Living in the Spring Time
It hurts every time she swallows, and her face feels puffy and tender to the touch, but happiness blooms behind the wall of Kate's chest. She's still curled up in the armchair. Lily finished reading to her a little while ago but she sticks close and her careful hands pet Kate's hair. She's got a mug of hot chicken soup and her husband is sitting on the floor, his back to the seat and his legs stretched out in front of himself. Her lazy fingers sift through his bangs to push them out of his face over and over.
He's catlike, purring into her touch, and she shares a secret smile with her palm. Usually, if she had to label it, she would have herself as the cat and Rick would be a dog. Goofy and energetic and so loving, so eager for affection. The reversal of roles is such a simple thing, but it fills her with tenderness for her husband.
The boys are playing on the rug in front of the fire. It's one of their quieter games, and the funny little sound effects they always make are hushed. Cosmo lies close by to soak in the heat from the hearth and every so often one of the boys drives their car down the length of his paw.
She feels weird. Her head is foggy and she is so tired that she feels as if she's moving through the world behind a pane of glass, unable to hear anyone properly. Her ears ache with the pressure in her head and she has a frozen bag of peas against the right one because the pain drove like an ice pick into her ear drum. In spite of all of it, a smile haunts the corners of her mouth.
Her family are so wonderful, so caring. The kids get it from their father, and Kate so adores him that she feels it like a caught breath in her chest. He's eager, scrambling to get her anything she needs, but all she wants is the people she loves best in the world to be close by.
The rain has picked up now, and Kate rests her cheek to the back of the armchair and watches it beat down against the earth. Everything is vibrant and alive with the nourishment and she wishes she could go out into it. Her skin prickles with the phantom sensation of raindrops, but it wouldn't be smart. She needs to stay tucked up warm and dry for today.
This head cold has put her outside of time. It seems to drip through the hourglass like molasses, but she blinks and long moments have passed unwitnessed by her. Her sons have moved to the dining table now. They're drawing, bent double over their sheets of paper. Their faces are scrunched in identical confusion and she watches them for a while.
Soon, they'll stop calling her Mommy. They'll be as tall as their sister and embarrassed to receive Kate's kisses outside of the school gates. She aches with the knowledge, even as she longs to see what they'll be like, the men they're going to grow into. Lily, her beautiful girl, is still curled up in Kate's lap. She's started another book now and she has it propped so that the back cover rests against Kate's stomach. Every so often, she snags Kate's attention and draws her back to the present to ask for the meaning of a word, or murmur the secrets of the latest plot twist to her.
At lunchtime, Rick makes grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for everyone. It's a favourite with the kids and he enlists them to help him. She watches from the living room, one hand over her heart to calm the silly thing. The kids aren't allowed near anything sharp or hot, but Rick still manages to make them feel useful. Lily is tasked with opening the cans of soup, and Rick lets her add a little bit of seasoning. The boys help make sandwiches, laying out the slices of bread and arranging the cheese their father cuts for them like jigsaw puzzles.
When it's ready, the kids sit at the table and Rick brings hers over to her in the armchair. She makes as if to get up, but the strength is curiously absent from her muscles. His wide, warm palm comes to her shoulder to keep her in place.
"Just eat there. Rest, honey."
"Mm," she hums on a soft breath. Her head rests against the back of the seat, but she accepts the mug of soup and the plate from him. "Thank you. Love you."
Rick bows over her, blocking her from view. His lips come to her forehead in tenderness. "It breaks my heart to see you hurting, Kate."
"M'okay." She's clumsy, fumbling, but she manages to pat his forearm where it's braced against the back of the couch. "Really. Go sit with them."
She manages a bite or two of the sandwich he made for her, but the toast scratches her throat. The soup is lovely, warming her from the inside. It spreads through her aching body like peace, like contentment. Sometimes she forgets how nice it is to just sit for a while.
Once she's finished she sets the mug down on the floor. Cosmo comes to poke his long snout inside and lick the last remnants of soup from it. She has neither the energy or the heart to berate him for it, so she just watches and scratches behind his ears. He can sense, in that peculiar animal way, that something isn't quite right with her. His slender head butts against her thigh and his hot, wet tongue darts out to nuzzle at her palm.
She keeps dozing, entirely by accident. It's as if she's on a sliding scale of consciousness, sometimes tipping right over into sleep and then tumbling back to awareness again almost as quickly. It's making her feel groggy and outside of time, but her body craves the rest. She's doing her best to listen, to give her body what it needs. It's worked so hard, done so much. She owes it this much.
The kids are growing restless now that they've eaten. They stare longingly out of the window. Jake and Reece have their noses pressed to the glass and they sigh. Even Lily seems to be anxious with cabin fever, having lost interest in her book. She's on the floor with Cosmo, but her petting seems half-hearted.
"How about we do some crafting, guys? Sound fun?"
Rick gets cheers of delight for that and the kids scramble to sit at the dining table and wait to see what their father will concoct for them. As he gathers what he needs he hums to himself, busy and so pleased to be busy. It makes her smile and she flutters her fingers at him in a wave as he goes by.
It stops him in his tracks and he comes to lace his fingers with hers. He kisses her forehead, the tip of her nose, her lips before she can pull away. She's smiling, and she tilts her head to study him.
"Nothing. You're cute. Carry on."
He does, and pleasure colours the apples of his cheeks. Rick sets out a couple of the plastic trays that Kate's father usually uses when he's barbecuing to house the prepared kebabs. The kids squirt some of his shaving cream into each tray and then add food colouring. He must have found it at the back of the cabinet from some long ago baking endeavour.
The kids use spoons to swirl the mixture around until it makes a pattern, and then they place a sheet of paper onto the tray to create their masterpieces. It's fairly messy, and Jake winds up with shaving foam smeared across his cheek.
Part of her longs to join them at the table, but she truly doesn't have the energy to sit upright in a chair. Instead she watches from the living room and offers her murmured encouragement. Her children are so proud of their artwork and they show her each one before they spread their papers out across the kitchen counters so that they can dry.
After they've helped Rick to clean up, the kids suggest a family snuggle pile on the couch and a movie. It takes a lot of effort to heave herself from the armchair to the couch, but she manages it. She props herself in the corner with a blanket and Jake comes to curl up on her chest. The warm weight of his body does wonders to soothe her and Kate lets her lips flirt with the crown of his head. She soaks in the familiar smell of her son and her hand traces patterns over his back.
Rick settles at the other end of the couch and he snags her feet, settling them in his lap. She stole some of his cosy socks from the drawer and she wiggles her toes inside them. He squeezes her big toe and tugs on it until she grunts. Lily is tucked in close against her father's side, her arm hooked through his, and Reece stretches out in the middle section of the couch. He lays along Kate's legs and he kisses her knee through the cotton of her leggings.
They have a few random movies saved to the laptop and the kids squabble among themselves until they settle on a choice. Kate is already struggling to keep her eyes open, her head lolling against the back of the couch. From the sound of it it's one of the animated ones they've seen a hundred times before.
"Mama," Jake whispers to her. He's wriggled up her body to get his mouth at her ear and his hot breath makes her shiver. "You like this movie?"
"Sure, baby. It's a good one, huh?"
"Even it is my favourite."
His attention is immediately suckered back in by the action happening on screen. At the other end of the couch, Rick has his fingertips tucked down inside the top of her stolen sock. His hands are warm against her cold ankle. It's mindless the way he touches her now, a habit, but she still gets a little thrill from the contact. There were times, back when she first new him, where she thought they would never get to do this. That summer he was in the Hamptons with Gina, she thought of them as two ships passing silently in the night. Graceful and sleek, but wounded and rotten underneath. Still, even now, she's warm with gratitude whenever she gets to hold his hand.
The kids quote along with the movie, doing their best impressions of the characters. They goad Rick into joining in as well and his enthusiasm matches theirs. He has his mother's flare for the dramatic, and no small amount of her talent. Kate barely has the energy for laughter. It escapes as little puffs of air from the centre of her chest that ruffle Jake's hair.
Halfway through the movie the kids get restless, so Rick pauses it and everyone takes a bathroom break. He puts together some bowls of snacks for them to enjoy during the second half of the movie. The kids crunch loudly on their chips and offer some to Kate, but even just watching them eat is making her throat hurt. Her stomach is a pitiful, mewling thing, but even opening her mouth to eat anything makes her jaw ache. She can feel Rick's assessing eyes on her, but she finds she doesn't mind. If he figures out a way for her to be able to eat, she'll be only grateful.
It's only been fairly recently that the twins have gotten interested in movies at all. They're old enough now to focus their attention for an hour and a half, even if they do have to take a break in the middle most times. Rick has taken them to the movies a couple of times, but they prefer to watch at home where they can roll around on the couch and chatter without getting scowls from the other moviegoers.
"Mama," Jake pats her cheek.
Kate blinks hard and turns her head to see her son. He's smiling, that pure, childish joy he wears so easily making his face open with light. "Yes, baby. I'm with you."
"Maybe if you want, Daddy get ice cream? For your poorly throat."
HIs tiny, clammy hand lands at the side of her neck and rests there. All three of the kids are concerned, but Rick is doing his best to keep them distracted. They have a proclivity for melodrama. More than once, Kate has gotten a head cold and had to witness the thrashing despair of her children, quite convinced their mother is on the brink of death. By now, she and Rick have learned that it's better not to allow them to wallow in it.
"Ice cream sounds really nice, actually."
"Daddy!" Jake bellows.
Reece has climbed into his father's lap and he scowls at his brother for snagging Rick's attention. His face is still captured between Reece's hands, his cheeks puffed out, but his head turns towards Jake.
"Yeah?" His voice is muffled by the squish of his face and the boys giggle.
"Mama does want some ice cream."
"Just Mommy?" Rick lifts an eyebrow at Jake. Their son shrieks with laughter and hides his face in his hands, shaking his head.
"Me too! All of us can have ice cream."
"Oh can you?" Rick laughs, but he's already standing up from the sofa. He lets Reece drop to the couch cushion and their son bounces a couple of times and then rolls over onto his back, sprawling.
Lily had been sitting tall and regal at the opposite end of the couch, but the pale belly of her little brother is too rich an opportunity to ignore. She lunges, pinning him with an arm across his abdomen, and she blows a noisy raspberry against his stomach.
He screams with laughter and thrashes in her grip, his head tossed from side to side. Kate lets her foot rest at Reece's shoulder to help Lily keep him pinned in place. Jake breaks away from her arms and crawls down the couch to join his siblings in their tangle of limbs.
When Rick comes back with their ice cream the three of them are still climbing all over one another. The boys have teamed up to try and get some payback against their sister, but Lily is agile and fast and she wiggles out of their grip just as quickly as they manage to get a hold on her.
"Alright, crazy people." Rick bands an arm around each of the twins and scoops them up, holding them both in the air. They must be heavy, but Kate refuses to let her concern wash over her face. Her husband knows his limits, she has to work on believing that.
He sets the twins down in the armchairs. Across the room from each other, and with Lily safely on the couch, they can work on calming down. Their little faces are red with exertion and delight, and their hair sticks up over their heads. It's just as thick as their father's, grows just as quickly. They just got it cut a couple of weeks back, and already they need to go back to the salon.
They love it there, so it's not a problem. The chairs are shaped like trains and they get to look at the magazines with pictures of their favourite cartoons. It'll be Rick that takes them anyway, so Kate lets the concern slip like an untethered balloon into the whole blue truth of the sky.
Rick has given the boys each a bowl of ice cream and one to Lily as well. Their daughter has Kate's feet in her lap and she eats happily, giving Kate a closed-mouth smile around her spoon. When Rick comes back he squeezes his way in beside Kate. Her bowl is cold against her thighs, but the ice cream is lovely. It soothes the rawness of her throat and she hums, letting her head loll back against Rick's shoulder.
All five of them are probably spoiling their appetites for dinner, but that can be Rick's problem. She's selfish enough to let him take care of her, to curl up small in his arms and let him be the one to worry about things. His gentle fingers are sifting through her hair, smoothing it back away from her clammy forehead.
"Okay?" he murmurs into her ear. The kids are chattering noisily about something, their favourite ice cream toppings maybe, and she's glad not to have their scrutiny for a few moments.
"Mm. My head feels heavy."
"Wanna get back into bed? You can eat dinner there, I'll keep them occupied."
She considers it for a long moment. The call of sheets and pillows is loud and alluring as a siren song, and she could so easily slip down into drowning. "No. I'll stay out here for dinner and go to bed after. Family snuggles are really helping."
"I'm glad." He kisses her forehead. It takes more dexterity than she knew he was capable of, but he manages to ease his way out from beneath her and settle her back against the cushions. "I'll get started then. Any requests?"
He chuckles and leans in to kiss her again. Kate lifts her chin to catch his mouth properly. All three kids cry out in horror and she smiles into their kiss. He breaks away from her, and on his way to the kitchen he ruffles Lily's hair. She scowls at him, but Kate pokes her toes into their daughter's side and worms a smile out of her.
Kate draws her legs up then and curls them beneath herself. Her eyes close without her conscious permission and she hums. Right now she feels on a precipice. She could wake up tomorrow and feel much better, or feel a hundred times worse. There's no way to know. The thought makes her groan.
A moment later, two small hands come to her face. "Mommy?"
"Hi, peanut," she says without opening her eyes. Her son's hot breath washes over her cheek. His kisses are warm and sloppy as they travel down her face and towards the creases of her neck. He smells like chocolate. Kate bands an arm around him and draws him up onto the couch with her, tucking him in close. Of the three, Reece is the least likely to consent to snuggling, but he comes easily today.
"My throat hurts," she murmurs. There was a brief peak this afternoon, but now it's starting to get worse again. Her voice comes hoarse and raggedy. The blockage in her sinuses has her half deaf. "But I'm okay. Ice cream is helping."
Reece considers that for a moment and then he pats her arm. "And Daddy."
"Of course. And the three of you as well. You always make me feel better."
Kate opens her eyes in time to see the pride that fills her son at her words. He wiggles with happiness like a grub, and his hand fists in her shirt as if to keep her close. Kate smoothes her hand over the curve of his skull again and again, half-heartedly trying to make his hair lie flat.
He stays with her until dinner is ready, and then the call of food propels him right to the table. Kate tries to get up, she really does, but her body feels curiously heavy. Her legs aren't cooperating, and she can't seem to support the weight of her own head.
"Whoa, hey." Rick's hands come to her shoulders to keep her in place. He ducks in close, his face hovering disembodied in front of her. "You stay right there. Rest."
"We have rules."
They don't normally let their kids eat on the couch, or do it themselves in front of them. Every now and then, they'll indulge in takeout and a movie after their children are in bed, but it's not a good habit for them to get into. Kate knows how much Rick values family mealtime around the table, how he loves to hear the stories of everybody's day. She's more than happy to help him enforce the tradition.
"Rules don't apply when you're sick. Do you want a blanket?"
She's shivering, and she manages a nod. Rick snags the fluffy throw blanket from the back of the couch and drapes it over her, making sure to tuck the ends in around her socked feet.
"I know you always lose your appetite, so I just made you some chicken soup, but if you want something else just say and I'll get it."
He passes her over the mug of soup. Kate holds it in one hand, and with the other she reaches for him. Fingers curled in the neckline of his shirt, she keeps him close. "I love you so much."
She feels weepy with it. Rick chuckles and kisses the top of her head. His tenderness is so absolute, so unwavering. It always has been with her. She never thought she would fall for a man who is soft, a man who yields. Until she met Rick, she didn't know just how good it could be. And anyway, when it counts he's as firm and resolute as she is.
"I love you too, honey. Shout if you need anything."
Left alone with her soup, Kate drinks slowly and watches her husband and children chattering at the dinner table. She really hopes she hasn't contaminated any of them, but they're a close family physically as well as emotionally. All four of them will probably come down with it sooner or later, but she's quite happy to play nurse to these people she loves more than her own self.
After dinner is finished with, Kate heads for their bedroom. Her body is shutting down piece by piece, and she wants to sleep so desperately that she could cry. Rick is wrestling the boys into their pajamas, but Lily follows Kate through and tucks her in.
"I can read to you Mom, if you want to."
"That sounds wonderful."
Lily climbs in and props herself up against the headboard, book in her lap. She starts from where she herself is up to, right in the middle of the action. It hardly matters. Kate is barely awake, listening more to the intonation of her daughter's voice than the words themselves.
When Lily was born, Kate had marvelled at how amazing it was to have a mother-daughter relationship once more. Granted, she's on the flip side of the coin now, mother to a dark-haired, serious little girl, but so much of the joy is the same. Lily has the book propped against her knees, one hand holding it open, and with the other she strokes Kate's hair.
It feels so good, and she's so spaced out, that it takes Rick's arrival for her to realise that she's not nine years old. That this is her baby girl, not her mother. Her husband's rumbling voice speaking to their daughter makes her smile and she snakes a hand out from beneath the covers for him to hold. His skin is warmer than hers usually, but tonight he feels cool and soothing.
"You're hot. Let me get you some Tylenol."
She doesn't want to take the drugs, because her throat hurts so bad now that even the thought of opening her mouth makes her wince. Rick coaxes her upright, his hands everywhere like anxious birds. His soft words of encouragement are enough, and she manages to swallow down the medication.
"That'll help, sweetheart. Try to get some sleep now." Kate lies back down, her face mashed against the pillow. The pain in her ear is back and she grunts, presses a hand to it. "I'll get you the ice pack. Hang on."
He's back in seconds, pressing the lovely cold of the pack to her ear. It helps, and she manages a small noise of gratitude. The selfish child in her wants him to stay, wants to fall asleep against the solid wall of his chest. Their children need him more than Kate does, so she lets him go.
Sleep washes over her immediately. When she wakes up again, it's already morning. A gap in the curtains lets the light come creeping inside. Kate rolls over to see the great hulking mass of her husband's body in the bed beside her. He's out cold, his face just peeking out from beneath the covers. She swallows, tentative, and finds that her throat hurts less than yesterday.
She feels rested, feels good. Rolling onto her back, Kate scrapes a hand through her hair and hums. She feels sort of disgusting, illness like a patina over her skin. The shower calls to her, but she wants to be lazy with Rick before the little ones come through.
Kate checks the time before she wakes him. More than once in the early days of their relationship, she was so eager to spend her morning with him that she'd wake him at six and he'd be grouchy for the rest of the day. It's already past eight, so she strokes a fingertip down from his hairline to his chin. He makes a little noise, a sort of grunt, and a smile stretches wide and brilliant across her mouth.
Leaning in close, Kate leaves little kisses at his cheek, his nose, before she kisses his mouth. When she draws back his eyes are open, blearing and blinking up at her.
"Morning, sleeping beauty."
"Hi gorgeous," he says back. His voice is a rumbling thing trapped in his throat and it goes straight to her guts. "You seem brighter today."
"I feel much better. Just needed to sleep it off i guess."
"I'm glad." A hand comes to the back of her neck and he draws her down to him, kisses her properly. It's so good, and she's missed him. Even though he was so close yesterday, hovering and concerned, she was so out of it that she feels as if she hasn't seen him in days.
Kate slides a knee over his lap and sinks down. It makes a gap in the sheets that allows cold air in and he grumbles, but his thick fingers are at her hips. She tries not to take things too far, mindful that any moment the door could pop open and their children could come spilling into the room.
Instead, she keeps it as sweet as she can. She kisses him, her absent-minded fingers tracing the shell of his ear. He grows more and more urgent beneath her until she has to break away and roll off him.
"Kate- God," he gasps. She feels cruel, so she gives him some space to figure himself out again. "Can we. . .shower?"
That makes her laugh, loud and bursting free from the very centre of her chest. He's so earnest, so eager, that she has to dart back in and kiss the corner of his mouth.
He clambers out of bed, gets himself tangled in the sheets and almost goes to the ground. One knee on the floor, he gazes up at her when she comes around the end of the bed to help him. "Marry me?"
"Already did, goofball." Kate helps him up and keeps a tight hold of his hand. Fingers laced, she brings him into the bathroom with her. He's stumbling in his eagerness, crowding her really, and he's trying to undress her before she even has the door locked.
After he's had his way with her he gets out and leaves her alone to wash her hair and shave. She takes her time, relishing in the feeling of the water across her shoulders. Rotating her head on her neck, she feels the last of yesterday's tension slip away, and she watches as it circles the drain.
When she gets out of the shower there are voices out in the kitchen. She hurries through dressing, her heart crying out in yearning to be with her babies. She rubs a towel through her hair and winds it into a braid, too impatient to spend the time drying it this morning.
"Mommy!" All three of the kids cry out when they see her up and dressed and herself again.
They charge, and Kate sinks to her knees and gathers them into her arms. Lily's face is pressed against her neck, the boys fidgety and overexcited. Even the dog seems delighted to see her. His tail wags and he licks her face, butting his slender head into her.
"Okay, guys, let's let Mom breathe." Rick breaks it up after a while.
Lily and Reece disperse, but Jake is clingy still. Kate scoops him up into her arms and carries him with her into the kitchen. He lays his cheek against her shoulder. Sleep is still clinging to him, her baby boy, and she rocks him a little as she peruses the cabinets in search of breakfast.
"Eggs?" Rick suggests. He's at her side now, and he lays a wide palm against Jake's back. "Or I think there's still some bacon left."
"Ooh." She plays it up to get a laugh out of their son. Sure enough, Jake giggles and pats her cheek as if he's pleased with her. "Bacon sandwich, yes. I'm starving."
Rick makes for the fridge, but Kate stops him. She still feels loose from the shower, still wants him. Lifting on tiptoe in her flat feet, she kisses him. It's soft, mindful of the boy trapped between their bodies.
"I'll make it. You take the little man."
She passes Jake over into his father's arms. Watching them for a minute, she waits until they're settled back at the table with Lily and Reece, and then she busies herself with making breakfast. Her stomach is a living thing in the pit of her belly and it cries out. Once she's made her sandwich she joins her family at the table and eats quickly to appease the angry beast.
"Mom," Lily says quietly. The boys are pestering Rick, wanting cookies, so Lily has Kate's undivided attention. "I'm really glad you're feeling better."
"Thank you, Lilypad. I am too."
A/N: I know an absolutely obscene amount of time has passed between updates, so I want to thank you for sticking with me and this story. I've had a fairly hectic summer, but I'm back at school now and hopefully the routine will help me to get updates out to you guys much more frequently. If you don't know, my dear friend griever11 is running a streamed convention for the Castle fandom this weekend and next weekend. I have a few panels, which I'm really excited about, and I'd love to hear from you guys! You can visit either the castleficstream twitter account or my own, which is reallybeanie, for more information.