Living is Easy

Traffic grows viscous the closer they get to the city, and by the time they make it to Manhattan the cars move through the streets like sludge. Their windows are down because it's so damn hot in the car, but the air is rapidly becoming charred with exhaust fumes and she coughs, turning to glance at her partner. Castle doesn't seem too concerned, doesn't ask her to roll the window back up, so Kate continues to lean half out of it and watch the pockets of tourists that gaggle together in patches along the sidewalk.

It's rare that she's not the one to drive, especially in Manhattan, and she's glad for the opportunity to soak in her city like this. They pass subway station after subway station, musty-mouthed entrances swarming with people and Kate sighs, turns her face towards the car's feeble puffs of air conditioning. "It's gonna take us all day to get back in this traffic."

"Not all day," her partner chuckles, one hand on the steering wheel and the other reaching across the centre console to land at her thigh. She's sticky, desperate for a shower, and she captures his fingers to squeeze in hers. "It always seems so much worse when it's hot. Everything grinds to a halt."

"It's gonna take a while to get used to all the noise," she sighs, leaning back against the headrest and stretching her legs out. A car horn sounds out right next to them as if to make her point for her and she laughs, presses a hand over her eyes. She can hear at least six different languages right outside the window, snatches of words she understands in amongst the stream she doesn't, and she grins.

This is what she loves about New York, why as much as she enjoys her time at the cabin it does tend to make her go a little crazy after a while. She loves people, and her city has so many of them that she has no hope of ever knowing everybody here and having them know her.

When they pull into the underground garage of Castle's building and he parks the car, Kate finally rolls her window up and reaches for her partner before he can get out of the Buick, fingers curling around his wrist. "Good job driving. It was rough towards the end there."

"Oh," he breathes, surprise making his face go slack for just a moment before he grins at her, the arc of joy cleaving his face open so that light comes spilling out. "Thanks, Kate."

"You're welcome," she says, lifting her free hand to his cheek and holding him in place as she leans in to kiss him. Her fingers slide around to sift through the fine hair at the nape of his neck and she smiles against his mouth, has to stop kissing him to rest her forehead to his instead.

Castle opens his door then, climbing out of the car and waiting for her to do the same before he moves around to the trunk. They collect their suitcases and her partner locks his car, pushing the keys into the pocket of his shorts. He extends the handle of his bag so he can wheel it over to the elevator and Kate does the same, her free hand sliding into his. Inside the elevator car, she lets go of her bag and wraps her arm around him, tucking her fingers into the waistband of his shorts on the opposite side and pillowing her cheek against his bicep. A kiss comes to the crown of her head and he stays there until the doors open on the lobby of his building.

There's a separate elevator for the parking garage that only comes to the lobby, so that it's impossible to sneak into the building without going past the doorman, and when Frank sees them he flutters his fingers in a half-wave and steps forward to take their bags.

"Good afternoon Mr Castle, Detective Beckett. How was your vacation?"

Frank is the only person who knows that they were away at the cabin together; Castle told the doorman that he would be going away so that Frank knew to collect the mail and hold it for him, and so that he'd know not to send anybody up to his apartment. They haven't explicitly told Frank - or anybody - that they're together, but the doorman sees Kate every time she arrives to spend the night or even a few days at Castle's loft, must surely have figured it out for himself.

"It was fantastic, thanks Frank," Castle is saying, his smile a little more reserved in front of the man than it has been the past ten days. "Don't worry about our bags, we'll handle them."

"Oh," Kate says, suddenly realising that Castle just expects her to come upstairs with him. She casts her eyes to Frank and the doorman nods, takes a few smooth steps backward until he's out of earshot. "Castle. I have to go home."

The hint of a smile at his mouth washes clean away, melting right down his face until he's left staring at her, his jaw slack. "I thought you would. . .come up."

Shaking her head, Kate rounds the corner towards the elevators that lead up to the apartments, conveniently out of view of the people walking past outside. Once they're sheltered, she reaches for his hand and brings it up to her chest, holds it there underneath both of hers.

"I need to check my mail and water the plants, unpack my stuff. Make sure my apartment is still standing."

"Right," he says, but his head hangs a little and he sighs dejectedly, the fingers of his free hand curling and uncurling around the handle of his bag over and over again.

Eyes closing for a moment, Kate sucks in a breath and tries to fortify herself against his sadness. It's not unreasonable of her to want to go home and make sure everything is alright; as wonderful as their vacation was, she doesn't live with him. Not yet.

Castle's eyes are roaming their immediate surroundings, refusing to meet hers and Kate bites at her bottom lip, trying to figure out what she can offer him. "I'll come over for breakfast tomorrow?"

"Okay," he shrugs, scuffing the toe of one shoe along the marble floor tile and untangling his hand from her grip, shoving them both in his pockets like a little boy.

A sigh crumbles in her throat as she refuses to let it escape and Kate takes a step nearer to her partner, wishes she was brave enough to kiss him here where anybody could see. "Castle, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disappoint you. But surely you knew that I would have to go home at some point?"

"I guess I just hoped that coming home from vacation didn't mean I would have to stop spending my nights with you. Stupid."

"No, not stupid," she breathes, reaches out to brush one of her hairs away where it clings to the sleeve of his t-shirt. The contact, even through the fabric, makes him shiver and he lifts his head to look at her, a frown creasing his forehead. "I'm still going to spend nights with you, Rick. Don't look so dejected. This isn't- we're not over."

He nods, but his shoulders are still slumped, boyish rejection still marring his face. And now she's thinking about how much Castle likes to have people around him, how lonely his massive loft must be when he's the only one home.

"Will you at least come up for five minutes so I can say goodbye properly?" he asks, not quite looking at her as if he can't bear to watch her say no to that as well.

Reaching for the handle of her bag, Kate jabs a finger into the elevator call button and steps inside when the doors come open immediately, turning back around to beckon to him. "Come on. Let me deliver you safely to your door."

Inside Castle's loft, she hovers in the entryway while he carries his bag through to his bedroom, not trusting herself to follow. She doesn't want to get settled, doesn't want to fall into bed with him right now. It's important to her that she retain her independence, and anyway, she really does need to check on her apartment.

When he comes back to her he loosens her fingers from around the handle of her suitcase, drawing her in close so that her arms slide around his waist of their own accord. He's got one hand cupping the back of her neck and the other coasting up and down her spine and he grins at her, lopsided and a little goofy.

"Thank you for the most perfect vacation, Kate. I had the best time."

"Thanks for making the cabin a place of happiness again," she says quietly, shifting her hands to slip them both underneath his shirt and to the warmth of the bare skin at his sides, like silk under her fingertips. "I'm glad you loved it as much as I do."

He nods at that, and then he leans in to kiss her. The door is right at her back and Kate lets him nudge her up against it, half expecting the crack of thunder to jolt her body into his. His hands wander over her like spectres, one moment in her hair and the next flirting with the hem of her shirt and Kate gasps, tilting her head to let his tongue paint a hot line up the side of her neck.

His teeth close around the lobe of her ear, nibbling gently and a shiver rattles through her, making her bones clack together. Fisting her hands in the material over his shoulder blades, Kate tugs him away from her and lets her head thud back against the door, a gasp caught in her throat.

"I really have to go home," she says gently, soothing him as best she can with her touch.

Castle nods and takes a step back from her, one hand in his pocket again as if he can't stop himself from reaching for her. With the other, he opens the front door of the loft for her and she steps through, leaves him in the threshold.

"Text me when you get home safe?" he asks, as he does every time she leaves him and she nods, offers him a small smile.

He cares so fiercely about her, and guilt weighs heavy on her shoulders. Yes, she does need to check her apartment, but that'll only take an hour at the most. There's no reason she can't come back here tonight, except some ridiculous notion that she has something to prove. That she needs to reassure herself that she can survive a night without him at her side.

Castle leans in and dusts a last kiss to her cheek as she turns to go, and when she rounds the end of the corridor he wiggles his fingers at her in a wave, but his body sags against the doorframe and Kate has to press a hand to her mouth once she's out of his sight, forcing herself to keep moving.

She'll see him tomorrow.

Rick tries the best that he can, but after a couple of hours or so he runs out of chores and errands to fill his time. He unpacks his suitcase and puts it away on a high shelf in his closet. He waters his plants and collects his mail from downstairs, goes through it all and responds to everything that requires it.

He even goes to the grocery store to pick up essentials - milk, butter, bread - and some stuff for dinner tonight, but after he's put away his purchases and checked his emails, scrolled through his twitter mentions, he finds himself on the couch staring at the wall.

The city is suffocating him, too much noise pressing up against the glass after the absolute solitude of the cabin, and suddenly he needs to be outside. He's still wearing his shoes and his phone is in his pocket, so Castle springs up from the couch with life swelling in his veins and heads right for the front door, locking it behind himself.

Beckett needs a little time this evening and that's good, he's glad that she recognised her need and had enough faith in them - in him - to ask for it, but he knows she'd hate it if he wasted the day sitting around and missing her.

It's not just Kate's absence, but his mother and Alexis too, and the loft is quiet in a way that feels all wrong, fathoms apart from the cabin. If he can't have that lovely, peaceful silence then he needs the noise of the city.

He takes the subway across town to the park, not even minding the sardine crush of the train and the heat that swells up to bake him immediately. New York is always busy with tourists, but the summer months are especially chaotic. The park will be crowded on a beautiful day like this, spilling over into the surrounding streets, but that's exactly what he needs.

When he gets off the train Castle tugs his phone free from his pocket and opens his messages, reading over his last exchange with Kate again. She texted him when she got back to her apartment to say that she'd made it safely and she was already looking forward to brunch, and she had included a heart emoji and a coffee emoji; he had no idea Beckett even knew how to use the emoticon feature on her phone.

It had made him laugh out loud and then he'd responded with a long string of emojis to represent their time at the cabin, trees and little swimming people and dogs with a heart to separate each distinct event. He'd received only a smiling face for his efforts, but he'd been delighted anyway.

In the park he buys himself an ice cream from a vendor who speaks on the phone in rapid-fire Arabic before pausing to thank Castle in English, wish him a pleasant day. He got a cone, even though it will start to melt and run down his wrist before he gets a chance to finish it, and as he eats he meanders along the path that circles the lake.

He wishes Kate were here, wants to share this with her as he does everything else, but he'll respect her need for time to herself. Even so, as he walks past couple after couple, pairs of lovers twining together, he can't help but ache over her absence. That's them now, lovers, and his hand makes it halfway into the pocket that holds his phone before he yanks it out again, forces his arm to hang loosely at his side. He can survive an afternoon without her.

Once he's finished with his ice cream he finds an empty bench, delivered up to him by fate itself on such a busy day, and he sinks down to pull his phone free from his pocket and message his daughter. Alexis doesn't know that he wasn't in the city, has no idea that he's been on vacation, so he has to squash his silly urge to tell her that he's home and instead asks after her and his mother.

There are still weeks of their tour stretching out ahead of them, and although he's grateful for all of the time he gets to spend with Beckett, he misses his little girl and his mother desperately. He wants to spend time with all three of them together, wants to do family dinners and movie nights and Sunday trips to the park.

Castle takes a picture of himself pulling a goofy face to send to his daughter, and then bravery takes hold of him and he sends the photograph to Kate as well, taps out a caption about how not having her around makes him into a fool. He doesn't say that he misses her, doesn't want to make her feel guilty, but he has no doubt that she'll read it in to what he does say anyway.

Balancing his phone on his thigh, Castle leans back against the bench and watches the activity out on the lake, the swan boats that move smoothly through the water. It's been a long time since he's really done any of the touristy things the city offers, but he kind of wants to do them all with his partner, maybe take her on a horse and carriage ride.

Right as he thinks it, his phone starts ringing and he glances down to see his partner's radiant face on the screen. A grin splits open the seam of his mouth, his joy ripe and boundless and he swipes to answer, eyes shuttering closed at the sound of her voice. "Hi Kate."

"Hey," she says, and he hears the rush of ambient noise in the background, the far away honk of a car horn. "Are you in the park?"

"Yeah. I figured just because I'm back in the city doesn't mean I can't get out into nature."

That earns him a breath of laughter from her and he imagines the dip of her head, the flush of happiness in her cheeks. "Can I come join you?"

"Of course," he says immediately, excitement fizzing in his guts at the prospect of seeing her even after such a short time apart. "I'm on a bench overlooking the lake, not too far from the boathouse. I'll wait here for you."

"Okay. See you soon," she says, and then there's a click as the call disconnects.

He tries not to drum his feet too fervently, tries his best to sit still on the bench and wait patiently, but he's just so delighted that she's on her way. Spending time with Kate, sharing with her, makes everything better, and seeing her now will be doubly sweet after thinking he'd have to go the rest of the day apart from her.

It takes twenty minutes or so, but eventually he sees her making her way down the path towards him and he stands up from the bench to meet her, leaning in to kiss her cheek and tangle his fingers with hers. He brings their joined hands up between them as they walk, casting her a glance. "Is this okay?"

"Holding my hand? Yeah," she grins at him, her shoulder bumping against his.

He manages to stay quiet for a little while, wandering along the path that winds around the lake with Kate's hand in his, but silence isn't exactly natural for him and after a handful of minutes Kate lifts an eyebrow, bringing them to a stop and guiding them away from the middle of the path, out of the flow of foot traffic. "What is it?"

"You said you didn't want to see me today," he blurts, shame immediately flooding his cheeks. He didn't mean to say it quite like that, reveal how it stings whenever she wants to be apart from him. He understands it, he really does, and he doesn't resent her for it, but it's still entirely dichotomous to his own personality and it feels like sandpaper against his raw nerve endings.

"It wasn't that I didn't want to see you, Castle," she starts, still holding tight to his hand. She's wearing flats now, has changed into a lacy coral dress he didn't see on their vacation, and the light falls dappled onto her face through the trees over their heads, constantly shifting. "I just had things to sort out at home. And I wanted to prove to myself that I could survive an afternoon without you."

He huffs a breath at that, free hand sliding back into his pocket so that his thumb can stroke over the smooth metal of his phone. "Nobody's doubting that, Beckett."

"Well now I am," she laughs, squeezing his fingers and stepping in close enough that her body flirts with his. The material of her dress swishes around her thighs, sunglasses pushed up on top of her head and her hair curling over one shoulder; she looks like an actress or a model, so gorgeous he's almost afraid to touch her in case she turns out to be a phantom. "Because I couldn't do it. I was sitting at home, having run out of errands to fill my time with, and I couldn't stop thinking about how much I wished I was with you."

"I missed you too," he breathes, drawing her in for a kiss. They're mostly sheltered here in this cove of trees, far enough from the boathouse that the path is a little quieter, so he doesn't hesitate as he slides a hand into her hair, the other flirting with the curve of her spine.

When their kiss crumbles around goofy, love-rich smiles he keeps a hold of her, doesn't let her stray from his embrace. How much he adores her is this first, the way she leans in close to him and nuzzles her nose into the skin of his throat, and then all the rest of it.

"So. Can we still do breakfast if I stay the night?"

"Sure," he laughs, pressing another kiss to her swollen mouth before he lets her step away from the circle of his arms. His phone starts ringing and he fishes it out of his pocket, keeps one of Beckett's hands clasped in his so she can't wander away from him. "It's Alexis. Hold on."

"Hey Dad," his daughter says when he swipes to answer the call and he grins, so happy to hear her voice. Nothing quite prepared him for how much it would be possible to miss his baby girl, how the loft would echo with the absence of her laughter. The first time she spent the night away from home, a birthday sleepover at her classmate's apartment, he had moped for hours.

At his side Kate shifts awkwardly from foot to foot, looking like she wants to give him some space, but he's had enough of that from her today and he hooks two fingers around hers to keep her with him, shoots her a frown when she tugs on his grip. "Hi, pumpkin. How are you?"

"I'm good! Gram and I just had a quiet day at the beach today," his little girl is saying. She sounds tired, and he bites back the fatherly concern he knows she doesn't need anymore. Alexis is eighteen now, and his mother is there to look after her; he doesn't need to interfere. "How are you? Getting much writing done?"

"Some," he says, poking his tongue out at Beckett when she gives him a scathing look. It's not a lie, not exactly; he did manage to get a few chapters written while they were at the cabin. "I've mostly just been trying to keep myself entertained without the two of you around to distract me."

There's a quiet sound of sympathy from his daughter, a pause before she speaks and he holds his breath, waiting on her. "Have you spent any time with Beckett recently?"

His partner lifts an eyebrow at that, able to hear every word of his conversation with his daughter, and he shrugs. He has no idea why Alexis is so interested in Kate all of the sudden, why she's pushing him to spend time with the detective, but it sends great tides of relief through him. "She's here right now, actually. We're in the park."

"Oh, I didn't mean to interrupt," Alexis says, and Kate's eyes widen a little. He's not exactly sure that his daughter is insinuating there's anything to interrupt, whether she's starting to figure out that something more is going on between Rick and his partner, but right now he has to play it like everything is normal.

Castle takes the time to clear his throat while he ruminates on an answer that won't clue his daughter in, glancing over at his partner to try and read her. Kate's grip on his hand grows tighter and tighter until his knuckles bleach with the force of it, her lip caught between her teeth again. "You're not interrupting, Alexis. We're just taking a walk, enjoying the weather. We're both pretty bored, not being able to go to the precinct."

"Well, I was just checking in to make sure you weren't feeling lonely, but if Beckett's there then I guess not."

Oh? Is that what this is? He wants his daughter to enjoy herself on her vacation, not get hung up on concern for him. And clearly, he needs to maybe tone down the espionage a little bit if she thinks he's lonely. Kate is here, hand still in his, and he's the farthest from alone he's been in a long time.

"Alexis, I'm a grown up. It's not your job to look after me, as much as we might joke about it. You have fun on your trip, pumpkin. Don't worry about me."

There's a pause, and then he can almost hear his daughter's shrug, her pleased little smile. "Alright, Dad. I'll email you later with some pictures. I love you."

"I love you too," he says, waiting for her to disconnect the call before he drops the phone from his ear. Pushing it into his pocket, he turns to look at Kate and lifts an eyebrow at her. "She seems pretty eager for me to be spending time with you."

"That's good, right?" his partner says quietly, her bottom lip a little raw where her teeth have sunk into it over and over. He knows she worries about his daughter, concerned that Alexis still harbours the negative feelings towards Beckett that grew after she was shot.

Reeling her in to his embrace, Rick wraps his arms tight around her and kisses the crown of her head. "Of course it's good. Everything's gonna turn out fine. Now, would you like to come back to the loft with me?"

"Yeah. Okay," she nods, but she's still distracted, her eyes never landing on one spot for more than a second at a time.

Cupping her face in his palms, Rick leans in and takes a kiss from her mouth, another, walking her slowly backwards until she bumps up against a tree. It's quiet in this little section of the park, but not exactly private, so he keeps his kiss as chaste as he can bear to with the heave of her chest against his, her body so warm and good.

When he breaks away from her mouth she smiles at him, gives herself a little shake as if to rid herself of any leftover anxiety about his conversation with Alexis. They've got weeks, still, before Alexis comes home and they have to worry about it, and he doesn't want Kate to get hung up over it. He'll do whatever he can not to let that happen.

They stop at Kate's apartment on the way back to the loft and she packs an overnight bag, banishes her partner to the living room. It's not as if he hasn't seen her bedroom before, seen everything she's got really, but she knows that if he comes in here they will both allow themselves to get thoroughly distracted. She'd rather do that at the loft, where they'll have the whole night stretching out ahead of them.

Once they make it back to Castle's home she dumps her bag in his bedroom and comes back to find him on the couch, a glass of wine for each of them resting on the long table that runs along the back. Sinking down to sit with him, Kate lets him curl his arms around her and draw her right into his lap, wriggling to get comfortable.

"Tell me if you need space," he says gruffly, his mouth at the skin of her neck where it slopes away from her ear, tongue just darting out to touch.

Laughing, Kate struggles her way into facing him and settles a palm against his cheek, nudging her nose into his. "Castle. I think if the last ten days at the cabin taught me anything, it's that I don't need space from you. Not for more than a half hour or so, anyway."

"Oh really?" he says, an eyebrow arching at her and she leans in to graze her teeth over the so-soft skin, delighting in the shiver that rips through him, the jerk of his hips up into hers.

"Really. Usually I need to be alone to. . .to recharge, I guess. But being with you never makes me feel drained, never wears me out."

He leers at her, the fingers of one hand sliding underneath the hem of her dress and up her thigh, splaying wide at the crease of her leg and his thumb circling her skin. "I don't wear you out? I must be doing something wrong."

"Not that," she knocks her head against his, their temples bumping together, and she shifts in his lap. Already, arousal is cascading through her system, but she wants to make sure he understands what she's trying to say here before she gives in to the hot rush of lust. "Castle. I'm trying to be serious."

"Okay. I'm listening," he says, sliding his hand back out from underneath her dress and folding it neatly in his lap with the other, meeting her eyes with a soft smile. It still amazes her how quickly he can switch from the thunder of desire rippling through him to serious and collected and totally in control. Still wrecks her, the way he employs that skill sometimes.

"Everything about being with you is so different to anything I've had before. I've never had a relationship built on so much trust. I've never fallen in love with my best friend."

A smile cracks his face wide open at that and he leans in to kiss the corner of her mouth, lingering there and sucking in a breath before he tugs away enough to see her face again. Kate slides out of his lap and gets to her knees at his side, reaching for one of his hands to hold in both of hers.

"That's why I'm not afraid. Not about people finding out, not about needing space from you, none of it. Because I know that this between us? It's for keeps."

"You know, I keep thinking I couldn't be more in love with you, and then you do something else and I fall so hard all over again," he says, looking at her as if she's at once a stranger and somebody so familiar, like their atoms were together when the world first exploded into being and they've been tugged back towards each other ever since.

Gasping on a bubble of wet laughter, emotion thick in her belly and her throat, Kate slides her knee over his thighs again and sinks down, both hands at his cheeks to guide his mouth to hers.

"Castle," she gasps in between the touch of their mouths, her kiss directionless and smudging. "Oh, Castle. I love you too."

He grins wide, their kiss crumbling apart around his arcing joy and he slides a hand into her hair, cradling the curve of her skull as he looks at her. "I really did love the cabin, Kate. Is it too soon to start planning for Christmas?"


A/N: Some of you have expressed interest in reading about them telling their families that they're together, them moving in together and getting engaged, but this fic was always intended to slot neatly into the canon of the summer after season four and therefore in my mind, all of those events transpired exactly as we saw them happen on the show.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read and review this story. Your kind words have made me smile each and every time. Eternal gratitude to Allie and Berkie, my amazing betas and the best sounding boards any writer could ask for. You two are phenomenal, and this story owes itself to you both.