Proof of Life: a Dash Companion
After the Butcher, Rick Castle finds it almost impossible to text Beckett anything at all.
Well, not entirely true. That next day, he does text and ask her to dinner, but he sends it before he thinks, and after he thinks about it, he panics a little - not because he asked her to dinner, but because he texted her.
Texting doesn't seem like a good idea. Addresses? Never again.
She, apparently, feels the same. She does answer back with yes, but. . . Now that her phone has been used to trick her partner into walking blindly into a trap, she doesn't seem too keen on using that same method of communication with him.
She calls or she leaves him voicemail or she comes over unannounced; she doesn't text him either. Their emails are filled with inane and stupid things - videos of flashmob pillow fights and medieval weapons, go figure.
The first, real text he gets from her is the morning after their stitches have been removed, their scars on display. But it's not just text, it's a photo of her beautiful, wide-open eyes, her soft and gorgeous face in the bed he just left, hair in a halo around her, lashes so long, that smile curving her lips: I opened my eyes, it says. He saves it, saves it everywhere; it's the screen lock picture on his phone.
While his daughter is on the couch eating ice cream and still teary-eyed over breaking up with Ashley, Castle sends Kate back a slightly blurry photo of his goofy, smiling face, his gratitude so overwhelming that even he's a little embarrassed by it. But he sends it anyway. Her photo message seems to have broken the ice, even if they still aren't talking about all the things they don't talk about.
She texts him back immediately: Nice to see your face. How's this for POL? And she's attached a photo of the hickey he left just above her belly button.
He's so stunned and thrown off his game that it takes him longer than it should to text her back.
He wishes he could call her and talk, but Alexis is curled up against his side, half-asleep as they watch stupid romantic comedies, neither of them talking about Ashley or the break-up (he knows she'll spill everything to his mother later, so he's okay with this).
But Kate texts him back not long after that. Proof Of Life.
And then suddenly all the happy delight in their texting gets sucked out of him; it goes from alluring to haunted in seconds. He puts his phone on the coffee table and closes his eyes, squeezes Alexis a little tighter where she rests against him.
Proof of life. Damn. That's the thing, isn't it? Every time they text, there's going to be the specter of what happened, they're going to wonder-
Well. But. Gallows humor, right? This is how they deal.
Castle leans forward again, making Alexis shift against him, and he grabs his phone to text her back.
I like POLs that include Beckett skin.
Their proofs of life get downright dirty, and then they gradually morph into just short lines about where they are or what they're doing when they're not together. When they are together, she's teasing him about the way he marks her, and he's trying not to mar her skin any more than it already is.
When they're not together, the texts keep them both steady.
POL. Need a bath, a book, wine. Alone. Tomorrow, Castle.
That's one he gets at least once a week, actually. It's become a kind of joke between them. POL synonymous with Kate needing time to decompress, to be given space. He's okay with that because his POL's start to include what he wants to do to her, or what he wants from her - all of this in texts between them, of course, because saying these things out loud just isn't how they work.
POL: eating this amazing manicotti. veggie. you'd love it. leftovers in the fridge when you're done cheating on me with my book.
It's close to pathetic, but it's not really, because she often interrupts her bath and book and wine nights to come over late, eat his leftovers and sit with him, too close, on the couch, making out or talking or laughing.
The texts back and forth begin to be proof of their life together - what they're doing and how slowly they're doing it, but how good it is too.
It's the best POL he thinks he's ever gotten. A video. He can hear her crying in the background only because of the way her breathing changes, the way her voice sounds when she talks to the technician. And he's crying too.
When she shows up at his loft with her overnight bag - really, it's got almost nothing in it now, because so much of her stuff is here already - she's got this strange look on her face, and he knows she can still see the evidence of his own tears.
"I got your text," he breathes, lifts his hand to her. "The video."
She comes to him, still looking stunned, and he realizes she's pressed her hand to her belly and dropped the bag in the floor.
"Oh my God, Castle. I'm pregnant."
He can't help the laugh that escapes, feels her shake her head against his collarbone. She's wearing flats, not heels, and she fits under his chin like this, close and tight.
"Kate, we've known for a while?" He's not going to say - duh, look at you - even though, he really, really wants to. She's not that pregnant, she keeps telling him. Only twelve weeks.
"Yeah, but seeing - seeing it on the screen," she murmurs.
"You cried," he says quietly.
She nods, doesn't even hide it. He feels her mouth twist at his neck, a smile. "You did too, huh?"
"Yeah," he admits gruffly, feels the leftover emotion still in his voice.
She sent him the video of her ultrasound appointment, the baby on the monitor. Proof of life.
"Could you hear the heartbeat on the video?" she murmurs. "Over me crying."
"Yeah," he says softly, laughing a little at her. And even though she hates it when people touch her as if she's public property now, Castle lays his palm against her stomach, connection.
"I'm sorry," she says finally, slowly wraps her arms around him. "I was being - I'm sorry."
"What for?" That video was amazing. Amazing. It took him an hour to get himself back together again, mostly because he wasn't sure she'd be coming over afterward. Now that she's here, he could cry all over again.
"I know I'm not being good about this," she says into his shirt. "But you're coming with me next time, okay? I shouldn't have - shut you out."
His heart soars.
She presses her mouth to his ear. "Next proof of life - you should be there in person."
Even when she's freaking out on him, even when she's walking out on him, she doesn't forget.
He's pacing the living room; he has no idea where she ran off to, probably her apartment, but his phone vibrates and he pounces on it.
POL. No photo this time, no suggestion about what she might be doing, but just those three little letters ease him, bring him back down. Almost better than ILY, which she has, actually, texted him before. Once before. Before she got pregnant.
She's alive. She's pregnant with his son - crazy pregnant - but she's okay. And she still cares enough about him to let him know she's okay.
He takes this as more than just proof of life; he takes it as proof of them.
"Castle. Wake up."
He jerks at the slap of her hand on his cheek, feels awareness returning. He just - they just - she knows it takes him a moment to recoup after a session like that, jeez, woman-
"Castle, wake up, wake up," she mutters, and draws her hand down his arm, twines their fingers together. "You're missing it."
She's pulled the sheets up around them, after, and he slowly stirs, clears his throat before he talks so he doesn't sound like an idiot. But he's pretty sure that happens anyway - pregnant, horny Kate is gonna kill him.
"What am I missing?" he grumbles, presses a lazy kiss to the back of her neck.
"Oh, good, you're awake now. You were passed out," she laughs, then squeezes his fingers. "Feel this."
She yanks his arm forward; he rolls into her with a laugh that is immediately choked out of him the second he feels the strong surge under his hand, under her belly.
"Oh my God."
"Yeah," she breathes, her head turns and her lips catch his cheek, a kiss that turns into a little bite. "Yeah. Feel him?"
"He's going nuts."
"He always wakes up when I go to bed."
He can actually feel individual body parts. "That - that - that was his elbow. Oh my God, I can feel his elbow."
She lowers his hand and he gasps.
"Foot?" Toes. He felt actual toes. "This is - this is beautiful and yet so very weird, Kate."
She laughs and releases his hand, but doesn't seem to care if he keeps touching her or not, so he doesn't move away. Instead, he props himself up so he can slide his hand around.
Elbow again. Maybe chin? Something. A knee.
"He's doing his stretches," she mutters. "And then I'll get about two hours of soccer practice."
"He's a wild man," Castle laughs, leaning over to kiss her, knowing it's a little too urgent but he doesn't care. They're in a relatively good place, despite the fighting, the constant fighting, because they always make up like this. Constant making up. "Thanks for waking me."
"I promised you," she says on a shrug and falls silent.
"Promised me?" he nudges. When did he make her promise anything? He's been so very careful not to ask for promises from her.
She shifts a little to look at him, strokes a hand down his cheek in a gesture far more tender than he's seen from her these last few months. His chest eases, and he didn't realize it was cramped before that.
"I promised you proof of life in person, didn't I?"
Castle grins widely at her, the whole knot of tension dissolving in him, completely. Gone.
She might still not know what their life is going to look like, she might still need time to be alone and panic about this, but if she's making him promises and keeping them - well, yeah. It's good.
It'll be good.
They can do this.
For the first time in his life, almost his whole entire life, Rick Castle feels like there's not much more he could possibly imagine that would be better than this.
He's in his study, sitting at his desk, and his son has fallen asleep at his feet in the crawl space, that baby mouth actually open and drooling on Castle's toes. As he writes, he keeps his legs still, doesn't roll his chair around because he isn't sure where all those little fingers are, and the warmth of his son's body draped over his feet is strangely amazing. It makes his heart ache.
Of course, he stuck his phone at his knee and took a picture, sent it in a text to Kate.
POL, he wrote.
So when his phone rings to the tune of 'Hill Street Blues', he knows it's the 12th's exchange, the main line, so he answers without looking, assuming Kate is calling from the phone at her desk.
But it's not Kate.
"Ryan?" He glances at his phone as if he needs to check. "What's - why are you calling?"
"I can't call you?"
"During the day? You never call me during the day."
"What about when Bueller showed up?"
"You mean when Matthew Broderick came in and reported his car got stolen? That was a special occasion. What's the special occasion now?"
"Oh. Well. I just - I wondered if you - ah-"
"Have you heard from Beckett lately?"
His heart flips. "Ah. I got - I sent her a text a few hours ago. But. No. I-"
"Okay, just wondered. Gotta go!" And the phone clicks in his ear.
He stares at his phone, calls Ryan back. It rings and rings. Then he thinks better of it and calls Kate.
It rings and rings. Goes to voicemail.
So her phone is still on. That's a good sign. It means she's out in the field somewhere, right? Has it turned all the way down so that it won't interrupt a takedown or something. Except-
He calls Ryan's cell, but Ryan doesn't answer.
He calls Esposito next, certain Ryan is hiding from him. If Kate's phone is on - then that means some bad guy hasn't crushed it under his foot, and that's good. That's a silver lining.
She rarely turns her phone off, though she often keeps it silent. Most everyone knows to call him first - he's the contact for the preschool, even Jim calls him first to get Kate a message.
Which is all the boys were doing, right? Just trying to get in touch with Kate.
Esposito answers with a forced cheer. "Castle. Bro. What's going on?"
"Why don't you guys know where Beckett is?" he says bluntly.
"Ryan got nervous. Ignore him being a pansy-"
There's an indignant yell at that, and some hushed whispering, and then Esposito comes back on.
"Look, Castle. No big deal. We still on for Halo on Friday?"
Halo. On Friday. "Yeah." And then Esposito hangs up on him too and Castle is sitting at his desk with his heart frozen but the rest of him insisting-
No, no. Because I'd know if something was wrong. I'd know.
Still, he pulls up his messages and texts her, three letters, fingers trembling on the keys.
When she doesn't immediately text him back, Castle calls her father, his feet still trapped by his sleeping son.
"Hey there, Rick."
"Morn - ah, afternoon, I guess. Wow, I've really lost track of time," Castle says, trying for normal, hoping he's not failing. Kate will never forgive him if he upsets her father for nothing. "Been writing. Listen, I know it's last minute, but I was wondering if you'd do me a favor?"
"Want me to take Dashiell?" Jim asks, sounding eager.
Castle laughs. "Yeah, actually. But - for the night? He loves it at your place, and I-" Shit. He almost said too much. Almost told his father-in-law that he's not sure he could handle it if Kate doesn't come home tonight. "I - I wanted to do something for Kate. Tonight."
"Sure, sure. I've got everything he needs here."
"Yeah, that's great. Great. Thank you. Do you want to meet in the middle-"
"No, no. I can come get him. I'm at the diner with Kelly. I can be there in twenty."
"Oh, cool. Okay. Tell Kelly hi for me. Thanks, Jim-"
"You know - Rick - you know you can call me Dad. If you want."
His chest constricts, between the warmth in Kate's father's voice and the warmth of his son at his feet, and hovering over all of that, haunting him, is the shimmering vision of doing this without Kate.
No. No. Kate is fine.
"Thank you," he says finally. "I - I appreciate the offer." He hesitates, he's about to say it, and the the moment is lost.
They both hang up.
Rick slowly slides his bare feet out from under his son, manages not to wake him, and hunts around the loft for a bag to pack Dashiell's stuff inside. He finds the duffle that Kate usually keeps in her car, uses that to throw in extra diapers, clothes, the pacifiers they haven't quite broken the kid from.
He leaves it by the door along with the messenger bag that carries all the other things - snacks, his sippy cup, blanket - the stuff Dash usually takes with him to preschool.
Castle heads back into his study, then gets in the floor at his desk and calls softly for his son. He sees the little eyes slowly opening, his face a heartbreaking reminder of his mother.
No need to get maudlin, Castle.
She's practically talking to him in his own head. Her voice is so strong, she can't possibly be in danger. He'd know. It would feel differently.
"Hey there, buddy. Good nap?"
Dashiell uncurls from the tight, dark space and crawls into his father's arms, yawning widely. "Nap."
"Yeah, my man. You fell asleep on my feet. Did you know that?"
Castle laughs and cradles him close, gets to his knees so he can stand. He brushes his lips over Dash's temple and rubs a hand down his back, surprised that his son's closeness, his sleepy warmth has somehow calmed Castle down.
He's just carrying Dash into the living room when the knock sounds at the door. Dashiell perks up and gives his father an eager look; Castle opens the door to Jim and Kelly, the woman from the preschool that Jim has become good friends with.
"Hey there, Dashiell," Jim says and reaches for the boy.
Castle lets him go, nods to Kelly as the two cross into the loft. "Thanks for taking him. I appreciate your help."
"Yeah, I'm sure you guys can use some time alone." Jim gives him a look, entirely too knowledgeable, and Castle - he could be blushing. That could be possible.
"Ah, yeah." Castle clears his throat and reaches out a hand to Dash, rubbing his back. "Hey, wild man, you get to spend the night with Papa."
His grandfather hugs him, then reaches down for one of the bags. Kelly stoops and takes one as well.
"Thanks, Kell," he murmurs and glances back up at Castle. "Okay, son. Well. We'll let you get to planning or whatever it is. Tell Katie hi for me. You guys calling before bedtime?"
He feels his heart tremble at the innocent question, and the look on his face must be interpreted wrong because Jim laughs.
"Never mind. I won't plan on hearing from you. Trying for a girl, right?"
Damn, does everyone know that already? Last week it was Lanie, this week Ryan was trying to give him advice on old Irish customs that were a surefire way to get a girl. They just had this conversation, she just persuaded him - his reversal surgery was only-
"Yeah," he says, shakes his head. "She told you that?"
"Yeah," Jim says, still laughing. "I told her that she should expect another boy. Just so she's not got her heart set on a girl."
Castle nods at that, his heart twisting. He hopes - hopes they get the chance for that. Hopes this isn't it. "Yeah. Good advice."
Jim laughs again, pats Castle's shoulder. "I know it's weird to talk about with me. I've just had to be both father and mother to Katie, so-" He shrugs at Castle. "Used to it now, I guess. But we'll go, leave you alone."
Castle only gets a moment to say good-bye to Dash and then the door closes after them, taking his son, leaving Castle well and truly alone in their apartment.
Had to be both father and mother.
He calls her phone again, just in case.
Still no text from her.