Castle feels like he's on a merry-go-round, spinning in lazy circles, though he can feel stones digging into his back, and can smell wet asphalt. His eyes aren’t opening too well. When he tries to lift his head, he’s actually stunned by the pain that lances through it. He covers his face with his hands and groans before easing his head back down.
A gust of wind dusts his face with rain, cooling and soothing his skin.
Lying on his back.
In the rain.
There’s something he doesn’t want to remember.
The sharp report of the gunshot as he lost consciousness still echoes in his head.
And he can’t stop shaking.
He stops feeling the rain as someone leans over him. They pull his overcoat open.
“EMTs are stuck in traffic, it’s gonna take them a little while.”
“There’s the gun.”
“Oh, I’m gonna kill Slaughter.”
The surprisingly solid heft of the revolver slides from his inside pocket.
Instinctively, he tries to push himself up, into a less vulnerable position, but several pairs of hands come down on his shoulders. Unsure who they belong to, he resists with all the strength he has left. They restrain him effectively, but carefully, as though they’re trying not to hurt him.
"Hey, Castle. Take it easy, man! Gonna hurt yourself."
Moving like that was a big mistake; his shoulder and ribs are killing him, and he groans.
“You let me know when I’m hurting you, honey,” says a warm female voice that’s not fully registering right now. Hands move all over him, changing tactics when he flinches or otherwise indicates a painful area. His swollen eye is pried open, and a sharp prick of light shines in, causing him to screw up his battered face, and he groans again. The light flicks to the other eye.
“Sorry. Do you feel like you’re gonna throw up?”
“No,” he says, vaguely, then yelps when a spot on his temple is prodded.
“Head injury,” says a worried female voice. He knows that voice.
“He’s got a good sized knot on there, and he’s not as lucid as I’d like, but that could be a result of the shock, as well. He’s taken a hard knock to the head, but whether there’s anything more serious going on there is gonna have to be determined at the hospital. They’ll probably give him a CT scan.”
He forces his better eye open, and into focus. He tries to speak, clears his throat, and tries again. “Lanie?” He can taste blood, and feels warmth trickling from his nose and mouth. “Am I dead?”
She smiles down at him. “And we’re back.” She looks relieved. “Do I look like Saint Peter to you?” She presses on without waiting for an answer. “Okay, just relax now. I need to check inside your mouth.” Gloved fingers push gauze into his mouth and swab around. He gags, and it's taken away. "Sorry.” She glances over at someone. “I think it's just a cut inside his cheek from when he got punched." She gently manipulates his nose, ignoring his haaah of pain. "Again, sorry. The good news is, it's not broken."
Uncomfortable being held down, he makes another attempt to escape, and gets nowhere.
"You're okay, brother. We got you," says someone kneeling by his left ear. The guy exudes quiet confidence. After a moment, he realizes Esposito is one of the people holding him down, and the feeling of panic begins to subside.
"Just take it easy, Rick."
His heart skips a beat: Beckett. The last person he wants to see him like this. Her voice is tight and shaky, trying and failing to sound calm. It’s also bringing back more things he doesn’t want to remember. What a jackass they must think he is; all that bravado about being able to take care of himself, and look what happens. “I shot someone,” he croaks.
“We know,” she says.
He swallows hard. “I… I had to do it.”
“A passerby witnessed some of your fight. They called it in and told us what happened. I’ll need a statement from you, but not right now.”
He forces himself to ask the dreaded question: “Is he dead?”
“No, it was just a flesh wound. He’ll be okay.”
Thank God. He doesn’t know how he could live with a death on his conscience.
“Yeah, nice shooting, Castle,” Esposito chips in. “He was a nasty one. He’s put a few of our guys in hospital before now.”
“You’re sure he’s alive?”
“He’ll be fine,” says Beckett. “You’re the one we’re concerned about right now.”
He surveys his restricted frame of vision. "Slaughter?"
A derisive snort from Esposito. "Chasing down the other suspects. He left you here, man. Any of them could’ve come back to finish you off while you were lying here. Next time I see that guy, he’s gonna be the one needing the hospital.”
The others murmur their assent. Enclosed in their circle of protectiveness despite everything, Castle closes his eyes against a rush of unworthiness. What an ass he'd been, how lame Slaughter must think he is, coupled with fury at himself for letting the detective with a death wish throw him into a kill-or-be-killed situation when he had no training, and his family to think of. How he'd hurt the people he cared about the most. What the hell was he doing?
"I'm sorry, everyone. I'm really, really sorry. I'm not proud of... I've...." God, he wishes he could think clearly. He swallows hard. "I'm sorry. I'm gonna make it up to you, if you’ll give me another chance."
Ryan and Esposito make reassuring noises. He'll take that for now, but will make sure later. He doesn’t hear anything from Beckett. He doesn't know how to interpret this, and tries not to let the hurt or anger rush in to fill the silence too quickly.
"Give me his arm, Ryan," says Lanie. She lifts Castle's wrist to take his pulse, his traitorous, shaking hand showcasing exactly how scared he’d been. Her other hand immediately comes up to support his, sparing his dignity while she counts. He’s grateful, until she brings out a stethoscope, undoes a few of his shirt buttons, and slides the chilly disc over his chest.
“Lanie – ” He squirms in protest against the odd intimacy of this in full view of everyone, but no one’s about to let go of him.
Esposito nods at the stethoscope and shoots Lanie a grin. "Guess you don't usually have much call for that, your line of work."
"Yeah, and she wouldn't now, if Beckett hadn't brought us out here to look for him," adds Ryan, grimly.
Castle takes a deep breath as he pictures Beckett pausing outside his apartment door, wondering how to go about telling Alexis that her father wasn't coming home. “Thank you, everyone, for coming to find me.”
Lanie shoots Ryan a look. "Quit freaking out our boy; you're making his heart rate spike."
“Sorry,” says Ryan. “I… That is, we… we were worried, that’s all.”
“We were a little more than worried when we saw you lying here, Castle,” says Beckett. Her warm hands envelop his, and gently squeeze. For a moment, he doesn’t breathe. This is no time to be ambiguous. He looks up into her eyes, and squeezes back. Her eyes shine with unshed tears.
Lanie looks across him again, this time to Beckett, in silent, amused communication. "Like I said, stop doing stuff to make his heart rate spike. How'm I supposed to get a true reading with all of you messing with him?"
Beckett pulls her hand out of his, momentarily, and he understands, but he's not letting her get away. No; there'll be no more of this. He reaches out and takes her hand, but doesn't try to look her in the face; that would be too much for her right now. He can feel the significant looks flying all around, but doesn't care anymore.
Heavy footfalls and the clatter of a metal gurney signal the arrival of the EMTs. He toughs it out as they fasten a collar around his neck and get a backboard underneath him while Lanie briefs them on his condition.
Beckett doesn’t say very much, but keeps hold of his hand until they’re inside the ER and a nurse tells her in no uncertain terms that she’ll have to wait outside.
The next few hours are a blur of hospital staff, uncomfortable tests, tedious scans, x-rays which take forever to get looked at by the technician, stitches, bandages, a not-too-dire diagnosis, and some very, very good drugs. Beckett appears in his cubicle.
She smiles. “Ready to go home?”
He signs the release forms, and insists on paying the bill. No reason the precinct should be out of pocket when he brought this on himself.
He sinks into the back seat of Beckett’s car with Ryan and Esposito flanking him on either side, and is asleep before they can get his seat belt on.
When he wakes, he’s in his own bed, groggy with a painkiller hangover, and absolutely no idea how he got there. Lifting the covers, he sees he’s wearing his undershirt and boxers. Everything hurts, and he groans softly, but is grateful to be in his own bed, and not the hospital.
“Rick?” Beckett’s getting up from where she’s been reading in a chair by the window.
“Beckett? How did I...”
“Ryan and Esposito helped me bring you up from the car,” she says, in a tone much gentler than he’s become used to hearing. “I had to keep waking you through the night, do you remember?”
It’s a blank. “No. Sorry. It must be the drugs.” He smiles at her. “Thanks for looking after me, Beckett.” He flexes his injured knee under the covers, and considers again the fact that he’s in his underwear. “Uh... who undressed me?”
A grin creeps across her face. “That would be me. You told your mom you wanted me to do it.”
“Oh, God.” He buries his face in his hands. “Sorry.”
“No problem.” There’s a smile in her voice that’s good to hear.
He looks up and shakes his head sadly. What can he say now? “I can’t believe I missed it.”
She laughs. It’s the first time he’s seen her laugh in a long time, and it makes him happy beyond measure. “Alexis?” he suddenly remembers.
“She’s fine. Your mom warned her that you’ll be a little less ruggedly handsome than usual for a while. She looked in on you before she left for school.”
“Okay. Good. Thanks.” He wonders if Alexis thinks it’s weird that Beckett spent the night tending to her dad. He kind of does, given how things have been lately, but it’s weird in a way that makes him so happy it’s frightening. Yet more proof that he can’t just stop feeling what he been feeling for the past four years. Like it or not, this train has momentum behind it.
Beckett comes over to sit on the edge of the bed, looking down at him with that appraising, worried expression, like she’s trying to read him, and isn’t sure she can, anymore. “How are you feeling? Your eyes look better. They’re black, but less swollen.”
“That’s good.” He studies her face, and sees the sadness and the strain etched there, as well as the questions she’s afraid to ask. “But what about you? You must be exhausted, staying up for me last night. Why don’t you go lie down in Alexis’s room?” He wishes he could ask her to lie down here, with him, but no. Or would she like to? He has no idea what’s the right thing to do, to say.
“I’m all right,” she says, shrugging off his concern, as he expected her to.
“Yeah, me too,” he says, a little more sharply than he intended.
She hands him a small pink pill from a bottle from the bedside table, and gets him a glass of water. “Three times a day for a week, the doctor said.”
Slowly, painfully, he sits up to take the pill. She’s still looking at him. “I’m okay, Kate,” he says, taking the path of least resistance, parroting her own habitual denial of her needs. He is so weary of this game, but he’s been doing it so much lately it comes automatically. It has to stop. Now. Summoning the courage at last, he’s determined to have this out, even if it sends her running like it has before, because they cannot go on like this.
There will never be a breath deep enough to prepare him to lay this out, so he might as well just go ahead. “All right. You want the truth?” Off her nod, he goes on. “I’m not okay. I’ve been hurting for a long time.” He swallows, and establishes eye contact. “And I’m not talking about yesterday, or even the last few weeks.”
She drops her eyes, color rising in her cheeks. “I know.”
He reaches out and gently rests his fingers on her knee. “It’s not a conversation we can have while I’m drugged up, but we do need to talk about it.”
She takes his hand and squeezes it. This time, the tears do spill over. “I know. We will.”
He lifts her chin, establishing eye contact. “Will we?”
She nods. “We will. I’m so, so sorry, Rick. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
“Me too.” There’s so much more, but that’s enough for now; they’re going to have to take this step by step. He passes her a tissue from the box beside the bed. “I could use some coffee, how about you?”
She smiles. “Yeah. Coffee would be great.”
“Do you think you can get it started while I take a shower? Everything’s in the cupboard above the coffee machine. Spoons in the drawer below. Help yourself to anything you want to eat.”
Another nod. “Sure you’ll be okay? I mean...”
“Unless you’re offering to...”
She grins. “Take your time. Call me if you need me.”
He smiles, and of course she knows what he’s thinking, but now is not the time to make too many sexy jokes. Everything is balanced on a knife edge, and things could still go either way, depending on how that conversation goes. There are too many variables.
Taking a shower is difficult and painful, but it gives him a chance to calm down. He uses his most expensive, best-smelling shower gel, and afterwards manages to re-bandage everything he can reach.
When he finally makes it to the bottom of the stairs, Beckett’s locked in deadly combat with the coffee machine. Grounds and water are strewn across the counter.
When she notices him regarding her with amusement, she throws up her hands. “Getting coffee is more complicated than it used to be.”
He can think of no better response than to repeat some wise words that have been in the back of his mind for weeks, in counterpoint to his every argument. “It’s not complicated. It’s not.”
“It is when you don’t know how,” she says, softly.
He walks over, puts his hands over hers, and begins to guide her. “Then let me show you,” he says.