"Castle, you're giving me a headache."
Castle turns and looks back at her where he's paced a few feet away in the small waiting room, rubbing Johanne's back as the baby sleeps on his chest. Kate smiles at him in her chair, her fingers twirling her ring around over and over.
"We'll you're just sitting there," he protests. "I'm all," he trails off, feeling a bit silly.
"Excited?" she suggests, her eyes sparkling.
He grins sheepishly and walks back to plop down beside her. "Happy," he corrects.
She laughs and leans in to press her lips to his for a brief kiss. "Me too. But if you keep pacing, I'll get a migraine and then no one will be happy."
He chuckles and nods, releasing one hand from around the baby to wrap around his fiancée's—his fiancée's—shoulders. Kate shifts as close as she can with the hard wooden arm of the chair between them. She reaches out, ring sparkling, and runs a gentle hand over Johanne's back.
"We should call your dad," Castle says quietly.
She hums. "I may have already," she says with a wink.
"When you changed Johanne and let her fall asleep."
"It's not my fault she finds my big strong arms all safe and warm," he protests with a smirk as Kate rolls her eyes, both of them too happy and sappy to pretend to be anything otherwise.
"She's gonna be cranky with Goldstein now, you know," Kate informs him.
"Nu-uh. She'll be a little angel." Kate raises an eyebrow and he shrugs. "And if she's not, who cares? She'll be our little demon, and no one can take her away."
Kate laughs, her voice melodic as she rests her head on his shoulder and stares down at the baby. "All ours to battle with. Little Josie Castle," Kate whispers, her voice soft and quiet.
He swallows hard.
The door opens and Goldstein pops his head into the waiting room, startling them with an easy, "Hello."
Johanne snuffles against his chest as Kate straightens up. Castle smiles down at the baby as she blinks bleary eyes up at him.
"Hey, Josie. We're gonna go see Dr. Goldstein. You like him, remember?" Castle tells her as he stands, Kate preceding him to follow Goldstein down the hall.
Johanne whines against him, a bit cranky now. He tuts and rubs her back before hiking her up to press kisses to her little belly. She giggles and stares at him, grumpy for it.
He laughs and follows Kate into the office. He takes Goldstein's hand as it's offered, smiling as Johanne shrinks against his chest.
Goldstein returns his smile and gestures to the chairs, waiting until they're all seated before considering them.
"You both look well," he begins. "Especially you, Kate."
Kate smiles. "Thank you. It was a, ah, rough summer. But we're all okay."
Her ring sends refracting rainbows onto the edge of Goldstein's desk and the man peers curiously at the colors before noticing the ring.
"I see congratulations are in order." They both blush. "Oh, major congratulations, it seems." Castle gapes for a moment but Goldstein holds up a hand. "Of course it's you, Rick. I just…wouldn't want to assume again."
Kate laughs merrily and reaches out for Johanne, taking her from Castle so he can slump back. "There's only one father for Josie, and I'm pretty happy with him too," Kate tells Goldstein.
The man laughs. "I think it's safe to assume then that you're all well and happy coming out of this six month trial period?"
"Very," Kate agrees, carding her fingers through Johanne's hair. "Look, Josie. It's your friend, Dr. Goldstein."
Johanne glances in the man's direction before returning her attention to Kate's new ring.
"Josie?" Goldstein repeats.
Johanne turns at the sound, considers him, then turns back to Kate. Goldstein smiles.
"How have you found her behavior these past few months?"
Kate looks over to Castle and he smiles. "She's been great. She cries when she wants things, reaches out to us for comfort. She and her sis—my daughter, Alexis."
"Her sister," Kate puts in. "Legally, Castle."
Goldstein just smiles as Castle blushes. "Ah, yeah," he agrees. "She and her sister are thick as thieves. Josie wants her all the time."
"And she's talking," Kate puts in. "Aren't you, bug? Can you say Lexi for Dr. Goldstein?"
"Exi?" Johanne repeats, shifting forward to look around.
Castle laughs. "Not here, bug. We'll see her in a little while." Johanne looks toward him and frowns. Kate smiles and kisses Johanne's cheek.
"Is it safe to say the adoption has gone through?" Goldstein asks.
Kate and Castle both laugh. "Yes," Castle admits. "About two hours ago."
Goldstein smiles. "And you're both feeling confident, comfortable?"
"We are," Kate agrees. "I—she's been so happy for the past few months, even when I was injured. She's really blossomed, and we're—I mean, I think we're doing as much as we can."
Goldstein nods. "Certainly, just from her behavior now, I can tell you this is a healthy little baby. She reacts they way I would expect her to, looks comfortable with you, huddles against you when she's insecure—everything that she didn't do six months ago. I have to congratulate you on your work with her."
"It was easy," Castle says immediately, before biting his lip. "Well, not easy, but worth it." Kate nods beside him.
"Certainly your legal guardianship serves as a rather permanent barrier between Johanne and another abandonment situation. I assume it's joint guardianship?"
"Yes," Kate says quickly. "Sorry. We could have had the form faxed over or something we just," she breaks off and looks to Castle, who laughs.
"We were a bit overwhelmed."
"Adoption can do that to a person," Goldstein admits.
"That and proposals," Kate mutters.
Kate winces and blushes. "Um, the adoption and the engagement were both…this morning."
Goldstein laughs loudly. Johanne startles and looks over at him. He just laughs harder, and Castle catches the little glare on his daughter's face.
"Oh, lighten up, Josie-bug," he says, reaching out to tickle her. She squeals and then turns the same look on him. "Dr. Goldstein's just surprised."
"I'm not, really," Goldstein says easily. "I knew the two of you were committed to Johanne and each other the first time you came in. I'm just glad it all worked out. Sincerely," he adds, looking to Kate.
Kate smiles. "Thank you. We are too."
There's a pause as the enormity of what they were up against, and what they surpassed, seems to hang in the air around them. Then Goldstein smiles and Johanne gurgles and the world starts turning again.
"Now, going forward, do you have any questions?"
Castle and Kate exchange glances. With everything that's happened, everything going on, they haven't discussed this. Damn. He can see his frustration reflected in Kate's eyes. They should have a list of questions already made up, because his mind is currently running a blank.
"Is she…cured is wrong," Kate begins, before shaking her head. "Do you still see markers for RAD?"
Goldstein gives the baby a gentle look. "I don't. From what you've told me, it sounds like she's recovered as best she can at this age from the trauma of losing her biological mother, and has adapted to being yours with little remaining issue." Kate nods slowly. "Going forward, there will be bumps along the way. Obviously, she looks different from the two of you."
Kate reaches out for Castle's hand and he lets her take it, squeezing her delicate fingers in his, the rough scratch of her new ring a welcome tether.
"She'll have questions, and, when she's old enough to understand the answers, she may be confused and a little detached. Some children take the notion of adoption in stride, some are more concerned and confused. There's no way to know which Johanne will be, but I have a feeling she'll know she's loved without issue, one way or the other."
"How old do you consider old enough to understand?" Castle wonders.
"She may start asking as young as two, or as late as five or six. It will depend more on her education and friends. Little children don't see those differences the way we do. With all her innocence intact, I would hope she would maintain the idea that, 'this is how I look. That's how mommy looks. What's different about that?' as long as she can. You'll know when she keeps asking, whatever age that is."
Castle watches Kate deflate. "And—will it hurt her?"
Goldstein gives her a soft look. "If you love her as much and as hard as you do any other child you may have, then no. She may be confused. She may feel a little isolated, or removed, but if you work with her, and reinforce the idea that blood doesn't determine family—that skin color doesn't determine family—then she'll be fine. And if she has issues, my door will always be open to all of you."
"And when she starts asking about her biological mom?"
Goldstein looks to Castle, before looking back at Kate. "Then, perhaps, you can use your own experience to explain," he says tentatively. "Loss colors our lives, but it doesn't have to burden them."
Kate nods and bends down to press a kiss to Johanne's head. Castle squeezes her hand before looking back at Goldstein.
"Is there anything else we should watch out for?"
Goldstein shrugs. "She may be shy. Have you given her much interaction with other children?"
They both shake their heads guiltily. There just wasn't the time or the opportunity. Goldstein smiles at them.
"It's not a matter of fault. Many families remain isolated together throughout the first year. But now that she's mobile and vocal, I'd suggest getting her into a play group in a few months, or letting her spend time with a relative or friend's baby, just so she starts to get comfortable with people her own size. Sometimes with RAD we see a reverse, where detachment later becomes separation anxiety. With you working, Kate, that's easier, as she's become acclimated to saying goodbye to you each day, learning that you'll come back at the end of it. Introducing more children into her world will help better prepare her for when she goes to school, and has to take comfort in her peers instead of her family."
They stare at him, both of them a little shocked and weighed down by the new challenge. They'd been working so hard to get her used to having them, and now they have to get her used to not having them?
Goldstein holds up his hands. "Not to worry. You're not off base any more than anyone else with an infant. This takes time for all babies, and she'll acclimate as she gets older. Friends are important, but she's little still. Please, don't feel as though you've missed some integral step. You haven't. Her feeling safe with you is still our biggest concern. Friends, alone time, overnights—those come later—things to think about, not things to worry over, all right?"
They both nod slowly.
"I am more than happy to keep our weekly appointments, or move to monthly, if you'd both like to check in every so often? We can discuss any new issues, and go from there."
"That would be good," Kate says quietly while Castle nods.
They're doing pretty well with this on their own, but having a professional in their back pocket wouldn't be too bad.
"Then I'll have Angela call you to set up an appointment for next month, maybe the week after her birthday?"
Castle nods as Kate stares down at Johanne.
"Kate, Rick," Goldstein says, waiting until Kate meets his eyes. "You have done beautifully with Johanne. She's at the perfect place for a baby her age. I don't want you to worry anymore about her RAD. The rest is just parenthood for a normal baby. It's terrifying. Welcome."
Kate laughs at that and Castle manages a chuckle. He remembers this—remembers being so worried about every little thing with Alexis. But this has been so much more, so much more specific. And now, to just worry like a normal parent with an average baby—how do they do that?
"Congratulations on your engagement, and congratulations on your adoption. I know you'll enjoy both. And if you ever have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out."
Mechanically, they shake his hand, and Kate gives Goldstein a soft 'thank you' before he leaves them in the office together, standing between the desk and their chairs, Johanne held between them.
"So," Kate manages.
"So," Castle repeats. "Wanna go home and let our parents smother us in food and forget about all this for the night?"
Kate laughs. "Yes," she agrees, hoisting Johanne up so they can look at her together. "Let's go home and celebrate with our happy little baby."
Johanne glares at them, still grumpy as she yawns.
Castle laughs and kisses Kate's cheek. "Well, we have our baby. Grumpy or not, she's ours."
Kate smiles. "She's ours."
"Here's to the happy family," Lanie proclaims, lifting her glass.
Castle smiles as all around them glasses of champagne rise into the air. Jim and Martha sit together on the couch, Kevin and Jenny on one of the armchairs. Lanie and Javi share the other end of the couch, and Alexis stands behind them all, snapping pictures with her phone.
Johanne reaches out for his champagne glass and Castle laughs, handing it to Kate before the girl can grab it.
"No alcohol for you, Josie Beckett Castle," he tells her, smiling as the room laughs.
Kate holds up his glass for him to sip before placing them both down and reaching out for the baby. "I'll teach you to do shots, little girl," Kate adds.
Jim and Martha laugh while Alexis scoffs. "Hey, that's my job," she protests.
"What?" Ryan lets out.
"I'm her big sister. I'm the one who's supposed to teach her to drink and smoke and…I don't know, sneak out of the apartment without mom and dad finding out."
"Because you have so much experience with all of those things?" Castle asks while Kate giggles.
"You don't know, Castle. Little Castle could have been sneaking out for years, isn't that right, Alexis?" Esposito puts in.
"Javi," Lanie exclaims, slapping him as Castle just gapes.
"Alexis, tell your dad you don't sneak out," Kate says, laughing a little as Alexis rolls her eyes.
"I don't sneak out. Kate and I did shots after Ashley left for Stanford, but…"
Castle splutters and Kate laughs loudly, reaching out to rub his back as Alexis comes over to scoop Johanne up.
"Calm down, big guy," she whispers as she rises up to press her lips to his cheek.
"I'm so outnumbered here," he whines as the room laughs.
"But you love it," Kate tells him.
He sighs before swooping in to press a fast kiss to her lips. "Yeah, I do," he admits. "Me and my three girls."
Kate smiles as Javi and Kevin make gagging sounds.
"Shut up," Kate tells them. "I'm happy."
Jenny sighs in contentment and Lanie grins.
"So, when is the big day?" his mother asks.
"We haven't decided yet," Castle tells her. "Having just gotten engaged and all."
"Well, you must, you must," Martha says quickly. "You know how venues fill up. And Katherine, dear, have you thought at all yet about your dress?"
Jim gives him a sympathetic look as Lanie and Jenny immediately grab Kate, pulling her away with Martha. Kate sends him a pleading look over her shoulder, but Esposito and Ryan grab him to ask about the proposal and adoption before he can save her. He looks to Alexis, but his daughters are in their own world, playing over by the window.
He sighs and settles in, watching every so often as Kate hides a wince, the women pulling out bridal magazines.
And though they're both being grilled, and the wedding will be crazy, and Johanne's going to grow up, and Alexis will leave for college, he's happy. He's the happiest he thinks he's ever been.
This is their life now, and they're so very lucky to have it.
Castle turns and finds Johanne peeking into the guest bedroom with a grin. Castle laughs.
"Mama looks pretty, huh?"
Johanne toddles into the room, looking like a little angel. He smiles as she twirls, stumbling over her bare feet to watch her white dress flare out around her knees. She's got a little white head band in her hair and her smile is so gorgeous as she stops spinning before running up to him.
He stoops to catch her, uncaring about his tux as Alexis walks into the room.
His older daughter is equally stunning, wearing a simple pink dress, her hair braided back in a French braid, a simple golden necklace around her neck.
"She looks amazing," Alexis admits, walking over to bat Johanne's hands away as the little girl goes for his bow tie.
Castle laughs and shakes his head, letting Johanne pull it apart. "S'too tight anyway," Castle offers with a shrug.
"Then lose it," Alexis suggests, reaching out to help Johanne pull it free from his collar. "Kate's excited about not wearing shoes." He laughs. "Gram, not so much." He laughs harder and she grins.
"And is this one behaving for mama?" he asks, bending down to rub noses with Johanne, who giggles and shoves his head away.
"She is," Alexis says with a smile, plucking her sister from his arms. "But, we need to go. They're almost ready and someone here needs to have her last potty break."
Johanne grins, looking very proud of herself. "I go potty, daddy, then I trow flowers."
Castle nods. "And you'll be the prettiest flower girl ever. Thank you for being our flower girl, Josie-bug."
Johanne blushes and buries her face against Alexis' collarbone.
Alexis laughs and squeezes her tight before arching up to kiss Castle's cheek. "Congratulations, daddy," she whispers.
"Thank you. And, Alexis," he adds as she rocks back down to the balls of her feet. "Thank you."
Alexis smiles. "My pleasure. Now go be jittery. We'll see you down there."
He nods and watches as Alexis leaves the room, Johanne waving over her shoulder. He waits a beat then creeps to the door and peers out into the hall.
"And don't you dare go see Kate," Alexis calls out.
He huffs and opens the door to lean in the doorway.
He just…wants to see her before he has to share her. What's so—okay, so it's against tradition. But they already slept in the same bed last night. And he's not entirely sure why he couldn't watch her get ready anyway. He loves to watch her get ready.
After a minute, he sighs and goes back into the guest room. He's supposed to wait for Martha to come get him, so as not to ruin any surprises.
He sits down on the edge of the bed and stares out the window at the ocean. He can see the little audience set up at the edge of the beach. He and Kate desperately wanted to have their ceremony on the sand, despite everyone's protest. But after everything they've gone through to get here, no one was denying them much of anything, and so their grudging guests will sit with their toes in the sand while they exchange vows.
Luckily, it's a clear, sunny, windless August day.
He smiles, imagining their little girl skipping through the sand, watching the ocean as much as her parents as they exchange their vows. He imagines dancing with Kate up on the lawn before stealing her away to splash in the shallows, both of them careful of her dress. He imagines waking up tomorrow as her husband.
He's wanted this for so long.
It took nearly two years to get it together, toddling and college and potty training and work getting in the way before they could set a date and get here, to their wedding.
There's a knock on the door and he stands up, turning away from visions of the future to embrace the now.
He laughs as the door opens and Kate slips into the room. His breath leaves his chest a moment later as she locks the door and stands shyly across the room. Her dress is beautiful—her mother's dress. It flows down her body, flaring out around her waist to fall gently to her feet, with delicate lace over her chest. Her hair is back in a beautiful bun and she has a bracelet on her wrist, and earrings he vaguely remembers in her ears.
But her grin is was what catches him, what has him across the room and cradling her face for a kiss.
"Just wanted to see you," she whispers as they pull apart.
"Me too," he admits, resting his forehead against hers. "You're so beautiful," he tells her, stroking her cheeks as she searches his eyes.
"You are too," she says with a smile.
He huffs and sips another kiss from her lips before pulling back to take her hands. "Josie and Alexis look great."
Kate nods, squeezing his hands. "They do."
"You ready?" he asks, his face split in a grin he can't control.
Kate nods and tugs on his hands to bring him back so she can wrap her arms around his neck and pull him into a hug. "I'm so ready, Castle."
He smiles and kisses her cheek, her neck. "Me too."
There a soft knock on the door and they pull apart, wincing. "Um," Castle lets out, dragging Kate behind him to shield her as he flicks open the lock. Kate laughs behind him and he shushes her, opening the door to find Johanne looking up at him.
"Time go, daddy," she says, her chest puffed up before she spots Kate. "Mama!"
Kate laughs and catches Johanne, hoisting her up into her arms before she can tug on the delicate lace of her skirt. "You're not Martha," she tells the girl.
"You suppose'da be with gampa," the little girl tells her sternly.
Castle laughs as Kate gives her daughter a guilty look. "I just wanted to see daddy before we got married," she says, sounding innocent. "He's so pretty, isn't he?"
Kate laughs as Johanne nods, looking over at him. "Pretty daddy."
Castle shakes his head and walks up to them, bending down to kiss Johanne's cheek. "Thank you, baby."
Johanne smiles, before frowning. "No see each other. Lexi says you're not suppose'da!"
"We just wanted a minute with our Josie," Kate says, smiling at Castle as Johanne grins, all outrage forgotten. "You know, your daddy and I might not be married without you," she adds.
"Really?" Johanne asks, eyes wide as she looks between them.
"That's right," Castle agrees. He likes to think they would have gotten together anyway, but who's to say they would have? "We fell in love with you first, and then we fell in love with each other. You're our lucky charm."
Johanne beams, then grows shy, cuddling into Kate.
Kate kisses her forehead and sways, reaching out for Castle with her free hand to pull him in, the three of them sharing a pre-ceremony slow dance.
"I love you," Castle whispers to her.
Kate nods, kissing his jaw. "Love you too, Castle."
Johanne looks up at him and Castle smiles. "And we love you more than anything in the world, Josie-bug."
"Of course," they hear from the doorway.
"You and your sister," Castle corrects, turning to find Alexis leaning against the doorjamb. "Who looks mad," he adds to Kate, smiling as she laughs.
"Okay, since I can't trust you two, Josie, you stay with mama, and I'll take daddy down to the beach."
"We just wanted," Castle starts as Alexis glares at him.
"My fault," Kate says easily. "I wanted to see him."
Alexis seems to soften at that and Castle huffs. "Yeah, sure, take her side," he grumbles to his daughter as she comes over to scoop Johanne out of Kate's arms.
"We're on the same side, Castle," Kate says with a laugh, stepping up to loop her arm into his.
Alexis sighs and looks at them. "Can you do nothing by tradition?"
They look together at their kids, Johanne grinning back at them as Alexis gives them a soft smile.
"Nope," Castle decides.
"Yeah, we're good with how we're doing things," Kate agrees.
Alexis sighs then grins at them before looking down at Johanne. "I think they're good, don't you, bug?"
"Yeah!" Johanne exclaims, happy to be included.
"So, let's get you guys married," Alexis decides.
"We'll meet you down there," Kate tells Alexis. Alexis arches an eyebrow. "One minute?" Kate pleads.
Alexis narrows her eyes for a moment before nodding and whispering to Johanne, stepping outside the door. She doesn't close it behind them and Kate laughs. She steps to face him and looks up at him, her eyes trailing his face, his smile, before landing on his eyes.
"Thank you," she says. He peers at her and she smiles, running her fingers gently along his jaw. "For picking me up at the airport. For being there."
He smiles. "It was my privilege."
She arches up and presses her lips to his in one last kiss before pulling away.
"Let's get married, Castle."
He smiles and squeezes her hands. "Let's."