If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . .
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax golden tales to spin.
-Shel Silverstein, "Invitation"
He turns away from the noise, mashes his face against the giving surface below him.
Groaning almost inaudibly, he keeps his eyes tightly shut and his breathing even as he inhales the sweet scent of cherries and almonds and his wife's sleep-warm body.
The bed dips behind him, and he hears a quiet shuffling before a small hand presses insistently against his shoulder. "Daddy. Daddy. Daddy, wake up. I need you."
Kate's fingers curl against his neck, drifting up to card through his hair, and when she lets out a groggy laugh, her chest vibrates under his cheek. "She wants you this time, stud."
He rumbles a reply even he can't understand, reaches behind him to tug the little body into his back.
Giggling, Lilian sprawls over his side, the top of her head bouncing against her mother's belly. "Daddeeee..."
"Shh, sweet pea," he cautions as little blue eyes grow solemn. "Momma's trying to sleep."
Tweaking his ear, Kate growls at him. "You're the one who pulled her down, Castle."
He chuckles a half-hearted apology, turning his head to press his lips to her cotton-covered breast.
"I'll be back soon," he murmurs, one arm pulling their daughter off his body while the other hand brushes over a narrow swath of creamy skin that nearly glows in the moonlight. He married a beautiful woman.
A tired beautiful woman, if the way her eyes are already falling shut tells him anything. Her fingers trail along his neck and shoulder as he sits up, slim digits curling briefly around his wrist. "Mmm, sounds good. Sleep better when you're here."
Her half-conscious admission stirs something within him and he leans forward to kiss her, swift and deep. She smiles against his lips, her own mouth a little slack still, but a small fist knocking at his elbow draws his attention back to the wide-awake girl kneeling on the bed beside them.
"Daddy," she whispers again.
He closes his eyes briefly, touches his forehead to Kate's, lingers in the way they breathe the same air. She huffs a laugh into his nose, and he kisses her once more before he leverages himself up, scooping Lilian into one arm.
"C'mon you," he grumbles good-naturedly, sliding off the bed and padding across the room, the little girl dangling against his side.
As he steps into the rectangle of light formed by the partially open door, he casts a longing look back at the bed. Kate has already rolled over to her stomach, one arm and one leg thrown over his pillow.
And then a foot thumps against the back of his thigh. "Daddy..."
He shuffles forward, pulls the door shut slowly until it snicks closed. In one swift movement he swings Lilian forward until her knees spread wide to bracket his ribs, his fingers interlocked at her lower back. She stares up at him in silent wonder, eyes shining in the dim light of his office lamp, lips parted in the makings of a grin.
"What's up, buttercup?" he asks in a low voice as he jiggles her slightly in his arms.
Her eyes crinkle and she pulls her bottom lip under her teeth, but doesn't answer.
He tries again. "What's the word, hummingbird?"
Still no answer. For all her insistence that he get up, she's suddenly gone quiet on him. He hitches her higher on his chest, leaning in to get his mouth against her neck. She twitches when his nose brushes her earlobe, but doesn't make a sound.
This calls for extreme measures then. A moment later a raspberry echoes in the quiet of the loft, and Lilian lets out a high-pitched giggle, squirms away from the lips he has poised for more torture.
He pulls back to see her face, the warring terror and delight in her eyes. "You gonna talk now?"
She nods, but doesn't speak.
He sighs, shaking his head and scrunching his nose at her. "What's the story, morning glory?"
Her blue eyes widen and she cants forward, chin landing on his shoulder, mouth at his ear. "I had a dream."
"Bad dream?" he asks softly, his arms tightening reflexively around her small body.
She shakes her head as he carries her out of the office and through the darkened loft toward the glow of a nightlight in the kitchen. "Good dream, Daddy."
Ah. She needs to tell him about it then. And he should have known. Bad dreams leave her whimpering, calling for Kate sometimes, crawling into their bed to snuggle between them other times.
Good dreams mean that Castle wakes to her clear treble and soft hands tugging him out of bed so she can tell him about it.
He understands, can't begrudge her this, even if it means he loses a little sleep. His own mind works the same way, too active to rest at times, needing an outlet for his imagination. And Lilian doesn't really have a way to write things down, not yet.
"And then this leopard came," she's whispering frantically, and he realizes the story has started without him. "And it had blue spots."
"Blue spots? Really?"
She nods vigorously, her chin bumping his jaw. "Really, Daddy."
"What did the leopard do?" he asks, reaching up with one hand to untangle her arms from around his neck. "And do you want some hot chocolate, baby?"
She grins as he settles her on a stool at the counter. "Yes, please."
"So what did the leopard do?" he asks as he turns and opens the refrigerator, pulling out the milk. Almost gone. He'll have to swing by the store tomorrow. Or, well, later today, since the clock on the microwave reads 4:37 AM.
"Well, it started talking to the hippopotamus," she says, and he turns around.
"There was a hippopotamus?"
She sighs loudly. "Yes, Daddy. I told you that. Weren't you listening?"
Castle pulls both lips between his teeth to hold in his laughter, takes a moment to compose himself as he pours the milk into a saucepan on the stove. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I guess I missed that. Still a little sleepy."
He turns around to see Lilian frowning, looking down at her hands where they on the countertop, her fingers clenched together. Oh. He shouldn't have-
The writer leaves the milk warming and goes to his daughter, dropping onto the stool next to her. "Hey."
He covers her hands with one of his, his other palm rising to cradle her cheek. Clouded blue eyes lift, searching his gaze. Oh, his baby girl.
"You can always wake me up, Lil," he whispers, leaning forward to press his lips to the crown of her head.
She sighs, a little puff of air warming his neck. "But you were so tired, Daddy, and I didn't even think-"
He shakes his head, pulls her into his arms. "Never too tired for you, honey. If you need me, I'm always here."
"But it's just a story."
He growls playfully, fingers curling under her armpits. "Just a story? Lilian Abigail, what's my job?"
She giggles as he finds her most ticklish spot, gasping against his neck. "Writer! You write stories!"
"So it's never just a story," he whispers, hugging her tight for a moment before he sets her back on the stool, meeting her eyes. "Momma and I met because of my stories. Did you know that?"
She shakes her head, and he lifts his hand to push an errant lock of dark auburn hair behind her ear.
"I'll tell you another time when she's awake to make sure I get all the facts right, okay?" he promises, and the little girl nods.
"Now," he says. "How about we drink some hot chocolate and you finish telling me about the leopard and the hippopotamus?"
He goes back to the stove, stirs the milk, adding cocoa and sugar and a little cinnamon, all the while listening to his daughter's pure voice, expounding in vivid description upon the details of her dream about a hippo and a leopard and their quest to defeat the evil Neptunians who were stealing all the marshmallows.
At long last, just as he's pouring their hot chocolate into a pair of mugs, she sighs. "The end."
He coughs to hide his laughter, picking up both mugs and nudging her off the stool, inclining his head toward the living room. "Quite a story there, sweet pea. I can see why that would keep you awake."
She nods solemnly, plopping down in front of the coffee table where he sets the mugs before punching the button to start the fire. The little girl sighs. "Sometimes my brain won't turn off."
"I know what you mean," he commiserates, settling beside her on the floor. "Sometimes my brain won't turn off either."
She blows on her steaming hot chocolate and then leans away from the table, snuggling into his side. "But you make it quiet, Daddy."
He feels his heart twist, feels moisture pricking at the backs of his eyes. "I do?"
"Uh-huh," she whispers, tipping her head up to look at him, trust and adoration shining in her blue depths.
Tugging her into his lap, he wraps an arm around her waist, lets her squirm until her cheek rests against his chest, her ear pressed over his heart.
"Want me to tell you a story, baby girl?" he asks softly. "It probably won't have leopards and hippos though."
Her eyes are starting to shut already, hot chocolate forgotten, but she nods, answers him in a sleepy voice. "You tell all the best stories, Daddy."
He lifts his hand, sliding his fingers through her dark hair, his short nails rasping gently against her scalp as he lets his warmth and his voice lull her off to sleep. "One day, about six years ago, I went to Momma's old apartment and found something I'd never expected - a little gray kitten..."