She watches as he lifts one hand, hesitates, and finally rests it against Nathaniel's back. A sudden pang of unfulfilled longing twists in her stomach.

She remembers watching him the first time he held Ryan and Jenny's newborn baby girl, remembers the way his huge hands dwarfed the tiny form. She remembers the fluttering of her heart in that moment, the way she wanted to see him with their own child, wanted to see his face painted with not just an honorary uncle's affection but with the pure adoration she knew would spark in his eyes when he cradled their son or daughter.

She wanted that shared wonder at a new life, that sense of complete helplessness and yet knowing that this was something they'd created together - something they'd nurture and love together.

God, he missed all of that. And she hasn't realized until this moment how much she had wanted that for him, for herself.

His hand is still huge against Nathaniel's back, his fingers curling around the boy's side and stroking up and down over the bright green onesie.

But it's not the same.

"Can I-" he starts, but breaks off.

She lifts her eyes to his, finds him looking at the baby with such naked longing in his gaze.

Sliding both hands under their son's stomach, she lifts his limp form, sets him on his father's chest. Castle's eyes track with her every movement.

Alexis stands then, leaning over for a moment, and then the bed moves, tilting the writer's upper body until he's half-sitting, one broad hand under Nathaniel's rump, the other cupping the soft dark head against his chest. He shoots his daughter a grateful smile, and she grins back, scooting onto the mattress next to him, their shoulders pressed tightly together.

Something inside the detective releases at that moment, a fist unclenching, a knot untangling - she's not sure how to describe it, just knows with a flash of realization that no matter what happens, they'll be okay.

Tipping her head up, she stares for a second at the artificial lights above, wills back the rising moisture. When she drops her gaze back to her family, she finds father and daughter watching her with twin looks, both understanding and expectant. She gives them a soft smile, and Castle moves his hand from the back of his son's head, pats the narrow space next to him.

"It's a tight fit," he says. "But-"

She doesn't let him finish, just slides into the spot he's indicated, twists her body until one shoulder is sandwiched between the bed and his body, her chin resting at the juncture of his shoulder and arm, her fingers curling around his bicep.

A throat clears, and she looks up, realizing that Dr. Bodie has been standing here all this time. She half-shrugs sheepishly, but all he says is to be careful of the monitors and to press the call button if they need anything.

Nodding, she watches as he steps out of the room, shuts the door quietly behind him.

"Tell me about him?" Castle murmurs when it's just their little family, and she glances down to find Nate's body aligned with her husband's forearm, his head cradled in a large palm, legs splayed on either side of the writer's elbow.

She laughs, pressing her lips lightly to his shoulder. "Well, he was born on his actual due date."

"February seventh, really?" Castle asks, and she nods against him.

"Mm, they didn't induce or anything. He was just ready."

The writer lifts his hand, his thumb smoothing over the baby's cheek, wiping away a small spot of drool. "Already has better timing than his father."

His voice is light, but she can still hear the underlying sorrow, his guilt over missing the past year. And she knows that nothing she can say now will assuage that guilt.

"Seven pounds, thirteen ounces," she barrels on. "Twenty-two inches long. Gonna be tall like his dad."

Castle huffs out a laugh. "You're no shrimp yourself, Kate."

She smiles against his shoulder, tilts her head to brush her nose against his neck, a rush of gratitude rising in her chest when he turns his head to nuzzle against her. She remembers those early days, once Alexis was completely okay with their relationship; she remembers the look on the girl's face when she caught them being affectionate with each other - that mixture of happiness and disgust.

Catching the young woman's eyes on them this time, she realizes it's just one more thing that's changed.

There's only happiness now.

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