now and now and now
Thank you all, so much, for your response to this fic! It's been so overwhelming so far. Enjoy.
They're released five days after the shooting, still a little frayed around the edges. The few of their belongings that their family had brought them sit in a carrier bag hanging from the tips of her fingers. He hasn't attempted to steal the bag away from her once, and as they stand together in the elevator headed back up to the loft she takes note of how pale he looks once again, jaw set. Just standing is putting him in pain; she can see the sweat breaking out on his forehead. The pain is there for her too, a mute, background thing. She's experienced this before. Just on a much larger scale.
Her free hand brushes against her lower stomach. Purses her lips. Doctor Miles had told her to watch out for spotting and any unusual abdominal pain – that had made her laugh, the pain from the shooting is apparently normal for her now – but other than that, she's simply been sent home with the same kind of medication they put her on last time. It's admittedly a lesser dosage – even less than what Castle has been prescribed – and while last time she had been willing to let her body hurt, as some sort of twisted self-punishment, she knows this time it's not only herself she has to look out for.
They stop outside of the loft, Castle's breathing harsh as he attempts to fit the key in the lock. As she notices his hand begin to shake, she takes over, gently nudging him aside. She feels his breath wash over her ear – she's not quite sure if he's annoyed or just tired – as the door to the loft falls open.
As if he's reading her mind, Castle reaches down, catches her free hand with his.
"We can take our time," he murmurs.
Kate takes a hesitant step in, carefully dropping the bag to the floor by the open doorway. The hairs on the back of her neck rise as her eyes scan the open room, over the kitchen counters where she watched him fall, the space she had crossed to try and save him. She takes another step, Castle right behind her, patient and waiting. They're the only ones here. She knows that. She does.
She closes her eyes as her mind is ambushed with images of Caleb appearing out of nowhere, gun rising, headed towards her husband while she sits idly in the next room –
Shuddering a little, she turns, curling herself against the solid warmth of his chest. One of his arms wrap around her, a little weaker than before, but she simply inhales the smell of him. A little bit too clean – a hint of bleach and antiseptic from the hospital still clinging to him – but, somewhere, still him. He settles his chin atop her head and she nuzzles into the skin of neck, a part of him that is still smooth and soft and not riddled with wounds that she deserves to wear instead.
"It's over," he says quietly. "It really is over this time."
"I know, Castle. It's just – he almost – "
She chokes on it, pressing her fingers against her mouth as she pulls away to look up at him.
He leans forward to kiss her forehead.
"Just give it time."
Nodding, she turns away, wincing a little when her body twists and tugs at her stitches. She still has at least a week before they'll remove them.
Their steps feel loud in the silence of their apartment. She approaches the spot she had fallen. Where she had felt her knees buckle. The floor slamming against her body because her arms were already too weak to reach out and break her fall.
"Where's the blood?"
It's out of her mouth before she realises. She cringes a little, peering at him out of the corner of her eye when she stops at the spot where they had both started bleeding to death. The wooden floor is completely spotless. Not one drop of blood in sight.
"Mother told me your dad came round," Castle says quietly. "While we were both in surgery that night he – he spent it here, cleaning it away."
Kate presses her fingers against her mouth to keep a sob trapped there, lingering by her throat, eyes falling closed again. Her father cleared her blood away, Castle's too. On his hands and knees probably replaying the time this had happened before, when he watched her take a bullet to the heart. How long had it taken him, to wipe it all away, to get it as spotless as it is? How long had he taken to make sure she would never look at the floor and see the place where she had almost died?
She feels her heart begin to beat in her ears, the floor beneath her suddenly feeling uneasy. Reaches out to grip the edge of the kitchen counter tightly.
"Breathe, Kate," he murmurs, by her side suddenly, one large palm sweeping up and down the small of her back, the most he can do while injured.
But air feels far away, distant. Feels like it's trapped in an alley with her mother's dead body and years of mistakes, alcohol and bullets –
"Kate," he's closer now, lips at her ear, breath washing over her cheek. "Breathe."
She feels something slide against her hand, opens her eyes and finds her vision blurry with tears. Her hand turns upright as she blinks the tears away, whatever it is cupped in her palm.
The scan of the ultrasound.
Air whooshes into her lungs again, startling her. She hears herself gasping for it, desperate, almost embarrassingly loud. But the longer she stares, the more the breathing slows – she remembers how to control it, remembers that the dizziness and the nausea are simply because she's trying to take in too much. Kate folds the scan in her hands, turning to Castle with tear tracks still drying on her cheeks.
"Can we go to bed?" She asks, ignoring the stream of daylight that sneaks in through the blinds. "I just want to rest right now."
Kate hesitates briefly, one hand reaching up to cup his cheek.
He smiles, leaning into the touch. "I'm with you."
Kate dozes off for an hour or so, not wrapped around him nearly as much as she yearns to. Her injuries make it difficult to sleep comfortably, so she'd settled for pressing up against him, her left shoulder to his right, hand twined with his.
Now, she props herself up on one elbow, gazing down on him as he sleeps. He no longer looks as pale as earlier – the simple actions of coming home had required so much exertion.
She reaches out, fingers trailing the length of his arm, pressing against the solid muscle, the strength that has been holding her to him late at night. He is so – huh. Is there a word for him, for how much she loves him, how terrified she is to lose him, terrified of what losing her would ever do to him? Maybe there isn't. Maybe that's okay.
Slipping out of bed, she crosses to the dresser, swallowing her painkillers dry before reaching for her badge. Traces the numbers 41319 slowly, her throat closing up a little. She knows what she needs to do.
"Kate? What're you doing?"
She smiles, sliding the badge back onto the dresser. There are so many things that she needs to do. But not right now. First this.
"Nothing," she murmurs, climbing back into bed next to him. "You need to take your meds."
He studies her, unflinching. "You okay?"
"I'm good. I promise," she reaches out to grasp his hand for a moment, kissing the pads of his fingers. "Meds, Castle."
Grunting, he shifts so that he's sitting up. She pads out of the room to pour a glass of water for them both, ignoring the way her legs feel heavy beneath her, each step almost a drag. He notices but she doesn't flinch, simply tucks her legs beneath her as she sits beside him on the bed and he takes the medication.
"You should be taking it easy, Kate," he murmurs, one hand reaching out to squeeze her bare thigh, exposed by her pyjama shorts. "Rest."
"I just did."
He shoots her a look. "You know what I mean. You're pregnant, Kate, and even if you don't feel like it, you need to take the time to recover."
"I know, Castle, it's my body," she snaps. He doesn't flinch but she sighs, scrubbing a hand across her eyes. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like – "
He curls his fingers around hers, pulling her hand away from her face so that he can look at her. "I know. It's okay."
Kate studies him, all soft eyes and gentle with his touch. What has she ever done to deserve this man in her life?
"You're too good for me, you know?"
He actually laughs at that, shaking his head. She nudges him playfully, mindful of his injuries.
"I think that about you every day," he murmurs, reaching up to slide a hand through her hair, tug him to her carefully so that he can kiss her softly. She sighs into it, feeling herself relax, her limbs loosening. "Every time I look at you."
"Sap," she teases, grinning against his lips.
Kate jerks when she hears the front door open two hours later, but Castle's hand is on her thigh immediately, his eyes fluttering open from the half-sleep he had fallen into while she read Mrs Dalloway. Just after, she hears Martha calling through the loft for them, the crinkling of grocery bags following the sound.
"Oh, darlings, there you are," she says as they emerge, slowly making their way over to the kitchen. "Alexis and I just saved you the trouble of getting groceries."
Alexis's head appeared from around the open door of the refrigerator, iceberg lettuce in hand. "We didn't know what you wanted, so we got you a range of stuff."
Kate surveys the multitude of grocery bags sitting before her, refraining from letting her jaw drop as Martha pulls out an endless amount of food from each. There's no way that she and Castle are going hungry anytime soon – if they're able to get through it all on their own, that is. Maybe she'll invite the boys round; they're good at eating whatever she wants to get rid of.
"Mother, there's enough here to last us a month."
Martha waves a hand. "You can never have too much food, kiddo."
Kate steps forward to slide onto the stool, reaching across to squeeze Martha's hand. "Thank you for doing this."
"Oh, it's nothing. Alexis's idea, really. Besides, we couldn't exactly have you doing this in your condition, could we?"
Kate holds her breath as Castle goes still behind her. "My condition?"
"Well, you know, recovering from a gun shot wound," Martha states, passing Alexis a box of porridge with a twinkle in her eye. "Whatever else would I be referring to?"
Thankfully, Castle takes over, his hand sliding to squeeze her shoulder.
"Shall I presume you're staying for dinner?"
"I'm making it."
Alexis appears from behind the refrigerator door again, exchanging a glance with her dad.
"Actually, gram, how about I start cooking while you put all of this away?"
Martha hesitates. "Well, okay, darling. If that's what you want."
They switch jobs and Alexis scoops up a packet of mince beef, searching the cupboards for a couple saucepans.
"How does Bolognese sound?"
"Perfect," Castle answers, seating himself on the stool beside Kate.
They exchange a small smile, his hand settling on her hip this time. They'd agreed to keep the news of her pregnancy between themselves for a while. Although her father already knew, he had been clear enough that he wouldn't overwhelm them. Already, they've received for bouquets than they have room for from the precinct. She doesn't want to even think about how many gifts the people they knew would try and send them if they learned of the pregnancy too, how much Martha and Alexis would fuss and practically move back in.
She rests her elbows on the counter and observes her family, warmth beginning to stir in her chest.
So this is what it feels like to be safe.
Once Alexis and Martha have left, both insisting that they return tomorrow to help with dinner again, Kate curls up on the couch, her stomach throbbing. They had also insisted on giving her seconds, even as Kate could barely keep the first meal down. Castle had eaten it all with gusto, frowning a little when she had simply picked at it, as if not wanting seconds was unhealthy. She feels him slip onto the couch with her now, lifting her legs a little so he can sit where they had just been resting before letting them drape across his lap, one hand circling her ankle.
"Mm. Baby doesn't like too much food all at once," she murmurs, eyes closed and one arm draped across her eyes. If she moves she's certain it's all going to come spilling out of her. Instead, she takes a sharp breath through her nose, determined not to be sick.
"Oh," he chuckles lightly. "Sorry about that. You should've said something."
"S'okay," she mumbles, her free hand reaching down to curl with his.
It's difficult to picture it. The life they're going to have in a year. No longer just them sitting together on the couch, but with a baby, real and solid and alive. She wants it, god does she want it, but this whole situation is so surreal. They've barely escaped their demons once and for all and now her mind is growing sappy, picturing baby clothing and their small feet, their small socks, hands and fingers all wrinkly and bellies round, legs chubby, eyes wide and taking in the world around them. A baby that will look like the both of them, something that they've created together – it takes her breath away, even with its surrealism.
Kate feels him release her hand and his hand snake beneath her pyjama top, settling above her lower abdomen. It's still flat, no sign of a bump yet, but she can still picture the smile on his face that will be there regardless. He's going to absolutely spoil their child and she'll have to be the bad cop between them. It'll be worth it.
"You think it'll be a boy or a girl?"
She hums. "Boy."
"I bet it's a girl."
"You bet, hm?"
She hears him laugh, the motion making her legs bounce slightly.
"Don't come crying to me when I say I told you so."
Kate still finds herself awake when the clock reads three in the morning, staring up at the ceiling, hands knotted above her stomach. Castle's sleeping soundly beside her and she sighs, finally giving up on sleep. Her body will crash when she needs it, and it certainly doesn't seem to need it right now.
Instead, Kate strips her pyjamas and heads to the shower, humming when the warm spray hits her skin. She tilts her head back, runs her hands through her hair as it grows wet. She'd read somewhere that hair grows quicker through pregnancy – that will be a curse. It already grows too quickly now.
Smiling, Kate looks down at her stomach. Still flat when she presses her hands against it, but she can't help herself from smiling.
"Hi," she whispers.
Nothing happens, as she had expected, no bump that she hadn't noticed earlier magically appearing. She spends another few minutes chewing at her bottom lip, thinking, before she turns away and reaches for her shampoo.
Castle is still asleep when she walks out of the bathroom wrapped up in one of their fluffy towels. She almost envies him for it. Keeps glancing at him as she pulls on a fresh pair of pyjamas, hissing a little when getting her arms through the t-shirt's arm holes makes her wound throb. That makes him stir for a moment, but otherwise he remains blissfully unaware, sleeping soundly.
She finally climbs back into bed, reaching for her phone. There are a few missed calls – a couple from the boys, one from Lanie – that she makes a note to get back to in the morning. Instead of wasting time like she normally would, she finds herself researching her pregnancy. She's never been a baby person, not really, mostly because when she had become a cop she had given up any hope of that life becoming hers. The people behind her mother's murder were too dangerous, and what kind of kid deserved a mom who forgot to eat all day in favour of pouring over files she'd read countless times before? Pregnancy is kind of a blurry mystery for her beyond the basic biology facts she'd learned in school. Now, she finds herself sniffling and tears leaking from her eyes when she reads that currently, her baby is only the size of a blueberry.
Castle stirs in his sleep, eyes fluttering open. Reaches for her. "Kate?"
"I'm okay," she promises, wiping her cheeks with the back of her hand. It seems she's been saying that too much recently.
"What're you doing?" he asks, squinting against the harsh light of her phone in the darkness.
She turns it down to its lowest. "Just reading up on baby."
His face fills with delight at that. "Yeah?"
Kate nods. "He's the size of a blueberry right now."
"She is, huh?"
His hand slides over to her stomach again, thumb brushing over her skin in circles.
"I would've killed him with my own bare hands."
Kate startles, reaching to turn the lamp on so that she can see him properly.
Castle's jaw is clenched, his brows furrowed, breathing harsh.
"Caleb. If he had killed you – this baby. Nothing would've stopped me."
Abandoning her phone, Kate twists to him, cradling his head against her chest. She drops a kiss to his hair, her lungs clenching in her chest, making it difficult to breathe. She believes him. She's seen it – the things he is willing to do for those he loves, the limits he pushes through. There's no doubt in her mind that he would've taken Caleb out himself, like some sick and twisted version of her after her mother had been murdered.
"Nothing happened, babe. We're fine. Both of us," she whispers, rocking him a little. He grips her waist tightly.
"I remember it the – the paramedics arriving. I couldn't move, not properly, but I had felt your hand loosen its grip. Knew you'd passed out. I was terrified, Kate, I thought – and then Ryan and Espo were there, told me neighbours had heard the shots and called the police. But nobody would tell me what had happened to you, they'd already taken you out on the gurney, and I didn't know if you had died – "
"Rick," she murmurs when he chokes on his own breath. Closes her eyes and breathes through the pain herself. She doesn't remember much after having crawled to him, just the sight of the ceiling, her blood beneath her, and then the hospital. Doesn't want to think about what it must have been like for him, to feel the life drain out of her once again. "We got through it."
She holds him, even after he remembers to breathe, feeling his warm tears through the thin fabric of her t-shirt. Swallows past the lump in her throat.
He shifts a little, looking up at her.
"You mind if I leave the lamp on while we sleep?"
He shakes his head, too understanding, and she slides down so that she's lying down, resting on her side even as it hurts so that she can curl up beside him, one hand above his heart.
"Love you," she murmurs into his shoulder.
"Love you too."
She sleeps for ten hours straight. Not one shadow tries to find her in her dreams.