The doctor was young, no more than a kid, really, a surgical intern, with wide-set, serious eyes, and fashionably tousled, dark hair. He motioned for them to sit, and they did, the vinyl seats creaking slightly. Rick took a shaky breath as a hundred different, but equally horrible scenarios drifted in and out of his head. Death. Paralysis. Coma. Brain damage...
He felt a hand smooth down his back and another squeeze his thumb, fingers coming to tangle with his own. He shook away the thoughts and let is gaze briefly flick sideways. Her gaze was liquid concern, fixed not on his face, but on his neck and shoulders, where his muscles bunched painfully from the car ride and his nap in the waiting area. The doctor cleared his throat, swallowed audibly and then began.
"The surgery was successful. Alexis had some internal bleeding, and a couple of broken ribs. Her wrist was also broken fairly badly, and some pins had to be inserted to hold the bone fragments together. She had hit her head, and was sent for testing, but there was no concussion, brain, or spinal damage - just some facial bruising and lacerations. She is currently being set up in a surgical recovery room, and they would be able to see her shortly." It all came out in one nervous breath, and the young intern blinked, and nodded, satisfied with his recitation.
Rick let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, and immediately choked on a sob of relief. Tears of joy ran down his face. A sudden thought occurred to him, and he cursed himself for not thinking of it sooner.
"What about the family they brought in with Alexis?" he asked, a bit afraid. The intern ran his hand through his hair pensive, unsure. He hadn't practiced for this particular recitation.
"I..., well, I've been in surgery for the past couple of hours. From what I remember, the daughter, who was in the back seat with your daughter, she hit her head pretty good. Jostled her neck. The car, I think, flipped onto the driver's side. The father, I know, broke his knee. The mother wasn't doing so hot. She was on the same side as your daughter, and received most of the impact from the other car. I wouldn't be surprised if she were still in surgery. You can maybe request an update from the information desk when you ask for your daughter's room number, though likely they'll reserve that information for family only. Sorry, I couldn't be more helpful."
"And the other driver? What about the other car?" Rick asked.
"Apparently, from what I heard, it sped off from the scene. Police are trying to track the vehicle down." The intern frowned. Castle's jaw clenched, and he could see Beckett tense beside him, her cop senses kicking into gear. The young doctor as he rose to leave, but Rick stopped him, first grasping his hand, giving it a firm and enthusiastic shake, before drawing him in for a tight hug. After a couple of minutes of being thanked, the doctor tactfully, and skillfully peeled himself away from the janitor's embrace, and sheepishly waved, before trotting off.
"Hey," said a soft voice at his side, and Rick turned his trembling body to Beckett, who was regarding him with unguarded warmth. His heart beat like a hummingbird's. "She's okay."
"She's okay," he echoed. She drew him into her and wrapped her arms around him. They swayed together, slowly on the spot for a bit, until his breathing slowed, and his heart stopped galloping, and his nervous muscles stopped twitching. He sagged into her. After a while, she pulled back.
"Are you okay?"
"I almost just lost everything. Alexis, she's the only thing I've ever done right. I failed at so many things in my life. I failed at writing, and relationships, and just about everything else I tried to do, but then Alexis came along. I remember when she was born, they handed me this tiny person, all bundled up. She just stared up at me, and when I looked down at her, this feeling hit me like I'd been struck by lightning. It was love - that instant, inexplicable love you can only feel for your child. In that moment, I knew. I knew my life had changed forever. I was sitting there, in that ratty, little apartment, doing odd jobs, barely making ends meet for one person, still trying to live the dream. Still trying to write that one magical book that would change it all, and eating stale pizza crusts. But I knew when I saw Alexis that it had to change, and I went out the very next day. I got a haircut, and a new suit, and I started looking for jobs. She has been - everything. I don't know - I can't bear to think - If something happened to her... I'd do anything, anything to protect that little girl..." His throat bobbed and he blinked away the fresh tears that appeared.
Kate looked at him as if discovering him, the real Castle, the real Rick Rodgers, for the first time. Her gaze softened, and she drew her lips up into a pensive smile. Any lingering doubt she may have had, that he was anything other than a hard-working, honest, family man who loved his daughter above all else, vanished into the ether. He was the real deal. Her heartbeat quickened, and she reached out to squeeze his fingers again, to have that physical connection with him. It seemed to steady him.
"I'm going to -" he gestured down a hallway they had walked down previously, where they had passed the hospital's information desk. "Do you think it's too soon? Do you think she's ready yet? I want to see her."
"Go, " Beckett whispered, encouragingly. She lingered a bit, letting him pull away slightly, before letting go of his hand.
"You're not coming with me?" Rick asked. He looked hurt.
"No, I thought I would wait out here, and give you two some time alone. Maybe I could call your mother, and give her an update."
"Mother! I completely forgot! Yes! Yes, if you could give her a call, that would be great." He rummaged through his pockets and pulled out his phone. "She's in my contacts, under 'Mother'. Here let me show you how to..."
"I know how use a smart phone, Castle. Now go. Go see your daughter." She shooed him down the hall.
The room was still and dimly lit, with the occasional soft electronic beep, and the horrible hissing of air being drawn in and out, slowly. There were a variety of wires and tubes and monitors, and in the middle was his little girl, in a medically induced sleep, with orange lashes twitching on pale cheeks, one of which was marred with an angry purplish-red bruise. Her left hand was immobilized in some sort of brace, and Rick thought to himself how upset she would be to have a legitimate excuse not to do her homework for a while.
If he really concentrated, he could mentally remove the wires, and the tubes, and the machines and pretend that they were at home, and Alexis was asleep in her bed. He approached her quietly, as if he were afraid to wake her, and pulled up to the right side of the bed, where he could reach out and squeeze her good hand. He leaned down and pressed his lips, softly to her temple, then smoothed her hair back.
"Hey, Pumpkin," he whispered. A horrible, sudden, slow hiss of air startled him, and he drew away, thinking he had done something wrong. Frantically, he searched the monitors, and finding nothing alarming, he reached for the chair placed against the wall, and lifted it with trembling arms, pulling it close so he could sit by her bedside.
"I'm so sorry your vacation had to end this way. You were so excited when we talked on the phone the other day. Don't worry, sweetheart. The doctors said that you did great in surgery. I knew you would. You do everything so well, my perfect little angel. They're going to take care of you, and help you heal, and then I'm going to take you home and fix you the biggest ice cream sundae you've ever seen, and I'm going to feed it to you myself and make you eat every last spoonful. The police are going to find out who did this to you and then lock them up for a long time. Next year, I'll save up and we'll go skiing together, just the two of us, okay?"
Silence. Hiss. Beep. Beep. Rick stroked his fingers over her hand.
"Yeah, he's with her now. You should be able to go right up when you get here." Kate murmured into the phone, and she smiled. Martha had been overjoyed at the news in a very larger-than-life, theatrical way, that made Kate wonder if the woman ever had a subtle reaction. "Oh, hold on a second. I'll get her room number for you. Kate wandered up to the information desk, and waited til the young woman looked up from her computer monitor.
"Alexis Rodger's room number, please."
"Oh right. Your husband was just here a few minutes ago." Kate heard a delighted chortle through the phone. "Room 405."
"Thank you." Kate repeated the information to Martha.
"Thank you, dear. I should be there within about thirty minutes. Give them my love in the meantime?" Kate blushed and grunted in what she hoped was an affirmative sounding way. "And Kate? Thank you for taking care of my Richard. I'm sure he's glad to have you there by his side."
"It's uhh...It's my honor Martha. See you soon." Kate pressed the end call button quickly, before Martha could embarrass her further, by bringing up feelings she had yet to explore fully herself. She wondered if she should go check up on Castle, or if he would want more time to himself. She was about to go and find an elevator, when the desk nurse's voice rang out again.
"Ma'am? Before you go? One thing." The information clerk angled her monitor, and tapped at the screen. "Your insurance policy number has been flagged. Do you have that information on you? Sometimes it's easy to switch around two digits." Kate knew she shouldn't but she peered at the screen, and the flashing computer cursor. Below the policy number, she could see just the beginning of a list of procedures and tests done to Alexis, and next to each one a charge. She cringed and hoped that the city had provided its janitorial staff with a comprehensive benefits package.
"No, I er...I'll get my husband to come down later. He has all of that information with him." she stammered. Thinking quickly on her feet, she added. "Alexis, she was on a ski vacation with her friend and her friend's family. They were all in the car accident together. I was wondering if you could tell me anything about their conditions?" The clerk glowered at her for a moment, wrestled with the idea, and then hesitantly clicked her mouse a few times.
"I can't tell you much. The husband and daughter are stable at this time. The mother is still critical, in surgery. I can't give you any more information than that."
"What about room number? I thought maybe, maybe I could bring them each some flowers." And see if I can run into any officers while I am there to find out more about this hit and run, she added internally. The clerk looked at her appraisingly, biting her cheek, and weighing the request.
"Alright, but you didn't get these room numbers from me," the clerk warned. Kate thanked her profusely, heading toward the gift shop. She would pick up some flowers for Alexis, and three more bouquets she hoped would lead to more information. She had gotten a sinking feeling when the intern mentioned that this was a hit and run, and her detective's mind had been in overdrive ever since. She hoped and prayed that this was nothing more than an accident, but she couldn't help but wonder if this had anything to do with Phil's death, that whichever shadow men were responsible for her mother's murder had found out about Rick's involvement, and this was their way of sending a message. She swallowed hard, plagued with guilt. Accident or not, she would do anything she could to help make things right for her friend. She pulled out her phone, not even waiting for a greeting before launching into pressing matters.
"Espo, I need you to look into some things for me."
"Beckett! (It's Beckett.)" He turned his head away from the phone, presumably to talk to Ryan. How's Castle junior? She okay?" She had only given Esposito and Ryan the basic details about the accident earlier. Still, she heard some concern in the detective's voice.
"She's fine. He's with her right now. Get a pen and listen up, because they need our help," Beckett explained, and started hatching out a plan. For the longest time, Beckett had been content to help mere strangers to atone for her inability to avenge her mother, walling herself off from everyone before they got too close, but now she finally had the chance to help someone close to her, and she would stop at nothing to make sure that she didn't fail again.