Scrambling behind her as she entered the house, Castle and Ryan both tripped over it. Lying in a pile of old coats, silent and still, Beckett hadn’t even seen it as she and Espo cleared the narrow front room, finding the ramshackle Bed-Stuy townhouse abandoned and devoid of their suspect, of any signs of life at all.
“Beckett!” Ryan calls for her from where he and Castle hold a crouched vigil over the heap, “We’ve got a live one.”
‘Look at my life,’ Castle once told her. ‘All my dreams come true.’
He’s been talking about it since the day they got back from their (delayed) honeymoon. ‘It’d be good practice, if we want kids some day…’ he wheedled. ‘Someone’s always home.’ Couldn’t argue with that.
He’s worn her down, but her resolve was weak to begin with. Memories of the dry run with Royal spring up, how disappointed she was to have to give him up, how much she secretly enjoyed the shared custody with Castle before they were them (as much for the canine company as the excuse to see her partner outside of work). And things would be easier now. No custody arrangement. The loft always a happy bustle of activity. It would be good practice. She was very nearly about to give in anyway.
She just never expected this.
If anyone asks, this is all Castle’s doing and she had nothing to do with the fleabag. It was 100% not her idea to get this dog. A dog, yes. Eventually. Not this one. Let the official record show that she wanted to take her straight to the ASPCA and be done.
The thing is a walking bed and breakfast for ticks and Beckett’s sure she’s going to have to have the cruiser decontaminated. And her and Castles’ clothing will have to be burned.
The young dog’s gaunt body is weak and infested and the smell of infection is overpowering. She’s hard to look at, but her soulful brown eyes are grateful, even for the cautious touch he offers her as he cradles her in the back seat, wrapped in his jacket, searching her coat to find a spot to scratch where it won’t hurt. Under the patchy tan fur, the thin outline of what may have once been a handsome shepherd trembles, too weak to strike at the author even if she wanted to.
“Don’t die on me, Maggie,” he murmurs. “It’s all over, you’re safe.”
Oh dear god, he’s named her. He’s named her, and now that he has, there’s no going back.
“You’re gonna have a good long life.”
She hears with us, even though he doesn’t say it. With an exasperated sigh, she scans the signs on the buildings and makes a sharp turn at the first veterinarian’s office she sees.
Several flea dips, a painstaking tick removal, and the first of many rounds of parasite treatments later, all they can do is wait and hope.
Dr. McLean sent them home when she’d done what she could and told them it was 50/50. Kate nodded with acceptance. Castle did not. He’s never cared about odds. He looked the kindly older veterinarian dead in the eye told her they’d had worse, and he was right. She beat a bullet to the chest. He escaped a flaming car and a harrowing attempt on his life. They’ve been bombed (twice), shot at, nearly drowned, and they’ve possibly averted World War Three. There’s no way he’s letting this story have an unhappy ending.
“Come on, Maggie,” he begs, offering a dish of pungent food from a can, pushing it across the kitchen floor to where the dog lays, disinterested in food and still weak. “Just a few bites? I don’t want to get the syringe again.”
The shepherd lifts her head, now devoid of pests, and turns her pleading eyes to Kate.
“Good luck, girl,” she scoffs. “He doesn’t give up.”
With an affectionate scowl in her direction, Castle fishes around his coat pocket before producing a lavender collar, complete with the jingle bell and the round silver tag he’d optimistically made while they waited in the vet’s office. Kate thought it was rather too hopeful at the time, but she could hardly discourage him, not when he showed it to her with such desperate hope gleaming in his dark blue eyes.
'MAGGIE CASTLE,' the tag said in large letters, sitting right above the loft’s address and his phone number. The tag was even dotted with a tiny purple jewel.
He fastens the collar around the scrawny creature’s neck before returning to his dogged pestering of the puppy to eat. Kate knows she’ll make it, suddenly. She just knows. With that one gesture, she can’t do otherwise.
Maggie is a Castle now, and Castles don’t give up.
“Castle, this is ridiculous,” Kate hisses, slightly annoyed and more amused at his antics as he shushes her whilst walking her backwards into the study, peppering her face with kisses as he goes.
“But they’re sleeping!” he whispers.
“In our bed,” Kate huffs, though the smile quirking the corners of her mouth quivers with repressed laughter. He’s ridiculous. Tiptoeing around their own house is ridiculous. She loves it.
“Take what you can get, darlin’,” her partner grins, and the hand snaking around to caress her backside says he intends to do just that.
She takes one final peek through the bookshelf-wall, spying the regal tawny dog stretched out lazily and the shock of messy black hair peeking out behind, the two-year-old using her faithful companion’s warm, furry chest as a pillow.
“We’ve got a built-in babysitter who works for leftover chicken. She’ll be fine. Race you to the upstairs bedroom?”
And with that, he takes off, skidding on the polished concrete floors in his clean socks and she follows him on instinct, stifling a giggle in an attempt to avoid waking the bed-invaders.
They haven’t slept alone in their own bed for three years (the upstairs guest room has come in quite handy).
The noise is deafening at dinner, with two competing voices vying for attention and seconds.
The loft is a minefield of squeaky toys, tennis balls, and rogue Duplo blocks.
There’s fur in the couch that’ll never come up.
They have a disgusting blackmail album going of Caroline doing everything from eating from Maggie’s bowl, to carrying a filthy chew rope in her mouth, to trying to scratch herself with her foot.
The jingling from the collar on a playful shepherd and now from the anklet that tinkles with every step of tiny, pink feet is a constant melody, the soundtrack of daily life in the loft, only ceasing when the bearers are asleep or in trouble.
If anyone asks, it was all her idea to get the dog.