Author's Note: I might have overloaded on the fluff in this epilogue and I can only say that it just seemed fitting.
Then Came Love
Castle watched Lily frown in concentration, her little nose wrinkled as it tended to when she was focused on something. She'd been chattering blithely for the better part of the last hour as they played with Play-doh and he had eventually challenged her to try to make an elephant to show Kate when she got home, a suggestion which Lily had accepted eagerly "'cuz Mommy likes elly-fans!"
He felt a flash of love, tinged with some humor, as he watched his daughter, almost scowling as her little hands worked with the Play-doh, the focus and the determination he swore she got from her mother showing through. Although Beckett had told him that when Lily was focused on something like this, her expression reminded Beckett of him when he was in one of his writing hazes. Castle couldn't verify that himself since he wasn't able to look at himself when he was intently focused but he took Beckett's word and ever since, it had added a new sort of wonder and joy when he saw Lily concentrating on something. Lily looked so much like Kate–to his and Jim's delight–with her dark hair and hazel eyes so he treasured the indications that Lily resembled him in some small way too.
His precious–and exhausting–little girl. He laughed at himself sometimes but he thought he might have been spoiled with having Alexis as his first-born because he had learned that, as hard as it had seemed at the time, he had also been lucky because Alexis had been a relatively easy baby, regular in her habits, and a sweet-tempered toddler, at least for the most part. Oh, she'd had her occasional moments, flashes of temper and determination–the time she'd held her breath until she'd passed out because she wanted another chocolate bar, most notably–but in general, she'd been a good baby, just as she'd grown up to be a good kid. (And the fact that said kid was now old enough to be in college, he still couldn't quite believe–but he digressed.)
Lily was not quite so easy to take care of. She'd been nocturnal for almost the first six months of her life, insisting on spending most of the nights awake while being content to nap much more regularly during the day. Although Castle acknowledged that Lily's nocturnal nature had been much harder on Kate than it had been for him because for at least a few of those months, Kate had been going into work during the day while he had been able to stay home and catch the occasional naps (along with Lily) during the day.
Thankfully, she had long ago grown beyond the nocturnal phase but beyond that, Lily had strong opinions of her own and was not shy about expressing them, a fact that never failed to make Jim laugh (Kate irritably called it cackling when she was particularly frazzled over Lily) and comment that Lily was getting to be more like Kate every day. Just getting her dressed for the day could turn into a battle if Lily didn't care for whichever outfit was picked out (and sometimes, Lily's choices made him suspect his own mother's influence–to his mother's unconcealed pleasure). He couldn't remember ever engaging in battles with Alexis over her choice of clothes.
But then, it wasn't true that taking care of Alexis had been easier because this time, he wasn't doing it alone. Co-parenting was a new experience for him and he had found that just having someone else–having Beckett–to share the responsibilities made an immeasurable difference in every aspect of taking care of a baby, made everything so much easier, better. Especially because in the months when Beckett was on maternity leave, she had taken on most of the responsibility in caring for Lily at her own insistence, so he had generally done everything else around the house in order to take care of Beckett, himself, and Alexis. Beckett was, as he'd always known she would be, a great mother, loving, devoted, fiercely protective, and playful too. And he felt himself falling more in love with her every day seeing her as a mother.
"Daddy, look!" Lily's proud crow tugged him from his thoughts and he refocused on her, on her creation.
"Wow, that's amazing, Lily-kin!" he praised with unabashed enthusiasm. The Play-doh elephant had lopsided ears and a somewhat stubby trunk but it was still, recognizably, an elephant. His daughter was so talented. "I'm going to take a picture of it and send it to Mommy right now so she can see it even before she gets home."
He duly did so, grinning at Beckett's quick response of an applause emoji and "Tell Lily I'm very impressed and I'm going to show the boys now."
"Mommy says she loves it and she's going to show the picture to your uncles too."
"Really?" Lily lit up. "Can my uncles come play too?"
He should have expected that. Lily adored her Uncles Javi and Kevin and any mention of them almost invariably led to the question of if they could come over and play. The boys, as he'd predicted, spoiled Lily terribly and engaged in ridiculous little contests and jibes over which of them Lily liked better.
"They're working, just like Mommy is, but you'll see them on Sunday," he reminded her and forestalled her pout since to a three-year-old, he knew the day after tomorrow seemed like a short eternity away, by quickly adding, "Since you're so good at this, why don't you help Daddy make a giraffe to keep your elephant company?"
"Okay!" she agreed readily, scooting over to plump down next to him and he wrapped his arm around her, bending to press a kiss to her hair, releasing her only when she squirmed. "'m working, Daddy."
He suppressed a laugh. Lily was usually such a happy little thing but when she had a task at hand, her focus showed signs of becoming quite as intense as her mother's could be.
She was in the process of shaping the giraffe's long neck when they were both distracted as the door opened, to his surprise since it was far too early for Kate to be home and his mother usually gave him some warning if she planned to visit, but then his wondering was answered as Alexis appeared.
Lily promptly forgot all about her task and for that matter, anything else, as she scrambled to her feet and flew across the room to Alexis as fast as her chubby little legs could take her. "Wexie! You're here!"
Alexis dropped to her haunches to catch her little sister, picking her up as Lily flung her arms around Alexis's neck. "Hi, Lily vanilli! Oh, I missed you!" she exclaimed, using her own private nickname for Lily, just as Lily was the only person who ever called Alexis "Lexie."
Alexis gave the little girl a smacking kiss on the cheek and then blew a raspberry against her neck for good measure, making Lily squeal and giggle, before Alexis set Lily down. "What have you been up to this week?"
Lily launched into an enthusiastic account of her week, about her "Gwam's" visit on Monday, about their visit to the precinct to coax Kate out for lunch on Tuesday which had, inevitably, led to staying in the precinct for almost an hour afterwards while Lily was generally made much of by her uncles Javi and Kevin.
(Lily's popularity in the bullpen ensured that they never managed to leave too quickly, helped by the fact that Lily liked to go around to say hello to every officer she knew, which was most of them, a habit that still somewhat surprised him a little. Alexis had been a rather shy child but Lily was not and as it was, Lily was something like the precinct mascot, considering her frequent visits.)
Alexis listened and made the occasional murmur of interest and encouragement, her eyes fixed on Lily's face with every appearance of fascination–well, no, that wasn't fair, Castle thought with a pang of love, because he knew Alexis was perfectly sincere.
Alexis was, as he'd always known she would be, a wonderful big sister and Lily returned the compliment by adoring Alexis whole-heartedly. Castle had joked to Beckett that his reluctance to give in to Lily's occasional requests that they get a puppy was due to the fact that a puppy would no doubt push him even further down on the list of Lily's favorite people so he would no longer be in the top 5–after Kate, Alexis, Jim, and his mother. For that matter, he also joked that Lily had supplanted his place at the top of Alexis's affections.
Which reminded him… He interrupted Lily's happy prattle when she paused for breath to speak up in an overly loud voice, "Hello to you too, Alexis. I'm just fine, thanks for asking."
Alexis looked over at him and laughed. "Hi, Dad." She glanced down at Lily. "Daddy's being silly again, isn't he, Lily?"
Lily giggled, grasping Alexis's hand in hers and spinning around. "Silly Daddy!"
Alexis grasped both of Lily's hands, lifting her briefly off the floor, as she walked the few steps over to him, going up to kiss his cheek while he wrapped his arm around her shoulders for a brief hug. She might be in college and almost a full adult but he still felt a little knot inside his chest dissolve, eased by her presence. He supposed he would become resigned to Alexis no longer living at home eventually but for now, it still seemed as if he was never fully relaxed when Alexis wasn't home.
"We weren't expecting you until tonight," he commented quizzically.
"My afternoon class was canceled so I thought I'd come home early, spend the rest of the afternoon with my favorite sister," she added with deliberate emphasis, tugging lightly on Lily's ponytail.
As usual, Lily cackled with glee at the tease. "I'm the on'y sister!"
Alexis laughed and swooped down to give Lily another hug. "Still my favorite. Now, what do you want to do? Keep playing with Play-doh or something else?"
Lily pondered this, her nose scrunching up a little as she did so, and he exchanged momentary glances of shared amusement with his older daughter, as he felt a little pang because at times like these, Lily reminded him of the child Alexis used to be. The child who used to look quite this serious when she made decisions too.
"Dolls!" Lily pronounced, after a moment.
"Dolls it is," Alexis agreed readily. "Come on upstairs." She glanced at Castle. "See you later, Dad."
He affected a sigh. "I see how it is. You're just going to leave me all alone to play with dolls by yourselves."
His daughters only laughed, their mingled laughter one of his favorite sounds in the world, and he watched as they went upstairs, Alexis swinging Lily up every other step to Lily's delight. Castle felt warmth coil around his heart as he watched his daughters, listened to Lily's gleeful giggles. And he was, not for the first time, almost knocked flat by the surge of love he felt in such moments, love not only for Lily but for Alexis, for the way they were together. Alexis had thrown herself into the role of big sister from the moment Lily had been born and had never indicated that she felt any irritation or impatience with the way having a newborn in the house had disrupted her entire life. Alexis had probably even changed nearly as many diapers as he and Beckett had, certainly more than his mother had changed. Alexis had fed Lily, sung to her, bathed her, taught her, played with her and in return, Lily worshiped Alexis and tended to listen to her and obey her with a more docile spirit than Lily generally displayed for just about anyone else, with the possible exception of Jim.
More selfishly too, Castle was grateful to Lily because he credited her as being the reason Alexis had chosen to go to Columbia, staying in the city for college, rather than going anywhere out of state. As it was, Lily had been almost disconsolate, crying tempestuously when they had left Alexis in her dorm at the start of the school year last fall and it was only after a few months in which Alexis had come home almost every weekend that Lily had become mostly resigned to Alexis's no longer living at home. Although Lily still greeted Alexis's every visit with the sort of joy one usually associated with families welcoming soldiers home after years of war.
Castle heard the faint sound of Lily's shriek of laughter and smiled as he set himself to cleaning up the Playdoh, except for Lily's elephant so Beckett could admire it once she returned home.
Once that was done, he retreated into his office, somewhat reluctantly accepting the necessity of trying to get some writing done, now that he had the afternoon free, thanks to Alexis showing up to play with, not to say babysit, Lily. The first draft of the next Nikki Heat book was due in little more than a month and as usual, he was running behind.
As he dropped down into his chair, his eyes fell as they always did on the framed pictures on his desk, specifically on the one in the middle which was one of his all-time favorite pictures (hence its position in pride of place). It was a picture from their wedding and showed a baby Lily sandwiched between Kate in her simple white dress and him in his formal suit, with both of them pressing kisses to Lily's cheeks while Lily squealed.
He and Kate had gotten married in the Hamptons the September after Lily was born, a very small private ceremony attended only by their nearest and dearest, Alexis, his mother, Jim, the boys, Lanie, and Captain Montgomery and his family. Of course, considering how young Lily had been, they hadn't been able to go on a honeymoon but his mother and Alexis had happily taken care of Lily for the night–in a nearby hotel, at which he had also reserved rooms for all their other guests–allowing him and Kate to enjoy their wedding night in privacy. It had been the happiest day of his life.
He tore his eyes away from the pictures, not just the one from their wedding but the others too, one of Kate alone which he had surreptitiously taken showing her smiling at something Alexis said, one of the smiles he loved (well, he loved all her smiles) but this one in particular because it was so bright and a little soft with affection, and the other picture showing Alexis holding Lily at Lily's first birthday party.
He grimaced as he checked his email to see that Paula had sent him itineraries for a couple suggested book signing trips over the summer, one trip each month from June through September, none of them lasting longer than 4 or 5 days–which was one of his flat rules–but which would still require him to travel more than he wanted to. Although, admittedly, the amount of traveling he wanted to do these days was pretty much zero, so that wasn't saying much. He would have to talk to Kate about it, probably this weekend sometime, and then get back to Paula to cut the travel down. Lily might be older now and he knew his mother, Alexis, Jim, and even Lanie would be all too happy to step up and help Kate take care of her in his absence, but that didn't mean he was willing to ask it of them.
Besides, aside from anything else, he absolutely detested sleeping without Kate beside him and a hotel room without Kate seemed as bleak as the Sahara desert.
Never mind, he would talk to Kate about it and she would help. Talking to Kate always helped.
He shelved the thought of the book signings away and turned to the draft of the book, mulling over the next twist in the story before he began to type, in stops and starts at first, but then something sparked in his brain and he found the words once more coming to his mind, spilling onto the page.
He finished up the last sentence of the chapter and then stopped, his hands stilling, as he reread what he'd written, going back and making a few changes, before saving it all. And then blinked as he looked up from his screen for the first time in he wasn't sure how long–and saw Beckett, curled up on the armchair in the corner watching him. "Beckett! I didn't know you were home already." Although it occurred to him that maybe, in some way, her presence had been partly what had inspired him so much. He might not have been consciously aware of her but he was convinced that her presence somehow resonated in his subconscious and inspired him, because she was still, and always would be, his muse (not that he would say such a thing to her out loud).
"That was obvious. You ignored me completely," she observed, a faint smirk tugging on her lips.
"You could have said something," he pointed out, wiggling his shoulders and rotating his head a little to get out the kinks from sitting in the same position for so long.
She gave him a look of mock horror. "And interrupt the flow of inspiration? I wouldn't dare."
"You know, I have it on good authority that watching someone work is creepy."
"Says the man who watched me work for more than a year," she mocked.
"It got you to marry me so I think it worked out pretty well for me."
She laughed at that. "You would say that."
"Oh, Alexis came home early and is upstairs with Lily."
Her expression softened. "I know. I went upstairs as soon as I got home, played with them for a little bit, before coming back down."
He huffed in mock disgruntlement. "So they let you play with them but not me. I see how it is."
"I guess I'm just cooler than you are."
"That is so not true!" he bridled in feigned offense. "I'm the cool dad and I even have a mug to prove it!"
"Of course you are," she agreed with a show of indulgence.
Teasing him, as usual, but he decided to ignore that. Besides, there was something more important than his ego to mention. "Did you see the elephant Lily made for you?"
She laughed softly and stood up, moving to perch on his lap as he pushed his chair back to accommodate her and slipped one arm around her to anchor her in place. "I did see it. It looks even better in person than it did in the picture."
"Our daughter is so talented, isn't she?"
"She really is," she agreed, lightly ruffling the hair above his ears, and he allowed himself to lean into the caress. "Oh, the boys told me to confirm that we're still on for Sunday. Espo said he's going to bring a soccer ball for Lily to play with and Ryan jumped in to say he'll bring a frisbee and some snacks."
"So we're having a picnic, I guess?"
"I guess we are."
"Do you suppose if Uncle 'Ja-wi' decided to buy Lily a bicycle, then Uncle 'Ke-win' would buy her a pony to one-up him?" he wondered aloud, mimicking Lily's names for the boys. (What, he might as well get some fun out of Lily's struggle to pronounce the 'v' sound while he could since not even he was so reckless as to mimic Lily's pronunciation in front of the boys. Lily was the only one who could get away with it–more than get away with it, really, since even Espo practically melted whenever she called him 'Uncle Ja-wi.')
"Don't even think about mentioning such a thing and giving them ideas," she warned him, her eyes narrowing until she looked much more like Beckett than Kate.
"I wasn't going to," he protested. "Anyway, your dad will probably beat all of us when it comes to buying her a bicycle." Since Jim basically never showed up empty-handed to see Lily.
"I'm going to have to have another talk with him about spoiling her."
"Might as well save your breath, Kate. Somehow I don't think your dad will listen."
She let out a breath in some resignation. "How did you keep Alexis from ending up completely spoiled?"
"I'm pretty sure she did that herself," he quipped, but with some truth. He had tried, of course, kept himself from giving in to Alexis's every whim but for the most part, Alexis had been reasonable.
"Some help you are," she huffed but her lips were twitching.
He ran a hand up and down her back in a reassuring caress. "Lily isn't that spoiled."
"No, she's not," she agreed but he knew her well enough to know when her mind was on something else and a mild niggle of concern and curiosity tugged at him.
He knew Beckett had been mulling over something the past few days. She'd been a little absent, distracted–not obviously so and certainly not when Lily was around, but he knew her well enough to recognize her mental abstraction. He even suspected what she was mulling over. He just didn't know what exactly her thoughts were; Beckett was not someone who put her every thought into words but by now, he also trusted that she would talk to him about it eventually as long as he gave her time to think things through herself first.
"Can I talk to you about something?" she asked rather abruptly.
He hid the little curl of warmth that blossomed in his chest. He loved the way she talked to him, let him in. "That's what I'm here for, isn't it?"
For once, she didn't respond to that bait, only straightened up as she looked at him, looking oddly… uncertain. "I want to know what you think–" she began.
His brain jumped ahead. He hadn't seen her look so uncertain in years, really, and could think of only one thing she could be nervous about. And as usual, he didn't like seeing uncertainty in her expression; it was just so… not-Beckett-like. "About the job in D.C.?" he blurted out in a reassuring rush. "It sounds like a great opportunity, Beckett, perfect for you, really. You'd be so good at it. And Lily and I will go with you anywhere–"
She raised her eyebrows at him. "That's sweet but I'm not so sure Lily would be thrilled to move away from everyone she loves."
He gave a rueful little grimace. "Okay, probably not at first, but she'll find new friends. And we're rich; we can arrange for your dad and Alexis and my mother to visit as often as they like. Remember what I told you before Lily was born, it's just as important that you're happy and fulfilled and if this is what you want, I'll support you, always."
She leaned in and kissed him briefly. "Thanks, Castle. After all that, I'm almost sorry that I don't want to try for the federal job."
He blinked. "You don't?"
"No. I thought about it but I'm not sure dealing with the kind of bureaucracy the federal government entails is for me. And I don't really want to move."
He studied her for a moment. "You're not just saying that because of Lily?"
Her expression softened. "It's not just because of Lily."
He could tell she meant it too but if it wasn't the federal job on her mind– "Oh, are you thinking of trying out for the Captain's exam? Because I'm sure you'd be a shoo-in with your record and–"
"This conversation would go quicker if you stopped trying to guess what I'm going to say and then running away with it," she interrupted him, mildly enough but with just a tinge of irritation.
He stopped. Oops. "Sorry, I'll shut up now. What did you want to say?"
"Stack's offer about the job in D.C., well, it got me thinking about what I want, the next step, and I did think about that job, thought about the Captain's exam too as another option. I think the Captain's exam probably is something I'd want to do down the line but as I was thinking, well, I thought of something else, another challenge, that I think I want more."
Her roundabout introduction was making him a little uneasy; it wasn't like Beckett to engage in such a lengthy preamble (unlike him).
"I love Lily and I love the life that we have, our family," she began again.
He wasn't sure he liked the unspoken "but" that seemed to be coming. Out of nowhere, it suddenly occurred to him that Alexis had been about as old as Lily was now when Meredith had left. Which was a stupid thing to remember at that moment because Kate was nothing like Meredith and he knew Kate loved him, knew she loved Lily, and there was no way–absolutely no way–she would ever do anything that would be bad for either one of them.
"But I was thinking, it would be nice if our family was a little bigger." she finished.
Bigger, as in… He let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Kate, are you–"
"No," she hurriedly answered. "But I was thinking, I want to be? I want to start trying, want another baby."
He stared at her, feeling all the breath leave his body as if he'd just been punched in the gut. She… oh… she wanted another baby… wanted another baby with him… The memories, the mental images, of Kate when she'd been pregnant with Lily flooded his mind, from the moment he'd seen the first, barely-there curve of her stomach until the last couple months when Kate joked (on the better days) that she looked as if she'd swallowed a basketball.
Oh… oh god… he felt as if his brain were scrambling for coherence but she had just stolen his ability to think from him. She could still surprise him, he thought fuzzily. And he just could not believe that this was real, that he was here, in his home with his two daughters upstairs, and with the most beautiful, incredible woman he had ever known, the love of his life, his wife, telling him that she wanted to have another child with him.
He belatedly realized that he'd been silent for too long, gaping like an idiot, when he felt her stiffen. "I know it's a lot and if you don't want–"
He cut her off with a kiss, because he still wasn't sure he could speak, pouring all his love, all his emotion, into his kiss and she sank into him, her hands holding him to her as if he had any intention of leaving.
When the kiss ended, they were both a little breathless and she didn't go far, only rested her forehead against his. "I take it that's a yes?" He heard the beginnings of a smile in her voice.
"Are you kidding me? Of course, it's a yes. I can't imagine anything I want more than another baby with you."
"Yeah?" She lifted her head to smile at him, so bright and so lovely he forgot how to breathe just looking at her. (And she was his wife!) "Knowing your imagination, that's quite the statement."
He laughed, hearing an almost giddy note in it, and kissed her again. "I love you. I love you so much."
"I love you too."
He would never, ever get over the wonder of hearing her say those words, more, seeing the look in her eyes when she said them. She kissed him again and he tightened his arms around her and kissed her back, one of his hands slipping under the hem of her shirt.
"Mommy, I'm hungry!"
Lily's call had them both breaking apart and moving to stand but they weren't quite fast enough as Alexis and Lily appeared in the doorway as Kate was just scrambling up off his lap. Alexis, of course, took one look at them and knew exactly what they'd been up to and he could only be thankful that Lily–thank the merciful fates–was still young enough to be entirely oblivious.
"Really, guys?" Alexis rolled her eyes and turned to Lily. "Come on, Lily vanilli. Let's go see what we have to eat."
"Mommy, Daddy, come too?"
"Yes, we'll be right behind you, Lily-pad," Kate answered.
The moment their daughters were gone, Kate's eyes met his and they both had to laugh, although he saw the faint tinge of color in Kate's cheeks.
He grasped Kate's hand, pausing to brush a kiss to her temple. "We'll have tonight."
She nudged him with her elbow. "Behave, Castle, our daughters are just outside." But the gesture and the words were belied by the smile she gave him and the fact that she didn't release his hand as they left his office.
Alexis was looking through the refrigerator while Lily prattled happily, the usual soundtrack to their lives these days, and he and Kate exchanged a last smiling look before Kate released his hand and went to join their daughters, bending to scoop Lily up and give her a smacking kiss on the cheek before settling their toddler on her hip.
Castle's steps slowed, lingering for a moment, as his eyes drank the scene in, his chest filling with so much love it almost hurt. His two precious daughters and his wife–all happy and smiling.
And then Lily was calling for his opinion and he joined his family in the kitchen to decide what to make for dinner.
A/N 2: This story ended up being quite a bit longer than I expected so thank you all for sticking with this story to the end. I appreciate it more than I can say.