For the readers who begged me.

There was a slump to his shoulders as he stood there at the doorstep in front of her. Where he'd seemed so happy, so eager to return to his former life earlier that morning, he seemed a shell of that man now. Empty. Broken.

"Kate," he choked out, and it was then that she saw his tears. Fresh tracks were running down his cheeks, now an unstoppable flood of his emotions.

"Castle. Rick, what's wrong?" When his face started to crumple, she started for him. "Baby, what happened? Come here. Come - "

He didn't need any further invitation. As soon as her arms were lifted to receive him, he was over the threshold and burrowing his large frame into her embrace as he cried. Closing the door behind them with the heel of her foot, she coaxed him just inside, murmuring to him softly as he clung to her, his grip fierce and desperate.

It was a long time before she could get him settled down onto her couch. She'd never seen him so upset before. At least, not since the day in court when he'd been wrongly convicted of her mother's murder.

But this...this was a different grief entirely from what it had been back then. He was free now. He had his life back. Shouldn't things have only been going up for him from here?

"I can't do it, Kate. I can't - I thought I'd go home and everything would be back to the way it was. But it's not the same. God, it's not the same. It's all changed. Everything has changed."

Oh, god. How could she have been so foolish?

"It's my loft, but it's not anymore, Kate. It's just not. Everything's different. She's had my furniture replaced, my office is redone. I try to find plates and silverware, and they aren't there anymore. The kitchen is rearranged. Nothing is the way I left it. My books are gone, my clothes are gone, my - "

His voice caught in his throat, and then he was sobbing in earnest.

"My little girl," he wept. "My little girl is gone."

"Oh, Rick."

He doubled over in his grief-stricken state, face in his palms as his shoulders racked with his sobs. Kate curled around him, tugging him down into her lap and soon feeling the warm moisture of his tears seeping into the cotton of her pants. She rubbed his back in slow circles with one hand while running her fingers through his hair with the other. Gradually in time, his breaths stopped stuttering. Bit by bit, the keening noise coming from deep within dissipated, and he'd turned instead into soft sniffs as he pillowed his cheek upon her thigh.

"I'm sorry," he whimpered. "I just couldn't stay there, and I-I didn't know where else to go."

"Shhh. It's okay. I'm glad you came."

Castle shifted on the couch, rolling so that he was on his back, able to look up at her from an upside-down angle. She curled her hand at his cheek, smoothing her thumb across his cheeks and wiping away the remnants of his tears.

"I love you," she emphasized, her thumb tracing a circle around his cheekbone. "You're welcome here any time."

"Even when I'm a mess?" he wondered, peering up at her and looking so much like a lost little boy. It made her heart ache for him.

"Even then," she returned, with a slow stretch of her lips into a tender smile. "I'll be here for you. Always."

Castle twisted up into a seated position and, without preamble, pulled her in for a long, slow kiss. Threading his fingers into her hair, he held her in place, nipping gently at her lips and coaxing her to open for him. She did so eagerly, sipping from his mouth with greed, the years of want and longing they'd shared for one another culminating here, now, on the eve of his first night out of incarceration. The first day of his new beginning.

She was determined that they salvage it. He deserved some semblance of light at the end of the dark tunnel he'd just escaped from. He deserved to be happy again.

"I want you," Castle confessed, unable to tear himself away from her. His lips brushed along her jaw, his mouth traveling down, down, open and then closing on her neck, making her moan in pleasure with the feel of his lips and teeth on her skin. "Kate," he exhaled her name, his hot, moist breath making her tremor with need.

"Bed," she gasped out, already tugging at his t-shirt, lifting until she could tear it off over his head. "Castle, take me to bed."

"Where?" he asked, lifting her up with ease as he stood. His fingers dipped below the waistband of her lounge wear and her legs instinctively came up around him, gripping and seeking all at once.

Her hands wandered over his chest, so chiseled and built now, his muscles rippling and flexing beneath her traveling fingers. "Hallway," she panted out against his ear. His mouth was still busy along her collarbone, tasting and lavishing with a hunger she couldn't even begin to fathom the magnitude of after going so many years without physical intimacy with another person, without affection. "Behind you. To the right."

His shoe caught on a floor rug and he tripped, nearly sending them crashing to the floor before literally strong-arming the doorway, his hand flying out to catch his fall and effectively pinning Kate against the wall in the process.

She didn't mind. She let her legs drop from around his waist, feet falling to the ground, and while he busied himself with unbuttoning her nightshirt, she'd begun working on his jeans, popping the brass button and sending the zipper sailing down. The proximity of her hand to where he wanted her most made his hips jerk forward into her palm.

"Want you so bad," he murmured, his voice low and like gravel. He'd gotten her shirt open, but his mouth had gone back to seeking hers. "Wanted you for so long," he professed, kissing her deeply, urgently, as though he were parched and she water, and he couldn't drink from her fast enough. "So long, Kate. Years. For years."

"I know. Me too," she confessed back, giving him everything. All that he wanted, all that she had. Her love, her body. She was his. She'd been his for such a long time now. She was a fool to have ever let herself be convinced otherwise. "Love you, Castle." Her hand found his, and she led him forward. "Come to bed. Please."

Lying together afterward, Kate watched him as he slumbered. He'd been so afraid to let himself fall asleep at first; expressed fear that everything was just an elaborate dream, some torturous nightmare, and he'd wake up in his cell all alone again.

After they'd made love, she'd lured him into a bath with her, letting the hot water and lavender-scented suds relax him as they sat back together, her body cocooned in his. He explored her body with curious hands and kisses to her neck and shoulders as she sipped their shared glass of wine and read through chapters of the novel he'd written for her; the story of a writer following his muse for inspiration. She thought back to the dedication scrawled in his handwriting, and Castle's sincere hope from prison that, one day, the lives his fictitious characters were leading would become a reality for the two of them.

She wasn't sure how they would be able to make it work, but she wanted it. With a burning, unquenchable desire, she needed to make their story come to life. She needed to fill her life with his presence, his love. She owed it to him, to them. After so much tragedy, grief, and agony in their lives, they deserved to finally be happy. Together.

Castle's eyes grew heavy after the extended time spent in the tub. Leading him back to bed, and with her heart surging with even more love for him after what she'd read, they made love once more. After, Kate finally coaxed him under with soft whispers of promise, and reassurances that she'd be right there, right where he'd left her, when he next opened his eyes. He'd curled up against her, sighed softly with his cheek pillowed upon her breast, and then he was out.

Now, he was sprawled out beside her, hair flopped forward, sweaty and clinging to his forehead, making him look adorable, if not still ruggedly handsome in his own way. He snuffled in his sleep, lightly, just a slight sound, but noticeable enough right away, and making her smile at this new endearing trait she'd learned about him.

She'd expected their love making to be frenzied and impassioned, intensely heated in an anxious, but all-consuming way. In actuality, once they'd made it into her bedroom, Castle had been surprisingly gentle and patient, so patient, taking care of her with such painstakingly tender focus. He was passionate, yes, but in a far more intimate and understated way. He undressed her reverently, taking time to learn her body, to touch, to taste, finding the places that made her squirm, made her moan.

When he'd finally merged his body with hers, he was an unselfish lover, careful and devoted, making sure he met her every need before seeking his own. He held her, cherished her, kissed her with an intimacy she'd never felt before. And when he'd finally let go, it was with her name on his lips, chanting his love into her ear, and again upon her breast.

No one had ever loved her in the way that Richard Castle did. And perhaps, she thought, because of him, his presence in her life all these`years, that was why no one ever could.

Curled onto her side, Kate tripped her fingers along his abdominals, just above where the bed sheets were bunched around at his hips. It was early in the morning now. Still hours until sunrise, but with enough moonlight shining through her bedroom window to see his skin prickled with goose flesh. She danced her fingertips up, appreciating his physique, but admittedly still needy and vying for his conscious attention.

She had let him sleep and carried on with reading her - their - book. But now she was finished.

And she wanted him again.

Castle grunted in response to the open-mouthed kisses she placed upon his chest.

"Mm, like that?" she murmured. Her name fell almost soundlessly from his lips, caught sleepily in his throat, but she heard it. She drew her lips up, from abs to his breastbone. "Wake up, Castle," she said softly.

He grunted out another noise, one of protest. Her kisses escalated. "Wake up," she husked again.

"No," he whined petulantly, rolling to the side and burying his face in her pillows. "'m dreamin'. You'll disappear."

"Definitely not dreaming," she purred into his ear. His skin rippled with goose flesh again. "Open your eyes, Castle."

He cracked one eye open, searching for her, and the smile that erupted on his face when he caught sight of her nearly took her breath away.

"Kate," he breathed. He rolled back over so that she was hovering above him. "Hi."

She sidled closer, draping herself across his bare chest as she leaned in to kiss him slowly. "Hi," she whispered, and kissed him again, then once more, just because she could. "Did you sleep well?"

Castle nodded his head vigorously, a certain light and knowledge in his eyes now making her feel shy and self-conscious. She chuckled lightly into his cheek, hiding her face. He threaded his fingers in her hair, and drew her back to him for another kiss.

"You are so beautiful," he said with awe, twirling an index finger around one wild curl framing her face in her sex-touseled hair.

Her head dipped again, shyly, but her hands wandered back to his chest. She couldn't stop touching him, loved the play of muscle and how it felt beneath her fingertips.

"Not so bad yourself, Castle."

"Yeah? Like what you see, Beckett?" he grinned. Off her shy nod, he added, "You know what they say about prison. Working out, or reading. I did a little of both, with some writing on the side."

"Mm, I knew you worked out. I just can't believe you had all of this hiding from me beneath that jumpsuit all these years."

Castle laughed. "Most unflattering outfit ever. Itchy, too."

She drew her hands up to his shoulders, palms sliding over the smooth skin as if she could erase the memory of the clothing he'd worn nearly every day for over six years. Her hands slid down his arms until she could interlink their fingers. "You'll never have to wear it again," she swore.

"I'm going to have to go shopping," he sighed. "I need an entirely new wardrobe now."

"We will. But later." Kate shifted above him, until she was straddling his waist. "I need you just like this for a little longer."

"More naked time?" he grinned.

"Lots of naked time."

"Twist my arm, Detective Beckett."

"Do more than that by the time I'm finished with you, Mr. Castle."

She loved the sight of Richard Castle in her apartment. Admittedly, he was a rather invasive creature, poking his nose into every nook and cranny, snooping through anything and everything he could find. But it was something she could definitely get used to.

He scoured through her book collection, and analyzed her home decor all morning. He spent nearly an hour trying to decide what it meant about her that she seemed to decorate with mismatched furniture and a hodgepodge of knickknacks that in no way related to each other whatsoever. He teased her over the styrofoam above the fridge, then started plotting meal plans and date nights in which they could stay in together with him cooking for her. And now he was fiddling with her laptop, marveling over DSL Internet speeds and the advancement of technology; computers, cellular phones, television, and just tech in general. It wasn't until he started pointing out how much had changed in the time he'd been in prison that she realized how much the world changed in the last six years.

Little did he know, she'd planned a big surprise for him while he'd been busy all morning, enamored by all the fancy gadgets she owned. In just a few minutes, he'd be receiving her gift to him, and she sincerely hoped she wasn't overstepping by making it happen.

"Hey, uh, Beckett?" he called out a short while later. "I think there's something, um...Can people call you on laptops now?"

The distinct chime continued to ring and Castle stared in both confusion and amazement at the monitor in front of him. Kate smothered her smile. "Well, answer it, Castle."

He shot her a curious, suspicious look, but then moved his index finger on the touch pad.

"Go on," she encouraged.

As soon as he clicked, the beaming smile of a young girl filled the screen. Fiery red hair and gleaming blue eyes, her sudden appearance made Castle both gasp and jerk back in his chair.

"Daddy!" Alexis Castle shouted in delight. Her eyes tracked him, though she didn't quite make eye contact due to the position of the web camera. "Daddy, is that you?!"

"A-Alexis. Pumpkin. Oh, honey." Instinctively, Castle's hands came up, moving as if he could reach out and touch her, snatch her right out of the screen. It took him a moment before realizing she couldn't just pounce out of the laptop. "Oh, baby, it's so good to see you. How are you? I love you, Alexis. I love you so much, sweetheart."

"I love you, too, Daddy," his daughter replied, tears in her eyes.

Kate made her way to the edge of the room, giving him privacy with his kid. Before she left, Castle glanced her way, their eyes catching. His were brimming with tears, the gratefulness in his expression undeniable. She nodded her head and gave him a smile as she backed out of the room.

She'd been so afraid this morning, calling his mother, and then his ex-wife, setting everything into motion. But now she knew with certainty that he'd needed this. She'd given him the best gift she possibly could to help him heal and move forward in his new reality.

Castle spoke to his daughter for hours. Kate didn't mind, however. She simply kept herself occupied in the meantime with some light cleaning around the apartment at first, and then she dove back into the novel he'd written, skimming through to all of her favorite parts. She loved how Castle's scrawl seemed so impassioned in certain instances of any given chapter. It wasn't just the words so much as the physical way he'd written them; some places, his handwriting was darker, deeper, while others were light and hastily put down. It gave the story a certain element of energy that just couldn't be found in any typewritten font.

It was going to be such a great book. It already was. She just knew that once he got the chance to turn it into an actual manuscript, his publisher would be thrilled to share it with the world. His story was going to be a hit. Their story. And it was only the beginning. There was still so very much left to come.

"Hey," his soft voice interrupted her thoughts. He was walking out of the spare bedroom she used as her office space, hands in his pockets and looking sheepish. "Sorry," he said, looking out towards the setting sun just out the windows. "Completely lost track of time."

Kate shifted on the couch, pulling her legs up onto the cushion and motioning for him to come join her. "Don't apologize. You haven't been able to speak freely with your daughter in ages. It wouldn't bother me if you stayed up all night talking with her."

Castle chuckled as he sat down. "She'd never allow it," he said with a grin. "She has a self-imposed bedtime, you know. Eight P.M., on the dot. Meredith said she's incorruptible. Doesn't stray from the path of good behavior no matter what temptation she throws at her." He grinned again. "Drives her crazy."

"She sounds like a great kid."

"She is. She's amazing. So smart, and she's grown up so much."

Kate could only imagine. The girl had barely started kindergarten when Castle had been convicted. She was much older now, and probably changed in so many ways.

"I, uh - " Castle hesitated, looking anxiously at her as he sat down beside her on the couch.

"What?" she coaxed, but he seemed afraid to go on. Afraid of her reaction to what he was wanting to say.

"You can tell me anything, Castle. You know that."

She reached her hand over to cover his, squeezing his fingers lightly.

"I want to go to California," he blurted at last. Silence followed, in which their eyes caught, then both dropped their gazes to their interlinked fingers.

It wasn't much of a shock. Of course he'd want to be near his daughter. She'd known that in her heart from the very beginning. But hearing his desire spoken out loud still made her heart race with anxiety and fear.

"To stay?" she asked anxiously.

"I don't know," he admitted honestly. "To visit, at least. At first. But after that..." He let his words hang there, because the truth was that he really didn't know. He didn't know what came next.

Castle needed to see his daughter. Needed to be able to spend time with her, get to know her again. They had years to catch up on, and it might take years to repair the relationship they'd lost when they were separated so many years ago.

"Kate, I - " he started, shifting to face her, but she was already shaking her head.

"It's okay. I understand," she said, resigned but refusing to be selfish. "She needs you, and you need her. You should go to her, Castle. Go be with your daughter."

"But Kate," he stopped her, lifting his hand to her cheek. "I need you, too. I want to be with you, too." His hands trembled, his body shaking. "I can't - " he choked out. "I don't want - "

She was crying. Just like that, with just those few words, she was in tears and falling into his arms. Oh, how she loved him. It tore her apart to think of losing him after everything they'd been through.

But he loved her, too. He'd come to her, turned to her last night with no one else he wanted to go to. He wanted to be with her. They'd gone through hell and back, and he still wanted her by his side through whatever came next.

"Come with me," he murmured into her hair. "Come with me with California. And then - "

"Yes," she said without hesitation. She didn't need him to finish his thought. She knew what he would say.

They'd go to California. They'd spend time with his daughter. And then...

They would figure it out. Her mother's killer was behind bars. Her quest for justice was over. She didn't have to stay in New York. Not anymore. She didn't need to sacrifice her happiness and the shot at a future with the man she loved. The man who'd helped her get through the last six years, and to put everything to rest.

Whatever came next, whatever 'and then' entailed, she would be by his side, sharing this new life together.

"I'll go with you. Wherever life takes us. Partners, Castle. I love you."

"I love you, Kate." He pressed his lips to her temple, down to her cheek. "Kate, I love you."

The next chapter of their lives was beginning and, from then on, they'd be writing it together.