4th in the Western Series. The Circus is coming to Colorado Springs.
Thank you, once again, to my awesome Beta Deb. You rock :)
Disclaimer: Yeah, still don't own them, or a horse, or cowboy boots but I do have a pretty snazzy pair of galoshes.
The world was wet today.
That was the first cohesive thought that passed through his mind when he awoke. The world was wet. It had been raining for days, weeks. And it was a cold rain, the type that came in November when the leaves were changing and the temperature was dropping in preparation for winter.
The world outside was wet, but inside the small cabin it was warm and dry and Kate's body was curled into his, her protruding belly pressed up against him, the unborn baby smuggled between its parents.
He was waxing poetic this morning but he didn't care. He was allowed to do that sometimes when he was the only one awake. The rest of the world still encompassed in the realm of sleep. He brushed a hand down her side, reaching around to bring his fingers back up over the ridge of her spine. She had been putting on weight; that was good. Her cheeks were less sunken and the dark circles under her eyes were gone. It had taken months and the baby was due any day now but she was getting better.
He was stealing his moments when he could, running his hands over her body while she was still asleep, when she would relax into his touch instead of involuntarily shrinking from it. He didn't blame her, he understood. It wasn't by choice now, her body would flinch of its own accord. The look of shame in her eyes almost too much to bear. It pulled at his heart, a modicum of doubt bubbling up inside him, twisting with the anger for the man that did this to her.
He wanted to be able to touch his wife, to love her with abandon instead of with hesitation. Instead he was forced to steal moments with his hand pressed against her waist, her back, her belly, running down the side of her face, brushing finger tips over her ribs while she was still asleep and giving him a hint of a smile at the feeling. She nuzzled into him and his heart broke because he knew the moment her eyes fluttered open and the realities of life came crashing back down on her, she would pull away; back behind that protective wall of brick and mortar that she had unwittingly built.
He brought his hands up to run his fingers through her hair at her temple and she let out a content sigh, nuzzling her face further into his neck, her hot breath against his collarbone. He closed his eyes in contentment. She was here, with him. Even after six months of marriage and everything that they had been through together, it still amazed him. She was here. With him. And she was as beautiful as ever.
His hand ran down her side, out the ends of the blanket of hair and over her belly again. He reached up under the long shirt of his she had taken to wearing to bed, and pressed his hand against her belly, feeling the fluttering of motion underneath the surface. All of a sudden, a heel popped out into his palm and he brought his fingers around it, pinching it playfully before it disappeared. A smile broke across his face and Kate snuffled into the pillow. He ran his fingertips over the skin again, feeling a rounded form pressed up against the side, a head perhaps, or the bottom. It was hard to tell sometimes. There was another flutter and then the full form of a foot pressed out to him.
Kate groaned as he used his nail to gently tickle the small protrusion.
"Stop that, it tickles," she mumbled and he let out a chuckle as the foot retracted, as quickly as it had appeared.
He pulled back, the hem of her nightshirt falling back into place as he took back his arm, mourning the loss of the feeling of her skin against his palm. He let out a sigh, stopping short as his gaze drifted upwards to meet bright green eyes staring back at him, and lips tilted up in a hint of a smile underneath. .
"Good morning," she mumbled softly.
"Good morning," he replied back dumbly, his eyes still searching hers, looking for traces of that wall he had gotten so used to seeing; the resistance and restraint. "Did you sleep well?"
She nodded silently, her eyes still locked on his, not looking away. There was still a slight hesitation there but she seemed to be trying to resist the want to withdraw. She was trying to be there with him to let him touch her the way he wanted.
"The baby's awake," he continued, resisting his own urge to close his eyes at his series of inane statements.
"She has been for a while," Kate whispered back, her voice low. "So have I."
"You have?" Now he was staring at her, his eyes wide and his lips parted in surprise but he didn't care. She had been awake the whole time and she hadn't said anything. Sure, she hadn't pulled him closer and ravished him like he had been dreaming she would, but she hadn't pulled away either.
He took in a breath, parting his lips to say how much he loved her, how she was beautiful in the morning, to kiss her, to do anything to reassure himself that this was happening. She was letting him touch her and she wasn't looking away. She wasn't flinching. Her eyes were open and her teeth weren't sunken into her bottom lip threatening to make it bleed because she was forcing herself to let him touch her.
She was smiling, soft and slightly wary but it was a smile and…
They both jumped, eyes wide as their heads whipped around to face the door as it crashed open.
Castle rolled off of the bed as Kate reached for her gun, aiming it at the open doorway, the morning light streaming in towards them.
"Alexis? What's happening?" Castle called when he saw his daughter's form filling the doorway, a glowing halo of morning light spilling in around her.
"You won't believe it!" Alexis yelled as she rushed around the side of the bed, her chest heaving, cheeks pink. She lifted up on her toes to kiss her father on the cheek, the smile never falling from her face as she rocked back onto her heels and plopped down at the foot of the bed. Her hands held up a large printed advertisement, fluttering the paper between her father and step-mother so quickly that neither of them could properly read it.
"Won't believe what?" Kate questioned calmly as her revolver clattered back to the nightstand and she used her arms to scoot herself up so that she was leaning against the headboard of the bed, the patchwork blanket tucked lovingly around her round belly.
"The circus!" Alexis continued, bouncing a couple times on the bed, a move reminiscent of her childhood days. "It's coming to town. It will be here within the week! Isn't it exciting?"
Castle couldn't help the smile that formed across his face. His daughter's excitement was infectious, but his own budding enthusiasm faltered as his gaze flickered to his wife and he saw the forced smile gracing her features. The smile that seemed real enough to Alexis but that he could tell was faked.
Her eyes met his and her voice was as forced as her smile as she rubbed a hand over her belly and responded to Alexis' question. "Yes, Alexis. That's great."
"I don't want to talk about it," Kate huffed as she settled into the chair behind the desk in his cramped office. She pulled the hat off of her head, placing it down on the table in front of her, arranging it again; moving it with her fingertips. Her attention focused firmly on the action.
Castle pinned her with a stare. Halting his methodical placement of the small metal pieces in their slots as he set up the printing press. He and Port had finally set up the newspaper, The Colorado Springs Chronicle, and had purchased a storefront a couple of spaces down from the saloon, as their office. At least, it had been their office before he and Gina had decided to head back to New York, to both escape the harsh conditions of Colorado Springs in the winter and so that Port could properly ask for Mr. Cowell's permission to wed his daughter. This had left Castle in charge of the paper: a task almost too daunting for one man. Luckily, deadlines for print were more relaxed in Colorado, meaning that the paper came out when he felt there was a need for it, and he had Kate to help him; when she felt like it.
The past few months had been difficult for the couple. At times Castle had resented it; the tension, the pain, nightmares and fights. Other times he was grateful for them. They knew more about each other now. They would yell and scream and cry but they would always end up wrapped in each other's arms, whispering that they loved each other and that they were sorry. It may be hours or days between the fight and the make up but it would inevitably happen and they would still be together, supporting one another.
The teasing banter was slowly returning. He could see it more and more every week, that light in her eyes. His own weariness was starting to fade.
She looked up at him with an innocent expression and he shook his head back at her. There was a story there.
"Come on, Beckett, you have to tell me. All the sordid details," he wiped his hands on his apron and walked around the monstrosity of a machine until he was standing across the desk from where she was seated. His hands braced on the hard wood surface and he leaned over until he was dangerously close to her personal space. "Did you have a torrid affair with a ring master? Did you dream of becoming a juggler and drop the ball? What happened? What is the story?"
Her eyes flickered up to his and he saw the flash of red creeping up her neck. He smiled. So, there was a story.
She mumbled something under her breath as she looked away, hiding her mouth behind her hand and he startled. She couldn't have possibly said what he thought she said.
"What was that?"
She mumbled again and his brow furrowed.
"I'm sorry, I still didn't understand…"
"I don't like clowns!" She yelled as her head whipped back around, a fire of embarrassment burning in her eyes.
He closed his eyes, lips pressed together as he tried to hold in the laugh that was bubbling up in his chest, and slowly wheezing out through the corners of his mouth. He could do it… he could hold it in.
She let out a growl and he burst out laughing, his chest heaving as he backed up into the printing press, the small of his back resting against the side of the large machine.
"Castle," she growled again and he opened his eyes in time to see her rounding the desk, one hand pressed against her back, the other pointing at him.
"I'm sorry," he wheezed as he attempted to control himself, another small snort of laughter following his apology.
She poked him in the chest, the end of her finger digging into his muscle as he pressed his lips together again, his eyes dancing in response to the look of pure fury staring up at him. "Don't you dare laugh at me Richard Castle, they are sinister creatures. I have a right to be wary of them."
He leaned down to kiss her on the cheek, humming in response as her hand came up to swat at his chest.
"Of course you do."
She let out another snort as she returned back to her chair, settling back down into it as Castle turned to the press. He glanced over his shoulder after a moment. He could see her glaring at him with her arms crossed over her chest. Her lips twitched up into a ghost of a smile before she schooled her features once more.
"Would you like to help me?" he asked, and couldn't help but smile at the 'humph' he received in reply.
Yes, today was a good day in Colorado Springs.
She was happy. She was nine months pregnant. Her back hurt, her feet were swollen. Some mornings she couldn't get out of bed by herself but she was happy.
That morning, something had changed. She had felt his hand gliding up her side, whispering along her skin. She had felt his fingers as they worked gently through the tangles in her hair and it had taken everything in her not to melt into his touch. For the first time since that day with Stevenson, her husband had touched her and there had been no doubt in her mind that it was him. She had known it was Castle from the first moment she felt his fingers. She hadn't withdrawn. She hadn't flinched. She hadn't wanted to. And hours later, it still amazed her; how he had played with the baby, how he had loved on her when he had thought she was asleep. Reveling in the thought of her, of them, there with him.
"What do you think?"
Kate's head snapped up, her eyes focusing on the single page of news that her husband was holding up in front of her.
Step Right Up, The Circus is Coming to Town!
A small smile flickered over her lips as her gaze traveled up to his questioning eyes.
"It looks good, Castle," she responded through her smile, as it grew with the level of excitement shining back at her from his eyes. "It looks really nice."
The page came fluttering down to the desk as he whipped back around to place another sheet in the press, methodically working his way through the stack of blank pages until every copy was printed. She watched him until a motion outside the window caught her eye and her attention was drawn to the parade of large wagons making their way down Main Street. An elephant lumbered past and Castle practically bolted for the door as Kate pushed herself out of the chair to follow.
The town's people were gathering along the long wooden porches as the procession came to a halt in the middle of the town. Kate's eyes flickered down the row and she saw her father leaning against the doorway of the saloon, a rag held in his hand, lazily polishing a glass. She shook her head, some things never changed. Esposito nodded to her from across the way as he stepped slowly down the steps of the jailhouse, his hands placed firmly around his belt, one on either side of his belt buckle. He spat out a glob of chewing tobacco and Kate crinkled her nose. It was a habit she never understood.
Castle grabbed her hand as he bounced a couple of times on the balls of his feet and she sighed in response as he looked over at her with excited, questioning eyes and she nodded her assent.
They could go down and greet the circus folk.
"All bets are off if there are clowns, though. If one of them comes near me, I will shoot," she grumbled and he chuckled softly in her ear.
They cut through the line of carts and a snarl came from a cage beside them. Castle jumped slightly and it was Kate's turn to chuckle, her hand tightening around his in a brief squeeze as Alexis came running up to them.
The girl puffed out a breath as she slowed to a walk, her hands quickly adjusting her hair and dress as she fell into step next to them.
"Have you met them yet? What are they like? Did you see the elephant? Is that a tiger?" Alexis rambled as they approached the lead wagon and a fair skinned, sandy-haired man swung down from the seat, landing on the damp ground with a light thump in front of them.
He rolled his hat off of his head and down onto his shoulder, letting it glide down his arm before flipping it back onto his head in a flourish.
"That it certainly is, my dear girl!" he greeted, with a sly smile.
"Welcome, Colorado Springs," he continued, as he spun in a wide circle, his arms stretched out to his sides,. "To the wonderful, mysterious, illuminating world of the Alaster Circus. My name is William Sorenson and I will be your ringmaster."
The gathered group of people started to twitter, pointing to the various cages and circus folk who were disembarking from the caravan. Castle took a step forward, his hand outreached as Sorenson made his way back around to grasp it.
"Richard Castle. It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Sorenson," Castle welcomed. "We are very excited to have your show visit our town."
Sorenson's grin grew as he nodded in response, his eyes drifting over to Kate and Alexis. "And who are these beautiful ladies?"
Castle drew his arm back, wrapping it around Kate's waist, drawing her a step further into him. Normally, she would be infuriated by the move, but her eyes narrowed at Sorenson as she took a step into Castle's side. There was something behind that look, a joke of some kind and she was wary of the impending punch line.
"This is my wife Kate and our daughter Alexis."
"Don't you mean our daughter," a voice sounded suddenly and all three heads whipped around as a pale, slender wrist emerged from the wagon.
Sorenson took a step back to grasp it, as a shock of red hair emerged followed by familiar bright blue eyes.
"Hello Richard," the woman stated as she landed softly in the dirt and took a step towards the trio, her hand still grasped firmly in Sorenson's.
Kate's eyes grew wide as Castle let out a started cough and Alexis took in short gasp of a breath.
Kate's hand moved down to grasp Castle's tighter and she shifted slightly as she ducked her head, letting her eyes roam up the woman's thinly shaped body, to her porcelain skin and perfectly quaffed hair. She was gorgeous and Kate was… she was nine months pregnant. Her eyes fell to her scuffed boots and the line of dirt caked under her fingernails. She was dirty.
"So, you're the wife?"
Kate's eyes snapped back up to see Meredith gracing her with a similar once-over in return.
"Kate Beckett," she stated, her voice much stronger than her confidence at the moment. "Sheriff Kate Beckett."
Meredith hummed in response, her arms crossed over her chest and her perfectly starched yellow dress, crafted of silk and imported lace. "Too bad you aren't actually married."
Kate froze. Her eyes went wide and she stared at the woman standing across from her. Slowly, she turned her head to look up at Rick, who was standing beside her with the same gob smacked expression on his face, before taking a step forward, her free hand clenched at her side.
"What do you mean we're not actually married?"
"Well," Meredith began, waving a hand casually in the air, her attention turning from Kate to Castle. "It turns out that Richard never actually signed the divorce paper, did you? So, technically, you two aren't married. We are."