A/N: This story deals with the aftermath of very serious injury and with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is not gentle. Please, please stop here if that is going to upset you.
Please also note that I am neither medic nor psychiatrist and therefore all mistakes in terminology, timing, and technique are accidental. Research can only do so much.
These characters belong to Andrew Marlowe et al and no infringement of copyright is intended.
Chapter 1: Death shall have no dominion
It's been three days.
ICU is white, sterile and utterly terrifying. But Castle still visits, despite the terror, can't stay away. So many tubes, wires, machines: breathing for her, forcing her heart to beat, keeping her alive. She'd been dying, right there under his hands in the cemetery, died in the ambulance, died again in surgery, they'd said: they'd shocked her back to life with seventeen hundred volts through a defibrillator. He'd only ever thought of electrocution as fatal, before then.
So many tubes and wires. So small and white, unconscious. Induced coma, to let her heal. So still. Only the faint, regular beep of the machines to tell that she's alive, by grace of those same machines that breathe and beat her heart and eat and drink for her. Normally, faced with something he doesn't understand, he'd be curious, inquisitive, he'd ask questions, research. It's how he got to here. To her. No more research, not here, not now. He doesn't want to understand, to face the wrenching reality of what each individual tube or wire is for, because he knows that if he starts down that road of exploration he will also learn all the ways that the machines can fail, all the ways the electronic lines and noises can indicate that she's failing. He can't bear to know that, to be looking for it, listening for it. Here in this sterile land, ignorance is – if not bliss – at least a source of...not discomfort. Faith in the power of advanced technology, the 21st century Renaissance Man's religion.
They'll let her wake, when the doctors feel it's appropriate. Well, they'll stop forcing her to sleep. Whether she wakes – that's a different matter. There are no guarantees, the doctors said. Even Josh, who'd saved her there on the operating table while her blood rushed out, Josh whom he can't dislike any more because Josh saved her when he couldn't, even miracle-working surgeon Josh won't give any guarantees.
He remembers Jim Beckett's shrunken, devastated pallor at the news. He remembers Lanie, Ryan, Esposito sitting outside the operating theatre on hard plastic chairs, discomfort utterly ignored as they waited the hours it took to staunch the blood, mend the ripped flesh, insert so many tubes and wires. He couldn't sit. He remembers Josh, still in scrubs with her blood on him where he'd saved her, slashed her chest open for heroic intervention: furious and shouting and throwing a punch and blaming him, until Jim Beckett shamed and stopped them.
So many tubes and wires, keeping her alive in some suspended animation: Snow White without the glass coffin. No Prince Charming allowed beyond the ICU doors, infection risk too high to try waking this princess with a kiss, and anyway he doesn't have the right. He let her die. No right or ability to revive a sleeping princess if you're the one who let her die.
So many tubes and wires, visible through the porthole of the ICU door. Keeping her alive, asleep. But there are no guarantees that she'll wake, no guarantees that even if – when: it has to be when - she does, she'll be whole.
So many tubes and wires, but no guarantees. He turns away from the small window in the door, a big man reduced to impotence by misery. It's been three days, and every day he's come to see her, stare through the door in ICU, the only thing of any meaning he can do. He couldn't shield her, couldn't keep her alive, couldn't save her. Watched the light go out of her with furious, helpless desperation, screaming her name in agony, trying to hold her to life through sheer force of will. Of love.
He'd never said he loved her till that moment, never found a time or place. He was with Gina, then she was – is - with Josh: he never had the courage to say it. Not even that fractured, furious night before Montgomery died, when they fought again and she threw him out – he should have told her then, but he hid in subtext and cowardice, and then Montgomery was shot while he carried her away to save her and still he never said it. So many chances missed, until she lay dying in the bright June sunlight and it was his only, last, chance.
So many tubes and wires. Surely all this technology can't fail her now? He walks away slowly, heavily, stone-faced, rigid shouldered. He's always worn emotion on the outside, except when it really mattered. Then, he'd hidden it under innuendo and banter, childishness and arrogance: too scared to show the truth about his feelings until it was too late for it to count, until it flooded out of him, dam broken by bright crimson blood pooling in bright harsh sunlight.
You have to live, Kate. You have to.
He'll be back tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, all the days until she wakes. He doesn't want to think how long that might be. However long it is, the day she wakes he'll be there, have been there every day for her.
He doesn't weep for her. Unreasonable as it is, he feels that if he weeps she won't come back, she'll die again. Weeping is for death and funerals. Superstition, maybe. There's nothing else to put his faith in, except the machines, the tubes and wires.
Once he's home, safely in his study, where he's put away the photo she didn't know he'd taken because he cannot bear to look at Kate alert and aware and alive, compared to that pale still body in among the machines that are all that keeps her living; here, safely in his study, he starts what he always does when emotion is too much, and begins to write.
Not Nikki Heat – that's too raw, with inspiration lying still and white and small and unconscious in an ICU bed – not his laptop, the click of keys under his fingers too close to the metronome beat of the machines that keep her alive, and – superstition again – if the regularity of the click of keys fails, then maybe so does she – but paper, and an old fountain pen.
I come to see you every day, through the window in ICU. They don't let me in: they don't let anyone except the medical staff in, too scared that you'll be infected by some opportunistic bacterium. There are so many tubes and wires around you: it's hard to spot you in among them, impossible to hear your breathing above the electronic noises. But at least the noises tell me you're alive, measure out each second that you're still living in the ECG traces, count your heartbeats in the beeps. I can see the intravenous stands, feeding you, hydrating you. No more extra blood, which is some small improvement, I suppose. You're so small and still and white, dark hair and eyelashes the only colour.
I never appreciated machines the way I do now, when they're all that's keeping you alive.
When you wake up, they'll tell you what happened, how you took a sniper bullet to the chest, nicked your heart. You were dying right there under my hands, when I caught you too late to save you: they brought you back in the ambulance and then you died again in surgery. Josh brought you back, that time, brilliant last-ditch emergency operation. I can't hate him now, though I hated him because he had you and I didn't. Though I think I love you more than he does: no-one could love you more than I do. Not that I told you, till it was too late for you to hear me.
I sent Alexis to camp for the rest of the summer this morning, to keep her safe. She didn't want to go.
There's an understatement. His mature, intelligent, emotionally aware daughter had thrown a tantrum worthy of a two year old, shouting that she wouldn't go, he needed her there, that he couldn't do without her. And when that hadn't worked, she'd tried reason. And when he'd been impervious to all of it, she'd cried. He'd arranged it as soon as he'd got time, in that appalling, silent space where they sat devastated outside while Josh worked miracles in theatre to save her. If Kate had been shot, then he had to keep Alexis safe, so he'd applied copious amounts of money and forced her into a place away from New York. Anyway, she couldn't stay in the febrile, emotional atmosphere, needed to be away from the life-or-death tension and the visits to ICU where Kate's struggling for survival, while when he isn't looking through the glass in the door he just waits for the phone to ring, terrified it will, terrified it won't.
His mother won't leave. He'd offered her hotels, shopping, Vegas, LA, the house in the Hamptons and his platinum card, but she wouldn't go, brushing all his entreaties away with sardonic words. But he sees how she's looking at him, and he knows that she won't go because she wants to make sure he doesn't do anything...stupid. That's not likely. Not while...Just – not. If there hadn't been Alexis and his mother, and then if Kate hadn't been clawing for survival, then, well, he still wouldn't be...stupid. Probably.
She loves you too. But she's better off out of here. If…if you don't wake up soon I don't know what I'll do. Keep visiting you, hoping. Wishing I'd done something differently, something more.
I always wanted to see what you looked like in bed, hair spread across the pillows. But not like this. Never like this. I always hoped that one day I'd see you in your bed, or mine, eyebrow quirked and biting your lip and giving me that come-on smile. You knew – know - it drove me up the wall. Now I'll be happy to see your eyes open and Detective Beckett back in them, even in a hospital bed. They won't give any guarantees, that you'll wake, who you'll be if you wake. Not if. I won't think if. When you wake. You're a fighter – there's a cliché from the writer that you'd roll your eyes at me for, if only you were here – so I think, hope, that somewhere under all the tubes and wires you're fighting to come back. I have to hope that. I can't bear to believe anything else.
I'm so sorry that I couldn't save you. Maybe if I'd said more, done more, been more, I could have made you listen, stopped you before you wound up here. Maybe. Maybe if I'd seen the glint sooner, moved faster, I could have pushed you out the way in time. So many maybes, and all of them wasted.
I'm so sorry that I never told you I loved you when you could hear me. So many chances, and I ducked all of them, scared you wouldn't feel the same. And then on that podium, giving the elegy, I thought you were finally telling me something, that there was a way for us. And then you were bleeding out on the grass, and we'd never had the chance to find out.
Even if I wanted to go back to the precinct, I couldn't. I can't face the guilt, and anyway there's already a new Captain who doesn't believe in civilians. So even when you get back, I won't be there. The boys will look after you. God knows, I haven't been able to. You died. I watched you die. I can't forgive myself for letting you die in front of me. I never even told you I loved you till I let you die. Other people brought you back. I couldn't. I haven't been back to the precinct, seen the boys, or Lanie. I can't face them, knowing I wasn't good enough. Montgomery's dead and you nearly followed him and it was all my fault. Josh punched me, after he saved you. I deserved it.
I feel so guilty. Not just that I couldn't protect you or save you when you needed it, but that I re-opened all of this; set the chain of events in motion, two years ago.
He'd started to investigate himself, begun it in pride, arrogance, call it what you will; now he's fallen, and in his fall brought down still harder the woman who's become the centre, the focus of his world. He'd wanted to help. Well, mixed with an elephantine dose of showing off, proving that he could be as good a detective as she, showing her that he was worthy of her respect and admiration. Not, then, of her love. That came shortly after, when she threw him out her life: unimpressed, horrified, devastated, desolated. When he realised that to her it wasn't a game, a story, or a competition. And then she'd been dragged back into it, started to investigate again: his fault: through Coonan, and then Lockwood. And now a sniper's bullet, twice killing her.
I love you. Just wake up. Be you again. Whoever you are when you wake up, though, I can't imagine not loving you. Just please wake up soon.
She'll never read them. Still, when he writes to her, the pain recedes a little way, diminishes, for a while, as he spills out his feelings through the ink. But he doesn't have the right to send them, he's not her lover. Josh is. The man who could save her. He's just the man who let her die.
It's getting dark, it's late. Not much day, when you spend half of it in ICU, watching, keeping vigil, like some mediaeval knight-errant. Each day when he's come home his mother's been there, not needing to ask when she sees his expression, not hiding her concern for him as the lines start to wear into his face. He eats. He sleeps, intermittently, in fits and starts, jerking awake repeatedly as the nightmares gnaw into him and he sees her bleeding on the sharp green grass, red stain spreading in the harsh sunlight.
Three seconds from seeing the flash of sun on metal to realisation, to impact. Three minutes of watching bright blood on green grass under blue clear sky, screaming her name and his feelings, before professionals took over. Thirty minutes in the ambulance, watching her die once and be revived. Six hours in surgery, dying again and electro-shocked back to life. And now three days, watching through an ICU door. Measuring out her fragile hold on life in numerals. He's not a numbers man. He's famous for words. But his words have failed him, and numbers, to date, have not.
Three days, and she's still alive.
Kate, please don't die again. I love you.
Every hour she doesn't die, she must be healing. Every hour she doesn't die, it's more likely that she won't. Three days. Seventy two hours. Every hour, she hasn't died. Seventy two times, she hasn't died, to make up for seven hours before that, when she did, twice.
It's been three days, and she's still alive.
I have never felt it was realistic that Beckett appeared to recover so fast, nor that Castle accepted her actions of that summer so easily for such little apparent reason. I would like to thank HoneyandVodka for giving me the nerve to step a lot further away from the show than I might otherwise have done.