For Pau and Jenn - the best pair of partners in crime I could ask for.
He misses the years on the editing board of Edgewick Academy's literary magazine and working as editor at the college paper because he was in charge. He ran the meetings. And they were fun meetings, full of wheelie chair races and hangman competitions and Scrabble tournaments and laughter. Sure, there were moments of boredom – usually when it came time to publish the annual book of submissions – but they were few and far between.
But these meetings? These meetings suck. No laughter or board games though there are wheelie chairs. The men and women around the oval table probably wouldn't be as open to a race around the fiction floor of Black Pawn Publishing.
He tries to check his phone under the table and catches Paula glaring at him. Hitting the lock button, he slips the phone back into his pocket. The clock outside the conference room says it's nearly five. Kate's probably making some form of dinner for Al, pestering the girl to get her homework done while the food burns.
"Can we finish this tomorrow?" he finally begs, running a hand through his already-ruffled hair.
"Why, Rick?" draws out Gina, sitting forward and tapping the end of her pen against the legal pad. "Got somewhere to be?"
She smirks. "With that detective?"
"With my wife and daughter," he replies. Before anyone can protest, he gets up, plucking his jacket from the back of the chair. "Now, ladies, gentlemen," he says, nodding toward the others seated around the table, "if you'll excuse me. I've got to go save the building from Kate's cooking."
The low rumble of laughter that follows the remark makes him grin. Good. Some humor in the stupid contract negotiations.
He turns, sees the publicist running toward him. "Seriously, Paula. Kate'll burn the building down if I don't get home. And that is not the type of thing we need in the papers."
"I actually meant to ask you about Kate. I'm sure the papers are going to pick up on the fact that you're married now. It might help to put a statement out, maybe a photo, early before they can hunt one down themselves," she suggests. "Nothing personal," she adds when his face falls. "Just something to keep the dogs off your backs."
"I'll talk to Kate about it," he assures her. "Now let me get home to her." He presses a light kiss to Paula's cheek before hitting the elevator button.
There's a line of black cars out front, part of the car service that Black Pawn has, but he forgoes the towncars to hail a cab at the corner of the street. The driver has some soft folk station playing on the radio and the middle-aged woman hums along as they make their way from Midtown down to SoHo. Paula's right and he's pretty surprised that the vultures of the press rooms across Manhattan haven't figured out that he's very much off the market. Part of him is insulted, wondering why it has taken so long for them to notice the gold band on his left hand. The other part is thankful that he's been able to keep Kate and Al out of the spotlight for this long. But he needs to talk to them before giving Paula anything for the papers and gossip rags.
The apartment building is still standing at the corner of the street. Good sign. Kate might have gone simple for dinner and therefore not run the risk of leaving the chicken in the oven too long as she cooked pasta – that event set the fire alarms off and he still hasn't let her live it down. Neither has Al, who thought the entire event was a blast as Kate called one of her friends down at the fire department to let them know it wasn't an emergency.
"Evening, Eduardo," he greets, strolling through the lobby to the elevator.
The doorman nods over his New York Times. "Evening, Mr. Castle."
"How many times do I have to tell you?" he asks, stepping into the elevator. "It's Rick."
"Have a good night, Mr. Castle," responds Eduardo with a wave.
The hallway is quiet which is unusual. Normally there's that television star next door who talks to his cat or has his girlfriend over for dinner and a movie. Or at least Al complaining about homework. Weird.
Silence hits him once he unlocks the front door. Not the sounds of Kate doing the dishes or Al banging away on the piano or the TV playing a movie. He toes his shoes off, leaving them in the front hall even though he knows Kate will glare at him as she moves them to the bedroom. He glances into the kitchen where only the light over the stove is on. Curiouser and curiouser, he thinks, moving to the side door to the bedroom.
There's a band of light on the floor from the room. First sign of life in the otherwise dark and empty loft. The second sign comes as a soft whisper.
"Look what we found in the park in the dark. We will take him home, we will call him Clark. He will live at our house, he will grow and grow. Will our mother like this? We don't know."
For a moment, he wonders why Kate is talking to herself in the dark. It's a little strange, actually, and he's about to open his mouth and ask her what she's doing exactly until he leans his head against the doorframe.
Cuddled into his wife's – his wife's, a fact he still can't really comprehend – side is Al. She looks to be half-asleep, eyes fluttering in the dim light every few seconds. They're both smushed onto Kate's side of the bed, blankets kicked down at the bottom of the mattress.
"And now, good night. It is time to sleep," reads Kate from the book balanced on the right side of her hip, left hand stroking over Al's forehead. "So we will sleep with our pet Zeep. Today is gone. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one."
He steps into the room, knocking his knuckles on the door just to alert her of his presence. "Every day, from here to there. Funny things are everywhere," he finishes for her.
"Hey, you," she whispers when he kisses her forehead. "Long meeting?"
"Still going on. I snuck out. What's wrong with our girl?" he asks, crouching next to the bed, hand on the edge to balance himself.
Kate tangles her fingers in his hair, rubbing her thumb over his brow. "Fever. I had to get her from school this afternoon. Apparently it wasn't as warm as we thought it was last week."
Last week when they spent most of the evening out on a rooftop garden getting married and dancing and admiring the skyline of the city from 620 Loft and Garden. It had felt warmer for March but maybe the breeze had chilled the air more than he had noticed.
"Is it bad?"
She shrugs, glancing back at the sleeping child. "She's not going full-tilt, that's for sure. Barely ate the soup I made for dinner about an hour ago."
"I should take a picture," he muses, reaching over Kate to brush a hand over Al's hair. It's a little damp, probably from sweat, and her forehead is hot to the touch.
"To prove that she can be quiet sometimes." He blinks innocently when Kate tugs hard on his ear. "Okay, no pictures." He gets up, tilting Kate's face up with his hand to kiss her gently. "You eat at all?"
"Not really. You gonna feed me, Mr. Castle?"
"Duh. Can you get out from around her without waking her up?"
It takes maneuvering, but eventually they have Al sprawled out in the middle of the bed instead of slumped against Kate's side. Castle takes Kate's hand, pulling her toward the door back to the front hallway and closing it behind them.
"What do you feel like? Because I think we have some leftover Chinese if we want to microwave it," he chatters.
"Is there wine?"
The look he shoots her over his shoulder begs the question 'oh please who do you think you're talking to?' and Kate raises her hands. "Okay, okay. You get the wine, I'll nuke the Chinese."
"You sure you can handle the microwave? Big, scary contraption."
She glares, the fridge open as she looks for the take-out containers. "You do know I've managed most of my life with modern-day technology. Some of that was even raising a daughter."
"Yes, but I do love teasing you about your lack of womanly skills," he tosses back, searching the drawers for the corkscrew.
"Lack of womanly skills?" Kate opens the tops of the two containers, places them in the microwave, and hits start. "See who experiences some of those nonexistent womanly skills tonight."
He pours out the wine into two glasses, nudging one against her upper arm. "You wouldn't dare."
"Mmm," Kate hums, taking a sip of the red wine. "Watch me."
"The only thing stopping me from going all caveman is the fact that Al is asleep in our bed," he growls, boxing her in against the counter.
"Let me out," she says, giving his chest a push. He doesn't budge. "No. Seriously. The food's done and I'm hungry."
He takes the Chinese from the microwave, using a fork to stir the food before handing her the noodles and vegetables to her. Kate boosts herself up onto the counter, twirling noodles around her fork before eating it with a sigh.
"Let's hope we don't all get sick because of her," she comments. "A houseful of sick people will not be fun at all."
He dashes for the dining room table, rapping his hand against the surface. "Knock on wood. We're safe now."
"My hero," Kate says, tipping her head down to kiss him, tasting the soy sauce from his green beans and chicken.
The container of food nearly falls from his hand as he grabs for her thighs, tugging her closer to the edge of the counter to angle his head under hers. Kate wraps her arms around his neck, fingers playing with the collar of his dress shirt.
A loud cough breaks the moment, followed by a series of sneezes.
Kate kicks him lightly with her foot. "Go be Al's hero. She should be set with meds for another few hours."
"Why me?" he groans, eating another forkful of food.
"Because if you move her from our bed to hers, there's the possibility of proving just how much of a woman I am," Kate murmurs into his ear.
He's gone in an instant, swinging around the bookshelves into the study toward the bedroom. He can hear her laughing behind him but he doesn't care. He doesn't even care if all they do is eat dinner and cuddle for the rest of the night. She's still stifling laughter as he carries the half-conscious six year old up to her bedroom.
"What're the chances of those skills being shown tonight?" he calls, just loud enough for her to hear.
She pulls her lower lip between her teeth for a moment, grinning up at him from the counter. "Oh, I'd say ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed."
"Sexy. So sexy, Kate," he says before disappearing up the stairs.
Al shifts in his arms as he settles her into her bed, leaving the sheets off since her head is still warm. "Hi, Rick," she mutters, rolling over onto her side.
"Hey, kid," he responds, adjusting the heat in the room so that she won't burn up any more than she is already. "Go back to sleep."
"'Kay. Love ya."
"Love you too," he says, finding Penguin and tucking the bird into the pillows next to the girl. "Feel better."