To my anonymous reviewers: Lulu &, Anastasia – Thank you.

And to my amazing beta team of Whatarushh, NathanFan, & LadyBrenlis, Thank you for your time, patience, and talent. Without you we wouldn't be here.

Almost 4000 words in this chapter, I hope it makes up for some of the shorter ones. I could have split it up but I thought this was a more satisfying ending.

Your reviews have been amazing. As this is my first long fic, it's really been a boost to my confidence. Thank you all for making this such a fantastic experience. I sincerely hope you enjoy the conclusion to this story.


...

"Thought I heard you were a blonde?" Lanie joked lightly as she walked up to the table. They'd spoken on the phone but hadn't seen one another since before Kate had gone undercover. Answering Kate's raised eyebrow, "Esposito and Ryan may have mentioned it in passing." In passing meaning she had grilled them for details.

"Thankfully you heard wrong." Kate smiled as they hugged. Other than her doctor's exam and her mandatory police psychologist sessions, this was her first official outing. Grateful to see her friend, she felt the tension she'd been carrying melt away. "I got rid of the blonde a few days ago."

Actually, it had been Alexis' doing. They'd just finished a late breakfast. Rick was in the kitchen cleaning up while Kate went upstairs to change. As she was brushing her hair and sighing at the horrible color reflected back in the mirror she heard a soft knock at the door. "Come in."

Alexis stepped in, lips pursed, looking uncharacteristically timid. "Kate, are you almost done?"

"Yeah, Alexis. What's up?"

The young girl was staring back towards the doorway, not meeting Kate's eyes.

"I have someone downstairs for you to meet."

"Who is it?" Kate's brow furrowed, perplexed.

"Just come on down when you're ready. We'll be waiting." With that the redhead ducked out and disappeared down the hallway.

Kate looked back in the mirror and shook her head. With no idea what she was walking in to, she descended the stairs. Seeing Alexis in the entryway chatting amiably with a well-dressed man carrying a large black bag.

Alexis introduced them. "Kate this is Jean Claude. Jean Claude this is Kate."

"It's nice to meet you." Kate shook the man's hand looking from Jean Claude to Alexis, still trying to figure out what this was about. Then she noticed Jean Claude was looking at her intently but not at her bruises. He was looking at, no, more like inspecting her hair.

"Jean Claude is a hair stylist at my salon. His specialty is color correction." Alexis looked down at the floor and then cautiously back up at Kate. "I knew you didn't feel like going out just yet so I figured Jean Claude could come to you." Eyebrows raised, Alexis hoped she hadn't overstepped.

Kate didn't know what to say. The Castle family seemed to have that effect on her. "You didn't have to go to all that trouble."

Jean Claude answered in a light French accent. "Ah, no trouble. Let us get a better look at this color." He guided Kate over to the natural light of the windows. "How was this done?"

As Kate described the cheap box hair coloring that she'd used, she watched the man visibly wince. The photos Alexis had given him were now scattered about as he studied Kate's original color. In a few short minutes he was mixing up his magic concoction on the kitchen counter. Kate perched on a bar stool, smock draped over her clothes, was ready to be transformed.

A little over an hour and one quick shower later, Kate looked and felt more normal than she had in days.

"It is acceptable?" He asked packing his things.

"Acceptable? I love it. Thank you." She grabbed for her purse to pay for his services but Jean Claude shook his head.

"That has already been taken care of." He picked up his bag and offered his hand. "It was lovely to meet you and Miss Alexis, tell your grandmother I said Hello."

As Jean Claude left, Kate smiled warmly. "Thank you Alexis, you really didn't have to go through all of that trouble. Please let me pay you back."

"Oh, Dad took care of the bill." Alexis shrugged. "I just know how much I hate it when I have a bad hair day. I can't imagine having the wrong color." She mock shuddered as she headed for the stairs. "By the way, I think Dad is hiding in his study."

He hadn't shown his face the entire time. Kate knocked lightly on the door.

"Come in." Castle held his breath as she entered, unsure what her reaction would be. Was it too much? Would she see it as interfering or as the caring gesture he meant it to be? His tension drained away when he saw her face. Better than the hair was her smile and the way her eyes were beaming.

"Thank you." She said simply as she walked towards him. "You didn't have to do this." She could only imagine how much a house call for corrective coloring must cost.

"It was no problem." He stood up, relieved and wrapped his arms around her. "Besides, it was Alexis' idea." His incredible daughter never ceased to amaze him. "Anyway, I was starting to feel like I was cheating, kissing a blonde."

She smacked his chest lightly and kissed him, allowing herself to melt into his embrace.

Lanie's voice shook her back to the present. "So, how are things going at Casa Castle?"

"Good. It's going good." Kate's voice trailed off in thought.

"But?" Lanie looked at her quizzically.

"What? No. Castle has been wonderful. It's been really nice staying at his place. It's just…" Kate sighed looking down at her fingers. "He asked me to move in with him."

Lanie's eyebrows shot upward. "Girl, you've been holding out on me. So, what's the problem?"

"I…I'm not sure I'm ready for that." Kate's voice sounded small, quiet.

"OK. Have you told him that?" Lanie was watching her friend closely.

"No. He told me to think about it." Nibbling at her lower lip she continued. "When I'm at the loft with Castle and Alexis, everything feels so warm. I can't believe the place I once called the bat cave feels so homey." Rolling her eyes as she half smiled.

"But you still aren't ready." It was more a statement than a question.

Kate let out a sigh, shaking her head. "It's all moved so fast, Lanie. He's Castle. He can still make me crazy. Now there are times he hovers and I want to strangle him. But then…am I pathetic to say that sometimes I like the way he takes care of things, of me?"

"Pathetic? Honey, God no. If anyone deserves a little TLC it's definitely you Kate, especially with everything you've been through. If Writer Boy's the one who can do that then I like him that much more." Lanie grabbed her friend's hand across the table and gave it a light squeeze. "Kate, you need to tell him how you feel. I think he'll understand."

As the waiter refilled their water glasses Kate made a conscious effort to change the subject. "So how is work? I need to know what the real world is like outside of the bat cave."

….

….

Castle came down the stairs of his loft and stopped short at his unexpected guest. "Mother, I didn't know you were here."

"I just dropped by to see how everyone was doing. How is Kate? Is she here?" Martha asked pouring herself a glass of wine.

"No, Kate's out having lunch with Lanie. She's doing OK." The grimace on his face spoke volumes. "She's …better." Searching for the right word.

"Then what's wrong?" Martha offered him a glass but he shook his head.

"Nothing, really. I mean, her injuries are healing, although some of those bruises are going to take a long time to go away." His mouth was pressed into a tight line before he continued, his voice low. "She's still having nightmares; wakes up, yelling. Sometimes she pushes me away like…" He swallowed hard, not continuing his thought.

Martha finished it for him. "Like you're the man who attacked her."

"Yeah." Castle sat down on the stool next to her. "I want to make it better. I just…I don't know how."

"Kate's a tough girl. She'll come through this. Just give her time." She placed a consoling hand on her son's arm. "I hear you asked her to move in?"

Castle shot her a surprised look that she dismissed with a wave of her hand. "Alexis told me. Are you sure you weren't jumping the gun a bit?"

Castle's voice went up in pitch. "I like having her here and so does Alexis. Besides, she shouldn't be alone." His brow creased as he looked back down at the countertop.

Martha opted for a different tactic. "How are you doing with all of this?"

"What? I'm fine. No one attacked me and locked me in a cellar." Sarcasm seeped into the words.

Martha dipped her head a bit, looking up at him. "I know but that doesn't mean all of this doesn't effect you too, Darling. What kind of dreams are you having?"

He looked at her almost guiltily. "We go into that cellar and we're too late. She's lying there and…" He paused, closing his eyes, his breathing becoming shallow.

"Richard," she said softly, gently squeezing his arm. "Just don't kid yourself that this hasn't affected you too. Maybe its not so much that Kate shouldn't be alone as much as you not wanting her to leave."

The click of the front door startled them both as Kate entered the loft. "Well, speak of the devil." Martha called out as she walked towards Kate, pulling her into a quick hug. "How are you doing, Kiddo?"

"I'm fine Martha. It's good to see you." Kate's smile was genuine.

Rick forced his tone to sound lighter than he felt. "How was lunch with Lanie?"

"It was good. Lanie's busy with work. Something I should be getting back to."

"Isn't it a little soon?" Rick's brow furrowed in concern.

"I've got my follow up appointments on Friday. If all goes well I could be back at work Monday morning." Kate looked up at Rick, her brows drawn together surprised by his expression.

Rick opened his mouth to speak but wasn't sure how to respond. Martha stepped in, taking Kate by the elbow and leading her towards the kitchen. "Let me get you a glass of wine, my dear. Your hair looks lovely by the way. I hear you met Jean Claude."

As the two women wandered into the other room Castle ran his hand through his hair. His stomach tightening for reasons he was still trying to understand.

….

….

Her head on Rick's chest, Kate had fallen asleep. All week, he'd routinely lay out one of his dress shirts for her to sleep in and they'd crawl into bed. The new ritual providing them both some level of comfort.

During the night Kate rolled away, kicking off the covers. She drifted awake, feeling a soft caress against her neck. Slowly opening her eyes, she didn't move. Rick's hand trailed from her neck, down her arm to her wrist. His thumb tracing soft circles over the purplish ring that still shown there.

So intent on her bruises he hadn't realized she was awake. Kate was unable to read his expression. His jaw was tight, his mouth a thin line. His hand continued it's downward path as his fingers lightly brushed over the discoloration on her thigh just under the hem of the dress shirt. She shuddered slightly.

Startled, Rick looked up to find her watching him closely. Kate was taken aback by the look in his eyes; guilt, fear, and concern all warred for dominance across his face. Without thinking she slowly trailed her fingers across his cheek, brushing her thumb against the stubble on his chin. He opened his mouth, searching for words to explain. She didn't give him the chance. Her hand slipped to the back of his neck as she pulled his mouth to hers. The long slow kiss that followed left him dumbfounded, his heart beating wildly.

His hand grasped her shoulder, unsure whether to pull her closer or push her away before he couldn't stop. He hadn't done more than hold her since she'd been back. As Kate's mouth released his, he breathed deeply trying to maintain his control.

Kate's eyes never left his and the emotion she saw there overwhelmed her. Her heart pounded in her ears. Her fingers played in his hair, keeping him close. As their breaths mingled in the silence of the night she whispered, "Make love to me, Rick."

He cupped her cheek, holding her still as he focused on her eyes. He needed to be sure. Her gaze never wavered. Before he could form a question her mouth was on his again. Kate kissed him with an urgency that caused his body to respond. Rick's hand caressed her back, her hips, slowly trailing her contours. Relishing the feel of her curves as they molded against him. When the kiss broke he forced himself to slow down, pressing feather light kisses over bruised skin. They spent the next hour reaffirming through touch as much as words that she was still very much alive.

Afterwards they lay wrapped around one another, enjoying the closeness. Rick's hand lay across her waist and her fingers played lightly over his. She chuckled quietly.

"What?" He asked kissing her temple.

"When I was in the club and the first wave of dizziness hit me I didn't know it was the drugs. I remember thinking that without you around I hadn't had a decent cup of coffee all day. When did that happen? When did I stop managing my own caffeine fix?" She turned up to look at him. A half smile played across her lips but he didn't return it.

"Can you tell me what happened?" He held his breath awaiting her response.

She rolled onto her back, staring up at the ceiling. "Sometimes I think the worst part is the things I can't remember. The gaps I'll never be able to fill." Her voice was surprisingly steady as she spoke. "I remember Viktor dragging me into that van. I know what he tried to do." Rick's hand tightened on hers. She squeezed back, accepting the comfort. "One minute I can picture him on top of me and the next there's… nothing." Rick closed his eyes, lightly kissing the top of her head. Taking in her scent. Reminding himself that he was holding her in his arms, safe. "My therapist says that some of my nightmares are just my mind trying to fill in the blanks." She paused taking a breath, then another. "Then there are the ones in that basement." Her voice became quiet. "He was going to kill me."

He felt her tremble and he pulled her closer, feeling guilty for asking. "I'm sorry, Kate. I'm sorry."

"I'm alright." She intertwined her fingers with his. Taking a shaky breath she turned towards him. "How about you? When did you find out I was missing?"

Castle closed his eyes and pressed his lips together before speaking. "I waited all night for you to call. I went to the precinct the next morning to find out what was going on. No one knew anything. Then Montgomery told us you were missing." He took a deep breath to steady himself, the scenes playing out in his mind's eye. "I think it was the longest day of my life. At one point they found a woman's body and we thought it…we didn't know if…" His breath caught in his throat. He simply couldn't form the words.

"I'm OK, Rick. It's over. I'm right here." Kate took his face in her hands and kissed him softly.

"I know. I know." He repeated holding her tighter. Placing gentle kisses on her forehead, nose, lips. They lay facing each other, foreheads touching. Each finding calm in the others presence until exhaustion finally took over and they slept.

The next morning Rick awoke to find Kate watching him.

"See, it's creepy." She smiled at his slightly shocked look. He gave her a lazy grin and pulled her too him.

Giving him a quick kiss before pulling back, she looked him in the eye. "Rick, it's time for me to move back to my place." She found herself holding her breath as his content expression turn to a disappointed frown.

Kate placed her hand on his chest, looking down at her fingers. "I'm not even sure how to say what it means to me that you asked me to move in here. There's a part of me that wants to but I just don't think it's the right time."

He put his finger to her chin, lifting it back up until she looked at him. "We seem to be doing pretty well so far?"

"Yes, and I've loved every minute that I've been here. You and Alexis have been wonderful but I'm not ready for this." She nibbled her bottom lip nervously. "I don't think we are ready for this. Not yet."

Hurt and confused, Rick pulled back, looking away. She tried to explain, taking hold of his hand, tugging him towards her. "Before all of this" she shook her head unable to find an appropriate term, "happened, you and I were just getting started." He went to interrupt but she cut him off. "We've known each other for almost two years but as a couple, we really haven't been dating all that long." She paused, waiting for him to acknowledge the truth in the statement.

He nodded, not sure how to respond but starting to see where she was going with this.

She continued. "With everything that's happened, it feels like somebody hit the fast forward button on our relationship. I just think we need to slow things back down. I don't want to make a major decision about us because of what's happened, because of what someone else did. That doesn't feel right. I don't want to miss anything." She trailed the backs of her fingers across his chest, looking back up into his eyes. "I want to enjoy how we get there, not look back and think…"

"That we moved too fast and maybe for the wrong reasons?" He said slowly, finishing it for her. His shoulders slumped a bit and he swallowed hard as he pulled her closer.

"Yeah."

He brushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear as he sighed. "So, can I at least take this as a maybe later instead of a no?"

"Definitely." Her smile widened as she reached up and kissed him.

"Well, then" he murmured pulling her to him, deepening the kiss. "I may have to let you leave my apartment eventually but I plan on keeping you in my bed as long as possible."

She tilted her head back, playfully giggling in response to his mischievous grin. The two enjoyed the rest of the morning not leaving his room.

….

….

Kate caught up on case files early Monday morning. If felt good to be back. The bullpen quiet, her mind wandered to thoughts of the weekend.

Rick practically begged her to stay until Sunday but she explained she needed some adjustment time and had things to do at her own place. He was disappointed but acquiesced somewhat gracefully. Rick offered to have groceries delivered to her apartment when she moved home Saturday. He knew the edible options in her fridge would be even less than usual.

Kate had to laugh at that. "Thank you but no. I can do my own grocery shopping and it will help things feel more normal."

"Really? Because from the look of your fridge I wouldn't equate grocery shopping and normal in the same sentence." Castle enjoyed the eye roll and the light slap on the arm he got in response.

Ryan and Esposito's entrance shook her from her thoughts. "Beckett, I didn't think you'd be back so soon." Ryan smiled as he headed towards her desk.

"Yeah, I thought Castle would've whisked you off to some tropical island to recuperate," Esposito said with a wicked grin.

And there it was. Her relationship with Castle was now out in the open. It took her only a moment to realize she was OK with that but rolled her eyes anyway. "Don't give him any ideas." Then she quickly changed the subject. "Catch me up. What cases are you boys working on?" And they dove back in as though she'd never left.

A couple of hours later a shadow fell across her desk. The aroma of a properly brewed latte all the clue she'd needed as to its owner.

Castle hovered next to her desk, two steaming cups in his hands. "Detective?" Trying to mask the nervousness in his eyes with a smile.

Kate smiled back. "Thank you." She reached for her coffee and gestured towards his chair. "You didn't have to come in today. Montgomery put me on desk duty and I've got plenty of paperwork to catch up on."

Castle settled in his chair and fought back a grin. He knew she'd want to jump back in but having her take it slow made him feel better. "Well, we can't have my favorite detective running low on caffeine."

She closed her eyes taking in the aroma and then a long slow sip. "Hmm. No, we certainly don't want that." She went over the current cases with him and let him look through some files. After a few hours with little to do, Castle resorted to his favorite pastime, watching her.

"Castle!" Kate barked, obviously annoyed.

"I know, I know. It's creepy." He said in mock surrender, slumping into his chair.

She almost smiled at his tone. "Look, you're bored. There's nothing going on here. Don't you have some writing or something to do?"

He sighed. There was certainly work of his own he could be doing but he wanted to be with her, make sure she was OK. Then his eyes lit up as an idea struck. "Hey, Alexis is going to be out late with a study group tonight and I believe I owe you a dinner at my place."

Kate's brow furrowed. "Castle, there's been lots of dinners at your place recently."

He leaned forward. "Yes, but why don't we rewind to the one we were suppose to have, but missed." His voice was low. "I know it won't be quite the same but…"

"I'd like that." She pursed her lips, her eyes dropping to his. She hadn't been alone with him in two nights and Kate had to admit that she missed him.

Castle left her to her paperwork and went home to prepare their meal.

When she arrived at his loft around six o'clock she found the lights were dim, the music low, and there were candles lit. The aroma of his homemade chicken cacciatore wafted through the apartment. Kate sighed contentedly as she took in the scene, shaking her head at him. "You didn't have to do all of this."

Rick wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a slow dance in the living room. "No, I didn't have to but I wanted to." He kissed her softly before continuing. "I want to make sure that you know something, Kate."

She wrapped her hands around his neck as they swayed back and forth to the music. Looking up at him curiously, a small smile playing on her lips.

"I don't want to miss a moment of this either." His fingers drawing circles on her lower back, he looked directly into her eyes. "You should know that when you're ready, you just need to hurry home."

The kiss that followed sent a warmth flooding her entire body. Kate had to admit she might be ready to call this home sooner than she thought.

The End


Writing this story has been an amazing ride. I never thought I could pull it off. I look forward to hearing what you think. Thank you for reading. - corlando