This directly follows "The Call." So if you haven't read that (and "Sweetheart" and "The Message" before that), read it first.

Also, when you get a chance, please go check out Extraordinary Lines, a fanfic archive dedicated to Castle - extraordinarylines dot com.

Her hands shake as she digs through the pockets of yesterday's slacks, searching for her keys. Where are they? Where are they?


Lifting her gaze from the garment on the chair, she meets her stepdaughter's eyes, finds the young woman standing half-shadowed in the dim light of the master bedroom, her arms full of sleepy boy.

"I can't find my keys," the detective says softly, wishing she couldn't hear the desperation in her own voice, that peculiar blend of life-giving hope and insurmountable dread.

"There's a taxi waiting for us downstairs," Alexis tells her, understanding in her eyes.

Kate notices then the diaper bag slung over the young woman's shoulder, the jacket - Kate's jacket - tucked under one arm.

"Thank you," the older woman whispers, straightening and stepping forward.

She wraps both arms around her children, presses her nose to the soft red hair, her lips finding a home against the young woman's temple. "Thank you, Alexis."

A shuddered puff of air washes across her neck, contrasting with the steadiness of Nate's breathing as he hovers just on the edge of sleep. Alexis bumps her cheek to the detective's chin. "Let's go."

The cab ride to the hospital is silent but for the occasional lip-smacking from the dark-haired boy whose head is tucked under Kate's chin.

She glances over at Alexis, finding the girl looking solemnly out the window at the neon lights of the city that never sleeps. She says nothing, looks away, but leaves her free hand resting on the worn fabric of the space between them.

She's not surprised when warm fingers curl into hers a few seconds later.

Their footsteps echo in the nearly empty hallways as they make their way to the room that is at once so familiar and yet still feels so strange. How many hours, how many days have she and Alexis spent here?

But lately...

Work and their son, running a household, looking out for his mother - all of those things have run her ragged.

She hasn't-

She hasn't spent much time here lately.

Alexis has. She knows that.

She knows the girl comes almost every day. Alexis is the one who comes and talks to him, reads to him. She studies here sometimes. Kate walked in one day to find the young woman reading aloud from her molecular biology textbook.

Her stepdaughter flushed bright red, stammered out an explanation of how hearing the material helped her retain it, how it was something she thought her dad would find interesting, how it was something he could probably use in a book.

Kate just nodded.

Alexis is the one who has kept the faith.

Their vigil was constant at first.

Gates had given her time off work, had told her to take all the time she needed. And so she'd stayed, almost all the time in those first few weeks, and Alexis with her, the girl thankfully between semesters at Columbia.

Most comas don't last longer than four weeks, the doctors had told them.

But four weeks had come and gone with no change.

His eyes would flicker open when the doctors would give him injections, when the orderlies would jar his body when they moved him to prevent bedsores. Her heart would leap each time.

But aside from an incomprehensible grunt, the twitch of his fingers or his leg - nothing.

And so every day, she gave up a little more.

They slow their pace as they approach the door, and Kate reaches out, closes her fingers around the redhead's wrist. The young woman turns toward her, eyebrow lifting. "Alexis-"

The girl shakes her head. "I know. It's- he may not-"

They've both done their research. They know the odds.

They know that the comas of daytime television dramas are not reality, that many people never emerge from that twilight state, that those who do may die shortly thereafter or face problems for the rest of their lives.

They know.

But knowing doesn't keep hope from rising in her chest.

She hefts Nathaniel higher, pulling him tight to her body, his soft hair tickling her neck. The boy doesn't even stir. Turning her hand to give her stepdaughter's fingers a quick squeeze, the detective attempts a smile.

She pushes the door open, her gaze immediately searching for his, her heart aching for the sound of his voice, the bright white of his smile, the blue twinkle she's missed so much.

His eyes are closed.