Minnie opens her eyes when they return, lifting her nose in the air, blinking slowly and then laying her head back down on her paws.

"How's she doing, Joe?" Castle asks quietly, stepping up next to the table and skimming his hand over the small form. She purrs under his touch, and he's grateful, so grateful to hear that sound again.

Kate comes to stand at his side, linking her arm with his and reaching down with her free hand to scratch behind the cat's ears. The purring grows louder for a moment before it subsides with a sigh.

"I think she'll be just fine," the veterinarian assures them from his spot across the table. "Just keep an eye on her for the next few days."

He lowers an eyebrow and looks at the detective. "And be careful of the lilies."

She flushes a little, and Castle wonders how long it's been since anyone chastised her that way. But she handles it as she handles everything else, with grace and humor.

"You'd think, since they were tiger lilies..."

Dr. Syring laughs, a deep belly laugh, and the baby in his arms stirs at the sound. She wakes and looks up at the mustachioed man, her eyes opening and shutting several times in succession.

Castle isn't sure how she'll react to waking up in a near stranger's arms. She's friendly, yes, happy to be held by almost anyone. But he remembers the first time she woke to Esposito's smiling face one day in the precinct breakroom.

She cried.

And they never let him live it down.

He never told Espo (and doesn't think Kate did either) that the baby was just wet and hungry. The other detective hadn't stayed long enough to find out, just passed her back to the writer with a look of wounded pride and stalked out of the room, muttering about getting back to their case.

But now she just stares at Dr. Syring, no worry in the blue eyes, just peace. The older man bounces her lightly in his arms and she giggles. Castle's heart eases at the sound, as if his daughter's laughter means that everything will truly be okay.

"Want to go see mama and daddy?" the vet asks in a rich baritone.

He steps around the table, but before he can hand her off to Kate whose arms are extended and whose lips curl upward in a smile, the little girl turns her head.


Castle looks at his wife, catches the roll of her eyes before she laughs. "Again?"

Syring turns toward them with an eyebrow raised in question. "Again?"

The writer chuckles. "So far that's all we've been able to get out of her. Just 'kitty.' No 'mama,' no 'daddy,' nothing else."

"Well, plenty of time yet," the veterinarian says with a shrug, bending down so the little girl can see Minnie better. "In the meantime, sweet pea, kitty is okay. She just needs to sleep."

Solemn eyes turn back to Syring, and then drift toward her father. He reaches toward her at the same time as Kate does, needs to feel his daughters warm weight against him. But his wife is closer and gets to her first, pulling her gently from the older man's arms and snuggling her close.

Ah, well. Not a problem.

"I have some paperwork you'll need to sign," Syring says, turning away and heading toward the other door that must lead to his office. "And then you all can head home."

Kate nods, Castle too, and as soon as the other man exits the room, the writer steps up behind his wife and slips his arms around her waist, tugging her lithe form back against his chest.

She lets out a contented little sigh that makes his heart pound faster, and he leans forward, cranes his neck to press a kiss to her cheek, another to her temple, one more to her supple lips when she turns toward him and hums.

Small hands pat his chin and he breaks from Kate's lips to drop a kiss on his daughter's forehead, delighting in the wide, toothy grin that appears on the little face.

"Gotta pay attention to both your girls, Castle," his wife murmurs, smiling as she tilts her head, pressing her lips to his cheek.

"I-" he begins, but a shaky meow interrupts his response, and he laughs.

"All my girls," he corrects, pulling one hand from Kate's belly to reach over to the table and stroke the spot just above Minnie's nose. Her eyes slide shut.

"I'm so glad-" his wife starts, and he tightens his hold on her, draws her closer against him.

"I know," he cuts her off. "I know."

She turns within the circle of his arm, tucking her face into his neck and the baby against his chest.

His heart stutters and he shuts his eyes. So lucky. He's so very lucky.

The door creaks and he opens his eyes, clenching the hand that rests at his wife's side. She pulls away from the embrace but stays within his grasp, holding their daughter with one hand and setting the other on top of his at her waist.

Dr. Syring clears his throat and strides purposefully toward the table, sets a sheaf of papers down and unhooks the fluid lines from the small gray form. Minnie lifts her head and meows at him. Her meow of greeting, friendly if still a bit strained. Castle smiles.

"All ready to go," the vet says, still watching his feline patient carefully. "If she starts to vomit, or if she doesn't seem to be using the litter box regularly, give me a call. And if you can bring her back in a week, I'd like to check on her anyway."

Castle nods his understanding when the man looks up at him. Syring smiles, his eyes drifting to the little girl in Kate's arms.

"I can't-" the writer says and then pauses. "*We* can't thank you enough, Joe. I don't know what we would have done if-"

The veterinarian shakes his head, waving a hand in dismissal. "This is what makes my job worth doing, Rick. I'm just glad we got her here in time."

The writer nods his thanks, hoping his eyes convey the depth of his gratitude to the other man. Syring's gaze studies the little group, lingering for a moment on each one before he speaks. "You have a beautiful family here. I'm happy that I can help keep it that way."

The vet leans down and turns the cat carefully, prodding at her belly gently.

"Everything okay?" Kate asks quietly, and Syring looks up with a smile.

"Seems to be," he answers. "I think she'll be fine. I just need to have one of you sign a couple of things."

Castle slides his hand slowly from his wife's waist and steps away. "Of course."

He flips through the packet quickly, signing in the proper places and then pulling his wallet from his back pocket and scrawling down his credit card information. "We'll have to get you upgraded to computers one of these days, Joe. Maybe even a credit card reader."

The vet laughs. "Been doing this for thirty-five years without computers. Why would I need them now?"

Castle laughs. "Touché."

"Hey, Rick?" Syring says, and the writer looks up from his paperwork, hearing something odd in the other man's voice. "There's one more form, but you'll need to take it with you. Bring it back."


The veterinarian reaches over to snag a stapled packet of papers from the bottom of the stack. "In a few years though. She's still too young."

"Minnie?" Kate chimes in.

Syring smirks, jerks his thumb toward the child in her arms. "This one. I figure any kid whose first word is 'kitty' will make a perfect clinic intern someday. Here's an application."

Kate glances into the back seat, but her daughter is already asleep in the carseat. It's late. Way past her bedtime.

Her eyes light on Castle as he buckles his seatbelt one-handed, Minnie back in her blanket against his chest. He's careful not to jostle the small creature, and the detective leans over to help him in his struggle.

"I love you."

His eyes dart up as the metal slides home, his brows furrowing even as a smile blooms on his face. "I love you too, Kate."

She lifts her hand to brush her thumb across his cheekbone then down to his bottom lip. "You're such a good daddy."

A little puff of air heats her thumb and he closes his eyes for a moment. When he opens them again, his eyes are dark and tender.

She leans forward and presses her mouth to his, soft, giving, breathing her devotion into him.

His hand abandons the seatbelt to delve into her smooth curls, cupping the back of her head and drawing her closer, holding her to him.

There's no need.

She's not going anywhere.

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