Epilogue - Month 10
A sound from the monitor wakes her. This is only the second night they let Lily sleep in a separate room after having her crib in their room for the first four weeks. It took her a while to quiet the annoying voices in her head that kept repeating all the things that could possibly go wrong with this new arrangement. Kate managed to fall asleep eventually, but the smallest noise - even the quiet crack of the bed as he shifts - woke her. This time, however, the sound is definitely coming from the monitor.
She quickly grabs it, gets up and shuts it off before it can wake him up. For the past few weeks, he has mostly been the one to get up and soothe their baby when she screamed or cried in the middle of the night, claiming that he could take care of it now that he actually has access to her.
Lily is everything they could have wished for and more. Years ago, when Castle spoke about the unconditional love he felt the moment Alexis was born, it was his honesty and heartwarming expression of emotion that brought a smile to her face, but she didn't, couldn't understand what he meant. Until now.
As she crosses through the loft, her mind flashes back to a little over a month ago, the day that changed their lives.
She'd experienced pain a few times that day, but didn't think much of it. When she felt it first, Kate was concerned for a while. By the time she felt it the second time, she figured out that it was caused by contractions. But they were several hours apart, and so she didn't think it was smart to alarm Rick just yet.
From reading all the pamphlets and doing research online, she was aware that it could still take ages for her to go into active labor. If she told him about the few contractions she had had throughout the entire day, he would have probably overreacted and rushed her off to the hospital immediately.
She'd let him know in the morning, once they were both well-rested. There'd still be plenty of time left.
Kate had no trouble falling asleep, her last contraction had been a while ago. Her dreams were pleasant, images of Rick and their daughter, getting to hold her for the first time… and then something roused her from her slumber.
It hurt, but it was almost over once she was fully awake. She took a deep breath, thinking that she could probably go back to sleep in a few minutes once the ache she still felt echoing through her stomach subsided.
It almost worked, but then the pain she experienced earlier returned, stronger this time. But perhaps that was just because she was now fully conscious, she told herself. No reason to wake up the sleeping husband next to her.
Kate continued breathing, using Rick's steady rhythm as a guide to even her own. But her breath hitched as soon as another sharp pain shot through her stomach.
The pain was definitely increasing.
How long had it been since her last contraction? Ten minutes, five, two? She couldn't even finish the thought before more pain rippled through her. Definitely more frequent than they had been earlier that day. She watched the clock at her nightstand, counting the seconds that passed. Four minutes later, and she squeezed her eyes shut and struggled to withhold a moan.
She laid in the dark, debating on whether to wake Rick or not. It didn't take her long to make a decision.
Placing a hand on his shoulder, she gently shook it. "Rick."
He didn't reply, but she thought she noticed him stir a little bit.
"Babe," she said, louder now.
Castle moved, but he still failed to respond.
That seemed to prove the most effective. Kate could see him slowly turn his head towards her, trying to make out her features in the dark bedroom.
"The baby's coming."
That was all it took. He shot up, fully conscious within seconds.
"What?" he exclaimed as he tried to find a light switch, knocking over a few things on his nightstand in the process.
She started to laugh, but it was interrupted by another contraction.
"This wasn't supposed to happen for another two weeks," he said, his voice slightly panicky. He rushed through the room, finding clothes he could put on, barely avoiding tripping and falling over when he slid a sock onto his foot. Meanwhile, Kate remained seated on their bed. The sight of Castle so agitated made her giggle.
The sound made him stop dead in his tracks, his head whipping around midway through him getting dressed.
"Oh my god, I am so sorry. We need to get you dressed, I am so selfish, do you need help? Here, I can…"
"Rick, it's fine," she assured him. "I can dress myself."
But it didn't stop him from pulling out a few items of clothing and handing them to her. Once they were both ready, Castle pulled out a bag.
"I packed it a few days ago," he explained when he saw her astounded look. "Thought it would be better if we were prepared sooner rather than later. It should have everything important in it."
She didn't think she would ever be so grateful for his precise planning that had, on occasion, driven her crazy. But he never gave her time to utter a 'thank you,' only gently tucked on her arm and guided her out of the loft, out into the street, into a cab and straight to the hospital.
Everything in between was a blur of white walls and voices she didn't recognize. She noticed Rick speaking with the nurses, and then they were in a different room, and all of a sudden she was in a bed. She lost track of time, lost count of her contractions, didn't really care as she tried to breathe evenly through it all. She heard Rick murmur words of encouragement. Pain medication made it bearable, but it only did so much. And nothing really prepared her for what giving birth actually felt like.
She was sweating and panting and occasionally cursing, trying to focus on the instructions constantly directed her way.
"You can do it," she heard the low rumble of his voice, and she wanted to slap him, because he wasn't the one pushing a human being out of his body, was he? And yet she was thankful for the comfort the familiar sound of his voice provided.
"I hate you," she gritted through her teeth, but she was breathless and it came out weak. Castle merely chuckled in response, and the urge to slap him doubled. But other things distracted her, and he continued cheering her on.
It took forever, there was pain, and relief washed over her when it was all over. Her mind was blank, she nearly dozed off, incapable of concentrating on anything... but then she heard the cry, and she never thought that the sound would elicit such a stream of emotions from her.
It was what she held onto even as the exhaustion threatened to take over. And then she had her in her arms, and she was unable to stop the flow of tears streaming down her eyes. She was actually sobbing, and a small voice in the back of her head told her to get it together, but she silenced it and decided she didn't care. This was their daughter; she was right there in her arms. Finally.
She looked up with a wide grin plastered onto her face, knowing she probably looked insane with her tear-stained cheeks and bright smile, but when her gaze found Rick's, she saw he wore an expression similar to hers.
They didn't speak, only let their eyes do the talking, and then their attention was back on the little bundle in her arms. And in that moment, everything couldn't have been better.
She swiftly moves upstairs and down the corridor into Lily's nursery. The shrill sound of her crying pierces through the otherwise quiet floor. Alexis has gone out with friends, but Kate hopes that Lily will soon sleep through the night as to not constantly wake her up as well. Her and Castle suffering from sleep deprivation is enough, she doesn't need another member of the Castle family to sport dark circles.
Kate gently picks Lily up, wraps her in her blanket, and sits down in the rocking chair. Lily doesn't need a diaper change, isn't hungry, but she apparently craved someone's presence (and attention), because she begins to calm down the moment she is in her mother's arms.
Lily gargles and then goes quiet, looking up expectedly at her mom. When Kate doesn't say anything, just continues rocking them back and forth, she makes a noise again, louder this time. Then she goes quiet again, her eyes fixated on Kate's.
"You want me to talk?" she murmurs, and Lily gives her an adorable smile in return that melts her heart. "Okay then, but I'm not all that good at it." She chuckles. "I'd have to get your dad for that."
She missed the first time he talked, must have been sound asleep when he picked up the habit. But after that, she'd frequently caught bits and pieces of the one-sided conversation he was having with her bump. Sometimes, she'd wake up from the sound of his voice, even as he kept it to a whisper. Sometimes, she had been close to drifting off when she heard him speak. Sometimes, she tried her best to breathe as evenly and calmly as possible, waiting for what he had to tell their little one that particular night. Sometimes, the low and familiar rumble was what made her fall asleep.
As the months passed, she listened to him recount stories, share advice, hopes, and worries. She listened to him pour his love for her, Martha, Alexis, and their daughter into his words, and it astounded her – she didn't think she could fall even more in love with this man, but she did.
"He is the one with the words," she informs the bundle in her arms. She pauses, trying to figure out what to say next, trying to remember what he talked about whenever he didn't have an anecdote to share. "I want you to know how much I love you, sweetheart," she murmurs. "Your dad said it better than I ever could, but there are so many people who care about you. You already met most of them."
Somehow, while she was confused and unable to notice anything except for the increasingly worse contractions, Rick had called their family and friends to tell them that the Castle family was about to have an additional member. Esposito and Ryan were there almost immediately, since they were up extremely early due to a case that wouldn't let them take a break - but they figured that this was a perfect excuse to get away for at least a little bit. Lanie always had her phone next to her when she slept, prepared to get up the moment a body dropped. Alexis was easy to reach as well.
Only his mother and Jim were hard to get a hold of. It took several phone calls to Jim's house phone until he picked up, and murmured something incomprehensible – but the drowsiness left his voice the moment Castle's words registered with him. Martha proved to be more of an issue. Numerous phone calls failed to reach her, and Castle wondered whether that was because she had misplaced it, or because she'd had one or two glasses of wine too many. It took Alexis pounding on her apartment door to tell her the good news.
When she was ready, they came in one by one. Fortunately, Alexis had had the foresight to bring tissues.
"We almost had to chase them out of the door at some point; they couldn't take their eyes off of you. I can't blame them though," she laughs as she gazes down. "Everyone's been saying that you have my eyes. But the glint in them is definitely from him," she adds. "And given that you keep waking up at night, you definitely adapted your dad's sleeping habits."
In the dim lighting of the room, Kate lovingly looks down at Lily. She wants to memorize exactly how their daughter looks, the outline of her face, the shape of her tiny body, and how she slowly blinks as she falls asleep once again.
"You're tired, huh?" she laughs and can't hold back a yawn herself. She rises, careful not to disturb Lily in any way, and gently places her back in her crib. "Yeah, me too. I can see why your dad did this for months, it's like I'm telling myself a bedtime story… although I think I'll wait until you're fully conscious to share my life stories with you."
"So you heard?" comes a soft murmur from the door that startles her. "Sorry," he apologizes. "I woke up when I heard her through the monitor, but you beat me to it."
Kate slowly moves over to him and leans against his chest, Rick's arms wrapping around her in an automatic response. "How long have you been standing there?" she asks.
"Pretty much since the beginning. The sight of you two was just too adorable," he laughs silently. "I think the more important question is: How long have you been listening to me speaking to myself?"
"Pretty much since the beginning," she copies his reply.
"I hope I didn't keep you up, I tried to be as quiet as possible," he murmurs, and she immediately notices the hint of guilt.
"You didn't. I loved listening to you. Actually, I think it was kind of cute."
"Really?" She can hear the smirk in his voice.
She lifts her head and her eyes meet his. "Really. Lily couldn't ask for a better dad."
"Well, I do have an RHD in child care," he jokes, and she knows he sees her eyes roll. "And you have an SAM."
"A what now?" she raises her eyebrows.
"Super Attractive Mom." She tries and fails to cover up the smile stretching across her lips.
But then, as she turns towards the crib and watches their daughter sleeping peacefully, she can't stop the thoughts going through her head; the worries she suppressed and shut out for weeks and rarely ever gave a voice to.
Castle notices, of course he does. "Hey, what's wrong?"
"Will I be a good mom?" she chokes out, and she feels stupid, so stupid – but she doesn't want to do anything wrong, is concerned that she won't be home enough or that she won't be able to give Lily everything she needs and deserves.
"Hey, hey, shhh," Rick comforts her, rubbing his hands across her back. "You'll be the best, you are the best." But he can tell she isn't convinced. "I thought you'd been listening to me. Didn't I tell her why you'd be a great mom?"
She gives him a slight smile. "You did."
"You're already everything she needs. She is in the safest hands when she is with you. And I know you're an extraordinary mom."
"How do you know that?" she whispers, slowly calmly down but the question is still genuine.
"Because you're an extraordinary person."
She smiles at him. "You're not so bad yourself."
"Come on, let's go back to bed before she decides she needs something else," he suggests, gesturing towards the door.
Kate walks out and turns to see Rick still hovering around the crib. "No more regular nighttime chats, Lily," he sighs. "So I guess this is it," he murmurs.
She can't help but notice the slight hint of disappointment when he says it. "Doesn't have to be," she reminds him.
And it isn't.
Weeks pass, and when Lily wakes up during the night, and he happens to be the one to check on her, he talks to her about everything and nothing in particular until the sound of his voice has lulled her back to sleep, while Kate listens to it through the monitor still in their room.
Months pass, and Rick begins reading her bedtime stories at every chance that he gets, sometimes inventing his own or altering already existing ones so that she never has to hear the same one twice unless she demands he read her Rapunzel again.
Years pass, and now it is Lily slowly reading passages of her favorite stories to them, their eyes filled with pride as they watch their daughter decipher letters and words.
Time passes, but the stories shared between them never end.
A/N: .. aaaand that concludes this fic, and my first ever multichapter story. A special "thank you" goes to Faith who put up with my countless texts in which I complained about being stuck/not able to finish, insecure about my writing etc. - thanks for always encouraging me. Finally, thanks to each and every single one of you for taking the time to read this, for reviewing, favoriting, and following this story (even after I took a while to upload the more recent chapters).Your support/feedback for this story was incredible. I look forward to hearing what you think of this final chapter. Thanks for coming on this journey with me! :)