She paces the waiting room, looking up every time someone new enters, but no. They've told her nothing.

Ryan and Esposito sit stone-faced in a pair of uncomfortable-looking plastic chairs. But she can't sit. Needs movement, needs distraction.

She flexes her fingers, realizes she's still clutching the book she'd just pulled off the shelf when Esposito called.

Her mother loved thrillers, loved suspense. And she passed that on to Kate. Her father, on the other hand, passed on his love of poetry, of rhyme and verse. Blake, Neruda, Whitman. And apparently Wendell Berry, though she's never heard of him before today.

That's why she'd plucked the book with the wheat-colored cover from her father's shelves in the first place - she was desperate for something new.

But now, looking at the title, it seems like a cruel joke - The Country of Marriage.

Because the only man she's fantasized about seeing in a tux lately is somewhere in this hospital, and she can only hope he's still alive.

She sits finally, after one more pleading look from Ryan. And then she begins to read.

She's halfway through a poem about a mad farmer's rebellion when a throat clears and she startles.


Esposito's warm hand lands on her arm and she looks up.

"He's stable," the young doctor tells them. "We'll keep him overnight, but he should be fine."

A sudden sob clogs her throat, and she looks down, tries to blink away the relieved tears that are swimming in her eyes. A single salty drop splashes onto the still open book, and as she swipes her hand across her cheeks, she catches the last two words of the poem she'd been reading.

Practice resurrection.

She sucks in a shuddering breath, stares down at the page unblinkingly. The rest of the poem seems mostly irrelevant at the moment, but those words-

They cut her to the quick. These past few days, the loss of him, the seeming permanence of it - it's eaten her alive. But if there's a chance that she can-

Esposito's hand on her shoulder startles her out of her reflections and she looks up, finds soulful brown eyes staring down at her.

"You ready? We're gonna go see how he's doing."

She nods silently, standing and squaring her shoulders. How does she do this?

She's not a miracle worker. And yet. And yet.

After her mother's murder, she pulled herself out of the grave, eventually bringing her father with her.

After the shooting last May, she came back from death, quite literally. Wounded, yes. But not broken.

It wouldn't be the first time she's come back to life. It wouldn't even be the first time she's come back to life because of him.

Wordlessly she follows her teammates down the sterile hallways until they reach a room from which a burly man is emerging. Slaughter.

She doesn't have time to process more than the slight smirk on his face before Ryan and Esposito have him backed against the nearest wall. And yes, he may be taller than either of them, may be known for his toughness. But she still wouldn't want to be in his shoes, wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of the fire their eyes, the anger in their voices.

They consider Castle one of their own, she knows, even if he has deserted them recently, even if he has hurt her.

She slips past the trio, hesitates with her fingers curling around the door handle, finally decides to just get it over with, to just face the music. It can't get worse, right?

She opens the door.

Her heart stops. Pale, he's so pale, his skin a pasty gray. And he's far too still. This is the man who can't sit quietly beside her desk, who only stops moving when he's trying to get her attention. But now... now with his eyes closed - if the heart monitor didn't keep a steady beat, she'd think-

He opens his eyes, and she lurches forward on unsteady legs.

"Kate?" he rasps.

And then she's at his side, her fingers involuntarily skimming his chest, his arm, his neck, his cheek and forehead.

His eyes slide shut, jarring her out of the trance of finding him alive. She pulls her gaze from his face, lets it run over the length and breadth of his body, noticing for the first time his lack of shirt, and with it, the bruising on his torso, the patch of gauze at his shoulder.

Her voice comes out ragged. "Castle..."

His hand snatches at hers suddenly, pulling her fingers from where they rest at his jaw, depositing them none too gently on the thin mattress beside him. "What are you doing here?"

The ice in his tone sends her back a half-step, but when he opens his eyes again, it's pain she finds there. And anger, yes. But not hatred. Not even indifference. Which means there's still a chance.

"I got a call saying my partner had been stabbed and is in the hospital," she says, her voice quiet, but still strong. "What do you think I'm doing here?"

He shakes his head, winces as he does. "You don't need to be here."

She sets a hand on his bare chest. Despite its pallor, the warmth of his skin is reassuring. He's alive.

"I do need to be here," she murmurs.

The muscles of his throat work as he swallows, his mouth a tight line. After what seems an eternity he speaks, his voice low and dangerous. "Fine. If *you* need to be here, then by all means, stay."

She furrows her eyebrows and stares at him. "What is that supposed to mean?"

He sighs. "Nothing."

"That's not nothing, Castle," she returns, curling her fingers at his chest.

He hisses in pain, and she looks down, realizes she's pressing her fingernails against an already bruised area. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"

"You never do."

His voice is still quiet, contained, but his words are hard, and she can't quite- she'd hoped-

A scuffle outside the room breaks into her thoughts, and she turns toward the door just as it opens. Ryan leans inside, Esposito grinning over his shoulder. She catches a glimpse of Slaughter behind them, rubbing at his jaw with one hand.

"Hey bro, you okay?" the Latino detective asks. "Gonna live to fight another day?"

She glances back at the writer. He nods brusquely. "I'll be fine."

Following his gaze back to the door, she sees a look pass between Castle and Ryan, something like an apology in the detective's eyes.

Esposito clears his throat then, and Ryan nods at the two of them.

"Let us know if you need anything, dude," the Irish detective says. "We're gonna give Slaughter a ride back to the precinct."

And then they disappear, leaving Kate alone with him again. She stares at the door until she hears movement and a soft groan. Turning back to the man in the bed, she opens her mouth to speak, but he beats her to it.

"You probably need to get going too," he says quietly. "I'm sure you have work to do."

She shakes her head. "No. Actually I don't. We don't have a case, I finished all my paperwork, and for that matter, it's my day off."

He nods, another flash of pain crossing his face at the slight movement. His voice, however, remains passive. "So, then, I'm sure you had plans or laundry or something."

What is he- "Are you trying to get rid of me?"

He stares at her, eyebrows knitted. And then he answers, emotionless. "Yes."

"Why?" she rasps, her heart dropping into her stomach as she looks at him. "Why don't you want me here?"

And then the dam breaks, all the tightly-reined emotions she'd seen in his eyes exploding in a savage growl. "Because I don't want your pity. I don't need it, and I don't want it. That's why. So could you just leave me alone?"

She opens her mouth, something like a sob trying desperately to escape. The detective drags in a stilted breath, her eyes never leaving his face. "Castle-"


He closes his eyes as she blinks back tears, chokes down the sudden tightness in her throat. She turns, intending fully to leave, to give in to his request and leave him in peace.

"Take your book," he mutters, startling her. "Wouldn't want you to have to come back for it."

She glances down at her empty hands and then pivots back toward him. She doesn't remember setting it down, but yes, there it is. The faded yellow cover stands out against the white of the sheets next to his arm.

Her eyes catch on the title again as she reaches out, her heart thumping harder in her chest. The words blur for a moment, grief churning in her gut.

And then she remembers the words inside.

Maybe whatever they had is dead. Maybe it's too late.

But maybe it's not.


"Fine," he sighs. "I'll have someone bring it to you."

"No," she repeats, and his eyes slowly open, flashing blue fire.

"If it's a gift," he says, his voice deadly calm. "Thank you, but I don't really feel like reading."

She shakes her head, resolve strengthening even in the face of his apparent disdain. "It's not a gift. It's my father's. But I'm not taking it because I'm not leaving."

He shuts his eyes again. "Suit yourself."

Enough. She's had enough. "Castle, we need to talk."

Her tone brooks no argument, but his eyes stay shut when he speaks. "I'm really tired, Beckett."

It's a slap in the face, that echo of the last time they were both in a hospital, with reversed roles. She's not the only one who remembers everything.

"Fine," she grits out. "Fine. You rest, then. I'll do the talking."

His expression doesn't change, but a slightly faster beeping from the heart monitor next to the bed tells her she has his attention.

"I don't know what the hell is going on with you," she begins. "We've been working well together for months. We've made it through explosions and wannabe superheroes and a sniper. Hell, we survived a dip in the Hudson and a CIA conspiracy for god's sake and that was barely a blip on the radar. And now all of a sudden you're shutting me out? Who the hell does that?"

She's just getting started, just getting ready to enumerate on all the ways she thought they were doing okay, when his voice breaks through, cold, icier than she's ever heard. "Guess I just figured it was my turn."

"Your-" she splutters. "Your turn. What does that mean?"

She lifts a hand, pushes an errant lock behind her ear.

"Four months," he murmurs. "I've shut you out for what? Two and a half weeks? And at least I've still been around for most of that time. You disappeared for four months."

Her heart drops, anger and guilt warring in her chest.

"I needed time," she whispers reaching out to touch his arm and then thinking better of it. "I told you."

His eyes finally open. "You did tell me."

She furrows her eyebrows. "Then-"

"I remember you telling me," he cuts her off, voice icy. "I remember that day on the swings. I remember that day in the hospital."

She stares at him, her mouth open, shocked at his tone.

But he's not done. "And I remember standing in an observation room and finding out that the woman I considered my partner, my friend - hell, the woman I was in love with - had been lying to me for ten months."

Oh. Oh god. "Castle-"

"Explain to me," he growls. "Explain to me how it is that you could tell a *suspect* that you remembered everything about your shooting but you couldn't tell me. Explain to me how I rank lower than a pickpocket, when I've been the one by your side for three years. Explain to me how you couldn't at least do me the common courtesy of telling me you didn't return my feelings so I could just move on with my life."

She stumbles back, knees buckling just as she reaches the chair she hadn't previously noticed at the side of his bed.

"Rick," she groans, feels the sob rising in her throat.

His jaw clenches. "Explain to me how you could let me put my life on the line for you every single day when you knew how I felt and you obviously didn't care. Explain to me how you could let me risk leaving my daughter fatherless just so I could follow you around like a whipped puppy."

She bends, grief and hurt and anger clawing at her guts, making her head spin. Burying her face in her hands, she can hide the sight of him, wounded and furious. But she can't block out his voice.

"Explain it to me, Kate."

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