"Without the tiger?" Panic seeps into his voice as Castle's eyes meet Beckett's across the dark of the bedroom.
"Without. The. Tiger." Brows lowered, she steps across the threshold, surveys the room once more before she continues. "I warned you this was coming."
He sits up a little straighter, lips pressing together.
"You did. But we made it this long, I didn't really believe you."
Kate crosses to the closet, opens the large wooden box, and scans its contents.
"This is not going to go well," he says to her back. Making her selection, she rounds on him, painting on a smile.
"You don't know that–don't jinx it."
At his question, both turn their attention to the 18-month-old cuddled in his father's lap, sippy cup of milk no longer occupying his full attention.
"No, Christopher. Stripes isn't here." Kate holds out the fluffy, brown bunny she has picked from his toy box. "Why don't you sleep with Mr. Bunn tonight?"
A crinkle forms between tiny eyebrows.
"I'm sorry, Buddy. I looked everywhere. Mommy looked everywhere. Your tiger is hiding and we can't find him."
Christopher blinks up at his daddy, sticks his thumb into his mouth and gives it a few thoughtful sucks.
"Just give the bunny a try, kiddo," Kate tries again, edging closer and holding the ball of fluff out to her son. The thumb pops out of his mouth and his sippy cup is dashed to the floor.
"No! Sipes." Christopher wriggles out of his father's arms. "Down."
"Sweetheart, it's time to go to bed." Kate heads their toddler off before he makes it out the open bedroom door. "It's not time to go downstairs."
Dodging, he wedges himself between her knee and the door jamb and slips past, all the while repeating, "Down, down, down."
Kate has spent the past 18 months perfecting mom reflexes, and she scoops him up well before he reaches the gate at the top of the stairs.
"Christopher, it's bedtime. I know you want your tiger, but he's not here and Daddy never found another one–"
"Hey, Daddy searched every baby store, toy store, and department store in the city for another one, and online. It's not my fault your Aunt Theresa sent him an irreplaceable stuffed tiger. And besides, if Alexis managed to hang onto Monkey Bunkey, I figured he would be fine." Castle has come up behind her, nudging his front into her back and wrapping his arms around them both, trying to console their frustrated son.
"Sipes. Down, Mama, down, down!" He bursts into full on tears now and redoubles his efforts to escape.
"Maybe we should let him sleep in our bed tonight. I'll cuddle up with him until he falls asleep. Just this once." Castle shoots her the puppy dog eyes that she is still incapable of resisting, even when he is asking to break one of their cardinal rules of bedtime: Christopher sleeps in his own bed. But a big fat tear hits her neck from where their son is burrowing, beside himself with angst over his stuffed animal. Her heart stalls and sinks in her chest.
"Fine. But you have to explain to him tomorrow why he can't come in our bed every night from now on."
He clicks open the gate and follows her down.
"That's easy enough – you see, Christopher, Mommy and Daddy are making you a new little sis–"
"What, too early for birds and bees?"
"Bees," their son parrots, his spirits seemingly buoyed by their progress down the stairs.
As they latch the gate behind them, Christopher manages to wiggle free, and as soon as his pajama-footed feet hit the floor, he is off at a trot across the living room. Rounding the couch, he heads straight for the piano and hoists one little leg up onto the bench.
"When did you teach him to climb on the piano bench?" Kate snipes over her shoulder as she makes chase.
"Me? Why am I always the one that gets in trouble when our brilliant and coordinated, and may I remind you, equally genetically related son learns some new dangerous trick?" Castle follows, one palm pressed to the center of his chest, affronted.
Christopher is now kneeling – make that standing on the bench, Kate right behind him in case he loses his balance.
"Because of the two of us, you are the one who climbs the furniture."
"We were climbing Everest yesterday, and that was the couch, not the piano bench." That earns him a glare.
"Sipes." Christopher is now reaching into the branches of the giant ficus that sits between the piano and the window.
Kate grabs his waist, fear shooting through her as it looks like he might tip the potted bush over, but Christopher just pulls his hand out, a small, orange-and-black tail clutched in his fist.
The thousand watt grin her son wears matches the one on her husband's face as he swoops Christopher up in his arms and kisses his tummy.
"Nice work, Buddy. Why was Stripes in the tree?"
Castle's face goes white.
Kate raises one eyebrow at him.
"Let me guess, today you went to the Serengeti on–"
# * # * # * #
This was a 3-word prompt on tumblr submitted by the lovely Lou (inkstainedcoffeecup), that then inspired the fantastic E (Random-Ship) to paint artwork. Thanks as always to my beta, Alex (aspenmusing). Thank you for all the love on tumblr!