28 Weeks

84 Days To Go (Timestamp: Thursday, October 31 – Halloween)

"Tell me, Kate Beckett, is there anything that you can't do?" He leans his shoulder against the door jamb, watches Kate as she turns at the sound of his voice, her face lighting up with a pleased smile.

"You were supposed to wait until I was finished," she scolds, grins at him just the same.

"I thought you said you were."

"Almost. I said I was almost done." She rolls her eyes, and he pushes off the door frame, ambling closer, taking her in with every step that he takes. Adorable mess that she is, her hair tied back in an untidy ponytail with strands hanging out that frame her face, some sections tugged behind her ears. Her shirt unbuttoned over an old tank top that seems molded to her torso, with the sleeves rolled up past her elbows. Paint splatters in all colors of the rainbow are dabbled on her hair, her cheeks and fingers and all over her shirt. No, wait…

"Did you steal one of my shirts again?" He wraps an arm around her back, pulls her toward him until she slides into his arms, her taut belly pressing into his.

"I did not steal it!" She huffs, pushes a strand of hair off her forehead with the back of her hand, transferring a fresh streak of yellow paint onto her skin. Her eyes sparkle. "We're married, remember? What's yours is mine."

Castle bends over her, trying to get at her mouth, tastes her sweet flavor and a little bit of paint in a lingering kiss. "Is that so?"

"Hm hmm." She grins up at him when he pulls away, that half-pleased, half-smug expression on her lips and in the arch of her eyebrows that only women can truly pull off, before everything softens, her face melting into a tentative smile. Her fingertips linger on his chest, play with the buttons of his shirt. "So what do you think?"

He turns her in his arms so that they both face the wall, her back relaxed against his chest and his hands folded over the firm curve of her stomach. "It's really wonderful," he murmurs, admiring the mural that now covers one entire wall of their baby's bedroom. "I love it."

The bottom of the wall is painted a friendly pastel green, covering about one third of the wall in a wavy swoop, like a grassy hill, and scattered with white daisies. The middle third is white, puffy clouds, with butterflies in all colors flittering about, even one blue one. The top section is brushed with the soft cerulean of a warm spring sky and a big yellow sun in one corner. Her eyes are closed but she's smiling down on the earth, and she looks like she's snuggled into a couple of thick, cottony clouds. The overall effect is adorable, child-like imagery and so friendly that he knows it'll make him smile for years to come.

"You do?"

"Yeah," he nods, feels rather than sees the smile stretch across Kate's face. "It's magical."

He lets his gaze wander across the image once more, then through the rest of the baby's room. The colors Kate used for the painting are pastels, blending with the buttery-soft yellow and white they've used throughout the room for the walls, curtains, decor and bedding, all of which contrasts beautifully with the gleaming cherry wood floor. The white furniture he had first purchased had made the move into the Hampton's house and they'd gone shopping together, redecorated the room with a set of cherry wood furniture. There's a beautiful crib that converts to fit practically every stage of their girl's early years, with a matching dresser and changing table and a rocking chair that sits in a corner. A large plush rug, currently hidden beneath a protective layer of contractor's tarp, completes the room, so cushy that his toes sink deep whenever he steps on it. A sunny, warm, welcoming nest to bring their baby home to. Kate already loves this room; more than once he's found her up here, sitting in the rocking chair by the window, either fast asleep, or deep in her own thoughts with a dreamy expression on her face.

"When I was in second grade, my friend Alyssa had a wall painting like that," Kate explains, her head sinking back to rest in the cradle between his shoulder and his neck. "Not this exact one but similar. I just loved it and I always wanted to go over to Alyssa's house just so we could play in her pretty room. Her mom had done it herself and I was just enamored by that."

"Your mom didn't try to paint one for you?"

Kate laughs. "My mom had many talents, but believe me, art wasn't one of them. She always joked that she couldn't even draw a straight line." He chuckles and she tilts her head, grins at him sideways. "It wasn't exaggerated. Anyway, when we started decorating this room I remembered that and I thought I'd give it a try. I wanted to create something magical for my child. I figured if it didn't work out, we could just repaint the wall, no harm done."

"No way; this stays! It's awesome!" He curls his fingers on her stomach, softly scratching and caressing the underside of her belly the way she likes it. "You didn't get that from your mom then."

"More dad's side, I guess. My dad has a bit of a hand for everything. He was the one who'd have to help me with the crafty school projects, like the dioramas and the baking soda volcano or the solar system, all that stuff."

"Good, now I know to call him when our daughter has to do those because I'm clueless."

She giggles, reaches back to pinch his earlobe playfully. "Liar. Just look at how you decorated the entire downstairs for our party." She nuzzles her mouth to his neck, her breath hot as it fans his skin. "I know exactly what you're capable of," she murmurs, her voice low, dark with implication and his knees turn weak.

"No fair," he grunts, clutches her closer, "teasing me when we don't have time." Yet belying his own words, his hand wanders down the curve of her stomach, his fingers dipping low until her breath hitches, her body melting bonelessly against his. She mewls, her hips jerking when his pinkie finger finds just the right spot, teases and circles along the seam of those threadbare yoga pants, and then she spins in his embrace, wraps her arms around his neck. Her eyes are dark, wide, gleaming dangerously. "I still need to shower..." She presses closer, her lips brushing the corner of his mouth. "If you can handle it."

He grabs her elbow as she hurries past, uses the momentum of her efficient steps to swing her against his side, tugging her into a one-armed hug. She stumbles into him with a little yelp, the cones on top of her head tickling his chin.

"Dad!" Alexis chides, eyebrows knitted as she carefully tabs her hair. "Careful with the hair!"

He pokes a finger at one of the hair cones, can't help his curiosity. "How'd you get them to stick up like that?"

"I wrapped a couple of plastic lemons in aluminum foil, and then wound the hair all around it. We needed to add quite a few strands of fake hair too, but Kate helped me with that."

His heart swells at the casual way she tells him that Kate helped his grown-up daughter with her hair, and it's just normal now, how they do this. His fingers grip Alexis' waist just a little tighter, holding her snugly to him. His child, his baby girl is all grown up now, eighteen years old, he thinks wistfully, and his eyes well just a little bit. Old enough to wear a Halloween costume that portrays one of Batman's notorious, not to mention very sexy villains. Okay, so the sexy he doesn't like quite so much. Though he's got to admit that she did well on Poison Ivy's attire, looking appropriately alluring for her age, grudgingly though he admits it, without being too revealing. Not like the Supernova Con incident.

"Rather ingenious of you two. Excellent job on the costume, I must say."

"Why thank you!" She bumps his hip. "Yeah it seemed fitting. You know, with the whole 'environmental activism' thing," she air-quotes, grinning up at him cheekily.

He eyes her costume. "And by the way, thank you for wearing tights with that leotard."

"You're welcome." Then she smiles at him, that sugary-sweet smile so reminiscent of when she was just a little girl breaking through all the grown-up orange-red and yellow make-up and the ivy leaves taped to her eyebrows. He cuddles her closer for a long moment, presses a kiss to her temple, and she lets him.

"You know," his eyes wander across the wide expanse of their loft, "I think we outdid ourselves this year, dear daughter of mine. Wouldn't you say?"

"I'd say!" Alexis nods, her eyes shining with pride, the sky-blue reflecting with the warm orange glow of the living space. They didn't go for anything outrageous or crazy this year, really just the basics for decoration, but an abundance of everything. Spider webs are spun thickly around the furniture and windows and from light fixtures, white threadbare curtains hang in shreds from the ceiling, with big fake bats scattered along the walls. They've used ghosts and spiders, fake bones and skulls and tombstones for decoration, and glass jars with colorful liquid 'poisons', or holding fake eyeballs or hearts and other organs in yellow fluid. But it's the lighting that does the trick, he thinks. All the artificial lights are turned off in the loft, and they've set out carved pumpkins with candles inside, and plenty of lanterns and drippy candles on black candlesticks everywhere, bathing the whole space in a thick, almost pulsating orange glow. Large candy jars are set all around the loft, holding candy corn and cookies, marshmallow ghosts and lollipops and Harry Potter jelly beans. And he's hired a barkeeper who's preparing huge goblets of bright, candy-colored cocktails, both with alcohol and virgin, complete with poisonous-looking foggy liquid nitrogen.

"Thanks for your help, Poison Ivy."

"You're welcome," She nods at his costume. "Kate didn't let you get matching costumes, huh?"

"No," he pouts, whines a little exaggeratedly for effect. "She says matching costumes are dorky." Even though she had rather strong opinions about his costume; didn't want him to dress up as Thor for some reason he still hasn't been able to figure out. And yet she's kept hers a well-guarded secret, even locked him out of their bathroom after their long, steamy shower earlier.

Alexis lifts an eyebrow. "It is a little dorky." He's not sure whether he should be pleased or irritated that they are ganging up on him again. "Besides, I'm sure her costume will be worth it."

"Wait..." She pursed her lips. He knows that look. "You've seen it, haven't you? You know what Kate's wearing?"

"Gotta go, Daddy." She wiggles out of his embrace. "Check on the cookies I'm baking..."

"Hey!" He looks after his sneaky child who only wiggles her fingertips, waving at him as she disappears toward the kitchen.

"Were you looking for me, Iron Man?"

Her voice is close behind him all of a sudden, an enticing octave lower than usual and he spins around, his eyes soaking her in and his blood running hot in his veins. "Wow..." The sound staggers from his chest.

She smiles at him, allure mixed with shyness while she curtsies playfully. "You like it?'

Good god, she's beautiful. "Padme Amidala," he murmurs as he takes a step closer, reaches for her hand to spin her around in a slow circle. Her hair is pulled into a thick up-do at the back of her head, with purple bands twined throughout it that give the bun its famous seashell look. Her halter dress caresses her breasts, then falls to the floor in airy, billowy sheaths of endless silk and satin, swaths of it clipped to her upper arms with silver bracelets. It's like a waterfall of pastels tumbling from lemon-yellow to a rose color just past her hips, dipping into lilac where it reaches her knees and ending in a soft sky-blue at the tips of the hem. The dress dips low in the back, revealing the sheer endless length of Kate's back, all those soft lines and beautiful skin.

He tries to breathe, his voice throaty. "The Queen. Appropriate."

"Yeah?" Her eyebrows climb high on her forehead.

"Of course." He tugs her close, lets his fingertips trip up and down the valley of her spine, her skin softer than the silk of her dress. Her back arches, her warm body pressed more fully against him. "Staggeringly beautiful yet solemn, weighed down with responsibilities. Devoted to the disadvantaged, sacrifices her young years to public service. A pacifist and kick-ass fighter both. Oh yeah, definitely you."

She grins, smooths a hand down over her stomach. "I just figured it'd work to hide the belly." But the soft pink hue that rises to her cheeks tells him how his compliment speaks to her, the way he sees her, admires her; how his words affect her. He hopes he'll always be able to do that. To give her words, give her a life that'll light up her face with this breathtaking, ethereal smile.

"Oh it does more than that," he grunts. "Not that you have to hide anything. You are gorgeous."

There it is again, that tender blush coloring her cheeks, that shy flick of her eyelashes and he leans in, presses his lips to her cheekbone and almost tasting the flush on her skin. "So why didn't you let me be Obi Wan? Or Anakin?"

She cradles his face between her hands, her eyes at once fierce with conviction. "You are not an Anakin," she emphasizes, before her almost-grim expression softens. "Besides, you wanted to be a Marvel hero…"

"Then why didn't you let me be Thor?"

Kate twirls her fingers through the hair at his nape, drawing almost hypnotic circles that make him want to close his eyes and sink into the warmth of her embrace, forgetting everything around him. She really has a thing for the hair at his neck. "That's for me to know…" She hums against his lips.

The doorbell rings. They pull apart, his knees a little wobbly.

"I will find out, Kate Beckett," he points a finger at her as he walks toward the door, narrows his eyes. "We'll continue this later."

She winks, sinking her teeth into her bottom lip, and his stomach flares with heat. "Can't wait."

Kate sidles up to him when he's leaning against the bar, watches his family and friends enjoying themselves, having a good time. "You throw a great party, Castle."

"Just one of my many talents," he quips. She smirks but circles an arm around his waist just the same, tugging herself into his side.

Her eyes wander across the loft. "You two did an amazing job decorating this place." He notices the sound of her voice, different somehow. There's awe, for sure, but it seems laced with an emotion he can't quite pinpoint. Wistfulness maybe.

"You didn't feel left out, did you Kate? You told me to do it…"

She turns into his embrace, looking up at him and whatever emotion had just gripped her seems to just fall off, replaced by a melting smile. "No! No, it's fine. I wanted it to be something you two did together. I think it's good for her." Her fingers tighten against his waist. "It's important for Alexis to have that, to keep your traditions, to have that one-on-one time, especially now." Her other hand wanders to her belly, subconsciously caressing their baby and warmth flushes through him at the natural way that she cares, worried about what's best for them, concerned for both their daughters.

He twirls her into his arms, presses a lingering kiss to her forehead, using the moment to compose himself and not have an emotional meltdown in the middle of his own party. "You're going to be an amazing mom," he murmurs into her skin. She already is.

Kate pulls away, her eyes shining at him. Then she gasps, pulls out of his grasp, her fingers gripping his forearm. Her eyebrows are knit as she spanks the top of her belly with two, three quick slaps.

"Hey! Get your butt out of my ribs."

He can't help it, he laughs. A big belly laugh roaring up from deep inside, the delight at everything just racing up and out. Kate elbows him in the side but then she starts giggling too, that girly, joyful sound that always seems to make his heart swell.

Once their laughter subsides she leans against the bar across from him, just smiles at him, warm and soft. Happy.

"Have you tried your special cocktail?" He finally asks, signaling the bartender who nods, then reaches for a variety of juice bottles.

Her eyebrows rise with intrigue and they wait, both leaning onto the bar to observe as the bartender mixes the virgin cocktail.

"I've called it the 'Candy Cotton Kate,'" he tells her with pride as the bartender presents the drink to Kate, the mix of which he came up with himself, trying to combine a set of flavors that he thinks Kate would appreciate. The liquid nitrogen fog swirls within and out of the bulbous goblet, turning the pastel pink liquid slushy.

"Makes me sound like a Kardashian," Kate smirks as she reaches for the huge glass, cradles it within her palms to take a first sip from the straw. He waits, watches her face, rocking impatiently on the soles of his feet as she sips, tastes, swallows.

"It's good," she hums, sounding pleased and surprised. As if he's ever steered her wrong. Well, okay maybe once or twice. A few times. "It's somehow sweet like cotton candy, but tart as well, lemony." She licks her lips and his midsection flutters. "What's in it?"

"That's for me to know…" He growls and she rolls her eyes, delves back into her juice cocktail.

"So Castle," Esposito's voice rings out behind them and they both turn toward him as their group of friends walk up to them. "Iron Man, huh? Compensating for something?"

Before he can reply, Kate is stepping up to Espo and slaps down the rim of his hunting cap so that the bill covers his eyes. "Hey now!" She chides, sounding properly indignant on Castle's behalf, and he smirks at Espo. Stepping back, Kate presses into Castle's side again, grinning at him. "He doesn't need to."

"Ewww," ring the dual sounds of Espo and Ryan, and Kate laughs.

"Hey, you started it! Besides, I wanted him to wear it."

Castle runs a finger down the side of her face, across her bottom lip, and her smile stretches wide at his touch. "Yeah for some reason, she didn't want me to be Thor but I can't figure out why."

Kate runs her fingers along the back of his neck, twirling her fingers through his short hair. "I don't like the long hair."

"So she can stare at your cute bubble butt," Lanie pipes up at the same time.

"Lanie!" Color flushes Kate's cheeks and Castle pulls her into his arms, delighted at this new piece of information.

"Really?" He draws out the vowels of the word, climbs his fingers down the arch of her spine, enjoying the slight tremor that runs through her at his touch.

"Maybe…" she drawls, her arms snaking around his waist. "You do have a cute bubble butt…" And then her fingers grip into his butt cheeks and squeeze, her smile playful, sexy. "And the cape would've covered it all up."

He grins, can't help it. This is just too delightful a revelation. "So how long have you been staring at it, hmm?"

"Oh, for way longer than you realized…" Lanie interrupts once more, her eyebrows arched knowingly.

"Lanie!" Kate half-growls, half-laughs, and Castle wraps her tighter in his embrace, kisses her at length. Her mouth tastes like cotton candy too, and she hums against his lips.

"The mustache's a little weird though," she grins, running her thumb across the fake mustache he's glued to the top of his lip to look more like Robert Downey Jr.

"What? You don't think it adds to my rugged handsomeness?"

She hums, her thumb caressing his jaw. "I prefer the scruff to the 'stache."

"Seriously you guys, we can see you," Espo scolds, shaking his head, and Ryan mutters under his breath. "Mom and dad, making out again."

It's late, seriously late by the time he crawls into bed, having finished as much of the necessary clean-up as possible after he'd sent Kate to get some rest. Or maybe it's early, depending on which way he'd look at it. He slips under the blanket, his body heavy with exhaustion as he spoons against his wife, slings an arm over her.

He thinks she's fast asleep already and snuggles his face to her neck, his eyelids sinking closed when she wiggles her butt closer to his middle and reaches for him, twining her fingers through his. She presses his palm on top of her naked belly where he can feel the soft flutters just beneath her taut skin.

"Baby's got the hiccups," she whispers and he can hear the sleepy smile in her voice. For a while they just lay quietly. He listens to the regular, calming rhythm of her breathing but her body feels tensed in his arms, not quite ready for sleep.

"I'm going to have the epidural," she suddenly announces into the darkness and his eyes fly open again in surprise. His heart starts hammering but he keeps his mouth closed, holds in the staggering sense of relief, and the slew of questions that already want to burst out. He knows there's more to come, aware of how pensive she'd often been over the past days, mulling things over. How she must've analyzed and contrasted all the information and facts they'd been given when they met with their doula a couple of days ago to discuss their options, concerns and risks, because that is how her mind works. He's still worried but he's been feeling a little better, calmer after having been given all the facts. It's helped so much just to talk to Kate, to share his concerns, helped also to find Annie assuring him that all their fears were normal, with no judgment, only kind understanding and encouragement in the midwife's words.

Kate turns in his embrace, her hands resting against his chest. "Not because of the pain; I know I could handle that." Of that, he never had any doubt. He wants to tell her that, emphasize how she's the strongest, most resilient woman he's ever known but that isn't the point so instead, he waits her out, his eyes holding hers and his palm curved around her waist.

She looks at him, her eyes luminous in the dark bedroom, her fingers curling and releasing over his collarbones. "But you know what got to me?" He shakes his head.

"That… peace I could practically sense in that birthing video we saw, the pure joy of the whole experience. How aware the mother was, how calm." She pauses, her eyes lowering for a moment, focused on her fingertips that keep caressing his skin in tender, spellbinding circles.

"I've been there, Rick. In that white, searing fog of pain. That draining exhaustion. Where you're being handled, things are done to you and you have no control, you just want it to end, one way or the other. I have only shreds of memories but I do remember how much it scared me, how weak and helpless and frustrated it made me feel." She draws closer, her pupils wide and stark with decisiveness.

"I don't want that for her birth. And maybe it's not the same thing, and maybe that makes me a coward but I don't want the experience tainted by the pain, no matter how 'natural' it is. For either of us. I want to experience it, I want to be there. I want that control; to be clearheaded enough to make decisions should anything not go according to plan."

He wants to weep with relief, tattoo words of thanks into her skin for making the decision he'd hoped for but he holds it all in because it's not about him. She's decided what she feels is best for herself, for their baby, and for him, and nobody should get to judge that.

"Nothing about this is cowardly. Who cares what anybody else thinks; this isn't a pain threshold contest. If it were, you'd win, hands-down. Look at all you've had to go through. And you're still here, strong as ever and smart and so brave. Kate, I am so proud of you, so awed by all that you are."

She cradles his face, her smile watery. "Thank you," she whispers, sinking her forehead to his. "I love you."

"I love you too."


By this week, your baby weighs two and a quarter pounds (like a Chinese cabbage), and measures 14.8 inches from the top of her head to her heels. She's sleeping and waking at regular intervals, opening and closing her eyes, and may be able to see the light that filters in through your womb. While her lungs are still immature, they would be capable of functioning — with a lot of medical help — if she were to be born now. She's also developing billions of neurons in her brain and adding more body fat in preparation for life in the outside world. Chalk up any tiny rhythmic movements you may be feeling to a case of baby hiccups, which may be common from now on. Each episode usually lasts only a few moments, and they don't bother her, so just relax and enjoy the tickle.

AN: Follow this link to visit my tumblr blog where I've posted an image of approximately what the mural would look like. I am neither very artistic nor graphics-savvy enough to get it exactly like I wanted it, so this is just to give you an idea:

nic6879 dot tumblr dot com slash private slash 60989906955 slash tumblr underscore mszqy7sLWj1rqgzyy

(replace dot, slash and underscore with the actual symbols, or visit my main page nic6879 dot tumblr dot com)

I've also added pictures of the main Halloween costumes mentioned, for those of you as comic and Star Wars-uninformed as I am. ;)

Btw, my mom painted something very similar to one wall of my room when I was six. It was adorable and always made me smile, and I loved it so much that I cried when it disappeared under a new layer of paint when they eventually remodeled the room, even though I was an adult by then and it had been many years since I'd moved into a different room.