Disclaimer: All Castle characters are the property of Andrew Marlowe and ABC.

Castle buried his face in his hands, blocking out the too-bright light shining from fluorescent bulbs and the too-clean smell of disinfectants.

He couldn't quite remember how he'd gotten here. His mother maybe, or one of the boys, he figured. Someone still here in the waiting room had seen that he simply couldn't manage. He couldn't drive safely, not now, and they hadn't wanted yet another casualty of this horrible day.

Someone had cleaned him up, too. Lanie perhaps? He knew at some point Kate's blood had been on his hands, on his black shirt and suit jacket. His hands were pink now and smelled faintly of lemon, the shirt he wore a loose blue scrub top.

He could hear quiet voices around him, the soft hiss of his mother shushing his daughter, the gentle timbre of Esposito talking to Ryan (apologizing for something?), the thin whispers of a frantic father's prayer.

He had never been religious, never been a praying man. He respected those with faith in a higher power but couldn't find room for it in his own life. He had read the Bible but treated it like an epic piece of literature, stories with good morals and lessons to live by, but nothing more.

Now, though, he wished a priest was there to speak words of comfort, to intercede on their behalf, on Kate's behalf, on his behalf. He knew that Ryan and Esposito had both grown up Catholic but that neither one really practiced much of anything now. He was sure the hospital had a chaplain, but he didn't know how to ask, didn't want to seem as desperate as he really was.

So he sat, face in his hands, waiting. Waiting for a doctor to come and give them a report, waiting to feel his heart leap with hope or joy or fall in desolate defeat. He was impatient, addicted to the instant gratification that came from living in a digital age and having enough money to get anything he wanted.

Money couldn't make a difference now. It hadn't been enough to keep her safe, to keep her from getting shot, to keep her blood inside her body where it belonged. What use was all his money if it couldn't help him hold onto one of the two things in his world that made life worth living?

A hand landed on his shoulder and he startled, nearly shooting out of his seat. Was there news?

But no, it wasn't a doctor. It was Jim Beckett.

Jim Beckett, who upon their first meeting had begged him to talk her down, to pull her away from the ledge, to keep her safe. Jim Beckett, who had already lost his wife and who had nearly lost his daughter while he drowned in the bottle. Jim Beckett, who looked like he had aged twenty years in the past few days, not to mention the past few hours.

Castle was suddenly overcome with shame as he saw the compassion in the older man's eyes. Who was he to sit here and wallow, especially next to this man who had been through so much? He should be the strong one, the one who held the others together with his easy smile and his ability to find light in the darkest of circumstances.

"Thank you, Rick," Mr. Beckett said quietly, squeezing the writer's shoulder with a firm grip.

To say Castle was mystified would be an understatement. He couldn't understand why he should deserve gratitude when he'd done nothing right. He hadn't been able to talk her into walking away. He hadn't been able to act quickly enough to knock her out of harm's way.

"For what?" he choked out.

"For standing with my daughter. For taking her in when her apartment blew up. For making her laugh. For giving her something to talk about when we met for dinner. You have no idea how many stories she's told me about you."

Castle let out a sound that was half laugh, half sob.

"For saving her life so many times, in ways more than you know."

The dam broke then, and the tears he'd been holding in burst forth.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, sir..."

He knew his words were getting jumbled and muffled by his tears, but he couldn't stop the torrent of either. The grip on his shoulder tightened then released as Jim Beckett guided the writer's head to his shoulder, rubbing small circles into his upper back as he sobbed.

Richard Castle had been comforted by his mother many times, even his daughter a few times. But he had never known a father's deep voice, murmuring assurances into his ear.

"It's okay, son, it's okay. Just get it out, get it all out now so that when my Katie comes to, you can make her smile again."

Slowly, the body-wracking sobs turned to clogged hiccups, then to sniffles. Jim Beckett let his hands drop back to the armrests of the chairs that held them up, and finally Castle straightened his back, lifting his fists to rub at his eyes, looking simultaneously much older and much younger than his forty years.

When he had calmed more and only reddened eyes and tear-stained cheeks served as a reminder of his breakdown, he turned to look at his partner's father. He was reminded of the first case he'd worked with Kate Beckett, of Jonathan Tisdale, grieving at the loss of his daughter and struggling with his own mortality.

Jim looked tired, exhausted really, and though he didn't have the sick look about him that Tisdale had, Castle could tell he was stretched too thin, had been for a long time. Too many nights worrying about his daughter, defender of the people and voice for the silenced.

He was shaken from his thoughts and worry by the older man's voice.

"Did you know that she called me after that first case? She said she had been so excited to meet you but you were an arrogant wise-ass who couldn't take anything seriously."

Castle dropped his head. He knew he had changed in their years working together, but it still hurt to remember the man he'd been before.

"She was so frustrated when the mayor forced her to let you follow her around. She ranted and raved for about half an hour, before I reminded her that somewhere in there had to be the man whose words had enthralled her, had given her a small measure of peace and justice through his stories."

Castle looked up, surprised, but Jim continued.

"She rolled her eyes at me."

A hint of a smile appeared on the writer's face.

"Eventually though, the stories she told changed. Instead of 'Castle almost got himself killed today,' she would say 'Castle thought of such and such and it ended up being the key to the case."

"I'm surprised she would admit such a thing," Castle said, taking in Mr. Beckett's look. "Usually she rolls her eyes at me too."

"I remember sitting down with her at the diner after Dick Coonan. She said you put up a hundred thousand dollars to track down that Rathborne?"

Castle nodded. Jim shook his head.

"I think that's when she started to see you as more than this annoying writer who shadowed her. She couldn't believe you'd done that."

"I'd give up everything I own if it meant giving her justice, giving her closure," Castle whispered, meeting Jim's gaze, which softened toward him.

"I know you would, son," he said, clapping a hand on the writer's shoulder and looking him straight in the eyes. "From what I've seen, you'd give up a lot more than everything you own if it meant giving my daughter what she needed."

Castle felt himself blush under the man's scrutiny, but he didn't utter a word. Not a denial. Not a justification. Nothing.

"Just remember you have your own daughter, and she needs you. Kate would hate herself if Alexis had to go through the same thing she did. Don't make either one of them bear that burden."

"Yes, sir," Castle whispered, nodding.

Jim turned and looked across the room at where Castle's mother and daughter sat, watching them with wary and worried eyes. The writer hadn't realized it before, but until his partner's father had come to him, the others had left him by himself, sensing his need to be alone with his thoughts.

Upon seeing her father's eyes on her, Alexis stood and crossed the room quickly, not waiting for an invitation before she settled herself on his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck, and pressing her face into his shoulder.

He allowed himself to hold her, to draw peace from her closeness and to comfort her at the same time with soft promises and a warm hand stroking across her fiery hair and down her back.

He watched as a flash of something like regret crossed the older man's face before he gave a somber smile.

"As for now, we wait."

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