Chapter 4: A time to cast away

They're moving her out of ICU today, they've told her. More of the tubes and wires removed, only one precautionary IV line. She'll be able to drink, eat, control the pain relief. No more antibiotics, so her stomach should settle down almost immediately. She's doing really well, they tell her, they're so impressed with how fast she's healing, she must have been really fit, healthy, before the incident. Incident. Well, that's one way to refer to being shot in the chest and dying twice. She might have called it something else. She'd made them tell her all the truth, in cold clear unemotional words that she could understand, no hiding behind the medical jargon, and if they'd not explained it fully under her strict interrogation she'd wrenched the knowledge out of Lanie. So now she knows everything, how she'd died twice, to match with remembering everything. She's been incredibly lucky to survive it, they all tell her, lucky just to be alive. It's difficult, sometimes, to feel properly grateful for it.

When they move her into a plush private room, she's incredibly appreciative, and not a little surprised, that the NYPD's health policy is that good. Okay, she'd been shot in the line, but still, this is rather better than she'd thought was on offer, from what she remembers of the bullpen gossip (it's not something they often like to talk about, for obvious reasons). Still, she's not going to complain. If this is what the NYPD can run to, she'll certainly take it. She vaguely remembers that she'll stay on full pay till she's capable of returning - she doesn't contemplate any other outcome - so she doesn't need to worry about rent or any other bills.

She relaxes back into the bed – the move has tired her, which she doesn't appreciate: she didn't have to do anything except lie there while they shifted her around and she's still wrung out by it – and lets the nurses do whatever they have to do. She can't see the wall for the flowers on the nightstand, seems like four separate arrangements. That'll be Lanie, the boys, the precinct, and the largest one is undoubtedly Castle: beautifully tasteful and expensive, exactly the arrangement she'd pick herself if she didn't need to worry about cost. She doesn't want to look at it. It makes her think of Castle, and then instead of happiness she thinks of the cemetery, and pain, and screaming. She turns away from all the flowers, all their beauty spoiled. She can't ask for them to be taken away, that would be ungrateful and unkind, but in the privacy of her mind now she almost wishes none of them had bothered. But that's selfish, and she doesn't want to be a selfish woman. Bad enough to be an invalid, without that.

Visiting hours are much longer, now she's out of ICU, the nurses tell her, obviously expecting that she'll enjoy that. She'll be more awake, now they've reduced the drugs dosage to a much lower level, but if she needs more painkillers she only has to press this button to self-medicate. It'll be nice for her to be awake and able to talk to her visitors, won't it? She's not so sure. Ever since she was small, she's preferred to hurt alone, run off to some quiet corner and self-soothe, come back when she's dealt with it and her momentary weakness is gone. It's impossible to do that, chained to a hospital bed by tubes and wires, and she hates it. She can't stop the visitors, that too would be unkind, selfish and ungrateful: she can't even restrict them, for the same reasons. She has to deal with it, with their unwanted, unwarranted sympathy.

And there's the crux that she's been sleeping to avoid. She blames herself for this: if she hadn't reopened her mother's case, she wouldn't be here, and others wouldn't have been dragged in. Montgomery wouldn't be dead, his wife a widow, his children fatherless. Her fault. Guilt eats into her, and she winces. Not just Montgomery. It could so easily have been Castle shot, if he'd moved faster, knocked her out the way like he'd tried to. Then what? Martha deprived of a son, Alexis of a father. It's not Castle's place to be protecting her, she's the cop. More guilt, that she put him at risk. He shouldn't be at risk, he needs to be safe. She can't bear the thought that he might be injured. She forces her mind away from killed.

Her first visitor isn't who she expected, but then, it's not visiting hours. She'd expected her father, or Castle. Which is not the same as wanting either of them, or indeed anyone else. She wants some time to be used to her new surroundings, to adjust to the lower level of pain relief, to work out how long she can stand it before she has to press the button. Instead, it's Josh.

"Hey, Kate. Good to see you out of ICU."

"Hey," she murmurs, all she can manage. He's looking at her with an assessing, professional eye, first of all, which dissolves into affection once he's satisfied with what he sees. Abruptly she realises that he's far more into her than she is to him, which is to say – half-heartedly at best. But then, she knew that, even if she didn't admit it. She was, unwittingly, using him: affection, comfort on a cold night, half out the door. An excuse to ignore her true feelings. She knows, now, what she has to do, anyway, knew it after the airplane hangar. She just hadn't had time, before...

Anyway. Whatever he feels, she's not going to be giving him what he'd want, can't give him it. Not fair, to string him along, pretending there's more to it when there's not. But she's really too tired from the transfer to do this now. Tomorrow, or the next time he comes by when she's awake.

"I thought," he says, smiling, "that once you're released, we could maybe take a trip somewhere, spend some time together?"

Okay, so here and now, before he starts to plan, to think that she'll be there with him, after all this is done. But she doesn't want to do this now, resents that he's forcing the issue when she's barely capable of movement.

"Josh," she hesitates, and sees the first glimmer of realisation creep across his face, "I don't think so."

"Kate," he says, still confident, "Why not? Sun and relaxation would be a good way to finish recovering. Is it just that you're worried about not being well enough? I'll make sure you don't do too much. I think I'm qualified to do that." He grins, pleased with his humour. But she's already shaking her head, slowly, the weight on her neck too heavy.

"No. It's not just that. I can't, Josh. It's not about you, it's about me." Cliché of the century, that one, even if it's true. He's a good guy, but she can't do it any more. She'd like to let him down gently – he saved her life, after all, which is something not every boyfriend could do (Castle did it too, says a voice in the back of her head, several times over) – but he's, it's, being with him is not enough. She should have done this a long time ago, after the alleyway, certainly after she went to LA, but it kept her safe from making choices; meant she could ignore Castle's ill-concealed feelings and hopes. As well as her own. And she's never been unfaithful to Josh. At least physically: that kiss was just a ruse to save the boys, not even her idea. However much it had flared into flashpoint. Faithfulness in mind or emotion? Well, that might be a different matter. Shame creeps over her. Her dreams have never been of Josh.

He gives her another assessing, piercing look, affection falling away, replaced by realisation. "Is it about you, Kate? Or is it about your partner?" There's viciousness behind the word. She'd known Josh wasn't keen on Castle, their work together, the amount of time they spent together, but this vitriol is new. She's too tired for this fight, but it seems like it's going to happen anyway.

"It's obvious that you won't commit because of him. It might as well have been a series of one-night-stands with me. You might tell yourself you're not in a relationship with him but as long as he's following you around like a puppy you won't be in a relationship with anyone else either. You've got him on a string and he's so pathetically in love with you that he doesn't even care when you're with someone else. But you're not actually with someone else, because you're always with him. I can't compete with that, Kate. I can't compete with him, because he's always there with you, even when he isn't. Do you even know you dream about him? You might have been with me but that's not where you really wanted to be. Just remember that it's his fault you were shot, prying into your work, interfering with police cases, pretending he's a cop. He isn't. He nearly got you killed, but I saved you, and none of that seems to mean anything to you."

She doesn't feel enough for Josh, suddenly, to be careful of how he feels, and anger at his words overcomes exhaustion. "It wasn't Castle's fault I was shot, Josh. That's on the shooter. And you may have saved me this time, but Castle's saved my life before, so I think the pair of you are even, far as that goes. Saving me doesn't give you the right to my life. I'm very thankful that you did, but that's no foundation for a relationship. As for everything else you've just said, I'd like you to leave now." She realises that all the wounds are beginning to hurt again, or maybe that's her heart. She looks straight at him. "You may say I wasn't committed. I don't think you were either. Your work means more to you than I did, but I didn't really object, because turnabout's fair play, Josh, mine means more to me than you. We should never have started, but now we're done. Good luck."

She watches him search for words, find none. Not soon enough, he leaves. She rests back with her eyes shut and doesn't shed a single tear. But his words eat into her and add to her guilt and shame that she can just watch her ex-boyfriend walk away and not care. She should care, should be bitten by the acid truth in his words, but it's only what she already understood: long before she'd admitted her own feelings to herself her partnership with Castle had become the mainstay of her life.

Her wounds hurt, but she doesn't press the button, accepts the pain as atonement, until, long past the time when she should have sought relief, she can't bear it any longer and admits defeat. The pain relief knocks her out in moments. She's been so lost in the guilt that she doesn't realise that she's taken it immediately before visiting hours begin.

When she wakes, her father's been by, left her a note and more flowers. She persuades the nurse to rearrange the bouquets on the nightstand, so that Castle's arrangement is towards the back, partially shielded by everything else. It makes sense that the tallest arrangement is at the back, doesn't it? And if she doesn't raise her eyes too far, she doesn't see it, isn't reminded of the flowers by Montgomery's coffin, isn't reminded of that day.

Lanie comes by, a little later. She also runs that diagnostic medic's gaze over Kate, but this one includes true concern.

"You getting better, girl?"

"Think so."

"Well, you make sure so. No ignoring the pain relief because you think it's weak to need it." – Kate makes a very small face at her – "I know you, you don't take so much as a Tylenol unless you're half-dead…" Lanie trails off, embarrassment blooming in her cheeks.

" 'S okay, Lanie."

"You have to take it when you need it, not hours later. Do what the doctors tell you, if you wanna mend fastest. You dreaming?" That's whipped out.

"No." It's true. She hasn't had any dreams, all blocked by the painkillers. She doesn't mention the flashback she'd had.

"Hmm. You might start to, now the drugs are reduced. Don't try to deal with it all yourself, girlfriend, find someone to talk to. Writer-Boy's been here every day."

Right. Message received, loud and clear, Lanie.

"He'll be happy you're awake: he's spent every hour he's allowed to watching you sleep." More pressure on her, more guilt. She can't be enough for this devotion. Wounds in her flesh to match the wounds in her soul, diminishing her in every way that matters, strength, fitness, health, mind.

She can't tell Lanie that she doesn't want to see Castle. Lanie wouldn't understand. Likewise, Lanie won't understand that she doesn't want to see anyone, except maybe her dad. Ungrateful, not to want to see everyone. She yawns, not making an effort to hide her weary face.

"Time you were asleep again, girl. One of us'll be round to see you tomorrow. You behave now. Painkiller as often you need it, and if you start to dream about it, you talk to someone."

" 'Kay." She's already halfway unconscious.

On the way in, Castle meets Lanie. He's been avoiding them all, not willing to face their accusing glares that he didn't stop Kate, didn't save her from the sniper. His unhappy, guilty glance at her tells Lanie everything she needs to know. A small intervention seems in order.

"Hey Castle, how's it going? Haven't seen you for a while. Come'n have a coffee, I've got a few minutes till I have to get back to the morgue."

Castle ums and ahs and can't make up a good excuse fast enough. He doesn't want to be subjected to Lanie's accusations, or her interrogative techniques: if she hadn't been an M.E. she'd have done just fine as a detective. He follows Lanie to the hospital canteen and waits while she extracts two cups of something that looks like coffee but smells like embalming fluid – and when he takes a tentative, suspicious sip tastes worse: worse than from the original machine at the Twelfth; how is that even possible? – then follows her to a table.

"We've missed you, Castle." What? Missed him? He'd thought they'd be only too pleased not to have him around distracting them. Or reminding them of what's gone wrong. But they've missed him?

"Really?" he says pathetically, miserably. He's astonished that they still want to know him.

"Really really. We all saw you trying to save Kate." Lanie doesn't mention that they all heard him, too. Probably along with most of Manhattan. "You did everything you could. Not your fault you couldn't stop her. No-one's been able to stop Kate Beckett doing anything since she was nineteen, not even her father. You've come closest to it. We know what you did in that aircraft hangar."

He cringes, remembering carrying Kate away as she fought and begged him not to, holding her against the car to stop her going back into the fire fight, hand over her mouth to keep them from being heard, using the disparity in their physical size to control her actions in a way he'd never needed to, dared to, before, to save her. And in some small corner of his traitorous mind, not quite submerged in the terror of the situation, wishing that he was pressing her between the car and his body in a very different context, that it wasn't his hand over her mouth.

"Castle!" Lanie's New York twang has acquired a serious bite. He sits up straight and pays attention. "Castle. No-one blames you for what happened. So it's time to snap out of it. Stop beating yourself up. Git yo' head out yo' ass, boy." Lanie putting on the street accent makes him laugh, short and bitter and chopped off, but a laugh nonetheless. Suddenly he feels better about seeing her, feels that he can face the boys without guilt or remorse.

"How about I meet you all after visiting time is over? If we go to the Old Haunt, drinks are on me."

"Writer-Boy, drinks are always on you at the Old Haunt."

And if that was what you were, or weren't, waiting for, either way, tell me!

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