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The phone was ready in her hand when he called.

“Hey, chica.”

“Javi, what’s going on? How are they?”

“Beckett’s in a bad way, but stable. Ryan’s staying with her, ‘cause we know the first thing she’s gonna ask is, ‘where’s Castle’, and we need someone there to tell her and take her statement. Not that we’d leave her anyway. I’m bringin’ Castle home. Beckett’s sedated, but he was refusing to leave. Between us, Ryan and I convinced him that exhausting himself wasn’t gonna do Beckett any good.”

“How is Castle? What’d the doctor say?”

“He hasn’t seen one. When we arrived at the scene, everyone was so taken up with Beckett, Castle included, that no one paid that much attention to him. The EMTs tried to check him over, but he wasn’t having it.”

“But you said he was covered in blood and vomit when you got there.”

“He said it was Beckett’s, but lookin’ at him now, I’m not so sure.”

“Forget what he says. Get the doctors to check him over while you’re there.”

“Been there, tried that. The doc wouldn’t let Castle stay with Beckett, but he tried to get him to stick around and wait for an attending to treat him. Soon as the doc was out of sight, Castle said he was leaving. He’d never have made it home by himself, so I said I’d drive him. We’ve just got in, and he went straight to the bathroom.” Esposito dropped his voice, “Can you come over? See if you think we need to drag his ass back to the hospital?”

“I’ll be right there.”

“Don’t come up; meet me in the lobby downstairs. Need to talk to you first.”

“Okay.”

“Will do. See you in a few.”

She cast about the room, her mind racing over possible injuries, and what she’d need to treat them.

***

She put her medical bag on a chair and paced the lobby until Javi came out of the elevator.

“There’s blood on your shirt.”

“His, hers, couldn’t tell you which, only that the man’s totally freaked out. He’s definitely hurt, but he won’t talk about it.” He paused. “I’ve seen it, in the service. Not exactly survivor’s guilt, but maybe he felt like it should’ve been him that came off worse. Maybe they hurt him in a way he doesn’t want to admit, or face up to. I don’t know.”

“How’d you leave him?”

“He was in the shower. The vomit was...”

“Right.”

“So, do your best. I’ll stay in the car for a while, in case he kicks you out.”

“We’ll see about that.”

Javi smiled, that sweet smile that twisted her gut and made her question her decision to stop seeing him.

He hesitated a moment, then quickly leaned in and kissed her forehead. “My money’s on you. And FYI, Alexis and his mom are up there. I told them he’d had a bad day, and Beckett was in the hospital, that’s all. He can tell ‘em the rest if he wants to.” He patted her arm. “Good luck. Call me if you need anything.”

***

Alexis opened the door looking stricken.

“Doctor Parish... Is everything okay? Is Detective Beckett okay?”

She nodded. “I’m not sure yet, honey. I just need to talk to your dad, if that’s all right.” In the distance, she could hear Martha.

Alexis backed up, letting her in. “Of course. Is my dad okay? Gram’s yelling at him through the bathroom door, trying to find out what happened, but he says he just needs to take a shower. Gram’s got a play opening tonight, and I have a college orientation evening thing. We really need to go out, but we need to know dad’s okay.”

“I’m gonna make sure of it, sweetie. I’ll take care of your dad. If there’s anything you need to know, I’ll call you.” She spoke with a confidence she didn’t entirely feel. She didn’t know Castle well enough to predict how well he’d take to her invading his territory at a time like this, and there was a good chance that he’d simply order her out so that he could lick his wounds in private. Like Beckett would, had she been given a choice. Well, Castle wasn’t getting a choice, either. She’d never known two such stubborn people.

Alexis looked profoundly relieved. “I’m gonna go get Gram.”

It took a great deal of convincing to get Martha out the door, but she succeeded in the end.

She could hear water running in the bathroom, and sat on the sofa to wait, passing the time by checking and double checking the instruments and supplies in her bag. She’d left in a hurry and hoped she hadn’t forgotten anything vital.

Half an hour later, the water had stopped running quite a while ago, but he was still in the bathroom. She steeled herself, and went and softly knocked on the door.

“Castle? It’s Lanie. You doing okay in there?”

No response. She knocked and called again, louder this time, but still no response. She put her hand on the handle. “Castle, I’m coming in. If you want me to stay out here, say so now.”

Nothing. So she turned the handle and pushed the door open enough to peek around. His clothes were in a stinking heap at her feet. Her gut contracted when she saw him hunched over in the tub, still wet, with his head on his knees. His wrists were raw and oozing. His entire body was wracked with violent shakes. He was clearly in shock.

His back and shoulders were a mass of bruises, cuts and burns.

“Oh, honey.” She shut the door to keep the heat in, then walked quietly to the tub and knelt beside it. “I’m right here beside you. I’m just gonna put my hand on your arm, that’s all.” She did. He flinched, but didn’t pull away, letting her gently stroke him, talking soothing nonsense for a few minutes. Suddenly he stiffened and raised his head. His face was alarmingly pale under the bruises, and beaded with sweat.

“Gonna throw up.”

His voice was hoarse, and the most likely cause was that he’d been screaming. If they’d hurt him badly enough to make him scream, she wasn’t sure what she could do for him here. Again she cursed the EMTs who hadn’t insisted on examining him.

She grabbed the small trash can from under the sink, then unceremoniously pushed his knees apart and jammed the receptacle between them just in time.

When he was finished, he kept his head down. “This day officially could not get any worse,” he whispered.

“Sweetie, you’re in shock. It’s a totally natural reaction to the kind of experience you’ve just had. Just let it out; you’ll feel better.”

Abruptly, he raised his head, alarmed. “Why are you... Is Beckett...” He lurched forward and was sick again.

When the bout had passed, she went on. “She’s gonna be fine. They’re taking good care of her in the hospital. Ryan’s with her now. We can all go see her soon.”

“So why are you...” He swallowed hard, evidently fighting down another wave of nausea.

“I’m here for you, Castle. Someone needs to look after you, too.”

“I’m all right; it was Kate they really...” he threw up again.

Tortured. Kate they really tortured. Not from what she was seeing. Her heart ached for both her friends. She rose up on her knees and ran her hands through his hair, checking for an injury that could indicate a concussion. “Did they hit you on the head?”

“They hit me in the face a few times,” he said, dully.

“Yeah, I can see that,” she said, quietly. She didn’t miss the fact that he hadn’t really answered the question, and wondered if it was deliberate, or whether he was confused as a result of trauma. “Can you run your tongue over your teeth and feel if any of them are loose, or missing?”

He did, and shook his head. Well, that was something.

“Have you used the bathroom since you came home?”

He stiffened at the intrusiveness of the question, but nodded.

“Any signs of blood?”

“No.”

“Okay. That’s good.” Given the battering he’d had taken, he was lucky to have escaped injury to his kidneys. Although she hated to take advantage of his vulnerable position, she needed to assess him more thoroughly. “Can you put your legs down just for a second?”

In his disorientation, he obeyed, giving her a clear view of a couple of slashes still oozing blood, in addition to the bruises and burns across most of his chest and abdomen. Too late, he moved to cover himself, but she’d already seen the damage down there as well. She lightly stroked his hair.

“Why didn’t you let them treat you in the hospital?”

“I didn’t feel so bad then.” He swallowed. “It was only when I got home.”

She didn’t believe a word of that, and given what she’d just seen, she was starting to have an inkling why he’d refused treatment. “You told Javier that the blood and vomit on you were Beckett’s.”

“It was, mostly.” He shuddered. “Are you sure she’s all right?”

“She will be, and so will you. It’s just gonna take a little time. Honey, I’m gonna call an ambulance.”

He began gasping for breath, and shook his head. “No, I’m really not that bad. I don’t want to go to hospital.”

His tremors were increasing, fresh sweat breaking out on his face as he weathered another wave of panic. He grabbed the trash can and heaved unproductively.

“Castle.”

“Please,” he whispered, wretchedly. “I’m just exhausted.”

She did a fast calculation of risks versus benefits. “Will you allow me to treat you?”

He hesitated only a moment. “Yes.”

“And if it turns out that I can’t give you the care you need, you’ll let me call an ambulance without an argument?”

He swallowed. “Yes.”

Of course he’d say yes to anything right now. She sighed. “All right. We’ll give it a try. We need to get you out of that tub, but you’re going to be very weak.”

He looked grim. “I don’t think I can stand up”

She dug into her pocket for her phone. “Javi’s down in the car. I’m gonna call him up to help us, okay?”

“No. Don’t.”

“I can’t get you out of here by myself. If you don’t let me call him, I’m gonna have to call the EMTs.”

He sighed. “I need a towel.”

“We’ll get you one,” she said, dialling.

A couple of minutes later, Javi knocked on the bathroom door, and she called him in.

It was immediately apparent that her ex was the perfect man for the job. Controlled, competent, and kind but firm, Javi was able to calm Castle down and get him to his feet. As soon as her patient was standing, she wrapped a towel around his waist. She and Javi each took a side, and slowly helped him out of the tub, and across the hallway to his bedroom. She grabbed a handful of towels on the way, and laid them over the mattress for added warmth and protection for the silk sheets.

Javi grabbed a chair and put it next to the bed for her. She smiled her thanks at his thoughtfulness.

“Okay, Castle. I need to go get my bag from the living room. You gonna be okay for a minute?”

He nodded, but she put the trash can beside the bed, just in case. Javi followed her out to the living room.

“You want I should hang around a while? Just in case?”

“Yeah. Thanks.” He smiled, and she could feel herself weakening. She grabbed her bag, and escaped before her willpower crumbled.

***

Castle was already under the covers when she got back to the bedroom. He was still deathly pale, his hair matted with sweat. She took a penlight from her bag to check his pupils, and was reassured that they were equal and reactive. That was one in the ‘against’ column for concussion.

“Beckett’s in hospital, isn’t she.”

“Yes, she is. She’s being taken care of, don’t you worry.” She carefully double checked his head and cervical vertebrae for outward signs of injury and found nothing too worrying, so his confusion was probably down to dehydration and shock.

She pulled the covers from the bottom of the bed and did a quick scan of his legs. They were bruised, but not too badly. His left knee looked as though it had taken a direct hit. She took his feet in her hands. Cold. She tucked the blankets back in around them. “You feeling dizzy?”

“She’s being taken care of?”

“Yes. Are you feeling dizzy?”

“You’re sure she’s alive?”

She leaned over him and established eye contact. “Yes, Kate is alive. She’s being treated at the hospital.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.” He was squirming around, restless. She rested a couple of fingers on his chin, encouraging him to focus on her. “Castle? Castle, listen to me. I think you’re a little dehydrated, and it’s making you confused. Are you feeling dizzy?”

He blinked, as though he hadn’t noticed until she’d raised the question. “Yeah. I’m dizzy.”

She took a bag of saline from her supplies. “Once we get some fluids into you, you’ll start feeling a lot better.” She brought the coatstand over to the edge of the bed and attached the bag to it. “You’re right handed, aren’t you?” He nodded. “Then we’ll put the needle in your left.” He winced as it slid in, and she secured it with gauze and surgical tape.

She prepared a syringe, and injected his upper arm. “This is a broad spectrum antibiotic, which is just a precaution.”

That done, she pulled out her stethoscope. He stared at the ceiling, worryingly quiet as she moved it over his chest and abdomen. She suspected his mind was drifting back to before he’d been rescued. She would have liked to turn him so that she could listen at his back, but was reluctant to cause him any more discomfort.

“Breath sounds are fine. Your heart’s still in panicky mode, but that’s okay, I’ll have another listen in a little bit.” She checked his left bicep for injury before wrapping a blood pressure cuff around it. His BP noted, she shook down a thermometer and put it in his mouth. “Don’t you move; I’m gonna go get you some water.”

Javi was on the sofa reading one of the Nikki Heat novels.

“Hey. I don’t know why Beckett objects to this; Nikki Heat really kicks ass.”

She filled a glass in the kitchen sink. “You heard from Ryan?”

“Not yet. Beckett’s probably still asleep. He said he’d call if there was any news. How’s Castle?”

“Not so good. His mom and Alexis are gonna be back in a while, and I need you to run interference, okay? Don’t let them come banging on the door, call me out to talk to them first.”

He nodded. “You got it. And then you can patch me up after Mama Castle tramples me on the way to her baby.”

“Hey Javier, how did you know where they were being held?”

He pulled out his cell and showed her an icon. “It’s a panic button. You hit it, the rest of the team come running. Castle had one for the CIA a few weeks ago, and he thought it was such a good idea, we should have something similar. When his chair got knocked over, the phone slid out of his pocket far enough that he was able to reach it and hit the button, and voila, we located them in a garage on the lower east side.”

She nodded. Thank God for Castle and his gadgets.

“Chica, don’t take this the wrong way, but do you think we should call an ambulance?”

She sighed. “I’m trying to avoid it. He’s extremely resistant to going to hospital, and I’m loath to cause him any more distress tonight. He’s dehydrated, but I’ve got him on an IV, so he should start to feel more comfortable pretty quickly. His vitals are elevated, but consistent with what I’d expect in someone in an anxiety state. He’s in shock, but I think it’s more psychological than physical in manifestation. His injuries are serious, and they’re painful, but what I’ve seen so far, I can treat. It’s his mental state that’s got me more concerned, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to upset him some more, but hopefully not as much as a hospital environment would.”

Javi shifted, and dropped his voice to a whisper. “When we got to Castle, like I said, he was bound to a chair that had fallen over backwards onto a concrete floor. His shirt was off and his pants were were unbuttoned, and they’d been pulled open. His boxers too. While I was cutting him loose, I asked him... not what had happened, but if he was all right. He said yes, and just started yelling at us to help Kate.”

“And what was her condition?” She steeled herself for his reply.

“She was unconscious, with blood and vomit on her, same as Castle. Her shirt was open, but her pants weren’t. Looked as though they didn’t go there with her.” Javi looked grave. “You gonna run a kit?”

She nodded. “If he’ll let me. I’m going to lock the bedroom door for a little while, so like I said, call me when the family gets back; I need to talk to them before they see him. Would you do something for me? Go into the bathroom and put his clothes into a paper bag; I’ll need to send off them off as part of the evidence package.”

He nodded. “Got it.”

She should be getting back to her patient, but she hesitated.

“What is it?”

“Javi... I don’t know that I’m equal to this.”

“To what?”

“I mean, I can take care of his wounds. I just... want to make it better for him.” She thought of Kate. “Kate too. And I don’t know how.”

He stepped forwards and pulled her into his arms. It was too much, not enough. She tried to squirm free, but he held on, warm and strong. She gave in, and rested her head on his chest.

“You’re a great doctor, and a wonderful friend,” he said. “You’re smart and kind and funny and loyal, and you’re a great listener, and you’ve got some wicked common sense working for you. You are more than equal to this task, Lanie Parish.”

He kissed the top of her head, and she closed her eyes, unable even to begin processing the emotions right now.

“What Castle needs right now, besides about eight million Band-Aids, is for you to listen when he wants to talk, and to be with him when he just needs a friend to sit beside him. Same goes for Beckett. You can only push them so far. Only time, and maybe some counselling, can do the rest.”

“We’ll all help them.”

He nodded, his eyes warm. “We will. But no one can do it like you.” He jerked his head in the direction of the bedroom. “’Specially right now.”

***

On the way back, she took a washcloth from the bathroom and saturated it. Once in the bedroom, she locked the door, and saw that the action had got Castle’s attention. She sat beside him on the bed. His eyes were a little unfocused, filled with worry and confusion, and not a little wariness. She smiled down at him, hoping that through caring for him, she could make him understand how much she cared for him as well as for Kate, and that he was safe now.

She wiped his face, and laid the cloth on his forehead. He closed his eyes, and she pulled the thermometer from his mouth. His temperature was slightly elevated with the anxiety. Panic and shock were warring to increase and decrease his temperature, and she made a mental note to check it again later.

“Castle, I need you to stay awake for me just a little longer. Think you can do that?”

He nodded vaguely. “Can I have something for the pain?”

It had to be bad for him to ask when he’d already been stuck with needles twice. “I’m sorry, not quite yet. As soon as I’ve finished my exam, you can. On a scale of one to ten, how’s the pain in your head?”

“It throbs where I was hit. Mainly just really foggy.”

“When your chair toppled over backwards, do you remember hitting the back of your head?”

“No, I kept my head up so that it wouldn’t hit the floor.”

“Good job. And on a scale of one to ten, how’s the pain in your upper body?”

He considered. “About six or seven when I don’t move, nine or ten when I do.”

“Do you mind if I turn the covers down a bit so I can take a look at those injuries?”

He shook his head.

She pulled the bedding down to his waist and palpated his battered abdomen, watching his reactions closely. Everywhere was sensitive. Something was definitely off with a couple of ribs; she’d get him in for an x-ray tomorrow, and would try to talk him into a CT scan and MRI. He’d been comprehensively worked over, as well as the muscular tension related to sustained anxiety, but nothing else was jumping out as potentially dangerous.

She gave him a local anaesthetic and cleaned and stitched the several ragged knife wounds. He kept his eyes closed throughout.

“Doing okay there?” She hoped the tugging of the thread wouldn’t make him nauseous again.

He nodded.

She began dressing the wounds. “How did you come by these cuts?” She was fishing, seeing if he could, or would, talk about what happened.

“When Beckett wouldn’t tell them what they wanted to know, they started on me. They thought that if she wouldn’t talk to save herself, she might talk to save me.” He looked disgusted with himself. “I told her not to say anything.”

“Did she?”

“She made something up to try and make them think they’d got her to say what she knew, so they’d leave me alone. They didn’t believe her.”

“Did she know what it was they wanted her to tell them?”

“No. They wanted to know the location of a key witness in their bosses’ trial. They burned her house down last night, and she was taken to a safe house; nobody knows where she is.”

“Why did they think Kate would know?”

“They had a picture on their phone of her getting coffee with the witness a few weeks ago. She thought that the woman would be more forthcoming in a more relaxed environment.” He swallowed. “At first they wanted information, but after a while I think they got that we didn’t know anything. Then it just became about torturing cops for the hell of it.” He cleared his raw throat, and winced.

She had no idea what to say. She felt sick for the both of them. “I’m so sorry you both had to go through that.” She took his left wrist and began cleaning the raw skin, apologizing for the pain it caused. “It looks as though they had you tied up with a length of chain, is that right?”

He nodded.

“Kate too?”

“Yeah.” His eyes glazed over. “They tortured her, and I couldn’t stop it,” he said.

The strength of the pain and fury in his eyes belied his physical condition and took her aback.

His gaze dropped to his wrist. “I tried to free myself so I could help her.”

She wished with all her heart that she had the faintest idea what to say, but all she could do was nod. “I can see that.” She touched his shoulder, and he flinched. She probed a little deeper, watching his face set in grim opposition to the discomfort. “I think you’ve torn some muscles or ligaments here.” Most likely as a result of violent straining or twisting as he tried to pull out of his bonds.

“Probably,” he said, uncaring.

She knew, but did not say, that there was going to come a point when, whatever the truth of the situation, Kate would begin to torment herself that he had been hurt on her behalf, and that was a conversation she was going to have to have with her friend sooner rather than later. “Castle, there was nothing you could have done. Neither of you are to blame. You need to understand that, and so does Kate. You’re the victims here.”

He made no response, which she interpreted as meaning he wasn’t going to set that burden down so easily. She finished cleaning and dressing his wrists in silence.

She touched a spot under his collarbone, near to one of the oozing burns. “What did this?” she said, gently.

“A soldering iron.”

She nodded, working on keeping her emotions in check, concentrating on salving the wounds, trying to bring him whatever ease was possible tonight. The cooling gel seemed to provide some relief.

“Thanks.”

“Is that better?”

He nodded.

“Good.” She sat back and regarded him. Here they were. “Castle, did they hurt you below the belt?”

Even if she hadn’t seen the bruising around his groin when he was in the bathtub, his expression said enough. She could tell that he was trying to formulate a lie, but his brain just wasn’t going quick enough right now.

“I’d like to run a rape kit,” she said, very gently. “Will you let me do that?”

His chest rose and fell faster. “They didn’t...”

“Javi said that when they found you, your pants and boxers were open.”

He frowned and shook his head. “They... ah...” He stopped, and tried again, swallowing, avoiding eye contact. “They... did some things that were designed to humiliate me in front of Kate, but...”

She did not pause to dwell on what this might imply for Kate, too. “Were you conscious the whole time?”

“Uh... no... I think I was out once or twice.”

“How about Kate? Was she conscious the whole time?”

“No. One of them opened her shirt. He was going to grope her, but then he saw her scar, and how freaked out she got when he started talking about it.” Castle’s expression now was unlike any she’d seen on him before. “He stuck his dirty finger in the middle of it and just... played with it while he talked...”

She could only imagine the kind of repercussions this was going to have. “Oh, my God. My poor girl.”

“Kate lost it pretty quickly, and so did I. That’s when things really started getting bad.”

“So both of you were unconscious for a while.”

“Yeah. But not at the same time.”

He was stalling, and the longer he stalled, the more likely he was to refuse. She nodded, and indicated his lower body. “Are you in any pain down here?”

He shook his head, avoiding her eyes.

“Rick,” she said, gently. “Kate’s not awake to ask, and if something happened to you, we need all the evidence we can possibly get to prosecute those...” she stopped herself. “People. If you weren’t assaulted, this will be your proof, and you can set your mind at ease. If you were, it will be a powerful weapon in bringing those people to justice.”

He seemed to sink, somehow, and her heart went out to him. The last thing she wanted to do was to traumatize him further.

“They hit me there,” he said.

She nodded. From what she’d glimpsed, and what he’d hinted at earlier, she suspected there may be a little more to it than that, but it hadn’t necessarily involved a sexual act. For his sake as much as anything, they needed to find out.

“I’ve already showered,” he tried.

“Even so,” she said. “But no one’s going to force you. This is your decision.” It was vital that he know he had ultimate control here. “But it can’t wait. I just don’t want you to look back and wish you’d done it when you had the chance.”

He lay still, his hands over his face. Maybe he was terrified of having his fears confirmed, or of the exam itself.

“All right,” he said, quietly.

Maybe he was more afraid of never knowing for sure, or of what his fertile imagination would conjure ever afterwards.

“Thank you.” She pulled on a pair of gloves and laid out the instruments and swabs so that she could get this done as quickly as possible.

“First, I need to take a few hairs off your head,” she said, snipping. She smiled. “Don’t worry, you’ve got plenty. No one will notice.” Next, she took two separate blood samples, then cheek swabs, and scrapings from his fingernails. She’d put off the main event as long as she could.

When she put the lubricant and speculum on the bed, he cringed, and inwardly she kicked herself for not waiting to bring them out until he was facing away from her.

“Honey, I promise this won’t hurt. It’ll be a little uncomfortable, but it won’t hurt.” At least, not if he was undamaged to start with.

“It’s not that.”

“We could go to the hospital, if you’d rather someone other than me did this part of the exam.”

He shook his head. “You’re my friend.” There was a long pause. “You’ll still be my friend after this, won’t you? It won’t change anything?”

His carefully cultivated reputation notwithstanding, he really was like a child sometimes, innocent and eager to please, inclined to react emotionally, and to seek reassurance from those he cared about. His current vulnerability and confusion had stripped away the player and the smartass, leaving him defenceless.

Her eyes welled, which drew the first attempt at a smile she’d seen from him. “It won’t change anything, Rick, except it’ll be me rather than Kate who gets to see how brave you are.”

For a split second, he looked a half-step closer to relieved and relaxed. He cleared his throat. “Hey, don’t go all soft on me.”

She shook her head and pulled on a fresh pair of gloves. “I’m gonna push the covers down, okay?”

He nodded slightly, and moved to turn over, but she stilled him with a hand on his arm. “It’s okay, you can stay on your back for a minute.”

His eyes followed every movement of her hands as she picked up a swab and dipped it in saline. “When I said this day couldn’t get any worse?” he said, quietly, “I was wrong.”

***

When she straightened up, his untethered arm was still across his face, which was flushed bright red with mortification. She put the instruments away before he could see them again. “I didn’t see any signs of assault or penetration, but we’ll get confirmation from the lab in a few days.”

He didn’t move. In the background, she could hear Martha and Javi talking. She couldn’t make out what they were saying, but she could tell he wasn’t going to be able to hold Castle’s mother off for much longer.

Castle stirred. “Please don’t let her come in here. Or Alexis. Not tonight.”

“You got it.” She gently took his free hand. “We’re gonna get those guys, and right now, I’m going to give you something for the pain. It should also help you to relax a little and get some sleep.” She filled a syringe and quickly gave him the injection, before pulling the covers up over his hips. While he was in a helpful position, she took the opportunity to treat and dress the wounds on his back.

“You can turn onto your back again now, if you want to.”

But mental and physical exhaustion had combined with the sedative effects of the medication, and he was out. Utterly drained herself, she gathered up the evidence and went out to the living room to call a twenty four hour courier to get it to the lab, and to face mother bear.

***

Twenty minutes later, she’d made it clear that Castle was all right, but strictly off limits by his own request. She was sure that if it was at her request, she’d already have been trampled flat by the Castle women as they raced to fuss over him. Thankfully, they had subsided in the end, and headed off to bed on the understanding that if they were needed, they would be called immediately or else.

“Sit,” said Javi.

She did, and he made her a cup of tea. She wondered where he was going to sit when he came back. As it turned out, he sat right beside her. She stiffened, but he rested his arm on the cushion behind her and began to massage her neck. It was a dirty tactic, but he was good. She let out a moan of gratitude, and he grinned.

“So how’s our boy?”

“In considerable discomfort of body and mind, but stable.”

“He fretting?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”

She nodded. “That would be good. People listen to you. Even Kate.”

He snorted.

“I’m serious. They know you have the experience to back up the words.”

He sighed. “Mmm.”

He was another one who wasn’t exactly forthcoming when it came to certain subjects. She closed her eyes, indulging in the feeling of his fingers working the nape of her neck. The massage was so good, and it was deeply reassuring to know Javi still had her back, despite their currently off-again status.

The courier arrived, and she felt better knowing the evidence was in process. She’d call the lab to follow up tomorrow.

She began to doze off.

***

She was woken by a violent movement beside her, as Javi launched himself off the sofa and in the direction of Castle’s room.

Her patient leaned heavily against the doorway. He’d more or less managed to get his bathrobe on, and there was blood on his hand where the IV needle had been pulled out.

“Castle, get back in bed right now.

He slowly sank to his knees. “I need to be with Kate.” He was sweating and shaking again, his face shockingly pale.

She grabbed the trash can and got it in front of him just in time.

Javi crouched in the hall outside the bedroom, looking down at him. “If you think you can get past me, go ahead and take a shot, my man.”

Castle collapsed the rest of the way to the floor. He really couldn’t afford to lose any more fluid. She went to her bag and prepared an anti-emetic injection. He closed his eyes as she opened his robe and jabbed his bicep.

“There. You’ll feel better in a minute.”

“I really need to go,” he said, helplessly.

Javi’s eyes met hers. “Only place you’re goin’ is back to bed, brother.” He moved behind Castle and hooked his arms under the writer’s. Between them, they managed to get him to his feet, but instead of moving towards the bed, Castle pulled in the direction of a pile of clothes on a chair.

She thanked God for Javi, who easily put Castle in a hold he couldn’t have broken at the best of times, and gently manoeuvred him back to bed.

“Listen, Castle,” the detective said, not unkindly. “Keep this up, you’re gonna make your injuries worse, and then it’s gonna be even longer before you get to see Beckett. Lanie’s doing her best to get you on your feet as fast as possible, so you need to make her job a little easier, okay?”

Castle’s eyes dropped, and a flush of color reached his cheeks. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m grateful to you both.”

She touched his hair lightly. “Happy to do it.” And if she was honest, she was doing it for Kate, too.

Javi gave him a mock frown. “That’s more like it.” He disappeared to dispose of the trash can before all of them started feeling ill.

She crouched down to Castle’s eye level while he was still feeling the pain the effort had caused him, and wiped his face with the damp washcloth. “We all know that Kate would not thank you for running around the city in the middle of the night in the condition you’re in.” She smiled. “And she’d kill me and Javi for letting you. Believe me, as soon as she’s awake, she’s gonna want to talk to you every bit as badly as you wanna talk to her.”

The momentary flash of hope in his expression was painful to watch. She didn’t know if Kate would ever allow herself to accept what he was offering, and she ached for both of them.

“We’ve... ah, we’ve had some problems lately. But I’m the only one who knows what she’s been through. I should be there if she’s scared, or if she wants to talk.”

She could feel Javi’s eyes on her, but kept her attention on Castle. “I understand, and you will be, but I’m sorry; it’s not happening tonight.”

A troubling spark of rebellion flared in his eyes, and so with an inward sigh, she played her trump card. “Maybe it’s not such a bad idea. If we take you to the hospital, I can make damn sure those doctors take a good look at you this time, and I promise you, they’re not going to let you go running off after Kate, either.”

That shut him up.

“Still want to go?”

He glared at her, and she smiled at him.

***

Javi hovered in the doorway while she set up a new IV. She put the thermometer in Castle’s mouth to keep him quiet, and opened his robe to listen to his heart and lungs, and check that he hadn’t pulled any stitches.

When she looked up from her examination, he looked exhausted, but lucid. She took the thermometer out of his mouth, and read it.

“He feverish?” asked Javi, seeking an explanation for their friends’ earlier behavior.

She squinted at the tiny numbers. “Nope.” She looked down at Castle and very quietly, so that only he could hear, said, “Just in love.”

“That’s worse than anything,” Castle muttered.

She smiled. “I hear that.”

***

She woke with a start, disoriented, taking a few seconds to identify the discordant noise in her ear as Javi’s phone going off. They sat side by side on the bedroom floor. Behind the curtains, daylight was just beginning to break. She was leaning against him, her head on his shoulder. Too much, not enough. Oh, God. The rush of tangled emotions made her feel a little queasy.

She watched as Javi stabbed at his phone, and Ryan’s face appeared on the screen. He looked exhausted too, hair on end, dark circles under his eyes. Sometimes Facetime wasn’t such a great invention.

“Hey, bro. How’s Beckett?” said Javi, in that rumbly, sleepy voice she remembered so well.

Ryan grinned. “Ask her yourself.”

She leaned in front of Javi. “Don’t put Kate on, she needs her – ”

Ryan held up a hand. “Before you start yelling? Beckett stole my phone while I was asleep, and then,” he shot a look to where Kate must be, “she had to wake me up to unlock it for her. Didn’t you?”

“I did,” came Kate’s repentant voice, out of shot.

She had to smile. The picture went fuzzy, and then she was looking into her friend’s battered face. She needed to get down to that hospital and find out for herself how her friend was doing. She shook her head. “Katherine Beckett, what’m I gonna do with you?”

Kate smiled through obvious discomfort. “I dunno, Lanie. You need to keep us on a leash, or something.” Her smile dropped. “I hear you’ve been looking after Castle. How is he?”

She glanced across the room to where Castle was stirring. “He’s had a bad night, but he’ll live. What about you?”

Kate gave a short nod. “The same.”

“Kate?” Castle slurred.

Lanie got to her feet. Ow, that hurt. When did this body start getting stiff just from a few hours on the floor? “You can ask him yourself, but keep it short this time, okay?”

The eagerness in Kate’s expression wasn’t lost on her.

“Okay. Lanie?”

“Yeah, sweetie.”

“Thanks,” she said, warmly. “For what you’re doing for him. For taking care of him. Ryan told me.”

She glanced down at Castle. “Yeah, well, I’m still hoping to cut a deal.” She met his eyes, and went on, “If he’ll let me bring him in for a CT scan and an MRI, I’ll bring him right over to you afterwards.”

“Deal,” said Kate.

Castle rolled his eyes, and held out his hand for the phone. She gently unhooked him from the now-empty IV, and handed him the cell. The look on his face was the purest kind of happiness. They needed to be alone to say whatever needed to be said right now. If they would say it. Which she doubted. But you never knew; even Castle and Beckett were presumably capable of learning from their mistakes.

She turned to Javi. “Come on, I’ll make you some coffee while these two talk.”

***

Her hands wrapped around the warm mug. He’d made the coffee. “Thanks. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

He reached over and briefly covered his hand with hers. “We make a good team.” He jerked his head in the direction of the bedroom. “Like those two.”

She smiled, too tired to think of the right response to that.

“We’re okay, aren’t we?” he said.

She smiled. “We’re okay.”

They sipped their coffee in silence for a couple of minutes before he swallowed and said, “Do you think...maybe there’s a chance that... we could be... more than okay, again?”

She looked up and met his eyes.

***

She gave Castle twenty more minutes of privacy before returning to the bedroom. As she approached the bed, she could see he was asleep. In his hand was the phone, still on, displaying the image of Kate, who was also asleep. She smiled, and disconnected the call. She put his own phone on the bedside table; she was sure he’d want it again soon.

Very gently, she sat on the bed and pressed the back of her hand to his forehead. His temperature was down. She slid the stethoscope inside his robe, over his chest. His heartbeat was almost back to normal. She raised her eyes to his face. Before, he had looked distressed and uncomfortable even when asleep. Now, his face had lost some of those worry lines and he looked peaceful for the first time since before the ordeal. It was amazing what the mind could do. What love could do.

She looked up and saw Javi in the doorway. He smiled at her. “You did good,” he whispered.

She smiled back, and held out her hand.

End.