Chapter 2: It hurts to live

It's been a week.

They're going to take her out of the induced coma, today, restrict the drugs and let her sleep, or wake, more naturally. One fewer tube, for that. She'll be able to breathe normally – well, mostly by herself, normally is not something Castle is prepared to think right now - again, one tube gone, but still a nasal tube remaining. Slow progress in the small reductions in the tubes and wires, offset by the increased count of scars and stitches. Two more scars, one for the bullet, one for the slash-and-smash surgery that saved her. So many stitches, under the surgical dressings, under the white sheets. He's glad he can't see them.

Waiting in ICU, medical staff are measuring, tending, reading machines and electronics, monitoring changes. None of it means anything to him, except that she's healing, in body. In mind – they'll have to wait and see. Jim's there, but they don't really talk, kept apart by what should bring them together, Kate/Katie, who hasn't died, who's perceptibly, now, clawing her way back from death. Castle's uncomfortable with Jim: Jim had come to him, begged him to stop Kate, and then he couldn't. He could save her from Montgomery's killers, by sheer physical strength and size, but he couldn't save her from the sniper. He doesn't know if Jim blames him for that, his failure to protect her, because that's a conversation he can't open. Jim might blame him, for not saving his Katie. (Never Castle's Kate.) Or worse, he might not, might forgive, or might say there's nothing to forgive: none of that a consolation. Any which way, Castle blames himself for this disaster. If he'd said more, done more, found the right words...if he'd told her he loved her in plain language, that night, would they still have fought, or would she have walked away from her mother's case?

They came to the hospital as soon as they learned that the doctors were going to start to bring her round. They won't go home, now, until she does come round. It could be minutes, or hours. Castle doesn't think further than that. It won't be longer. It can't be. But all he can do is sit and wait, pace and wait, sit and pace and wait again. He has to see her eyes open, know if the woman he loves is still there. Occasionally, Josh appears, looks through the glass, nods to Jim, ignores Castle, leaves again to save some other life. There's no conflict apparent, now, Jim's presence as his daughter suffers negates all argument, and anyway Josh saved her, so how could Castle argue?

In time, there's a flicker of eyelashes, a change – so slight, but both of them can see it – in her face. Still small and white and diminished, but not so deathly still. Perhaps this is a move from coma to REM sleep: they're not doctors, so how should they know? Neither he nor Jim will leave until she wakes, until they see how she is when – it has to be when – she wakes. They won't let her wake alone, unseen, unloved, even though she won't know they're there: it's a necessary vigil. But they don't talk about that, either. Jim knows how Castle feels. He's known, Castle thinks, for a long time now, but never mentioned it; maybe he knows how his daughter feels. Used to feel. No point, really, in thinking about that, until she wakes.

He's trying not to think about anything other than her waking up, with Detective Beckett back behind her opened eyes. He's terrified she won't be there, so many things that could be wrong, hoping that the worst will not have happened. He only gets more apprehensive as the flickers of her eyelids increase.

Eventually – he doesn't know how long it's been, stopped looking at his watch some time ago – her eyes drag open, horrifyingly briefly, and shut again. No chance to see what's there. Another long wait, before her eyes re-open, at first only pain, confusion and panic; where-am-I: but then through that life, awareness and intelligence. Just open long enough, to tell that Kate is in there, before they close again. Jim is unashamedly weeping, sitting on the hard chair by the door. Castle turns away, out of view, holding back his own tears of relief. He doesn't have the right to share his feelings, even to have such feelings. Jim does, Josh does. But Josh isn't there, and Jim is abruptly hugging him and so obviously expecting Castle to be emotional that it's all too much. Not manly, to be crying on each other, but perhaps understandable.

The medical staff seem pretty happy with how it's gone. Castle's staying tactfully out the way while they surround Jim, but Jim summons him to listen. Seems that her only opening her eyes for a couple of minutes is good, that she went back to sleep is good, that she was aware is excellent. The wounds are healing properly. All in all, the medics are about as happy as medics ever get. They'll be able to let her out of ICU soon, but the best news is that she can have visitors now. Well, when she's awake. Or he can sit and watch her sleep, if he likes. They're really talking to Jim, but Castle can sit and write anywhere, so it can be at Kate's bedside if he wants. They don't need to worry as much about infection – though they've to be very careful about hand washing, and if there's so much as a sniffle within a hundred yards of them they'll be banned again – and so they'll be allowed in. He'll be allowed in.

On his way home, he texts the boys and Lanie, then Alexis, short and to the point. Kate woke up. It all looks good. Castle. And when his mother sees him smile, tiredly but sincerely, she knows that Kate's okay without him needing to say a single word. That it'll all be okay. And again he dissolves into unmanly but unstoppable tears, sobbing his thankfulness into his mother's arms, in these instants the small boy who's still allowed to show emotions. His mother is scarcely behind.

He's had replies from everyone, variations on the theme of Thank Christ, frequently with added profanities. Lanie's is the most effusive, probably because she knows more than any of them about what could have gone wrong. He hasn't seen any of them, though, hasn't dared go to the precinct, or talk to them, in case they all blame him, he's even managed to avoid them in the hospital. Maybe, now Kate's beginning to recover properly, he'll arrange something. But for now, his worst fears not realised, he can write again: but before he turns to Nikki and Rook, he picks up the old pen lying next to the laptop, pulls out the white notepaper.

Dear Kate,

Today has been the first day in a week when I've ended it happier than I began. You've woken up (though so very, very briefly) and it's still you who's there. Even though there's such a long road still for you to travel for recovery, it's your personality: Detective Beckett back, the spark in your eyes. I was so glad to see it. We – your dad and I – didn't know whether you'd wake up at all, when they discontinued the drugs, and even if you did, whether it might not be the same Kate Beckett. So when you woke and even through the pain and confusion in your face it was quite definitely you, we wept all over each other. God knows what the nursing staff thought of us. It was so familiarly you that I half-expected an eye-roll or a bite of your lip, but that's just a bit over-optimistic yet. Still, it won't be long before I can talk to you again, see you disbelieving everything I tell you on general Beckett investigative principles.

I know you won't be out of hospital soon, but now, even though you're not out of ICU we can come and see you for real, not just through the door. I've made arrangements for your room, once you're let out – released. It feels like you've been in prison. Your health insurance is good, the NYPD scheme is very good, but I can do more for you and I have. And before you start to argue, your dad knows about it and he let me. (you're not going to read this, so you can't argue, which is likely just as well. Arguing wouldn't be good for your recovery and your blood pressure.) I can hardly wait, though I know I have to. I've missed you, missed everything about you, even missed my ear being twisted. I promise I won't tire you out by talking too much, (I can see you roll your eyes at that) though even hearing you snap Shut up, Castle, would be pretty fine right now.

And eventually you'll be better, back at the precinct, and we can get back to catching killers, just like before. (I'll convince the new Captain to let me back, somehow.) Except that I want there to be one difference: I'm not going to hide how I feel about you any more. (It was only you I was hiding it from. Everyone else guessed long ago. I think even your dad knows – that's a scary thought.) I'm not going to use subtext and silence and let the chances pass me by – pass us by – any longer. I'm going to tell you, once you're better, in case you don't remember what I said as you were dying; in case I miss my chance again. I don't want to miss any more chances.

I love you, Kate, and when you're better I'm going to find out if you were saying what I think you were saying, trying to tell me, up there from the podium, and then I'm going to take you up on it. I want to be the one who stands with you. (Maybe, though, if we're going to keep on getting into these life and death situations, with bulletproof vests on, insulation, bomb-proofing? His 'n' hers? Pink and blue? I'll take pink. Just as well you won't read this, because you'd surely shoot me if I suggested it.)

But even there I'm deflecting, hiding. Seriously. I love you, and I want to be with you. And now you've woken up, and you're still you, for the first time I think it might be possible.

Love Rick.

And then he turns, inspired, enthusiastic and energised, to Nikki Heat, writing in the resilience and strength that he's seen, using it in Nikki in a very different way from Kate, sleeping in the hospital, healing. It's the first time he's been able to write in weeks, and he is so relieved and happy that he can't stop. He can see a – his - future, and it's got Kate in it.

She hurts, everywhere. There are tubes intruding in places she doesn't want to think about, wires taped to her chest, cannulae and needles in her hand and arm. Even through the fog of morphine she still hurts. She's woken in a sterile room, can hear the electronic beep of some machine. She doesn't want to open her eyes, exhaustion holding the lids down, but eventually she has to blink them open and see where she is. Medics around her, two faces at the door. Recognition: her father, and Castle. Her eyes fall shut again, consciousness seeping away before any thought intrudes.

In the still of the deep night she wakes again, briefly, eerie green light from the electronic traces and soft beeps from the machines. Her chest hurts, but when she sleeps she can't feel any of it, the discomfort of the tubes and wires, the sharp pain in her sternum with every breath, the duller agony between her breasts, the pull at her side. She doesn't understand each separate source of pain, yet. Too tired to ask. She gratefully lets exhaustion and morphine pull her back under. She remembers everything, every instant in the cemetery, and doesn't want to know about any of it.

When she's conscious again it's daytime: there's light that isn't electronic green. Still the beeps, though. And a tapping noise. She's too tired to place that. She's not willing to open her eyes, too much effort. She hears the door open, through the fog of tiredness, hears the crisp tone of a professional, telling someone to leave while they check the dressings. There's a quiet rumble of assent, compliance, that she thinks she ought to recognise, but that too is effort she doesn't want to make. When cool fingers press gently over the dressing she winces even through the softening effects of the drugs and forces her eyes open.

"Show me," she husks through a dry throat. It doesn't sound like her voice at all. It sounds tired, and hurt, and somehow defeated. The nurse starts, surprised, holds a cup with some water and a straw for her to soothe her throat.

"You don't want to see, Miss Beckett." But she has to know what's wrong.

"It's Detective," she rasps hoarsely. "Show me."

"I'll get the doctor." When the attending doctor arrives, her eyes are shut again, but as the door shuts they peel open.

"What happened?" It takes the doctor a while to explain, and by the end she's too utterly exhausted to understand. She slips back under, and the nurse returns to redo the dressings while she's sleeping.

Castle's waiting in the anteroom, tapping out random parts of story as he thinks of them, no structure yet, just episodes. Narrative, for this part of his novel, will have to be imposed later. It's not like him, usually he has a reasonably clear plan, but everything is still shaken up, and clearly his brain is no exception. Each individual paragraph is good, but there's no coherence, no continuity. A bit like his life, this last week. However, Kate's back. Though a little more wakefulness would be nice to see: he still doesn't quite believe that she's really there. He can half hear an arid voice, questioning, and when the nurse hurries past him and some short minutes later the attending doctor hurries in there's a leap of fear in his body that something's gone wrong. But the doctor's mellow, reassuring voice doesn't sound like there's an emergency. More like explanations. He can't hear the words, and unusually, for him, doesn't try to listen. He knows quite enough about the situation without needing more. If she's looking for explanations she's definitely getting better. Interrogation is, after all, a speciality of hers.

The doctor's left, smiling at him distractedly – they'll get used to seeing him here, he thinks, maybe he'll learn their names - and the nurse has finished redoing the dressings and has come out, pauses at him.

"You can go back in now, Mr Castle, but Miss Beckett is asleep again."

"It's Detective," he says, gently. "She's an NYPD detective. She'll like it better if you call her that." It's who she is, sums up everything that she is, and he thinks she'll want to be reminded of who she is. "Is it normal, to sleep this much?"

"Yes. Sleep is how we heal, and she's got a lot of that still to do. So don't tire her, okay? Don't you be disturbing her."

He won't. He wants her to be better. But he has to see her, be there for her. He's probably just a bit obsessive about it, while she's still in ICU. When she's out, maybe he won't feel this burning need to be with her every moment he can, maybe he'll be able to let her be alone, maybe he won't feel that he has to stand between her and everything that could hurt her. And while she's sleeping, there's no-one to tell him that he doesn't have the right to do this. He supposes that Josh must feel the same, but they manage to avoid each other perfectly. Castle's visiting hours are limited, and he envies Josh, who can visit any time he pleases.

Thank you to those who have read, reviewed, followed and/or favourited. For those of you who read Letters I Never Sent, this is the full length version. This is another slow-pace,slow burn story, so please review some more!

Please also forgive my extremely inadequate medical knowledge.