A doctor approaches them, and Jim and Castle both look at the same time. The longing and fear in their eyes doesn’t even give the doctor pause, but he ignores Castle and addresses Jim. Lanie buries her face in Esposito’s shirt, murmuring, “Javi...”
“Are you Jim Beckett?” Castle half wants to hug the doctor, half wants to strangle him for keeping them waiting so long. But all he can manage is to stop pacing and listen attentively, heart thudding in his chest.
“Yes, I’m Jim.” His voice shakes.
“Your daughter survived the surgery—” There’s a collective sigh of relief from those assembled. Tears of a different kind fill Lanie’s eyes as she hugs Esposito even harder. “—but during the operation, her heart did stop once. We’ve had to put her into a medically-induced coma to heal.”
“You let her die?” Castle’s voice is broken, quiet. He feels nothing now. The world is numb, disjointed.
“We’re hopeful that when we reduce the drugs she’ll wake up naturally.”
“And if she doesn’t wake up?” Ryan’s hushed whisper is so quiet that no one but Castle and Esposito, who are closest to him, can hear it. “If she doesn’t wake up?” He says it again, louder, putting a voice to the fears shared by all of them.
Castle stands there mutely, trapped in a fantasy world where Kate’s eyes have ceased to blink, a world where her chest has ceased to rise and fall, a place where she’ll never again tell him, “In your dreams, Castle,” in that snarky voice he loves so much. Without Kate, there is no “Always.” He’s not sure he’ll ever be able to write about death—or love—again.
“Then there will be nothing else we can do for her,” the doctor answers sympathetically. “But we are optimistic about her recovery. She was the very picture of health before the incident.”
“Thank you,” Jim says, nodding with a crushed look. He does not appear comforted by the doctor’s last statement.
A new feeling is rising in Castle as he resumes pacing, replacing the emptiness of the moment before. He is angry. He is angry at himself: that he couldn’t save her, that he couldn’t knock her down in time, that he never had the courage to tell her how he really felt until she was dying in front of him. He is angry at the doctors, that they hadn’t done enough to for sure save her, that they could help when he could not. He is angry at every single stoplight and driver between the cemetery and the hospital that had slowed them down in their race against time, against death.
New footsteps approach them, loud and smacking against the tile floor. Castle looks up just in time to receive Josh’s punch. “You were supposed to keep her safe!” the MD shouts at him, pulling back his arm for a second swing. Castle’s right cheek throbs, but his heart hurts even more as the words cut deep into it. They hit at his very core because he knows Josh is right. But coming from him, Castle’s rage boils over. This is Josh, motorcycle boy, whom he can hate with impunity for his role in her life and for not working harder to save her. He pulls back his arm to deliver a swing of his own.
“Dad!” Alexis doesn’t know what she has just circumvented as he encircles his arm around her and she hugs him tight. Right now she is just his teenage daughter, white and scared for the life of a woman she had looked up to and respected. Martha speeds along behind, throwing her arms around them both with an exclamation, “Oh, Richard!”
“Mother, Alexis,” he breathes, squeezing them tightly to his body.
“How is she?” Martha demands at the same time Alexis pulls back, saying, “Dad, is she okay?”
“The surgery went well,” he tells them evasively. Because he cannot bear to say the other part, the last part. Saying it aloud might make it true.
Alexis hugs him again, her warmth and cherry vanilla scent a comfort in and of itself. She and his mother lead him by both hands to a set of three chairs next to Lanie and Esposito. The two haven’t disconnected since Esposito first arrived, and they are staring blankly off into space, each lost in their own thoughts.
Castle sinks down into the seat, tired from his run and relentless pacing. Jim takes Josh off to the side to speak to him quietly and again a knot of anger forms in the pit of his stomach. He hates that Josh has more of a right to be here, waiting, than he does. He will get to see her before Castle does, kiss her before Castle does, and whisper sweet things in her ear before Castle does. And as he sits there in that lobby, surrounded by his family, friends, and coworkers, he realizes that he won’t even get to say these things to Kate, second or at all.
Beckett, he reminds himself. The surname leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. To him she is only Detective Beckett. She belongs to someone else, and a panicked admission of love doesn’t change that. She belongs to Josh, not to him. He is only her partner, and, if he’s wrong and his feelings aren’t reciprocated, that is all he will ever be.
The single tear at the cemetery…what did it mean? He wants to believe that it was her reaction to his words, an unspoken message saying she shared in his sentiments. But another part of him knows it could just as easily have been the shock of a bullet that evoked the tear, an involuntary action, the fear of death. Meaningless. She might not have heard him at all. Beyond the prospect of her death that hurts the most, he thinks.
Eventually Josh takes his leave of them after another hostile glance in Castle’s direction. Jim sits down across from Martha and puts his head in his hands.
Three hours later finds them all in the same exact positions, sitting a vigil for a gravely injured police officer who means different things, but so much, to each of them. To Jim, she is of course his daughter. She is the daughter whose strength never flagged after her mother’s death and who saved him from drowning his pain in the depths of a bottle. To Lanie, she’s a loyal best friend. To Ryan and Esposito, she is the star of their team, the best detective in all of New York City. She’s their friend too. To Alexis, she’s a role model, and maybe even sometimes a surrogate mother figure. To Martha, she is the woman her son loves, and through her motherly duties Martha has come to care deeply for Kate as well.
To Castle…all the words in the world can’t describe who she is to him. She is the love of his life, the partner who can change from tender to badass in two seconds flat. She is the one who respects the victims as people and not as meaningless names on the page. She is beautiful, intelligent, and determined—extraordinary in every way. And sexy. Very sexy. Not even her lying on her deathbed can make him forget that.
She means so much to all of them. He hopes she knows that, wherever in this hospital she is. He hopes she can feel their love and support.
“You can see her now,” the doctor says to Jim. Castle hadn’t even noticed his approach. The MD takes in the motley party of seven assembled in the lobby, looking up at him with a glimmer of hope for the first time in four long hours. “Only two at a time, please. The observation room isn’t that big.” Castle rises immediately, second in speed only to Jim. None of the others stand but merely look at him. They all know and accept what he hopes she knows. They all know exactly how much he loves her.
“Come this way,” instructs the doctor, and he and Jim follow mutely. Somehow, in Castle’s mind, he knows that if he sees her then everything will be all right. Once he has seen her, seen proof for himself that she lives on, he can just will her to keep going.
Nothing he has ever seen or done prepares him for the army of machines keeping her alive. They beep and whirr and chug, a strange cacophony to represent priceless service they provide. Inanimate and inorganic as they are, he feels indebted to them. They are safekeeping the one person outside his family who means the most to him.
Jim steps closer to the glass, hungrily devouring the sight of her. She is pale—so pale—and so still that the only thing convincing him she is still alive is the steady beep of the machines and the network of wires connecting her to them. If she had died, they would have taken out the wires. As he stares through the glass searching in vain for any sign of life, it momentarily occurs to him how much this little observation room reminds him of the one at the precinct, just with white-washed walls and more clutter.
He longs to press his hands to the glass and get closer to her, never mind the hospital staff’s displeasure. He longs to burst into the sterile room and kneel beside her, take her hand. He wants to stroke her hair and reassure her that she is safe now. Everything will be okay.
And, to a lesser extent, he wants someone to do the same for him.
Minus the hair-stroking part.
There is nothing left to do here but stand, so he slips out the door. The others will all want to see her as well, and if he can’t wrap his arms around Kate then the next best thing is Alexis. He nods to Lanie as she extricates herself from Esposito’s grip and stands, anticipation glittering in her eyes. Alexis leans into him over the wooden arm separating them, her presence a warm comfort. She’s always been cuddly, but right now he needs her more than ever. He’s vaguely aware of time passing, of Jim and Lanie returning, Ryan and Esposito’s departure, and finally Martha’s taking of food requests.
“Do you want anything, Richard?” she asks. There’s both sympathy and pity present in her blue eyes.
“No, thank you, Mother. I’m fine,” he says listlessly. She frowns slightly before trotting off to the vending machines, gaudy handbag dangling from one arm.
“Are you okay, Dad?” Alexis asks. As he looks down at his beautiful daughter, he can’t bear to lie to her.
“I don’t know, Alexis.” She seems to accept this answer and it strikes him that she’s much older, much more mature than he gives her credit for. He misses his little girl. “After Gram gets back, you should go home with her.”
Alexis pulls away in shock, hand on his chest. Indignation flares in her eyes. “What? No, Dad, I’m not leaving you!”
“Yes, you are.” His voice is half-pained, half-emotionless. He wants to remove her from this awful situation. “You have school tomorrow.” He doesn’t realize that no matter where she is physically located, her heart and thoughts will be here with him and Kate.
“I don’t care; I don’t—”
“There’s nothing you can do here. Go home, go to school for the last week. I’ll call you if anything changes.”
“Dad…” she says, crushed, but there’s no arguing with him when he’s in this state. When his mother returns, he gives her the same instructions. Martha’s not happy about it, but she obeys.
With Martha and Alexis gone, Castle leans heavily on the arm of his chair. Now that someone has already left, Esposito and Ryan get up to go as well, saying that they’ll head back to the cemetery to check up on the crime scene before calling it a night.
“I’ll come,” Lanie says. A sense of purpose has been added to her demeanor. “I can help CSU analyze any clues the sniper might’ve left.” Esposito nods his assent and the three take off.
Now it’s just Jim left for company. Though neither of them says a word, they move together into the observation room to sit instead of the lobby. He doesn’t know how long they sit there, keeping watch over her, before Jim speaks.
“When she was little…” Jim’s eyes are closed, words hesitant. “When she was little, Katie used to be afraid of needles. She said they’d accidentally puncture all the way through her arm and leave a hole there. I remember when she was five we had to take her in for a tetanus shot before kindergarten. I held her hand the whole time and told her a story about a unicorn that grew wings and flew to the moon.” Castle’s spirits lift, just a tiny bit. “Now when I see her with all those tubes attached to her, I wonder if she ever got over that fear, or she just hid it deep down inside. I wonder if she was scared when they put them in.”
Castle considers what to say for a moment. “I’ve caught killers alongside Kate for three years. She’s nearly fearless.”
Jim laughs a hollow laugh. “Not by a long shot, Rick. Not by a long shot.”