Her breaths come rapidly, syncopated staccatos of air that breeze across the top of Nathaniel's dark head.

She...she knew.

She knew not to get her hopes up, knew the chances were slim. So many, so many slip back under. But this is Castle, her miracle man. And she'd believed, but-


Her stepdaughter's clear trembling voice cuts through her frantic thoughts, the hopeful little girl winning out over the more cautious young woman.

She feels Alexis' grip on her hand slacken, her fingers slipping away as she steps through the doorway into the half-lit room.

"Alexis," she murmurs, but the girl doesn't turn back, her gaze and her path focused on the still form of her father a few feet away.

"Daddy?" Alexis repeats as she approaches his bed. Her small hand slides under the large one resting on Castle's chest. He doesn't move, doesn't wake, doesn't respond.

The young woman watches him for a moment, crystal blue eyes fixed on the familiar face, his features slack in repose. What the detective wouldn't give to see a smile curl those lips, to see the lift of a roguish eyebrow, to see the formation of crow's feet at the edges of his eyes as he beams proudly at his daughter.

She gets nothing but a redhead turning back to look at her, heartbreak etched in every line of her slender body, grief misting suddenly dark eyes.


The detective jolts forward, traverses the space between them in less than the span of a heartbeat, her free arm enfolding thin shoulders as she cradles the girl against her chest. "Oh honey. Oh, sweetheart."

There are no tears, just a quiet despair, and for a moment Kate hates her husband for disappointing his daughter, for making all of them go through this. She hates his courageous, reckless heart for forcing her to do this on her own, hates his stubborn selflessness that has left their son without a father.

And for what?

Nathaniel snuffles into her chest, his tiny fist unfurling as he stirs against her, his fingers clenching and straightening and clenching again, this time around a shock of red hair.

Kate adjusts her hold on the boy, smooths a hand over the back of his head to calm him - the way she used to do with Castle when he woke from a nightmare - and just like that the anger drains out of her, deserts her, leaving only that gnawing grief, the ever-present need.

"Oh, you're here."

Looking up from her son, she seeks out the source of the new voice, finds Dr. Bodie standing in the doorway, his face weary and his white coat wrinkled. Kate nods.

"I'm sorry," he says, stepping into the room, extending his hand in greeting but withdrawing it when he sees that both her arms are occupied. "I had an emergency down the hall."

The detective nods, but doesn't speak. Seemingly unbothered by her silence, the doctor steps briskly past the trio.

Her stepdaughter's head lifts from its place on her chest and the two of them watch in communal quiet as Dr. Bodie checks Castle's vitals, noting each measurement on a pad of paper. Kate wonders idly whether she'd be able to read the man's handwriting or if her husband's statistics would remain as much a mystery to her as everything else that has happened in the past year.

"Why isn't he awake?" Alexis asks, her voice soft, hesitant. "Wasn't he awake a little bit ago?"

Dr. Bodie looks up from whatever he's writing, his eyes compassionate.

"He was," he says with a slight nod.

"But he's not now," the girl says, a hint of accusation in her tone. "Why?"

If he shrugs, if he says he doesn't know, Kate vows she'll strangle the man. They've had too many unknowns, too few answers, too much hope and not enough of the tangible, the concrete, the certain.

"Many coma patients slip in and out of consciousness," the doctor says. "This isn't the first time Mr. Castle has awoken."

A frisson of shock races through her veins, her breath leaving her as she finally finds her voice. "What?"

"It's not the first time Mr. Castle has been conscious," he repeats. "He's had a number of instances of varying degrees of alertness over the past few days."

"Why now?" Alexis asks before Kate has the chance. "Why did you just call us tonight?"

"Because," the doctor says, "this is the first time he's spoken."

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