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

Author's note: Well, this one just wrote itself, so I figured I'd go ahead and post it.

The walk through the hospital corridors was silent, marred only by the soft squeak of the surgeon's sneakers and the sharp tattoo of the shiny dress shoes worn by the father and the partner.

Josh ushered them into the ICU and to a hand-washing station before stopping them at a door.

"She...doesn't look like herself right now," he said hesitantly. "She's heavily medicated and has a lot of tubes and wires connected to her body. I just wanted to warn you. It can be kind of shocking for some people."

When Jim replied, his voice was rough.

"As long as she's alive, I don't think either one of us cares what she looks like."

Josh nodded sympathetically. Castle steeled himself for the worst, knowing that in reality, the worst he could have imagined was already an unfulfilled possibility. She was alive, and that's all that mattered.

The surgeon entered, holding the door open for the other two before shutting it carefully behind him.

He was right, she didn't look like herself. She was pale as a ghost and looked tiny in the loose hospital gown with what seemed to Castle to be dozens of wires and tubes leading to various machines.

Her hair was still in the bun she'd been wearing for the funeral, though much of it had come out, making her look like a ragamuffin, a weary street-dweller. She didn't look at all like the tough detective and strong woman he knew her to be.

Josh stood at the foot of the bed, picking up her chart and flipping through it slowly. Jim made his way to stand near her head, not touching her, just staring at her ashen face. Castle stood back. He was inside the room, but he felt apart from it all, as though he didn't belong and had no place here.

Josh glanced up at Jim whose hand was hovering near his daughter's face.

"You can touch her, sir," he said quietly. "Just mind the tubes and wires."

Kate's father allowed his hand to glide across her cheeks, brushing the hair away from her face and smoothing it against her head. He dropped to the now looser band that had held her bun in place, gently removing it and combing his fingers slowly through her dark locks to arrange them against the stark white of the hospital pillow.

That task finished, the older man looked around for a moment. Castle, anticipating his need, acted quickly and set a chair just behind him. Jim gave him a grateful smile and settled in, reaching for Kate's right hand and caressing it with his thumb.

Castle sat in another chair against the wall, observing the scene. He had no true claim on her. He wasn't her father or her boyfriend or even technically her partner. He was her shadow, her tagalong, and to be honest, after their fight earlier this week, he wasn't even sure he was that. They hadn't talked yet, not about anything more than the case or Roy or the funeral. And while he hoped that she would take him back once she was on her feet again, he had no way of knowing for sure that the two of them were okay. There had been that look she had given him at the funeral, the look that implied she wanted him to be the one who would stand with her. But in the case of Detective Katherine Beckett, he knew it unwise to assume.

Josh's voice broke into his thoughts.

"I hate to do this, but I've got to go out for a bit," he said haltingly. "I was supposed to leave on Saturday for Japan, but I'm not going to go, not now. However, I do need to let them know that they'll have to find someone else. I'll be back as soon as I can."

He looked to Jim and then to Castle, and pointed to a small device on the side of the bed.

"They're monitoring her vitals, but if she needs anything or either of you notice anything wrong, hit the call button. I'll let the ICU staff know that you're here."

The two other men nodded their acknowledgment and thanks. Josh turned away, but as he placed his hand on the doorknob, he pivoted back.

"Castle, could I have a word?"

The writer was surprised, but stood and followed him outside, waiting.

"Look, I haven't seen Kate much this week. I had to work a ton, and she said she was busy too, so I don't really know what all has gone on."

"Josh, I don't know how much I..." He was cut off when the other man raised a hand to stop him.

"No, I understand. She doesn't tell me everything about her job, and I don't tell her everything about mine."

Castle was relieved. He didn't want to reveal more than Kate would want him to say.

"From what she has told me though, and from what I saw a couple months ago with the freezer, I know you've got her back."

Castle nodded solemnly.

"So what I'm saying is that even though you don't have a badge, you're as good as her partner, and I know she values your friendship."

Castle felt his eyes welling up again, but fought back the tears, determined not to break down in front of the other man.

"I know you're probably feeling pretty helpless right now and wishing you could have done something more to help her."

Castle nodded. It was all too true. He felt utterly useless.

"So I've got a job for you," Josh said, as Castle lifted an eyebrow.

"I'll be here as much as I can, but could you make sure that someone stays with her all the time?"

He paused, but Castle stayed silent, sensing that the doctor had more to say.

"It's just... when I was in college, I got in a bad bike accident. It's actually the reason I became a doctor. And even though I found out later that my parents were around nearly all the time, I happened to wake up during one of the few brief periods when they weren't there. I was absolutely terrified. It's bad enough to wake up in a hospital in horrible pain. It's ten times worse to wake up alone."

Castle looked stricken for a moment, but found his voice.

"I'll stay."

Josh searched his eyes.

"I just don't want her to go through that. I want her to see at least one familiar face when she comes to."

"I don't know about her dad, but the others will have to go back to work. My mother has other responsibilities and my daughter has school. I know everyone will visit, but they can't be here all the time. But I can have someone bring my laptop and I can work from here. I won't let her wake up alone."

His voice had gained strength as he spoke, and Josh appeared to have found what he was looking for in the author's firm gaze.

"Good," he said, reaching out to shake Castle's hand. "Thank you. I'll be back when I can. On my way out I'll let the others know where she is and that you'll be staying here."

He headed off down the hall, and Castle pushed open the door to the room once more, finding Jim still watching his daughter, gently stroking her arm and softly humming a tune that the writer couldn't quite place.

"Pull up a chair, Rick," he commanded gently.

Castle made haste to pick up his chair from where it rested against the wall and moved around to the detective's other side.

He didn't know what to do, but Jim was looking at him expectantly, so he took her hand, careful to avoid the IV line, and unfurled her fingers, softly running his thumb over her knuckles.

"He wanted to make sure someone would be here when she wakes up," he said quietly.

Jim arched an eyebrow at him.

"I know you'll be here as much as possible, but I wasn't sure if you had a job or a dog or anything that would take you away. The others have work or school, and I know they'll be here when they can, but if you do need to go anywhere, I can stay. She sort of is my job, and if someone will bring my laptop, I can just write from here."

Her father nodded.

"Sounds good. I'll stay as long as I can, and I'll take a couple days off, but in any case, she should have someone here all the time, even after she's woken up."

The two lapsed into silence then, both gazing at the woman they loved. A few minutes later, Castle's phone buzzed in his pocket. It was a text from Lanie.

Gonna head home now and come back in the morning. Josh said she probably wouldn't wake up until then anyway. Call if anything changes.

He fired off a quick reply, assuring her that he would keep her updated and asking her to have Javier check on Martha and Alexis.

Her reply was immediate.

Will do. Take care of our girl.

He slipped his phone back into his pocket.

"Lanie," he said by way of explanation to Jim. "She said they're all headed home but will be back in the morning, or sooner if anything changes."

"I'm glad she has such good friends," Jim commented. "I've always worried about the way she throws herself into her work. Even when she was a little girl, she would get involved in something and forget to eat."

He smiled, a genuine smile that didn't seem forced this time.

"I hear you keep her well supplied with coffee, bear claws and takeout."

Castle released a grin of his own.

"I do," he affirmed. "I think that's the only reason she lets me hang around."


Jim stood then and released her hand after a quick squeeze.

"If you'll keep an eye on her for a few minutes, I'm gonna run to the restroom."

Castle nodded, and watched him walk toward the door, catching his eye as he stepped out.

"Talk to her, Rick, let her know you're here."

Silence descended on the room with the soft click of the door in the latch.

He stared at her face, beautiful to him even in her weakest moment. He longed to see her eyes flutter open, to hear her tell him how creepy it was to watch her sleep. But she stayed under, so he began to speak.

"You know," he said softly. "I used to make up stories for Alexis when she was younger. Yeah, she heard all the classics too, but when I'd read all of those, I started telling her some of my own. Would you like to hear one?"

His voice was low and deep as he began to weave a tale of a beautiful princess with green eyes, both the fairest and the fiercest in the land. He told her about the princess who didn't stay locked up in her tower all day but rode out to battle evil sorcerers and slay dragons.

His words hitched in his throat when he began the part about the lowly bard who fell in love with her, the bard who feared she'd never love him, not when she had knights and healers seeking her hand. But she allowed him to travel with her on her journeys, and the bard had vowed, he said, to keep her safe.

He wasn't very good at it sometimes, and a day came when a particularly powerful dragon had wounded her, leaving her half-dead and the bard powerless to heal her. But the bard would stay by her side, he promised, always.

Castle paused in his narration, so wrapped up in the story that he didn't realize Jim had reentered the room and now stood by the door.

"Your stories brought her back to life once," he said, nearly startling Castle out of his chair. "Keep it up. Maybe they'll do it again."

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