Bright. It's too bright through her eyelids.

A warm weight rests against her side, stroking gently, carefully. She struggles, slowly forces her eyes open, surrenders to a jaw-cracking yawn.

Oh, it hurts. Her whole body is sore. She feels wrung out, used up. And she can't really move much.

The hand at her side stills and a familiar face swims into view.

"Oh, Minnie."

The face draws nearer, and she tries to lift her head against the heavy fog that she doesn't quite understand.

Finally she succeeds and manages to brush her nose against cool skin.

She pushes out a rusty purr. The broad one grins.

One raspy little sound and suddenly Kate knows - she knows - everything is going to be okay. Castle looks like he's near tears. Relief, of course. But still.

She saw the hunch of his shoulders in the waiting room, remembers the desperation etched on his face while she drove them to Dr. Syring's clinic.

Kate tried to soothe him before she followed the veterinarian back to the treatment room. But she knows she'd left him worried, guilt-ridden. And now they need to talk.

She watches the way his hand strokes smoothly over Minnie's fur as he bends down close to the table, close to the soft gray ear to whisper what? Words of comfort, no doubt.

Her good man. Her tender-hearted man.

She's so very glad everything is okay. Or will be, within a few days.

Her daughter tugs on a lock of her hair and she glances down at the girl, leans over to press a soft kiss to her forehead.

When she looks up, Dr. Syring is watching them affectionately, a hint of longing in his warm brown eyes.

"You have grandkids, don't you?" she asks quietly, and he nods, a slow smile spreading across his weathered face.

"Two," he answers, gesturing toward a photo on the wall of a handsome young man, his wife and a pair of children, a boy and a girl. "Youngest one is about the same age as your little miss there."

"Do you get to see them often?"

The light in his eyes dims slightly. "Not as often as I'd like. They live in Alaska. My son works for a shipping company up there."

The detective nods sympathetically, cuts her eyes toward her husband and the cat who remains mostly still under his touch. She looks back at the vet.

"Would-" she begins. "I mean, don't feel obligated, I know you probably want to get home and you've already done so much."

Syring cocks his head to one side, studies her, and she decides to just spit it out. "Would you mind holding her for a few minutes so Rick and I can talk?"

He grins broadly even as Castle straightens, shoots her an inquisitive look.

The veterinarian shakes his head. "Wouldn't mind in the slightest. In fact, it would be my pleasure. I want to keep an eye on Minnie for a little while longer anyway, make sure the fluids are doing their job."

Kate nods, ignoring her husband's questioning gaze for now, and passes the baby to the older man who handles her with ease, an old pro. The young girl opens sleepy eyes, lips curling upward at the new face. So easygoing and friendly. So much like her father.

She reaches over to tug on one of Castle's belt loops, and he drops his eyes to Minnie once more. He's torn, she can tell. But she feels this burden weighing on her, sees how it slumps his shoulders as well.

"Come on," she says softly. "I just need to talk to you for a minute."

He turns weary eyes toward her. They hold none of their usual spark. But he nods, presses his palm to her lower back, and guides her back to the waiting room. The door swings shut behind them.

"Kate?" he asks once they're alone, his voice low and tense. "What's going on? She is okay, isn't she? She'll be fine?"

Oh. She rushes to lay a hand on his chest, to assuage his fears. "She'll be fine, Castle. Dr. Syring has it all under control."

"Then what?"

"I, uh," she begins, then lets out a nervous chuckle. This still isn't easy. "I need to apologize, actually."

His eyebrows furrow. "For what, Kate?"

She ducks her head, brushing her thumb against his cotton-covered chest. "For getting upset about you feeding Minnie from the table."

When she lifts her gaze to his, the guilt in his eyes strikes her like a blow to the gut. He clears his throat. "Well, looks like I deserved that, so no need to apologize."

"No," she says softly. "You didn't."

"Kate, we wouldn't even be here if I hadn't-"

She raises her hand to his mouth, pressing her fingers gently over his lips. "It wasn't your fault. Not at all, Rick. It was actually mine."

His eyebrows lift almost to his hairline, and if not for the seriousness of the situation, she'd find it both adorable and funny. But now is not the time.

"Remember when we went to that plant nursery last weekend?" she asks.

He nods against her hand and she finally removes it, dropping her fingers to twine with his, warm and familiar and right.

"And I found those tiger lilies that I absolutely loved," she reminds him.

His eyes gain back some of their light, as he no doubt recalls their visit to find a few houseplants and some fresh herbs that he'd wanted for cooking. Their daughter had stared at all the bright colors with wide, astonished eyes.

"Those were beautiful," he says softly, lifting his free hand to brush the backs of his fingers against her cheek. She leans into his tender touch, closes her eyes to savor the affection.

"Mmm," she agrees after a moment, opening her eyes. "And poisonous."


She frowns, squeezing his fingers. "Apparently some varieties of lilies are very poisonous to cats. When Dr. Syring checked her stomach contents, he found pieces of flower and leaf. If we hadn't brought her in when we did-"

She doesn't finish the thought. Castle laughs. Well, no. He's not laughing. She knows he finds no humor in this. But it's a chuckle, mirthless.

"I caught her chewing on those earlier today," he mutters. "I had no idea."

The detective shakes her head. "I didn't either."

His hand tightens around hers. "But then- the garlic?"

She does laugh now. "He said she would have had to have eaten quite a bit more for that to cause her any problems, though you really shouldn't feed that stuff to her. But you- you're off the hook this time."

He lifts his hand, scrubs it over his face. "I don't really feel any better for knowing that."

The detective shrugs. "I don't either, but I wanted you to know."

She pauses, waiting for him to meet her eyes once more. "And I'm sorry, Rick, for snapping at you."

He shakes his head, releases their entangled fingers to tug her closer, into the circle of his arms. "You just did what you thought was best."

She still feels bad, especially knowing the guilt he's been shouldering for the past couple of hours. But as Minnie feels better, as her husband also feels better, she will too.

And in the meantime, his tight hold on her isn't doing too bad a job of improving her mood.

"Hey," he whispers, warm breath bathing her ear. "Let's go see how Minnie's doing."

She nods against him, presses a gentle kiss to his throat. "Yes. Let's go check on our girls."

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