THE VIGIL

"I left you alone for months," he hisses.

She shakes her head. "That's different."

"How?"

"I need you."

He scoffs. "I needed you then."

"Castle-"

"And really, Kate? You've been getting along just fine without me."

She rocks back on her heels, eyes shutting of their own accord. She hasn't heard that bite in his voice since her mother's case, hasn't heard that kind of anger directed at her in years. And dammit, that hurts.

The detective takes a deep breath, reminds herself that he's weak, nearly helpless, that Richard Castle is a self-made man who's used to doing what he wants.

So very much like her.

She remembers all too well what those months were like, how much she wanted to hide away, curl up, lick her wounds in private.

And he's right. She asked, and he left her alone.

Even though it hurt him. Even though she knows he hated it.

But she didn't have a child - two children - who needed her.

And therein lies the difference. She *will* make him see that.

"Rick," she begs, leaning forward to set a soft hand on his arm, on the once-bulging bicep that doesn't yet serve him the way it should.

He stands slowly, sloughing off her touch, the exertion evident in his face and the jerkiness of his movement.

"Please, Kate," he grinds out, his blue eyes meeting hers for a moment, imploring. "Just...please."

She lets him go, bows her head to block out the sight of his retreating back.

She can't block out the sound of his shuffling gait, can't block out the squeak of the rubber feet of his walker on the hard linoleum floor.


Her stepdaughter's voice carries into the hall. "You can't do this."

She pauses outside of the room, hand on the silver lever, heart in her throat. Pressing her forehead against the closed door for a moment, she considers leaving, walking away, coming back later.

It already sounds like today will not go well.

But she hears a low voice answer - briefly - and then the clear tone of the young woman again. "Dad, you can't keep doing this."

"Alexis," her husband says, a little louder. "I-"

The young woman cuts him off. "You don't know what it was like, Dad. You have no idea what it was like."

"You're doing fine, all of you," Castle says, his deep voice carrying through the thin walls. "You need to focus on school, and Kate has work and the baby, and..."

"His name is Nathaniel."

"I know," the writer says, his voice calm. But it's the calm of Richard Castle wound too tightly, the sound of him trying not to say something he'll regret.

"Really?" Alexis says, and the detective hears a venom in the young voice that she hasn't heard since a near catastrophic day outside a bank. "Are you sure? Because you've barely seen him since you woke up."

"Alexis," he says, his voice rising, but she can hear the girl's footsteps heading toward the door. "What do you want me to do?"

Kate steps back, steps out of sight just before the door swings open.

She doesn't have to see her stepdaughter's face to know the girl is crying when she answers. "I just want my dad back."

Stepping into her Alexis' path, she catches the young woman as the door shuts heavily, pulls her into a strong embrace. Muffled sobs rack the girl's thin frame as she slides them into a corner of the hallway.

Kate shushes her softly, smoothing her hand over long red hair.

"It's okay," she murmurs. "It's going to be okay."

"He's-" Alexis hiccups. "He's not the same."

The detective shakes her head. "He's not, but none of us are, sweetheart."

Alexis pulls back, but stays within the circle of Kate's arms. "I just...I just don't get it. He's awake, he remembers us, there's nothing really wrong with him. I thought it would all be fine."

Kate lifts her hand, brushing a stray lock of hair out of the girl's eyes. "It will be."

The dubious look her stepdaughter gives her almost makes her laugh, but the heartbreak behind crystal blue eyes stills the sound in her throat.

"He is getting better," she says quietly. "His doctors and therapists think he's doing really well. Maybe better than they expected, and-"

"Kate, please," Alexis whispers, cutting her off. "Just..."

The detective nods, and pulls the girl into another hug. When Alexis steps away, heads down the hall with a final glance back, Kate takes a deep breath.

He looks up when she opens the door, and that's progress, even if he looks back down immediately. His left hand clenches and unclenches around a bright green stress ball, a nervous, but ultimately helpful habit he's picked up in his few weeks here.

Her eyes drop to his right hand, his fingers curled around a freshly sharpened pencil. There's a pad of paper on the desk in front of him, a few lines scrawled untidily across the white surface. His handwriting may not be as neat as it once was, but she can tell as she steps closer that the words are still there.

That her writer is still there.

"Castle," she says, her voice steely.

His eyes lift to hers as she comes to stand next to him, her fingers sliding across the back of his neck. "Like it or not, I'm not leaving you alone anymore."

"Kate," he gruffs, weariness and hurt and frustration in his eyes. "I need-"

"No," she says, dropping to her knees beside him and setting both hands on his thighs. "Your family needs you. I need you. You don't get to do this anymore."

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