March 10, 2013

This, Castle decided, was perfect. He kept expecting to wake up from this dream, and the fact that he never did only made it that much better. Kate was still asleep next to him—it was only seven in the morning, after all—and he could hear little feet pattering across the living room floor.

He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, grinning. Two pairs of feet ran into the room, and a small body climbed up onto the bed and tackled Castle. Castle opened his eyes to find a pair of dark brown eyes and an enormous grin staring back at him. "Papa!" Ethan screeched.

"Hey, buddy," Castle laughed. "You're up early."

"Gonna visit Grandpa today?" Ethan asked.

"Yeah, buddy. But you'll have to wake Mama first."

Ethan giggled and rolled off of Castle to prod Kate awake. Castle looked to the door, where the other pair of feet stood quietly. The moment her bright eyes met Castle's, she sprinted for the bed and flung herself onto Castle. "Morning, Papa," she said into his neck.

"Morning, Joey," Castle said, hugging her close to him. Even though she looked like a miniature version of Kate, Castle and Johanna had shared a unique closeness since the first night the little girl had spent at the loft. Though they weren't his in the basest sense of the word, Castle loved them as much as if they were his own flesh and blood. He had offered to take care of them at the loft before he'd even really met them, but he never regretted his offer even for a second.

Kate's fingers brushed Castle's shoulder and he looked at her, smiling. He thought about how he'd once wanted nothing more than to raise kids with her, and even though Ethan and Johanna were only theirs by law (or at least by Jarod's sleight of hand), he was perfectly content.

Johanna rested her head on Castle's chest and reached her fingers toward Kate. Kate grabbed them with her own and grinned. Johanna slid off of Castle and crawled over to snuggle next to Kate. "Hi, Mama."

"Hi, Jo," Kate said. It was a little over a year since Jarod had brought Ethan and Johanna to them, and they had become quite the family. The first few months had been rough: Ethan and Johanna had trouble adjusting to normal life, and Kate and Castle had trouble adjusting to life as parents. Kate had resisted moving in, even though she rarely went to her apartment, and Castle had finally convinced her by getting on one knee and proposing.

"Mama, can we go visit Grandma Jo?"

"We can go tomorrow," Kate said. "We made plans to visit Grandpa today."

Ethan squealed. "Papa, I wanna see Grandpa!"

"Well," Castle said, sitting up and catching Ethan before he jumped off the bed, "I guess we'd better get started, then." He turned Ethan upside down and tickled the boy's knees. Ethan giggled and screeched all the way up the stairs. Castle let him down in the hallway and Ethan scampered into his room.

The big bed that had inhabited the room when it was a guest room had been exchanged for a twin bed. The room was much the same as it had been, but without the larger bed taking up the middle of the room, it seemed so much more spacious. Castle stepped around building toys and half-finished structures to the dresser and dug out some clothes for Ethan, who was working on what appeared to be a LEGO replica of the skyscraper visible out Ethan's bedroom window.

"Come on, bud," Castle said. He sometimes forgot that Ethan had been engineered, a project to create a genius unlike any other, but he never forgot that Ethan was a stubborn little boy. "Gotta get dressed."

Ethan said nothing. He'd become intensely focused on his project. It was something that both Ethan and Johanna—and Helen as well, according to Parker—did rather frequently, and no one disagreed when Castle had said they needed to be gently trained away from their "Alpha episodes."

Sometimes it was difficult to coax them out of their fervor, and sometimes, like this one, it was simple. "You gotta get dressed before we can go see Grandpa," Castle said.

Ethan was so deep in concentration already that it took a few seconds for him to respond. "Grandpa!" he said excitedly. He snapped a block onto the tower and stood up, holding up his arms. "Gotta get dressed!"

Castle helped Ethan out of his pajamas and into a pair of jeans and a plain t-shirt. "Go put your dirties in the laundry," he said.

"Breakfast!" Ethan said.

"After you put your dirties in the laundry."

Ethan scampered out of the room, singing, "Dirties in the laundry, dir-r-r-ties in the laundry, wash 'em out and make 'em shiny 'gain."

Castle went down to the kitchen and took out eggs, cheese, bread and bacon. Ethan ran into the kitchen and tried to climb up Castle's legs.

"Whoa, buddy!" Castle laughed, setting the breakfast ingredients on the counter. "Whatcha doing?"

"I wanna help!" Ethan said.

"Do you want to do the toast?" Castle asked.

Ethan nodded and let go of Castle's leg. "Toast!"

Castle set the toaster on the counter and plugged it in. "Go sit in your seat, and I'll give you the bread to toast." Ethan climbed up onto a barstool and Castle handed him the loaf of bread. "Everyone gets two except Joey, remember?"

Ethan nodded and counted slices of bread as he put them in the toaster. "One for Mama, two for Mama, three for Papa, four for Papa." Ethan tried to push the lever down, but it buzzed angrily. Ethan jumped, nearly falling off his chair. He looked terrified.

"It's okay, bud. It wasn't ready for the toast, that's all. You can try it again."

Ethan leaned away from the toaster this time, but the lever went down smoothly and without protest. Ethan patted the side of the toaster. "Good toaster."

Ethan stared at the toaster, his little chin resting on his folded arms, excitement growing with every passing second. Castle started two pans heating and mixed eggs and cheese in a bowl.

As he loaded eggs, bacon, and toast onto plates, he was certain that nothing could be more perfect than this.

March 13, 2013

In a small suburb in mainland New York, Mary Nelson watches her new neighbors, pretending to water her flowers. It's overcast, and the clouds are darker today than they were yesterday. It's certainly going to rain. There's a duffel bag sitting on the Parkers' porch, and the man, Jared, is pushing a little girl in the child swing that's hanging from the tree in the front yard. The woman, Miranda, comes out of the house, carrying a red notebook under one arm.

"Jared," she says, and he stops the swing. The little girl starts to fuss, but Jared picks her up and tosses her in the air, and she giggles.

"It's time to go," he says, trading the little girl for the notebook.

Ten seconds go by, and Mary Nelson thinks the Parkers are going to stand there staring at each other forever.

"Come back in one piece, or I'll have to track you down and shoot you," she says. "And I don't think Helen would appreciate that."

Mary Nelson can't see Jared's face any more, but his shoulders straighten. He kisses Helen's forehead, and then, hesitantly, Miranda's lips. They exchange no more words, and Jared throws his duffel in the back seat of the car, starts it, and drives away. Miranda and Helen walk to the curb and wave, and when the car is out of sight, they go into the house.

May 25, 2013

Mary Nelson wonders what all the origami birds on the Parkers' front porch are for.

"They're for Daddy," Helen tells her. "One for every day he's away."

July 4, 2013

Mary Nelson puts up her American flag, and a well-dressed couple with two young children arrive at the Parkers' house. The man looks like the author of Mary's favorite mystery series.

August 18, 2013

A small boy is found on the side of a mountain road in the Sierras. A quarter of a mile away, a search party finds a man who has been severely mauled by a grizzly bear.

October 2, 2013

Chameleon, the blockbuster science fiction dystopian novel, is available in fourteen languages. Worldwide sales reach three million copies.

November 17, 2013

NuGenesis is shut down by the United States government, quietly and completely.

December 24, 2013

Mary Nelson takes a fruitcake to the Parkers' house for Christmas. The paper birds that had been on the porch are now hung throughout the living room and on the small Christmas are two hundred eighty-six birds, according to Helen. Mary Nelson praises the four-year-old on her counting skills.

January 12, 2014

Shooting begins on the film adaptation of Chameleon.

February 9, 2014

On an island governed by a country which has no extradition treaties with anyone, four charred skeletons are found in a gutted vacation house of considerable size. Evidence suggests that the fire was started by an oxygen tank.

March 13, 2014

Mary Nelson finds a funny-looking origami bird in her mailbox. Next door, three hundred sixty-five more paper birds of all colors and sizes hang from the porch. She takes the bird next door.

Miranda answers the door.

"Hello, dear. I think little Helen left something in my mailbox."

Miranda ignores the bird and walks out of the house, brushing past Mary Nelson. A car rounds the corner. "Helen!" Miranda calls.

Helen, who has grown a good deal over the last year, runs out of the house as the car pulls into the driveway. Jared Parker gets out of the car, looking older than when Mary Nelson saw him last, and tired. A young man, the spitting image of a Jared perhaps twenty-five years younger, gets out of the passenger side. There's a touching reunion in the driveway: Jared and Miranda share the kind of kiss that military wives like Mary Nelson know all too well, Helen climbs up Jared's legs, and Miranda embraces the young Jared duplicate.

On their way into the house, Jared stops and says, "Thank you, Mrs. Nelson."

"You're welcome, dear," Mary Nelson replies automatically, and then the four of them are gone. She shakes her head and goes back to her house to make a cup of tea. She sets the origami bird on the mantlepiece, and doesn't bother wondering how it had gotten into her mailbox.