It's later that night and Castle and Beckett are back at the loft. Picking her up at the hospital was surprisingly incident free. Fortunately for Castle, his ploy to keep her there a couple hours longer so that he could meet with her father went undiscovered.
He had been equally successful in keeping his discussion with her team a secret. Castle struggled to keep a smile from invading his face as he thought of the earlier meeting. He couldn't help but replay the encounter in his head. He remembered how Ryan, Esposito and especially Lanie were overjoyed at the idea of him proposing. There were all willing to run a little interference to help him get to where he wanted to go. Neither the usually outspoken Lanie nor the sentimental Ryan were the first to speak.
It was Espo that said, 'The way you two have been mooning over each other since you started following her for 'research' everyone, except you two, knew that you would end up together.' He added emphasis to his word, 'research' by making air quotes with his fingers.
Even though Espo had intended to say more, Lanie playfully pinched his lips closed. Taking the floor, she glared right into Castle's eyes, gave him her best stern face, and told Castle in no uncertain terms that they were together because of her and Martha. She then went on to say that she had better be Kate's maid of honor. As hard as she tried to maintain her intimidating look she couldn't prevent a smile from taking over her face.
While he was pretty sure that Kate would choose Lanie, he had recently learned of another very close friend. He shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and told Lanie that wasn't his decision.
Just then Kate hobbled the few feet from the counter to the sink where Castle was peeling an onion for the salad to go with their dinner. The sight of Kate having this much difficulty in navigating the kitchen instantly brought Castle back to the present. It also made him feel more confident in his decision to delay "the question" until things had returned somewhat to normal. The case had already been solved, Dunn was in prison. While Kate's head and back were doing their very best to convince her otherwise, she really wasn't seriously injured.
He did his best to hide it, but Castle was in a fair bit of pain himself.
Thankfully, the most precious of Kate's possessions (pictures, letters, awards and her high school soccer trophies) were largely saved from the fire. They had been in the back of her bedroom closet, or in a fire resistant safe. With Ryan's help, Castle would soon be giving her mother's ring and her father's watch. Anything else could be replaced. He hoped that a new apartment would be unnecessary.
He was so intently focused on her long, elegant ring finger, imagining the ring he wanted to place there, that he didn't hear her offer to help with dinner. He had it bad. Even her finger was one the most seductive that he had even seen.
'Castle, are you listening to me?'
He smiled and stretched out his arm to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. As he began to withdraw his hand he found himself unable to resist the desire to caress her cheek. He gave her one of his go to lines whenever he was caught not listening, 'I was distracted by your beauty.'
She rolled her eyes like only Kate Beckett could. He couldn't decide which he liked more, the eye roll or when she bit her bottom lip. He was certain that no other woman could compete with her at either. It did have the desired effect; she was smiling, and he was forgiven.
She reached out and pinched his cheek, pulling him closer so that she could kiss his other cheek. Far from being angry, she beamed at him as she repeated her question.
'Can I help make dinner?'
'I appreciate the offer, but the steaks and the asparagus are in the oven and the rice pilaf is on the stove.'
She didn't have the heart to tell him that she was still a little nauseous and that sounded a little heavy for her first meal after 24 hours of no food and then of hospital food. She would eat enough to be polite before retiring to get some sleep. She was very sore and exhausted. She wondered if he would keep his word about not hovering.
Castle had culinary talent, there was no doubt. Everything looked perfect. When he wouldn't allow her to get her own food, instead insisting on serving her, she became the Kate she was trying so hard not to be. Her mind went into instant overdrive, over analyzing what this meant.
Is this what it is going to be like? He really wouldn't let me walk seven feet to the counter. What is it about him that leaves my senses so scrambled? I know he is only trying to show his love and concern; why does it drive me crazy? Many women would feel only appreciated. There are such a large percentage of good men that just aren't very attentive; shouldn't I cherish this? He would always make me a priority. He said that he liked me because I'm strong and independent, but he is treating me like an invalid.
Now it was his turn to catch her, 'Kate, are you listening to me?'
She clearly wasn't. 'I'm sorry. What did you say, Castle?'
'I asked if you wanted me to make coffee for after dinner.'
'No, thank you. I think I will try and get some sleep. I didn't get much in the hospital, or honestly, even the night before the explosion.' She realized referencing their fight in her apartment the night before had been a mistake.
He just ignored it. 'I understand. I think Alexis bought much of what you will need for these next few days, but let me know if you need anything.'
She nodded and started to force down some of Castle's creation. The food would have been delicious if her stomach wasn't rebelling. The meal was pleasant and the conversation light. But still, there was something in the way he looked at her. It was as if he thought she was a priceless four thousand year old piece of glass. How could they ever meld her fierce independence (yeah, let's call it that) and his pathological need to protect and pamper those he loved. She hadn't been here four hours yet, and he was getting on her nerves. Her mind began to drift.
Is it me? I love Castle, I'm certain of it, but can I ever live with anyone?
She didn't even want to go near the idea of being married. But at the same moment she was thinking what a great father he would be. She would love to have a little Beckett or Becketts running around, or would that be a little Castle? A question for another day. She was certain that she never wanted to be without him in her life. He was her one-and-done—in whatever form that would take. Who was she kidding, she was hoping for a ring.
She decided to do what she does — change the subject — even when the conversation was happening in the privacy of her own thoughts.
'Castle, thank you for dinner. It was amazing.'
He looked skeptically at her nearly full plate. 'If you say so.'
She glanced back to her plate. 'It was great, really. I'm just not myself yet. I think I am going to try and get a little sleep.'
As he watched her doddering towards his room he was struck by the self-discipline it required for him to stay in his chair. He wanted to spring up, gently but firmly grasp her arm and deliver her to the warmth, comfort and safety of his 900 count Egyptian silk sheets. It was dawning on him that if he couldn't control his urge to be himself, then she would be fleeing from his loft, even if she had to crawl out combat style to accomplish her escape.
The door that closed behind her seemed disturbingly formidable. It caused him to recount an image from an old movie where a large, oval topped, castle door had been pulled shut in an attempt to keep out invading hoards. The only thing missing was the moat.
Castle was a jumble of emotions. Confused as to why she just couldn't accept his help. Disappointed at his own lack of ability to control himself. Perhaps the most alarming emotion was fear. The terror of realizing that as perfect as they were for each other in some ways, it was not guaranteed that that they could spend every day together for the rest of their lives. He was the very definition of an extrovert while she was very private, with few close friends. How would these two divergent personalities and lifestyles merge into one forever couple?
He went up to the guest room to call his realtor. After scrolling through his contacts to find Tim's number he just froze. Suddenly, what had seemed like a logical plan just days before felt very wrong. He wanted Kate to stay at the loft long enough to become comfortable with the idea of living there forever. Now it felt manipulative. He should have picked up on the reluctance of the others. Jim, Lanie, Javi, Kevin, Martha, Alexis even Captain Montgomery all agreed to run interference, but there was something in their eyes he missed, or wanted to miss. All he desired was to spend the rest of his life with the extraordinary Kate Beckett. He knew she was uncomfortable with the idea of even staying at the loft. All he was trying to accomplish was giving her a chance to put her mind ease before he sprung the question. Now he would sink or swim. If it was meant to be she would accept.
He called Tim and asked him to start looking for an apartment for Kate. Castle knew what she wanted, and about what she could afford (that part made him smile). Afford with what she considered to be her money might have been a better way to say it.
He then made the necessary phone calls to let people off the hook. If he had any question as to if his decision was correct, it was answered multiple times. Their friends unanimously told him that it was the right way to approach it. They would've helped because everyone knew that Kate loved Castle, but they didn't like going behind her back.
He told them of a new idea. When there was a suitable apartment, he would throw a party at the loft to celebrate Kate finding a new home. They were all invited. He would propose that night in front of everyone. If she said, 'Yes' then the caterers would role in a huge cake with an engagement message. If she said no, then they would bring in a, 'Congratulations on your new apartment Kate', cake. If she said no, it would be easier if she was moving out anyway. Everyone was onboard. The party was tentatively scheduled for 20 days from now.
As a sleepy Kate came out of her room she was met by a friendly, but passive smile from Castle. After greeting her, he went back to reading on his laptop on the couch. She was confused, but went to get a glass of juice from his well-stocked refrigerator.
As she sat down next to him (leaving more space than usual), she asked, 'What are you reading?'
'I'm looking for a place for you to live' was Castle's reply. He then compounded the felony by telling her that he had been in contact with his relator.
The answer sent her reeling. She noticeably collapsed, hitting the back of the sofa with more force than is customary. Her mouth gaped for a fleeting moment before she recovered, steeling her expression.
She fought the urge to ask him directly if he wanted her to leave. If he felt that this had been a mistake. Maybe she should have stayed with her father. She knew how much Castle wanted to do everything for her. Maybe her reactions were getting on his nerves? It hadn't even been a full day yet. Her mind whirled.
They really could read each other's thoughts. He, sensing her concern, said, 'Kate, I love having you here. Please stay as long as you'd like. I was just trying to help. I know that you have been through so much. You are still looking for a place to live, right?'
He hoped that she would say, 'No. I am very happy here. Can we see how this goes before I consider buying a place?'
Her expression softened. 'I thought you were trying to get rid of me. I know I can be… challenging, especially when I don't feel well.' She rewarded him with one of her Castle-only smiles, and continued, 'I appreciate everything that you have done and are doing for me, everything!'
'You're welcome. But that wasn't an answer to my question, Kate. Are you looking for a place to live?'
Kate looked at him, then at the distant wall. The front door was next, but in the end she focused on him. She still didn't say anything. She was hoping that he would take the step of asking her to stay. Finally her pride, and that dang wall, took control. If he isn't going to ask, then neither am I, she thought.
'Well, I'll have to live somewhere, right?'
Now it was his turn to become frustrated. He was planning on proposing in less than three weeks, and she wanted to leave. That did not bode well for his plan.
The next 19 days passed quickly. All too quickly if you'd asked Castle. He had kept his promise not to hover over her. He kept much more distance than he wanted to. He was certain of her love for him, but very insecure as to if she would accept his proposal. If only he had known about her conversation with Lanie the night before.
Flashback to the previous night.
Kate sends Lanie a text:
KB: I'm sorry it's so late, but I need to talk to my best friend.
LP: What's wrong?
KB: I'm set to move out tomorrow night and he hasn't asked me to stay. He's even throwing a party that I'm leaving. I was hoping for a proposal, but would have accepted just living together if he isn't ready for that. I really thought we were there.
If it were possible to hear despair in a text, Lanie would have heard it. Never being one to hold back, she was direct.
LP: If you didn't want to move out then why did you buy an apartment? And you know that is not what the party is about.
KB: I couldn't exactly invite myself to move in. What was I supposed to do?
LP: Oh, I don't know, maybe have an honest conversation with the man that you love?
KB: And how would that have gone? 'Hi Rick, I know that you haven't asked me, but what do you think about my staying here with you forever? By the way, I'd love an engagement ring while you are at it!'
LP: That would have worked!
KB: Yeah, maybe. Or I might have ruined the best thing that has ever happened to me by pushing too hard.
LP: Do it now!
KB: He's sleeping in the guest room. I'm not going to wake him up and ask those questions now. He has gone out of his way to give me all the space I thought I wanted. Lanes, he's treated me almost like a guest. Sure, we've kissed, but not very often, and definitely nothing more than that. I know that I couldn't do more than that for the first ten days, but I've been fine for well over a week. Maybe he has decided that living with me isn't something he wants to do?
LP: Girl, for a first rate detective you suck at reading clues.
At this moment Lanie was almost physically ill. She was struggling to keep Rick's secret. Her heart rate was accelerated and she was showing signs of perspiration. Kate was her best friend, like a sister, but she gave her word to Castle. She knew that Kate will have the answer she wants very soon. Knowing the history of these two, she felt like she has to say something.
LP: Things are not always as they appear.
KB: What does that mean?
LP: It means; be patient, and don't do anything rash!
KB: Do you know something that I should know?
LP: Yes. I know that Castle has loved you practically since he met you. That is something that you should know.
KB: I hope you're right. Thank you for talking me through this. Love you, Lanes!
LP: Back at ya! Now get some sleep. Trust me, everything will work out in the end.
The day of Kate's party had finally arrived. All of their friends were gathered. There was a tension in the air. It clung to everyone like hot humid air. As much as people tried to distract each other with small talk and pleasant reminiscing, the unease was inescapable. This was either going to be a night to remember, or one that they would try and forget. Asking a woman to marry you before she is ready could spell disaster for our fledgling couple. Was Rick being too impetuous? Just then Castle's distinctive baritone voice rang out.
'Thank you everyone for coming tonight. It's been too long since we have all been together.'
Eyes darted from person to person. The moment was getting close. Everyone in the room knew precisely what was coming except for Kate. At least as far as the question that was about to be asked. Only Lanie was certain what the answer would be.
Rick put down his drink and motioned for Kate to join him.
'Here is the woman of the hour. We have all come together to congratulate her on her new apartment.'
Even as the applause thundered, Kate couldn't hide her disappointment any longer. She looked at the floor, desperate to hide the water forming in her disobeying eyes.
'And to express our love for her.'
Castle looked at Lanie and then fixed his eyes on Jim. He smiled at Jim before continuing.
'With everyone's permission, I would like to try and change the theme of this party.'
There was an audible gasp from those anxiously watching.
Rick took Kate's left hand in his right one. Using his other hand he reached inside of his jacket pocket and produced a small box. He lowered himself to one knee.
'Katherine Houghton Beckett, will you be my wife?'
Kate smiled, bit her lower lip, playfully slapped his shoulder with her free hand and said, 'What took you so long?'
With that she launched herself into his arms, kissed him deeply and passionately, before saying, 'Yes, Richard Edgar Alexander Rogers Castle, I will marry you!'
A/N Thank you to everyone that stuck with this story. I want to give a very special thanks to Sonic Messiah for everything. I also want to thank everyone who read, reviewed, followed, favorited and sent PMs. I could list several experienced fanfiction writers that offered encouragement and advice along this journey, but if I made a list I would be afraid of forgetting someone. You know who you are. Until next time.