Alexis has gone to look for food; Kate's starving and her stomach rolls with it. She needs something to dull the edge. She needs sleep, but that's not likely. She's exhausted but wide awake. She's had insomnia for weeks now, and it's come back to bite her now.
Her cheek is throbbing. It's not broken, according to the X-rays, but the ice burns and she left it off, so that now her face is hot with pain. The place where the ER attendant cleaned the cut on the back of her calf feels scalded raw, and it throbs. Her shoulder - she's so tired - her shoulder just needs to pop back into place or shift a ligament somewhere because she just wants to sleep and she could just - really - she could cry.
Kate takes in a long breath, feels it shuddering in her chest, but at that moment, Castle walks through the door.
She jerks upright, a hand held out for him, but he's already stumbling across the room, enclosing her in a tight embrace, his mouth at hers, too hard, it hurts, but she laughs and clutches at his ears to pull him off her.
"Face hurts," she murmurs, smiling at him, making it worse. He strokes his thumb over her cheek gently, crowds her in the bed.
"The baby," he breathes out, his hands skirting her ribs, thumbs stroking over her belly button. It's the first time anyone has called it what is is, has said it with such love and reverence. The baby. "Elephant's okay?"
She feels the tears now, dripping again, and she reaches between them to get a hand up, swipe at her uninjured cheek. "Yeah, yeah, all good. Everything's good."
He closes his arms around her again, squeezing, and she lets out a long breath, her chin digging into his shoulder, her eyes squeezed shut.
"What happened to my stuffed animal, Castle?"
He pulls back then, gives her a sheepish look. "Got shot. Actually. Hold on." He gets up off the bed and heads for the door, leans around the frame and grabs something which he keeps behind his back before coming towards her again.
"The elephant got shot?" she hisses at him, and it makes her lip split again. She growls and grabs the ice, holds it against her face for a second as Castle sinks back down on the bed.
He pulls his hand out from behind his back and presents her with a gift.
She drops the ice and reaches for it, the tiny little thing, pale grey and nearly white, huge ears, happy little eyes, the trunk long and goofy. It's so soft. Kate brings out the old one, ripped up and headless and terrible, frowns at the two together, lifts her eyes to Castle.
"You know it's only - only okay because we didn't lose-" She shakes her head, can't continue, but he knows; he's leaning in and kissing her so very softly, on the cheek, his lips like eyelashes.
"I know. I'd never be able to replace the little thing."
"Can we - I want to get this one fixed," she murmurs, thumb circling the hole where the head should be, the ripped edges. She had Alexis clean the blood off of it, but it's - it breaks her heart.
"Yeah, yeah, let's do that. It's knit or crocheted or something, right? We can have it fixed."
"Not just get a new one," she sighs.
"No. Not a new one. I thought you'd like a get well soon elephant, that's all-"
"I do, I like it. No, I know," she says quickly, curling her fingers around both the little things, so small in her hands. She lifts her eyes to him, tries to smile. "Who says we're only having one, anyway?"
He startles so hard that he nearly falls into her. "What?"
She laughs, feels the sound of it scraping her throat. "Not at one time, Castle. I mean - in the future."
He laughs back, rubs a hand down his face. "Okay, wow. Okay, you kinda just - knocked me over there."
"Get over yourself," she laughs again, and it feels good, feels so good. They're okay. They're all okay, and it's fine to joke about having two baby elephants and it's fine for Castle to just buy a new one, like he thinks money should always fix things, because it's okay, it's okay.
The baby is okay.
He cups her face and kisses the corner of her mouth, away from her split lip, away from her bruised and swollen cheek. His touch is hot, no longer reverent or gentle, just the fire of his need flashing over her.
She moans and curls an arm up around his neck, the injured shoulder still pressed tight to her body but her fingers coming up between them, brushing against his neck. The two little elephants stay in her lap, light and barely felt. He kisses her again, leans her back against the bed, and then he crawls in after her.
"Sleep, Kate. I want you to sleep."
"Can't," she growls. "Can't sleep." She half turns on her back, her eyes lifted as she shakes her head. "I'm just - it's-"
He shifts to hover over her, leans his head down to lay a kiss over her eyebrow. "I know. It's over, Kate. It's over."
"But it's not," she groans, the elephants tucked up in the crook of her elbow now, a hand coming to her eye. "It's not over. It won't ever be over. He'll never let me - and I've dragged you down into it, and Alexis and this baby and-"
"No, no Kate. No." He brushes his thumb against her neck, reaches up and tugs her hand away from her face. "I should've said - I didn't want to bring it all up, but I should've told you-"
"Told me what?"
He looks so worn out, so terribly wounded, like something in him - some deep and dark place - has been broken. It will be a long time before it's fixed. She waits for him to find words for whatever he wants to say, brushes her fingers over the dark ridge of his eyebrow as the shadows meet under his eyes.
He - apparently - did something terrible for her. She can see it, now that she's looking.
But he shakes it off, a kind of satisfied light in his tight smile. "The boys arrested Lance Rockman and the Chief of Detectives a few hours ago. They were in the file. Along with the name and illegal activities of one other man - the Senator from New York-"
"What?" she gasps, sitting upright so fast she knocks her forehead into his chin. She winces, feels him catch her as she sways, adrenaline pounding her heart and making her jittery. She stares at him. "Castle. Senator North-"
"Yeah. The Dragon is - not quite slain, then at least on his way. The file is pretty damaging. It's what he wanted from us when he kidnapped you."
"Oh my God." Senator Mitchell North, their US Senator - former mayor of New York, former DA - the bastard behind this all. Killed her mother and so many others.
The Dragon that wanted to ruin her life, that nearly did-
Kate flops back down in the bed, her eyes wide and staring at the ceiling.
He lies down beside her, waits on her, but she doesn't know what to say.
It's finally over.
Kate turns over in bed, body rippling with pain as she does, but she brings her arms up between them, the baby elephants crushed as she comes in close. He slides an arm low over her waist, and she presses her uninjured cheek against him, breathing slowly.
His voice is soft when it comes, hesitant with unknowing. "Kate?"
He strokes his fingers lightly up her back, through her hair to her scalp. He massages the back of her neck, cards his fingers through her hair to untangle it, then goes back to pushing at the muscles in her nape, working drowsiness down into her bones.
It's done, and she knows exactly what she wants, is so very grateful that Castle never let her put their lives on hold for this. She's already firmly rooted in their family, their love; she doesn't feel that letdown of being finished, over with an obsession, like she expected.
It's just an end note to the closure she's already managed to work out for herself.
Kate melts against him, deep breaths coming in and out, and then her hand clutches around his bicep, makes him still. She presses her mouth there, the softness of his shirt, the firmness it sheaths, erotic and beautiful, and she feels him shiver.
"The baby," she sighs, and then she falls asleep before she can finish whatever that sentence was going to be.
The sunlight pours into their home, the front foyer awash in pale morning yellow.
"How's my Ele?" he murmurs, leaning over her to look at the unrelenting flatness of her abs, encircling her and fitting her body back into his.
She raises her hand behind her to curl her fingers in his hair; he kisses the inside of her arm but doesn't stop making slow circles on her stomach.
And then she grips his hair, hard, and tugs him away. "Castle. That's too sickly sweet, even for you. Even the baby is rolling her eyes at you."
He chuckles and squirms out of her grip, imagining the little thing rolling its eyes, but he turns as the door slams shut. Alexis stands in the threshold of their brownstone awkwardly, Kate's bag in her hand, her eyes not quite meeting his. Their drive home from the hospital was so silent. He straightens up from Kate and heads for his daughter.
"Thanks, pumpkin," he murmurs, taking Kate's bag from her. "Did you find your room upstairs? Before."
She nods, her gaze meeting his with a sudden intensity that has him crouching closer, enclosing her in an embrace.
"Dad," she mutters, as if to shrug him off, but she doesn't.
"What's wrong?" he whispers, not sure if she wants him to pry but unable to let go of her. He's got his daughter back, shaky and strange as it seems to still be.
"You made me a room," she moans, and it doesn't sound that good. It sounds like she's upset. Why is she upset?
"Um. You can change it. It doesn't have to be blue and green - I just thought you-"
"Not what she means, Castle," his wife says, slipping up beside them and hooking two fingers in the pocket of his jeans, tugging a little. He opens an arm to her and she joins the hug, cradling the back of Alexis's head before kissing her temple.
"What does she mean?" he stage whispers, raising an eyebrow. His daughter laughs, which was his intent, and then she pulls back, swiping at her cheeks with a thumb like she's not really crying at all and if she wipes the tears daintily, they won't exist.
"I mean. You picked me out a room and went to the trouble of decorating it and painting it and I was in the middle of giving you the silent treatment for no good reason but you still-"
"Oh. I still loved you, you mean? Well, of course I did. Do." He rolls his eyes at her, reaches out to tweak her hair. "Even the baby is rolling her eyes at you."
At least Kate laughs at that.
Alexis knocks his hand away, pushes on his shoulder. "Not that - I know you love me, and I know you know I love you. I mean - you were being nice to me and I didn't even deserve it. Kate has been nice to me and I don't deserve it. You didn't even - I thought for sure you guys talked bad about me for being a brat but you were painting my room instead."
Kate's turn to look astonished. "Talk bad about you?" She turns her head to him, sharing his surprise, and then she gets a look in her eye he knows all too well - determination and steel and a dash of wickedness. She turns back to his daughter. "Oh, he tried the trash talk. I wouldn't let him. Plus, you know your dad, he's kinda awful at it."
Alexis issues a startled laugh, her eyes widening, and then she looks at him. He just shrugs. That's Kate for ya.
His daughter's eyes soften, some of that misery leaving them. She's always been her own worst enemy, punishing herself when she didn't need it. He doesn't have to rake her over the coals for being a brat and issuing demands she had no right to. She'll do it enough for the both of them. For all three of them.
"Thank you for my room," she says softly. "My flight leaves the day after tomorrow. Maybe while I'm here, I can - maybe I can help you guys paint his room?"
Kate is still doing the talking for him, letting him get past the emotionalism of having Alexis here. "You think you're getting a little brother?"
Okay, well that doesn't help. Oh wow, his daughter is getting a little brother. Or sister. A little sibling. Who is now rolling his or her eyes again at him.
He wipes his hand over his jaw, swallows hard past the choke of his throat. "I'll get you guys started with the paint. I have to go into the precinct for a hearing, but I'll be back in time to help finish. That's a good idea, Alexis. It needs to be done and Kate's not supposed to inhale paint fumes for long."
Kate presses into his side, her hip flush to his, and lifts her head to give him a faint smile. Her face is still a rainbow of colors, her lip split and only a little puffy, but she's beautiful.
Their family is beautiful.
"So how often can you come home?" Castle says to his daughter, sharing his smile with her as well. "We're gonna need a lot of free baby-sitting."
Both women laugh, easing some of the overbright sentiment. Alexis gives him a little shake of her head. "My rotation is crazy hard right now, but every chance I get, I'll be here. I'm not missing out."
"Good," he says with relish, nodding at her, suddenly serious again. The past year has had a cloud hanging over it, a taint to the air no matter what love or hope or beauty he and Kate managed to create for themselves. "Good. You'd better not."
She shakes her head and then steps in to hug him again, tighter, her arms around his neck like she used to do when she was a toddler.
"No more ultimatums, Dad. We're done with that."
"Even better," he sighs, and curls his arms around her as well.
Kate sits on the floor of the baby's room, the dropcloth cool to the touch of her bare legs, scratchy where old paint stains have hardened. She and Alexis did most of it, though Castle did his ADD-child best. A pale grey, matching the elephants, that shimmers like the inside of a pearl.
She hears the front door open and then close with a slam, the grating turn of the lock. They need to get the door sanded down, planed maybe, because it's warped and hard to close. Next on the list.
Castle's footsteps on the stairs, the heavy tread that means he's still thinking too hard, still weighed down by everything. He told her what he did, last night in the darkness. She's not sure, because the bed was damp and their bodies already humid, but she thinks he was crying.
She sent her union rep in with him, ostensibly to protect her own interests in this case, but mostly to give him some legal counsel. He refused a lawyer - said that Gates was looking out for him - but she wanted to be sure he didn't start in with It was my fault.
Internal investigations didn't allow for guilty feelings and moral grey areas. He needed to state the situation and explain there was no other choice. Clean shooting.
Well, clean running a man down with his truck.
She probes at her split lip and hears him come in behind her.
"Oh," he breathes out.
She grins and turns her head to look at him, holds her hand out. He comes in the doorway, his eyes on the glowing grey walls.
"It looks like those amazing summer storms. Like-"
"Yeah," she says, eyes filled with pearled clouds and lightning strikes. He takes her hand and pulls her up to stand at his side.
Their fingers tangle, and she breathes next to him, her eyes on the walls, her imagination going back to all the things this room will be, already is.
"The crib goes here," he murmurs, stepping forward to stand near one wall. "What color, Kate?"
She smiles and trails after him, tracing her fingers over the edges of their not-bought-yet crib. "White or cherry?"
"Mm. Boy or girl?"
She tilts her head. "Do you want to find out or-"
"Let it remain a mystery?" he finishes, grinning wider at her.
"Yeah, me too."
"Black then," he says suddenly. "Dark wood against this grey. Alexis's nursery was all white and pink."
The point being what? He wants a boy or that he just thinks this time is different? Either way. She's good with that.
"I want that big print of the elephant in here. The one that was in your room at the loft."
He gives her a wide grin, his eyes coming to meet hers. "Cool."
She laughs back, stepping in against his side to air-kiss him. Her cheek is still sensitive to the slightest touch, her lip swollen, and last night was more than enough to shy away from touching him now.
"You know babies can't see color?" he says, moving to the window set deep into the perpendicular wall. "They see in black and white, shades of grey. And only a distance of an arm's length with any focus."
She hums and he glances back to her.
"You knew that," he states.
She nods once.
He huffs softly. "Yeah, corse you did. We can add color once it's here-?"
She nods again. "That's what I was thinking too."
"You're smart," he says back, smirking at her so that it seems like he's being sarcastic. Probably is. He's cute when he's sarcastic.
She lifts on her toes to brush a very light kiss to the smooth spot at his chin. He shaved diligently this morning, chose his suit with care; the dark blue of his dress shirt makes him look professional and serious and dashing.
"You're handsome," she murmurs, quietly so she doesn't have to move her mouth much.
His fingers come up to trail at her cheek, barely there, and she sees a flash of all of it in his eyes, the grief that mixes up tightly, painfully, with what he did for her and what he almost lost with her, but she's sees the healing too - the way they will bind each other up with every ultrasound they witness and piece of furniture they buy.
"They clear you?" she says softly, nodding her head back to the stairs like that's where it came from, the internal review.
He nods back. "Cleared."
"Good. It was a clean kill. You know that."
"But what I did afterwards-"
"Saved my life. And the elephant's. So we'll just have to live with that."
"I can do that," he says in a rush, and his eyes are suspiciously bright.
She reaches out and brushes her fingers down his suit jacket, skimming the material as she tries to reassure him with her eyes, tries to put all the love there in the way they gaze at each other.
Her fingers catch on the bulge in his pocket and she quirks her lips, slipping inside.
She meets scratchy soft yarn and sighs, expecting the ragged hole and the silky stuffing next.
But she fingers an ear, the thin reed of the trunk, and she darts her eyes up to Castle's, sees a grin spreading across his face.
She pulls out the stuffed animal she bought only a few days ago, on a stupid whim because it was just so tiny, and he kept calling baby the elephant, and she stares at it - whole.
"How did you - that was fast."
"I took it in before I picked you up from the hospital yesterday. They finished it just as I was leaving the precinct, called me, so I went and got it."
They even replaced the yellow ribbon around its little neck, the dark button eyes. She didn't know she needed it, but she did.
She needed it.
He takes it from her fingers and steps towards the deep window - the sill is practically a seat, which is why she liked the room so much in the beginning - and Castle leans over and puts the little elephant right up next to the window, letting him look out, his trunk against the glass.
She swipes at her cheeks, but the tears haven't fallen yet. She keeps them back with an effort of will and steps up into Castle, taking a deep breath.