Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I used to watch the show.

"I still don't understand why you were so embarrassed about what my mother said." He shrugs as he stands opposite her at the kitchen island.

"Are you kidding? She's your mother, Castle. And despite her open-mindedness, I'd rather not have had her learn that we'd just had sex–"

"Mind-altering sex, celestial-body sex."

He's right, but she's not acknowledging it at the moment, and she plows on. "That we'd just had sex in such an, an–." He's so distracting–all citrusy-smelling and with one bit of hair standing straight up at his crown–that she can't summon up the right word. "Such an undignified way."

"You thought what we did was undignified?"

"Castle! Stop it. What I meant was that this was an undignified way for her to find out. It would have been nice if at some point we could have let her know that we're together. Suppose the shoe were on the other foot?"

"You talking about my foot?"

"Yes, your foot."

"I'm not wearing shoes."

If she weren't so smitten with him she'd take off one of her sneakers and throw it at him. "Grrrr."

"Did you just growl, Beckett?" He takes a step towards her. "Because that was incredibly erotic."

"Yeah, well you're lucky that I don't bite."

"Oh, but you do bite. I have the marks to prove it."

"Stop, stop, stop." She grabs her hair with both hands, and when she lets go she slaps both palms on the counter top. "Imagine–and I know that you're capable of it–imagine that you were in my kitchen, standing there with that unmissable I-just-got-laid expression, and wearing, I dunno, your boxers, and my father walked in. You might as well say, 'Hey, Jim, I just shagged your daughter'!"

It's obvious that he's about to say something, so she puts her hand up. "Or imagine that you walked in here and found Alexis's boyfriend wearing his pants or his shirt inside-out. 'Hey, Mister Castle, your daughter's still in the shower. Really hot, by the way. Alexis, I mean, not just the water. She's really, really hot'."

That does the trick. He blanches. "That's not the same."

"Close enough."

"Listen, don't worry about my mother. She brings this up all the time. Us."

"Say what?" It's only years of exercising off-the-charts self-control that keeps her from shrieking. "Your mother talks about the two of us having sex? You know, when she told me about my jeans I was mortified, but this is way worse."

Finally aware that he needs to save this situation, fast, he reaches out and smothers her hand with his. "No, no. I phrased that really badly. I have sex on the brain, can you blame me? My mother doesn't talk about the two of us having sex, she lectures me on telling you how I feel about you. One time we were sitting right over there"–he tilts his head towards his office, "and she said to me, 'For a man who makes his living with words, you sure have a hell of a time finding them when it counts.' It was last May, right after you'd kicked me out of your apartment, the night before Montgomery was killed. I was so angry and so hurt that I came home and tossed back a double Scotch, and then I threw the glass at the big mock-up I had of the Heat Rises cover. I threw it as hard as I could. It must have broken into a thousand pieces. That's when she walked in and asked, 'What the hell's going on here?' So I told her, sort of. And then she gave me some mother-to-son advice. You know what it was?"

She shakes her head. His hand is so warm on top of hers. It sends an exciting, low-level stream of electricity through her, especially when she thinks about where his hand had been very recently. "No."

"She said, 'Don't waste another minute.' I wish I'd done it. I wish that I'd gone right back to your apartment and pounded on the door until you opened it. I wish that I'd said 'I love you' as many times and in as many ways as I could until you believed me."

The hands that had made such an impact on the granite counter now grip the edge of it to keep her from collapsing onto the floor, which is where her glance has landed. She finally draws herself up and looks at the man she's loved far longer than she'd dared to admit, even to herself. Especially to herself. "I wish that you had, too, Castle. It might have taken a while for you to get through to me, but the grief it would have saved us, right? I'm sorry."

"I am, too."

"So," she says, relief and an urge to jump him right here flooding her entire system. "What do you say about getting out of here and going over to my place? As soon as I fix my jeans."

"Do I get to take them off when we get there?"

"I'd be really disappointed if you didn't."

Some time later–she's currently incapable of calculating how long–she's sprawled naked on top of him. "For the record?" she observes, a little groggily. "There was nothing remotely disappointing about that."

"Yeah?" he says, still in recovery. "Not for me, either."

"Speaking of records." She leaves the thought there, tempting him.

" 'Speaking of records'? I think I like the possibility of this."

"Speaking of records, want to break one?"

"Does it require leaving this room?"

"No."

"Or this bed?"

"That's optional."

"Okay, I'm in."

She kisses his shoulder. "Good, because it requires a lot of your being in."

"It does, huh? And the record we're trying to break is?"

"How many times you can make me come."

"Oh, my God, this is the best challenge ever. How much time do I have?"

"Three hours."

"And how many times do I–?"

"Five for a tie."

"Does the one a few minutes ago count?"

"Oh, definitely."

"So, five more to break this record?"

"You got it."

"I'm going for sex. I mean six. And sex. But six."

That was almost eight months ago, and she smiles at the memory of it. They'd both been so giddy and exhausted when he'd checked his watch and said, "I did it. With three minutes to spare."

"You're so proud of yourself, aren't you?"

"Damn right I am."

"You deserve to be. I don't know if I'll be able to walk for at least a day."

"I hope that's not a complaint."

"Not a complaint. 's a compliment. Now go to sleep."

"Halfway there."

"Same here."

That had been in early April, and now it's December first. It's 4:30 in the morning, and she's wide awake, watching him sleep. He's lying on his right side, one hand curled up against the end of her pillow. The blue-and-white-striped sheets on the bed are the same ones that they'd slept on on that exceptionally memorable spring day.

It's not the same bed, though, nor even the same room. A week ago, two days after Thanksgiving, she had officially moved in with him. Apart from her clothes, jewelry, and books, she'd brought very little with her. She had no sentimental attachment to her furniture or rugs or dishes, virtually all of which she had acquired after her former apartment had blown up. The loft easily accommodated the few other things, like these sheets–she has exceptionally strong feelings about them–and a quilt made by her grandmother that had survived the bomb and ensuing fire only because it had been at the cleaners.

Her mind is full of so much that has happened since April, including their discovery that Senator William Bracken is responsible for her mother's death. In the days afterwards, Castle had repeatedly talked her off the ledge, and she is finally content–not content, exactly, but confident–that they will bring the monster down in time. Castle is her rock, and Dr. Burke has helped her learn to trust, dare to trust, her heart. When she'd asked her therapist if he thought that she was crazy because she was nervous about moving in here, he'd told her, with a straight face, that she'd be crazy not to be.

In early September a couple who lived in a large one-bedroom apartment on the third floor decided to relocate to the suburbs. Castle pounced on the place before it could go on the market, and Martha took up residence. Much as she adores Castle's mother, she knows that she couldn't have navigated as well as she has if they'd all been in the same space. It also helps, she's not ashamed to admit, that Alexis is away most of the time, living five miles and a world away in her dorm at Columbia. She and the almost 19-year-old have built a pleasant relationship, but life is easier, especially in this relatively new relationship, without an adolescent under the same roof. Castle has never lived alone, but she has been on her own her entire adult life, and it takes some adjusting. Happy adjusting, it has turned out, but still.

It's after five now, and she wants coffee. She inches out of bed without disturbing the six-foot-two object of her unqualified affection, picks up her bathrobe from a chair, and goes to the kitchen. While her first caffeine fix of the day is brewing, she hears the slap of the newspapers as they land outside the door, and goes to fetch them. On weekends they get two copies of The Times. Castle had insisted on it because they both love the Saturday and Sunday puzzles and neither likes to do them on line.

"We could just make a copy on the printer," she'd said one hot August morning when they where still sharing the paper and squabbling over it.

"I'm not doing a crossword that's been copied on white paper," he'd said, looking as horrified as if she'd insisted that he wear a plaid polyester suit. "It has to be on newsprint. It has to have the right feel. And the right smell."

"I don't mind. I'll take the copy."

"You know, Beckett, I never dreamed that I'd have the luck of being with a woman who would immediately appreciate that the answer to the clue 'DISCOVER RIVAL' is 'VISA.' So there is no way that I could bear watching you do the puzzle in anything but the actual, honest-to-God newspaper."

It must be an indication of how much she loves him, and how much his way of thinking has crept in and cuddled up to hers, that his argument had seemed and continues to seem logical. By the time her mug is empty she has completed the top third of the puzzle and she's itching for him to wake up. She'd gotten the idea for today weeks ago and she doesn't want to wait any longer, but her phone tells her that it's 5:48. Still too early.

For some reason the phone reminds her of an evening in June when he'd been writing and she'd walked into his office. He'd been lost in his work, and hadn't noticed her. She'd stood there for at least a minute, drinking in his expression, a combination of intensity and satisfaction. After slipping her phone from her back pocket, she'd taken a photo of him, and a nanosecond later he'd looked up. The joy in his face, his elation at finding her there, had almost made her weep, but she'd had enough wits to press the button again.

"Oh," he'd said. "Oh, my God."

"I'm sorry, Castle. I interrupted you. I didn't think you'd realize that I was here."

"No, no, that's not it. I just remembered something amazing. I thought they were gone." He'd pushed his chair back so fast that it hit the wall behind him, and he'd rushed towards the bedroom. "Come here, come here."

She'd followed him into the walk-in closet, where he'd already opened the small safe that's set into a back corner. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for something I'd forgotten that I had. Here. Yes!" He'd held up a flash drive. "Do you know what this is?"

"Don't know what's on it, but sure."

"What's on it are the four hundred forty-eight photos that I didn't remember that I'd backed up. The sum total of all the ones I'd taken of you up until that awful night a couple of months ago when I deleted them. I thought they were gone forever."

He'd dashed back to his laptop and gone through them all with her, commenting on every one. Those images were and are like a Rosetta stone of their relationship before it was a relationship, when she was pretending that it was a partnership, or a friendship. And when they'd finally seen number 448, he'd swept everything off the top of his desk and they'd had sex that had set a new personal standard for passion.

She looks at her phone again. Okay, it's 6:00. They get up this early for body drops all the time. She scoots over to one of the lower cabinets, pulls out a large roasting pan, hoists it to waist level, and lets it drop to the floor. The noise is so loud she wonders if the neighbors will call to complain. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four–

She hears his feet on the floor before she sees him. "Kate? Are you okay? What happened? What happened?" He's wearing only a pair of green boxers with the bright red message "Unwrap me first."

"Nothing. I'm so sorry I woke you. Dropped a pan." She grabs him by the hand and kisses him. "Morning. Ready for breakfast?"

"Uh, you know it's Saturday, right? We can go back to bed."

"It's not just any Saturday, Castle. Here, sit down." She guides him to a stool and slides a mug of coffee over to him.

"It's not?"

"No."

"What is it?"

"December first."

"Okay."

She opens a drawer full of pot holders and dishtowels, digs down to the bottom, and extracts a large manila envelope. "Here," she says, offering it to him. "Open it."

He undoes the small metal fastener and pulls out a brightly colored, illustrated piece of cardboard. "Aww." He smiles at her. "An Advent calendar. Thank you. I used to have one every year when I was a kid, and I always gave one to Alexis, but when she got to be a tween she announced that she had outgrown such things. It crushed me." He looks it over, as excited as he must have been at age five. "This is one that has a different chocolate every day, right? Those are the best."

"Don't open it!"

"Don't open it? Isn't that the point? The little window marked with a one."

"I'm going to open it."

"Geez, that doesn't seem fair. Who are you, the Grinch who stole Advent?"

"You can open all the others in a few minutes if you want, eat all the candies inside today, but I have to do this one."

"Okay, if it means that much to you."

Very carefully she uses her fingernail to pry open the little door that she'd glued shut yesterday, before she'd hid the calendar. Positioning herself so that he can't see what she takes out, she wraps her fingers around the item. "Give me your hand," she says, and takes hold of it with her free one. "You know what advent is?"

"Of course. The season leading up to Christmas."

"Right. But the word advent means the birth of something or the dawn of something. And that's what today is, at least for me, and if I read you right, for you. For us. You have expanded my idea of love in every way and every direction. I never knew, never truly understood, just what intimacy is, what it can mean, how it can change someone, until I fell in love with you. So today is, I hope, the dawn of something new." She opens her other hand, revealing a simple gold ring lying in her palm. She holds it up between her thumb and index finger and says, "Richard Castle, will you marry me?"

When he nods, she puts the ring on his finger and leans over to kiss him.

"Yes I will," he says, after the long kiss. "Yes."

She looks at him and beams. "Did you just quote James Joyce to me?"

"Yes."

"And we aren't even in bed."

"Maybe we should be."

"I think we should."

A/N Thank you all for coming on this roller-coaster ride. I appreciate all of you who still visit the FF Castle world and read stories by those of us who are also still there. I'll be back soon, and I hope that you will be, too.