Author's Note: And now, this story finally comes to an end.
Accidentally in Love
Kate opened the door to the loft, already feeling the tension from work start to unwind even before she set foot inside her home.
Alexis looked up from her spot curled up on the couch, idly flipping through a magazine, and gave her a sunny smile. "Hi, Mom. You're home early."
"Hi, Alexis," she greeted. "I thought you had a date with Ashley tonight?"
"I do but I don't need to leave for another hour."
"Ah, right. I finished up my paperwork so the Captain kicked me out. Oh, and the boys say hi," she added.
Alexis's expression brightened. "Say hi back! We should have them over again soon. Uncle Javi promised he'd teach me his secret poker tricks."
Kate laughed a little. Yeah, she bet Espo had. Both the boys were softies when it came to the kids and even had mini-battles arguing over which one was the favorite uncle, less so now that Alexis was older but even now, Espo occasionally lorded it over Ryan that he had known Alexis for a whole five months longer, like any child. "We'll have them over sometime this month for Christmas, sweetpea."
Alexis nodded, satisfied, and turned back to her magazine.
Kate glanced around but there was no sign of her husband anywhere and she didn't even sense his presence, as she usually did. "Where's the big trouble-maker?"
Alexis grinned at that. "He ran out for a quick errand, said he wanted to get more food for tomorrow and we're apparently out of candy canes."
Kate suppressed a smile. "And obviously, candy canes are a necessity," she observed dryly. It wasn't as if Castle didn't already have what amounted to a storage shed full of Christmas decorations but no, he had to run out and get more. Typical Castle. After she had talked to him, he had eased back a little on going all out for their first couple Christmases together but this year, they both agreed it was time to go big again and Castle had apparently taken that to heart. "And he left you with the little trouble-maker?" she asked with mock disapproval directed at her absent husband.
She bent over the rocker to see that Lily was, as she'd expected from the quiet, curled up and sleeping soundly, feeling the surge of emotion that still knocked her off her feet sometimes whenever she looked at her baby. Her baby—she had a baby. After spending a full day at work away from Lily, her arms almost itched to hold her, cuddle her baby to her chest, but she refrained, not wanting to wake Lily up. And knowing Lily, she would be awake and (loudly) demanding within a matter of hours, if not minutes, so she didn't want to disturb her now. Instead, she restricted herself to brushing her fingers lightly over Lily's feathery-dark hair, her smooth cheek.
"Lily dozed off about half an hour ago so that was when Dad decided to run out," Alexis explained, her voice quiet. "I volunteered to watch her until he got back."
Kate smiled at the girl, bending to drop a kiss on Alexis's hair. "Of course you did. I just want to make sure we don't start taking advantage of you as a built-in baby-sitter."
"I don't mind."
"Let us know if it gets to be too much. You have your own life."
"It really is fine, Mom," Alexis rolled her eyes a little.
"I'm only trying to be considerate," Kate pretended to huff.
"I know but you're turning into a broken record," Alexis's look was affectionate, softening the words. "Besides, I won't be around forever so I want to get my sister time in while I can."
"I can't get in the way of sister time, then, can I?" Kate said lightly but she felt a rush of love for Alexis. She had wondered, initially, how Alexis would react to the news, if Alexis would worry about being replaced or something, after being an only child for so long, but all her concerns had been for nothing. Alexis had been thrilled at the news, had gone so far as to volunteer to share her room with the baby (an offer that had been declined), and once Lily actually arrived, showered her baby sister with affection.
"I'm going to go change while the baby's still sleeping," she told Alexis before she retreated into the office, pausing to put her gun away. She had only just returned to work last week and it had been harder than she expected to leave Lily every morning. She had rather expected, imagined, before Lily had been born that she would get stir crazy and impatient to return to work but she hadn't been. She'd been impatient while on desk duty during her pregnancy and towards the end, had certainly been impatient to have the baby, but once Lily had been born, the impatience had vanished. She'd wanted to stay at home with her baby.
Kate changed into a loose sweatshirt she had appropriated from Castle some years ago and a pair of yoga pants and then washed her face clean from makeup too. She wanted to be able to nuzzle and kiss Lily when she woke up and that was better with a clean face.
She emerged from Castle's office only to crash right into her husband, obviously just returning from his errand as he had two shopping bags in one hand.
"Whoa, Beckett," Castle automatically caught her, his free arm stealing around her waist. He clicked his tongue against his cheek. "There you go again, you just can't keep from flattening yourself against me. I know I'm ruggedly handsome but you should work on your self control," he teased.
She snorted. "No, you keep getting in my way." She made an attempt to step back but he tightened his arm around her, keeping her in place.
"Not so fast, I think I'm going to charge a toll for bumping into me."
Ridiculous man. "A toll, huh?" She rose up on her toes to give him a quick peck on the mouth. Or at least, she intended for it to be a quick peck but Castle had other ideas, capturing her mouth with his and deepening the kiss, swiping his tongue into her mouth. (And fine, she may have been complicit, succumbing willingly.)
They only broke apart when Alexis interrupted with a loud groan. "Must you guys be so gross all the time? I'm going upstairs to get ready for my date. Try not to traumatize Lily with your grossness."
"Sorry, Alexis," Kate laughed a little, flushing, and receiving a wave of Alexis's hand as she disappeared upstairs. Kate did try not to embarrass Alexis too much but sometimes it was harder to remember that and it wasn't as if she'd ever been very good at resisting Castle's kisses. She pushed lightly against Castle's chest. "Move, Castle. Don't you even care that we're grossing out our daughters?"
"Hmm," was all he said and she glanced up at him to see that he'd acquired that somewhat glazed, absent look that had become familiar to her now.
"Do you need to go write?" she asked resignedly. She'd become used to Castle's writing fog—going into the vortex, as she and Alexis termed it—and knew the expression he got when his brain got sucked into the fictional world he created.
"Huh?" He blinked and his eyes returned to her.
"Go write, if you need to. It's my turn to watch Lily anyway," she offered.
"It's not that," he denied, although his look and his tone were still somewhat off, not quite his usual self. "It's just… you said 'our daughters,' Kate."
She blinked. "Yes, so?"
She saw nothing noteworthy in that. She'd been calling Alexis her daughter for years now, since they'd been engaged. The first time the words "my daughter" had slipped out, she'd been a little abashed, briefly worried about overstepping, but Alexis had only shot her a beaming smile. And when told about it later, Castle had pulled Kate into his arms and hugged her so hard it squeezed the breath from her lungs but only said, "It's as good as true." And now, it was true. She was Alexis's mom in every sense except biologically. She was the one Alexis talked to about puberty and boys and schoolwork and any adolescent troubles. Along with Castle, she was the one who praised Alexis for her grades, she planned surprises for Alexis's birthday, she took Alexis to the doctor and took care of Alexis when she was sick.
"Our daughters. We have daughters," he repeated, as if he were saying something miraculous.
"Lily was born two months ago and you're just now realizing that? You're a little slow on the uptake, aren't you?" she quipped.
For once, he didn't laugh, a vague smile curving his lips, as he met her eyes, his own eyes so bright. "I'm just having one of those moments where I have to pinch myself that I'm not dreaming, that this is really my life."
She softened. "I have those moments too," she agreed quietly.
He gave her one of his small, tender smiles that existed mostly in his eyes and barely touched his lips before he bent and kissed her, softly this time. "You know," he began quietly, "for a long time, I was convinced that I'd never have all this, a wife, kids. After Meredith, I swore to myself that I'd only have a kid with someone who'd be there for the baby and love her just as much as I would, someone who'd be a real mom. And because of that, I thought for years that Alexis was going to be an only child and of course, Alexis was enough for me, but I thought I'd never have more than that."
She blinked rapidly, her throat feeling tight with emotion. She knew him so well but he still surprised her sometimes with the depths of his heart. He was such an amazing dad—as she'd always known—but he never seemed to take it for granted, maybe because he'd grown up without the stable, nuclear family of his dreams and then when he'd tried to build his own family, it had fallen apart so spectacularly thanks to Meredith. He made her so happy, was so good at bringing joy to other people, and it made warmth flood her chest at the knowledge that she had made a dream of his come true too. "Rick… you're going to make me cry," she tried to sound scolding but knew she failed miserably.
He kissed her again. "Thank you, love, for this, my life."
She managed a wobbly smile for him. "I love you too."
When he kissed her this time, he lingered, the kiss spinning out, one kiss turning into two and then three.
They only broke apart at the sound of a groan as Alexis reappeared, having changed into a skirt. "Really, guys?"
Alexis's reaction effectively broke the mood as they both laughed and Castle finally released Kate.
"Sorry, pumpkin," he said unrepentantly.
Alexis gave him a mock glower. "You say that, Dad, but it never seems to stop you."
He shrugged. "I'm a lost cause, a man in love with his own wife, so sue me," he tossed out over his shoulder, as he moved towards the kitchen with his bags.
"I would if I could," Alexis shot back with an exaggerated sigh. "I'm leaving for my date with Ashley."
"Have fun," Kate smiled.
"And be careful," Castle chimed in, his words almost overlapping with hers, in a refrain that had become commonplace.
"Yes, Mom, Dad," Alexis responded with exaggerated obedience.
"Don't get back too late," Castle added.
That made the teen roll her eyes. "Dad, I'll be home by 10." Kate hid a smile. Alexis was still the responsible one, even as a teen. And Castle amused her with his conflicting impulses since on the one hand, he wanted to encourage Alexis to go out and explore and stretch her boundaries but on the other hand, he had his own over-protective tendencies, wanting to keep his little girl safe. And he was not pleased that Alexis had a boyfriend now, even if he grudgingly approved of Ashley.
Alexis dropped light kisses on Castle's and Kate's cheeks in turn and bent over the rocker to kiss her fingertips before brushing them against her sister's cheek. "Bye, Lily," she whispered.
Kate's heart melted and glanced at Castle to see that he, too, had the soft look in his eyes he usually got when he watched Alexis with Lily. Alexis never failed to greet Lily or say goodbye, even when Lily was sleeping as she was now. And Kate knew that Castle was privately hoping that Alexis's love for Lily would persuade her to stay close to home, even in the City, for college too, rather than going far away. He'd almost had a coronary when Alexis had mentioned possibly going to Oxford for a summer program, a plan that had been shelved the moment Kate announced her pregnancy, to Castle's ill-concealed delight. As for Kate, she had inwardly resolved not to try to influence Alexis on the question; she wanted Alexis to feel free to go away for college, no matter how much Kate herself selfishly wanted to keep her girl close.
Alexis left on her date and Castle busied himself putting away the grocery items he'd bought.
"Oh, your dad called earlier," he mentioned, pausing with one hand on the refrigerator door.
"I swear I think my dad calls you more often than he does me these days," she pretended to gripe. She was joking. Mostly. She and her dad still tried to keep up with their usual lunch or dinner on the weekends, about once a month now, but in between those times, it certainly seemed as if her dad talked to Castle about as often as he talked to her.
Her husband grinned at her. "Sadly, I don't think it's my sparkling conversation that's the attraction. It's because he wants to say hi to Lily."
"I know, babe." Her smile was soft. Her dad adored Lily, had taught himself to use Skype just so he could see her whenever he called, and he was already volunteering to take Lily overnight when Lily was a few months older to allow her and Castle some time to themselves. "So what'd my dad say?"
"He just wanted to confirm the plans for tomorrow. He's going to go out to the lot to pick out a tree tonight and he plans to get here around 2 tomorrow so there'll be plenty of time to help decorate before dinner."
They hadn't wanted to take Lily out to pick a Christmas tree since she was still so small and hadn't gotten all her shots yet so instead, they had delegated to her dad to pick a tree and Castle had arranged to have the tree delivered tomorrow. They were having a family get-together to decorate, both the tree and the loft, so Martha and her dad were coming over.
Her dad had not committed to joining them for Christmas Day itself, since the holiday was still hard for him, but Kate was hoping that she—or more accurately, Lily—would be able to persuade him to really spend Christmas with them this year. She understood—of course she did—how her dad felt but she wanted everyone there for this Christmas, Lily's first Christmas. She made a mental note to ask her dad again tomorrow. But then again, she might not even need to do the asking; Castle might well ask her dad before she did. It seemed like Castle invited her dad at least half the time, beating her to it, and she loved him for it, how easily he'd brought her dad into the family.
"By 'help decorate,' you know he means that he'll watch Lily while you and I do all the decorating," she inserted.
Castle laughed. "He and Alexis can argue over who gets to watch Lily."
As if the sound of her name had disturbed her, Lily stirred, squirming in her rocker and emitting the little squawk that served as a precursor to tears.
Kate immediately turned, bending to pick her daughter up, crooning to her. "Hi, baby, you're awake now, huh? Were you good today for Daddy?"
The baby's only response was to wrinkle up her face as she emitted a whimper, fractious as she often was when she was just awoken (something Kate teased Castle had been inherited from him) and Kate cradled her precious baby closer as she tried to soothe Lily out of her fractiousness.
Lily's face was still scrunched up in displeasure, emitting the occasional whimper as she fussed, although she wasn't actively crying. "She might be hungry. When did you feed her last?" Kate asked her husband, although she kept her eyes on her daughter. As usual, she felt a spike of worry, approaching fear, when her daughter was unhappy. She was learning but she still felt inadequate sometimes, unsure of her footing as a mother. (Being a mother was terrifying enough but mothering a baby was astronomically more terrifying because babies were so fragile and couldn't articulate their needs. She wouldn't trade Lily for anything but it couldn't be denied that having her might be the most terrifying thing Kate had ever done.)
And her own mom wasn't there to give her advice.
"It was about an hour and half ago so yeah, she could she hungry," her husband concurred, coming around the island to join her, slipping his arm around her shoulders and touching his fingertips lightly to Lily's cheek. "You can take care of feeding her and I'll take care of feeding us. Deal?"
"Deal," she agreed but allowed herself to lean into Castle's body for a moment, as she fought a sudden wave of melancholy.
Grief sometimes hit her at odd moments, striking out of the blue, when she remembered that her mom wasn't here, would never get to see her granddaughter. The thought hurt—it would always hurt—but being with him made it easier.
He had always done that for her, she thought, helped to fill the hole left in her heart by her mother's death with joy, all the love he had brought into her life, not just his but Alexis's, Martha's, their whole family.
"You okay?" he murmured, somehow sensing her shift in mood, as he so often did.
She lifted her face and managed a smile for him. "Just… missing my mom," she admitted quietly. "But I'm happy too."
He studied her for a moment, his eyes so soft, so understanding, but then he nodded, bending to kiss her hair. "She'd be so proud of you, you know. Wherever she is, I know she's proud and so happy for you."
"Happy for us, Rick," she corrected, "She'd be happy for us."
"Right, of course, just like your dad is."
The mention of her dad made her smile widen a little, a little spurt of warmth blossoming in her chest. "Think we'll persuade him to spend Christmas with us this year?"
"Yes," he answered confidently. Ever the optimist, her Castle. "Lily will persuade him." He bent over their daughter, his voice becoming a coo. "You'll persuade Grandpa, right, Lily-pad?"
In answer, Lily squawked and they both laughed in spite of themselves.
"Yeah, I think she's getting hungry," he agreed.
"Yes, baby, I know, Mommy will feed you now," she crooned, moving to sit down in her chair at the table, her smile lingering on her face.
She remembered what Castle had said earlier; she could hardly believe this was her life now either. Could hardly believe she had all this, that she could come home at the end of her day to this beautiful home, to her daughters, to her husband. But this really was her life now and she'd never been happier.
A/N 2: Thank you to everyone who's read and reviewed this story. I cannot thank you enough for your kind words that have made me smile and encouraged me even when the story wasn't fully cooperating.