The Return (Part 1)

Castle’s mind is in a state of panic as he follows them through the maze of hallways until one of the men in scrubs turns around and places a hand on his chest, effectively stopping him short. Kate disappears around a corner, and it’s all Castle can do not to just bowl the man over and keep going. He fixes on the man’s eyes, trying to calm himself. Panicking won’t do any good.

“Sir, it would be better if you waited outside,” the man told him. “We need to assess her condition, maybe you can help with that. What’s her name, and has she had any medical procedures recently?”

“No, you don’t understand, she was a patient here a month ago,” Castle says, voice a note higher than usual. “Her name is Kate Beckett; she’s in your system. She had surgery to remove a bullet that nicked her heart, and she was in a coma for hours—there’s blood seeping through right now—!”

The male nurse cuts him off right there, having heard enough. “Okay, follow me.” The man jogs after the gurney, calling to his colleagues. “I need the patient moved to a private room in the main sector and a file for Beckett, Kate pulled up, stat! I want her surgeon contacted and en route and I want her stabilized before he arrives.” The three people pushing the gurney nod and take a sharp swerve into the large elevator, but he and the nurse are forced to wait for the next one over to arrive. “My name is Earl Bates, and you can call me Earl because everybody does. Ms. Beckett is in good hands, I assure you, and we’re doing everything we can to get her situated. It would help, though, if you could answer some questions. Do you think you can do that?”

“Yeah, yeah, anything,” Castle breathes, mind whirling as they step inside the metal box.

“Okay. Do you remember the name of her surgeon?”

“Yes, Dr. Kovaks,” Castle supplies readily, anxious for the next query before the answer’s even left his mouth. Anything he can do to help. Anything he can do that will distract from the mounting fear in his heart, anything that will make this feeling of inadequacy go away.

“All right, I’ll page him,” Earl says. The elevator dings and the doors slide open to reveal another hallway with white-washed walls that looks eerily similar to the first.

“Earl, Katherine Beckett is in room 741 and I’m sending her file to the station there now,” a nurse reels off from a computer terminal to their right.

“Good. Contact Dr. Kovaks; he was her surgeon.”

“Doing it.”

Earl leads him down the hallway and through several left turns before arriving at a room marked 741 with a small blue placard. The shades on the window looking inside are drawn, leaving it up to Castle’s overactive imagination about what’s going on inside. “I have to get in there,” Earl tells him. “Lynette will come ask you a few more questions in a second, but we need you calm and out of the way so we can do our jobs. We’ll inform you as soon as we know something, okay?”

“Okay,” Castle barely says before the man rushes into the room in a blur of periwinkle hospital scrubs. There’s a chair a few feet away and Castle sinks down into it, exhausted and emotionally spent. Less than a minute later the nurse from before walks up and sits down next to him with a clipboard. “You brought in Miss Beckett today, yes?” she asks. He confirms it with a silent nod. “All right. Your name?”

“Richard Castle.”

She writes that down and then checks it with something underneath the form she’s filling out. “...yes, it looks like you’re on her emergency contact list. Along with a Jim Beckett and a Lanie Parish.”

“I’ll call them once we’re through here,” Castle says. In the chaos, he has to admit he hadn’t given one thought to Jim.

“Okay. What is your relationship with the patient?”

“She’s my…girlfriend. And partner, at the NYPD.”

“Are you currently living together?”

“Yes,” Castle replies.

“That’s good. Can you tell me about her health before this happened?”

“Yeah, she was, um, getting better. Improving, gaining her strength back. But then this morning she slept in really late and was really hot. When I woke her up she started coughing uncontrollably. We tried calling the advice nurse but before we could get off hold she noticed she was starting to bleed through the bandages on her stomach, so I drove her directly here.”

“What about the night before? Any symptoms?”

“She did complain about it being overly hot.”

“So perhaps a fever. Tell me about her eating and sleeping habits.”

“Before her shooting she used to be really bad about both, but afterwards I made sure she ate enough and got enough rest. Except…except for yesterday; yesterday she was up for at least twenty-four hours straight. She couldn’t sleep.”

“Any particular reason why that you can name?”

“We had just returned to the precinct. We were supposed to be meeting up with some friends for lunch, but we accidentally got caught up in a kidnapping case instead. Kate had a flashback and insisted on seeing the case through even though she’s not on duty because she said she wouldn’t feel safe if she didn’t. The man held a gun to a hostage’s head right in front of her when she was all alone, so with her PTSD…”

“Okay, stress and lack of sleep,” the nurse jots it down. “Dr. Kovaks is in surgery right now, but if he doesn’t finish within the hour we’ll contact one of the other surgeons in our department.” An unbidden, yet fervent, hope that Josh Davidson isn’t working today worms its way into his head.

“Okay, thank you,” Castle says, as the nurse stands.

“We’ll tell you when we’ve got her stabilized, or if there’s any change. I’ve got to input this into the computer, but why don’t you make those calls?” she suggests. He acquiesces, taking out his phone and finding Jim Beckett’s number in it. He’ll call Jim, but not Lanie. Not yet. Not until he knows more, not until he can give a definite ‘she’s gonna be okay.’ Castle doesn’t want Lanie rushing over here in tears, because if he sees her like that it’ll be just like the aftermath of Kate’s shooting all over again—especially if she brings Esposito and Ryan with her.

“You’ve reached the voicemail of Jim Beckett. Please leave a message.” Beep.

Great, Castle thinks. There’s a long pause before he can formulate what he wants to say in a voicemail, only having prepared for talking over the phone. That would have been hard enough. “Hi, uh, Jim. It’s me, Rick.” He has to stop there, again, because he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He almost said that Jim should call him back as soon as he gets a chance, but Castle’s phone will be on silent or at the very least vibrate while at the hospital, and wild dogs couldn’t drag him away from her side. He doesn’t want Jim to call, and then he not hear it and not pick up. So, instead, he’s forced to go all in. He tries to say it as un - terrified-out-of-my-mind-for-your-daughter’s-life as possible, but there’s no good way to deliver this news. He also knows if it were Alexis, he’d want the information quickly, and he wouldn’t care how it came. “We’re at the hospital. Again. Kate and I. There was, uh…she had a fever and she started coughing, and I think she must have busted her stomach wounds, because she started bleeding through the bandages. I’ll call you again as soon as I have any new information, but they’re stabilizing her now. We’re in Room 741.” As an afterthought, “Bye.”

The nurses don’t leave him waiting in the dark long, but he sees two of them leave the room and a doctor enter it before Earl comes out to talk to him. “How is she?” Castle demands straight off.

Earl gives him a smile, which Castle takes as a good sign. “We’ve stabilized her and hooked her up to an IV. Dr. Mayer patched up her stomach incisions, and she’s now getting a low dosage of sedative to try to keep the coughing to a minimum. He’s just finishing up inside, if you want more details. You’re free to go in, but no more than one visitor at a time. Maybe two if you’re quiet.” Castle nods his understanding and Earl opens the door for him. He steps inside, immediately locking onto Kate in the bed in the left corner of the small room. Unlike last time, she’s not pale—in fact, she’s at the other end of the spectrum, with flushed cheeks that almost make her look sunburned.

“You must be Mr. Castle,” the doctor says, extending his hand. “I’m Dr. Mayer.”

Castle shakes it. “It’s nice to meet you. How bad is it?”

The doctor gives a half-shrug. “It could have been much worse. Since you got her in here so quickly and we were able to get the coughing under control, the damage done to the incisions just under her ribcage and on her left side were minimal. Simply put, she tore the topmost layer of delicate new skin, and that’s what caused the bleeding. Because it’s not very deep, it won’t take very long to heal.” Castle nods, distracted slightly by the heart rate monitor, which is going at a slightly faster tempo than he would have thought normal.

“What about the fever and coughing? What caused those?”

“We think she was probably exposed to the flu somewhere along the way, and she contracted it,” the doctor says. “Except for the complications of coughing, it would have passed like a normal sickness and been nothing to worry particularly about.”

“We’re together all the time. Am I going to get sick too?” If they’re both out, then they’ll have to find someone else to help out. Change bandages and such.

“Most likely you were exposed at the same time she was, but it’s difficult to tell if you will express any symptoms. You could have an immunity, or be able to fight it off more easily because your body is not healing a bullet wound or running with deficient sleep. It’s also possible that you will get sick, and it’s just taking a longer time for symptoms to manifest.”

Castle nods again. “Is she asleep?”

“Yes, and she should probably stay that way until tomorrow morning. Then we can try dialing back the sedatives and see how she responds, whether the coughing returns as violently.” The doctor taps his clipboard. “I have to go attend to my other patients, but I’ll be back later. For now, just sitting with her won’t be an issue. If you need anything, Lynette will be right outside and she’ll be the one checking in and adjusting things if need be every half hour.”

“Thank you,” Castle says sincerely. The doctor gives him a smile, another handshake, and exits the room. Castle’s eyes alight on a stool in the corner of the room, and he rolls it over next to her bed. He snakes his hand underneath the covers to find hers, covered with tape and tube though it is. He’s careful not to dislodge anything as he slips his hand underneath hers. It’s still unnaturally hot, but he thinks not as much as before. That’s a good sign.

After a little while he tires of just washing her sleep and starts brushing back her hair, adjusting stray locks and smoothing it down, and eventually moves on to caressing her cheeks, her face. Something he wouldn’t dare to do while she’s awake, but asleep... His fingers trace over the ridge of her brow, of her nose, the soft curve of her chin. For a moment he thinks she’s surfacing from the drugs, but she merely shifts in position and doesn’t open her eyes, although they wander under her eyelids. He wonders if she’s dreaming, and if so, what about. Hopefully nothing traumatic.

He nearly jumps when his phone vibrates in his pocket, and his hands retreat back to himself as he pulls it out and answers it. He’s expecting Jim, so the high-pitched shriek of a voice Alexis is using on him makes him jump yet again. His arm bangs into the IV stand and he has to grab it guiltily to make sure it doesn’t fall over. The nurse isn’t in the room right now, luckily.

“Dad! Dad! Are you okay? Where are you? Gram and I got home and you weren’t here, and there’s blood on your sheets! Dad?” Castle mentally kicks himself for not leaving a note, but in his defense they’d been in a hurry to get out of there. He honestly hadn’t noticed that an of the blood had soaked into the bed—time for new sheets, he supposes—but then again, Kate had only showed him the bleeding under her ribcage; who knew how long her side may have been bleeding without either of them noticing.

“Alexis, calm down, we’re okay,” Castle tells her in the most soothing voice he can muster. It helps that his own panic has faded away as he’s sat by Kate’s side, watching her breathe and listening to the steady beeping of the heart monitor. “Kate’s sick, and her coughing busted the wounds on her side open again, so that’s where the blood came from. I drove her to the hospital. I’m sorry I didn’t have time to leave a note.”

“Oh,” he can hear Alexis exhale a sigh of relief, “oh, I’m glad nothing’s seriously wrong. You scared us. A lot.”

“Sorry,” Castle apologizes. “So I’m going to stay here for a while; maybe they’ll let me sleep in a chair here or I might have to play my famous author card for them to let me stay past visiting hours, but either way I won’t be home tonight. She’s under sedation now, but she’ll probably wake up tomorrow morning. Stay home with Gram or go out with Ashley, but don’t worry too much about us, okay?”

“Okay,” she says, and he can hear her smile in her voice.

“I love you, pumpkin.”

“I love you too.”

“Say hi and sorry to Mother for me.”

“Will do. Bye, Dad.” She hangs up, but Castle lingers, fingering the phone for a few seconds longer. He probably should call Lanie, if only to apprise her on the situation. He doesn’t want a repeat of last time at the Old Haunt, where he got a rather unpleasant yelling-at from both Lanie and Esposito for keeping them in the dark so long.

He dials her number and explains what happened, receiving sighs and other breathy, worded exclamations at his story. When she’s up to date, the first question out of her mouth is, “Do you want me to come over there as soon as I get off shift?”

“No, we’re good here, Lanie,” Castle replies. “Tell Esposito and Ryan too, but I’ve called Jim and I’m planning on spending the night here anyway. Thanks for your concern, Lanie.”

“Let us know if either of you need anything,” Lanie says. “I’d hate to think that all of this happened because we wanted to meet for lunch and she got caught up in that case. Javi spent all last night complaining that Karpowski sneezed and coughed all over his desk. We wanted to meet at the precinct; we shoulda known that wasn’t a good idea.”

Castle frowns. “No, don’t blame yourselves. It’s no one’s fault, and there were a lot of factors at play here.”

“I guess you’re right, writer-boy,” she sighs.

“Are you ever going to quit calling me that?”

“And what am I supposed to call you instead, ‘kitten’?”

“Kate told you about that?” The indignation is clear in his voice.

“Kate tells me a lot of things, not the least of which is that. So what’s it gonna be?”

“Writer-boy,” Castle says in a small voice. “Writer-boy is fine.” In his mind’s eye, he can see her rolling her eyes on the other end.

“Night, Castle.”

His conversations with Lanie are always...interesting. Not Perlmutter-interesting—that is to say, insulting—but interesting all the same. She’s stubborn and spunky, and she does whatever she wants to do and doesn’t let anyone else dictate her decisions. He admires her for that, but that same spunkiness leads to undesirable yet unshakeable nicknames. When he and Lanie talk alone, she’s either ribbing him, giving him advice about Beckett, or something awful has happened and they’re commiserating together. Out of those three, he decides the playful ribbing she gives him really isn’t that bad.

When Nurse Lynette returns around nine o’clock, Castle’s only gotten up from his seat once to stretch his legs, and he asks if he can stay the night. She doesn’t even bat an eye, just gives him an extra blanket and checks Kate’s bandages. After she leaves, Castle kisses Kate’s forehead, engulfing himself in the sweet cherry scent that he associates with her. “I love you, Kate,” he whispers. And then the door bursts open, breaking their moment. His moment, she’s still fast asleep. Jim walks quickly inside, face ashen at the sight of Kate in the bed. Castle immediately stands to give Jim the chair, blanket pooling around his ankles. He picks it up from the floor and sets it to the side.

“Hey, Jim,” Castle says.

“How is she?” Her father’s face is pinched, tight with worry.

“She’s going to be fine. They’re going to wake her up tomorrow.”

Jim looks at him seriously. “I’m glad you were there, Rick. If I’d lost her…again…I don’t know what I would have done.”

Castle nods. “Always.” He clears his throat. “I…I love her.”

Jim gives a watery chuckle. “I can tell.”

“I’m gonna go get something to eat,” Castle decides on the fly. “I’ll give you two the room…”

“Thanks, Rick. Sorry I didn’t get your call sooner, I was tangled up in court all day.”

Castle nods, heading for the door. He pauses before opening it. “Jim?”

“Yeah?” The older man looks up from Kate at him expectantly, and Castle swallows hard.

“Do you remember when we were both here last time, in the observation room just after the surgery had been completed?”

“Of course. Can’t get it out of my mind.”

“Well, I said Kate wasn’t scared of anything, and you told me, ‘Not by a long shot.’ I’ve seen what you meant more since then, but… When I was on hold for the advice nurse, she—she grabbed my wrist, looked me in the eyes, and begged me not to take her back here.” Castle pauses. “She was so, so desperate, terrified of coming back to the hospital. Did I…did I do the right thing? I mean, there were probably other options, or…” He trails off.

“You did the right thing, Rick,” Jim assures him. Looking into the man’s eyes, Castle’s relieved to see not a shred of doubt in them. “You saved my daughter’s life. Again. And when Katie wakes up, I am absolutely sure she’ll tell you the same thing herself.”

“Thanks.” Castle looks down at his feet, slightly embarrassed about his insecurity over this.

Jim Beckett walks over and gives him a hug, clapping him on the back. “No, thank you. For everything.”

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