Small hands skate along his jaw, soft, comforting. He pauses a moment in his pacing to glance down at the wide blue eyes, the concerned face.

She mashes his cheeks, babbling a string of not-quite words that fill his heart, calm him. Yet one more thing that Kate has given their daughter - that beautiful empathy that speaks into the hurt, knows exactly what to say.

Even though-

Oh god. Even though her only real word to date is the very reason he's standing here, his eyes flitting between his daughter's worried gaze and the bags of dog food on the shelves, the animal wellness magazines on the coffee table, the worn paperback copy of James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small on the reception desk.

He can't-

If she's-

Oh god. He'll never forgive himself.

He'd been on the phone with the vet, slumped at the table, head cradled in one hand and keeping an eye on both his daughter and the cat. The girl chattered sympathetically while the cat coughed, shivering, nothing he could do to help her.

And then they both went quiet.

His head shot up and he dropped the phone on the table, Dr. Joe Syring's voice still speaking on the other end of the line, gathering details and dispensing instructions.


He knelt on the floor, ran his hand over the soft fur, held a finger just in front of her nose. Still breathing. Oh thank goodness. Still breathing. But not moving.

"Rick?" the other man's tinny voice echoed in the silence. "Rick?"

He picked up the phone again, put it to his ear. "Rick, are you there?"

"Joe, she stopped moving. She's unconscious."

A heavy sigh answered him from the other end of the line, and then the jingle of keys. "Bring her in. Wrap her in a blanket to keep her warm and bring her in. I'll meet you there."

He scooped the tiny creature into his arms, intent on protecting her. Like he should have been doing all along, he chastised himself.

"Kate?" he called for his wife. She didn't answer.

Hydrogen peroxide, she'd said. Why? Oh. To induce vomiting. To get his damn garlic out of her system.

Where did they keep the hydrogen peroxide? Their bathroom. Right.

He strode across the loft, glancing back at his daughter who watched him solemnly, silently.

As he approached the office, he heard the slam of cabinet doors and the rapid thump of footsteps.

They almost collided as he stepped through the doorway, but she stopped short, eyes on his face, her expression turning from determined to desolate as she took in the absolute heartbreak he knew he couldn't keep out of his eyes.


She lifted a hand, spoke in a low voice, raw. "Castle. Is- is she-"

He shook his head. "She's still breathing. Joe said to bring her in immediately. He'll meet us there. Get me a blanket?"

And she did. Kate, as always, stepped smoothly into crisis mode, helped him wrap up their cat in a soft throw blanket from the end of their bed, and deposited the little creature back into his trembling arms.

He watched helplessly as she gathered her keys, the diaper bag, and their daughter. He followed her down to the car where she strapped them in, all of them, and drove them safely to the vet's office while he crooned softly to the bundle in his arms, offering any reassurance he could muster.

But he's the one who needed the reassurance. And somehow his daughter knows.

She gives up on squeezing and stretching his cheeks, lays her head against him instead, snuggling her face into his neck, a soft sigh escaping her little lips.

He tightens his hands around her, holds her to his chest as he paces. He needs to calm down. Has to stop worrying. Joe's the best vet around, and he's always taken good care of Minnie. Castle has no doubt he'll do so now.


He can't stop picturing the little gray body wracked by shivers, can't stop his ears from ringing with the echo of her coughs.

Something else. He needs to focus on something else.

He tilts his head to get a better view of his daughter, finds blue eyes wide open, gazing off into the distance, a rhythmic sucking sound quietly filling the otherwise silent space.

She's got her thumb in her mouth. He and Kate have been trying to discourage it, but he lets it slide for now, figures they should both take whatever comfort they can at the moment.

Speaking of comfort.

Sing to her. She loves his voice, always relaxes when he tells her a story or sings her to sleep.

Yes. He can do that. It'll make him feel better, make him feel like he's helping somehow, and if the tension he feels in the small shoulders is anything to go by, he probably would be helping. She knows, always knows, when he and Kate are upset.

He hums some nonsensical tune until he can think of a good lullaby to calm them both. But his writer's mind - which spends all day delving into the morbidly psychotic - can only remember a tune he hasn't heard since Alexis was in elementary school.

And the words-


A song about a cat falling off a roof and dying isn't exactly what he wants to sing to his daughter right now. Even if Seņor Don Gato does come back to life as the funeral procession passes through the fish market. Still.

He rocks her gently, goes back to pacing as he tries to block out the worst-case scenarios and think of something else he can sing to her.

Glancing down at her once more, he starts to hum a few notes, watches the cobalt eyes blink sleepily as she settles further into his chest, yawning around her thumb.

Before long, her eyes are closed and she breathes deeply, little puffs of air heating his collarbone. He continues pacing, walking the length of the room and then the width, meandering in slow circles, and finally in zig zags as they wait.

He tilts his wrist, not enough to disturb his sleeping cargo, but enough to get a glimpse of the face of his watch.

An hour.

It's been an hour since Joe met them at the front door of the clinic and pulled Minnie carefully from his grasp.

An hour since Kate replaced the emptiness of his arms with their daughter, lifting a hand to brush against his cheek, over the short hair at his temple, along the curve of his ear.

"We'll be back," she whispered, feathering her lips against his, a quiet assurance in her voice and in her eyes. "All of us."

He nodded and watched her follow Syring to the treatment room, a sizeable chunk of his heart going with them.

So he croons and walks, waiting for news.

When he hears a creak behind him, he stops dead in his tracks. He can't turn around. Can't face it.


Slowly, he pivots, unconsciously tightening his grasp on the little girl in his arms who lets out a tiny grunt at the movement.

His wife. Kate. Standing in the doorway, brushing the hair out of her eyes.

She looks drained, weary. But not heartbroken. And then she smiles. Oh, thank the-

"She'll be fine, Castle. She'll be fine."

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