He wakes earlier than he expects, especially considering how late it was when they finally crawled into bed. Their sunset wedding turned into a late supper, their little family of five gathered around the big farm table in the kitchen, laughing and sipping champagne and sparkling cider, sharing stories into the wee hours. A perfect ending to a perfect day.
He's still reveling in the memories when he feels Kate stir in his arms. They've developed a bizarre intuition about each other's sleeping habits; when he awakens, a short time later, she inevitably does too, and vice versa. He tugs her closer to his body, spooning up against her back, and she melts into him, a long sigh of contentedness escaping her lips into the early morning light that's filtering through the drapes. The silence reigns for a time, neither feeling the need to speak and break the reverie.
True to form, it's Castle who speaks first.
"Good morning, wife."
He doesn't need to see her face to know she's smiling, the profile of her cheek curving upward at his words.
"Good morning, husband."
"Mmmm, I like the sound of that."
"You do, do you?"
"Oh, I do. I really, really do."
Laughing softly, she runs her palm up and down his forearm wrapped snugly around her waist, until she finally threads her fingers through his. She pulls them away from her body to examine their linked hands, two shiny wedding bands winking back at them in dim sunlight of dawn.
"Me, too," she murmurs.
She pulls his arm back down to wrap about her hip, wriggling herself against him in an effort to eliminate any space between their bodies. It's a habit that he adores about her; she's affectionate and snuggly in a way he would have never expected of the tough, no-nonsense detective he met all those years ago. The one with short, sassy hair, and an even shorter temper and sassier demeanor when it came to him and his shenanigans. The one who had gone to a book signing for his autograph and never told him about it.
Or did she? Rationally, he acknowledges that she made that "confession" to him in a…dream? He's not entirely sure what he should call it. A hallucination? A figment of his imagination? A flight of fancy? Or is the answer far more pedestrian, like a forgotten conversation he half-overheard long ago, or something she said in her sleep?
Regardless of the explanation, of how this idea came to be implanted into his brain, it's suddenly all he can think about. He needs to know.
"Did you ever go to a book signing of mine? I mean, before we officially met."
She stiffens almost imperceptibly, but relaxes just as quickly. His intention isn't to make her feel uncomfortable about it, or put her on the spot, and he's about to back away from the subject when she shifts in his embrace. She doesn't pull away, but rolls over instead so she can meet his eyes.
She takes a deep breath before she speaks. "Yeah. I did."
His thoughts turn to a jumbled mess at her confession. So they really did meet? Years before their introduction at that rooftop party for his last Derrick Storm novel? Logically, he knows that it would be ridiculous to expect himself to remember her. She was most certainly one face in a sea of thousands during any given book tour. But…this is Kate. His Kate. He was drawn to her from the moment they met; how could he not have felt the connection, even back then?
He must be frowning because she reaches her hand up to smooth over his brow, instantly relaxing the creased skin.
"Hey, I know what you're thinking."
"Really. How could you not remember meeting me, right?"
He purses his lips at her accuracy. Damn, she's good.
"Castle, think about it. I was one face among hundreds that day. I remember, it was a big event. The line to get your autograph was huge. You barely had time to get my name and sign the book before they were ushering me out of the way."
He closes his eyes and sighs. He wants to remember. He really does. But she's right; those signings are huge and chaotic and fast-paced, a parade of one person after another after another. Even if she were able to tell him a date, a time, or hell, even what she was wearing and how she had styled her hair that day, he stood no chance of remembering.
"Hey. Castle. Look at me."
He opens his eyes on hers, such a gorgeously mottled hazel in the early light.
"That wasn't our time. I think it was like, 2003? Maybe 2004? Why would you beat yourself up about that?" She's wearing a gentle smile, and he knows she's not teasing him, but he suddenly feels foolish. For what though, he's not entirely sure. For not remembering her? Or maybe for wishing he could?
"I don't know. But it was our first meeting! It seems like it should be this special, memorable moment, one of those romantic vignettes you tell you children about and they moan and groan over how sappy and nauseating it is, and yet I have no recollection of it. I mean, even then, how could I not have noticed how stunning you were? I'm sure I would have…"
He's interrupted by her lips on his, the warm weight of them comforting and familiar and oh yes, when her tongue sneaks into his mouth for the briefest of moments, maybe more than a little arousing, too. When she pulls away though, she's all seriousness.
"Castle. I had a boyfriend at the time. I don't recall if you were married to Gina yet, but at the very least you two were a couple by then. I was just another fan in line for an autograph that day. It's a moot point. Recollection or no, nothing would have come of it. And I love how our partnership began. I wouldn't change it for the world, okay?"
He can't hold back the smirk that takes over. "A fan, huh?"
She slaps his chest. "Oh, stop it. Like you didn't already know. Besides, gloating is unattractive."
She snuggles close, fitting her head under his chin, their bare skin kissing intimately everywhere in between. He has plenty of fine ideas of what they can do now that they're both awake, naked and tangled under their sheets, but they're shoved aside when a new thought enters his mind.
"Can I ask you one more question?"
"Castle, we're married now. I'm pretty sure that entitles you to ask me anything you'd like." Her warm breath washes over his chest and it sends a thrill through him, even now.
He pauses, once again not wanting to put her on the spot, but his infinite curiosity is a demanding mistress. "Why did you never tell me about it? About the book signing, I mean."
She doesn't answer right away, but at least she's calm and loose in his arms. She finally draws back, not far. Just enough to look him in the eye again.
She shakes her head. "Honestly? You were so smug when we met, I couldn't bear the thought of inflating your ego any further. You were already aware that I was familiar with your work, and you were completely insufferable, even about that."
He opens his mouth to object to her characterization of him, but she holds a finger to his lips to silence him.
"Just…let me finish, okay?"
He closes his mouth as she draws her finger back, and simply nods. She deserves to tell her story her way; hell, he asked her to. The least he can do is shut his trap for the time being and listen, truly listen to what she's trying to say, and stop making it be about him.
"I was so shocked at first. That you wanted to shadow me, I mean. I was supremely annoyed, obviously, but strangely flattered, too. I knew who you were, but you had no idea who I was. You were this famous, wealthy author with a bit of a reputation, deserved or not. And I guess I thought of myself as this…nobody. Just some lonely, damaged cop with a tragic backstory. I think I wanted to keep that part to myself, the part that read your books to attain the closure I had never gotten in real life. Even though they were your books, my enjoyment of them felt personal somehow, and I worried that you'd belittle that."
Oh, no. He would never…he couldn't have…he wouldn't have…
"Kate, I never would have…"
She presses another kiss to his lips, effectively stopping his protest. "Yes. You would have. Back then you would have, and not to be cruel. I know that's not who you are, and I know that's not who you were, even then. But we were both…I don't know. Arrogant? Stubborn? It was like we had something to prove to each other. And you know as well as I do that you would have taken that information and tormented me with it."
She levels him with a gaze that cuts right through his arguments to the contrary. She's right. He was an ass back then.
"Probably. I'm sorry."
"For who I was then. For not being more serious about your work. For ever making you think you had anything less than my complete respect. For making your life difficult, for even a moment."
She just stares at him, her eyes clear and bright, her smile painting her face with something uninhibited and joyful. God, she's so gorgeous, like a ray of sunlight warming his face.
"Castle, please listen to me when I say this. Are you listening?" He can only nod earnestly before she proceeds. "I meant it when I said wouldn't change anything, not a single part of our story. We fought for this, what we have now, tooth and nail, and I love it."
"Even the messy, ugly, we-weren't-even-speaking-to-each-other-for-months parts?"
She lifts her hands to palm his cheeks. "Even those parts. All of that is part of us now. This is how we came to be. How in good conscience could I change any of that? We wouldn't be us otherwise, and we probably wouldn't have made it here. And we definitely wouldn't be as appreciative of what we have."
He grins at her certainty. "You think so?"
"I know so. If there's anything my therapy taught me, it's that all of that…stuff was part of the process. There are no shortcuts or easy ways out. You and I had to trudge through some shit to get here, and honestly, I'll keep it in exchange for what we get out of it going forward."
Oh, how he loves this woman, her sharp wit and intelligent mind and seemingly bottomless supply of love. She truly is extraordinary, and she's all his. He draws her close again, holding her tightly, and he can only hope the strength of his embrace conveys how very much she means to him.
"I still wish I had known."
"I know, babe, but it's water under the bridge. And for what it's worth, I'm sorry I didn't tell you about it myself. I'm sorry that you had to ask."
"Naw, it's okay. I'm glad I know now. However, if you'd like to make it up to me…"
She looks up at him again, this time with narrowed eyes and an arched brow. "Make it up to you, huh? Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that any making up involves our current state of undress?"
He chuckles at that. "Katherine Beckett, that is not at all what I was going to say. Wait…I can still call you Beckett at home, right? Ugh, I'm loath to give that up." He burrows into the crook of her neck, kissing his way down the soft slope, her scent and her taste even more intoxicating to him, now that they belong to his wife. "I do love calling you Beckett in bed."
"Oh, I know you do."
Mmmmhmmmm is the only thing he manages to get out, his lips otherwise occupied against the silk of her skin. She laces her arms around his shoulders and pulls him half on top of her, her little moans and wiggling bottom telling him everything he needs to know about the effect he's having on her.
He's fluttering kisses across her collarbone when she speaks again. "Besides, I already told you, it'll be Beckett at work, Castle at home."
He interrupts the kisses he's placing between her breasts to look up at her. "I know, and I love it. The best of both worlds."
He resumes the task at hand then, his mouth continuing to trail down down down, until he's positioning himself between her willingly-parted thighs, nuzzling her bellybutton and nipping at the jut of her hip bone.
"Actually, you can make it up to me by telling me everything about the book signing. And when I say I everything, I mean everything. When was it, what store, what book, what you were wearing, what kind of fantasies you had about me afterward…ow!"
She digs her heel into his side at his teasing, but follows by running her fingers through his hair, and he could purr, her touch simultaneously soothing and inflaming. He continues kissing her then, trailing lower with each touch of his lips and lap of his tongue. He can already smell her, the distinctive tang of her arousal, and as much as he'd like to be smug about the power he has over her body, he'd rather taste her instead, this divine woman writhing gorgeously beneath him.
"Tell you what, Castle. I'll make you a deal."
He glances up at her and meets her eyes as his tongue dips into her momentarily, and she groans, loud and uninhibited, when he doesn't continue. He wants to hear about this deal she plans to make first, so he waits her out until she's practically panting, desperate for the pleasure she knows he'll unfailing give her, all too willing to give in.
"This first. Then I'll tell you everything you want to know."
He'll take that deal.
A/N: Like so many of you, I absolutely loved everything about "The Time of Our Lives." I was especially pleased to hear Kate's confession, even if it happened in Castle's "dream," and I wanted to explore that a bit more...et violà! This is what came of it. I hope you enjoyed reading, and as always, if you have the time and inclination, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.
My most heartfelt thank yous to Morgan and Becca, two of the most wonderful betas, cheerleaders, and friends. I adore you both.