A/N: If you're not familiar with the cabin universe, you can read Sting a Second Time, Living is Easy and Living Out in the Snow, but this story should make sense without that. This is them at the cabin in the future with their actual, canonical children. I can't believe I get to say that now. I hope you enjoy the ride.
When the flowers bloom
Living in the spring time
Flowers Bloom, High Highs
Living in the Spring Time
"Okay." Kate closes the lid of the suitcase and draws the zipper shut. She and Lily are sharing one, the twins are sharing another and Castle has one of his own, but it's also full of towels and sheets and things that wouldn't fit anywhere else. She thought just getting him packed on time was tough, but with three kids it's a nightmare.
The noise of the zipper makes Reece giggle and he bounces on the bed. He came in here to sit with her while she finished packing because Castle couldn't keep all three of them busy in the kitchen. Excitement has them wired. The boys play like cubs, roughhousing and roaring. Lily tries to keep out of the way, but sometimes she gets dragged in as well.
This morning, Kate came into the living room after her shower to find all four of them on the floor. Castle was on his back with the kids clambering all over his chest. When they saw her they froze and she laughed and dived right into the mix.
Her son is wearing a plaid shirt in red, white and navy with dark jeans rolled up a little at the bottom. It makes him look like a miniature version of his father. Kate and Castle have never dressed their sons the same, have always been careful to foster the boys' individuality. They get separate birthday cakes, and everyone sings happy birthday to Reece first and then Jake.
"We're all done, peanut butter cup. Can you go tell Daddy?"
Her son slides down to the floor and charges out into the living room. The twins have grown what feels like a foot over the past few months. They're getting gangly already, and she misses the comical wobble of that toddler run, their chubby little bellies.
In the living room she hears Reece's voice join the mix of anticipation that's been bubbling all morning. Even the dog has figured out something's happening, and Cosmo has been hopping around and nudging his gigantic head against Castle's thigh. The noise escalates, her boys clamouring for their father's attention. The dog starts barking and Kate waits for it.
"Hi Mom," Lily says from the doorway. "Can I help you?"
Their daughter has three years on her little brothers and at this age, it really shows. Lily has always been wise. As a baby, her enormous dark eyes would follow them around the room. She was quiet, watching everything that went on, and she's never really grown out of that. More often than not, when the boys get rowdy, she hides herself away someplace quiet.
Kate holds out an arm and Lily comes in for a hug. Her skinny arms wind around Kate's neck, and Beckett hides her nose in her daughter's hair. She cut it short not too long ago, wanting to look a bit more like Alexis. It suits her, but Kate misses the quiet time they would have playing hair shop together. She's happy to be the model, loves feeling the careful work of her daughter's slender fingers through her hair, but she misses getting to be hairdresser.
"I think we're all finished, sweet girl. If you want to you can find some of Cosmo's toys to bring and make sure we've got his coat."
Their daughter has always liked to keep busy, and since the twins were born four years ago she's looked to Kate and Rick for more and more responsibilities. "Okay Mom. What kinds of toys?"
"Nothing too big. Make sure you get things we can throw for him. And his fox."
"He'd be so sad if we forgot his fox," Lily giggles. The sound washes through Kate's chest like pure and clear water from a stream. Everyone marvels at Lily's resemblance to Kate, but when she smiles she's all Castle, all lopsided goofiness.
Kate tucks her daughter's dark hair back out of her face and kisses her forehead. "Hey, lilypad. Thank you for helping me."
"That's okay Mom."
Lily heads back for the living room. This time Beckett follows, stopping to pick up an errant toy from the floor on her way. Castle is in the kitchen packing snacks into Tupperware containers for the drive. He's got Jake on top of the counter next to him, apparently in charge of putting on the lids.
"Hi honey," Castle says without looking up. He's always had that sixth sense about her, but since they had kids it's only heightened. He can hear a footstep at the top of the stairs and know immediately which child is creeping down to climb into bed with them.
"Hey." She steals one of the carrot sticks from the pile Castle is chopping up. He grumps at her and she laughs and kisses the smudge of annoyance right off his mouth. "Everything's packed. Lily's getting Cosmo's stuff together, and then I think we're good to go once you're done here."
Jake reaches for her and Kate scoops him up, settling him on her hip. He lays his head in the crook of her neck and his fingers splay at her clavicle. He's always been clingier than his brother. There's only two minutes between them, but those two minutes have cast Jake firmly in the role of the baby.
"Hey little man," she murmurs to him. "Are you excited to go to the cabin?"
She gets a nod of confirmation and she kisses the top of his head. Castle has set the knife down to watch them, the edges of his face blurring with gratitude and adoration. Their son is resting on her bad hip and she has to put him down. She palms the back of his head instead, thumb smoothing over the soft shell of his ear.
"Bud, can you go check your backpack and make sure you've got all your games for the car? Ask your brother to check his too please."
The moment they're alone, Castle slides his arms around her waist and leans in to kiss her properly. His tongue just touches the very corner of her lips and she shivers. His warm palm rests over her side, and it helps to loosen the stiff muscles there. One bullet entered low down at her abdomen and exited through the back of her right hip. The other went clean through her shoulder. Healing was rough, and it was months before she could walk again. Even after seven years she gets aches, and she had to stop running and sparring.
"Are you ready for this?" he asks. It makes her laugh and she shakes her head. "I can't believe we've never taken them up there before."
"We've been busy."
Castle snorts, and his hand comes up to haunt his chest. The bullet hit him just right of centre, and lower than Kate's shooting at Montgomery's funeral. It nicked his ribcage and lodged at the bottom of his lung. He was sicker than Kate was, and he took even longer to heal.
In the hospital, Castle had insisted that they be allowed to share a room. It helped to wake up every morning, so grateful to be alive, and see her husband's pale face in the bed next to hers. He had to be patient while they reinflated his lung. Even after five years, Kate remembered all too well the searing line of agony down the centre of her sternum. Every day she watched him suffering and she sat with him, held his hand and stroked his hair.
He'd been telling her for years that she was forgiven for running that summer, but it wasn't until she got to be there for his own gunshot recovery that she really felt she'd paid her debt. She was discharged earlier than Rick was, but for those long months she spent every day sitting carefully in the chair next to his bed.
Their bodies are both battered and pockmarked with scars, but they have three little ones who keep them distracted. Keep them young.
"Daddy," their daughter says as she comes into the kitchen. She's got a grocery bag in both hands, the thing stuffed with the dog's toys and his leash, harness and coat. "Do you have Cosmo's food?"
"It's in that bag. You wanna be in charge of making sure it makes it to the car?"
Lily's chest puffs up a little in response to her father's smile. She's always been a daddy's girl, almost from the moment she was born. In the hospital Kate had lain exhausted as they stitched her back up. Rick had cradled their newborn against his chest, his shirt off so he was skin to skin with her.
"Welcome to the world, Lily Anna," he had whispered, and Kate's eyes had welled with tears for the hundredth time in an hour. After they were both shot, Kate came off her birth control for the recovery period, and she just never went back on. It was months before either of them really felt up to it, but they were lucky. She fell pregnant almost immediately.
Kate was still finishing up her physical therapy, and her determination to hold their baby when she was born was enough to get her through it. Castle stayed cheerful in the face of his own gruelling recovery. He didn't even seem to care that he wasn't allowed out of bed. Not when it meant he could lay with her for hours, his palm at the curve of her stomach, and dream about their child.
She loves watching the two of them together. Castle is quick to draw her in as well, and it makes her heart ache for him. He's such an amazing father, and seeing him with Lily makes her think of Alexis, how he had to do this alone.
Jake comes thundering down the stairs with Reece behind him. They both have their Star Wars backpacks slung over their shoulders and they join their sister and the dog beside the front door. Their kids are noisy and messy and she loves them more than her own self.
Castle finishes with the last of the snacks and she helps him load all of the containers into the cooler. There's bottled water in there too. Sometimes Kate is still overwhelmed by just how thoughtful her partner is, how much he relishes taking care of the people he loves.
"Okay," Kate says. "I've got peanut butter cup, you get Jake and Lily can wrangle the dog."
It takes a while to load everyone into the car. After the twins were born Castle traded in the Ferrari and the Buick and got an SUV. It's got enough space in the trunk for the luggage and Cosmo's crate, and the back is roomy enough for the twins' car seats and Lily's booster seat in between them.
Castle drives the first leg. It leaves Kate in charge of their music selection, and she chooses things their kids know the words to. They're a loud family. Rick loves to make up songs with the kids while they help him with dinner or he gives them a bath. In the back of the car, all three of them sing loudly and mostly in key. Lily's been getting singing lessons from her grandmother the past few months, so she takes it a little more seriously than her brothers. Kate and Castle join in too. Her husband is deliberately out of tune and the kids erupt with laughter.
After a half hour or so the twins get restless, so Kate passes animal crackers and an apple for each of the kids into the back. She's twisted in her seat, her shoulder against the back of it so she can keep an eye on Castle and the kids. Jake is directly behind her, so she has to struggle against the confines of her seatbelt to see him, but she can watch the other two.
"Mommy," Reece says around a mouthful of crackers. Kate shoots him a look and he hurries to finish chewing and swallow. "At the cabin is there toys?"
That makes Castle snort and Kate reaches out to shove on him. He glances in the rearview mirror to see their son. "No, peanut. Only the ones you guys are bringing with you."
Reece deflates, slumping against the side of his car seat, and his big sister pats his knee.
"There's other stuff to do there, right Mom?" Lily prompts. Kate turns her head for just a second to hide the amusement that haunts her mouth. She can't look at Castle either. All of their son's melodrama comes directly from Daddy, and half the time he only encourages it.
"Right." Kate reaches into the back of the car and wraps her hand around her son's little foot. He kicked his shoes off to be comfortable for the journey and his toes wiggle in her grip. "There's the lake to play in, and the woods to explore. You can make forts. We'll go to the farm and get to feed the animals. There's lots of things to do, don't worry baby."
Lily has a book in front of her nose and Kate keeps a firm eye on her. She's usually okay, but she's gotten carsick in the past and Kate would rather intervene before her daughter gets to the actual puking stage. Jake is playing with Star Wars figurines and making whooshing noises under his breath for the lightsabers. Reece was colouring with crayons for a little while, but now he's asleep. His cheek is mashed against the side of the car seat, his mouth open and a little bubble of drool at his lips.
"How's your pain today?" Castle asks quietly. They try to keep the kids mostly shielded from the physical things they battle every day, and his eyes dart to the rearview mirror to check they're not paying attention. "Shoulder okay?"
"Not too bad. I packed the icy hot gel. How about you?"
Castle gets stiffness in his chest, a ghost of the pain that lanced through him every time he moved after he was shot. It's aggravated by too much strenuous activity, and they have four year old twin boys, so most days he has some degree of discomfort.
"Okay for now. Probably gonna feel two and a half hours in the car tonight."
Kate reaches out to squeeze his thigh and earns herself a smile from him. She leaves her hand right where it is, even though it isn't exactly comfortable to stretch across the center console. "There's the bath, babe. The cabin's gonna be good for all of us. We can relax."
"You turn your phone off, Senator Beckett?"
He shrugs, his lips pressed in a thin line. "I'm just trying it on for size. See if you like how it sounds."
"I don't want to think about it. Not for this week. I'm off grid."
"Okay. Whatever you need honey."
Castle moves the car across a lane and flicks on the blinker as they approach the exit for a rest stop. They've been in the car for a little over an hour. Last night, they talked it out and agreed it would be better to stop a couple of times during the journey and let the kids walk around a bit. Hopefully it'll keep them from going stir crazy and turning on each other.
Castle unloads Jake and Lily and Kate heads around to the other side. Reece is still sacked out with his face pressed against the car seat. She sifts her fingers through his hair. His forehead is a little clammy with sleep sweat when she kisses him.
"Hi, peanut. Time to wake up."
"Are we here?" Reece asks. He blinks hard and looks around himself. One little hand comes up to scrub his eye.
Kate unfastens his belt and eases him out of the seat and into her arms. He's heavy, and she switches him to her good side. "We're at a rest stop. Do you need to use the bathroom?"
He thinks about it for a second, and then he nods. He's a little more awake now and Kate crouches down, balancing him on her knee. She has one hand tight around his waist and with the other she rummages in the car for his sneakers.
Once Reece's shoes are on they head across the parking lot. Kate keeps a tight hold of one of each of the boys' hands. Lily walks ahead with Rick, the two of them chatting together, but Kate can't make out what they're saying. She's distracted trying to make sure neither of her sons escapes and gets lost or hit by a car.
Her husband and their daughter are waiting just inside the rest stop. It's crowded with people travelling for spring break. Kate scoops up Jake and Castle gets Reece. Concern flares in her gut, as it does every time her husband does any lifting. He keeps reminding her that it's been seven years since they were shot, and carrying their son isn't going to damage him. After a moment, it passes. Lily tucks her fingers into the pocket of her dad's jeans to stay close and the five of them make their way further inside.
They packed snacks specifically so they wouldn't have to feed their kids garbage from the rest stop. Reece stares wistfully from over Castle's shoulder at the line for Burger King and Kate laughs. It makes his head whip around towards her and she pulls a goofy face at him.
Jake is heavy in her arms and Kate tightens them around him. Her eyes are on Lily, making sure she doesn't wander off because something caught her eye. It's not as bad now as when she was a toddler. There were times when their daughter was two or three years old that she'd disappear in the grocery store and PTSD would set them both off in tandem. It took years for them to stop obsessively checking for danger at every turn.
They come to a stop close to the entrance to the bathrooms and Castle sets Reece down. A heavy hand settles at the top of their son's head so he can't run away. Kate goes to put Jake down too but he wails and hides his face against her neck.
"Hey baby," she murmurs, turning half away so her back is to her son's siblings. "Mama needs to put you down, okay? You're such a big boy that you're getting a bit heavy. And you need to go to the bathroom with Daddy and peanut."
Jake grumbles, but he lets her set him down. The noises rumbling in his chest remind her of Castle when he's tugged awake before it's light out. He rises as if from hibernation, fuzzy and groaning and bleary-eyed.
"Okay, everybody needs to go to the bathroom, even if they don't feel like they need it," Rick says. He takes one of the boys' hands in each of his and the three of them disappear off towards the bathroom. The twins look almost like cubs, trotting along beside their father.
Kate laughs at the image and gets a questioning look from Lily. "I was just thinking about how Daddy is sometimes like a bear when he first wakes up. And then I thought the boys looked like bear cubs next to him like that."
Lily hooks her arm around Kate's and lays her temple to her mother's bicep. "You okay, sweet girl?"
"You're doing a good job staying awake so far."
Lily always falls asleep during long car rides. When she was a toddler she'd be out cold the second she was strapped into the car seat, even if she was only going the few blocks to preschool. She's determined not to doze this time, because it always makes it harder for her to fall asleep at bedtime. And, Kate thinks, because she wants to be one of the grownups, wants to be awake to chat to her parents.
"Do you want to get another magazine?"
Lily looks up at Kate, her dark eyes huge in the pale moon of her face. "Am I allowed?"
"Sure," Kate grins. "We're on vacation. Let's go to the bathroom first though, okay."
Lily doesn't come into the stall with her mom anymore. She hasn't for the past couple of years, and something in Kate yearns for that tiny girl who always wanted to stick close. Kate helps her wash her hands, dispensing some soap into the cup of her palms, and Lily scrubs them clean.
They dry them side by side, and then Lily slips her hand into Kate's. Her fingers are small and slender, just barely spanning the breadth of Kate's palm.
They meet up with the boys outside the entrance to the bathrooms, the twins hopping around their father in a circle. Lily goes on ahead to join them, but Kate hangs back for a second to take it in. Sometimes she still can't believe this is really her life.
Lying on the floor of the loft with her lifeblood spilling from her chest and mixing with Castle's, she really thought it was over. That their story was going to end in tragedy. With the cold grip of his hand tight around hers, she almost didn't mind. And then she was waking up in the hospital to the awful sound of the machine breathing for her husband and gratitude washed her clean.
"Mama," Jake calls for her and she smiles, strides to meet her family. Her sons crash against her legs and she palms the back of each of their heads. Lily is making Rick smell her hands because the soap in the ladies' room was the same as the one they use at home.
"Why don't you take the kids and let Cosmo run around on the grass for a while and I'll get us some coffee?" Castle suggests.
Lily tugs insistently on Kate's hand and she chuckles. "I've got the boys. Lilypad can stay with you. Tell Daddy what I said once we're out of earshot, baby."
Outside, Kate frees the dog from the trunk of the car and keeps a tight hold of his leash. She's got Jake's hand, and Reece has a hold of his other so that they form a chain as they move across the parking lot. There's a fenced-in grassy area to let dogs stretch their legs and once they make it inside Kate unclips the leash.
They rescued Cosmo from a life of racing. The twins erupt with laughter as the dog's lean white body zips past them. He's fast, and they can't let him off the leash unless it's a secure area, but he works in short bursts. Twice a day they take him to the park to run around for twenty minutes or so, and the rest of the time he's happy to snooze.
Kate found a tennis ball in the trunk and she throws it for Cosmo to chase. The boys toss the ball for him a couple times too. Their patient, wonderful dog seems to raise an eyebrow at Kate before he trots the couple of feet to collect the ball and bring it back.
Castle and Lily come to find them and Kate shares a look with her daughter, gets a little nod in return. She got a magazine, then. She's an avid reader. When she was little she would curl up on the couch with Kate or Castle and they would read to her. These days she reads on her own, but she loves to discuss what she thought of the book once she finishes it.
Kate accepts the coffee from her husband and holds it to her sternum. There's a chill in the air, spring snapping in this year, and the lovely warmth of the cup floods her body. Castle winds his arm low down at her waist and tucks his fingers into her opposite pocket. They lean against the fence and watch their family racing through the grass together.
"Hey," Castle says softly. His lips form a shadow of a kiss at her cheekbone. "I'm so glad we made it."
"Me, too." Reece skids on a slippery patch of grass and goes to the ground. Before either of them can make sure he's okay Lily is sinking to her knees beside her brother and murmuring to him, helping him back to his feet. "We did good."
Once the kids and the dog have worn themselves out a bit more they load everyone back into the car. It's Kate's turn to drive now and she has to slide the driver's seat forwards a couple of notches so she can reach the pedals.
Now that Castle's in charge of the music the volume creeps up louder and louder. He makes specific choices rather than letting a playlist run interrupted. The kids do air guitar in the back, Reece kicking her seat until Castle reaches back to stop him. Even though she's driving and she can't really join in, it makes the journey go faster.
Excitement swells to fill the car once they're on the road that leads to the cabin. Even the dog pops his head up from the trunk and leans over, his long pink tongue darting out to lick Lily's face. Kate slows down the car just a little bit, so her kids can see the trees that bow gracefully over their heads. The woods are a riot of new spring growth and leaves skim the windows of the SUV as they drive.
She remembers being a kid and coming to the cabin for the first time. It had been amazing, and she wants so badly to recreate that awe for her own babies.
"First person to spot the cabin can have an extra portion of ice cream for dessert."
"Castle," she laughs, her eyes darting away from the road to look at him for just a second. "We don't even have any ice cream. Don't promise them things if you can't come through."
He reaches out and touches his thumb to the webbed scar tissue that mars the spot just below her collarbone. It's usually not too difficult to hide the shiny pink skin, but she's with her family today so she wore a shirt that lets it show. It's a habit of his, touching her scars, that started that first night together. Twelve years ago now, and she does wish she hadn't collected quite so many more in that time.
"We have to go grocery shopping anyway. We can get ice cream. We're on vacation."
"I see it!" Reece cries out. His little face is mashed against the window. Lily peers over her brother's shoulder and claps her hands together with glee.
Behind Castle, Jake kicks out against his car seat in frustration and wails. "Daddy, it's on Reece's side. Not fair."
The other two are distracted by the flashes of the house they can see through the trees, so Castle twists awkwardly in his seat and murmurs something to Jake. It appeases him and he does his best to see around his siblings' heads crowding the window.
"Babe," Kate says quietly. "Sit straight. Your chest."
"I'm fine." It's a little sharper than she was expecting and she flinches. It's as if her spine is tugged sharply taut and her hands tighten around the wheel. Castle blows out a long stream of air and he covers one of her hands with his. "Sorry, Kate. I'm sorry. Just- I hate not being able to keep up with them."
"You keep up just fine."
They reach the end of the driveway and Kate puts the car in park and cuts the engine. The kids are already clamouring to get out, trying in vain to open the doors. She unfastens her belt, but before she can get out and go free the beasts her husband's warm palm comes to the back of her neck.
He leans in close and presses his lips to hers. The kids erupt into groans of dismay, but Kate only smiles into the kiss and curls her fingers around his ear. After a moment he breaks away and smoothes his thumb over her bottom lip.
"You're a wonderful father. I love watching you with them. I'm so grateful to have you as my partner in this."
"Don't make me cry in front of our kids, Beckett," he huffs. It makes her laugh, and the film of desperate sincerity layered over them bursts.
The kids are growing rapidly rowdier in the back of the car and Kate shares a look with Castle before they both climb out. The moment the straps of the car seats are unfastened the three of them are off. They charge up the porch steps and hop impatiently from foot to foot in front of the door.
Kate fishes the keys from her purse and slides her free hand into Castle's. His fingers are thicker than hers and when he squeezes her bones crunch together, but it's good. It jolts her out of her strange melancholy and she's right back here with her family.
"Mom," Lily says when they reach the kids. "This is so awesome."
"Wait till you see out back." Castle lets go of her and hooks two fingers in the back of each of the boys' shirts to keep them out of the way while Kate unlocks the front door.
She gets it open and the five of them go spilling into the cabin. Jim was here not too long ago and he made some changes so that the cabin would be suitable for their family. There's a set of bunk beds and a twin bed in the room that belonged first to Kate and then to her husband as well. The room that used to belong to Kate's parents is hers and Castle's now. Her father has insisted, said he's happy for the room to be theirs, and she's given up trying to argue.
The kids run right through the living room and bump up against the French doors at the back. They stand in a line, three noses pressed to the glass. Castle put the camera in her purse before they left and he fishes it out now. He snaps a picture of their children, these beautiful creatures Kate still sometimes can't believe even exist. They made them, she and Castle. It chokes her and she lifts a hand to her throat.
"I know," Castle murmurs to her. "We made some pretty amazing kids."
His kiss is purposeful and sure, his tongue stroking past the seam of her lips. They've been married for almost ten years and still her body comes awake under his touch. Her hands slide up his chest and land at his shoulders, his fingers flexing at her hips.
He breaks away on a gasp and he leers at her. A hand slides inside her shirt and he brushes his knuckles over the bare skin of her abdomen. "Come on. Let's wear them out. Get them in bed nice and early."
"Mm," she sighs, her hips rocking towards him. "Good plan."
A/N: My eternal gratitude and love to the entire gang of people who looked this over for me. You are all so wonderful and generous with your time and your kindness. Allie, my cheerleader, my incredible cover artist and the best beta I could wish for, thank you. There's a playlist to go along with this fic which you can find on my twitter, seilleanmor.