Day after day he sat in the waiting room, cursing under his breath and wringing his hands through his hair until his scalp ached. He was on the brink of insanity, but no one would blame him for it.
Day after day she lay in the cot, barely moving a muscle and hooked up to God knew how many monitors and tubes. She was hanging on to one last flimsy thread of life, and even the doctors couldn't give an estimate of exactly how flimsy it was.
Lanie, Esposito, Ryan, and Jim came in every day, nearly on an hourly schedule. But he slept there, on that stone couch in the waiting room, every night. Martha or Alexis would come by to bring him fresh clothes and visit her. During all of these visitations, hardly any words were exchanged. The screaming and tears had all been dealt with, and no longer had the need to be expressed. All the conversation was performed through the eyes – the hollow, sleep deprived eyes of her loved ones. They only truly looked alive when her doctor came looking for them, and even then it didn't last long, for he never had anything worthwhile to tell.
Every night, when the waiting room lights had dimmed and all was quiet, when he was curled up on his makeshift bed, the same scene played in his head on a nonstop film reel. He hovered over her, holding as much as he could of her in his arms. Her familiar green eyes turned to saucers and could only bore into his soul. He fought the urge to crash down until his mind couldn't comprehend clear thought, and let those three words escape from their prison held deep inside his heart.
"I love you."
And then her eyes lost their light. They were no longer in this universe. Her lashes beat erratically as did his heart, pumping even more blood than needed into every nook and cranny of his body. The heat rose around his head, and he became nearly hysterical until Esposito and Ryan had managed to pry him off of her as the paramedics loaded her in with haste. He remembered his screams of protest as he continued to be dragged away:
"No! I love her! Please! I have to stay with her! Kate! Please, no!"
Each syllable rung in his head like a steeple bell as he lay in the waiting room, clutching his head in his palms.
"You're lost. Really lost. That's something I've never seen before."
Richard jerked up and twisted his head in all directions. That voice...it sounded just like...but it couldn't be.
"You're so lost without her."
And then his eyes fell on the chair opposite his, which was now occupied by a beautiful brunette in a leather jacket. She looked uncannily like...
"K-Kate?" he sputtered nearly inaudibly.
"No. No matter how many sex scenes you write, I still won't be her."
Richard simply blinked. How long had he been in this hospital?
"You don't know who I am?" the woman asked sincerely.
Richard shook his head, almost in a trance-like state.
"It's me, Nikki."
He could only stare at the woman. Did she just say...Nikki? As in Nikki Heat? Was he dreaming? And she looked so much like Kate, it made his eyes ache.
"It doesn't make me any less real, just a different kind of real."
That sounded like something he would say. Why didn't he think of that? Well, spending day after day stuck in a hospital does things to you.
"You thought I would look like Natalie, didn't you?"
"...Honestly, maybe a little."
Nikki chuckled slightly. The smile she gave made Rick hurt all over; the way it reminded him of a smile he hadn't seen in weeks.
"Natalie may be the people's Nikki, but she will always be your Nikki, Rick."
His shoulders drooped inward and he slightly shied away from her. Funny, how he could shy away from his own masterpiece.
"Aren't you going to go see her now?" Nikki asked.
He looked up at her, afraid of what she would say.
"Because it's been ten minutes after Esposito said he was going out for coffee and never came back – that's the time you always go to see her. And every three days you fall asleep in the chair in her room, but after the second time you did it, you stopped telling everyone."
That pretty much covered it.
Before Nikki could say anything else about the habits he had recently fallen into, he got up and started to walk towards the intensive care unit. He got to the door of her room, but didn't quite go inside just yet. He simply stood outside and peeked longingly through the narrow window in the door. She still lay there – nearly lifeless.
He felt Nikki's presence behind him, but he didn't move.
"Three years of working side by side. And then everything goes wrong."
Rick was silent for a moment before he tentatively licked his lips and spoke.
"Mother was right. I shouldn't have wasted all that time."
"Do you really think that would have protected her? Or are you just feeling guilty because you couldn't save her?"
Rick sunk his forehead into his palm and moaned in frustration. Images of a scared, gasping Kate flooded his brain and he began to shake. If he had only been a little faster...If he had spotted the shooter earlier...
"Things would have been different," he replied simply, though there was so much more that he wanted to say.
He looked up at her, even though it pained him to see her standing there.
"You have to remember that I'm you. I may be based on Kate, but my character is in you. Even if you don't tell me things, I'm going to find out, so you might as well just tell me now."
Richard thought he was going to pop a tough question and completely school this so-called "Nikki", but just thinking about the logic that associated with it gave him a bigger headache than he had now, and the fictional detective followed him to the water fountain so he could take an aspirin.
"I love her. What else can I do?" he spat with a gulp.
"I never said you were doing anything wrong, Richard. I just want you to stop blaming yourself for what happened. If it wasn't for you, she would have killed herself trying to protect Roy. Now I want you to go in there and fall asleep in her chair. And whenever she wakes up, I want you to tell her you love her at least five. Hundred. Times. Because Lord knows that's how many times you've tried. And you tell her how much you don't want her to go; how you don't want anything to happen to her. That's been proven so many times already, but she deserves to hear it from the horse's mouth. You both deserve it."
And before Richard could turn around and reply, she was gone.