Author's Note: As far as I'm concerned—and for the purposes of this fic, Alexis's summer program started in late June because there is no way a summer program for high school students would start on Memorial Day as most high schools in the U.S. don't get out for the summer until mid-June anyway. Anyway, moving on to the epilogue that is, I'm sure, what people actually care about. Fluff ahead!

Feels Like Home


~July 4, 2010~

Kate paused at the door, lingering for just a moment before she went back outside to join everyone.

She felt a faint smile flitting at the corners of her lips, warmth blossoming in her chest. These people, everyone here who had joined her and Castle in the Hamptons for the long weekend, were the people she cared about most in the world. The only ones missing were Martha, away on tour for the summer, and Captain Montgomery, who, along with his wife Evelyn and his kids, had been invited but who had declined because his kids had already made plans for the holiday weekend.

These people were her family, in every sense of the word—no, their family. Hers and Castle's. And not for the first time in the last few days, she felt a rush of gratitude and, yes, love for Castle, for planning this weekend, for insisting on inviting everyone to his house—more of a small mansion, really—in the Hamptons.

Kate had only been able to gape when she and Castle had first arrived here a week ago, ahead of everyone else, since Kate had, at Castle's request, taken a few extra vacation days in advance of the holiday so she and Castle had had a few idyllic days out here, just the two of them, before everyone else had arrived two days ago.

Her eyes rested fondly on Alexis, who had agreed to join them for the weekend after much cajoling, not to say begging, from Castle and whom Castle would be driving back to Princeton tomorrow to return to her summer program that had just started two weeks ago. Alexis was smiling and chatting lightly with both Lanie and Jenny, who was, Kate had quickly decided, probably the sweetest woman Kate had ever met and the perfect match for Ryan, who still somehow managed to retain something of innocence about him in spite of his years of being a cop.

Ryan and Esposito were nursing beers and, from the looks of it, were still engaged in the same teasing argument, interspersed with playful insults, about something or other that they'd begun before she'd gone back into the house to put on more sunblock.

And beyond Ryan and Espo, standing a little ways off by the grill that he was prepping to make their dinner, Castle was talking to her dad. Kate felt her heart softening, even as it felt buoyant with happiness in her chest as she watched these two men she loved the most in the world. Her dad was gesturing with his can of soda as he spoke about something and even from this distance, Kate could see that her dad was engrossed in the subject. She knew her dad's posture, his expressions, and even at that distance, she could tell how much her dad was enjoying his conversation with Castle.

And Castle—also drinking soda and not beer, out of respect for her dad, Kate knew, although Castle hadn't said a word about it—was listening intently. Castle's back was to the house so Kate couldn't see his face but she knew Castle's ways too—more accurately, she knew how to recognize the subtle tell-tale signs for when Castle was distracted or bored and listening only out of courtesy—and those signs weren't there. Castle was entirely still, for once not fidgeting at all, in that way he got when he was engrossed in something. Oh.

Kate stilled, an odd sort of realization settling over her. Her dad and Castle were… friends. It was an odd thing to think, somehow, but she could see that it was true. Somehow, they got along, conversed easily in a way that had nothing to do with the fact that one was her father and the other was her boyfriend and partner.

Her dad tended to be quiet in company, had never been inclined to be talkative. It was unusual for her dad to talk at any length with anyone aside from Kate. Her mom had been the only other exception to that rule, as far as Kate knew. Her parents had always talked to each other, long, serious conversations, often having to do with their work since they were both lawyers and could serve as each other's sounding boards, and other less-serious conversations interspersed with laughter. Her parents' murmured voices had served as background noise for much of her early memories.

Kate had noticed that her dad had been talking more often with Castle than he did with, for example, Ryan and Espo, even though her dad had actually known both Ryan and Espo for longer and had met them more often, albeit in much more structured circumstances as Kate's partners at work. But for the first time, it occurred to Kate that it wasn't only about her dad making an effort to get to know Castle better as his daughter's significant other. Everything about her dad's posture, his gestures, the way he was speaking, indicated an honest enjoyment of the conversation—and Castle was clearly just as interested.

She knew that her dad liked Castle, approved of him; he had told her so. And Castle made her too happy for her dad not to like him. And she knew Castle liked her dad—but Castle would almost certainly have liked her dad for her sake regardless.

Now, looking at the way her dad and Castle were talking, Kate could see that they were each enjoying the other's company. And that struck her as surprising. Good, but surprising. It had never really occurred to her—silly and self-centered as it seemed in hindsight—that her dad and Castle might appreciate each other's company for their own sakes. They were so different, really. Her dad was more serious and Castle was, after all, an overgrown boy a lot of the time. Her dad enjoyed baseball, analyzing it, following its stats, and Castle had never had a father to teach him a love of baseball, was not much into any of the usual team sports, for that matter. He kept up with the New York teams on a fairly casual basis but she could tell that for Castle, it was as a means of conversation with other people, rather than something he did for himself. And of course, it helped that Castle was wealthy enough and connected enough that he could personally meet many of the athletes themselves. (She would never get over the thrill of being introduced to Joe Torre.) She tended to forget, though, that Castle was almost incredibly well-read and this, along with a rather varied life experience and his sense of empathy as a writer, made him good company and easy to talk to. And she knew, too, that her dad liked intelligent conversation and whatever else Castle was, he was definitely intelligent.

Kate smiled as she went outside. It could only be a good thing that her dad and her boyfriend got along so well.

Kate headed to Alexis, exchanging smiles with Lanie and Jenny.

"Alexis, I want to hear all about how your summer program is going," Kate said. "We haven't had a chance to really talk since you arrived." It was true; they hadn't. Castle had gone alone to pick Alexis up from Princeton on Friday and by the time he and Alexis had arrived in the Hamptons, her dad had arrived and then the next morning, Ryan and Jenny and Espo and Lanie had joined them.

Alexis's eyes, her entire expression, lit up with that whole-hearted enthusiasm that always reminded Kate of Castle. Alexis was usually so much more serious and, yes, mature than Castle generally behaved but there was no denying that she had inherited all of Castle's capacity for excitement and forthright glee in whatever interested her. "Oh, Kate, I'm having such a great time! I mean, the classes are really intense because they're trying to cram a semester's worth of material into six weeks but it's really cool because everyone there is so smart and we have these really involved discussions in class and it's just so interesting!"

Kate laughed a little as Alexis finally paused to take a breath. "I'm guessing you like it," Kate quipped. "What classes are you taking?"

"French literature, American government, introductory physics, and Trigonometry."

Kate gave a low whistle. "Wow, Alexis, you're not trying to take it easy this summer, are you?"

Alexis shrugged a little. "French lit and government are fun with the discussions we have in class. I'll be taking physics next year in school so I figured getting a head start on it will help me out. And Trig—it's not my favorite but it's just more math."

Kate inwardly marveled, not for the first time, at Alexis's maturity and her general attitude towards her studies. She couldn't imagine thinking such a thing about her classes when she'd been 15 but Alexis was obviously more mature than Kate herself had been at 15. "Better you than me," Kate teased. "I hated physics when I was in high school. So have you made friends with the other kids?"

"Oh, yeah, a few. One girl, Candice, is my neighbor, her room's right next to mine in our dorm, and she's my lab partner in physics and she's in government with me. She's from Boston. And another girl, Leslie, who's one floor down in our dorm and is in French lit. She's from San Francisco."

"That's nice to have made friends with kids from different parts of the country," Kate commented. "And of course it's much easier for you guys to keep in touch now than it was for kids when I was in high school." Kate paused and then, glancing at Castle, grinned at Alexis. "And since your dad's safely out of earshot, you can tell me if there are any cute boys in the program. What about this Carter—that was his name, right—the one you met in the City just before leaving? Your dad mentioned him to me." Or more accurately, Castle had grumbled about this Carter and all but begged Kate to run a background check on the boy, which Kate had firmly, if laughingly, refused to do. (Castle had pouted and muttered a little about what the use was of having a cop for a girlfriend if she still refused to run background checks on one's teenage daughter's potential boyfriends.)

Alexis laughed, colored, and also glanced at her dad, as if to make sure he was out of hearing distance. "I've hung out with Carter in groups a few times but he's not in any of my classes so I don't see him all that much. But there's this other guy." Alexis stopped, blushing redder than her hair, and ducked her head.

Kate couldn't help but smile, feeling a rush of affection for the girl, and suddenly so glad that she and Alexis had this sort of relationship, even as she felt a stab of grief, as usual, remembering when she had been this young and talked about boys with her own mom. "This other guy," Kate ventured mildly, "Is he in your classes?"

Alexis nodded. "He's in government with me."

"Where's he from?"

Now Alexis looked up, her eyes lit up. "Oh, Kate, that's the coolest thing. It actually turns out that he's going to be transferring into Marlowe from next year. His parents decided they weren't happy with the public school he was going to so he's transferring so we'll be classmates even after the summer's over. That's actually one reason why we got to know each other, once he found out from a friend of his that I went to Marlowe, he introduced himself."

Kate gave Alexis a teasing smirk. "So is he cute?"

Alexis blushed again, which was really all the answer Kate needed, and then not-so-subtly avoided answering the question directly by starting to talk about the latest things they'd been learning in her classes.

Kate smiled and let Alexis's misdirection succeed. Alexis had the rest of the summer program to find out more about this boy of hers and if things continued the way it looked, Kate was sure she would be hearing more about this boy even after the summer was over. From Castle as well as Alexis, probably even more than from Alexis actually, since if anything actually came of Alexis's apparent burgeoning crush on this boy, Castle would no doubt have much to say—grumble—about it that he would not feel free to express to Alexis herself.

Kate inwardly sighed and smiled as she made a mental note to prepare herself to talk Castle out of running a background check on the boy (and possibly threatening him with a gun). Castle would pout about it but she would do what she could for Alexis's sake because she loved that girl too. And as much as Kate rolled her eyes at Castle's over-protectiveness of Alexis when it came to boys, his love of Alexis, the type of father he was, was one of the things she loved best about him.

And this, too, was what it meant to be part of Castle's family.

Kate gave her dad a quick, sideways smile as he joined her as they both stood at the edge of the lawn looking out over the bay, waiting for the fireworks to begin.

They had all had dinner in one large group and conversation had been light and interspersed with a lot of laughter. Now, with both dinner and dessert (that had consisted of an apple pie that Kate and Jenny had made earlier that day and then s'mores) long over, they were settling in to watch the fireworks over the bay. Castle turned off the lights that had been illuminating the yard to allow better enjoyment of the fireworks and the darkness made it seem only natural for their group to start splintering off into little islands of semi-privacy.

Ryan and Jenny were the first ones to wander off, Ryan's arm around Jenny as he smiled at whatever Jenny was whispering to him. Lanie and Espo followed in fairly short order although they were both doing their level best to act entirely casual about it.

Castle had rejoined them from turning off the lights and was, from the smile on his face, teasing Alexis as he slung an arm around her shoulders. Kate smiled as she watched Alexis give Castle one of her half-scolding looks and elbow him a little before she settled against him and he rested his chin against her hair in one of his characteristic positions. Castle had missed Alexis terribly these last two weeks and one of the reasons Kate had agreed so readily to take the vacation days to spend the last week in the Hamptons had been a hope that it would distract Castle from his moping.

"You know, I'm trying to remember the last time we watched a fireworks show for the Fourth of July together," her dad commented.

"It's been a while," Kate agreed, thinking back. It had been years. She and her dad had fallen out of the habit of spending any holidays together since her mom had died, even if Independence Day was less painful than other holidays, like Christmas, because it was less associated with family. These past few years, her dad had usually gone out to his cabin over the Fourth of July and she had generally worked to allow the other cops who had little kids to spend the holiday with their families. And in the last few years before her mom had died, Kate had spent the Fourth of July with friends.

Kate turned to smile at her dad. "I remember now. It was the summer after 9th grade when we went up to Boston to look at some colleges and mom's college friend invited us to have a picnic along the Charles and watch the fireworks."

"Oh, right," her dad nodded. "That was a fun trip."

"Yeah, it was."

Her dad was quiet for a few minutes while Kate enjoyed the freshness of the air and the quiet of the night. She could just hear the faint sound of water from the bay and even further away than that, the occasional murmuring sound from a party a ways down the beach. It was beautiful out here and so serene—and this place, the beautiful (enormous) house, the pool, the lawn leading out to the private beach, this was all Castle's. Kate suddenly remembered the flutter of insecurity, of doubt, she had felt when she'd first seen the place. It was easier in the City to forget the vast disparity in their incomes. The loft, for all its size and its comfort, was a homey space that wasn't ostentatious about Castle's wealth and Castle himself, as generous and occasionally extravagant as he could be, didn't tend to flaunt his money. It was seeing this place that had forcibly reminded Kate all over again that Castle was a multi-millionaire while she was… just a cop.

Kate pushed aside the memory, glancing over at Castle who had just laughed at something Alexis said, and felt her lips curving automatically, the feeling she couldn't describe except that it was vaguely warm rather like she'd just had a drink of hot chocolate or some really good wine settling in her chest, as tended to happen when she looked at Castle these days.

"You're happy, Katie," her dad said rather abruptly, breaking the silence. It wasn't a question, just a statement of fact.

Kate looked at her dad and met his eyes. "Yeah, I am," she answered honestly. She glanced at Castle again and then back at her dad before admitting, very quietly, "So happy it scares me." Her throat seemed to close up, almost choking her as the words escaped because she hated to admit feeling afraid aloud. But this was her dad and he was one of the very few people in the world to whom she ever would admit to being scared—and he was, of all people, one who would understand why she was afraid.

Her dad sighed and then put his arm around her shoulders in a brief half-hug. "I know, Katie, but you can't, you shouldn't, avoid living your life because of fear. You remember what I told you weeks ago about what your mom said about not letting fear hold you back."

"I remember."

"You didn't let fear hold you back from a relationship with Rick and you're happy."

"He makes me happy," Kate said very quietly. He did. He made her days an adventure (an often frustrating, even annoying, adventure but also a fun one); for the first time in a long time, Kate looked forward to tomorrow. And her nights… He made her nights, well, magical. Not just because he was very, very good with his hands and his mouth and his body, although he was—Kate felt a blush scorching her cheeks at the thought of how good and was thankful for the dark—but also because with him, it was always about more than just hot sex. It was about joy and even laughter and love and more trust than she had ever felt for anyone.

She sensed rather than saw her dad's smile. "He loves you, Katie."

Unlike the first time her dad had told her that Castle was in love with her, Kate didn't choke. She still felt herself color but she couldn't quite help but smile a little. "I know," she admitted. "And I… really care about him too."

She inwardly winced, hating herself all over again for her cowardice, her lingering inability to say those three words, to admit aloud that she loved Castle. She didn't know what exactly was holding her back; she knew she loved him and she was fairly sure that he knew she loved him. She wanted to tell him—the way he had told her a few times now—but somehow, every time, when he said the words, the words stuck in her throat and her heart thrashed around in her chest and fear rose up and she… backed down. She hated herself more and more every time and it was starting to feel more awkward every time (and she was fairly sure that Castle was holding back and not saying the words nearly as often as he wanted to as a result) but still, as she had now, she temporized. She had told him she really liked him, had told him she never wanted to lose him, had told him she was crazy about him—but telling him in so many words that she loved him… something inside her reacted as if it would require tearing her still-beating heart from her body and held her back.

Her dad paused and she knew he'd noticed—of course he had—that she hadn't admitted to loving Castle—more, she was somehow sure that her dad knew or had guessed at what was holding her back. (Her dad knew her too well.)

"Your mom would like Rick, just as I do, and not only because she liked his books," her dad added, a faint smile audible in his tone. Kate managed a smile into the darkness, remembering—as she had no doubt her dad was too—times that her dad had teased her mom about her love of Castle's books, low-brow popular fiction as he'd laughingly termed them.

He sobered as he went on, "Your mom wanted you to live fully, Katie, and she was so proud of you for your courage, your spirit, the way you dove into life the way you did. Don't let fear hold you back from life, Katie, or from love." Her dad was silent for a long moment and as if to punctuate his pause, there was the sound of a distant scattered series of booms from fireworks but wherever those fireworks were from, they weren't visible to them.

"Losing your mom…" her dad began shakily before his voice faltered and he stopped abruptly. Kate felt tears pricking the back of her eyes—and it occurred to her for the first time that her dad had lost so much more than she had when her mom had died. Her mom's death had ripped Kate's world apart because of how it had happened—but her dad had lost… everything. His best friend, his support, his partner in life, his love. Now, loving Castle the way she did and terrified because of the depths of that love, she felt a new sense of empathy for what her dad had lost. Kate put her arm around her dad in a sudden swell of love and sympathy. Her dad slipped his own arm around her shoulders and gave her a brief squeeze before he finished, his voice very quiet and not entirely steady, "If I could go back, even knowing what would happen, I would still choose to love your mom, to have the happy years with her. I would do it all again because it was worth it. Losing love… hurts… but love is worth it, Katie-girl."

The fireworks had begun across the bay before her dad had finished speaking but Kate still heard every single one of his words and for a moment, was blind to the first fireworks, had to blink the tears out of her eyes before she could see them.

"Oh, Dad…" she half-choked.

"I know, Katie, I know," her dad said and then added, trying to sound brisk, "No tears, Katie. Your mom wouldn't want us to be sad on a day like today."

Kate managed a wavering smile. "Right. We should enjoy the fireworks."

They watched the fireworks in silence for a few minutes, the brilliant pinwheels and starbursts of light illuminating the night sky.

"Your mom wanted you to be happy, Katie. More than anything else, she always wanted you to be happy—and so do I," her dad murmured quietly but she still heard the words, even through the sound of the fireworks.

Kate's heart pinched a little in her chest at the thought of her mom and she was thankful again for the darkness and the distraction of the fireworks so no one would notice her expression.

She heard Jenny gasp at a particularly loud boom and looked over to see Ryan grinning before her gaze automatically found Castle next. He was, predictably, beaming with that childlike glee that was so much a part of him, and sharing his enthusiasm with Alexis, who looked as if she was having nearly as much fun as he was.

Kate felt herself smiling, her heart lifting in her chest, as it always did, at the sight of him so excited. As if he'd sensed her gaze, which he likely had, he turned his head to look at her, his grin softening as he met her eyes. And Kate felt that warm sensation in her chest again.

Another loud series of booms accompanying more fireworks drew both their eyes back to the display of fireworks but Kate's smile lingered on her lips.

And although she knew it was uncharacteristically fanciful of her, for that moment, with her dad's arm around her, she could almost believe that her mom was there too. She closed her eyes and she could picture her mom's smile in watching the fireworks, hear her mom's soft laugh. And she heard her mom's well-remembered voice in her mind. Be happy, Katie-girl, and I'll be happy too.

Later that night, Kate looked out the window of Castle's bedroom overlooking the bay.

Castle had gone to wish Alexis a good night and, she suspected, just spend more time with Alexis before he drove her back to Princeton tomorrow for the rest of the summer program. If Castle had been rather moping from missing Alexis the last two weeks, Kate didn't really even want to think about how much Castle would mope in the next five weeks before the program ended since until now, Castle had always been able to comfort himself with the knowledge that he would be seeing Alexis again for this weekend. Now, with the holiday weekend ending tomorrow, Castle was facing the reality that he wouldn't see Alexis again for the next five weeks.

Kate was rather glad to have this window of time to be alone, even if it was bound to be relatively brief. She was tired and as much fun as the weekend had been, having some time alone was an appealing thought.

It was one thing she had noted in the last few weeks since she had moved into her new apartment. As happy as she had been at the loft and as much as Castle and Martha and Alexis had been good about giving her space, it had not really been the same. Kate had almost never been entirely alone in the loft and just the very fact of someone else being around—and Kate's consciousness that she was, still, in spite of everything, a guest—had made Kate self-conscious and unwilling to retreat into the greater privacy of her room too often or for too long. And the luxury of being completely alone was something she found she'd missed more than she'd realized. She was, for better or worse, used to living alone, used to having a lot of solitude, and she was finding that the habits formed over the last decade or so of her life of living alone were not easily or immediately changed.

Through the open window, she could hear the faint sound of the water but other than that, it was remarkably quiet, peaceful in a way that the City could never be. She knew she was too much of a New Yorker to really live out here but for a break from the City, she thought this place could easily equal her dad's cabin for peace—and it had the added benefit of being about half the distance from the City than her dad's cabin was.

Her mom would have loved this place, she thought, not for the first time. The thought was only tinged with melancholy but otherwise, she was simply… happy. Happy and at peace in a way she wasn't sure she'd ever felt before.

She sensed his presence before she heard him closing his bedroom door behind him and she didn't turn around as he came up behind her, sliding his arms around her waist. She leaned back against him, resting her head against his shoulder, and let her eyes close for a minute to enjoy the way she fit against him so perfectly like this when she wasn't wearing heels.

"Alexis is actually excited to be going back to Princeton tomorrow," he finally murmured, his tone decidedly disgruntled. "My daughter is clearly a freak of nature."

She laughed softly. "She is not."

"Who ever heard of a teenager being excited to go back to school or a school program instead of staying on vacation?"

"You should be happy for her."

"I am," he said in a tone that indicated no such thing. "I just wish she wasn't quite so excited to go back to a college dorm where there are lots of teenage boys." His tone made it sound as if teenage boys were some form of alien life dangerous to humans.

She laughed again. "Silly Castle. And from the sounds of it, I think Alexis is still rather more excited about her classes than she is about boys. You should trust Alexis more."

"I do trust Alexis. I just don't trust teenage boys within ten feet of Alexis and I say that as someone who used to be a teenage boy."

"You're being ridiculous, Castle. It's not like the kids are entirely alone; there are counselors and teachers around to provide adult supervision."

He sighed, his breath ruffling the back of her ear. "I know. It's not only that. I just… miss her."

She softened. "I know you do." Kate had found that she missed Alexis too, rather surprising her a little. Kate had, after all, not spent that much time with Alexis before her apartment had exploded but after staying at the loft for two months and seeing Alexis every day, she found she did miss Alexis, had missed talking to Alexis, had missed the way she and Alexis teamed up to tease Castle.

"This summer will be the longest I've ever gone without seeing Alexis."

"I know."

"I am never going to be able to send Alexis off to college," he declared, as if he were stating a new principle of life.

She suppressed a smile at his dramatics. "You will because you have to. But you don't need to worry about that now. You still have two years left before it'll be time for her to leave."

"Only two years…"

"Two years is a long time, Castle. After all," she added, wanting to distract him, "two years ago, you had no idea who I was."

His arms tightened around her as he brushed his lips against her ear, nudging her hair aside. "That seems impossible."

It did. "It's still true."

Two years ago, her life had been all about her work. Two years ago, she'd been so alone. Two years ago, she would never have even imagined that she might have family again, could not have imagined feeling so happy.

"Well, then, thank goodness you met me."

She huffed a laugh. "I think it's the other way around. You should be thankful that you met me," she retorted teasingly.

"I've always been lucky that way," he said smugly and she could hear his smirk in his tone.

"So you're conceding that meeting me was a stroke of luck for you."

"I wouldn't call it luck," he responded lightly and then, in one of those lightning-fast changes of tone that she was getting accustomed to where he was concerned, he added entirely soberly, "I think meeting you was a gift from Fate. Aside from Alexis, you're the best thing that's ever happened to me."

Oh. Oh, damn. He could always manage to melt her heart and weaken her knees with his words.

"I love you."

She froze. Oh god. She hadn't realized, hadn't thought—the words had just spilled out of her, no preamble, no warning. After all this time, all these weeks of her own cowardice and now, she just blurted out the words before her brain had even realized she was going to say them.

His entire body jerked as he let out his breath as if he'd just been sucker punched. "What?"

Amazingly, she felt a smile curve her lips, a bubble of amusement welling up inside her. "You heard me."

"I didn't," he denied immediately. "There was a… thing. I was distracted by a… there was a weird buzzing in my ears so I didn't hear you. Say it again."

She grinned, suddenly feeling a little giddy at finally having said the words, so giddy that she couldn't even feel a twinge of irritation at his pushing her to repeat herself. After all this time, all her fears, now that the words had been said once, she felt like a little kid terrified of the monsters in the closet who had finally gotten up the courage to open the closet door only to discover that the monsters didn't exist. "I love you, Castle," she said again, the words coming so much easier this second time, and she could almost taste the truth of the words on her lips. Now, finally, the truth was out and she just felt… free. And she realized, too, that saying the words again felt good, that she'd needed it, somehow, to prove that it wasn't just something she could blurt out when she wasn't thinking.

"Kate…" He sounded, for one of the few times in his life, as if he had no idea what to say.

She turned around in his arms to face him and found that there was something better than the feeling she got when she said the words. The best part was seeing his face when she'd said the words, seeing the way his eyes, his entire expression, had lit up with so much love and joy. And oh, her heart twisted a little inside her chest. She had thought—believed—that he knew she loved him and maybe he had—she still thought he must have known—but it still meant… a lot… to him to hear the words. Maybe it was because he was a writer, used to expressing himself in words, but whatever it was, she could see how much hearing her say the words meant to him. He needed the words too.

"Rick." His face changed, softened, the way it always did in the rare times when she used his first name.

She would, she promised herself, have to be better about giving him the words. Would have to remember how much words meant to him. It was what he needed—and she wanted to be what he needed, wanted to be enough for him. She felt a sudden, almost painful, surge of love inside her—this love she had fought and denied for months that now seemed to have taken possession of her heart, her very soul. This—he—was her one and she was sure that she would never love anyone the way she loved him. She was, she thought, like her dad in that way; she would fall in love once and stay in love forever.

Her throat felt tight, again, and as always with her, what she felt the most was hardest to say, her words failing her when it came to the emotions she felt the deepest. It was why it was so much easier for her to keep relationships floating lightly, easily, on teasing and banter. But she couldn't do that with Castle. So instead of her own words, she fell back on someone else's. "'I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.'"*

His eyes lit up, almost glowed, as if illuminated from within, became the deepest, truest blue she'd ever seen. Oh, the way he looked at her. He looked at her as if she was the most beautiful, precious thing in the world.

And then he hugged her, his arms tightening around her, catching her so tightly against him she lost her breath, as he held her in the sort of embrace a person reserved for those nearest and dearest to him. He held her as if he would never let her ago.

She felt one of his hands tangling in her hair and then felt him press his lips to her hair and then her temple. "Oh god, Kate, I love you too, so much. I am completely, irrevocably in love with you."

She closed her eyes and buried her face in his shoulder, breathing in the so-familiar scent of him, and let herself sink into him, enjoy the feeling of being entirely wrapped up in him, against him. Being held like this by him, feeling the strength of his arms around her, felt like the safest place in the world, as if nothing and no one could hurt her as long as she was here with him.

It was irrational, she knew that, but it was true. It was a feeling she'd lost the day her mom had died—and now she had somehow found that sense of security again.

Not because she actually believed that nothing bad would happen but because with him, she knew that no matter what happened, she wouldn't be alone.

Kate suddenly found herself remembering what he'd said when he'd given her the Temptation Lane DVD's months ago, that home wasn't about a place or the things in it, but was where a person felt comfortable and safe.

He'd been right.

It wasn't about where she stayed—whether it was at her own apartment or at the loft or here in the Hamptons or anywhere else.

Being with Castle was where she felt safest, the most comfortable, and when she was with him, she was home.

She lifted her head and he kissed her, hard, his lips and tongue taking possession of her mouth. And she kissed him back with all the love she felt for him.

She was only vaguely aware of stumbling backwards, his lips and his hands making it increasingly hard to think or be conscious of anything at all except for him and his mouth and his hands and his body.

His lips finally left hers as she fell back onto his bed and he followed her, his lips skating down her chin and finding the sensitive spot behind her ear.

"Kate. Oh god, Kate, I love you. Kate," he was murmuring against her skin, the breathless words punctuated with kisses.

She cut off his words by dragging his mouth back to hers and then there was no more talking at all. The rest of the world fell away until there was only him. Just Castle—and she knew she was loved and she was home.

~The End~

* Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

A/N 2: And that's the end. I hope it satisfies!

I'm tentatively pondering a sequel to this to go through S3 and how what happens in that season affects Castle and Beckett's relationship but it may not happen since S3 has been written about so much, I'm not sure there's anything more that could be said.

At any rate, thank you, everyone, who's read this fic, reviewed it, followed, it, or added it to their favorites, especially to the Guest reviewers whom I can't thank directly. I've been absolutely blown away by the support this fic has gotten and I can't thank you enough.