Unscathed


Chapter 36

It's a tense drive. All three of them are on edge, snipping about the music and snapping at each other for every little thing. Alexis hates how Castle drums his fingers on the steering wheel. Castle can't stand the way Kate keeps fiddling with her visor. Alexis's little huffs are really getting on Kate's nerves.

All around, they're just not happy today.

But as they come up on the last turn and Kate gives a grunted instruction for Castle to go down the narrow, wooded driveway, she suddenly doesn't care all that much that Alexis is breathing loudly in the backseat. She doesn't care that Castle has been an absurdly prissy driver this time around.

All she can focus on is the steady, over-fast beat of her heart and the winding path full of deep greens and just the faintest hint of yellows and reds.

Absently, she reaches back and feels Alexis grip her hand as they crest the end of the drive and roll into the clearing in front of the modest cabin. Two rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, a living room, and an enormous porch—it's not much.

She swallows hard, trying to push back the memories of this place last year, and another, different cabin not so long ago. Today is for the present. Today is for the slightly huffy teen in the backseat, and the stoic man beside her. Today is for them, for the three of them as some kind of dysfunctional little family, arguments and bickering included.

She turns and finds Castle already looking back at Alexis, both their faces framed by the headrests as the teen looks between them. She's pale and a little clammy, but she manages a brave smile for them and Kate feels pride swelling in her chest.

"Ready?" Castle asks, his voice soft and deep and that delightful timbre of paternal that melted her frosted heart all those years ago.

"Yeah," Alexis says, nodding before starting to unbuckle.

Kate and Castle follow suit, their eyes meeting for a beat before they all pile out of the car. They can do this. They can take this back, the three of them, together.

Kate takes a deep breath as she steps out of the car, hit by that familiar scent of pine and musk that suffuses the area. It smells damp and earthy, solid and sacred. It rushes over her, the combined peace and terror she felt here last summer. She stutters her breath back out, curling her fingers into her long sweater as she sways in place.

A moment later, a smaller hand slips into her own. She opens her eyes and finds Alexis beside her, her face a mirror of what Kate feels.

"You okay?" Kate whispers.

Alexis nods. "No."

Kate smiles and tugs her close, wrapping her arm around her shoulders. "Together?"

"Together," Alexis agrees.

Kate reaches out for Castle before he can open the trunk. "Grab them later?" she suggests, her palm held open.

He smiles tightly at her and walks over, touching her hand briefly before crossing to stand on Alexis' other side. Kate smiles, proud of him, proud of them both.

"It might smell," she admits as she walks them all forward, their shoes slipping slightly on the muddy path.

The grass is long. No one's been to cut it in months, she can tell. There are leaves on the porch. The stairs creek beneath her feet, familiar and loud against the quiet of the clearing.

"It'll be great," Castle enthuses, his smile now over-wide on his face as she pulls the keys from her pocket.

Her hand shakes, but she manages to get the key in the lock. She laughs a little at herself, feels Alexis squeeze her waist.

Honestly, it's her cabin. There's nothing to be afraid of here.

She turns the knob and pushes the door open, hit at once by a column of stale air. She blinks and stills for just a moment, looks out at the living room, her prison, her salvation.

"It's pretty."

Kate startles at Alexis' voice and pulls them both inside with her.

It is pretty. The door opens on the little living room, with its comfy gray couch and worn brown leather chair, the tables, hearth, and bookshelves bursting with old, well-loved books. The threadbare crocheted rug lays between the dinged coffee table and the fireplace, and she can see the spot where she spilled coffee on it the day after her father left.

She wasn't ready to bend enough to clean it for weeks, giving the stain ample time to set.

She looks to the right and stares into the little kitchen, glad she did the dishes before leaving. Her father has been here, of course, but somehow it feels like time has stood still in this cabin since she left last summer.

"You can take my room," Kate says to Alexis, pointing across the room to the little hallway, bathroom on the left, bedrooms on the right, linen closet at the end. "It's a twin, but it's comfy, and it has the only TV in the house."

Alexis manages a smile for her, staring around, eyes wide.

"We don't get a TV?" Castle grumps, winking at her.

Kate rolls her eyes. "I'm sure we'll manage to entertain ourselves."

"Remember we're sharing a wall, please," Alexis mumbles, causing both of them to laugh.

It breaks the tension and the three of them disengage, finally stretching after the long drive.

"We promise," Kate tells Alexis as Castle continues to snicker and wanders into the kitchen. She's about to mention that they haven't had sex yet since her surgery but clamps down on the comment just in time.

Alexis gives her a look, as if she knows anyway, and then smiles. "It's pretty," she repeats, gesturing at the room. "Cozy."

"Yeah," Kate agrees.

She watches Alexis peruse the room, the kitchen, the little hallway. She notes a flicker of uncertainty pass over her face and reaches out to touch her elbow.

"No basement," she says softly.

Alexis' eyes snap to hers for a moment before her body sags, relief seeping out of her. "I know."

Kate nods decisively. "Good."

Castle appears back from the kitchen and gestures out toward the car. Kate smiles at him, relieved to see his shoulders freer too, some of that tension gone from his frame at seeing the space. She wonders what this must be like for him, united in their search for closure, but separate and with his own demons two summers deep as well.

"You spent summers here?" Alexis asks quietly.

"We did," Kate tells her, guiding her over to the couch to sit down. The girl twists her fingers together as she looks down at the rug.

"Did you get bored?" Alexis wonders. She looks up sheepishly. "I don't mean that we will, but—"

Kate laughs. "Why do you think there's a TV in your room?"

Alexis' eyes widen and it takes her a beat to catch up. Oh, well, it's the kid's room, right? It was Kate's, and now it's Alexis'.

It's not like someone else will ever—she forces the thought back. She and Castle decided they'd talk tonight about how to tell Alexis. She doesn't need to focus on it now.

"Dad taught me how to fish in the lake, and mom taught me to cross country ski in the winters. And it was one of the few times every year when one or both of them wasn't working." Kate adds.

"Right," Alexis says. "It's funny, I've never had a working parent before, you know? I mean dad works, but it's not like he has a steady nine-to-five to go to every day. Well, he has you, but that's—" she trails off, shrugging.

"I get it. You're lucky," Kate says honestly. "And not just the millionaire part." Alexis laughs and nods. "He's a great dad."

"Yeah, he is," Alexis agrees.

There's a clatter and Kate turns to find Castle focused very intently on fitting all of their suitcases through the door. She can tell he heard them though by the way he's very consciously not looking at them. Good.

"I used to wish they worked less," Kate admits, turning back to Alexis, letting Castle deal with it on his own. He's the one who just had to pack another suitcase, despite the fact that they're only here for the weekend.

"But then when I was a teenager it felt like they couldn't work enough. Funny how that works."

Alexis shakes her head, looking over at Castle before meeting her eyes. "Not me."

Kate smiles. "That's because you're weird."

Alexis laughs loudly and bumps her shoulder. "Am not."

"Are so too. Valedictorian? Homebody? Please, you are the golden child standard of easy kids," Kate teases, watching as Alexis blushes.

"I can have that rebellious streak now if you want. Binge drink and get a tattoo and stuff."

"No tattoos," Castle says sternly as he finally manages to close the door and set their suitcases along the wall. "If you absolutely have to, let me vet them at least?" he relents.

Alexis' eyes nearly fall out of her head and Kate laughs, delighted. Both of them glare at her and she just laughs harder.

"I wish you could see yourselves," she gets out, wheezing around it. It's not really that funny, but it's so them. Parent vs child, and never quite sure which is which when it's not entirely serious.

"Where did you get yours then?" Alexis asks Kate.

Kate notices Castle stiffen a hair at that. He forgets that Alexis knows her upper body almost as well as he does now, has seen that butterfly on her hip more than once.

"Not where you would get yours," Kate says immediately. Castle laughs, recovering himself.

"Damn straight," he puts in. "Nowhere Madison Queller would go."

"I'm sure she knows very good artists these days," Kate quips back.

"Okay. Nowhere Katie Beckett and Maddie Queller would have gone, then," Castle decides. "You really want a tattoo?" he asks Alexis.

The girl laughs softly. "No, Dad. But thanks for the support."

He smiles wide and walks around to plop down on her other side. "Hey, if you're going to do things to your body you can never undo, the least I can do is help you make good choices about it."

Alexis stares at him then looks back at Kate. "Did you put him up to this?"

Kate laughs and nudges Alexis. "Nope."

"Pod father," Alexis says as Castle just laughs. "Too cool, dad."

He grins. "Never thought I'd hear that."

"I never thought you'd approve of a tattoo!"

He shrugs. "I don't. But you're eighteen. I can't stop you. I'd rather you ask for help than make those decisions all on your own now just because legally you can, you know?"

Alexis slumps back into the couch, nodding slowly. "Well, thanks."

"As for binge drinking, it's so not worth it," Kate says, watching as Castle nods emphatically. "You only enjoy it for like an hour, and then you vomit for about twelve."

"Or you steal police horses naked?" Alexis asks, looking over at her father.

"I have never said I was a paragon of propriety," Castle says quickly. Alexis laughs. "But don't do that. You have no idea where the horse has been, and then years later some cop will use it as fodder to torture you with for years and years."

"Ooh, so he approves of me shadowing someone then? There's a cute uniform at the precinct named David, can you give me his number?" Alexis asks, and Kate marvels as how quick witted she is sometimes.

Castle looks like he's about to swallow his own tongue though.

"He's not smart enough for you," Kate says with a solemn shake of her head. "Sorry."

Alexis rolls her eyes. "Seriously? That's a little shallow, Kate"

Kate laughs. "He's sweet, but I don't think you'd have much in common. He's got smarts, but he's not big on books, and really into sports."

"Who is this guy?" Castle butts in.

"That kid with the muscles who talks basket ball with Espo," Kate offers. Castle shakes his head. "I don't know when you'd have met him. He works the late shift, and you're usually home by then."

Castle frowns at her. "Is this guy even real?"

"Oh, he's real," Alexis mumbles.

Castle raises an eyebrow at Kate and she smiles. She could do worse. Kate doesn't think they'd be soul mates—too little in common. But she could do worse. He's a very sweet kid, just nineteen now.

"There will be boys at college," Castle says, before clamping his mouth shut.

Alexis just grins. "You're right. I should wait, bag a senior."

Castle gives a put-upon sigh and stands up. "I'm going to make cocoa."

Kate and Alexis laugh as he stomps toward the kitchen, all bluster and no bite.

"Are you really into David?" Kate asks, looking back at Alexis.

The girl shrugs. "He's sweet. I'm not—I leave for college in a week and a half, I'm not gonna start anything now. But he's sweet."

"And easy on the eyes?"

"Yeah," the girl agrees with a slight blush. "Lanie thinks so too."

Kate laughs. "Lanie's a dog sometimes. She's got Espo."

"What, so no one else will ever be hot because you have dad?" Alexis prods, smirking at her. The nerve.

"Oh please. I get that firefighter's calendar just like you. David's just young. He's a baby."

"He's older than me!"

"You're a baby."

"Hey," Alexis grumbles, shoving at her. "Am not."

"You can't even drink legally. I'll give you toddler."

Alexis huffs and Kate laughs, tossing her arm over the teen's shoulder even as she pouts. Alexis may be the most mature young woman she's ever met. But she's still young, and little, and so not ready to be taken for a ride by a womanizing young uniform, no matter how hot he looks without a shirt on.

Wow. Maybe she is the dog here.

"He's got great arms," Alexis says softly, a little dreamy.

Kate giggles and Alexis joins in, the two of them sniggering together as Castle rolls his eyes in the kitchen.

(…)

"You okay?"

She shivers as he runs his hands down her arms, chest pressing to her back while she looks at the room. His bag is by the window, his pajamas laid out on the bed. He's laid hers out too, along with their phone chargers.

"Yeah," she says, swallowing hard at the tightness in her own voice.

She is. She's fine. She can lie down in that bed and sleep peacefully, Castle beside her. She won't wake in excruciating pain, unable to even get herself out of bed for water to soothe her scratching raw throat.

"It's lovely, the cabin," Castle adds, wrapping his arms around her, his lips pressing against the side of her head.

"It is," Kate agrees. "Quiet."

"Very," he says, squeezing her lightly. "You sure you're okay?"

She sighs and turns in his arms, ripping her eyes from the bed to find his face instead. He smiles at her, soft and ready to comfort, and she wishes she didn't need it so much.

"I'm tired," she admits.

"We can just sleep. I know we were going to talk about Alexis and…well, but we can just sleep."

"No," she says quickly. She doesn't want to put this off anymore. "No. I meant, I'm tired, but I'm worried I'll go to sleep and wake up and not be all…here." "Flashbacks?" he asks, looking so god damned understanding and supportive.

"Yes," she says, hears her voice is harder now.

"That's okay."

"I know," she bites out. His eyebrows raise and she winces. "I know," she repeats. "Sorry, I'm—I don't know, Castle. I'm scared, I think."

He nods slowly. "That's—" he pauses and blows out a breath, before leaning in to kiss her. It's long, and slow, sweet, and she melts, that irritation with herself and her situation and her deep need for the quiet compassion on Castle's face falling away.

"You want to share a shower?" he asks as they pull apart.

She laughs and he grins at her, eyebrows dancing. "If you want to talk infertility in the shower, sure," she says, glad that he keeps smiling through it.

"I don't know. Naked Beckett makes everything better. Why not?"

She rolls her eyes but allows him to strip her out of her clothes and wrap her in the big fluffy robe she had no idea he owned. He leads her across the little hall, their fingers locked together. She can see the light still on in Alexis' room and makes sure to flip on the bathroom fan to muffle their voices.

She watches as he fiddles with the taps, holding out a hand to test the water as the pipes creak and groan around them. The fan rattles, wheezing rather than steadily beating, but it's enough. It'll drown out anything they say, at any rate.

She gets distracted from her thoughts as Castle removes his robe. He's handsome and naked and she finds herself staring long enough that he barks out a laugh.

"Come on, Kate," he says, crooking a finger as he steps over the edge of the tub. He holds the shower curtain for her as she shrugs out of her own robe.

She ignores the twinge in her stomach as she lifts her leg over the lip of the tub, that tiny little pull that reminds her she's definitely not ready for shower acrobatics just yet.

"Hey," he says as she gets in and tucks the shower curtain tight to the wall.

"Hi," she mumbles, letting him tug her under the spray.

She breathes out a sigh of relief to find the water hot. There was a week over the summer when the water heater went on the fritz. It certainly didn't help the phantom pains and the tightness of her skin then. She's sure it wouldn't help now.

But thankfully, it's blissfully hot and steamy now, and with Castle there to shuffle around, she doesn't quite have the brain space to think on those ghosts. They shampoo in tandem, taking turns to rinse for a few quiet minutes before she works up her nerve.

"So—"

"I thought—"

They laugh a bit awkwardly and blink at each other under wet fringe.

"She's your kid," Kate gets out, shrugging a little. "What do you want to do?"

He considers her for a beat, reaching out to tuck a wet strand of hair behind her ear. "You're seriously trying to pull the 'my kid' card?"

She blinks. "But—"

"They'd have been my kids, right?" he asks, his voice gentle, eyes insistent.

She feels off kilter—was so ready to let go and let him make this choice. She wanted to give him that, to let him fix this. She wanted him to fix it. Selfish of her, really. But she had hoped he'd just…know what to do.

"Yeah, they would," she whispers.

"You'll still be here in a few years."

"Yeah, I will," she says quickly.

"So we get to do this painful thing together then," he decides with a tired smile.

She nods slowly. Together. "Okay. Together. Any suggestions on how to broach the subject with her?"

"Charades?"

"Castle," she says, whacking his chest. Her hand on his peck produces a loud, wet slap and they both wince.

"I don't know. We just tell her?"

"I was hoping for more than just, 'Hey, remember when we escaped from the basement and Tyson crushed my hips? Well, I can't have kids now. Your dad knows and he's a champ. Let's have smores,' Rick."

He gapes for a second, swallowing hard before wiping the shock off his face. "Uh."'

She groans and leans forward, knocking her head against his clavicle. "Do we even have to tell her?"

"She'll kill us if we don't," he mumbles, arms wrapping around her.

"I don't want to tell her," she admits, pressing close. "If we don't," she begins.

"Then it's not real," he finishes for her, nodding against the crown of her head. "But it is."

"Yeah," she says, pulling back to look up at him. "Should we do it here? Just..finish this?"

"Finish what?"

"The cabin, the abduction, the shooting, the trauma. Get it all out, be miserable, and start fresh when we go home?"

His eyes widen as she ticks things off, his hands clenching around her forearms. "Kate," he says.

"I want this to be over. I want it to be over," she repeats, closing her eyes. "I just—I want us to just be happy, Castle. Can we just be happy?"

She opens her eyes to find him nodding at her, leaning close to wrap her up again, nearly lifting her off her feet.

"We'll be happy. Telling Alexis might not do that immediately, but we'll be happy, Kate. I promise you. We'll be happy and healthy and in love for the rest of forever."

"How bad will this be?" she asks, pulling back to meet his eyes. "On a scale of, ah—"

"We're getting divorced to I changed the cable package?"

Kate winces. "Sorry. I'm being dramatic."

"No," he says with a shrug. "Not dramatic. You're still here. I think that's what she'll care about. Siblings? That would be great, but you're the important piece here."

"You too, Castle," she says quickly. Without him, none of this would exist.

He smiles and trails a hand along her back, winding around to stroke lightly at the surgical scar on her stomach. She's proud to think that she barely notices it, that it doesn't stand out among the…others.

"A lot worse than infertility could have come out of this, Kate, and you not coming out of it was a big possibility, given what you guys have told me."

"I was never in that much—"

"Yes, you were," he says firmly and she sighs, nodding. He's right. "And I think that for Alexis, you being here with us is much more important than us getting pregnant someday."

"I guess," Kate mumbles. She hopes so. But she doesn't know.

"That's how I feel," he adds, his hand curving around her hip. "I wanted kids with you. I wanted to see you pregnant, but God, Kate, having you here with us is so much more important. And you're here, and you're going to be just fine, that's all that matters."

Kate meets his eyes. "I keep telling myself that, but I'm—" she breaks off and curls closer, burying her face in his shoulder, unable to articulate it. Of course it could have been worse, she knows that. Alexis definitely knows that, so does Castle.

But this is still terrible too, and she wants it over.

It is over, but it still hurts. There's no more 'over' to get to. This is it. This is life now, and she doesn't quite know how to wrap her head around that.

"I love you."

She pulls back and meets his eyes, blinking against tears. "I love you too."

He smiles, and she sees the sadness behind it clear as day. "We'll get there."

She wishes there were here now.

(…)

"Daddy?"

He blinks his eyes open, confused. It's dim, no ambient light out the window. It's cold too, and the mattress is harder than he expects it to be.

The cabin, with Kate and Alexis. And Alexis is—

Oh.

"Pumpkin, you okay?" he mumbles, sitting up gingerly, aware of Kate sleeping peacefully behind him. If they can, if Alexis doesn't need her, he'd like to keep her that way.

"Sorry," Alexis whispers, and he finally takes her in, shivering by the side of the bed, hair mussed and face splotchy.

"Bad dream?" he asks, swinging his legs out of bed so he can stand up and hug her. She may be bigger, but she curls into him the same way she used to when she was a little girl.

"Yeah," she says into his chest.

"Come on, I'll tuck you in," he says, pulling away to guide her out of the room before they wake Kate—so he's just focused on his baby.

He leads her out into the hall, his feet freezing on the cold wood floor. They walk back into Alexis room and he smiles at the nightlight by the bedside. It was Kate's idea to bring it, a whim he thought kind of silly at the time. But the minute Alexis turned off the lights she popped out of her room and asked if they had anything. His daughter is not little Katie Beckett, and he's proud of her for it—for knowing when to ask for help. Like now, as he snuggles her back into Kate's old bed, he can see how scared she is, how much it must have taken for her to get out of bed at all to come get him.

"Want to tell me about it?" he asks gently, smiling tiredly at her, his heart tugging at the familiar tableau of her little and scared in her bed.

"I was here all alone," she says softly, looking down at her hands. "But it wasn't here, it was the—I was alone there. Tyson was dead, but Kate wasn't there. I don't know where she was, or if she was dead too, but I couldn't find her. And I couldn't make a call to get you, and I just…sat there, for what felt like hours."

He frowns. It's less outwardly terrifying, more lonely, and somehow that feels worse.

"And I woke up, and I thought maybe I was here alone too," she finishes with a shrug. "I don't—it wasn't scary I just—I needed—"

"I get it," Castle says. "Oh, honey, I get it." She nods and sighs, settling in. "Can I get you some warm milk or anything?"

She shakes her head. "Can you just stay for a little while?"

"Of course," he says, smiling as she slides down to lie flat, curls her body around his hip, Monkey-Bunky appearing from beneath the covers.

He rubs her back, watches as she slowly slips back to sleep, needing nothing more than having him close to ward off the nightmare. It hits him then that she came for him, not for Kate—wanted him even here in the cabin that must remind her so much of the other.

He smiles, feeling like a little piece of his broken heart has come back. She still needs him, still wants him. She has more lately, time having healed some wounds, having made her less dependent on Kate's presence.

She's still his little girl.

She's his only little girl. She may be the only little girl he ever has, and she's leaving in a little over a week. No amount of telling himself she's just heading up the island seems to make it easier to imagine.

He slumps, still rubbing his daughter's back. She's his only little girl. And she's leaving. He thought—well, it wouldn't make it any easier for her to go now, but he thought someday there'd be more little hands and feet and needing little hearts. He thought he'd get another chance at all of it.

Even when he didn't have Kate, even when he was alone, somehow, he always thought there might be another chance, another round of parenthood. He wanted to know what it would be like to do it with someone else.

He wanted another chance with a pregnancy. He wanted the chance to be the right kind of partner then. He tried with Meredith, he did. But he didn't know how, not really. With Kate—he would have done backflips, would have—

He sighs and notes that Alexis has fallen asleep, her breathing easy and even. He could go back to bed, could wrap himself around Kate and bury his sadness in her hair, take solace in her heartbeat.

Instead, he watches Alexis sleep and feels himself slowly cracking.

He wanted more. He wanted that future. He wanted another chance, another kid. He wanted.

"Castle?"

He heaves in air, surprised to find himself weeping silently over his sleeping teenage daughter. Surprised further to find Kate beside him, her hand on his shoulder, rising to comb through his hair.

Fuck. He didn't mean to let her find him like this. He didn't mean to do this at all. It's fine. It's fine, and he has them both, and that's enough.

"Babe."

He shakes his head, stands swiftly and turns away, scrubbing at his face. She doesn't need to see this. She's doing so well. He wants her happy and working through it, not sinking down with him.

But she wraps herself around his back, arching on her toes to kiss the back of his neck. He takes a shuddering breath and turns in her embrace, curling around her.

"I'm sorry," he says against her ear, his voice as wet as his face.

"Don't be," she says, squeezing hard against him. "Don't be."

He pulls back after a long moment, glad at least to find her face dry. "I—she's leaving," he offers.

Kate smiles sadly. "I know."

"And I—I don't know. I'm sad about that, and so sad about," he trails off.

She nods and they both turn to look down at Alexis, who's uncurled and now lies spread-eagle on her stomach, mouth open, deep in sleep.

"Monkey-Bunky," Kate offers.

He chuckles. "He wards off monsters."

"Of course he does," she says, and it sounds like maybe she believes it.

She would be such a good mother.

"Come back to bed?"

"Did we wake you?" he wonders as he lets her gently guide him out of the room, watches as she does some trick with the doorknob so it doesn't click.

"No," she says, her hand tangled with his as they pad back down the hall. "Weird dream."

He sighs. He—there's never enough of him.

"I'm fine," she insists, smiling at him. "Don't worry, Castle. Weird, not bad."

"Okay," he mumbles. Better than nothing, he supposes.

He climbs into bed and settles against the headboard, watches as Kate curls up beside him, a yawn splitting her face. She waits, sleepy and open.

"It feels worse that she's leaving, knowing we won't have…another one," he offers after a long pause.

She nods and he feels himself relax. "We wouldn't have had one anyway right now, but I—I understand."

"It's not like it makes it easier to let her go, but somehow it's just—more," he says, shrugging. "It's stupid."

"Not stupid," she insists, scooting closer to take his hand. "I got a summer with her. It doesn't feel like enough. You have a whole lifetime of her, I get it."

"By that logic it should be harder for you," he says.

Her face falls a bit and he blows out a breath. "She's your daughter, Rick. It will always be harder for you."

He studies her, unsure of what to say. She is—Alexis is his kid, that's true. But what Alexis and Kate have is complicated, and messy, and important too.

"I want to make this easy on you," she continues and he blanches. "I mean—not the—her leaving. I don't want to be in the way."

"Don't let Alexis hear you say that," he says immediately and she huffs. "Seriously, Kate."

"I—between us, Rick."

He shakes his head. "You're not."

"But if I start—"

"You won't," he says clearly, reaching out to cup her cheek, making sure she's watching him. "You don't. We—before—I didn't know how to help, and I think I took some of that out on you, because I didn't know how to ask for help with it. But now? Kate, I don't want to do this without you."

"Castle," she says, eyes a little shiny now.

He takes a deep breath, hopes it's the right way to say it, to show her. "If we don't ever have kids—however we would have them—then she's your last kid too," he says slowly. "And it's not the same, but what the two of you have? It's special, and I don't want you to change any of it for me because you think you have to pay homage to the time I had with her before you."

She stares for a long beat before moving, wrapping her arms around him, climbing into his lap to kiss him, her hands moving to frame his face.

"Thank you," she says, her voice very tight. "That's—that you would share her—I love you," she whispers.

He smiles and lets his hands rest on her hips, squeezing. "What's mine is yours, kid and all, Beckett." Her eyes widen and he smiles. "Not—not officially yet, but someday. We have that someday, right?"

Her smile is beautiful as she nods at him. She leans in and kisses him, her thumbs stroking at his face as she pulls back, "Yes."