Cough, Cough

Kate can’t help but notice how Castle breathes a sigh of relief when he opens the door and sees her there, back at his loft safe and sound. Apparently her going off on her own—even on her own accompanied by a federal agent—makes him more nervous than he’s admitted.

“How was it?” Castle asks curiously.

“Good, talking with her was nice,” Kate tries to smile but is interrupted by a massive yawn. “Alexis here?”

“No, when I got here I found a note on the table. Ice cream sundaes with Ashley.” She steps past the threshold into the loft as he continues. “You just missed my mother by a few minutes,” he informs her. “Apparently she has a new boyfriend, which is why she hasn’t been around much. Gary Bertlam. If you had access to the precinct I’d ask you to run him through a background check.”

“Have Ryan do it,” Kate suggests, hanging her coat on the rack. It had been nice in the wee hours of the morning, but by the time the case was done it was sweltering.

“Nah, no need. Ever since her previous husband absconded with all of her savings, she’s been pretty careful about that herself.”

Kate heads for the bedroom. “Are you going to nap with me?” she asks, kicking her shoes off and running a hand through her hair.

“No, I actually slept last night,” Castle replies cheekily.

She rolls her eyes. “Okay, then, what are you doing in the bed?”

He holds up a tablet and headphones from under the covers. “I’m gonna watch a movie,” he says like it’s the most obvious answer in the world.

“Castle, I’m just taking a nap. It’s broad daylight; I’ll be fine. Go watch it using your big screen and subwoofer and surround sound.”

“You sure?”

Yes. Besides, it’s summer and kinda hot to be sleeping together during the day.” He looks at her and she bites her own tongue. “Just…go watch your movie.”

When she wakes, it's not because she's refreshed and rejuvenated, but more because it's too hot in the bedroom. She sits up with a yawn, noting the closed door to keep out the sound and the slight reverberations she can still hear through it. Kate zombie-shuffles to the door and out into the living room to see Castle and Alexis sitting on the couch together, mesmerized by the glowing screen. Though she doesn't turn to look, she can hear something explode behind her.

"Hey," her partner greets her. He holds out a big bowl. "Popcorn?"

"No thanks," she says, taking a seat next to him on the other side of the couch. She analyzes the movie for a few seconds, then asks, "Why are you watching Thor?"

"Alexis and I want to see Captain America the day it comes out," Castle explains. "We're rewatching the rest of them as well in preparation for The Avengers next year."

"I've promised to come home from college to see it with him," Alexis adds, eyes sparkling. "You wanna come?"

Kate smiles. "Sure, if I don't have a case. I would love to."

Alexis grins, returning her attention to the movie, and Kate settles down to watch the last twenty minutes with them. Something brushes against her and she flinches automatically before realizing it’s just Castle tracing his thumb across the back of her hand. When it’s not unexpected, it’s comforting, actually.

When the movie’s over, Castle whips up pasta and Alexis bakes brownies. Kate offers to help but is quickly denied by them both, leaving a slightly bitter taste in her mouth. Instead she settles for distributing the plates and forks and keeping them company as they cook. She asks Alexis about college, and their conversation about Stanford keeps them going all the way to dessert, brownies à la mode. They’re putting the silverware in the dishwasher when the door handle clicks and Martha announces her arrival. “Richard, I’m home!”

“Not staying out all night tonight, Mother, I see,” Castle says, giving Kate an amused look.

Martha takes in the entire loft in one sweeping glance and then approaches Kate, who’s standing awkwardly at the sink. “Hello, Martha,” she greets her.

“Katherine, it’s a delight to see you up and about,” the older woman gushes. “It’s our pleasure to have you stay here, so don’t you worry about a thing!”

“Thanks, Martha,” Kate smiles, for once in her life a little bit shy around her.

“Well, I’m beat,” the older woman declares. “Alexis, don’t forget I’m taking you shopping tomorrow, no?”

“I remember,” Alexis grins. Martha pats her head before leaping up the staircase, heels clacking on the wood. Kate tries unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn, which Castle picks up on automatically.

“Bed?” he asks. It’s more of a suggestion, but a welcome one. She nods. “Okay, I’ll be there in a second. Just gotta finish wiping down this pan.”

“’kay. Goodnight, Alexis.”

“Goodnight, Kate!” Alexis replies cheerily. Kate walks to the bedroom, shutting the door behind her and flicking on the light. It’s marginally cooler in here than before, but needless to say she won’t be cuddling up in Castle’s warmth tonight. After washing her face and scrubbing her teeth with a toothbrush, she dresses in her sleepwear and sits on the bed to wait for him.

It occurs to her how much she likes this room. The spaciousness of it, as well as the way she can see everything from her spot leaning up against the headboard. Nobody could hide from her in this room, not even under the bed—Castle’s got so much stuff under there, a mouse wouldn’t even be able to crawl around inside. It makes her feel safe, perched there surveying it all without having to wonder whether someone with a gun could be hiding in some nook or cranny. And then remind herself that she’s safe here. And still not quite believe her own words.

No, it’s much better this way.

There’s a clatter from the kitchen, and the sudden sound makes her jump, her heart pound, her muscles clench. For a moment the bedroom is sucked away, replaced with a vivid, vibrant cemetery. The greens are extra green, the tombstones too bright of a white to look out without scorching her corneas, the stripes of the flag so red they could be dripping blood, and the sniper’s gun black as an abyss.

“This isn’t real,” she whispers to herself, but it seems very real. Very, very real. There’s a crack like a gunshot—no, it is a gunshot—and a piercing, digging pain in her chest. His words come rushing back into her mind amid the agony—“Kate, I love you. I love you, Kate.”

With a shudder, she returns to the bedroom to find the bedspread clenched in her hands. She frustratedly wipes the salt water off her cheeks with two swipes of the back of her hands and forces herself to concentrate on something else. Castle. Why isn’t he here yet? Kate pushes herself off the bed and towards the door, stopping a few inches away. She can hear low, distressed voices outside. Against her better judgment, she twists the door handle slowly, quietly, and opens it a crack. “I just don’t trust—” Alexis is saying.

“It’s not about trust, Alexis. There’s always a risk when we let anyone into our lives.” Castle. Kate frowns slightly. She knows she shouldn’t be listening, that it’s a private conversation, but she’s already hooked. “She’s can’t just be alone. She needs this. And we should respect that. So don’t say anything to her unless there’s a real reason, okay, Alexis?” A cold pit is opening in her stomach.

“Yeah, Dad, okay,” Alexis agrees, but Kate can hear the reluctance in her voice as plain as day. They’re not…they’re not talking about her, are they? She would have fallen through the doorway as Castle yanked open the door had he not caught her on the other side. She clutches at his arm to regain her footing, heart thumping wildly.

“Kate! What are you doing?” he asks, perplexed.

“I—I was just coming to check on you,” she says, hoping her almost-face-plant will explain her stutter at the beginning of that sentence.

“You okay?” he asks worriedly, hands on her shoulders to steady her.

“Yeah,” she says, turning away and pulling him gently inside. “What was that about?”

“I broke a dish,” he replies.

“No, not that. You and Alexis…” Kate trails off.

He sighs. “Oh, you heard that?”

Kate nods, not daring to meet his blue eyes. “Was it…was it about me?”

There’s a deafening pause, during which Kate keeps her eyes trained directly downward. His bedspread has ever been so interesting before. “No,” Castle says forcefully, surprise evident in his voice. She looks up. “That’s what you thought? Oh, no, Kate—it wasn’t about you at all.”

“Sorry, I just thought…I mean, from what I heard…” Kate feels slightly embarrassed about her jump to conclusions.

Castle sighs, sitting down on the bed next to her. “How much did you hear?”

“Just the last bit. Something about inviting new people in always being a risk and you telling Alexis not to say anything.”

“We weren’t talking about you, Kate,” Castle promises. She dips her head; she understands that now. “We were…we were talking about Gary.”

“Martha’s new boyfriend?” It’s Kate’s turn to be surprised.

“That’s the one. Alexis is worried he’s just using her.”

“How so?” Kate asks. “If you…don’t mind me asking.”

“No, it’s okay, Kate. While you’re living here, we’re treating you like family. I can see you becoming family someday. Don’t be afraid to ask those questions.” Kate pretends his casual mention of her ‘becoming family’ doesn’t send a spear of claustrophobic panic as well as a joyful excitement shooting through her. There’ll be time to sort through those confused emotions later. So instead she just nods, and gifts him a hint of a smile. Castle takes a deep breath. “Gary is a big World War II aficionado. You know, knows all the facts by heart—well, not all of them, no one can know them all, but you know what I mean—and apparently he wrote this screenplay set on D-Day, and she wants me to critique it.”

“So Alexis is worried he’s only using her to get to you.”

“Well, in all honesty, I am too. But we can’t say anything—”

“—without upsetting her,” Kate finishes for him. “What’re you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” he sighs. “I guess I’ll sleep on it.” He pulls back the covers to the bed and she climbs under them. “You going to be able to sleep tonight after your siesta this afternoon?”

“Wasn’t that long,” Kate replies. “It was too hot.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry about the temperature,” Castle says. “Alexis is really into being green, so minimal air conditioning most days. I’ll adjust it tomorrow because, you’re right, it’s borderline uncomfortable.”

She hums her thanks, snuggling under the covers and shutting her eyes to try to fall asleep before it gets too hot. “Night.”

Despite being in bed with Kate, Castle’s dreams are far from peaceful that night. Not for the first time since her shooting, he’s back in that hangar. Only this time’s different. It’s like he’s watching events unfold from a distance, outside of his body, powerless to change any of them. “And now they're coming,” Montgomery says to Kate, voice full of conviction and bitter regret. “I need you to leave. They are coming to kill you, and I'm not gonna let them. I'm gonna end this.”

“I'm not going anywhere, sir,” Kate answers back forcefully.

“Yes, you are. Castle! Get her out of here.” Castle can see himself do a double-take, and then realize exactly why Montgomery brought him here. “Don't argue. That's why I called you. Get her out of here, now!” Montgomery shouts.

Kate’s begging him, the tears making their initial appearance. “Captain, please, just listen to me. You don't have to do this.”

His own hushed word, “Kate.”

But she pays no attention to him, only to her captain in that panicked, pleading voice. One he never wants to hear again, because hearing her so helpless and distraught tears at his heartstrings like nothing else.

“No. Please, no. Sir. I forgive you. I forgive you.”

“This is my spot, Kate,” Montgomery tells her, unwavering in his resolve. “This is where I stand.”

“No. No!”

“Castle,” Montgomery says. Something passes between their old captain and the other-Castle—trust, understanding, a promise. A promise to take her out of this hangar, a promise to never let her burn herself out again. A promise to do his best to protect her, now that Montgomery will be gone.

“No…no. Sir, please. Listen to me. You don't have to do this,” she’s still pleading, willing to say anything and do anything to stop him from sacrificing himself. She can’t stand to lose him, no matter what his role in her mother’s death was; he can see it in her eyes.

“Castle, get her out of here now!” Montgomery’s shout is accompanied by the headlights of a black car pulling into the hangar.

“You don't have to. Please, sir.”

“Kate,” the other-Castle warns before scooping her up under the arms, lifting and carrying her towards the side exit. She’s nearly screaming bloody murder, but he doesn’t let her go no matter how many times her feet connect with his shins or ankles. “Plea—no! God, Castle, let me go! No! Let go! PLEASE! NO!” He doesn’t release her until he’s pressed her up against a car out back, using his bulk to immobilize her, to keep her in place. His hand covers her mouth, trying to silence her as gunshots ring out from the hangar.

He’s speaking to her throughout the ordeal, but in truth he doesn’t believe what he’s saying. In fact, he hates himself in that moment for saying it. “Shh! Shh! Please don't. Everything's okay. Everything's all right.” In that brief second where she touches his face, he wakes with a jolt from the dream, still wondering whether that was an “I forgive you” or a precursor to slapping him. He’s never told her how close he was that night to letting her go, to running back into that hangar with her to try to rescue Montgomery—to hell with the consequences. He realizes he never told her how sorry he is for the events of that day.

Castle looks over at her sleeping form, and then at the clock. It’s almost noon already? This must be the record for the longest sleep Kate Beckett’s ever had in her life. But she’s too peaceful there for him to even consider waking her up, so he slips out of bed to make breakfast. He needs to get up, walk around. Find a distraction. Get that hangar out of his head.

After about half an hour of flipping pancakes, cutting fruit, and scrambling eggs, he returns to the bedroom to find her still fast asleep. He reaches down to touch her arm and wake her up, and it’s when his fingers first brush her skin that he realizes she’s radiating heat. Too much heat to be normal. He hurriedly sets the tray of food down on his side of the bed and gently puts a hand to her forehead. She’s burning up, and now that he’s looking for it he can see the flushed look to her cheeks like Alexis gets when she’s contracted a nastier-than-usual flu.

“Kate,” he says, jostling her arm. “Kate!” For a minute she doesn’t stir and he’s afraid she won’t come back to consciousness. For a minute he’s back in that hospital observation room, standing next to Jim and praying to whatever deity is listening that she just open her eyes.

Then, finally, she does, and it’s like the world starts moving again. “Castle?” she asks, but it’s more of a croak. “Wha’time is it?”

“Late, Kate; how do you feel?” He’s all concern right now, nearly slurring his words together in his effort to get them out.

“Uh,” is all she can manage in one huff before the coughing fit takes over, and Castle places one hand on her shoulder in a futile attempt to calm the spasms that rock her body. With his other he sweeps the stifling bedcovers off of her, not realizing until it’s already done just how much creamy skin that would reveal. Because of the heat, all she’s wearing is one overly large, long T-shirt that drapes off one shoulder and stops around where those ridiculously undersized shorts teenage girls wear do. To his credit, he rips his eyes away from her long, slender legs to focus on her eyes, which are squeezed shut with the effort of coughing. When the episode ends, she makes out, “Hurts,” with a gesture that encompasses her entire chest area.

Thoughts and worries fill a cyclone inside his head, and he’s running a marathon chasing them all down and weighing them for merit. She’s started coughing again. Where did she get it? No, not important. What is it? Again, not right now. Her scars. The thought hits him like a splash of icy water. Could the coughing damage the still healing wounds on her chest and abdomen?

“The hospital has a call center with an advice nurse, right?” he asks. “Yes, they do, I have their number around here somewhere.” He knows he’s talking more to himself than to Kate, as she’s currently incapable of answering. He’s thinking—panicking—out loud. “Or maybe we should contact your surgeon? No, if we need to do that they’ll connect us through the call center. Number…number…number.” He practically sprints out of the room, banging into the doorframe of his office instead of going through it, and finally getting his hands on the notebook with all the important numbers on it. 911…poison control…hospital, there we go. He dials them up before he’s even back at Kate’s side.

To his chagrin, the call center almost immediately puts them on hold after a calm female voice informs him that for emergencies, he should go directly to the emergency room. Should they?

“Try not to cough,” he says, holding the phone up to his ear as ‘on hold’ music plays.

“Yeah, not really under my control,” she croaks. Another fit overtakes her, and when this one finally ends, her hand unexpectedly wraps around his wrist in a vice-like grip. “Please don’t take me back there, Castle…please don’t.” She’s begging him, and as he’s never seen Kate Beckett beg for anything besides Montgomery’s life he concludes she may even be delirious. He’s too panicked to consider why she may fear the hospital, or why she may not want to go back there with its invasive IV tubing, claustrophobic, sterile white rooms, and the utterly helpless feeling that overtakes everyone who lies in a bed there. He’s just torn between scooping her up in his arms, setting her in the passenger seat, and driving to the hospital or hoping that this infernal music in his ear will end soon so that a real professional can take control, can tell him what to do.

She must still have some semblance of consciousness, though, because she releases him as the advice nurse finally comes on the other end. “Hello, I’m Nurse May. Please describe your situation?”

“It’s one of your patients, Katherine Beckett,” Castle replies quickly. “She just had surgery a month ago for a bullet wound, but—”

“Hold on, I’m pulling her file up now,” the nurse says. He’s momentarily distracted by Kate’s fingers drumming against his wrist, and he looks down to see she’s pulled her shirt up past her stomach. There’s red seeping through her bandages.

Castle immediately severs his connection with the nurse. “I’m calling an ambulance,” he tells her.

“No!” she hisses. Every breath is costing her; she shouldn’t be talking. “Please no ambulance, Castle. I nearly—” She doesn’t manage to complete her sentence but he knows her meaning anyway. And staring down at her, frail and sick as she is, he doesn’t have the heart to dial the second 1. He gently slips one arm under her chest and the other under her thighs, lifting her up from the bed that feels like it might burst into flames at any moment. He carries her like that out to the car, cradling her to his body. Somewhere along the way her eyes close again, and her forehead is pressed limply against the passenger side window as he peels away from the curb.

He doesn’t even have to say anything to the people working the emergency room, the sight of her sagging against him in this state is enough for them to run for a stretcher, which he quickly unloads her onto. They whisk her away on greased wheels with him running along behind, thinking grimly that he’s done this once before.

And that time, the last time she was here, Kate Beckett died.

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