Handprints on my Heart

For Cathey, as an attempt to make her smile after receiving bad news.

Her head is already pounding when she reaches the door, and she takes a moment to try and rub away the ache at her temple before pushing into the loft. The weight of the demands of her job as captain is still heavy on her shoulders and she tries, with a roll of tense muscles, to eliminate that too.

She tries to shield Lily from it, even though she's too young to understand. Tries desperately to make sure she can enjoy whatever time with her daughter she can get.

With a final roll of her shoulders and a sigh that escapes her lips too loudly, her hand settles on the doorknob and she shoves it open.

On most days, she's greeted home by the sight of her husband cooking whatever meal they would share while her daughter makes a mess of cookie crumbs as she watches cartoons. But today, the hours dragged on despite her watchful eye until chances of that happening were gone and she was left hoping that nothing new would come in before she finished her paperwork so she could, at the very least, put her daughter to bed. By some miracle, tonight she's managed to make it home early enough to catch whatever late night cartoon Lily wants to watch and snuggle her little girl until she falls asleep.

Or so she thinks, until she's kicked off her shoes and is halfway through shedding her coat when Lily—a paint-covered, messy Lily—comes running at her with grabby, bright green hands. Utterances of mama tumble from Lily's lips, and after the day she's had, Kate doesn't care enough about her blouse to not sweep her daughter into her arms.

"What are you up to, baby girl?" she asks, Lily's unintelligible toddler babbles the only response she gets. So she finds herself stepping around the corner, her question forgotten when she steps into the kitchen.

A huge sheet of paper rolled out across the floor, smudges of various colors of paint on the hardwood and their messy little girl, betray exactly what they were up to.

"Finger painting, babe?"

It's a sigh, a strained breath that's met with the worsening of her headache, her eyes sliding closed against the pain at her temple. Lily bounces in her arms, squirms to be put down.

She's hesitant when she sets her daughter on the ground, watching Lily run over to where Castle is working to clean the paint smudges off the floor.

His shirt is missing, the bottom of his jeans covered in paint from where he was surely kneeling next to Lily. She watches him scoop their daughter into his arms before she can step on the wet paint and stain more floor with colorful footprints.

"Did you find mommy, Lily-Belle?" he asks.

The responding squeal, the way the nickname falls so easily from his lips, has the knot of tension easing in her chest, her heart melting until she forgets about the mess and lets him step towards her.

How they do it will never cease to amaze her, but her husband and her daughter are the only people who can wash away exasperation and replace it with love with nothing but a glance in her direction.

So she lets him step even closer and wrap her in his arms, even though it further stains her blouse with green and blue paint. And she's not sure if the sigh that escapes her lips is of exasperation or relief.

She's not sure she cares.

He doesn't ask her to help with the clean up, just smooths a hand down her spine and promises that he has everything under control and she can just relax. So she steps out of his arms, goes to change from her work clothes into yoga pants and a sweater that are far more comfortable. When she returns to the kitchen, her meal is sitting on the counter and Lily is trying to help Castle mop the paint off the floor.

The smile the sight evokes forces her to bite back her sigh at the scene.

It's nothing to be upset about. Not when he's cleaning up and Lily is helping and, despite the initial flood of angry exasperation, she finds herself grinning at the sight.

Her husband—her sweet, loving husband and her baby girl, who's already so big and amuses herself by pointing out every missed smudge of paint. Because somehow, despite their countless mistakes, their flaws, she and Castle managed to create a perfect human being.

Lily, with her innocence and beautiful smile, has wrapped around her heart, made it explode with a love she had never believed to be possible.

And Castle, who's allowed her to see a new, wonderful side to him, has made her fall deeper and deeper in love with him with every passing day.

Lily's squeal cuts through her thoughts. Her fork clatters to her empty plate as she turns towards the sound.

She watches Castle tickle their daughter, watches Lily squirming, giggling in her father's arms, smearing more paint across the broad expanse of his chest. It takes only a second for him to turn towards her and offer a crooked grin.

"Wanna come up for bath time, mommy?"

Lily's squeal of approval of the idea leaves her no choice.

By the time she gets upstairs, Lily is already sitting in the tub, the water around her swirling, a murky brown from mixed shades of paint. Castle is spinning a story about what might be hiding beneath the surface, within the murky depths, to distract her as he washes the paint from her chestnut hair.

She leans against the door frame, can't bring herself to interrupt the moment. But Castle must hear the bump of her shoulder against the wood, because he turns towards her and, offers a smile.

And then he's rubbing his nose in that stupid, exaggerated way that is so far from subtle, has her rolling her eyes to disguise the stutter of her heart.

Years ago, when he'd first suggested it, she hadn't expected the action to last a week. And yet here she is, watching her husband's adorable display of affection.

Watching their daughter, who learned of its meaning during one of Castle's reality-inspired bedtime stories, clumsily mimic it. First at her father, and then at her.

Her heart melts again, and this time, no eye roll could disguise the flood of affection in her chest.

She swoops in, stopping only to grab Lily's elephant towel before scooping her toddler from the bathtub. Her arms lock around Lily's small body, head dipping to press kisses to herget daughter's face.

"I love you, too, Lily," she murmurs. "Love you, my Lily-Belle."

Castle watches, draining the bath as she dresses Lily and, holds her baby girl—small and clean and sinking into the draw of fatigue—against her chest.

She reaches for him,Her one hand, the one not holding Lily, reaches out, a finger curling around one of his belt loops so she can draw him towards her. She kisses him, first long and slow and lasting until Lily tugs impatiently on her hair. And then quick, just a peck before she steps away.

"Take a shower, babe," she tells him. "I'm going to snuggle my baby."

He's standing at the bottom of the stairs when she comes down from putting Lily to bed, his arms spread open so she can step into his embrace. Her head settles against his shoulder, arms wrapping around his waist so her hands can slip under the fabric of his shirt. And he dusts a kiss to her head, his embrace tightening as she sinks against him, lets a sigh of contentment slip past her lips.

"I'm sorry you came home to a mess," he whispers. "I thought we'd have time to finish our project before you got here."

She tightens her grip on him, offering a reassuring squeeze. "Don't worry about it," she tells him. "I'm glad you two had fun."

And she is, can't help the bubble of love within her chest when she thinks of the moments she witnessed, imagines those she wasn't here for. Castle is a lovely father, an equally amazing husband, and nothing he does leaves her exasperated—much less angry—for long.

"So, what was your project?"

He doesn't answer at first, stays quiet long enough to have her pulling away, smoothing her hands over his warmed cheeks.


He still doesn't answer, reaches down to take her hand instead. She lets him draw her to the dining table, where their project is sitting, rolled up and hidden from her sweeping gaze and, racing mind. He only pulls away long enough unroll the paper, setting a vase of aged flowers on one end and an empty mug on the other.

Then he's pullingdrawing her towards one end, arms banding around her waist as she steps in front of him.

"I know these past few weeks have been hardhow hard these past few weeks have been on you," he tells her, "so Lily and I wanted to do something that would make you smile."

She almost tells him that all he'd have to do to make her smile is be here for her, with her and their daughter and he already does that every single day, so he has nothing to worry about. Almost twists in his arms until she can smudge her lips to his, mumble her promises that making her smile is never something he has to work for into his kiss. But before she can, his lips are pressing hard to the back of her head, making her head tilt forward under the pressure. Her gaze lands on the page rolled out before her, eyes skimming across the images and words before her.

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess and she was best dragon slayer in the whole kingdom.

The image below the words is composed of handprints that she she knows to be Lily's, smudges of color that Castle somehow turned into a scene of a woman in a blue dress facing off with a bright green dragon.

Her breath escapes in a stutter, heart skipping a beat in anticipation.

Oh, she has the most extraordinary husband.

Her eyes skim the page once more, tracing the words that follow.

One day she met an annoying scribe, and the princess who doubled as a dragon slayer became his muse.

It continues as such, tells their story, her story, in vague details morphed to fit the limits of this fairytale he wrote for their little girl. To be the fairy tale she sometimes believes their story to be.

The princess and the scribe became best friends, and even let him help her slay dragons.

One day, a really mean dragon hurt the princess, and the scribe realized how in love with her he was. That dragon almost broke the princess, but it made her even strong, made them even stronger.

It took a few years, but one day, the princess and the scribe took down that mean dragon, slayed him together.

They were in love, and soon the princess was not only the scribe's muse, but his queen.

After a long time, during which they slayed many more dragons, the queen and her scribe had a beautiful baby girl, a princess. They named her Lily-Belle.

And the queen, the scribe, and their princess lived happily ever after.

She's crying by the time she's finished reading, tracing the outline of one of Lily's small handprints with her fingertip until it lands on a spot of red on the queen's skirt, mirrored by one on princess Lily-Belle's.

"Oh," breathes Casthe. "That's where Lily pointed out that she was the princess, and the queen was her mommy."

The laugh bursts from her lips, replacing whatever inadequate words would have been spoken in thanks. It's punctuated by her spinning in his arms, hands rising to frame his face, eyes meeting his only for her gaze to drop to his smile.

Whatever words she could come up with would never be able to communicate the flood of gratitude, of love in her chest.

So she kisses him, and hopes it can say everything she needs him to know.

His fingertips drift across her temple, after she's pressed herself against him and let her head fall to rest on his bare chest, sweeping baby strands of hair back and lingering for a second. She sinks deeper into his arms, into the feeling of his fingers combing through her hair, her fingertips brushing across his chest as his arm tightens around her waist.

"Headache?" he mumbles.

She smiles, can't help it when her husband knows her so well. But she shakes her head, turning to press a quick kiss over the steady beat of his heart. "Not anymore," she promises. "You and Lily have this way of magically making them disappear."

He hums. "I think it's all her, honey," he says. "That little smile can do wonders."

Her hum meets his, a humorless chuckle escaping her because he is beyond right. Lily, in all her joyous innocence, can work miracles with nothing but a flash of her teeth, a simple smile that lets anyone have a glance into the beauty of their child's heart.

But it's not just Lily. Not just the smile that has melted her heart since the first time she saw it, back when her mind was reminding her it was probably just gas but her heart was stuttering and laughter was bubbling from her chest. But her husband, whose first impression was far less incredible, but still manages to make her fall more in love with him every passing day, every loving smile and romantic gesture.

So she pushes herself up from his chest, just enough so she can dust a kiss to his lips, draw back to catch his gaze with hers. "She gets that from you," she whispers. "Yours does the same thing, babe."

It does, when he flashes it once more.

She sinks back against his chest at that, hand returning to its drift across the plane of his chest. "How was your day with her?"

The question has him launching into a ramble, lilted with affection like she only hears when he talks about his children, his words as beautiful as always as he tells her the story of his day with their Lily-Belle. He tells her about every minute detail, from when their daughter was first screaming in her crib to exactly what they ate for breakfast, talks of a laugh that's musical in its beauty and a toddler who sits around watching Beauty and the Beast while cradling a book on her tiny lap.

It's the story that usually lulls her to sleep, the love in the room washing away the remnants of a long day at the precinct until she was sinking into the draw of slumber with her husband's arms wrapped firmly around her.

But today something shifts, and she's not even sure what until she realizes that her heart is stuttering, racing, on the verge of exploding with–

"I want another one."

She slaps her hand over her mouth to catch the words even though they've already escaped, hears his words die in the air around them as his arm goes tense around her waist. The racing of her heart seems to still completely, a painful clash against her ribs that she would think to be of embarrassment if she couldn't feel the burst of desire beneath the cage of her ribs.

How did she never realize how badly she wanted this until today?

"Kate?" he breathes, squeezing her hips. "You, uh– Huh?"

It makes her wince, has her shoving herself away from him because of course he's shocked, of course she should have thought it through before speaking.

Of course he might not want the same thing she does.

He is, after all, the one that spends all day every day at home, raising their daughter while she gets to escape—however little she wants to—to an office at the precinct. He's the one who handles meals and temper tantrums and repeat upon repeat of Disney movies he's seen a dozen times. And she just gets the pretty parts, most of the time, the smiles and the love and bubble baths and story times.

"You want another baby?"

"Sorry," she breathes. "I know that was random and I just, you might not even want it too and I just–"

His hand clenches around her waist as he sits up, propped up against the headboard. He draws her towards him, impossibly closer until her side is pressed against his and her hand is coming up to cradle his cheek. And she should be embarrassed that they're, having a conversation with the power to change their lives forever while naked in bed, but all she can see is the shine of hope in his eyes, the adoration that brings her back to so many moments that spin in her head, a blur of two beautiful years.

The day they found out she was pregnant, both high on pain meds and happiness as they forgot about the healing bullet wounds in his chest and her stomach and shoulder and focused only on the tiny life nestled safe within her.

The time she woke up in the hospital to see him staring down at her, their baby girl, so impossibly tiny, nestled in the crook of his elbow, his other hand coming up to swipe a curl of hair from her forehead.

Night after night of the phantom threats of nightmares being forgotten with the cradle of their new little baby against his chest or hers, hands knotted together, hearts falling into a calm synchronization she hadn't thought possible until he came into her life.


She blinks, nods in promise that he has her attention.

His hand lifts at that, comes up to cradle her jaw only to draw back. And he mirrors the action that had just been flashing behind her closed eyelids, swiping a strand of air behind her ear before letting his hand fall back to her face. A smile cracks across his features, impossibly happy and she knows what he's going to say, feels her heart begin to melt with it, before a word fills the silence.

"There is nothing I want more than to have another baby with you," he says. "Seeing you with Lily, Kate, it never ceases to amaze me. It's everything I didn't know I needed in my life, no matter how badly I wanted it. And if I'm lucky enough that the love of my life wants us to have a second child…then I definitely want it, too."

Her cheeks burn under the love in his eyes, its intensity still lighting her afire, even now, with a toddler upstairs and desires of another child out in open.

Oh, they want to have another baby.

"She's everything I didn't know I needed," she whispers. "And seeing you as a father to our little girl is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen."

He smiles. "So you want another one?"

She grins back at him, can't help him when longing wells in her chest, bleeds into the love she has for this man and this, this is part of the reason they say babies are a product of love. She's sure of it.

"I do."

He kisses her, smudges his lips to hers in a messy split second before pulling back, letting her see the purity of his love, of his joy.

"I do," she repeats. "I want us to have another baby."

And this time she's the one who leans forward, presses an open-mouthed kiss to his lips, letting her love bleed into the slick of her tongue against his and the cradle of her hands at his jaw. His fingers curl at her nape, the other locking tight around her hip and drawing her into his lap, the sheet falling next to them as she settles against him, drawing back only to catch her breath.

"We're really doing this?" she asks. "We're trying?"

"Is that what you want?"

She kisses him again, peppers his face with pecks of her lips to his skin, painting her affection against his jaw and mumbling promises of her love against his lips until she pulls away once again. "I do, babe," she whispers. "I really do."

He stops her before she can dive back in and steal another kiss from his lips, with his fingers tangled in her hair and the love in his eyes almost paralyzing in its clarity.

"Then we're trying for another baby, Kate," he promises, pauses. "I love you."

Her smile spreads wide, the kiss she presses to his lips this time slow and deliberate as she breathes her promise of reciprocation into his mouth and hopes he feels it in the drift of her fingertips across the sharp lines of his features.

They have a strong marriage, a love that she could have only dreamed of when she was a little girl, hopeful and optimistic and imagining a relationship as healthy as the one she has. They have a little girl with beautiful brown eyes, chestnut brown hair, her father's full, kind heart and a combination of their sharp intellects.

And they're trying for another baby.

"I love you, too."