The weather is wet, chilly and brisk for late November, and the pre-Thanksgiving rush is never pleasant to maneuver through, but they've made it back to the loft in one piece with all the supplies in his possession and Castle can't help breathing out a loud sigh of relief.
"Home sweet home, right, Peanut?"
Rick adjusts his grip on Lily while he unlocks the door, allowing her to reclaim the house keys she had been toying with during the elevator ride up to their floor.
"We home," Lily confirms with a nods that has her beanie (a warm little hat sewn to resemble a turkey, thanks to his fantastic online shopping skills) bobbing on her head, brushing the knit feathers attached to the top along his temple.
He walks through the door with Lily on his hip, held steady by the support of his arm, and the slew of ingredients Kate had requested from the store hanging from the other, entering the loft with their daughter babbling in his ear, her slim arm snug around his neck in lieu of a scarf, his arms aching and his stomach beginning to growl. They have two hours until their family arrives and he knows he and his wife are running late with dinner preparation; he had volunteered to retrieve their missing necessities for the meal a little over an hour ago while Kate was checking on the turkey in the oven and starting the pie, had taken Lily with him so she could actually focus on the cooking without worrying about their daughter at her heels.
The pressure of all that still needs to be done swirling through his mind is almost enough to distract him from the smell of burning that wafts through the air, the thin haze of smoke floating from the kitchen.
Castle drops the groceries, cans clattering against the floor and Lily startling in surprise, sending his house keys down with the remains of their Thanksgiving dinner.
"Sorry, Lil," he murmurs softly, controlling his voice to keep his daughter calm, to distract her from his growing panic while he sets her down on wobbly feet, but his little girl isn't troubled, blessedly oblivious to whatever may be wrong. "Hey, can you sort through these groceries for Daddy?" Rick asks as he snags the keys and locks the front door, but Lily's already plopping down on the hardwood floor of the foyer, the pretty autumn-themed dress Kate had wrestled her into this morning billowing around her.
"Sure, Daddy," Lily chirps, happily emptying the recyclable bag of canned goods and seasonings from the market down the street onto the space in front of her. "I help."
"Good girl," he breathes, leaping over her and the splay of their dinner to rush towards the kitchen, flashbacks from nearly three years ago bursting through his mind - her body bleeding out on the floor, going limp beside him, her hand so cold-
"Kate?" he rasps, stumbling to a stop beside the island to find her on her knees, scrubbing furiously at a spot – that same damn spot that would never truly be clean – on the floor, tears staining her cheeks as she tries to clean what looks to be the remnants of a pumpkin pie.
"Kate," he repeats, descending to his knees beside her when she fails to even look up at him, her chest shuddering as he touches a gentle hand to her shoulder.
"I – my shoulder seized up," she explains, blinking against the fresh tears springing to her eyes, and oh, now he understands, completely understands why she's crying over a destroyed dessert. Oh, Kate- "Not - it wasn't bad, but then the pie was starting to burn-"
Castle slips his hand along her back, eventually migrating to curl his fingers around the curve of her opposite shoulder, gingerly drawing her away from the chaos on the floor, into his side.
"I pulled it out, but it was too hot and I just – I dropped it and fuck, Castle, I'm sorry," she wrenches out, finally redirecting her gaze from the decimated pie to look up at him, to break his heart with a single blink.
"Are you kidding me?" he growls, banding his other arm around her to hold her in a brief but tight embrace, exhaling roughly in relief. "There's nothing to apologize for. You think I care about a damn pie?"
"It's Thanksgiving and everyone's going to be here in a couple of hours," she huffs, wiping at her cheeks with hard swipes of her hand. "If I would have just used my left arm-"
"Kate," he sighs, because they both know there's nothing she can do to prevent the random outbursts of painful protest that sometimes riot and spread from the right side of her sternum, where her second of three gunshot wounds has resided for the past two and a half years, born from a battle that left her fighting for her life in the same spot they sit crumpled on now.
It isn't severe, isn't necessarily debilitating, and after so much trauma within just a five year span of time, he isn't surprised by her body's occasional outcry, the opposition of damaged nerves.
"It's okay," he whispers, pressing a kiss to her temple. "I'll help you. It's just the pie, right? That's an easy fix. And I picked up everything else we needed from the store. We'll have this all done with time to spare."
A trembling sigh leaves her lips to stain his jaw.
"And come on, this is just our family. They're not expecting perfection," he reasons, circling his thumb round and round along her shoulder, attempting to soothe the restlessness that lies beneath her skin. "As long as we're all here, we could be having Chinese takeout for all I care and it'd be a perfect Thanksgiving."
She chuckles, the laughter broken and unsteady, but a lovely sound to his ears. "Rick-"
"It's going to be fine, love. Really, I promise-"
"No," she murmurs, lifting her head to offer him a small attempt at a smile, watery and cracking, but beautiful. "Just wanted to tell you I love you."
His worry dissipates at that, replaced with the pleasant bloom of affection, warmth through his lungs and relief through his veins. He opens his mouth to reply, to tell her just how much he loves her back, but the patter of tiny footsteps are breaking through the quiet before he can say another word, Lily's gasp breaching the air.
"Momma!" their daughter exclaims, rushing towards them, just barely missing the mess in front of them, and tumbling into Kate's waiting arms. "Momma, you 'kay? Don't cry," Lily attempts to soothe, wrapping her arms around her mother's neck and nuzzling in close.
"I'm okay, baby," Kate promises, rubbing a reassuring hand up and down Lily's back. "Just made a mess."
"That's okay!" Lily chirps, pulling back to pat Kate's cheek in a consoling manor that has Rick pursing his lips, doing his best to hold back the grin that turns soft as Lily touches her fingertips to the dried trails of moisture beneath Kate's eyes. "Me and Daddy help you, Momma. Don't worry."
The smile that blooms across his wife's lips, spreads like sparks of gold in her eyes, is all he needs to know she'll be okay. They'll prepare Thanksgiving dinner before the rest of their family can arrive, his mother and daughter, the boy Alexis warned him she was bringing along, and Jim Beckett. It'll be fine, he'll prove it to her-
"Yeah," Kate murmurs, catching Lily's hand to press a kiss to her palm, eliciting a delighted giggle as she turns her head to dust another to the edge of Castle's lips. "You really do."
A/N: Wishing a safe and happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate! And to all who have taken the time to read my work and provide me with such beautiful support this past year, words will never be enough to convey my gratitude. Thank you.