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

Castle stood dumbfounded, watching the doctor's retreating back until he disappeared around a corner. He came back to his senses when he heard Jim clear his throat.

"Rick," the man said, a slight twinkle in his eye. "I think that's your cue."

The writer still didn't move until a moment later, when Mr. Beckett opened the door and shoved the man back inside the room. Castle stumbled, catching himself before he fell, and looked up to witness one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen. Kate was propped up in the bed and smirking at him.

"Have a nice trip, Castle?"

"Why yes, Detective, I did," he said, returning her smile. "But if you think you're getting rid of me until next fall, you've got another thing coming."

Then he was by her side and reaching for her, hesitating for a moment.

"Can I hug you?" he asked, his voice uncertain.

"Probably better if you don't quite yet," she replied with a soft smile. "But come here."

She found his hand that rested close to hers on the blanket, and twined her fingers with his, tugging on them to send the message that he should lean closer to her.

He drew nearer, but left several inches yet between them.

"Dammit, Castle," she growled. "Can't you follow orders for once? Come here."

He was surprised at her tone, but even weak, pale, and in a hospital bed, she exuded authority and he thought it wise to obey. He leaned further until there was no more than three inches between their faces and his eyes were locked on hers.

"Thank you," she whispered, and he struggled to keep his eyes open at the feeling of her breath on his lips.

"For what?"

"For not giving up on me, even when I kicked you to the curb, for saving my life yet again, for standing with me," she paused, and he swore he could see moisture begin to rise in her eyes. "For being here when I woke up."

He squeezed the hand he held and lifted his other to cup her cheek, keeping his eyes open to look into her emerald depths.

"Always," he breathed, and her eyes fluttered shut.

"Promise?" she asked, a child-like note of pleading clear in her strained voice.

"I do," he affirmed and when her eyes opened again, there was something new there, something he couldn't quite name.

"Rick?" she asked hesitantly.

"Mmm?" he answered, surprised at her use of his first name, which usually only showed up when she was being confrontational.

"I remember," she said softly.

"Remember what?" he questioned, equally quiet in tone.

She graced him with a gentle smile that lit up her whole face. Of all the times he had amused her, touched her heart, brought her a small amount of joy, he had never seen this smile.

"What?" he repeated, and he heard in his own voice a measure of awe.

She turned her hand in his, and her thumb stroked across the sensitive skin at the inside of his wrist, sending shivers up his spine.

"I love you too."

His eyes fell shut, and he felt her nose bump briefly against his as she lifted her face to meet his lips.

This was nothing like their undercover kiss. There was no one watching this time. There was not the tension of knowing this was their only chance. The heat of the first kiss had been a rapid flare; this was a gently warming fire on a cold night. It was sweet and slow and almost unbearably tender. It lasted only a few seconds, but Castle wondered if a whole lifetime might have passed in the moment his mouth was fused to hers.

He heard her head fall back against the pillow and the breathy sigh that escaped her. Gradually his eyes opened to find her still watching him.

"That was..." he paused, and she grinned.

"Amazing?" she supplied.

"I was going to say extraordinary," he whispered, resting his forehead against hers. "But yeah, amazing works too."

She laughed then, and he promised himself that he would spend the rest of his life working to draw that sound from her throat.

He couldn't take his eyes from her face, so he was surprised when he heard the sound of a clearing throat coming from the direction of the door. He turned away from Kate to find her father leaning into the room with a serious look on his face but a barely visible twinkle in his eye.

"Dr. Andrews is here," he said. "He'd like to check on our patient."

Castle nodded and straightened, but not before pressing a quick kiss to Kate's cheek. He stepped away from the bed and was about to release her when her fingers tightened around his.


"Of course," he said, reaching with his free hand to pull a chair alongside the bed as the doctor came in and greeted them both. Jim came to stand next to Castle, leaving the other side with her monitors accessible to the doctor.

"How are you feeling, Detective?" he asked kindly.

"Not great, but better than I expected actually," she said honestly.

"Yes, well, you're on the good drugs, so I'm not surprised," he said with a chuckle. "All the same, I'm glad to see you awake and coherent."

He proceeded to explain the damage that had been done by the bullet and what repairs had been made, plus lay out out a recovery plan that had her cringing at how long it would take.

"You do have some other options," he said, casting a glance at Castle. "They would shorten that time dramatically, but I took the liberty of checking with the billing department and they are not covered by your insurance."

"How dramatically are we talking?" the detective asked.

"You'd be looking at three or four months, rather than six, most likely."

"Wow," she whispered just loud enough for the three men to make it out.

"Kate," Castle said gently, squeezing her hand. "Let me help you with this."

As she turned to look at him, he could see the war she was waging, the battle between wanting to be back to full strength sooner and giving up even a small measure of her independence.

"Rick, I..." she began, but he cut her off.

"Please," he was begging now. "Please Kate, I want to do this for you."

He leaned in to lift her hand to his lips.

"I owe you my life many times over, not to mention the success of my most recent books. And if it makes any difference, you should know that I'd do the same thing for Lanie or Javier or Kevin."

She stared at him for a long moment, and he could almost feel her searching his soul, weighing his sincerity and his intentions. Finally, she let out a heavy sigh.



"Okay," she repeated. "I mean, what's the use in having a rich boyfriend if you don't take advantage of the perks now and then, right?"

Castle let out the breath he'd been holding in a chortle as Jim grinned and Dr. Andrews nodded.

"Well then, since everything looks good at this point, I'll leave you three alone. I'll need to consult with a few of my colleagues, and sometime in the next few days, we'll sit down and hash out our next steps. For now, rest. I'll have a nurse come in and check on you in a bit."

The doctor took his leave, and Jim took his place on Kate's other side.

"I'm going to call Lanie," Castle announced. "She'll want to know that you've woken up. And I need to let Alexis and Mother know as well."

He looked at Kate for a moment, noticing that she was blinking much more than a few minutes before and seemed to be holding off sleep.

"Maybe they can come visit later," he said quietly, leaning toward her again. "I think you need to rest now."

She nodded sleepily, giving him a slight smile.

"I'll be back in a bit," he said to both of the Becketts before moving so his mouth was right next to her ear.

"Sweet dreams," he whispered and glanced at his partner's father who had turned away to give them a small modicum of privacy.

He pressed a quick kiss to her lips.

"And feel free to take advantage of me anytime."

She was nearly under already, but a ghost of a smile upturned her lips, and he felt his heart pound a little harder in his chest. He was a lucky, lucky man.

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