Title: What Pales in Comparison
Disclaimer: I don't own them, but I sure write about them a lot.
Summary: Rick Castle, who kept her from freezing to death and held her hand in front of a bomb, prepared to die with her, wasn't who she was going home with. Kate's night after the end of Countdown.
Author's note: This is the end, my friends. I can't believe it's over, but I won't bore you with that now. So, without further ado, I present to you the final chapter of What Pales in Comparison.
Epilogue Part 3:
"God, you're incredible," he murmured against her skin. "And you're mine."
She smiled. "Yours. And you're mine."
"For ever and always," he added, meeting her in a chaste kiss.
"Always," she replied as they stared into each other's eyes. Then their little tryst on the sand was interrupted by the crash of a wave.
Kate spluttered and laughed as the water receded, leaving them covered in sand and seaweed, sprawled next to each other. Rick coughed and stood just as another wave hit, sending him falling back down next to her as Kate gasped and struggled to sit up.
"Come on, we've gotta…" and another wave.
They struggled through three more before Kate managed to yank him back from the breakers. They stood there, staring at the choppy sea, and laughed.
"Did we really not notice the tide coming in?" she asked as she brushed a piece of seaweed from her shoulder.
"We were a little preoccupied," he replied, re-adjusting his shorts.
Kate blushed and then smiled as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Suppose so."
"Suppose so? You were the one with the sky view," he laughed as they turned and began to walk back up the beach toward their house with the huge Caribbean Ocean view. "You should have been watching out for weather changes."
"Okay, maybe I was a little more than preoccupied," she conceded. He grinned and landed a smacking kiss to her cheek.
"We should wash off and think about food," he suggested when they hit the deck.
"Just wash off," she warned as she led them into the outdoor shower and turned on the water.
"Killjoy," he muttered as he felt the water and then walked them backward into the spray.
"Killjoy?" she ran her hands down his chest while he smoothed over her back. "We just had beach sex, Richard, twice. And that's just today."
He grinned. "But we haven't had beach-shower sex in days."
Kate shook her head. "You're incorrigible."
"I'm insatiable," he corrected, leaning in to pull her to him and run his lips over her neck.
Kate smiled. They'd been in this haze of a honeymoon for nearly two weeks, and they were leaving tomorrow. He wasn't lying either. Insatiable barely classified it. They'd been busy everywhere. Every room in the house, every surface on the patio, the beach, the shower, the beach-shower, the hot tub, the pool—it was insanity.
"What can I say, Mrs. Castle? I've got the hots for you, and you can't lie. You've initiated things just as much as me. You want me too."
"I never suggested that I didn't," she laughed as he skated his hands over her sides, tickling her. "But right now, we'll eat. And then we'll spend the last night of our honeymoon in our huge bed, kay?"
He pulled back and caught her up in a languid kiss for a moment before resting his forehead against hers. "I can't believe it's over."
"It's been wonderful, Rick."
"Do we have to go back?"
"I have a job, and…"
"And you insist on shadowing me at it, so you kind of need to be there too."
"Shadowing you?" he pouted. "I thought I was your Partner."
Kate smiled. "Then we really need to go back. Can't have Detective and Partner out for too long. Who knows what the boys have gotten up to."
He laughed and reached around her to turn off the water just as thunder cracked above them. "And not a moment too soon. Into the house," he exclaimed, dragging her up the steps and into the foyer of the expansive house that put even their Hamptons villa to shame.
Kate shivered as they hit the air conditioning. Rick grabbed towels from the cabinet and handed one to her before wrapping another around his waist. "What do you want for dinner?"
Kate shrugged. "Something light? Do we still have the chicken from a few nights ago?"
"With garlic?" he asked in mock horror.
"Rick, I hardly think a little garlic is going to be able to quell your libido."
"Or yours," he shot back, eyebrows raised. "Don't try to pin this on me."
"Who said I was trying to pin anything on you?" she replied as she walked back toward the master bedroom. "Besides, I was kind of hoping you'd pin me, anyway."
She heard him suck in a breath as she let her towel drop and sauntered into the bedroom, knowing full well just how skin-tight her bathing suit had become.
"How much do you want dinner?" he called as she began to strip out of the tiny slip of fabric.
"I want it," she called back.
"Kate," he growled.
"Feed me, and then have your wicked way with me, Mr. Castle."
"You're cruel!" he called as she walked into the ensuite.
"And you're slow. The faster you feed me, the faster…" there was a clattering from the kitchen and she grinned.
She was sad to see the honeymoon go, but she was excited to get back to their lives, see Alexis, spend hurried mornings convincing him to let her get up. This little trip into nothing but him had been wonderful, but she loved their actual life too.
"Come on, Kate. It smells fantastic!" she heard him call out while she slipped into a teddy.
"Yeah, now you're hungry," she laughed.
"So you had an amazing time?" Lanie asked as they stared down at their first stiff on their first day back.
"It was great, yeah," Kate smiled. "Better than his trip, I'd say," she added. Their guy was sprawled on the top of an elevator, after having apparently been pushed from quite a height.
"Alexis is peeved that she didn't get to see you," Rick announced as he caught up to them. "Though, not enough to toss you down an elevator shaft. Yeesh."
"You did tell her I was sorry, didn't you? Didn't make yourself out to be the hero, staying to have breakfast with her?"
He grinned. "Course not."
"You two may be more adorable than ever," Lanie interjected.
"What's the story?" Rick asked.
"Well, Castle, you tell me," Kate countered. "Lover, spouse, angry bell boy?"
"Ooh, I'll go with bell boy."
"Not the bell boy. Bell boy found him and promptly spewed all over the floor over there," Ryan announced as he met them. "Good try though."
"Woulda been a good story," Esposito added. "Nice to have you back, Castle."
"Nice to be back. Poker soon? We brought presents."
"Mom and Dad got us toys, bro," Esposito grinned. "You owe me five."
"Yeah, yeah," Ryan grumbled.
"You bet on whether or not we'd bring you things?" Kate exclaimed. "That's horrible."
"Be glad they didn't bet on whether or not you're already pregnant," Lanie told her. "Had to stop them."
"Who says I'm not?" Kate asked. Rick spit out his coffee, Ryan gaped, Esposito gasped, and Lanie gave her a high five. "Man, you guys are so easy."
"Cruel, cruel woman," Rick said as he wiped his mouth. "Honestly. I was drinking."
"Serves you all right," Lanie shrugged. "Now, down to business. And go get a mop, Writer Boy. You're contaminating my crime scene."
"What's up, Lex?" Kate asked, looking over the edge of the galley copy of Heat Rises she was reading.
"Could you read something for me?" she asked, shifting from foot to foot.
"You Castles, always asking me to read things," Kate replied, marking her place and shoving Rick's book to the coffee table.
"I can come back…"
"I'm teasing," Kate smiled, sitting up and patting the space next to her on the couch. "What do you need me to look over?"
"My college essay," Alexis murmured, plopping down next to her.
Kate smiled as the girl adjusted her big tee shirt and curled her toes into the ends of her sweats. Alexis had been perfecting her essays for weeks, and she was about ready to send everything out, but today was her last day of heavy writing. She was comfy and crazed and Kate constantly wanted to just give her a hug, but had refrained, letting her deal in her own way.
"I'd be happy to," she said, taking the paper Alexis extended to her.
She smiled as Alexis curled up next to her and hugged her knees to her chest. Kate laid a hand on her knee and then turned to the paper in her hand.
I'd make a very good serial killer. My father has written some of the best books on the subject. I know how to impersonate someone, take over her life, steal her social security number without even getting the card, and then kill her cleanly and quietly so that I don't have to worry about a double popping up. I know who to go to for the right surgeries and who to avoid when talking to law enforcement. I know all of the weapons and escape tricks and hideouts. I'd be the perfect criminal.
I'd also make an excellent Detective. My stepmother has a few books written about that too. I know how to defend myself against attack. I know how to fire a gun. I know how to look at the bigger picture while still looking for the smallest detail. I know who to talk to in law enforcement. I know where holding and interrogation and forensics are. I know what's done in all of those departments. I've even toured a number of them, frequently. I'd be the perfect criminal catcher.
But I think I'd rather be something that doesn't necessarily involve guns and blood and death. I'm surrounded by it enough as it is, what with Richard Castle for a father, and his wife, muse, and partner, Detective Kate Beckett for a stepmother. I'll leave the criminal catching and describing to them.
I want to study science, or medicine, or law. I want to make a difference and help people, like both of my parents. And with the skills they've given me, I think I'll be great at whatever I want to do. Goodness knows I've got contacts everywhere. But I want to go to school somewhere that will let me make my own contacts and my own connections to the world. I love my parents. I love their jobs. But I'm ready to spread my own wings and find my weapon of choice, be it the pen, like my father, the gun, like my stepmother, or the scalpel, like my Aunt Lanie, the medical examiner.
I might end up right there with them, solving crimes and catching bad guys, but who knows? Maybe I'll be in the Governor's office helping them get funding instead. I want to get the best education I can so that I can make them proud and be proud of myself for choosing my own path. I will work harder than anyone and will never fail to have people there to support me, especially if I can stay here in Manhattan. Perhaps I could do an expose for the school paper on the lives of some of the NYPD's lesser-known Detectives. I have a few Uncles that would jump at the chance.
So, please consider me, Alexis Castle, for the Columbia University class of 2015. I promise not to murder or convict any of your students.
Kate blinked. "Columbia?" she asked. Alexis nodded. "Not Stanford?"
"I just…it's got some of the best programs, and it's here and I…" she met Kate's eyes. "I'm not quite ready to leave all together, you know?"
Kate smiled and slipped the letter onto the table before extending her arms so that she could wrap Alexis in a hug. "Have you told your dad?"
Alexis shook her head. "Not yet."
"He's gonna be ecstatic."
Kate laughed. "I know. And the letter? Lex, it's great."
"I'd accept you."
"It's not too bold?"
Kate pulled back. "Well, it certainly pulls you in right at the beginning."
"You look so unsure about it. I think it's wonderful."
Alexis shrugged and snuggled down on the couch. "It's a bit overwhelming."
Kate smiled and settled next to her. "That's understandable."
"But, once I send this off, that's the last of them."
"I'm excited for you."
"Wanna watch some TV?"
"Don't you need to finish Dad's manuscript?"
Kate bumped her shoulder. "Kid beats Dad any day."
Alexis grinned. "Thanks Kate."
"Oh, Kate. Hi, honey."
"What're you doing?" she asked, walking into the dark office.
Kate wandered around his desk and came to stand in front of him. He was just sitting there, holding a picture of Alexis in his lap. "You miss her."
"It's stupid. She's about ten minutes away by taxi."
"It's not here, though," Kate said, bending down to pick the photo out of his hands. She smiled at the image of Alexis on her father's shoulders, pointing at something in the distance. "It's okay to miss her."
He looked up at her. "My baby's at college."
"I know." She reached out and smoothed a hand through his hair.
"I'm sorry I didn't come in today."
Kate shrugged and then smiled as he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her down onto his lap. "You needed a day. We all do sometimes."
"Did I miss anything?"
"Nothing, actually. No murders today."
"That's good," he murmured as he buried his face in her hair.
"How can I help?"
"I'll get over myself," he replied. "Don't worry 'bout me."
"Oh, come now. That's unfair. You worry about me constantly."
"But you've got real things—guns and bad guys and murder. This, this will pass. She'll come over for dinner on Friday anyway."
Kate kissed his temple. "You know, I don't think this is silly at all."
"That girl was your whole world for eighteen years, Rick. You get to have a bit of the empty-nest syndrome."
"But my nest isn't empty," he mumbled. "You're here."
"That I am, Mr. Castle."
They were quiet for a few minutes. "Can you believe that it's almost been a year since we got married?" he asked.
Kate laughed. "No. Feels so much longer."
"Hey," he pulled his head up. "I feel like I should be insulted somehow."
Kate just smiled and leaned in to press her lips to his. "I'm kidding."
"Don't tease me," he grumbled, placing kisses all over her cheeks. "I'm sad."
"So, why don't you let me cheer you up?" she suggested.
"What did you have in mind?" he asked.
"Well, we've been talking for a while about maybe adding to this family, you remember?"
He nodded and narrowed his eyes. "What are you getting at?"
She shook her head. "Not that. We're not adding to it yet, at least, not at the moment."
She saw him take a breath of relief and then a frown flitted across his face. She'd been disappointed when she'd taken the test earlier in the week too. "But, I thought, maybe, a good way to adjust to being kid-less, would be to start actively trying not to be kid-less."
He blinked for a moment. "You want to try for a baby?"
"Well, if you're not interested," she started to get up, only to be forcibly yanked back. She giggled as Rick growled and latched onto her neck, sucking gently for a minute before he lifted his head.
"You want to make 'little Castle babies' with me, now, tonight?"
"Yes," she breathed.
"Yes," he repeated, leaning in to pull her into a kiss. "God, yes," he said against her lips.
"You're up early," Alexis observed as Kate quietly closed the door. She jumped and spun around to find Alexis leaning against the counter. "You'd think you'd have less of a startle reflex, doing what you do, you know."
"Good morning to you too. So good to see you, Lex," Kate replied as she hung up her jacket. "When did you get back?"
"Late last night. You guys were asleep."
"You could have woken us," Kate told her as she came over to the counter.
"I saw you yesterday when I dropped everything off."
"Still. Your Dad's gonna be sad that he missed welcoming you home, officially, for Christmas."
Alexis just laughed. "Coffee?"
"Um, no. Thanks."
Alexis raised an eyebrow and then eyed the bag Kate was holding behind her back. "No coffee. Early morning outing. Scared that I was here. What are you hiding?"
"For a Detective, you suck at lying, Kate."
Kate sighed. "Okay." She beckoned Alexis over. "Um…we told you that we were trying for a baby."
"Yes. Does this mean?"
"I don't know. It might. I'm gonna go take it…um, keep your Dad busy if he gets up?"
Alexis squealed and threw her arms around Kate. "I'm so excited!" she whispered.
Kate smiled and gave her a squeeze before pulling back. "Don't get excited too fast. Might be a false alarm again."
Alexis nodded and then shooed her out of the kitchen and up the stairs. Kate opened the bathroom door and stepped inside, taking a deep breath. She quickly opened the box and read the directions. Then she peed on the little stick. For all of modern medicine, she thought they could have come up with a less tedious and disgusting method of self-pregnancy testing, but alas, they hadn't.
She set the timer on her phone and then sat nervously on the edge of the tub. She and Rick had done this together the last time, and his disappointment had almost been harder to take than her own. He'd been great, said all the right stuff. But she didn't want to get his hopes up again unless there was something to hope for.
Her phone beeped and Kate sat there. She balled her hands into fists and then stood and took the few steps from the tub to the counter. She looked down at the stick and felt a smile blossom across her face. Little blue plus sign. Pregnant. Baby.
The steely Detective didn't care that she was giggling, jumping, squealing, alone in the upstairs bathroom. She was pregnant. They were having a baby. Who the hell cared how ridiculous she looked?
She grabbed the test, shoved it in the little plastic bag she'd brought upstairs, and yanked the door open. She sped down the stairs and then skidded to a halt as she came into the kitchen. Rick and Alexis were engaged in an animated discussion at the counter, Rick wearing a robe and clutching a cup of coffee.
"Hey, honey. Look who's home!" he said as he spotted her. "Kate?"
Alexis took one look at her, squealed, and ran around the counter to slam into her in a fierce hug. "Yes? Is it a yes?"
"Yes," Kate whispered as she hugged the girl close. "It's a yes."
"What am I missing?" Rick asked, setting his cup down and walking over to them. "Did you get her a pony?"
Alexis released her and stepped back. "No, no," she told her father as he looked between Kate and his daughter. "But maybe she'll do that for…well…you tell him."
Rick looked confused and met Kate's eyes. "Tell me what?"
Kate just smiled and extended the baggie for him to take. He took it and looked down at it for a long moment. "This is…"
"Little blue plus sign," she whispered.
He looked up at her. "We're pregnant? You're pregnant?" She nodded. He let out a whoop and wrapped his arms around her, lifting her off her feet. "We're pregnant!"
Kate laughed and held on tight as he spun them around, laughing. "We're pregnant," she whispered as he set her down.
He beamed and kissed her passionately. Perhaps too passionately.
"Hey, guys. First kid is still here. Being scarred. No, honestly. God, get a room!"
Kate pushed Rick away and laughed, looking over at Alexis, who was comically shielding her eyes. "Sorry, Lex."
"I'm not sorry, but I respect your disgust," Rick added.
"You called me Dad," he said, turning back to her.
"Well, you're her Dad," Kate shrugged, grinning.
"But you'll have to call me Dad all the time now."
"And I was planning on going back to Castle all the time. What a pity," she replied.
He laughed and then extended his arm for Alexis. "Get in here, Big Sis."
Alexis grinned and joined them in the hug. "I'm so happy for you guys."
"Thank you, Alexis," Kate whispered, kissing her temple. "We're happy to have you here."
"Yeah, especially since you go to school in New York. We can ask you to babysit," Rick told her.
"Kate, you can't."
"Castle, I'm going to send you home if you don't stop it."
Rick glared at her and Kate felt a twinge of guilt in her gut. "You are carrying our child, Kate. You can't just run straight into this."
"I'll be wearing a vest," she replied, moving around him to leave the break room.
"That doesn't even fit right," he countered, scooting around her to block her way out of the room.
"I will go to Montgomery if I have to, Kate. You can't be part of this take down. It's too dangerous."
"You do not get to tell me what I can and cannot do, Richard Castle," she hissed.
"Just stop for a minute, a minute, Kate. If you get shot, think about the fact that not only are you dead, but your child is dead. If you don't care about what it would do to me, or Alexis, or your father, or my mother, at least think about the baby. Please," he caught her hand. "Kate, please."
She met his gaze and the baby kicked. She took a breath. Shit. Holy shit. "Rick, I…" Tears filled her eyes. Had she really been about to go into a loaded warehouse? "I…"
His gaze softened and he reached for her. "I know."
"Don't be sorry. Just promise you won't go with them," he murmured as he wrapped his arms around her.
"I just wanted…"
"I know. I know, Katie, I know. I see it too."
"If it really is the hit for your mother's killer, we'll take him down. And you can go crazy on him interrogation. I'll be right there with you."
"I just got…"
He just kissed her cheek. "You're amazing, Katherine Castle. All of us go under sometimes."
"But I went under with our child there, and I was about to take her into the middle of a shoot out."
"But you're not going to."
"No, I'm not."
"Then we're okay, Kate."
She nodded against his shoulder. "I have to…"
"Go tell Montgomery. I'll stay here in the Precinct with you, all night if we have to, okay?"
She nodded and stepped back. "I don't deserve you, Richard."
He shook his head. "Oh, Kate. It's the other way around. But we can have that fight another time," he smiled. "Go talk to Roy."
She smiled and he stepped aside so that she could leave the break room. She paused and kissed his cheek before wiping her eyes and striding away.
She turned. "Yes?"
Kate just smiled. "I have a feeling."
Kate sank down onto the bed and curled into a ball. She wrapped her arms around her swollen stomach and buried her face into the pillow, willing the tears away. But they didn't stop. Sobs wracked her body and she let them, feeling the baby kicking against her palm.
"Hey, little girl," she whispered. "Mommy's okay. I promise."
She looked over at the door and offered Rick a very weak smile. "Hi."
He came over, placing a glass of water on the bedside table as he approached. He sank to his knees and leaned on the bed, running a hand over her hair. "How you doin'?"
"I've been better," she offered.
He chuckled. "Yeah."
"But, we got him."
He took the hand she extended and clutched it in his own. "Yeah, we did. You were amazing in there, you know?"
She smiled. "Thanks."
"Like, more than you usually are. It was scary, actually."
"Just hope you never make me that angry," she joked.
He leaned in to kiss her forehead. "I'll try." He ran his other hand over her bump and she twined their fingers together there, letting him feel the kicking. "Hey, baby. Your Mommy's had a very rough week. Cool it with the kicking, would you?"
Kate shook her head. "I like it."
"You like it?"
"Reminds me that I'm here, you know?"
He gave her a very sad smile. "I do. I'm so sorry, Kate."
"Me too. I wish she could be here. I'm so glad we got him. Not just for us, for me, for her, but for the city, you know? I just can't believe…"
"I know he was your friend," she whispered.
"He hid a lot of sins behind that smile," Rick replied. "But no man who did what has is anyone I'll ever call a friend, Kate."
"I just don't understand it. How could he look you in the eye? How could he look me in the eye?"
"He was so involved before he met you, or me…I think Bob…Kate, he was psychotic. He put people away—he had people killed to cover up a crime he used to his advantage."
She nodded. "It's so stupid."
"Money makes people do crazy things."
"He had my mother killed so he could keep his money and run the city. And he did good things for the city too," she said quietly. "I just…I get murder. You know? I get it. But this…this just…"
"It's different," he nodded.
They stayed there for a long time, just feeling their daughter—she was convinced—kicking beneath their hands.
"Can I get you anything?" he asked some thirty minutes later.
"Just come up here?" she replied, her voice small.
He leaned in and gave her a chaste kiss before he stood and walked to the other side of the bed. He snuggled up to her and wrapped an arm over her stomach and under her head.
"I love you, Katherine."
"I love you too," she whispered.
"I'm so proud of you."
She smiled and held his arm tightly as the tears began to fall again. "Thank you."
"She's proud of you too, you know."
They lay there together as she wept, his arm strong and sure around her waist, her baby moving steadily in her womb.
"A girl, huh?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"Good," he replied. "She'll look just like you."
"You think so, huh?"
"I'm buying a shotgun tomorrow."
"What?" she giggled, the sound foreign on her lips after the hell of the past week.
"She's going to be stunning, and I don't think a bat will be enough to keep them at bay. Not with you for a mother."
"How can you possibly be this charming right now?"
"Did you guys pick a name?" Alexis asked as she flopped down on the bed between them.
"We better have," Rick replied. "This one's going to pop any day now."
"Thanks, Sweetie. I love it when you make this process sound romantic," Kate grumbled.
"Anytime, babe," he grinned as he turned back to the manuscript he was editing in his lap.
"So?" Alexis asked, looking up at Kate from her spot between their legs.
"Rachel Johanna Castle," Kate replied.
Alexis grinned. "I love it."
"You do?" Rick asked, obviously paying less attention to his work than his family.
"It's perfect. Are we calling her Rache?"
"Ray, I think," Kate replied. "But we'll see when she gets here."
"How are you feeling?" Alexis asked.
"Tired," Kate laughed. "But otherwise, fine. Being on bed rest is boring, but it's not terrible."
"Especially when it's just for a few weeks," Rick added. "We've watched a lot of movies. And missed you."
"Dad, I'm at school like ten minutes away."
"Still," he shrugged, turning back to the book.
"You're doing a horrible job of focusing, you realize," Kate told him.
"Don't know what you're talking about."
She shook her head and looked down at Alexis. "Since you're here, could you help me to the bathroom?"
"Sure thing," Alexis grinned, hopping off the bed and coming around to help Kate stand up.
Kate groaned as her back twinged while she stood. "You better come out soon, Ray."
She patted Alexis' hand and waddled her way into the bathroom, listening as Rick engaged Alexis in conversation. Her ridiculous husband just couldn't concentrate at all. Kate sat down and felt her back twinge again. Then there was a rush of fluid that wasn't normal.
"Uh, guys," she called.
"No way, Yoda's better."
"Come on, you can't tell me Yoda was a better mentor than Gandalf."
"Hey! Having a baby in here!" Kate yelled.
There was silence, then a squeal, a bang, a groan, and then the door opened on Rick's disheveled person. "You're….you're…" he panted, Alexis dancing excitedly behind him.
"On the toilet and my water just broke. Yes," Kate replied, laughing. "Put clothes on, get the bag, and come get me. Alexis, can you call a car?"
They nodded and Kate cleaned herself up, listening as they banged around the room. She shook her head and stood, grimacing at the pain, before she hobbled out of the bathroom.
"Hey, I was just coming to get you," he scolded, walking over to take her hands. "Are you good with what you've got on?" he asked, looking at her sweats and baggy tee shirt.
"They're gonna get me in a gown, so it doesn't matter," Kate replied. "Let's go have a baby."
He grinned and took her face in his hands, pressing a kiss to her lips. "Let's go have a baby."
"Oh, God!" Kate screamed.
"You're doing beautifully, Kate. Just a few more pushes," Dr. Epstein told her. "Twenty seconds, okay?"
"You're amazing, Kate," Rick whispered against her ear. He'd climbed up to sit behind her, wrapping himself around her body as soon as they'd said he could. "So close, baby. So close."
"I want her out," Kate groaned as the contraction hit. "I just. Want. Her. Out!"
"Okay, Kate. I need you to push as hard as you can. I can see her head."
"You can do this," Rick told her. "Breathe, honey."
Kate screamed and groaned, because God, it hurt. More than anything ever had, this freaking hurt. "I…Make it stop!"
"Just one more set, Kate. She's almost out."
"Nearly there," Rick told her. "I'm so proud of you."
"You…" Kate panted as she felt the next contraction coming on. "You get…the…next…one," she screeched.
She pushed and screamed but then, all of a sudden, there was a second wail piercing through. Everything stopped but for the sight of the little squirming, slightly disgusting, intensely beautiful sight that was their daughter.
"Congratulations," Dr. Epstein smiled. "You have a beautiful, healthy little girl."
"Oh," Kate sighed as the doctor held her up.
"Dad, would you like to cut the cord?"
Rick nodded and then bent himself at the most absurd angle to take the medical scissors and cut the umbilical cord. They watched as the doctor handed the baby to her assistant to clean her off. Kate followed every movement with her eyes while she did the afterbirth, Rick pressing a constant string of kisses to her temple and cheek and neck.
"Our daughter. Did you see her? She's perfect," he whispered as Kate collapsed against him.
"Our daughter," Kate panted, turning her head to meet him in a kiss. "We have a daughter."
"Thank you," he replied as they pulled apart. "Thank you. You're so amazing, Katherine. You were incredible."
"I…I love you," she managed.
He chuckled. "Just rest, love. Just rest."
Kate nodded and laid her head on his shoulder, still following the baby, who was now a little bundle of blankets, with her eyes. After what seemed an eternity, one of the orderlies brought her over.
"Here you go, Mom," she smiled.
Kate sat up against Rick, who wrapped his arms around her as Kate took Rachel from the nurse.
"Hi, baby. Oh, hi Rachel," she whispered, looking down at her daughter. "You're so beautiful, baby girl."
Rick smiled against her cheek. "Hi, gorgeous. I'm Daddy, and this is Mommy. We're so happy to see you."
"She's perfect," Kate murmured. "Absolutely perfect, aren't you?"
Rachel blinked up at them and opened her mouth in a tiny yawn.
"That might just be the cutest thing I've ever seen," said Rick. "Oh, I'm such a goner."
Kate laughed. "You are. But so am I. Oh, God, Rachel, you're so perfect."
"That's gonna be what we call her for a while, isn't it?"
"It'll cause psychological damage," Kate replied. "Sets a precedent."
"I write murder mysteries and you catch psychopaths. She's doomed anyway," Rick chuckled.
"Oh, no she's not, are you, sweetie? You're gonna be normal."
"Yeah, right," Rick scoffed.
"I can't whack you; I'm holding the baby," Kate mumbled. "But remind me to later?"
Dr. Epstein came over. "She's perfect," she told them. "No problems that we've seen. You've got a healthy one there."
"Thank you," Rick replied. Kate was too busy staring at the little baby.
"But, I have to take her to get everything all set, and they need to wheel you over to recovery, okay Mom?"
Kate wanted to shake her head and say 'no,' like a petulant child. But, reluctantly, she gave her baby over and watched as she was taken out of the room.
"We'll get her back."
"I know," Kate replied quickly.
Rick kissed her cheek and then slipped out from behind her. "I need to go tell our impatient visitors that we have a daughter. Will you be okay?" he asked as he helped her settle back into the pillows.
Kate nodded and felt her eyes slip shut. "You'll bring her back when you come?"
He chuckled and leaned down to kiss her forehead. "I promise. Rest, Mommy. I'm so proud of you."
She smiled even as she felt the pull of sleep taking her under.
"She's so cute."
"Are you done, or will I need to forcibly remove her from your grasp when Kate wakes up?"
"Watch it, Son. I'm the grandfather. I have priority."
"Mother trumps Grandfather, Dad," Kate mumbled as she opened her eyes.
Her entire family was sitting around her new room. Alexis was perched on the side of Jim's chair, her arm around the older man as they looked down at the sleeping baby. Rick was seated in a chair to Kate's right and Martha was watching everything from the little couch on the far side of the room.
Rick stood as Kate struggled to sit up and helped her prop up in the bed. "Gimme my baby."
"But I'm not done…"
Rick laughed and took Rachel from Jim, who frowned, but laughed as Kate's eyes lit up at the sight of her baby.
She took the little bundle from Rick. "Hi, baby. Did you miss me, huh?"
Rick sat down next to her and Kate scooted over so that they could sit side by side on the little bed. "You missed Lanie and the boys. They had to get back to the station, but they sent you this," he told her, holding his phone up for her to see.
"Hi Mom!" the boys chorused as Lanie held Rachel up for the camera. "We love our little sis!"
"And Aunt Lanie loves you too," Lanie added.
Kate laughed. "That's disgustingly adorable."
"Isn't it?" Rick grinned. "They didn't want to give her back. Esposito especially."
"Does this mean we can make baby jokes with Lanie now?" Alexis asked.
"Oh, definitely," Kate grinned.
"She's absolutely precious, Kate," Martha added. "I don't blame him."
"Me either, Katiebug," Jim agreed.
"Thanks, guys," Kate replied, looking down at her daughter. "You are precious, aren't you?"
"Katherine Beckett, queen of baby talk," Rick laughed.
Kate nudged him. "Careful, Daddy, or you'll be sleeping on the couch."
"Adorable queen of baby talk?"
"Hmm," she replied.
Rachel began to squirm and then she opened her tiny mouth and the loudest cry came out.
"Sounds like someone's hungry," Jim observed. "We'll leave you guys be. Come on, carrot top, let's get some grub."
"Who are you calling carrot top?" Martha asked as the three of them trooped out.
Rick laughed. "Do you need me to call the nurse?" he asked as Kate fumbled with her gown.
"I think I got it from class," Kate replied, lifting Rachel up. She latched on and Kate watched her nurse. "That feels so strange," she murmured.
"I'd bet," Rick replied, running a hand over her back and leaning in to kiss her cheek. "It's amazing. You're amazing."
"You keep saying that."
"Because it's true! You just produced a person, Kate. That's awesome."
She laughed. "Only you, Rick."
"What? You don't think it's amazing?"
Kate looked down at the little girl that they'd made and smiled. "No, you're right. It's awesome."
"Damn straight," he murmured, his lips against her temple. "So cool."
Kate smiled as she heard the shrieks of her daughter, giggling and laughing all the way down the beach. Kate unholstered her gun and walked over to the safe in the study, opening it and placing the gun, her badge, her watch and her necklace inside before closing it and standing. She grinned as she shrugged out of her pants and shirt. Rick would love finding them later, and it gave her a very twisted thrill to know that she'd sent a man to jail wearing Rick's favorite bikini under her plain clothes.
She grabbed her shades off the counter as she came back through and then made her way down the beach, smiling as the sun hit her skin and she breathed in the salty tang of the ocean. There in the breakers, splashing each other, were her husband and daughter. Kate watched as Rick grabbed Ray around the waist, lifted her above his head, and tossed her, shrieking, into the surf. Kate took off at a run.
"Daddy!" Ray protested as she came up. "That's not fair! I can't throw you!"
"All's fair in love and war, Munchkin!" Rick growled as he lunged for her again, only to fall sideways in the water as Kate hit him, toppling them both.
Kate came up and grinned at her daughter, who was valiantly trying to swim to her as fast as she could. "Hey baby girl!" she laughed as they met and Ray hugged her, grabbing hold as Kate stood solidly in the water.
"You're here!" Ray exclaimed, messy curls flinging water at Rick, who approached them, wiping his own hair out of his eyes.
"Hey, gorgeous," he greeted, leaning over their daughter to meet her in a kiss.
"Close the case?"
"We did," she smiled.
"It took you forever," Ray interjected.
"I know," Kate sighed, lifting her up to hold her against her hip. "Sorry 'bout that."
"It's okay. You're here now. And you saved me from the Daddy monster!"
"I did, didn't I?" Kate grinned.
"He was tossing me."
"You don't like being tossed?" Kate asked with fake horror.
"No, no, I do," Ray protested. "But he caught me by surprise."
"Oh, I see."
"But that's okay. You caught him too!"
"That she did, Munchkin," he laughed. "Well done," he added, bowing to Kate.
"Thank you," she grinned. "Now, did we decide against tossing, or are you working up to pleading with us?"
"Please?" Ray asked, eyes bright. "You promised."
"That I did. You got that arm, Daddy?"
Rick nodded and together they tossed Ray into the waves. She squealed and then popped back up after hitting the water. "Again! Again!"
They spent happy hours playing in the water, throwing Ray around and tackling each other until the sun started to set against the horizon. They made their way back to the blankets and Kate wiped Ray down and then smiled as Rick picked her up and carried her back, her little head lolling tiredly against his shoulder while he told her about the dragon Mommy had slayed earlier that day.
Kate gathered their things and walked back behind her husband and daughter, smiling as she looked up and spotted the first star of dusk. Rick glanced back at her and beamed. She returned his gaze and laid everything out on the patio before following them through the house and up to Ray's room.
"Do you wanna nap until dinnertime, Ray?" Rick whispered as he set her down.
She nodded and clambered up on top of her comforter, curling up in a little ball. Kate laughed and spread a towel out on top of her.
"We'll come and get you when it's ready, okay Sweetie?"
"Kay, Mommy. Glad you're here. Missed you," she mumbled.
Kate leaned down and kissed her forehead. "I missed you too, Princess. See you at dinner."
She nodded and fell asleep, mouth open and curls sprawling out behind her. Rick took her hand and together they left the room, padding quietly down the hall and into their own bedroom.
"She'll be up forever tonight," he murmured as he closed the door and reached for her.
"We'll make it," Kate laughed as he hugged her close.
"We'll give her to Lex for the afternoon tomorrow. She's been dying to see her, and then I can have you all to myself."
"Missed me, Mr. Castle?"
"Always," he mumbled, kissing her neck, her jaw, her cheek and finally her lips.
She met his eyes as they pulled apart. "I missed you too."
She shrugged. "No harder or easier than normal. But the loft was quiet without you guys, and the bed was cold."
"Here too," he replied.
"But, I'm here now," she smiled.
He grinned. "That you are. Never alone."
"Never alone," she nodded. "Now, we have an hour, Mr. Castle. Do you want to spend thirty minutes of it in a steamy, hot, shower?"
His gaze turned wolfish and he tugged her closer. "Oh, Mrs. Castle. Nothing would make me happier."
Kate smiled and led him back and into the bathroom by the tips of her fingers. He turned on the shower and they stripped each other, stepping clumsily into the steam as they kissed and touched, sighed and moaned.
She thought back to that night, years ago, when she'd collapsed in her own shower, cold and alone, weeping for the what-ifs of a terrifying night. The timer and the freezer, the radiation and the terror of those days were far behind them now. Now it was just the feel of him and the wall and the play of his hands over her body that held her up. A life in constant contrast, she looked back on those earlier years as a pale imitation of the life they had now. And as he moved and she gasped and the world fell away, she couldn't imagine a better place to be.
"Nothing like a quickie to say, 'welcome home,' huh?" he mumbled into her neck some minutes later.
Kate laughed and squeezed the legs she had wrapped around his hips. "So romantic, Honey."
He pulled back and grinned at her as she played with the hairs on the back of his neck. "You wouldn't have me any other way."
"No, I guess I wouldn't."
"Happy to have you home, Mrs. Castle."
She smiled and met him in a kiss. "There's nowhere I'd rather be."
Author's Note II: Well, that's it. Thank you all for sticking with this story and supporting it as it's grown and morphed and become what it is. I have had so much fun writing it, and I hope that you've enjoyed the ride as much as I have.
A few notes: Obviously, I changed the conclusion of the Johanna case. I don't think for a second that Bob the Mayor will end up being the Canon culprit, but it worked for the story. Also, since this is my story, Roy is innocent. I mean, come on, why mar fluff with that sad Canon truth?
I'm starting another story, Of Finding Innocence, which is currently on its third chapter, and will take the writing-time-place of What Pales. It's AU and different, but I'm having a blast with it. I hope you'll join me on that ride.
Otherwise, I have nothing left to say but thank you. Let me know what you thought, and keep being the amazing, extraordinary group of people that you are.
I love you guys.