Stop Haunting Me
by Sandiane Carter and chezchuckles
"For some reason," Alex Conrad says as he holds the door for Beth, "I think when your sister said, Beth, could you go get some ice cream, she didn't quite picture you coming back with four, no wait, five different flavors."
"Hey, it's not my fault," Beth defends herself, laughing. "I know Kate likes chocolate, but Alexis prefers vanilla, and from what I remember, Rick whines when there's less than three ingredients involved in whatever ice cream he's having, so..."
"Okay, that explains the first three cartons, but what about –" Alex pulls one of the boxes out of the plastic bag he's carrying, and reads, "Caramel Cinnamon Waffle, huh?"
"Really? Do you need to ask?" Beth shoots back, stepping inside the elevator. "Alex. Caramel. Cinnamon. Waffle. I mean, what more do you need? How can you *not* want to try that?"
He raises an eyebrow, apparently not as convinced as she is. Beth wonders briefly how they got from that shy, uncomfortable man who almost ran away before he even knew if Castle was home to that friendly, playful guy who's disputing her ice cream choices.
Not that she minds. She likes him; she likes how easy things are with him. She thinks maybe – maybe they can be friends.
It's a new thing for her, to consider having a friendship with an attractive guy (a straight guy); but she doesn't want to jump into something she's not ready for, and she doesn't want to give up Conrad either, because he's fun and light-hearted and just...cute.
Besides, the friends thing worked for Kate and Rick, didn't it?
Not that she's comparing. She's not.
But she and Alex can be friends. She doesn't have to figure it out now. She can stay in New York City for a little while, test the waters, and...yeah. No rush.
"Okay, what about Coconutterly Fair?" Conrad is asking now, his confusion obvious in his tone as he peers at the last carton. "What kind of a name is that, anyway? Coconutterly fair," he repeats slowly, as if trying to decide where the word originates from.
Beth laughs inwardly at the intent expression on his face. She can sort of see why he would be friends with Castle. Or mentor and mentee, or whatever they are.
The elevator doors glide open with a cheerful sound; she grabs Alex's arm, drags him out and confiscates the ice cream.
"You'll just have to try it," she says with a sly smile. "You'll see. It's simply divine."
She wrestles Kate's key into the door, pushes it open, expecting to find her sister and the Castles in the living room, right where she left them. Instead, they stumble onto an empty couch, and Beth's brow knits.
Ah, shit. She hoped Kate's text about buying drugs was only a preventive measure, just in case, but it looks like her sister's feeling sick again. Damn.
"Alex, can you –"
"I'll put the ice cream in the freezer," he offers with a gentle smile. "You go check on them."
Gratitude swirls inside Beth, and she moves swiftly, stepping into Castle's study and hesitating at the bedroom door. She lifts her hand for a very soft knock, hears Kate's voice inside, muffled.
Probably an invitation to come in.
In case it isn't, though, Beth puts a hand over her eyes as she pushes on the door. She's not a prude, far from it, but this is still her *sister*. There are things you just don't want to see.
A quiet chuckle from Kate lets her know that it's safe to look; Beth drops her hand, her eyebrows shooting up at the sight before her.
Her sister's leaning against the headboard, pillows behind her, the faint color in her cheeks attesting to her almost recovery; but she's cradling Castle's head in her lap, her hand resting on his hair, and the writer looks like he's asleep.
His face, even in the dark, seems whiter than the sheets.
Beth winces. "Oh. I thought the drugs were for you," she whispers, sitting on the edge of the bed, careful not to disturb Rick's slumber.
Kate shakes her head regretfully, her eyes on Castle's face, so tender that Beth's heart squeezes.
"Looks like I passed it around," she sighs.
"Hey, he's the one who kept kissing you when you looked all green and were rushing to the bathroom every five minutes," Beth points out. "It's not exactly your fault."
She watches her sister trace Castle's hairline with a light finger, and an unexpected smile blooms on her face. Kate is so much like their mother at times.
"So, uh – what am I doing with the ice cream?"
Kate looks up at her, hesitant. "You can start, and I'll join you later? I doubt Castle will be having any, and I don't –"
Want to leave him. Beth's brain supplies the words that her sister has so much trouble saying, even after a year, and she nods in agreement. No need to tell Kate that they have enough ice cream to laste them the next few months. Or weeks, depending on their ice cream-eating skills. She's gonna go with weeks.
"Beth?" Kate calls as her sister eases to her feet.
The youngest Beckett turns back, expectant.
"I'm sorry for leaving you alone like that – Alexis went to call Ashley, but she'll be back soon, and if you're not... I mean, if you don't want to entertain Alex Conrad, just ask him to leave. Okay? You don't owe him anything."
"Sure," Beth smiles. "Don't worry, Katie. It'll be fine."
He drifts awake to the murmur of voices, drifts away again, finds his heaviness lightening slowly until he rises up with the current of his consciousness.
He awakes in arms, her arms, the brush of fingers. His eyes open before he knows they're closed; the black lashes and the angle of her jaw, the familiar lines around her mouth as she watches him.
"Kate," he sighs and closes his eyes again.
"How are you?" she murmurs, her fingers brushing across his forehead in cool little contrails.
He feels his arm around her waist, his fingers at her hip, his ear practically at her belly button. But nothing to listen to.
He's hot. And muddled. His skin burns except where she touches him. His Kate. She'd never want a baby, would she? She didn't even want to tell him about the maybe. Not a whisper. All alone in the bathroom, without him, doing it alone.
He never wants her to be alone again.
"I'm sorry." His head hurts. "For last night. All alone-" he chokes out.
"Hey, don't feel sorry. I didn't want you in there watching me puke, Castle. Not pretty. Don't even worry about it."
He stays silent. She doesn't want him to know; she wants to be past it. Of course she does. He wants-
He wants her. And that vision that burns against his eyelids, tangles in his blood. He wants to give her sons and daughters, a legacy and a bridge, a way to love without a wall around her heart.
He has Alexis. What does she have?
"Kate," he moans, swallows hard against the grief that wells up in him like sickness.
"Shh," she murmurs, her lips against his cheek, at his ear. "You're gonna be fine. I had Beth get you some good drugs. Think you can keep something down?"
This isn't enough. How could it be enough? Half-life. Tricking her into moving in with him, like an april fools joke. Tiptoeing around the issues. But he can't be the one either; he can't-
"Castle, you're burning up. I need you to take some tylenol. Can you sit up and take a couple pills?"
He wants to cry. His body is wrong; her fingers keep him from falling off the earth-
"Hey, Rick. Come on. Wake up and take these, okay?"
His eyes flicker open to the concern on her face, the beautiful way she looks at him. Oh, he loves her.
"So much?" She opens his palm and puts the tylenol in it; awareness ripples through him. "Take these."
"Oh." He grunts as he sits up, feels the flutter in his stomach and has to close his eyes for a second.
"Okay, give it a second. Let me fill up this glass with water. Be right back."
He feels her shift on the bed and then the trickle of cold air against his back; he shivers. His eyes open, scratchy and burning, his palms sweaty. He opens his hand to look at the pills; they seem soft, partially dissolved against his skin.
The shadow of Kate against his eyelids, the gasp as he wakes again, sitting upright, her hand on his shoulder. He dozed off sitting up.
"Hey there. I need you to take this for me." She presses the glass into his other hand, nudges it towards his mouth. He takes over, swallows the pills dry, sips at the water a little.
His mouth floods with saliva and he has to gulp it down, titlting his head back, breathing slowly.
"Think it'll stay down?"
"Don't know," he whispers.
She disappears, reappears again. He's concentrating on keeping the pills down. What were they?
"What was that?"
"Tylenol. Think you can take the phenergan? It should settle your stomach if you can keep it down."
"Okay. We'll wait a little bit."
He opens his eyes as the mattress dips, watches her shift against the headboard, then her arms wrap around his chest, pull him to her. He breathes a long sigh, his head tilted back against her shoulder, slumping back.
Her fingers trace patterns against his skin, slow movements along his face, tattoos on his forehead and cheekbones and chin.
He turns his head into her neck, his lashes brushing her throat, curling a hand around her hip, feeling the smooth plane of her stomach against his arm.
"You'll be a wonderful mother," he sighs, lets his eyes slip closed.
Alexis left her dad and Kate alone in the living room, and when she comes down again she finds Beth and Alex Conrad in their place, settled on the couch with bowls of ice cream. She blinks to dispell the strange feeling.
Beth sees her, sits up while swallowing a mouthful of what looks like vanilla and chocolate ice cream. But it smells weirdly of caramel and. . .waffles?
"Hey, Little Castle," she says. "There's all the ice cream you want in the freezer, but I didn't make you a bowl because I didn't know when you'd be done –"
Alexis blushes a little, suddenly reminded of the fact that she spends too much time on the phone with Ashley. She is aware of it, vaguely ashamed too, sort of, but she doesn't seem able to stop picking up when he calls, and they both have obvious difficulties keeping a phone call short.
Then again, he *is* her first boyfriend, and maybe she just needs a little time to adjust. Everything is still shiny and new, the thought of his name still makes her smile every time, and it just can't be that bad if it feels so wonderful, right?
"Thanks, Beth. It's fine. Where – where is my dad?" She asks warily. The fact that both he and Kate are missing points out to the obvious answer, but Alexis is a little surprised. They don't usually disappear in the middle of family time just to – do whatever they do in their bedroom.
Just the thought makes her cheeks flush. Beth sees it – of course she does – and she laughs, that beautiful laugh that has her tilting her head back, curls spilling over her shoulders. Well, there's not much spilling now, but it doesn't take anything away from the heart-warming sight.
"He's not doing anything that justifies you blushing, Alexis," she answers with a wink, before growing more serious. "Actually, he's not feeling so good – looks like he got Kate's bug. I think he's in his room sleeping. Or resting. Kate's with him."
The words penetrate Alexis's brain, but she remains impervious to their meaning for a couple more seconds. Her dad? Sick? That...can't be. It never happens. She doesn't remember ever seeing him sick.
Well, he's had a cold or two before, but that's about as far as it goes. Her dad in bed before nine o'clock? She struggles with the concept.
"Oh. Uh. I – should go check on him," she says slowly, gathering her wits. Then she remembers – Kate's with him.
"Do you think I can?" She asks, cutting her eyes to Beth. It hurts a little, having to ask that question; for a brief moment Alexis longs for the time when it was only her and her dad, when she could do anything she wanted. The princess of the castle.
Then she remembers that she was just on the phone with Ashley, and Kate was obviously taking care of her dad in the meantime. She should be grateful. She *is* grateful.
"Of course," Beth answers gently, as if she's been following every one of the girl's thoughts. "He'll probably be thrilled to get so much attention."
She has a point. Alexis smiles, if a nervous smile, and tries not to run to her dad's bedroom.
She slows down once in the study, noticing the absence of light through the ajar door. Is he really sleeping?
She scratches at the door, her fingernails against the dark wook, and steps inside. Her eyes are quick to adjust, and she catches Kate's swift move, her hand going up to her cheek as if to wipe...tears?
"Is he okay?" Alexis asks, her throat suddenly tight (because Kate crying can only mean terrible things, right? Kate crying is like – the apocalypse or something).
She stares at her dad's unmoving form, curled up on the bed with his head on Kate's lap, as if it's going to bring her answers.
"Yeah," Kate assures quietly, giving her a tired smile. "He's not doing so great right now, but he'll get better, Alexis. I think the Tylenol should help. And the anti-nausea medication, soon as I can get in him."
Alexis breathes out in relief, lets herself sag on the bed, bringing a timid hand to her dad's ankle. He's never like this. Always so full of life.
"He's *never* sick," she says, because she needs to explain her reaction. She feels lost, and a little disbelieving – inadequate. "Never. I...don't know what to do."
She lifts her eyes to Kate, sees her chewing on her lower lip, guilt in her eyes.
She listens to her own words again, hears how they must have sounded.
"Oh, Kate, I didn't mean –"
"I know," the detective says softly. "Don't worry about it."
The man between them shifts, lets out a pitiful sound that rattles Alexis's heart. She eases onto the bed completely, curls on her side to face her father.
"Oh, dad," she sighs, pressing her fingers to his forehead. She winces at the burning heat, pushes back his messy hair, filled with a ridiculous urge to cry.
His lashes flutter against his too-pale skin; he opens his eyes, blurry and unfocused eyes, but she gives him a smile anyway.
"Alexis," he mutters, recognizing either her face or her voice.
"Daddy," she whispers, her five-year-old self rising to life.
Memories rush through her, half-forgotten, buried memories. There was this one time when he did get really sick, because she remembers Martha being there all the time, and maybe even Meredith. Alexis herself was only allowed in her father's room for a certain amount of time every day, and she always brought a book with her that she would read to him.
A children's book, of course, but she could read pretty well at five; he always said how proud he was of his little reader.
"Want me to read you a story?" She asks, more for the sake of old times than because she really expects a reaction from him.
But she's wrong: her father rolls onto his back, blinks, awareness on the lines of his face. He yawns, directs a fuzzy grin at her.
"Mmh yeah. I want a story," he mumbles happily, before he frowns and lays a hand over his stomach. "Ugh," he whines after a moment. "Story, daughter. Quick. Distract me."
Alexis runs to the bookshelf, picks one of the novels and gets back to the bed right when Kate sits up and says, "I'll leave you two alone, rescue Beth from Alex Conrad –"
But Alexis's father hooks an arm around the detective's waist, firmly tugs her back to him.
"You stay right there, Kate Beckett," he declares childishly. "Your sister doesn't need no rescuing."
"Can you tell he's sick?" Alexis tells Kate, smirking. "His grammar is the first thing to go."
"I noticed," the older woman shoots back with an arch of her eyebrow.
"I'm sick, not deaf," he grumbles, but a smile plays on his lips when Kate gives up on leaving and rests her head against his shoulder, her eyes on the teenager. "Still waiting for that story," he sing-songs.
Alexis smiles and opens the book, positioning herself so that the ray of light that comes through the door falls right on the page.
"'It is a truth universally acknowledged,'" she reads, "'that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.'"
She pauses for her father's happy sigh of recognition, glancing at Kate to see her reaction.
Uh. There's a soft smile on Kate's face, and her eyes are closed. Love bubbles up inside Alexis, warm and unexpected, and she looks back at the page, trying to contain her emotion.
"'However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed...'"
Kate slips out of the bedroom when Alexis is a chapter into Pride and Prejudice, taking a long, deep breath of clean air out in the hallway. She leans against the wall for a second, waiting for her legs to stop shaking, then heads for the kitchen.
She's restless, and not just because Castle is sick and looking pitiful and quiet. She's gotten the phenergan down him too, which should help a lot with the nausea, and Alexis is in there reading to him, the two of them sharing private jokes with just a glance at each other.
It's good, she reminds herself. It's very good. So Kate doesn't know anything about these family jokes, about whatever it is that made Alexis choose this particular book (Jane Austen? really?), but that's okay. She *will* know, in time.
In the living room, she catches Alex Conrad and Beth lost in conversation on the couch, looking at once both intimate and casual. A friendship being cemented. Which is sweet, yes, but Kate hopes her sister is treading carefully, reminding herself of what-
Well, no. Scratch that. She hopes her sister has forgotten; she hopes Beth gets a chance to meet someone decent who will love her and take care of her and want to give her children when she's ready. And if that's Alex Conrad, then good for them. She really hopes Beth remains her fun, loving, open self and doesn't turn into her older sister.
Because Kate isn't at all sure that the way she's been going about this thing with Castle is really all that healthy. Or wise. She's starting to wonder if maybe she's been doing this all wrong, too closed off, too reserved, too. . .not enough. She can't even put a label on it in her own head. Other than just. . .partners.
Castle had to force her hand by moving in all her stuff. He even remembered the box she places her gun, badge, and family mementos inside of; he put it on his dresser next to the flat box that contains his cuff links and watch and wallet. He told her to put it wherever she liked, that they'd move her dresser into the bedroom as soon as he could get someone over there.
Which is sweet. But Castle had to do it all behind her back, knowing she'd never give in to it. And if she's being really honest with herself, she would never have agreed if it hadn't been for the pregnancy scare.
Scare? No. That wasn't a scare. That was. . .both a nightmare and a dream.
She swallows hard and searches the fridge for the bread. There is no good label for what it felt like to take that test and find it negative. Not a scare, but not a false hope. Not. . .anything she can figure out yet.
But it did soften her up for his move-in scheme.
Still, he deserves better from her. More. Something with solidity attached to it, something with a promise.
She grabs the jar of peanut butter and a knife, spreads a very thin layer on a piece of bread, not sure if her stomach will stay calm enough to eat.
As she watches Beth jumping wholeheartedly into whatever this attraction is to Alex Conrad, Kate sees an idea slowly emerge from the swirling mass of her own mind. There *is* something she can do, something with a promise, something to last.
"Hey Beth?" she calls, licking peanut butter off her finger.
Her sister turns around, looking surprised. She must not have noticed Kate walk past. Interesting. And cute.
"I've got to head back to the pharmacy. Alexis is in there reading. Will you just check on him in a few minutes?"
"Uh, sure. Okay. Is the medicine I got working?"
Kate nods. "Seems to be. I'm gonna put on my shoes and grab some money and go. Be back in a few."
Beth glances to Alex Conrad and shrugs. "Sure."
Kate knows exactly what she can do to make this right.
Her heart pounds the whole walk back to his bedroom, the plastic bag in her hands. She went to the pharmacy on the corner for it. Every movement is purposeful.
This could be the stupidest thing she's ever done. Her cheeks burn and it's been ages since she's blushed like this. Continually.
But at least he's sick. She can blame it on his fever, if it doesn't work out, right?
Alexis is slipping out of the study as she comes through; the girl gives her a smile and a long hug, the book in her hand.
"He asleep?" Kate asks.
"No, but my voice is raw," Alexis croaks.
"It really is." Kate rubs her back and lets her go, the two of them heading for opposite directions.
Alexis back to chemistry and Kate to. . .her fate. Or doom. Something grand and tragic, with the potential for-
Shut up and open the door, Kate.
He smiles at her in the dim light of the bedroom - their bedroom? her stomach flutters - and his hand gestures her inside.
"You look a lot better," she remarks, stepping into the room. The plastic bag rustles and she drops it on the foot of the bed, sits down.
"Feel a lot better. Come up here."
She grabs the bag and sits perpendicular to him, takes a second to cool her cheek against the headboard, watching him.
He slips his arm around her knees, squeezes her ankle. "You still feeling better?"
She nods. "Much."
"Good." He releases her ankle, but leaves his arm draped over her.
She can't put this off any longer. Time to say what ought to have been said the moment she thought she might be pregnant. Even if though she wasn't, isn't, words should've been said.
Kate untwists the plastic bag and pauses, mentally going over her speech. It sounds clumsy and awkward now that she's faced with the moment, but she has no other words to fall back on.
"You know last night?"
His eyes dart to hers; she feels pinned, trapped. But it's good. This is what she needs. Him to keep her accountable.
"Last night," he repeats, his voice gruff.
"You said you couldn't ask for more."
He blinks and clarity washes over his features. "I have you. Alexis. It's more than enough."
"But-" Her palms are slick on the bag. "-if you could ask. Would you?"
His eyes drop to the bag, then travel slowly back up to her face. "Would I?"
He's going to make her say it again? She shoves down hard on the hysterical part of herself, presses her lips together. "You said you wouldn't ask for more. But if you could."
"Kate-" He looks like he wants her to stop talking, but she can't. It has to be said, has to.
"Ask me." That didn't come out right. She doesn't mean now, just- if he could ask, it would be her, only her he would ask, and-
"Yes," he says, struggling to sit up, closing his eyes once he gets there, a hand to his forehead, drifting down to his mouth.
She can't even reach out to help him; all of this has her as hard as stone. "Yes?"
"Are you asking me if I want to have kids with you? Because that's a yes, Kate Beckett. As many as you want to give me."
As many as. . .she wants. Her chest twists, but her hammering heart slows; everything is clear. She pulls the plastic bag off of the thing inside, hands it over to him.
He clutches the pregnancy test in his hands; she can't do anything but watch him cradle it even though she can feel his eyes on her, intense. Before he can say anything, she goes on, straightens her spine, puts some strength into her voice. "This is an IOU. When you're ready, when you think I'm ready. Because I trust you to know. Before I do. You'll know when it's right."
She finally raises her eyes to his. He swipes at his cheek and grabs her, crushes her against him, his lips in her ear, hot and shaky breath against her skin.
"Oh God, Kate."
Her chest clenches with the sound of his voice. Everything in it, just. . .everything.
"I wanted it. . .I want it," she whispers, feels his mouth pressing against her skin, his arms hard around her, his body trembling. "Some day."
He clears his throat.
"Can I marry you first?"