Handprints on my Soul

For Ally, on her birthday.

He's grown far too used to being either at home with his daughter, or at work with his wife, over the years. His body is obviously not used to being away from them for more than a few hours, if the painfully long day of tedious meetings at Black Pawn is anything to go by.

His head is pounding when he reaches the loft, has been for most of the day. And his heart clenches with painful longing for the family he left too early this morning.

Perhaps he could convince Kate to let Lily watch Beauty and the Beast again tonight—as though she needs any convincing—and spend the evening curled up on the couch with him and their little girl. Surely watching Lily's eyes go bright with wonder, and Kate mouthing the dialogue—despite her protests that she never does so, Castle—would erase the lingering effects of his day.

It's only when he shoves the door open, intent on making such serenity a reality, that he realizes his evening with his family might be far better.

Kate is sitting on the floor between the kitchen and the living room, legs crossed and purple tee hanging loosely off her shoulders, her hair pulled up into an adorable messy bun. Lily sits on her lap, chestnut pigtails poking out from either side of her head, her waving hands covered in blue paint. And he watches as his daughter's animated chatter ends with her planting a bright blue handprint on Kate's right cheek.

He swallows back his laughter, even though he's positive his wife is aware of his presence from the moment the door clicks shut. Does so because Lily is still oblivious, laughing away in her mother's lap with joy that is contagious and beautiful and adorable and that he can't bring himself to interrupt. Not until he can scoop Lily into his arms and tickle the same bubbling laughs from her.

Soft footsteps draw him closer, a smile already tugging at the corners of his mouth. He crouches down behind Kate, dusting a kiss to her left cheek, the one not smeared with paint, before she can turn and let him capture her lips.

Lily jumps to her feet, tugging on his jacket and leaving another blue handprint there as she waits for him to turn his attention to her.

He does, smiling at her as she grins back at him. Her old, faded pink t-shirt is stained every color of the rainbow, her whole body covered in smears of paint and despite it all, he draws her into her arms, squeezes her tight.

"You have fun today, Lily-Belle?"

She nods, falling with him when he drops onto the ground next to Kate. He shifts her so she's sitting on his lap now, pressing a kiss to the back of her head. His wife watches from over her shoulder, smiling softly, lip tugged between her teeth.

Beautiful. So very gorgeous that she has him leaning over to press another kiss to her lips.

"How was your day?" he whispered. "Terrible twos stress you out?"

She shakes her head at that. "Not at all." Her hand comes up, swipes at the drying blue paint on her cheek. "Besides paint that needs cleaning up, we're great."

"Good." He kisses her once more, on the forehead this time. "I'm glad."

And he turns to Lily, who's trying to crawl away. He draws her back into his arms, pinching at her sides until she squirms and laughs and tries to slap his hand away. He smudges an exaggerated kiss to her cheek, catching her hands with his and holding her still until she starts squirming again, leaning back against him.

"What about you?" he asks. "Did you have fun with Mommy?"

She nods, pigtails swinging as she does. "We paints, Daddy," says Lily. "Paints 'bout suh-prise."

"About a surprise, huh?" he asks. "A surprise from Lily or a surprise from Mommy?"

Lily stops at that, dropping into his lap. Her brows furrow adorably—she gets that from Kate—as she tries to come up with an answer and he would laugh if it wasn't so precious.

Not even three years old yet and Lily is already so much like Kate that it melts his heart.

A few seconds tick by before she finally gives up, turning to Kate so she can fill in the blanks.

"From Mommy."

Lily nods, bounces up and down. "Mommy!"

He nods. "Okay, Lily, what's Mommy's surprise?"

She simply shrugs.

So he turns to Kate instead, finds her cheeks burning red and lip once again tugged between her teeth. Her hands twist and fidget in her lap, and he realizes only then that she's seemed nervous the entire time.

Why would she be nervous?

She doesn't say a word, just motions with a tilt of her head to the floor in front of them. He turns to look, finds two pieces of paper rolled out in front of him, one he recognizes and one that is still mostly blank.

The first has been rolled up and hidden somewhere in his office for months, since Kate first decided that having it hung on their wall was a little too much. Six months ago now, he painted that with Lily, smudged fingerprints to paper and telling his daughter his favorite love story as the afternoon dragged on.

The second only has two scenes on it, painted in the same style, words scrawled across the page in a different penmanship from the first. It only takes him a second to note the blue handprints in the sky that match the paint on Lily's hands.

"You continued it?" he breathes.

Kate shrugs. "I figured it should include the next chapter of our story."

That has him turning back to the paper, actually reading what she wrote.

The first scene is similar to the last on his own painting. Him her and Lily, but their daughter is a little bigger, standing between them.

The writer, the queen and their princess were really happy together, and decided to have another princess or prince, it reads.

His eyes go wide. He almost doesn't take the time to look at the second part. But there he finds a messy painting of what he assumes is a hug between himself and Kate, Lily holding tightly to his back.

And one day, they found out that wish would be granted.

He turns to Kate, letting Lily run away without a care that there's still paint laying around and staining her hands because all he can do is reach for his wife.

She grips at him when he clutches her to his chest, burying his face in the side of her neck.

"You're pregnant?" he breathes.

She nods. "I'm pregnant."

For some reason, he'd expected the OB's waiting room to be the most boring place for Lily to spend a random afternoon. But his daughter finds entertainment in switching seats and unfolding pamphlets and listening to Kate try to explain why they were there.

She points to pictures in the pamphlets, smiling down at the images in a way so different from the worry that had been etched across her face the first time she was pregnant.

"You see how her belly got big, Lily-Belle?" she asks, and their daughter nods. "That's going to happen to Mommy's belly, too."

"'Cause the baby?"

Kate nods. "That's right, because the baby is growing inside Mommy's belly."

And Lily nods, too, looking almost thoughtful as she stares at the picture. She turns to Kate a few times, perplexed gaze landing on Kate's flat stomach as though she's trying to see the baby, to understand what's yet to happen.

Which is when a nurse appears and calls Kate back, inviting him and Lily to follow. He ends up cradling his daughter against his chest until she squirms from his arms and the nurse decides to weigh Lily too.

They sit on the sidelines through all of Kate's preparation, and he takes a moment to explain some of the doctor's tools as his wife changes into a gown. And then she's lying down on the exam table and he settles next to her, letting Lily crawl up to sit by her mother's hip.

"Nervous?" he whispers.

She shrugs. "A little. Not like last time."

He nods, understands far too much. The early weeks of her pregnancy with Lily were full of anxiety, laced with fear. Every appointment had been prefaced with tears and filled with hope that everything would be okay, that their miracle baby was still alive.

This time, it's still high risk. Kate's age constitutes it as such, but the lack of healing bullet wounds is a weight off his shoulders, and he knows it's a greater relief to her.

They sit in silence after that, listening to Lily's chatter, nodding along until the door was pushed open and the doctor walked in.

The first part of the appointment is when Lily gets bored, running around the small room searching for things to do until he eventually hands her his phone and watches her settle on the floor.

Kate is extraordinary, as always. Sitting through the exam and answering everything honestly and conceding to the changes she'd have to make to her life without hesitation. A byproduct of last time, he supposes, when everything she was asked to do was a matter of life and death, for herself and the baby she'd been carrying.

Everything had gone smoothly, and he watches his wife tear up, reaching to take her hand in his, when the doctor voices her desire that this time be the same.

It's when the ultrasound machine is pulled up beside Kate that the room goes still. Even Lily, too young to understand, scrambled from the floor to sit on his lap instead.

"What happen, Daddy?"

He kisses the side of her head, eyes locked on Kate when she turns to them with wide, worried eyes. "We're gonna see the baby, Lily-Belle," he explains.


He nods. "The doctor is going to take a picture of them inside Mommy's belly," he tells her. "Do you want to see your little brother or sister?"

She seems to think for a moment before finally nodding her head, turning to the doctor. "Take picture!" she shouts.

The doctor laughs. "You got it."

He stares at the screen as the ultrasound begins, clutching at Kate's hand as she does the same.

It only takes a minute or so for everything to come into view. His breath catches in his chest at the image, Kate squeezing his hand even tighter, a smile blooming across the doctor's face.

"Is that…?" breathes Kate, her free hand motioning to the screen.

The doctor nods, stilling the image, as she turns towards them. Her one hand reaches up to point at the screen.

"There's one baby," she explains, circling a small, light grey spot on the image before pointing to a second once. "And there's a second baby."

She paused, lets that sink in. He tears his eyes away from the ultrasound image to look at Kate instead, catch the bright exam room lights gleaming in the tears welling in her eyes. He squeezes her hand, his other arm holding Lily tight as he leans over to dust a kiss to Kate's head.

"Two?" she breathes, choking on the word.

The doctor nods, her smile warm and reassuring despite the stillness of the room. "Yes, two," she tells them. "Congratulations. It's twins."

There's a pause, his chest aching so much he can barely breathe, eyes still locked on Kate's face, searching for any sign of panic or joy or anything besides shock.

Lily is the one to break the silence. "T'ins?"

The doctor laughs softly, nodding her head. "Yes, twins."

"What t'ins?" asks Lily.

"It means there's two-" she holds of two fingers for Lily to see "-babies in your mommy's tummy."

Kate turns to look at Lily, and he does the same, watching their daughter mirror the doctor's hand motion. "Two?"

The doctor hums, nods. "Yes, two."

Lily grins at that, bouncing happily. "I'm two!" she shouts.

And finally, finally the tension eases, laughter ringing through the room even as reality finally settles in his chest.

They're having two babies. Twins.

He welcomes Alexis with a hug, drawing his daughter into the loft with an arm around her shoulders just as Kate and Lily are coming back downstairs. Alexis laughs when Lily lets out a squealed greeting, drowning out Kate's quiet hello.

And his younger daughter squirms from her mother's arms so she can be put down, running across the room and into his eldest's arms.

Alexis holds her tight, spins in a circle to draw laughter from Lily's chest. Kate comes up to him, offers a smile over Lily's shoulder that Alexis mirrors.

"How are you feeling?" mouths his daughter, eyes falling pointedly to Kate's still-flat stomach.

His wife shrugs. "A little nauseous, but good." She pauses, her arm sliding around his waist. "Happy."

And Alexis nods, turns her attention back to her little sister. "How about you, Lil? How are you?"

"I good, Lexis," she answers. "You wanna play?"

"With you? Always." Alexis shifted slightly, propping Lily on her hip. "What do you wanna play?"

"Baby!" shouted Lily.

His heart melted, and he felt Kate's puff of silent laughter against his shoulder as she sank against him. Lily had run to get her doll the moment they returned home from the appointment, played baby with Kate until she inevitably crashed.

It had been adorable. Still is.

Alexis agrees to Lily's suggestion, setting her little sister on the ground so they can go get her doll, and he holds his wife close as he watches them walk away. Her hand lands on his chest, fingers twisting one of the buttons of his shirt until he looks down at her, catches her lips with his.

"Can you believe that's going to double?" she asks, a whisper to keep Alexis, who still doesn't know that it's twins, from hearing.

He smiles down at her. "Double the kids, double the love."

She slaps at his chest playfully, turning away and towards the kitchen. "That's cheesy, babe."

"But true," he counters, even though he can all but see the responding roll of her eyes. "Fine. How about I make you some toast to try and settle your stomach?"

She agrees, sliding onto one of the barstool at the kitchen counter. He watches her hand settle on her stomach, a habit he first noticed years ago when she was pregnant with Lily, when she'd try to push through the pain of recovery by reminding herself of the beauty of their future.

For someone who wasn't a baby person, she's a wonderful mother, so beautifully affectionate and joyous like he never would have expected.

And he's about to tell her so, stain her cheeks pink with a reminder of his love when she speaks.

"What if it's another two girls?"

He smiles, shrugs one shoulder. "Then it's a good thing I'm an expert at playing fair princess," he offers.

But Kate reaches over the counter, resting her hand over his. "But?"

"But I am glad this ups my chances of having at least one boy," he admits. Her toast pops from the toaster behind him, but she draws him back to the counter with her hand holding his.

She's smiling when he looks back down at her, and he can't help but lean down and press a kiss to her lips.

"I hope we have a boy," she whispers, cheeks tinging pink at the admission. "A boy that looks like you."

He kisses her again at that, glancing over his shoulder at where Alexis and Lily are playing on the floor as he pulls away. His youngest is cradling her baby doll to her chest, rocking her back and forth in exaggerated motions as his eldest folds the extra baby blankets, nods along to Lily's story.

"I already got my wish of a little girl who looks just like you," he tells Kate.

She chuckles, turning to follow his gaze. "Exactly," she breathes. "My turn this time?"

"I don't think that's how it works-"

Kate silences him with a slap of her hand over his, motioning with the other to where Alexis and Lily are still playing. He watches with her as Lily hands the doll over to her sister, babbling away until Alexis interrupts her.

"Are you excited to be a big sister?"

"Uh huh," answers Lily, head bobbing up and down. "Like you."

He can't see her face, but he finds himself picturing Alexis' smile. "Yeah, just like me," she agrees. "Are you going to help Mommy with the baby?"

"Uh huh. I help Mommy lots." His heart melts at the words, and he hears Kate's breath hitch in that affectionate way only Lily can draw from her. "I help Mommy with babies."

And she will. He's sure of it, can already see Lily doing whatever Kate asks her to do. Grabbing toys, finding pacifiers, joining her mother as she sings the babies–


"Babies?" asks Alexis, emphasizing the S.

"Uh huh," repeats Lily. "Two babies."

He swallows thickly, and Kate squeezes his hand gently. Maybe it was a bad idea to wait until dinner to tell Alexis the news they got from the OB. Surely one of them should have foreseen Lily spilling the news before then.

And Alexis turns towards them, eyes wide, bright. "Two babies?"

Lily answers, oblivious that she's lost her sister's attention. "Two!" She holds up two fingers, waves them in the air. "Like me!"

He smiles at the answer, first at Lily, then at Alexis. "Surprise?" he offers.

"It's twins," adds Kate.

Alexis pushes herself from the floor, running over to them to give them each a hug, Lily following in her footsteps.

He finds Kate in Lily's bed, their little girl snuggled against her chest, their laced hands resting on her belly. A book lies forgotten on the pillow, and Lily's only wearing her pajama shirt, the matching pants strewn across the floor, and the small grey stuffed elephant she's had since before she was born is squished between his little girl and his wife.

It draws a smile to his face, has him lingering at the door, unwilling to interrupt. He watches Kate comb her fingers through Lily's hair, now free of its pigtails. Watches his daughter squirm in her sleep, pressing herself deeper into her mother's embrace. And Kate squeezing Lily's small hand, pressing them both harder against her belly almost thoughtlessly, like she's lost in her own mind and doesn't realize it.

Probably thinking of the two little boys, or girls, or one of each that are nestled there. He, after all, can't push the thought from his mind for more than a few seconds.

But then Kate is shifting, turning her head until she's facing him, lashes fluttering with adorable fatigue as her gaze catches his. The smile she offers is small, sweet, beautiful.

"Hi," she mouths.

"Hi." He steps into the room, careful not to make a sound. "She asleep?"

Kate nods, and without another word, shifts herself and Lily until their daughter is lying, sprawled across her toddler bed, and his wife is standing before him, reaching to dust her fingers across his waist.

"Downstairs?" she whispers, drawing him with her before he has the chance to respond.

There's not a sound as they slip into their own bedroom, not bothering with their typical evening routine of curling up on the couch with a glass of wine—or juice, now that she's pregnant—and talking into the night. Her fingers have laced through his by the time they reach the bottom of the stairs, and she spins to face him the moment they cross the threshold into their bedroom.

He reaches for her, too, gripping her hips and drawing her against him until his lips are parting over hers, welcoming the soft touch of her kiss. But she pulls away too soon, fingers knotting in his hair, lashes falling to paint shadows across her cheeks.

"I still can't believe it," she says. "That we're having two babies."

His smile widens, leaves him unable to tamper it when this woman—his wife—who once hated him—well, pretended to—is standing before him with a lazy smile painted across her face as she talks about the twins they're going to have. The twins.

"Neither can I," he agrees. "Here I am, pushing fifty, and I still managed to knock you up with twins." Pausing, he waits for her gaze to lift to his before he continues. "I must really have super sperm."

She slaps him for that, a playful hit to his shoulder even as her head dips and her laughter rings through the air. He catches her hand, presses his smile to her palm, peppering kisses there until she draws it back, clutches at the fabric of his shirt instead.

"I don't think that's how it happened, babe," she says, still laughing as she speaks, until she stops, her face falling serious, fingers tightening their fist at his chest. "I was starting to think it wouldn't happen, that we wouldn't conceive and now…we're having two babies, Rick." Her eyes fall, insecurity blooming across her features and oh no he has to wipe that away, but she speaks before he can. "How will we do it?"

Silence drags on, though, as his one hand drifts along her side, up the ladder of her ribs to curl around her back, draw her even closer. The other reaches to rest over her own, the one gripping at his shirt like a lifeline. He loosens her grip slowly, drawing circles across her knuckles until her fist unfurls and fingers tangle with his.

"The same way we always do," he answers, not a second's hesitation because they can do this, they will do this. "Together."

Her smile blooms at that, beautiful and matching the pink tinge of her cheeks before her head dips, the curtain of her hair hiding her face. His fingers keep tracing shapes across hers, hand rubbing circles against the small of her back until he feels her relax beneath his touch, watches evidence of insecurity fade.

"You survived a gunshot wound to the chest," he says. "And then you survived two more gunshot wounds, one to the shoulder and one to the abdomen. You were tortured, thrown off a roof and targeted by multiple hitmen and together we've survived freezers and bombs and a psychopath who wanted to start World War III. I think we can survive a couple of babies, Kate."

Of course they can. It's almost laughable how much they've been through, how she can face down murders on the daily without cowering under the intensity of it all and yet still finds herself scared of facing newborns who won't be born for months. It's amazing how wonderfully brave she is, and that he gets to be the one who see the insecurities that lurk beneath the surface of her tough exterior.

That they're having two babies.

"Besides," he adds, "you already have Lily's promise that she's going to help."

Kate laughs at that, and he watches as she looks back up, only to silence the sound with the lock of his lips over his, another attempt to reassure his wife of how extraordinary she truly is.

She steps into his arms when he pulls away, hands locking behind his back as he holds her close. Her cheek settles against his shoulder, lips pressing a quick kiss to his neck.

"We'll see if she still feels that way when she realizes that by two babies we actually mean two crying, pooping machines who will steal Mommy and Daddy's attention and can't even play," she counters.

But he does nothing but shrug, head dipping to press his last words to her head, to punctuate them with a kiss.

"She'll love them," he whispers. "And it'll be amazing, Kate. Our family will be perfect."

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALLY! I hope this piece of fluff was a satisfactory birthday gift even though it lacked angst cookies, and that you have an extra fabulous day. Love ya, my favorite lobster and fellow majestic unicorn. *insert purple heart emoji here*

And, as always, a huge thank you goes to Lindsey for her amazing beta work even when I ask at the last possible minute.