Castle sits back in the chair with her book in his lap, the latest in the Derrick Storm series, and traces his thumb over the raised letters of her name. She had promised him the first copy, like always, and had delivered it to him this morning in their bed with his coffee and the press of her smile to his mouth.
"Rick, I'm not sure your child is going to survive the final hour," Marie sighs, shuffling into the room with Lily clinging to her neck, tired eyes fluttering open at the sight of her father.
"Hey Peanut," he chuckles, setting the book aside and rising to relieve the former bookstore owner of his three year old. "Did she wear you out too, Auntie Marie?"
Marie scoffs and waves him off. "Please, honey, if your wife keeps supplying me with that wonderful coffee she's been bringing around since she installed that espresso machine here, I can go for hours."
Marie shoots him a wink before she disappears back through the shelves, returning to the front of the store, where Kate is in the final stretch of a morning turned afternoon book signing for Wild Storm, the sixth novel in the series.
"Ready for a nap, Lil?" he murmurs, returning to the armchair he'd settled in. He's been attempting to read her book all day, but their daughter was rarely a fan of having divided attention.
"No, wanna see Momma first," Lily yawns, but his little girl curls into his chest, presses her cheek flat to his collarbone. "Can you read me her book, Daddy?"
"You don't want to hear about Derrick Storm again," he murmurs, combing his fingers through her dark hair, watching Lily's eyes struggle to stay open.
"He's like you. Mommy said so," she mumbles, bringing a small fist up to rub at her eye. "Both fight the bad guys, get rid of the monsters."
"You know your mom helps with that, right?"
"Duh," Lily sighs and Rick chuckles, snuggles their daughter closer, causing the keys in his jacket to jingle. He doesn't stop her when she reaches into his pocket, fishes out the keys to their loft, the store they're sitting inside of that now consumes most of his spare time, and the two keychains he carries around with him.
A blue butterfly, a purple elephant, and Lily brushes her fingers over them both, lingers on the faded blue charm she's not yet old enough to understand the full story behind.
"Daddy, if Alexis was here, you think she'd play with me?" Lily inquires innocently, her visions of her older sister based on nothing more than stories and photos, but Kate has always encouraged the memory of Alexis, in letting Lily know about the big sister she'd never meet to the best of her ability, and Castle was grateful, so grateful to have his oldest daughter's spirit kept alive.
"Of course, Peanut," he answers easily. "And she loved to read, just like you, so this would have been a lot of fun for her."
"She would've liked Momma's books," Lily sighs, grinning down at the keychains before tucking them back into his pocket.
Castle smiles down at his little girl, hugs her a little tighter when she plops back against his chest. "I have no doubt."
Never would he have fathomed having children again. After Alexis, he had sworn against it, never wanting to be a father to anyone else, never wanting to risk the trauma that came with losing a child again, but well, Kate Beckett had the tendency to make him want things he never would have considered before.
But despite conceding to the idea of children before he'd married her on the beach of their Hamptons home, Lily had been a surprise that had come shortly after their second wedding anniversary.
"How long 'til Momma's done?" Lily asks, squirming in his lap to sit up straighter, and he hears the click of heels before he has to provide an answer.
"Not long at all." Lily gasps and spins her head to catch her mother's smile, hopping down from Castle's lap to scramble towards her. "Getting impatient, Peanut?"
Kate hoists Lily into her arms and smacks a loud kiss to her cheek that has their daughter giggling.
"More like sleepy," Castle corrects, standing once more to join his girls, placing his hand on Kate's waist and leaning forward just enough to press his lips to her head. "How much longer do you have? Book party's in only a few hours."
"Just a few more in line and then we can head home, squeeze in a nap for Lily," she murmurs, rubbing their daughter's back, straightening the fabric of her sundress before easing her to the ground. "Why don't you go pick out a book for Daddy to read you? It'll make the time fly by."
"Okay!" Lily chirps, skipping over to the children's section with a rejuvenated grin.
"And while Lily's napping, you and I can fit in a quick nap as well before we have to get ready," Kate hums, lacing her arms around his neck, and Castle huffs, but kisses her when she brushes her smile to his lips. "Read my book yet?"
"Does it look like our child has allowed me to read your book?" he parrots with a smirk. "I can read it tonight, after the party."
"You'll be busy after the party, trust me," she states, her grin grazing his cheek.
"I'm grateful the store is closed on Sundays," he sighs, splaying his palms at the small of her back, bridging his fingers at the base of her spine. "We can sleep in tomorrow, I can start your book in bed."
"I couldn't imagine a more appropriate setting," Kate chuckles, unwinding her arms to drape her hands along his chest. "I'm going to head back so I can wrap it up. Marie can only entertain them for so long."
"Good luck," he smirks, drifting back towards the armchair he'd been nestled in with Lily when Kate turns to leave, snagging her book from the edge of the coffee table and flipping through the pages, pausing at the dedication he'd failed to read.
That page was normally the first he sought, but their day had been busy from the second they awoke that morning and he greedily scans his eyes over the words now, feels his heart trip, stumble, and swell. It's been years and Kate Beckett still fills his chest with butterflies, still elicits a smile no one else can, and he sucks in a breath to calm the earnest beat of his heart, closes the book.
To the extraordinary RC,
Every day with you is an adventure.
He's grown accustomed to her dedications being allocated to him, the sole exception being the year Lily was born, but it wraps like an embrace of warmth around him each time he opens one of her novels, reads words that are solely meant for him.
She pauses just before she can turn the corner, glances back to him with an inquisitive rise of an eyebrow, and Castle strides up to her, cradles her face in his palms and presses a kiss to her mouth that she sighs into. And he wants to tell her everything, things he's told her before in the middle of the nights when the words come to him without trouble, whispered into her hair or against her skin, things he can't put into words at all. He wants to remind her once more about how she was right from the start, how it was all worth it, how every maddening, frustrating moment was worth this remarkable outcome. He wants to reinforce the fact that he may have inspired her latest series of novels, but she inspired him to live again.
But it's all too much, an overwhelming swell through his chest, so he says the one thing he knows, the words that slip past his words as easy as breathing.
"I love you."
The smile that blooms on her lips beneath his is all the answer he needs.
"I love you too, Castle," she murmurs, covering his hand on her cheek. "Always have. Always will."
"And I'd choose you; in a hundred lifetimes, in a hundred worlds, in any version of reality, I'd find you and I'd choose you."
-Kiersten White, The Chaos of Stars
A/N: Words will never express how grateful I am to anyone who took the time to read this story or how much I appreciate every review, tweet, and message I've received regarding it. The kindness, support, and general loveliness means more than you know, thank you. I also owe a huge amount of gratitude to Nadia for the absolutely stunning cover art, and to Alex and Evan, who made the journey of writing of this story all the more special.
Until next time.