Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I used to watch the show.
"Can't keep your hands off me, can you?"
She loves the muffled, cushiony quality of his voice when he's half awake. He's warm against her back, the best human spoon that she's ever experienced.
"I could say the same of you, Castle."
"That better not be a complaint."
"Not a complaint," she assures him, covering his hand with hers and sliding it up from her waist to her breast.
And then it's a lot more than hands that they can't keep off each other.
"Good morning," she says afterwards, lying on his chest.
She feels his calf twitch, and rubs the arch of her foot over it. "Nope?"
"Not good, fantastic. Fantastic morning. As in fulfilling many of my fantasies."
"Mmmhmm." She lifts her head and inhales. "Speaking of fantastic, I smell coffee."
"Must be Alexis. Funny, cause she doesn't usually get up this early."
Oh. Alexis. There's a wake-up call she wishes that she'd missed. "What time is it?"
He reaches for his phone on the nightstand. "Huh," he says, surprised. "Not early. It's almost ten."
"Ten? I never sleep until ten."
"We weren't sleeping."
She can't help giggling, and she's glad of it as she thinks about the conversation ahead with Castle's daughter. She assumes there will be one, and she's dreading it. "Time to get up," she says, rolling over and letting her legs dangle over the side of the mattress.
When she comes out of the bathroom a few minutes later, he's still in bed, lying on his side and looking at her. "Beckett?"
"You going to get coffee?"
"That's my plan, why?"
"Don't forget to put some clothes on."
She gives him a glare that's the unspoken equivalent of harrumph, and pulls on a striped sundress, one of a handful of items that she'd somehow had the wits to bring in a tote bag from her apartment yesterday. When she gets to the kitchen, she's taken aback by the sight of Alexis sitting there; she'd assumed that the girl would take her coffee upstairs to avoid having to speak to her.
"Morning, Alexis," she says, before pouring Jamaican Blue Mountain into two mugs. She thinks she might have heard a "morning" in response, but if so it's so faint that it's virtually inaudible. She can't very well just leave and go back to the bedroom; it's not polite, and Castle will ask if his daughter was there. What's a safe topic? She's desperate enough to settle for the obvious. "Did you sleep well?"
Kate takes a sip and looks directly at Alexis, daring her not to return the politeness, however trite. Finally, she reciprocates, just barely, with "You?"
"Like a baby," she says cheerfully. If babies had very passionate sex at midnight and again at nine in the morning, which they do not. She takes another sip and licks her bottom lip. "I love your father's coffee. He's spoiled me for anything else." Alexis looks as if she'd rather be anywhere else–a snakepit, Death Valley without water–but Kate is damned if she's letting her go now. Maybe it's the pheromones, maybe it's the caffeine, who knows, but her bravery has come rushing back. She feels much as she does in interrogation, completely in command, though what she's after here is not a confession, not even an apology, but some kind of acknowledgment, some accord. "I used to drink swill, before him. But things change." Pause. A pause that stretches like elastic in a cheap pair of sweatpants, until it eventually gives out. "Things change. You've changed enormously since I met you. You're old enough to drive, old enough to vote, old enough to go out on your own, old enough to make your own decisions."
She puts her mug down on the counter, turns around, and opens the refrigerator door. It's a ploy, of course, but it should work. She needs some time. What can she eat that's in here? There's a whole chicken, God knows how many kinds of cheese, carrots, fruit juices, milk, water, beer, eggs, bacon. Ah, grapes. They'll do. She removes the bowl that's holding a large bunch, turns around again, and sets it next to her coffee. She looks levelly at Alexis, who appears to be as set in place as the two-year-old box of spinach in her freezer.
"Your father has changed a lot in the last couple of years, too, don't you think? He was a playboy before he started working at the Twelfth. Told me he dated thousands of models, which I understand is an exaggeration, but still. He's fun, he's funny, but I see his serious side a lot more now. Contemplative, even. You've noticed, right?" This time she'll wait for a real response.
"I guess." Alexis shrugs, and a strand of her hair comes out of her ponytail. "Sort of."
Well, that's something. A little bit of a give. "The thing is, he's old enough to make his own decisions. You're his daughter, you're the most important person in his life. He'll always look out for you, but you're almost out of the house now. He doesn't have to protect you in the same way he has for all these years. He can make decisions about his own life in a way that he hasn't before, and for whatever his reasons, he's decided he wants to be with me. That's a change that I hope you can, if not embrace, at least be able to accept. I understand that it's not easy, because it's been just you and him for a long time."
She smiles faintly at the 18-year-old. "I've changed, too, you know, and it's all because of your dad. I never thought that I could trust anyone with my heart, and now I have. It's safe with him, my heart." Jesus, she needs to lie down. She feels as if she's run a marathon without training, in ratty old sneakers with no support. She closes her eyes and wonders if she can sleep standing up, like a horse.
Her eyes open.
"Is Dad's heart safe with you?"
This time when she smiles, it's not faint or tentative, it's everything. "Surer than anything in my life."
"Okay." She looks at the wall for a while before returning Kate's gaze. "Then I'll trust you."
XXXXXX (Time jump to August)
She'd gotten her job back more than two months ago, making an explosive return that had enraged Captain Gates, but it had been worth it. In many ways it feels as if it happened a lifetime ago because her own life has changed so radically, and all for the better. Castle had come back to the precinct not long after she; they're still learning how to be partners on the job while also partners off it, which is a challenge but one they both love. With the help of Castle, she's learning how to keep Bracken from poisoning their lives. She's learning a lot, especially how to lock away some things while opening up to others.
Martha and Alexis had flown home in late June. When they'd picked them up at the airport she'd mentally sung Sondheim's brilliant "I'm Still Here," but was zealous about not letting it travel from her brain to her mouth. Her welcome from Martha has been even more loving than she'd hoped, and she and Alexis are on pretty solid ground, the air around them not yet warm but definitely improving. The redheads have decamped to the Hamptons for the summer, where Alexis is waitressing at a seafood restaurant. It had been her father's idea and strongly endorsed by her grandmother. "You'll learn a lot of important things that aren't on any syllabus at Columbia," Martha had said.
The weather forecast for the weekend had been dismal, so she and Castle had opted to stay in the city, where the constant rain has kept them happily indoors. It's Sunday morning: he'd gone out for cinnamon rolls and they'd had a wonderful, leisurely breakfast. "This is one of my desert island foods," he'd said, licking a bit of cinnamon sugar from his thumb. "I could not survive on said island without it. And you, of course."
"Glad I'm up there with a cinnamon roll."
Now they're lying with their heads at opposite ends of the sofa, sharing both it and The Times. She drops the sports section on the coffee table and looks at him, confident that it won't be long before he's aware of it. When his eyes rise to meet hers, she beams. "So do I, Castle."
He beams back. "I'm always happy when you agree with me, but so do you what?"
"It's something you said a while ago."
"What while ago?"
When she doesn't answer, he presses. "This morning? Last week? The Mesozoic Era?"
"Ooh, that's precise." He lets the Book Review land next to Sports and gives her his full attention. "What time?"
"Nine minutes past eleven. PM."
"I was kidding when I asked, but really? You know the exact time?"
"Noticed it on your watch. You had your arm around my shoulder and your watch was right below my left eye."
"And it said eleven-oh-nine."
"You're killing me here, Beckett." His arm shoots out; he wraps his hand around her bare ankle and pulls her down the sofa towards him.
"I'm shocked that the date doesn't resonate with you," she says. "And don't even think about tickling my foot."
"Guess I'll just go back to the paper, then," he says primly, so she digs her toes into his thigh. "Ouch."
"Castle? This is sort of important." She feels her nerve ebbing and hauls it back in. "It's definitely important. To me, anyway."
"I'm sorry. Go ahead. I want you to tell me all about 'So do I, Castle'."
"Okay. It was that night that I came back here to talk to Alexis. You know, the night after the morning she and your mother found me naked in the kitchen, mooning around."
"Of course you were mooning, you had no pants on."
"I'm sorry. Really, I am. Just the thought of you naked in the kitchen makes my heart race."
"Fine. So, do you remember how I basically told your daughter that I was moving in here? Without ever having discussed it with you? We'd been together for only twenty-four hours."
"Technically. But I'd been with you in my head for a hell of a lot longer than that."
"I was so upset, and you sat down on the bathroom floor with me and said, 'I intend to spend the rest of my life with you'."
"I did. And I do."
She swallows hard, and is astonished to feel her eyes fill up. "Well, so do I, Castle. I intend to spend the rest of my life with you."
He lets go of her ankle and puts his hand on her cheek. "You do?" he asks, his voice full of wonder. "You do?"
"Yeah." A tear lands on the back of his hand.
"Hold on," he says, and sits up straight, shoving his hand into his pocket. He withdraws a small velvet pouch, and slides off the sofa onto one knee. He empties the little bag into the palm of his hand, then opens it and holds up whatever had been in there between his thumb and index finger. "Katherine Beckett, you are the only woman I have ever loved, will ever love, with all thirty-seven trillion cells in my body. Will you marry me?"
Her answer is immediate. "Yes. Yes. I will. I do, too. All thirty-seven trillion cells in my body." They kiss each other so hard that they almost topple on to the floor, and he pulls them back onto the sofa.
"Thirty-seven trillion cells, Castle?"
"Yes. I looked it up last week when I was watching you asleep in my office, and I couldn't believe how much I loved you. I wondered if it were quantifiable."
"Are you going to put the ring on my finger? I haven't even had a chance to look at it yet."
He slips it on, a platinum band set with three stones: a diamond in the middle, flanked by an emerald and a sapphire.
"My God, Castle. It's so beautiful. Thank you."
"The emerald is because in some light, especially low light, like when we're reading in bed, your eyes look green," he says, touching the jewel before he taps another. "And the sapphire is because my eyes are blue. Maybe one of our kids will have your eyes, and one mine." He kisses her again.
"It's perfect," she says. "But how come it was in your pocket?"
"I put it in there every morning when I get dressed. I've been doing that for almost a year."
"You have? But–."
"I know. I bought it last September, eleven months ago, the morning after we sat on the swings and you said you weren't going to be able to have the kind of relationship that you wanted until the wall that you'd built came down. That was the day I began to have hope. That was the day I decided that I would take down every one of those bricks myself, one by one, if I had to. No matter how long it took."
"You did, huh?"
"You know what, Castle?"
"There's nobody here but us. Your mother and Alexis won't be home until Wednesday."
"So," she coos, wriggling into his lap. "Let's get naked."
He laughs, a deep, rolling wave of a laugh that washes over both of them. When he finally stops he asks, "In the kitchen?"
"For starters. The only thing I'm going to wear for the rest of the day is this ring."
A/N That's the end of this tale, which started out as a two-shot and then, as is usually the case when I write, took off on its own. Thank you for staying with it and for being such warm and kind readers. Happy new year to you all. I hope to be back soon with another story.