My first foray in writing kids who aren't infants. This is pretty sappy but it's Father's day fic so that's my excuse.
"The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature."
~Antoine François Prévost, Manon Lescaut
She knows he's faking. A ghostly smile curls at the corners of his mouth, the whites of his eyes peek through the tiny crack between his lids. He's pretending to still be asleep and she loves him all the more for it.
Kate steps into the room, holding the tray in her hands as steady as she can with the little body at her feet knocking her off balance as he bumps into the side of her knee.
"Okay, go," she whispers, looking down into big green eyes.
Castle grunts when their son lands directly on his stomach, the charade lost as his hands fly to Jeremy's tiny hips to stop him from jumping again. Alexis laughs from behind her and Kate smiles, walking over to put the breakfast tray on top of the dresser.
"And a good morning to you too, Germy," Castle says, sitting up against the headboard and settling the squirming four year old in his lap. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
"It's Daddy's Day!"
"Are you sure?" Castle cocks his head to the side, brows pulling together in mock confusion. "I don't remember seeing that on the calendar."
Jeremy giggles. "You told Mommy last week not to forget."
"He's got you there, Dad." Alexis walks over to the bed and kisses him on the cheek. "I was here for that not so subtle reminder, which I'm sure wasn't the only one."
"It wasn't," Kate laughs. "He set up a countdown clock on my phone."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Castle pats the bed and Alexis sits down at his hip. "And how's my sleepy girl this morning?" The little head resting on Alexis' shoulder lifts and Maya leans toward her father, letting him take her. Castle presses his lips to her temple as she settles against him, her thumb never leaving her mouth. "Did they wake you up too early again? I sympathize."
"We made pancakes," Jeremy says, sliding off Castle's lap and scooting up to lean against the headboard. "With chocolate chips and bacon."
Castle looks at Kate, smiling. "You put bacon in my pancakes?" When she nods, he looks at Jeremy. "Was that your idea?"
"Mine, actually," Alexis says. "He was pretty excited about it, though."
"They tasted really good," he says, bouncing up and down on the bed.
Castle gasps. "You ate my super special Father's Day pancakes? And I thought you loved me."
Jeremy stops bouncing, looking up with wide eyes. "I do love you, Daddy," he says, tears in his voice.
"I know you do, buddy," Castle says, ruffling his hair. "I was just joking."
Kate stands at the foot of the bed, watching them, warmth blooming in her chest. She's always loved seeing Castle as a father. It was one of the first things she fell in love with, the way he completely transformed when Alexis was even mentioned. How his eyes got brighter and his mouth went soft, his entire face filling with pride and love. In those early months, it was often the only thing that redeemed him in her eyes, the one thing that made him seem like a real person and not just an arrogant ass.
It's different now, seeing him with their kids. Watching him build elaborate racetracks around the living room to play cars with Jeremy or sing You Can't Always Get What You Want to Maya again and again because it's the only thing that will calm her down when she's fussy. The way he held them when they were babies, unabashed awe in his eyes as he cradled them to his chest, his hands dwarfing their already tiny bodies. How she comes home from work to find him passed out on the couch, a kid in each arm and Aladdin playing on the television. He loves them in a way that makes her heart ache, makes her fall in love with him all over again.
"He was just testing them for quality," Kate says. "Had to make sure that they were good enough for you, right?"
Jeremy nods, his bangs flopping down over his forehead.
"Oh, I see." Castle leans toward him, whispering, "Thanks for that. Your mom's not so good with the pancakes."
Kate glares at Castle, leaning down to place the tray over his lap. "We all know my pancakes are better than yours."
"Of course they are," he says, winking down at a giggling Jeremy. "We'll just let you keep thinking that." Castle picks up his fork and cuts into the stack of pancakes, moaning exaggeratedly when he takes the first bite. "You were right, buddy. These are really good."
"Here," Kate says, reaching for Maya, "let me take her while you eat."
Maya shakes her head and burrows deeper into Castle's side, hiding her face in his neck; she always wants him when she's sleepy or upset. Kate was hurt when Maya's preference became obvious and it still stings a bit but she's come to accept it over the past nineteen months. And looking at them together, seeing the way Castle holds her and whispers into her ear, his lips brushing over her curly hair, Kate can't really blame her daughter. She likes to be held by him when she's upset too.
"I got her," he says, sliding the baby down to rest next to his hip on the bed. Maya curls into him, her head propped on his stomach and her stubby little fingers fisted into his t-shirt, and closes her eyes on a deep sigh.
Kate runs her hand down the baby's back, leaning over to give Castle a kiss. His mouth is warm and sweet, a line of syrup sticking to his bottom lip. She can feel him smiling, his fingers reaching up to toy with the hem of her shirt.
"Ew, stop it!"
Castle breaks the kiss on a laugh. Jeremy has his hands over his eyes, his mouth twisted into a grimace. "You can uncover your eyes."
"Did you stop?"
Jeremy peeks through his fingers and then drops his hands down into his lap with a huff. "That's gross."
"Give it about ten years, buddy," Castle laughs.
Kate pinches his ear and then straightens. "I'm gonna go clean up while you eat."
"I'll help," Alexis says, sliding off the bed.
"No, I got it. You stay here and make sure those two don't make too much of a mess."
"Hey," Castle mumbles, his mouth full of pancake. "We don't need a babysitter."
He looks down just in time to see Jeremy stick his hand in the moat of syrup lining the rim of the plate. Thin brown lines trail across the tray and the bedspread as Jeremy pulls his hand to his mouth and sucks on his fingers. Kate raises an eyebrow at him, smothering the laugh bubbling in her throat.
Castle sighs. "Gloating isn't attractive, Beckett."
"It is when I do it," she tosses over her shoulder on the way out of the room.
Kate pauses in the doorway, leaning against the frame to watch the four of them for a moment. Alexis leans against Castle's shoulder, Maya's sleeping body sandwiched between them, while they both laugh at a story Jeremy tells about dinosaurs and monster trucks.
She never thought she'd be the kind of person who would get emotional over something like this, something as simple as watching Castle interact with his kids. Their kids. But standing at the threshold of their bedroom, the mid-morning sun streaming through the windows and Castle's laugh ringing in her ears, she's so very happy she was wrong.
Shrieks of laughter and the steady creak and clang of playground equipment float across the lawn as Kate takes a deep breath, her face tilted up and eyes closed. She loves days like this. The sky clear and so blue that it almost seems manufactured, the sun shining so brilliantly that she swears she can almost smell it in the air, a hint of summer filling her lungs and turning her lips up in a smile.
Opening her eyes, Kate scans the playground, looking for her family. She spots Maya first, her little face full of light as Alexis pushes her on a safety swing, both of them laughing. The girls are bonded in a way she never really expected. Alexis loves her brother of course, but there's something different, something special, between her and Maya. A little glimmer of what might have been if the baby had been born twenty years earlier.
Since the day she was born, Maya has been particular about who she lets hold her. Her first choice is always Castle and if she can't have him she wants Kate. Until Alexis walks in. Then she's all about her sister, clinging to her neck and playing with her hair, smiling and giggling in a way Kate rarely sees any other time. She's a serious child, Maya. Watching the world with shrewd eyes, content to observe rather than engage. Seeing her like this, her little legs kicking wildly and a wide smile splitting her chubby cheeks, makes something loosen in Kate's chest. She wants her daughter to be free. Unburdened by the fear that held her mother back for so long, the fear that kept her from opening up and letting herself be happy.
Jeremy's laugh cuts through the din and Kate shifts her gaze, seeking him out. It takes a minute to find him, heat exploding in her chest when she finally does. Castle's holding him against his chest, his forearms hooked under Jeremy's thin body, the boy holding his limbs out in a Superman pose, squealing in delight as his father spins him around. She can see Castle's mouth moving but they're too far away for her to hear what he's saying. It doesn't matter, though. Watching them is enough.
When she found out she was pregnant, Kate had been terrified. They'd only been together for a year and a half, hadn't even talked about having kids outside of a few hypothetical conversations late at night, their bodies tired and brains sluggish. Castle had been reserved when she told him, his reaction muted and eyes unreadable. It wasn't until three days later, when he sat next to her and heard Jeremy's heartbeat for the first time, that she saw the joy on his face; the spark she'd been hoping for.
He proposed when she was six months along, waiting until they were both sure that it wasn't just a knee-jerk reaction to the pregnancy. That it was actually something they wanted, baby or not.
They're still not married. Kate didn't want to do it while she was pregnant and then life just got away from them. Jeremy was born and she went back to work, tried to figure out how to juggle being a cop and mother. They were just starting to plan something when she got pregnant with Maya and the whole process started again. They're not married but they're happy and she's okay with that. Maybe they'll get married eventually, maybe they won't. Either way, they're a family and that's more than enough for her.
Castle lets Jeremy down and the kid takes off like a shot, beating a direct path to the slide. He waves to her from the top and shouts something she can only assume is watch this before laying on his stomach and coming down head first. Kate feels her heart leap into her throat when he gets to the bottom of the slide, his hands hitting the ground as he goes face first into the dirt. Castle's at his side immediately, dusting him off and, she hopes, telling him not to do it again.
Jeremy climbs up ladder again, going down feet first this time, and Kate breathes a sigh of relief. He's a daredevil, her son. It's something her father delights in far more than she'd like, telling her over and over again that this is her payback for all the grey hair she put on his head when she was a teenager.
Castle makes his way over to her bench, moving the diaper bag and dropping down beside her. He's sweaty and smells like sunscreen and her stomach flips, want blooming low in her abdomen. Watching him with the kids, seeing the mutual joy they share, how Castle goes out of his way to have fun and make them feel special, it gets to her, makes her want to push him down on the closest flat surface and show him with her body what she feels when she sees him being a father.
"Hey," he says, leaning over to drop a kiss on her cheek, his arm curling around her shoulders. She can feel the dampness on his shirt, his skin sticky where it touches hers, and she leans into his side, just wanting him close. "Germy is wearing me out."
"I really wish you wouldn't call him that. You're gonna give the kid a complex."
"I'm just getting him used to it. I tried to tell you -"
"I know, I know. We went through this when we were arguing about naming him."
"You gotta think about all possible mean nicknames before you name a kid. You have no idea how many Dick jokes I was teased with."
Kate smiles, stretching up to nip at his jaw. "I've come up a few of my own."
"Those aren't jokes, Beckett," he whispers hotly. "Your limericks are damn near lethal weapons."
She slides her hand over his knee, fingers dipping under the hem of his shorts. "I know. And speaking of, I hope Jeremy hasn't tired you out too much. I'd hate to have you too worn out for our Father's Day tradition."
"You mean the ice cream?" He asks, deliberately playing dumb.
"The spaghetti dinner that we pretend is my favorite but really only cook because it's one of five things Jeremy will eat?"
"After that," she says, scraping her nails across his inner thigh.
"I could tell you a story if you want." Kate kisses his neck, tries in vain to tamp down the fire crackling in her chest. "I promise it'll have a very happy ending."
Castle groans softly, finally breaking. "You have to stop that." He reaches down and grabs her hand, folding his fingers over hers to stop the slow creep up his thigh. "I really don't want to get arrested for public indecency. Not in front of the kids."
Kate laughs. "So if the kids weren't here, you'd be okay with it?"
"Speaking of kids," she says, watching Jeremy streak across the playground toward them. He crashes into Castle's knees, smiling up at them. "Hey, buddy. You having fun?"
"I'm hot," he says, a little twinkle in his eye. "Need to cool off."
Castle plays along with the obvious ploy. "And what do you think would be the best way to do that?"
Jeremy pauses, cocking his head to the side and pretending to think. Sweaty hair sticks to his forehead in little spikes, the normally auburn mop turning a dark brown with moisture. Kate wants nothing more than to scoop him up in a hug, hold his hot little body against her chest. She knows he won't allow it, though. He wiggles to get out of her grasp now, no longer willing to be cuddled or held unless he's upset or hurt. Castle calls him squirmy Germy, a carryover from when he was a baby, tiny and always on the move; rolling, crawling, walking. The day he figured out how run was a parenting nightmare realized.
"Ice cream," Jeremy says at length, nodding. "We need ice cream."
"You think so?" Kate asks, biting back a smile.
Jeremy nods vigorously, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet. "I do, Mommy."
"Ice cream it is, then." Jeremy pumps his fist, hissing out a yes, making both of his parents laugh. "Go get your sisters," Kate says, pointing toward the swing set where Alexis is still pushing Maya. "And then we'll get some ice cream."
He takes off running, yelling out Alexis' name as he goes. Kate leans into Castle for another minute before standing up, stretching her arms over her head on a groan.
"Okay, screw the kids," Castle says, standing up behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist. "Let's get indecent."
"Later, Castle." She cranes her neck back, meeting him in a kiss. "Later."
"I'm holding you too that."
He lets her go as Jeremy comes barrelling back over to them, Alexis trailing after him with Maya on her hip. "You ready for some ice cream?"
"Wanna ride on my shoulders?"
Jeremy nods and turns to face away from them. Castle hooks his hands under Jeremy's arms and picks him up, lifting him over his head and settling him on his shoulders. Kate grabs the diaper bag as the girls reach them, Alexis laughing at her father and brother as Castle tries to stop Jeremy from kicking him in the chest.
Tossing a smile at Kate, Castle wraps an arm around Alexis' shoulders, pulling her into his side. "Let's go get some ice cream."
They start to walk away, Maya clinging to Alexis' hip and Jeremy chattering away about what kind of ice cream he's going to get. Kate watches them, memorizing the moment, until Castle stops and turns back, smiling broadly.
Kate nods and walks toward them, hooking her fingers into Castle's pocket and pressing a kiss to his shoulder. He is so getting lucky tonight.
Thanks for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always appreciated.