ECHO

Eighteen months earlier:

He knew she was worried about him.

Worried that he wasn't getting enough rest, that he had developed insomnia. Not that he'd ever kept regular sleeping hours, not as a writer.

He was used to being awake at all hours of the night, struck by a sudden bout of inspiration or the need to change a scene he'd written hours or days or weeks before. And she was aware of that, had been aware of that for longer than they'd been married.

But he knew she worried now.

He couldn't tell her he didn't want to sleep.

He couldn't tell her that even after months of being out of the hospital, he was afraid to go to sleep.

So he brushed off her concern, shrugged her off every time she mentioned the possibility of going to a doctor about his inability to sleep.

It helped that she was getting more rest, since he was the one who got up when Nate cried in the middle of the night. He didn't tell her he was usually awake already.

But in those still, silent moments, when his wife was asleep in their bed, when the bustle of New York traffic had quieted, when it was dark, and the whole world seemed muffled somehow, he got to know his son.

He learned what each cry meant hungry, wet, wanting to be held. He listened to the soft snuffles his boy made as he drifted off to sleep, tiny thumb in his round, pink mouth. He watched the way Nathaniel's eyes focused on him when he came into the room, the way the boy's cheeks stretched in an increasingly toothy grin at the sight of his father.

And yes, he was tired, his body aching and weary. But he found he wouldn't trade those moments for anything in the world.

Except.

Except maybe for those thirteen months when he had missed all of this and so much more.

"Castle?"

He jolted at the sound of Kate's voice, his head jerking toward the open door to find her standing there, silhouetted in the dim glow of the nightlight in the hall.

He gave her a smile in the darkness, was grateful she probably couldn't tell just how tired he was, and that if she could, she'd likely chalk it up simply to the late hour.

"He wake you up?" she wondered, yawning.

The writer shrugged lightly, doing his best not to jostle the little one who'd startled in his arms when Castle had reacted to his wife's unexpected presence.

"Needed a change," he said softly, deftly avoiding the detective's actual question. "Just getting him back to sleep now."

She pushed off from the door frame, her bare feet padding silently across the carpet, and found her way to his side, dropping gracefully to her knees and using his elbow as a chin rest.

Reaching out, she stroked a finger across their little man's marshmallow cheek, and Castle watched as Nate's mouth opened slightly at the touch.

"I love you," she murmured, and Castle smiled at the way this tiny thing had captured her heart.

"I love you, Rick," she said, her voice hitching on his name.

Surprised, he drew his eyes away from the downy head cradled in his palm, the hair dark against pale skin in the moonlight.

She was staring not at their son but at him, her eyes bright and a little shiny even in the dimness of the room, her lips parted.

He twisted his free arm to curl it around the back of her head, his fingers delving into her sleek curls. "I love you too."

"I just-" she began, but cut herself off, her eyes squeezing shut as she sighed.

A question was on the tip of his tongue, but then she was standing, reaching down for the sleeping baby.

She took him, and he felt a stab of hurt of jealousy as she walked toward the crib and carefully laid the baby down, making sure he was warm and fully asleep.

All those nights when she'd done this alone. Or with Alexis sitting in this chair instead. The first seven months of their son's life, and he'd missed it all.

It wasn't fair.

The curved line of her back hunched over the crib for a few moments, kissing their son, and then she straightened and came back to him, her left hand extended toward him, rings glinting in the moonlight.

"Come to bed," she whispered, but he shook his head.

"Go ahead," he answered softly. "I'm not sleepy."

He would sit there all night, keep watch over his son, the way he should have been doing all along.

Her hand rose to his stubbled cheek, her fingers spreading to card through the hair at his temple.

Leaning down, she pressed her lips to his forehead. "It wasn't a request, Castle."

He felt the tension in his shoulders, tried to fight it off for her sake, knowing she'd feel it too.

"Kate, I don't-"

She stood upright, and pulled on his hand until he had no choice but to give in.

"You need to sleep," she told him, a note of pleading in her voice, her eyes dark and intent on his.

He shook his head, but she stepped closer, her body flush with his, warm and soft and inviting.

"It's okay to sleep," she murmured, pushing up on her tiptoes to curl her arms around his neck, her cheek pressed to his, her mouth at his ear. "We'll all wake up in the morning."

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