Chapter 6

Castle did a fist pump when the door closed behind Louis, Alexis and their friends that had picked them up for school.

He and Kate had a rare morning off together and had made plans.

"Ah, the silence," he sighed happily and padded over to the kitchen counter where Kate was cleaning up spilled milk and bread crumbs.

"You weren't even here for the big fight," she smirked and got a cup from one of the cabinets to make him a coffee.

For a change, she had woken up early to get the kids ready for school, allowing him to sleep in.

"The bathroom problem again?"

Kate nodded. "Louis has been in there for eight minutes," she quoted, trying to mimic Alexis' whiny voice. "Is she timing him on her phone?"

She handed Castle the coffee and he took a sip, closing his eyes and allowing himself a minute to wake up. "Maybe we should move Alexis into mother's old room. That way they'll each have their own bathroom."

Kate threw the sponge in the sink and grabbed a dish towel to dry her hands. "What? No, Castle. That's not a solution to this problem."

He raised an eyebrow, not seeing her point. "Why not? They each have their own bathroom, ergo no more complaints about not having enough time in the mornings. Mother is barely here anymore anyway, I'm sure she won't mind swapping rooms with Alexis and sharing a bathroom with Louis when she does spend the night."

"But this way they're simply avoiding the problem, not dealing with it. They should learn to compromise and talk to each other to figure out a solution that works for everyone."

"If we let them figure this out on their own, all they'll do is argue, and I don't want them to fight. I want them to get along."

Kate put the towel aside and reached for his hand, patting it and seeming far too calm about this for his liking. He just wanted to avoid conflict.

"So in the future, if they both want to take the car, you're just going to buy a second one? And a third one because maybe you'd like a ride too?"

He narrowed his eyes at her and she shook her head. "They're always going to fight. If not about the amount of time in the bathroom, they'll find something else. Our job is to teach them how to deal with it and respect the other's needs and wishes. It's an important lesson to learn. I don't want my kids going through life thinking they can allow themselves to do anything. At one point in their lives, there will be something they have to face head on, and I don't want them to struggle with it then. I know you don't want that either."

Castle scraped a hand down his face and flipped their hands, cradling hers in his and playing with her thumb while thinking. "No, you're right. I also want them to clean up after themselves - despite having the luxury of a cleaning service."

Kate smiled warmly at him.

"But I really do hate when they fight."

"I know you do. I do, too."

"Do I scold Louis when he's cheeky? Do I raise my voice? It's taken him so long to fully warm up to me, I don't want to destroy that."

Kate rounded the counter to sit next to him, their knees touching. "You're his step-father and guardian, it's your job to raise him. Part of that is telling him what's right and wrong, and if you have to discipline him, do it. He'll be mad at first, stomp off and bang the door, but I think in the long run it's healthier for both the children if we don't differentiate between them. And Louis has known you for four and a half years - he loves you. More than me right now probably; I've been the bad guy for eleven years after all."

Castle sucked in a breath. "He thinks you're the bad guy?"

Kate chuckled wryly. "I'm the only one who's ever told him off."

His hand clenched around hers in the desperate urge to right this. "I never thought of it like that, Kate. I'm so sorry, I never meant for you to be the bad guy."

She shrugged her shoulders. "He hasn't figured out yet that he'd get away with almost anything when it comes to you," she said easily, looking rather amused instead of angry. "But once he figures it out, we'll be in trouble. 'Cause Louis, he's sly, you know?"

"Yeah," Castle breathed. "Okay. Wow. I've honestly never looked at it from your perspective, but I see your point. From now on, I'll be more strict."

"Yeah, that'd be great, babe."

She smiled softly at him and he leaned in to kiss those pink lips.

"You interested in taking a shower with me before we get going?"

She reached for his half-full cup of coffee and took a sip, trying to act nonchalant but her sparkling eyes gave her away. "I could maybe be convinced."

"Playing hard to get, are we?"

Castle got off his barstool to stand behind her. Prying the coffee from her hands, he flirted his hands up and down her sides, his nose nuzzling into her hair and his lips teasing at her pulse point.

Kate tried hard to keep her eyes open but when she did blink, he wound his arms around her midsection and lifted her off the barstool.

She let out a surprised yelp, the barstool toppling to the ground, and Castle took off with her.

"Castle!"

Her feet were only inches off the ground and she was struggling so hard Castle had to put her down in his office, but he was grinning triumphantly when she spun around.

"You are going to pay for that," she threatened, a dangerous gleam to her eyes as she shoved him in the direction of their bathroom.

Oh, yes please, make him pay for it.

XXX

"Okay, we got the boots, the backpack and the tent," he counted, stuffing all their new acquisitions into the back of his Mercedes. "Anything else?"

"Well, we should figure out what we're going to do about the meals. We have two lunches, one dinner and one breakfast."

"Oh, we could buy a little gas cooker and bring cans of beans and collect mushrooms on the way."

Kate arched an eyebrow. "This was supposed to be a romantic getaway for the two of us, not a direct trip to the morgue."

Castle snorted. "I have camped before, you know. I can also tell you which berries you'd rather steer clear of."

"All of them," Kate shot back. "We are not going to eat anything we find. I've seen pictures of that lodge and I really do want to make it up there."

She had her lip trapped between her teeth as she came closer and his hands automatically fell to their favorite spot at her waist. His birthday present from her had been a weekend in the mountains. It was a one and a half day hike to the top and they'd spend one night in the wild, and the second one in a huge, rustic lodge that had fireplaces in every room and a spa area on the bottom floor, before a shuttle bus drove them to their starting point on the third day.

Their friends had chipped in by getting them vouchers for camping gear.

"That was a brilliant idea you had, Mrs. Castle," he congratulated her and her lips spread into a beautiful smile. "I can't wait to have you all to myself for three days and two nights."

"It'll only be one day if you don't feed me."

"Right."

Castle searched his pockets for his car key, locked the Mercedes and pulled her towards the mall by her hand. "Let's go find some food."

XXX

They ended up deciding on hot dogs and baked beans for dinner, soups and baguettes for both their lunches and instant coffee and crackers for breakfast. For in-between they bought granola bars and apples. Nothing too fancy and nothing too heavy.

"I'm so excited," Castle grinned, bumping hips with her as they made their way back to the car.

"I'm looking forward to it as well. Ten more days."

"This could be like our second honeymoon. Our first one was rather short after all."

They hadn't wanted to leave the kids with either of their grandparents for too long, so they had decided on a three day weekend in hot and sunny Mexico, leaving the others to grouch about the harsh fall weather.

"I think we made the best out of the few days we had," Kate noted, and he knew exactly what she was thinking of. That one night that had so innocently started with watching the sun set on their balcony...

A tug on his earlobe brought him out of his daydream and Kate looked up at him with knowing eyes. "Don't have that look on your face in public," she scolded him.

"Afraid you can't restrain yourself?" he asked, eyebrows dancing and she glared at him.

"Nope. Afraid you can't hide the effects of thinking of that fabulously hot night as well as I can."

He let out a frustrated huff and decided to be good. Until they walked past a lingerie shop.

Kate rolled her eyes when she saw the reason he stopped in the middle of the mall. "I just bought new underwear for your birthday," she said, fingers lacing around his wrist and tugging.

"Do you maybe wanna wear that again? Soon?" He gave her the hopeful puppy dog look, the one she could never resist.

"I like to be comfortable when I go hiking," Kate retorted, sympathetic and a little amused. "And I'm sure anything I wear will be gross and sweaty once we make it to the lodge."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Castle conceded, though it would have been nice. Kate had great taste and the body to pull off almost anything. And they both liked the thrill of well-fitting lingerie.

"But hey, you did tear my underwear last week."

Her eyebrow was lifted in suggestion and Castle scoured his pockets for his wallet. "I should definitely replace that pair. And the one from New Years Eve. And spring for a third to make up for all the inconvenience I must have caused you."

Kate's tongue was pushed between her teeth as she plucked the wallet from his fingers. "Meet you here in fifteen?"

He watched her saunter off and could barely repress a silly smile. He didn't know how he got to be so lucky.

A jostle of his shoulder brought him out of his fantasies and the group of teenagers continued on, laughing and chattering, and he realized he was standing in the middle of the mall like an idiot.

His feet carried him along the left side of it, his mind still with his wife and only a screaming kid startled him out of his thoughts. He came to a halt and checked his watch for the time when he realized he was standing in front of a baby store.

Onesies so tiny they didn't even cover the length of his arm, bootees made to keep tiny feet warm and of course, shelves filled with stuffed animals.

He'd never been able to tear Alexis away from those. She had fallen in love with one from every store they had gone to and he couldn't ever tell her no, so by the time she was five he'd thought he needed to line a second room with shelves just so she could display all of them.

It had been ridiculous and he'd been able to convince her to get rid of most of the fluffy toys when she started school by telling her she didn't need them anymore, that she was a big girl now. Only Monkey-Bunkey and a handful of others had been allowed to stay. She still had them, but they no longer got to fall asleep in her arms; they were sitting next to her pillow instead. Soon, she'd kick them out of her bed and he was the one who got to seal their fate.

He usually donated her other toys, but Monkey-Bunkey and that purple unicorn and the brown dog she'd gotten as an infant that had been bigger than her at the time, those were special and he wished he could hand them on to a child that meant something to him.

Sarah Grace had gotten Louis' plush sheep and the boy might be interested in a few of Alexis' stuffed animals-he still slept with his grey whale crushed against his chest every night after all-but in a few years, he'd lose interest in them too.

And then...

A sad sigh crawled up his throat.

He'd never had a whole family. He had a loving mother who had worked too hard in her desperate attempt to make ends meet, and he'd had a plethora of step-fathers, but they had never been a real family.

He had a daughter with a woman he never truly loved and who'd left them after only two years together.

That was not how he'd imagined his future family on a lonely day spent backstage while his mother was doing rehearsals. No, his nine-year-old self had summoned images of a wife wearing a puffy wedding dress, a little boy with his eyes-Benny, he remembered-and a black dog that fetched.

Well, he had the wife-and Kate Beckett was so much more than his imagined wife-and he had two children, both of which were amazing and dearly loved.

But the order of things was just wrong.

He was a lucky guy and woke up grateful for everything he had every morning, but sometimes, he just wanted to know what it felt like to have a baby with the person he loved. To actively try-oh yes, the excited, hopeful trying-to be there every step of the way and watch that tiny thing they made from love unfurl and go off to do great things.

But it seemed like Kate was of a different opinion. Every time he showed her a cute picture of Sarah Grace, dinner was apparently burning on the stove; every time he found something that had belonged to Alexis as a baby, she heard the imaginary call of one of the children; every time the word 'baby' fell out of his mouth, she needed an immediate update on their case from Ryan and Esposito.

She'd told him 'maybe' that day she saw her father for the first time in years, but now he was starting to think it might have been the emotional high of the day speaking.

"Castle?"

He jerked his gaze away from the store window and saw Kate standing there with a small bag in hand and a look on her face he couldn't identify.

"Found something?" he asked, his voice lighter than he felt and Kate lifted the bag, attempting a smile.

It fell flat but he ignored the resignation in her eyes and reached for her elbow to walk her back to the car.

He was tired of beating around the bush and disappointed in Kate that she wouldn't seek him out and open up - it was no secret that he was open to the idea of a third child. The ball was in her court.

Maybe he'd just straight out ask her. He didn't like putting her on the spot but he'd given her enough opportunities to either tell him yes or no.

Castle made a mental note to get both kids out of the loft for an afternoon before their camping trip next week. He just couldn't picture going on a 'romantic getaway' as she'd dubbed it knowing she was keeping something from him.


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