Thank you, thank you, thank you for the wonderful warm welcome and response to "Undelete". I used to write fan fiction back in the '90s, but life got in the way and I put down the pen, as it were. I picked it up again after "Knockout", but after a dismal amount of feedback when I posted this story on a different site, I put down the pen once again thinking I would be writing for a non-existent audience. Now that I've happily been proven wrong, I figured I'd post this earlier work. Enjoy!

CASTLE TIMELINE: This is post-"Knockout", AU when it comes to "Rise" and all of season 4.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own 'em, I just write to get the stories out of my head because otherwise they'll drive me crazy...er.

"I know that look."

Richard Castle turned toward the man who was sharing in his bedside vigil. "What look?"

(Like if Katie doesn't pull through this, his next stop just might be a swan dive off the Brooklyn Bridge.) Jim Beckett handed a cup of coffee to the man sitting at Beckett's side. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Anything."

"How long have you been in love with my daughter?"

Castle turned his gaze back to the woman who had so long ago stolen his heart, although he only recently found the words to admit it, even to himself. (She looks so fragile, lying there. So un-Beckett like...) "If it wasn't love at first sight, Jim, it was probably pretty close to it."

"Does she know?"

Castle could only shrug his shoulders. "I tried to tell her when I tried to talk her out of pursuing Lockwood."

Jim smiled bitterly, remembering the last conversation he shared with Castle before the shooting. "Yeah, I knew it was a longshot even as I asked you."

"You knew?"

"You know Katie, Mr. Castle-"

"Please, call me Rick-"

"Rick. You know my daughter well enough by now to know how important solving Johanna's death is to her. Did you really think you would be able to change her mind?" Rick shook his head, and Jim's own gaze fell on his daughter. "She's so much like her mother, you know. The truth was everything to Johanna, just like justice is to Katie. And if that means laying down her life..."

Castle spoke with firm conviction as Jim's voice trailed off to thoughts neither man wanted to entertain. "Jim, she's not gone yet. Kate's the strongest woman I know, and she's getting the best care possible. She *will* pull through this."

Jim nodded, grateful to have the other man there to pull him out of his own black cloud of worry. Castle knew the subject needed to be changed, for both their sakes. "What was Johanna like?"

"Stubborn as a mule, sometimes. She definitely knew how to push my buttons. And her commitment to the truth bordered on the obsessive. But I loved her for it. She could always make me laugh, even after we'd just had the worst of fights. And she was an incredible mom. She made me a better man for knowing her."

"Yeah, that sounds a lot like Kate." Jim raised an eyebrow, so Rick clarified. "She's become a bit of a mentor to my daughter-Alexis adores her. How'd you two meet?"

Jim finally took the time to sit down in his own chair opposite Castle's. "In law school. We were in the same study group on civil rights law. It was her passion on the subject that got me through the course."

"How long did you two know each other before you got married?"

"Not long at all. I met her at the beginning of our third year, and proposed by Christmas break."

"So you knew right away she was the one?"

Jim nodded, carefully taking Kate's other hand in his own. "My one-and-done, I think that's what Katie likes to call it."

"Your wife's been gone a long time...there's been no one since then?"

Jim shook his head. "A few casual dates, a couple of relationships, but nothing serious. I kept comparing them to Johanna and no one measured up. After a while I just gave up trying."

Rick absently caressed his partner's hand with his thumb as he held it, reassured by the contact. (She's still here...she'll make it. She has to...) "I've only ever truly been in love once before this. But we were both kids, and her family hated me. After that..."

"I'm familiar with your reputation, Rick. It has worried me a little."

"I will say I appreciated every one of those women. I thought I even loved some of them, at the time. But compared to Kate...do you know why I created Nikki Heat?" Jim shook his head. "I created Nikki because I couldn't get your daughter off my mind, no matter how I tried. Being able to use her as a reason to shadow Kate was just a bonus."

Jim squeezed his daughter's hand, almost wanting to transfer the reassurance to Castle through her. "Does she feel the same way about you as you do about her?"

"I have absolutely no idea. I know she enjoys my company-most of the time, anyway-and I like to think she's just scared of seeing what we could have together, but has she told me how she feels? No."

"And so you two have never...?"

"We've kissed *once*, to distract one of Lockwood's crew as we were rescuing Ryan and Esposito from them. She hasn't brought it up since."

"How old is your daughter, Rick?"

"She's 18, why?"

"Rick, when Kate grew up and joined the force, it took me a while, but I finally accepted that being a cop was who she was, and as much as I hated the risks she was taking every day, all I wanted was for her to be happy and to find someone who loves her as much as I loved her mother. I'm glad she's found that...even if she hasn't quite realized it yet."

Rick sighed with unexpected relief. While it seemed like all of his family and friends were trying to push him together with Beckett lately, he knew that one thing that would be essential for a lasting relationship would be her father's approval. It was nice to know he had it, even if the relationship itself didn't quite exist yet. "Thank you, Jim. Hearing that means a lot."

It was the smell of coffee that she noticed first. Ever since Castle first started shadowing her, he brought in some sort of fancy designer blend to make sure that if he was going to be hanging around the precinct, at least the coffee would be drinkable instead of standard cop-issue. (Did I fall asleep at my desk? Oh man, I'll never hear the end of this...

Okay, OW!

Why does moving my arm hurt my chest so much?)

Memories came flooding back to her. The Captain. The Shootout. The funeral. She was delivering the eulogy, then...pain. It was then she noticed the antiseptic smell underneath the coffee. She was in the hospital.

"Unnnnhhh..."

"Kate!"

"Katie!"

"Don't try to talk, Kate, they need to get the breathing tube out of your throat."

"I'll go get a doctor..."

(Breathing tube? How bad am I hurt, anyway?) Kate quickly assessed her body for anything unusual and she immediately noticed the foreign object in her throat, like her esophagus had beer replaced with a plastic straw. She reflexively gagged on the tube for a split second, then forced herself to relax and let the tube continue feeding oxygen to her lungs.

The next thing she noticed was how hard her right hand was being squeezed. (Whoever was squeezing so hard must have gotten spooked when I choked on the tube.) When she relaxed, the pressure on her hand eased off. "Easy, Kate. The doctor will be in in a minute. Let the respirator keep doing the hard work for a while."

In her semi-conscious haze it took Kate a minute to realize who was doing the talking. (Castle. What is he doing here?) It was then she remembered the last thing said to her before she lost consciousness.

"Kate! Stay with me, Kate! I love you, stay with me!"

(Oh. My. God.) Part of her was amazed that he had finally gotten up the nerve to say it. (Although, people will say anything to keep someone from dying in their arms...) As more strength and consciousness returned to her, Kate blinked against the bright hospital lighting and opened her eyes.

(My God, he looks *awful*.)

Several days grown of stubble under his chin and cavernous dark circles under his eyes were clear signs that her partner clearly had not slept well in days. And it was the first time she had seen the writer in sweats that she could remember.

(How long have I been out for?)

Her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a doctor to take the breathing tube out of her throat. She felt so weak-even breathing felt like a struggle. Still, she was alive. Evidently, that was a something of a miracle.

Slowly, she croaked out a few words, realizing immediately how dried out her throat was. "You look terrible."

Castle smiled at the way the first words out of her mouth were a crack at him. He held a cup with a straw near her lips while the doctor spoke. "It's fine for you to have some water, but sip slowly. You've been out for a long time."

The water helped Kate feel stronger-but not much. "How long?"

"Three days." The mix of relief and continued concern in Castle's voice showed how clearly worried he had been about her.

The doctor began her assessment. "Hello, Detective Beckett. I'm Doctor McPherson. How are you feeling?"

"Tired...chest...hurts...hard to breathe."

"Not terribly surprising. The bullet punctured your lung and some shrapnel shards nicked a couple of major arteries. You're very lucky to be alive, detective."

Kate then remembered the other voice that she had heard when she woke up. "Dad?"

"I'm here, sweetheart."

At the sensation of touch on her left hand she turned to face him. "You ok?"

Jim smiled. It was no surprise to him that his daughter would be more concerned about those around him than she would be about herself. "No one else got hurt, Kate. We're all fine."

Castle chimed in, "It was a sniper, Kate. You were his only target."

Jim shot Rick daggers as he looked at him, as if to telepathically kick Castle in the shin. Kate smiled at that. She could relate.

The doctor continued her assessment. "I'll send a nurse in with a tank of oxygen for you to use to help you breathe. Would you like a prescription for the pain?" Kate shook her head, causing the doctor to smile. "You're one tough lady, detective. Usually in a situation like this I'm at least prescribing Tylenol, if not outright Morphine. Make sure you speak up if you change your mind, ok?" Satisfied with Kate's nod, the doctor left with a warning to Beckett's two men. "Don't tire her out too much, gentlemen. She really needs her rest, ok?" After getting affirmative nods from both Jim and Rick, the doctor left.

Kate watched the two most important men in her life, grateful to have them still there to watch over her. Still, she couldn't help but notice that there was a third man missing. "Josh?"

A fleeting look of disappointment crossed Rick's face, but Jim was more concerned with jogging his memory of those friends and acquaintances of Kate's who had come to visit during the past three days. "Is that that doctor you've been seeing, tall, dark and handsome?" Kate nodded. "I think I know who you're talking about. He came by and dropped off these flowers without a word, then an hour later dropped off this letter for you, shook my hand and left-again, without a word."

Kate was curious about why Josh would act so strangely. (Hopefully the letter will explain...) She scanned its contents, understanding exactly what Josh was telling her.

He was breaking up with her.

And as much as she should be heartbroken about it, she wasn't.

Because just like Mike (and Castle, she conceded), Josh was right.

(Castle needs to hear this. He'll hate it, but he needs to hear it anyway.) Carefully she handed the letter to her father. "Read this...out loud...please."

Jim scanned the face of his daughter, not quite understanding what her daughter was trying to do. He had seen the look on Rick's face when Josh's name had been mentioned and hoped to spare the younger man further pain. "Are you sure, Katie?"

Kate was adamant. "Rick needs to hear."

Capitulating to his daughter's stubbornness, Jim began to read.

"Kate,

I was packing for the trip back to Haiti when the hospital called me. Everyone at the hospital knows we've been dating, and the ER nurses were kind enough to think that I might want to hear about you from a person instead of the news. Naturally, I rushed right over, prepared to be at your side the second you got out of surgery.

Then I peeked in the waiting area to check on your friends and family, just for a second.

And saw the look on your partner's face.

I recognized that look. I've seen it a thousand times. It's the look of someone who has a part of their soul on an operating table, fighting for its life, and there's not a damn thing they can do about it.

Now, I care about you a lot, and it's always been great being with you after a shift at the hospital or a long mission trip, but I'm pretty sure I don't have that level of feelings for you and unless I'm mistaken, I don't think you feel that way about me either. You do feel that way about Rick Castle-and you're hiding in our relationship because you're afraid of getting hurt again.

I can't let you do that anymore. Kate, one thing we've both learned from our professions is that life is way too fragile and way, way too short. Now, I would love to be with you. You're beautiful, smart, compassionate and really, really fun to be with - who wouldn't want that? But more than wanting to be with you, I want you to be happy. And I don't think you will ever be truly happy with anyone but him.

Of course, if Mr. Writer-Playboy is ever stupid enough to actually break your heart, I will always be here for you. And I do know a lot about using drugs to kill people...

Take care of yourself, Kate. I know I'll never forget what we had-and what might have been if I had gotten there first.

Love, Josh."

Castle tried to carefully process everything Josh said in his letter. One word stuck out to him. "What did he mean about you being scared of getting hurt *again*?"

Kate took a deep breath, trying to summon up some reserves of physical and emotional energy. "The Hamptons."

(What does the Hamptons have to to with this...Oh no...) Memories of that spring conversation flooded back. She wasn't looking to tell him to have a great summer, she was looking to tell him how she felt about him. And there he was, showing up with Gina on his arm. "You had broken up with Demming before I left, didn't you?" Kate nodded. "That's why everyone at the precinct was so mad at me when I came back...God, how could I have been so blind and stupid?"

Kate had an easy comeback for that one. "You're a guy?" Castle smiled at that, and Kate summoned up the energy to continue. "Tired of hiding, Castle...Josh is right...life's too short."

She reached over to caress Rick's cheek, and Rick caught Kate's hand in his own. "I think you know I love you, right? I've tried to say it a dozen times since we met, but I don't think I really knew how."

Kate's smile nearly blinded him. "Loss for words, writer boy?"

Rick let out a small, affectionate chuckle. "What can I say, you render me speechless."

(Boy, some days do I wish *that* were true...) Kate tried to laugh herself, but the discomfort in her chest stopped that from happening. What few energy reserves she had were draining away, and Kate knew she had to get back to sleep. Still, there was one thing left she knew she had to say..."I love you too, Rick. I love you, too..."

Castle's heart threatened to jump out of his chest, overjoyed at hearing his extraordinary KB return his feelings. He leaned in to kiss his love...only to find she had fallen asleep. He chuckled. "We've rarely had good timing, have we, Kate?"

Jim watched the exchange between Rick and his daughter with joy and amusement. (It may have taken a small army to help these two kids find each other, but I'm glad they finally did.) He walked around to squeeze Rick's shoulder. "Why don't you go home, get cleaned up and get a good night's sleep? Now that she knows how you feel, hopefully you two will have all the time in the world."