A/N - A brief hiatus from writing Blank Page with a story that woke me up last night.
Thanks for reading.
Here, There Be Monsters
He awoke with a start. He's not sure what woke him. Hell, he's not sure when he fell asleep. It doesn't feel like the aftermath of the dream: the dream that has plagued his unconscious mind for over six years and his waking mind sporadically. The dream is his never-ending penance for his perceived culpability and carelessness. 'If he'd been smarter or faster…' He cut off that type of thought just as he's been told to. Just as his wife, his mother, his oldest daughter, his therapist has told him. No one blames him but him and he doesn't hold himself accountable…most of the time, but the dream trudges through his carefully covered up and hidden places and plunders it despite his ever cautious circumvention of the burial plot.
He inhaled shallowly. He tried for a deep breath, but there was a weight on his chest. Warm: he realized how excessively warm he was and reached up and wiped the trickle of sweat from his neck. Really warm and truth be told, that's what probably woke him up. Kate likens him to a furnace: her own private furnace. He always put out heat. If heat-seeking aliens were to invade, he'd be one of the first picked off.
He finally pried an eyelid apart. It was dark, but not dead of night: it was more purples, oranges and deep blues and pinks swathing and swirling overhead. Twilight.
Oh, the Fort. Another reason for his warmth was the blanket fort. Premium comforter fort, which was made of comforters layered with down and dense space-aged, heat-retaining poly-fibers, encased in eighteen-hundred-thread count velvety bamboo.
"God," he rasped in the near darkness. The weight on his chest murmured, and then was followed by a sigh. Jake serenely kipped, curled on his father's chest. His son's drool (he's his daddy's boy in that regard) saturated his tee shirt, right at his right collar bone. So, not sweat. He could feel the toddler's weight pressing on the scar. It wasn't uncomfortable, just a twinge in reminder for all he had and all he had to be thankful for.
Rick lifted his head and quickly located Reece, still clutching the Nerf sword and sporting a blue-black mustache and beard, courtesy of mommy's eye shadow, a scarf around his head that he was sure had belonged to his mother and a black pirate patch over the bandaged eye. Earlier that week on Monday, because of the rare occurrence of both of their parent's schedules colliding with unyielding, uncompromising outside commitments and the unavailability of family and friends at the last minute, they had run out of baby sitting options and had to put the boys in daycare for half a day. A great daycare with impeccable references, records and reviews, but both the boys had been exposed to bacterial conjunctivitis. The director apologized profusely and repeatedly when she called after little Angelina had been diagnosed. And although it always privately tickled him when people realized to which family the boys belonged, Castle had been gracious and assured her he would schedule a doctor's appointment and would certainly return if they ever needed her services again. It was nobody's fault: kids like to share.
Reece began to show symptoms by Wednesday, but thankfully Jake, so far, had been spared the itchiness, redness, swelling, pain and pus of pink eye. Reece wouldn't stop rubbing, only making the infection worse, so the ophthalmologist suggested the patch along with the antibiotics and pain killers. Castle made his miserable little man into Blue Beard and they had played pirate every day since. That day, along with his brother, The Dread Pirate Jake the Snake (who proudly displayed an eyeliner snake tattoo on his forearm), they'd explored (and slithered through) the blanketed tunnels until they discovered the lost treasure de las Madre and a late lunch.
Castle smiled as he extricated himself from under the dead weight of his youngest. He crawled to Reese and checked his temperature as he slept, pushing his hair off his forehead. He'd had his medications just before lunch and Castle wasn't concerned that he slept so soundly.
He looked around the corner for the fairy princess they had befriended on their quest, but he neither heard nor saw where Lily-belle the fairy, had crashed. He assumed she was sacked out with the rest of them. He stood so he could survey the entire network of tunnels and ignored the popping of his bad knee. He didn't care how much it hurt or how stiff and ornery the old injury behaved, he was going to play with his younger children.
Panic seized his chest. "Lily?" he called in a strangled whisper. He didn't need to jar the boys awake abruptly. They were his boys in that regard as well; they, like their dad, loved their sleep and didn't react well when yanked from its comfortable, blissful arms.
No answer. He untangled his ankles from the linens and stepped away from the fort. "Lily, baby, come get daddy." He really tried to project calm.
He skipped through his office, quickly bending to look under the desk, but taking a second look to make sure the bolt was still locked on the balcony door. Lily was all Kate, well not all, per say—she'd inherited his sense of adventure. That wasn't always a good thing.
He raced into the bedroom and checked all the usual hide-and-go-seek places: under the bed, behind the armchair, in the closet, all without success. He checked his bathroom and mermaid lagoon, which is what she had named their Jacuzzi tub when she was three.
"God…Lily-pad, come on out sweetheart."
He ran to the stairs throwing a quick look over his shoulder to make sure the other two were still sacked-out and not paying attention, bashed his shin on the baby gate. It was still closed, but his precocious daughter had figured out how to open it and lock it again by the time she was four.
He took the steps, two at a time and strode to the door with the wooden plaque depicting a cartoony frog sitting on a lily pad, surrounded by cattails, which read Lily's Pad. Her door was closed. It occurred to him that his sensible daughter might not have wanted to nap on the floor with the boys; she might have retreated to her own bed. She had always been sensible about things like sleeping and eating. She ate when she was hungry and only until she was full (she usually skipped dessert) and slept when she was tired, even if she might miss some exciting activity or another.
He opened the door slowly and stepped into a woodland oasis in the middle of Manhattan. When the boys were born, nearly two years ago, they had given her an opportunity to redecorate. She had help from her older sister with the planning, and in the end, his second daughter had the bedroom Alexis had always been too pragmatic to ask for. Lily's bedroom had been transformed into a forest glade with a treehouse, surrounded by trees and wildflowers, the deep greens, browns and blues of the woods. Her bed was on a raised platform which looked like the treehouse. The outer wall, which sported the slant of the shingled roof façade and two window cutouts, no glass but complete with flower boxes where silk lilies had been planted, swung on hinges that only opened from the outside. He'd checked the curving stepping-stone staircase, rising to the bed platform, where she'd fallen asleep in an impossible position before. Glow-n –the-dark fireflies spun lazily in the slow breeze under the ceiling fan. In three strides, over the make-believe painted brook, careful to sidestep the miniature toadstool stools and picnic table and through the grassy meadow, he opened the house. No Lily.
He also came up empty when he checked the shared Jack'n'Jill bathroom between his kids' bedrooms and a quick check of the boys' room even though Lily didn't like going in there because of the over-prevalent infestation of boy germs. "Damn it," he swore as he leaned against her dresser, perplexed. He thought he knew all the kids' hiding places. "Lily?"
He walked out into the hall, but stopped. He thought he heard a barely audible whimper. A sharp inhalation, maybe: maybe a sob. It could have come from one of the pirates, but it didn't sound like either of his sons. Closing his eyes he listened again and when he heard it, he followed the sound.
Castle opened the door of the second floor laundry room and flipped on the light. He'd had the room installed with the remodel just before the boys were born so they wouldn't have to lug laundry up and down the stairs. Kate had argued that it wasn't necessary and why couldn't he just install a chute instead, but he countered by pointing out that if and when he put a slide in their home, it would have to be sturdy enough for him to use. He supplemented his argument by pointing out all the hospital bills they could avoid by just installing the laundry room.
There was a pile of kid laundry in the middle of the floor and he mentally reminded himself to finish sorting it. He'd been called away that morning to console and love a wretched, pink-eyed pirate. He had just finished folding a load of sheets and another of towels, but had yet to stack them in the linen closet, which he was almost positive he'd left open. He crept closer and heard the whimper again.
Blowing out a relieved breath, he opened the door.
"No, Daddy, close the door," Lily immediately said. She sat with her legs crossed, Indian-style, on the tiled floor inside of the linen closet. She faced the plumbing access panel.
Rick squatted on his haunches behind her after swinging the door as closed as well as he could and ran his hand over his daughter's silky hair. She'd inherited Kate's eye and her hair color, her adorable nose, and high cheekbones. She had even inherited the Beckett eye roll. Despite that, his daughter was beautiful and he had already begun a search for sequestered, all-girl schools in the city. Her hair though, was fine, straight and silky, like Alexis' had been and he indulged his need to touch it whenever he could.
"What's up Bug? Did you hear me calling for you?"
"Shh," she admonished him while holding a finger up to his lips and shook her head.
"Okay," he intoned in an exaggerated whisper. Lily giggled, but clamped a hand over her mouth, as if to catch the delightful fairies in her laughter. "What're you doing in here, Sweetheart?"
"I'm guarding," she said seriously, wearing a look of determination she also garnered from her mother.
"The boys and you," she said as if it were the most logical, obvious thing in the world.
Rick squinted at the panel, which was once again receiving the full Beckett glare. "Guarding us from…"
Lily sighed and he instantly regretted that she had to put up with such a dullard for a father. So. Much. Like. Kate. 'God,' he thought for the thousandth time, 'I am in so much trouble.'
"There's a monster in there, Daddy and I have to protect you and Jakey and Reece."
"Oh, okay then," he said, not missing a beat, "I didn't know he came back," Rick whispered and stared at the panel as well.
Lily's eyes widened. "Back?"
"Of course," he affirmed, but didn't say anything more.
They sat, staring at the access panel in silence for a few more minutes. Lily stole glances at her father. He could almost see the wheels spinning in her mind.
"What do you mean back, Daddy?"
"Do you really want to know the story?" His five-year old nodded, her impossibly huge eyes, even larger in the low light spattering into the closet from the laundry room. Rick put his ear up to the panel and turned a solemn face to his girl. "I think he's asleep. How about we check on the boys and I can tell you the story someplace more comfortable. She hesitantly glanced at the panel once more before she nodded.
Rick stood eliciting a chorus of creaking, popping, protesting joints and sighed. They only ached during a storm, but they surely made a lot of noise. He held out his hand for Lily who took it and he quickly pulled her from the maw of the linen closet and into his arms.
"Do you want to walk or get a ride downstairs?" Another eye roll for another silly question meant another answer that he should have already known. "Piggy back it is then." He one-armed swung her easily onto his back. "Come on monkey."
Dumping her unceremoniously on the couch, he checked that the boys still slept. He sighed as he approached. "Damn it," he swore under his breath. Jake's left eye looked tender and swollen. He bent and felt his forehead. He'd have to wake him soon and give him Tylenol, but he let him be for a few more minutes: the sleep would help as well. He rubbed his own eye sympathetically.
He went to the kitchen to wash his hands again. He'd washed his hands more times in the last few days than he'd ever washed them, even after all the gross expeditions he'd been on with members of the twelfth to dumpsters, seedy hotels and Esposito's locker.
"It looks like Jakey is coming down with buccaneer's disease." He said as he placed a glass of milk and a baggie of apple slices down on the coffee table in front of Lily. "I know you want to help, Bug, but I need you to stay away from the boys for a few days." She scowled recalcitrantly. "I know, Sweetheart. I know you want to, but I don't want you to get sick, too. Okay?"
Lily nodded, albeit begrudgingly and his breath caught the same way it had been catching since the doctor laid her in his arms: Kate's perfect little mini-me. He stretched his fingers to flip her hair at her neck and then let his fingers trail along her jaw affectionately.
He took a breather, while he watched her eat her snack for a minute. That's as long as she would let him get away with gawking at her. He mentally replayed her slideshow in his head. The mental snapshots of memories that created her timeline, from that very first time he met her, tiny and helpless in his arms to her first of many school portraits that she'd had just taken this year. God, his baby girl was in kindergarten already. It seemed like she was growing up faster than Alexis ever did.
He sighed heavily.
Ever the empath, she tilted her head, sending her hair cascading over her cheek and shoulder and asked, "Daddy?"
"I'm okay, Bug." He forced his face to brighten and his thoughts to lighten up. "Should I tell that story about Calvin, now?"
"It was supposed to be about the monster in the laundry room, Daddy. Who is Calvin?"
"Aren't laundry room monsters allowed to have names?" he asked solemnly.
She watched him uncertainly, her light brown eyes gazing deeply into his, searching, gauging. His second daughter, as did his first, intently and seriously studied him for a clue about how she should react. "Yes?"
"Well, I think so, but it's okay if you don't."
"No Daddy, I think they should," she said confidently. "You can't just call them hey you or it, can you?"
He tilted his head, contemplating. "It might make them crankier. It would be kind of rude, I think."
She flashed him a smile. "Me too."
"Okay," he scooched back into the corner of the couch, patted his thighs and held open his arms. Rick closed his eyes and just enjoyed the moment. His little girl wiggled onto his lap, safely tucked in his arms, smelling sweet and warm and…
He opened his eyes and she stared intently at him. "Oh Baby, I'm okay." He hadn't meant to concern her, his observant child. "I love it when you or…and your brothers sit on my lap for a story.
She snuggled into his chest and sighed. "Me too," she repeated. "What about Calvin?"
"Okay. Calvin is the laundry room monster. He lives behind the wall and sometimes he makes a gurgling noise." He demonstrated and thus rewarded with giggles. "He wasn't always the laundry room monster; he used to live under Alexis' bed. All families have their share of monsters. Some are easily banished and some are so big and so tough that it takes a special person to fight them and send them away. Mommy fights big and tough monsters, but none of them has ever beaten Mommy. Calvin isn't big or tough. He isn't very scary…"
"Yes, he is," Lily, whispered. "That's why I had to guard."
"If you're scared of him, Bug, why did you have to guard?"
"Because if I don't, than he wins."
Rick felt his eyebrow rising. "Ah, I see." His mind thrust a memory into the forefront of his brain of Jim sitting in that very room, trying to explain his daughter to him.
'She doesn't flinch,' Castle said.
Jim nodded. 'I know. She wouldn't accept a night light when she was a little girl. Not that she wasn't afraid of the dark, but I think she just felt it was a point of pride to stare it down.'
"Who doesn't flinch, Daddy?" Lily tugged on his arm.
He came back from the memory and blinked. "Hmm? I'm sorry, Bug, did I say that out loud? I was remembering something Papa Jim told me once. And it's Mommy. Mommy doesn't flinch."
"Bug, it is okay to be afraid of something. It's okay to run away, sometimes. It's even better to ask for help. You find someone you trust and ask them to help you in your quest."
"Like we helped Reecey and Jakey find the treasure?"
"Exactly like that." He grinned and played with her hair.
Lily leaned into his touch. "Like when Mommy helps you with dinner?"
"Yup, but not when Grams does." He wiggled his fingers at her waist and she squirmed, but only let a small giggle escape, before she whipped her head toward her slumbering brothers.
"Shh, Daddy: no tickling. We might wake up the pirates," she whispered into her cupped hand at his ear.
"You're right," he agreed, also sparing a quick glance toward the blanket maze. Satisfied, he squinted and searched the ceiling. "Now, where were we?"
"Calvin isn't scary," she reminded.
"Right. He isn't scary to me or to Alexis anymore, but it's okay if he stills scares you, I guess I'll have to make sure he settles down. I will gladly and fervently go into battle with you, young miss."
"How?" Her eyes were wide and her Cupid's bow mouth hung open.
"Well, let's see: when he lived under Alexis' bed, all I had to do was check for him and he was so afraid of me that he cleared out. Most times anyway. Sometimes, I'd have to use monster be gone, an anti-monster spray, because he was stubborn and uppity."
"We may need that for Calvin, he's really stubborn. What's uppity?"
"It means..." he began, but was interrupted by a real monster slayer. He was just the bard that extolled her in song and story.
"When a monster is uppity, they're behaving as if they own the whole house and not just their monster lair."
"Mommy!" Lily jumped off her father and ran to her mother, whom Castle noticed came out of the bedroom. She had already shed her armor in favor of a soft pair of gray leggings, bare feet and his black Darth Vader tee shirt that proclaimed, 'I Am Your Father' that he'd received from the boys the last Father's Day.
"Hey," he greeted after hauling himself up from the couch. He purposely squished their daughter between them as he kissed his wife.
"Kate, did you hear something?"
"It sounded like a flower with an attitude."
"That it does." He backed up, leaned down and hoisted Lily over his shoulder. "How long have you been home?"
"Long enough to know that Calvin is acting up again. How's Reece?"
"Miserable, but only when he's not sleeping or hunting treasure. Jake's got it, too." He rubbed his own right eye.
Kate raised an eyebrow and peered at her husband. "Just Jake?"
He scoffed, "Who, me? No, mine is just psychosomatically itchy." He held up his hands.
"Uh huh. You think so, monster slayer?" She examined him closely, gently pressing the puffiness around his eye. "You should clean that out."
"I'm just…" he protested and winced. "Shi—oot," he said, ducking away from her painful examination.
He'd dropped Lily, their quiet, contemplative child, on the couch. She was deep in thought. While she understood that Daddy was probably sick like the boys, she still furtively glanced up the stairs. She could feel Calvin waiting to gurgle and scare her again.
"Okay, I'll agree," Castle said, "but will you help me?" He side-nodded to their daughter. "I still need to vanquish a monster."
"Of course." Kate sat in front of Lily, pivoted to her. "Bug, stay here and watch the boys while I take care of Daddy and then we'll all take care of Calvin because when you find someone you trust, you ask them to help you in your quest."
Castle leaned over the back of the couch and Lily again to kiss Kate soundly. "I didn't realize you were listening, Kate."
"I didn't for a long time, but then I did and learned that you're right. You find someone you trust and ask them to help you in your quest. It's always better."
He smiled. "Always."