"You can do it," he coos, smiling as Josie turns her head. "Come on, bug. Just turn the rest of you too. I know you want to."
They're laid out in the living room on the play mat, the coffee table pushed aside. He decided earlier that he just couldn't sit in his office for another minute, and brought both the laptop and the baby out into the bright, comfortable living room. Then, of course, with Johanne right there on the mat, he found that his laptop had lost its non-existent appeal, and he now here he is, lying on his stomach on the play mat next to the baby.
"Like this, see?" He rolls over onto his back and glances down at the baby. "I know you can do it. You've been rockin' back and forth all week."
She blinks at him and blows a spit bubble. He laughs and rolls onto his side, reaching out to rub her little back. He's got her in this adorable pink tee shirt today with little flower-patterned baby leggings. She looks like a little hipster princess.
"Come on, Josie girl," he encourages, tilting her a little with his hand. She rocks a bit then flops back on her stomach, looking up at him with something he considers defeat. "You'll get there. No pressure, bug. I'm just tryin'a help."
"Ugh, Castle," he hears. "Why did you let me sleep so late?"
He grins and sits up so he can see Kate coming down the stairs, still dressed in a cotton long-sleeve and her own pair of leggings. He wonders idly if she'd wear a mommy-and-me outfit with her daughter, just for a picture.
"You got back at 2:30 last night," he replies.
"Yes, but it's 11:30 now," she whines, walking over to look down at them over the back of the couch. "I could have gone for a run, I could have had holding time, we could even be at the park right now."
"Or, you can get a cup of coffee and come sit. Josie and I are training."
"Training," she repeats, smiling down at Josie as she turns her head to look in Kate's general direction. "Is Castle trying to make you an athlete already, bug? Kind of stage moming it, aren't you?" she adds looking at him. "Trying to live vicariously through my kid?"
"No," he huffs, smiling as she laughs. "I'm just helping her with her gross motor skills. They're very important."
Kate hums and shakes her head. "Uh-huh. You said something about coffee?"
"There's a pot still warm on the counter."
"Just how long have you been up, Castle?" She asks as she walks back into the kitchen.
"Six maybe?" he calls back as he looks down at Johanne. "You just wanted to snuggle didn't you, bug? That's why you were weepy so early, huh?"
Johanne doesn't look at him, but he sees her turn her head further in his direction, still facing away from him.
"Yeah, there you go, Jose. Here I am," he coos, waiting. "Kate," he adds, as Johanne's little body starts to turn. "Kate get over here! You're missing it."
"She's rolling over," he exclaims.
"What?" he hears, his eyes too caught on Johanne and her monumental shift from tummy to back to pay Kate proper attention.
He grins as Johanne ends up on her back, blinking up at the ceiling, a little smile on her face.
"Go Josie!" he cheers, reaching out to rub her little belly. "Look at you, you big girl."
"Oh my God."
He looks up and finds Kate standing against the back of the couch again, a hand over her mouth, a shine in her eyes, and coffee all over the front of her shirt.
"She rolled over," she whispers.
"Yeah, she did," he agrees, watching in amusement as she comes around the couch and crouches down on Johanne's other side.
"You did it," she says, bending down to smatter Johanne's face in kisses. The baby takes it, giggling, her little hands tapping against Kate's face.
She rolled over and she's delighting in kisses. This is a great, great day for Josie Beckett.
Kate reaches out to pick Johanne up and he finally gets himself together.
"Kate," he laughs, scooping the baby up before she can manage. Johanne squirms in his arms, obviously eager to stay on her own. "I know, bug, but mommy's covered in coffee. I didn't want her to ruin your pretty outfit."
Kate blinks then glances down at her shirt. "Oh, right," she mumbles, laughing a little. "But really? She just rolled over, gimme my kid!"
"And if I wanna give her a celebratory hug first?" he taunts, scooting around as Kate comes for them on her knees.
He turns Johanne around in his arms so she can see the spectacle her mom is making, and laughs as Johanne lets out a squeal. Kate grins and advances forward. He scoots back, letting her chase them around the play mat, all three of them laughing.
"We can wash her outfit," Kate taunts, reaching out to tickle Johanne's stomach even as he wiggles back.
His back hits the bottom of the couch and he gasps dramatically.
"Oh no. Coffee mommy is going to get us," he tells the baby, holding her tighter as Kate grins at them.
"Get ready," she says, watching Johanne as she shuffles forward to sit right in front of them. "Here comes the tickle monster."
She reaches out, but instead of going for Johanne's stomach, she reaches around and runs her fingers up his sides.
He lets out a very unmanly shriek and she laughs evilly, scooping Johanne out of his arms. But she rather misjudges her movements and topples over so she ends up with the baby in her arms and her forehead in his neck.
Johanne squeals between them, and, with the part of his mind not focused on Kate Beckett's lips laughing into the crook of his neck, he realizes that Josie sounds happy. Like a happy, normal little baby, just for right now.
It makes him laugh, his fingers wrapped around Kate's waist to help keep her upright. She pulls back , her knees settled between his, her body close, the combined smell of her body wash, Johanne's powder, and her usual coffee overwhelming him.
"She rolled over," Kate whispers, their faces inches apart.
He swallows and then her lips are on his, a whisper of a kiss. She pulls back, beaming.
"She rolled over, Rick."
He feels a grin unfurl across his face and sees an answering one on hers.
"And she's giggling, did you hear?" he whispers.
"Yeah," she says. "Yeah, I did."
She looks down, her forehead brushing his nose. "Yeah, bug. You're happy today, aren't you?"
He shifts so he can look between them at the baby and finds her touching Kate's shirt, lifting her hand and replacing it a few times, staring at the wet stain.
"Ooh, tactile information," he says, smiling as Kate snorts quietly.
"I should probably change."
"But she likes it," he argues, his forehead pressed into the side of hers. "Smells good."
"I doubt she likes the smell," Kate chides.
"I do," pops out of his mouth before he can stop it.
She giggles and slumps into him, resting her cheek on his shoulder. Johanne whines between them and Kate sighs, her breath hitting his collar bone before she pulls away.
"Sorry," she whispers, and he's not really sure if she's talking to him or the baby.
She shuffles back a little and raises Johanne up so she can see her. "Did we squish you, bug?"
Johanne peers at her, then seems to withdraw a bit. He watches as Kate's smile dims, imagines that the baby is staring past her again. But they had a great moment, a great big moment of growth.
"She's okay," he says, waiting until Kate meets his eyes. "She's probably just a little overwhelmed, with us being so excited."
Kate nods and gives him a real smile. It's softer, and less ecstatic than before, but still beautiful. She is so very beautiful and gentle like this—so open. She blushes after a moment and realizes he's staring.
"Here," he says, reaching out for Johanne. "Why don't you go change," he suggests. "Then maybe we'll all watch a movie or something."
There's a knock on the door and he groans.
Kate laughs. "I'll take her. She's probably hungry. Get the door?"
He nods and hauls himself up, sad to see their moment go. She kissed him, kind of. It was the heat of the moment, but still. She kissed him. She rested on him. They—shared a beautiful moment with the baby.
He glances back into the kitchen as he goes for the door and laughs as Kate unceremoniously strips off her shirt, leaving her in a soft cotton brassiere she must have put on to come downstairs. She catches him looking and shrugs.
"What? Bottle time can't be holding time?"
He just grins at her and waits until she's made it back to the couch, having grabbed the bottle he'd left out a bit earlier, letting it come to room temperature. They've been trying to wean her off warm bottles for about a week, so it's less upsetting to have one when they're out. It's been going well so far.
When Kate disappears from view he opens the door, still smiling at the image of her holding Johanne in her bra, totally content with him around.
His smile drops as he takes in the man on the other side of the door.
"What do you want?" he asks.
Josh Davidson stares back at him, uncomfortable, a leather jacket over his scrubs, and a slight beard on his face. "Is Kate here?"
"Why?" Castle asks, blocking the doorway with his body. They were having such a good morning.
"She wasn't returning my calls, so I went to her building, and her super said she'd probably be here."
"Ever think maybe the missed calls were a message?" he lets out before he can stop himself. This is the guy that tried to get her to leave Johanne in Haiti—who didn't care enough about the baby to see the bigger picture. He doesn't want him anywhere near Johanne.
"Is she here?" Josh asks, exasperation in his voice.
He glares at him, very tempted to lie.
"Castle? Who is it?"
Well, there goes that opportunity. "It's Josh," he calls back.
"Hi Kate," Josh lets out over Castle's shoulder.
"Not so loud," he grunts at the man.
"You two were yelling," Josh protests.
"That's different." Josh gives him a look. It is. Johanne is used to hearing them calling for each other. Martha and Alexis make an effort not to shout if they can avoid it. No one wants to startle the baby.
He hears Kate coming up behind him and steps aside with reluctance, turning to find her at his side and wearing the button down he'd left on the couch. Well, that's one way to send a message. Johanne squirms in her arms, popping off the bottle with a whine.
"Rick, can you take her?" she asks softly, turning to give him an apologetic look. "I don't want her to give it up."
"Yeah," he says, taking Johanne from her and cradling her against his chest with one arm. Kate helps him get the bottle situated then turns back to Josh. "You good?" Castle asks before either of them can get a word out.
"I am," she promises, taking a second to stroke Johanne's cheek. With her encouragement, the baby returns to her lunch, but her eyes remain suspicious, and she holds herself stiffly in Castle's arms.
"I'll be," he says, jerking his head toward the living room. "Try and keep it down, would you?" he adds to Josh, narrowing his eyes as the man gives him an insulted look. "She doesn't like strangers," he says as he turns away and meanders back to the couch.
He sits at the far end so he's able to watch Kate and Josh at the door. But as much as he'd like to listen in, he turns back to Johanne and smiles down at her.
"It's okay, bug," he murmurs. "Mama's just upset with her ex. It's not about you. I've got you. You can relax now."
The baby softens a hair at the sound of his voice and he cuddles her closer, sinking into the couch to give her more of him to relax into.
"So this is what you wanted all along?" he hears from Josh.
"This is what I want," Kate corrects. "You knew I loved her. This is what happens when you love your kid. You'll do anything for them."
"He's great with her."
"And you?" Josh probes.
"He's been pretty great with me too," Kate says evenly. "Now, have you gotten your fill? Assured yourself that I'm gone?"
"That's not," he starts, then stops, sighing. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay, that you and she were okay."
"Because you cared so much in Haiti," Kate bites back, holding her ground, a hand wrapped around the edge of the door, as if she's just waiting to close it after him.
Castle fights a smile and looks back at Johanne. Her sucks are coming few and far between and he notices her eyelids fluttering. He chuckles and takes the bottle from her, setting it carefully on the couch beside them before lifting her up.
"One burp before you fall asleep, baby," he hums, rubbing her back as she squirms against him. "Soon as we get you sitting up on your own we can do away with all this burping," he adds. "If that's motivation enough for you."
Johanne lets out a loud belch and he laughs, feeling her head hit his shoulder a moment later. "Okay. You go to sleep. There's been a lot of excitement. I would too," he assures her.
He knows she'll be much more comfortable asleep than she is awake—won't have to make decisions about comfort and not. He's noticing that when she's very uncomfortable, she tends to drop off. It happens less and less with Kate and with him, but sometimes, when Alexis has her time with her, she falls asleep almost instantly.
"Look. I'm glad you're okay," he hears. He glances back toward the door and notes with some pride that Josh looks far more like a chastised toddler than a hot doctor, all of his pomp and smugness stripped away by whatever Kate's said.
"Thank you," Kate says evenly. "It was…nice of you to drop by." He bites back a snort. It's obvious Kate doesn't think it was nice at all.
"If you ever need—" he breaks off, gestures to her shirt, then over her shoulder to him. "Actually, it's pretty obvious you don't need anyone but Castle."
He watches Kate's posture soften and feels his heart swell. "Yeah," she agrees. "He's—we're good. He's good. Have a good trip to Timor."
Josh nods and shoves his hands into his pockets. "Thanks. Bye, Kate."
"Bye, Josh," she says easily. He looks at her for a moment, then past her, meeting Castle's eyes. Josh sighs and turns, walking back down the hallway.
Kate shuts the door with a soft click, then turns and rests against it, her eyes closed.
"I wouldn't want to be him," he says quietly.
Kate opens her eyes and looks across the foyer at him. She smiles as she notices Johanne asleep on his shoulder. She pushes off from the door and walks over to them. He has to say, she looks damn good in his shirt.
"Why's that?" she asks as she collapses onto the sofa beside him.
"Hmm?" He catches her eye and she quirks a brow. "Oh. Well, losing you, and then finding us playing house? Way to kick a man when he's down," falls out of his mouth before he really thinks about it.
She cocks her head, a smile flirting with her lips. "Oh yeah?"
"Well, yeah," he says, stroking a hand absently over Johanne's back. "I mean, better my shirt than your bra, but…you sent a pretty clear message."
She glances down and shakes her head. "Men."
"What?' he argues. "Seeing a girl in another guy's clothes? That's—it's rough," he mumbles. "And then to see the other guy with the girl's baby? It's like a one-two punch."
"And you're the other guy?" she asks, her eyes glancing at his before focusing on Johanne.
"Well, I'm sure it looked like I was to him," he gets out. He doesn't know what the hell he is, other than the guy she's living with, the guy she's raising a kid with. It's very confusing.
"Mm," she offers, reaching out to stroke her fingers down Johanne's back. She presses her body against his and rests her cheek on his shoulder.
He sighs softly at the feeling of her pressed to him, and at another opportunity gone by. He wants to know, but he's so afraid to ask. And she kissed him earlier.
The thought bursts in his head. If she's…willing to kiss him in excitement—if she doesn't argue when he calls himself the other guy, maybe he can push back too.
He shifts, bringing his arm up to wrap around her shoulders. He feels her grin into the crook of his shoulder and feels an answering smile bloom over his face. He can deal without a label if it means they can cuddle.
"Kate," he whispers a few minutes later. She should grab her phone if they're going to stay down here, just in case she gets called in.
She doesn't reply, and he looks down to find her asleep on his shoulder. He smiles and adjusts his arm around her, careful to keep Johanne comfortable on his other side.
He's quite content to be the Beckett pillow for the rest of the morning.
"She looks so happy."
He looks up from his laptop and smiles at Alexis as she stands at Johanne's side. He finally remembered that they had a jolly jumper up in the closet. He decided to attach it to the doorway to his office so Johanne can bounce and see him as he works. She's been a little giggly jumping bean all day, content to scoot forward with little hops and be pulled back by the long bouncy cables attached to the seat.
"You used to stay in that thing for hours and hours," he tells his daughter. "I thought Josie might like it since she's been so energetic lately."
Alexis crouches down to Johanne's level. "Are you a happy little bouncer, Josie?"
The baby smiles at her and gurgles. Alexis shifts around, settling in a few from Josie and holding out her arms. "Okay, bug. Show me your stuff."
Johanne coos and hops forward, her hands outstretched toward Alexis and a grin on her face. He has the presence of mind to whip out his phone and video it to send to Kate. She'll adore her happy baby, but better, they can both rejoice in seeing Johanne interact with Alexis so willingly. It's been a month and a half of just them, but this week, Johanne's been much more receptive to Alexis. She even smiled yesterday when Alexis held her.
"How was school?" he asks a few minutes later, when Johanne's lost interest in jumping for Alexis.
"Ashley made a choice," she says as she stands up and turns to face him. It's then that he really takes her in. He can see the strain around her eyes, the way she's standing a little smaller.
"Oh yeah?" he says, saving his work and closing his laptop.
"He decided to go to Columbia," she says evenly.
"Well…that's great?" he offers. She doesn't look excited. But it was that or Stanford. And surely, the option that keeps him in the city is the better one.
"No, it's not," she asserts, running an agitated hand through her hair. "Stanford has been his dream since…God, I don't even know how long. And now he's just giving it up?"
"Columbia's a wonderful school," Castle points out. He'd love it if Alexis went to Columbia. "And it's got a great economics program."
"So?" she returns.
"So, is it really so bad if he's changed his mind?"
"But he did it because of me," she lets out, walking over to sink down on the couch. "And I can't let him do that."
"Alexis, it's not your choice," he says, glancing at Johanne before moving to the corner of the desk, so she can still see him, but he can be closer to Alexis. "If he wants to stay in New York, that's his decision."
"He's only staying because of me. And I know he's going to end up resenting me for it, and then he'll regret staying, and regret me, and I can't let that happen. So, I made a decision too. I broke up with him."
He gapes at Alexis. "You what?"
She looks up with red eyes, her lip quivering. "I broke up with him."
"Oh, sweetie," he sighs. He takes a step forward but Alexis shakes her head.
"You should stay where Josie can see you," she offers, trying to smile. "I'm gonna go upstairs."
"Alexis," he protests.
She doesn't meet his eyes and gets up, walking quickly around him, pausing only to kiss Johanne's head before fleeing the room.
"Shit. I owe you a dollar," he mumbles to the baby. He reaches into his pocket and grabs his cell before plopping down in front of Johanne.
"Hey, Castle," Kate's voice comes across.
He smiles tiredly as Johanne's eyes light up at the sound of it and she bounces in place. "Hey," he returns.
"Everything okay?" Oh, he must sound bad if she can tell off his 'hey.'
"Are you still at work?" he asks.
"Yeah, but we're just finishing up. What's wrong?"
"Alexis broke up with Ashley," he tells her. "And she's barricaded herself in her room. I wanted to see if you could get off early and watch Jose, so I could try and cheer her up."
"I'll be right home," she promises. "Poor girl. Is she okay?"
"I don't know," he says, sighing. "Ashley decided on Columbia."
"But that's good, right?"
"Alexis thinks he's only staying for her and doesn't want him to resent her, so she broke up with him. And I know it was her choice, but I just—she was crying, and she wouldn't even let me hug her."
"Okay," she says, and he hears her gathering her things. "Can you put together something really gross for dinner? Make sure we have ice cream, and if not, order some?"
"Sure," he replies slowly. "What am I doing?"
"We're having a break-up night," she says, the 'duh,' coming across loud and clear.
"Beckett, you are the best," he says with a grin. "Your mommy is a smart lady," he adds to Johanne.
"How is she? Yeah," she adds. "I'm gonna knock off. You guys good?" He hears a mumbled response from the other end of the line. "Hey, sorry. How is she?"
"She's good," he promises. "Very happy. You'll see."
"O-kay," she lets out. "I'll be there soon. Go, make something gross."
The call cuts out and he smiles at Johanne. "Your mommy is perfect, isn't she, bug?"
Johanne just grins, bouncing in place, her fingers in her mouth.
"I know. You totally agree. Now, you're not going to like me for about four minutes, but I promise, I'll make it worth your while."
"That smells amazing," Kate announces as she comes through the front door.
"Glad to be of service," he replies, smiling as she grins at him, her arms laden down with shopping bags. "We still have two tubs of ice cream in the fridge," he adds as she comes over to the kitchen to plop the bags down."
"This isn't ice cream," Kate assures him. "Where's Josie?"
He laughs and points with his spatula before turning back to the fries on the stove top. Josie bounces happily in her jumper below the stairs, letting out quiet giggles. She'd been so angry when he took her out of the office, but as soon as he got the damn thing set up again, she was happy as a clam.
"Oh my God," Kate says, coming to stand next to him so she can see her in action. "That is absolutely the cutest thing I've ever seen."
"It's new her favorite thing. But woe to those who try to take her out of it."
"Her glare is progressing. Good day?"
"Yeah," she says. "We found out who the photographer was. The guys are gonna grab him tomorrow morning."
She hums in agreement. "Alexis still upstairs?"
"Yeah," he says, turning to look at her. "I just—what if she's making a mistake?"
"It sounds like she's being practical."
"But you can't base your life around practical. What if she meets her soul mate someday and doesn't take the chance because it's not practical?" he beseeches her.
He doesn't want Alexis to look at life like a math problem. He doesn't want her to make all of her decisions based on logic and reason. He glances at Johanne and then looks back at Kate. Life just isn't logical.
Kate sighs and rubs his arm. "How long until dinner?"
"Okay. I'll go talk with her. Call us when it's ready, hm?"
"But," he protests. He'd wanted her to come home so he could talk with Alexis.
"I promise," Kate says before he can get another word out. "I won't let her lose her sense of magic. You just keep working on whatever smells so good."
With that she grabs the grocery bags and makes her way to the stairs, swerving to give Johanne a kiss and a hug before disappearing up to Alexis' room. He doesn't seem to have any say anymore.
An hour later he calls upstairs, having rubbed the wings a second time and taken a few extra minutes to make all of the sauces extra buttery. He looks at Johanne and finds her asleep in her jumper. He laughs and gently takes her out, walking with her back to the office to put her into the crib they keep there for afternoon naps.
She snuffles a little in her sleep and he smiles, bending over the crib to cup the back of her head. "You're not going to grow up too fast, right, bug?" he whispers.
She just sighs and shifts, relaxing into the crib. He watches her for a moment then grabs the spare monitor to bring to the table, since she still doesn't quite cry when she wakes up. But she has graduated to whimpers. They consider it progress.
"Castle, this is so excessive," Kate greets as he sits down next to Alexis across from her.
"Bad excessive?" he wonders, looking at the three different kinds of wings, sweet potato and regular fries he put together.
"I'm going to take left overs tomorrow excessive," Kate decides. "Would you eat wings at school, Lex?"
He blinks. No one ever calls her 'Lex.'
But his daughter—oh, Beckett is magic. His daughter laughs, her voice a little hoarse, but a true smile on her face. "God no," she says. "Can you imagine?"
"What if I cut them up and put them in pasta with cheese to reheat?" he wonders.
"That sounds divine," Kate replies before Alexis can.
His daughter laughs. "What she said."
"Done," he promises. He may not have the magic words to make her happy, but he'll gratefully build on Kate's work. He notices that they both have new nail polish on. Is that how you cheer up a teenage girl? Because if so, he's been doing it very wrong all these years.
Alexis launches into a recount of a biology lesson where her class got in an animated debate about the function of the appendix, complete with the class clown's runny commentary of superhero powers. He watches in awe as Kate engages, seeing a camaraderie between the two women he hasn't seen, or hasn't been privy to before.
He feels Kate's socked foot press into his and looks across to meet her eyes. She smiles as Alexis takes a break to dig into her wings. He grins and nudges back.
After dinner, Alexis retreats into the office to pick their movie, promising to be quiet so as not to wake Johanne before they do for her bottle. Kate helps him gather the dishes and put everything into Tupperware to save for tomorrow, moving seamlessly with him. They're good at this.
"Thank you," he says softly as she comes back with the last of the dishes.
She smiles as she hands them over, watching while he loads the dishwasher. When he closes it, she rises onto her toes and wraps her arms around him, resting her chin on his shoulder as he curls around her.
"You said you'd do mine, and I'd do yours," she whispers. He laughs, startled, and she giggles into him. "She's wonderful, Castle."
"So're you," he mumbles into the side of her head.
He feels her smile as she turns to press her lips to his throat. She pulls back, leaving him breathless, and sinks back to her toes. He doesn't let her go, and she doesn't fight herself free, just stands in the circle of his arms, her hands settled on his biceps.
"She'll be okay," she promises.
A cry comes over the baby monitor, in time with Alexis's call of "Someone's up and wants her bottle."
Kate moves to step around him, but he stops her. He leans down and presses his lips softly to hers, feeling bold and grateful and so very astounded by her. He pulls back and meets her surprisingly pleased smile.
"You get mine, I'll get yours," he says softly.
She beams at him, catching his hands for a squeeze before he pulls away and walks back toward the office.
Whatever they are, and wherever they're going, they're something good.