"They were both pale and thin; but those sick pale faces were bright with the dawn of a new future, of a full resurrection into a new life. They were renewed by love. The heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other."
-Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
He claws his way to the surface, fighting through the fog to reach awareness. It shouldn't be this hard. Something's wrong.
The bed is too firm, and he's too warm. The light that filters through his eyelids is too harsh, too artificial. He can smell ammonia, mixed with another fragrance, light and fruity. His left hand is wrapped up in something smooth and cool. And there's an electronic beeping that sounds far too much like a heart monitor.
It's the last realization that has him surging up, his eyes popping open as he pushes against the bed with his elbows.
But he falls back, impotent, paralyzed by a pain that leaves him breathless.
"Easy, Castle," comes a familiar voice. "Just take it easy. Try not to move."
Eyes that slammed shut under a wave of hurt slowly open once more, this time to find her blurry face hovering over his, white with worry.
Gasping, he tries to focus on her, on the fingers that feather along his temple, on the hesitant smile that pulls at the corners of her mouth, on the eyes, wide and concerned and yet filled with an unmistakable gladness.
"What?" he grunts, can't finish his question, can't form the words with his sandpaper tongue.
But she's there, tilting a cup between his lips, letting cool water provide an icy relief to his parched throat.
"You were shot," she says without preamble.
He coughs, nearly chokes on the water, and she pulls the cup away, setting it down out of his sight.
"Sorry," she mumbles, and the cool pressure around his fingers strengthens. She's holding his hand.
When he's recovered enough to try talking again, he clears his throat. It hurts. "What happened?"
She sighs, lifts her free hand to tuck a few errant strands behind her ear. "How much do you remember?"
Castle shrugs, or tries to, but whatever happened to him has made it nearly impossible to make his muscles work the way he wants, so he settles for a grimace instead.
"I remember going into Matheson's apartment," he offers, then pauses. "That's it. Was he there waiting for us or something?"
Shaking her head, she drops to sit at his side, his large hand still clasped in her much smaller one. That's definitely a new development, and as much as he's confused and in pain, it's not an entirely bad thing to wake up to her hovering over him, touching him, taking care of him.
"The apartment was empty when we got there," she tells him, looking him in the eyes for a moment and then turning away, her gaze drifting toward the wall. "Didn't stay that way, unfortunately for you. You saw him before I did."
He squeezes her hand, can do that much, even if it costs him.
"So, what - same old, same old?" he jokes, drawing her eyes back to his face. "I tackled you in a sudden burst of uncharacteristic heroism and saved your life, earning a bullet in the process?"
Her expression darkens, and though they've laughed before, compared saves, he's never put it quite like that. For good reason, if the dimming of the light in her eyes is any indicator.
"No, Kate, I didn't mean..." he backpedals, but she just shakes her head, closes her eyes, takes a breath.
"It's-" she starts, and then breaks off, takes another breath. "No. No heroism this time."
He tugs on her hand, brushes his thumb over her knuckles. At least his left side is responding a little better than the right. "Then what?"
She lifts one shoulder, tilts her head, studies him. "He just...shot you."
The writer lets his eyes fall shut for a moment, blocking out the resignation, the shame on his partner's face - that self-loathing he never wants to see.
"What's the damage?" he asks.
Her fingers tighten around his.
"Right shoulder, through and through," she says quietly. "Missed anything major, but you'll be in a sling for a while. Might be hard to type for a few weeks."
He smiles, opens his eyes to see her again. "I'll dictate. I have an app. But I meant to him, to Matheson. Surely you didn't let him get away with shooting your partner."
She shakes her head, determination and grief warring in her features. "He's dead."
Oh. "Did you..."
"No," she says, voice tight and controlled. "It was Esposito. I had other things on my mind."
Good. He- he doesn't want her to kill for him, even if he knows already that she would. Even if he would do the same.
"Martha and Alexis should be here soon."
He nods carefully. "Thanks for calling them. Must have been hard to track down at that spa thingy. Off the grid and all that."
Her laugh rings in his ears, beautiful. "Um, a little bit. But, you know. I have resources."
Castle curls his lips upward. "Very nice resources."
She shoots him a look, one of his favorites if he's honest - that amused-against-my-better-judgment pursed lip look that he garners more and more often these days. "Resources, Castle. Not assets."
He grins. "Nice assets too."
She shakes her head, but she's smiling, and that was his goal.
"So," he segues after a moment of just taking her in. He squeezes her hand again. She glances down and then back up at him, defiance radiating from her eyes.
He wants to, wants to so badly. Thinks he might not even scare her off at this point, not if that challenge in her expression is to be taken at face value. But they don't talk. And so...
"So I'm gonna live?" he finally asks, setting them back on solid, familiar ground.
She nods. "You'll live. Despite my best efforts."
He can't move much but he can stick out his tongue at her, and he does. She laughs, and all the morphine in the world couldn't mend his injuries more quickly than that sound.
"We, uh," she says softly, her smile fading. "We have the same blood type. Did you know that?"
He nods slowly. He'd been in the ambulance with her that May, watched as they refilled her veins, replacing what he'd been unable to stop from leaking onto the green grass. And then, as soon as they'd gotten to the hospital, he'd rolled up his sleeves, offered whatever she needed.
"I remember reading it one time, in your file," she tells him, smirks. "Just above the write-up about the police horse."
He'll never live that down, even if she wasn't there, doesn't know the circumstances. And that's just fine.
"Figured it was probably something I should know, in case you did anything stupid on my watch."
He rolls his eyes. "Surprised you haven't needed it until now."
She shakes her head. "You're amazingly adept at getting out of trouble. Or I just have good timing. Or bad, depending on how you look at it."
His grin answers her. "Oh, just admit it, Beckett. You'd miss me."
Shrugging, she leans over to straighten the collar of his hospital gown, fingertips grazing his collarbone. She doesn't straighten fully when she's done, just stays there, bent toward him slightly.
"The boys would miss you," she teases. "Me? Not so much."
Normally at this point he'd mime a knife in the heart or cry something about how much she wounds him. But he's wounded already, and somehow he thinks it unwise to remind her, especially when the guilt hasn't completely left her face.
"You're pale," he comments. "I didn't think you'd be able to give blood."
No surprise appears in her eyes, as if she fully expected him to know what she'd done.
"It's been more than a year since the surgery," she reminds him. "And I figured I should return the favor."
He lets out a puff of air. "Thanks."
She shrugs again, but her nonchalance doesn't reach her eyes. "We're partners. And..."
She pulls her fingers from his and he wonders if he's pushed her too far, if he should have ignored that last word. But then she sets her hand gently on his chest, far from his wounded shoulder, just over his pounding heart. He looks up from her hand to find steely eyes watching his. "And I'd give anything to keep you with me."
His lips parting, all the air rushes from his lungs. She slides her hand from his chest to cup his cheek, to run her fingers across the crinkles at the edges of his eyes. One pint of blood, and he feels like a new man. "Anything?"
She nods, smiles, eyes bright, and dips her head to murmur against his mouth. "Anything."