye on things. You know, hold the surgeon at gunpoint so everything goes perfectly."

"You can do that," Castle asked, his eyes lighting up.

"Sure," Ryan added. "He'll take the surgeon, I'll take the nurses."

"Ooh, wait a minute, maybe I want the nurses. Any hot nurses?"

"I don't remember," Castle said, almost bewildered.

"Wow, you are in father mode."

"Beckett said the blonde one was hot."

Ryan and Esposito turned to her and grinned.

"Shut up." Beckett rolled her eyes. "No one is going into the operating room with guns blazing."

"Some friend you are," Castle mumbled.

She shook her head. Honestly, sometimes it was like looking after children. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her she hadn't eaten in almost 12 hours. She eyed the bags Ryan and Esposito brought with them, hoping they contained food and not comic books. "You got food there?"

"Yeah," Ryan handed her a bag. "Sandwiches, sodas, and chamomile tea for Castle."

Kate raised an eyebrow as she took a sandwich. "Chamomile tea?"

"Yes," Esposito interrupted. "Brother's going through a crisis. He doesn't need caffeine. He needs to stay mellow."

"Thank you, guys," Castle said, taking the tea.

"And we also pick this up for Alexis." Ryan picked up another bag and pulled out a stuffed rhinoceros. "What do you think?"

"What is that?"

"You got my daughter a hippo?"

"No, it's a rhinoceros," Ryan insisted, somewhat defensively. "We figured anyone can give flowers or teddy bears, but how many people would give a rhinoceros?

"Not many," Kate agreed.

"I'm sure Alexis will love it," Castle smiled. He looked down at his watch for the first time in a while, happy to see that a bit of time had passed. "Surgery should be just about over."

"Sandwich, Castle?"

"I'll just stick with the tea for now."

Kate watched as Castle appeared to drift into his worry zone again. She wanted to tell him not to worry, but knew by now that it was pointless. His daughter was in surgery. It didn't matter how routine it was or how good the doctor was, he was going to be scared. Any parent would be.

"Where's Lanie?"

"She'll visit once Alexis is home. No one likes to see a medical examiner in a hospital, even if they're just visiting a friend. She said it puts bad vibes out there," Esposito explained.

"I never thought about it like that."

"Where's the doctor," Castle asked. "It's 4:19 and they said surgery would be over around 4:15."

"4:19 is still around 4:15."

"Yeah, I'm sure they're just being extra careful stitching her up. Besides, these things never end exactly on time, that's why they said, 'around 4:15.' When my dad had heart bypass surgery, they said he would be out around 2:00, but he wasn't out until almost 5:30."

Castle's eyes almost bugged out of his head. "You mean it could be another 3 and a half hours?!" He charged toward the door leading to the surgery ward.

"Castle, no!" Kate grabbed his arms.

Esposito punched Ryan's arm. "Way to go, bro."

Ryan rubbed his arm, bewildered. "I was just trying to help. My dad was fine."

"I can't wait another 3 hours, Kate. This is driving me insane, and I don't mean in a figurative sense."

"It won't be 3 hours."

"Yeah, Ryan was just being stupid, weren't you, Ryan?"

"What? Oh, yeah, I wasn't thinking. An appendectomy is nothing like a heart bypass. And you know, I'm concerned about Alexis, too, and when I worry, I say stupid things. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I swear. The doctor will be out any minute. And if he's not, Javi and I will go in there and make him."

"You will?"

"Of course."

"Guns drawn?"

"Is there any other way?"

/

Castle approached Alexis's hospital bed slowly. He was so anxious to see her before, but he wasn't prepared for how ill she would still look. He had almost expected her to be awake and smiling, happy to see him, but she was still knocked out from the anesthetic. The surgeon said the operation went well, slightly more complicated because her appendix had ruptured, but she would make a complete recovery. He quietly pulled a chair closer to the bed and collapsed into it, completely exhausted. He looked at the rhino he was holding from Ryan and Esposito. It would make a nice pillow. Castle propped it between the wall and his head and closed his eyes.

He was startled awake by Alexis faintly calling for him. He bolted upright in the chair and was by her side instantly.

"It's okay, Sweetheart, I'm here."

"Gram," Alexis asked, whispering.

"Gram's on her way. She would've been here sooner, but bad weather delayed her flight. She said you're in a lot of trouble."

"For scaring her?"

"Well that," he began as he played with her hair, "and for having your greatest dramatic performance when she wasn't around to witness it. Fainting at school, tsk, tsk, tsk. Clever way to get out of a history test." He laughed at the look on her face as she remembered the test. "Relax, my child. School already left me a voicemail saying you can make-up the test whenever you are ready."

"I can't believe I passed out at school. How embarrassing."

"I'm sure everyone will just be happy you are all right. Do you remember what happened?"

"Kind of. I was on my way to the bathroom because I felt sick, like I was going to throw up, and then everything went dark. It was scary."

"For me, too."

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay. I got to ride here in a cop car with the lights and sirens on. Beckett even went through the red lights."

"Beckett was here?"

"Yeah. She knew gram was out of town so she kept me company. Ryan and Esposito came over, too, as soon as they were able to wrap up the case." He remembered the rhino. "Oh, speaking of Ryan and Esposito, they brought this for you." He placed the rhinoceros next to her on the bed.

"It's a rhinoceros."

"I know."

"Well, I guess anyone can buy a teddy bear or flowers."

Castle laughed. "That's just what they said."

"I love him. In fact," Alexis paused, thinking, "I'm going to name him Esposito Ryanoceros."

"They'll love that." Alexis yawned. "Why don't you go back to sleep, sweetheart? I'll be here when you wake up."

"You'll be more comfortable at home."

"Are you kidding?" He motioned to the chair. "This is perfect. And with Esposito Ryanoceros as a pillow, I'll be all set. I'm not letting you out of my sight."

She smiled. "Thanks, dad."

He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. "You got it. Just promise me you will never, ever scare me like this again. Waiting out there made my imagination run wild, which you know can be a bad thing."

"Payback for scary crime scenes you investigate," she smiled. "But, I promise. Were you really scared?"

"I was out of my mind. Beckett had to hold me back from charging into the operating room to make sure the doctor was doing everything right. Ryan and Esposito offered to stand in with their guns drawn just to make me feel better." She raised her eyebrows. "Don't worry, they didn't." He kissed her forehead. "You know you're the most important person in the world to me, don't you?"

"Yes, daddy," Alexis said, her eyes starting to close. "I love you."

"I love you, too. I have just one more question, it's been driving me crazy all day."

"Hmm?"

"Did I tell you I loved you this morning before you left for school? I can't remember."

"Of course you did, you always do. Don't you remember, right before you said it you made annoying kissy faces mocking Ashley when I was on the phone with him and everything?"

"Oh, right," he smiled, relieved. Alexis went into surgery knowing he loved her. Beckett had been right. "Go to sleep, kiddo."

Castle received no reply. Alexis was already sleeping again. This episode had probably taken 10 or 15 years off of his life, but there was nothing like seeing Alexis awake, healthy, and safe again. He didn't know what he would do if anything ever happened to her. Yawning, he grabbed Esposito Ryanoceros off the bed and prepared for an uncomfortable night in the chair.

"Now remember," he said to the toy, "this is strictly platonic."