oxymoron: (noun) a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction
June, one year later
She adjusts her high ponytail, feels it swing behind her head, and her hands fall to curl around the fabric of her blouse. She pushes the ivory fabric up to her elbows, and then leans down to tug at the hem of her skirt, drawing it down to make sure it's where it's supposed to be. And just before she makes her way into the hall, she runs her fingertips over the chain around her neck, fighting the urge to draw the ring up and cradle it in her palm.
Instead, her hands join behind her back as she presses herself against the wall between her classroom door and his, her gaze sliding to land on her fiance, who's staring back at her.
"Ready for the last class of the year?" he asks.
She nods, the words caught in her throat at the knowing glint in his eye, at the love that shines bright in the blue she loves so very much.
This is her last class of the year and in two days she's marrying Castle, and it has her tearing her gaze from his and turning towards the door in an attempt to keep herself from leaning over to press a kiss to his lips. It doesn't keep him from reaching for her hand the moment the bell rings and smudging a kiss to the high of her cheekbone.
She slips into her classroom and her students are already smiling at her, knowing glints in their eyes. She rolls her eyes, finding her spot at the front of the room, her palms flattening against her desk as she leans back.
Almost instantly, a hand shoots up into the air.
"Yes, Andrea?" she asks.
Andrea smiles, wide and feigning innocence. "Do we actually have to do work today?" she asks. "I mean, it's the last day of the year."
Two years ago, the answer was a yes without room for argument, and her heart jumps at the reminder of how much she's changed. Because this year, she shrugs. "I don't know. It depends on whether or not you have any ideas on what else we can do for class today," she says. "Anyone?"
Andrea's smile only widens. "Well, you could finally tell us about your wedding, since it is this weekend and all."
She huffs, even though she should have expected it. It's been a topic of conversation, and a recurring question since she showed up after Christmas vacation, still giddy with excitement, with a ring on her finger. The same ring that now sits in that exact spot, where it's rarely vacated since the day he proposed. Her one hand falls to twirl the ring on her finger as a smile spread across her face.
"Fine," she agrees. "But this isn't the whole story."
She reaches over her desk, and er hand curls around the back of her desk chair, and she rolls it around the desk and drops down to sit, crossing her legs in front of her, and flashing a smile at her students.
"So, Castle owns a house in the Hamptons, and that's where we'll be getting married," she says. "It will be a small wedding, with just our family and closest friends, overlooking the ocean, at sunset."
Her heart stutters, the memory of when they last went to the Hamptons, when he took her hand in his and they decided exactly where they would get married. He had taken her into his arms, and danced with her to the sound of the waves crashing against the shoreline.
"What about your dress?" asks a student, and she blinks back the memory, against the giddy butterflies flooding her stomach.
And now grief settles in her chest, and yet the smile stays on her face. "It was my mother's dress," she says. "Uh, it's a full skirt but not princess-y, with a high neckline and a lot of lace." Her cheeks burn pink, and her gaze falls for a second only for her to look back up with a shrug. "It's hard to describe, but I think it looks nice."
The student smiles, nodding her head.
And then another student, a girl sitting in the back of the room, pipes up. "How did you know?" she asks. "That Mr. Castle is the one?"
She shrugs again, on instinct, at the lack of answer that comes to mind, and her lips part around the first words she can think of. "I didn't." And then she shakes her head, waving her hand in the air. "Wait, no, I do know, it just wasn't like, a moment where I realized it."
"Then what happened?" asks a student, and a guy in her class huffs because he obviously doesn't care.
It draws a laugh from her throat, and she shrugs again at the question. "We were together for…nine months when he proposed, and by then, I guess I just knew that my life is so much better with him in it than without him," she answers. "Eventually I just realized that he makes me so happy, and that I didn't want to live my life without him anymore." She smiles, feels the dreamy memories blurring her vision. "So when he proposed, there was no answer but yes."
And she blinks, refocusing her vision and looking up at her students. Dreamy smiles are spread across most of the girls' faces, probably as they imagine their own love story. Most of the boys have their phones out, but she doesn't bother snapping at them.
It's the last day of school. It's not like they were going to learn anything important today, anyway.
Instead, her gaze snaps to one of the girl's in her class as another hand shoots up into the air, and with a nod of her head, she allows the student to ask her question.
"Is it true that you hated Mr. Castle before you guys started dating?"
She barks out a laugh, smothering it behind her palm, and finds herself nodding her head before she can think better of it.
It's the truth, after all. Up until he forced her to see the kind and compassionate side of him…she really didn't appreciate so much as sharing a wall with him.
Never did she imagine herself marrying him.
And yet here she is.
She bobs her head up and down once more, and her hand falls to land over the other. Without thought, she twists the diamond ring on her finger, and a smile spreads across her face.
"Yeah," she answers. "That would be true."
"She didn't hate me," he says. "She just…didn't like me, either."
The student who asked the question laughs. "Really, Mr. Castle?" he says. "Because I heard she hated you."
His brows furrow, and he's sure Kate would call him over-dramatic for the way he crosses his arms over his chest and leans back against the edge of the desk behind him. "Who told you that?" he asks.
The student shrugs. "Students from Miss Beckett's class last year," he answers.
"Mr. Ryan," pipes up another.
He feigns a gasp, pressing his hand against his chest. "Alexis is supposed to be on my side," he says, and the students laugh again. He smiles at the sight, and clears his throat to get their attention. "Anyway," he continues, "wasn't the point of this to hear about how I proposed?"
Most of the students nod, a few groaning at the return to the original question, uninterested in his love life, in Kate's love life and how he got down on one knee and asked her to marry him.
He just laughs, though, unwilling to keep it a secret any longer when he already promised he'd share today. Unable to hold back the smile that spread across his face at the memory.
Because in just a few days, he's marrying the love of his life.
"So, Beckett and I had been dating for nine months when Christmas rolled around," he begins. "And, well, Christmastime isn't a happy time for her, for reasons that hers alone to share, but it's my favorite time of year. But I didn't want to propose just because it was my favorite time of the year. I wanted to make it special for her."
He sucks in a breath, remembering the painful quiver of her voice when she had told him about how the Christmas decorations were still up the day her mother was murdered. When she told him that packing up the decorations that year was like packing up her mother, and she hadn't decorated since.
That was one step in bringing her here, to the present, with him.
"I'd had the ring for a little while by Christmas, for a few months, actually. I bought it shortly after our six month anniversary," he continues. "And when I realized that I was ready to give it to her, and that I was pretty sure she might be ready to accept, I did debate giving the ring to her as a Christmas present, but, like I said, I didn't want the engagement to be tainted by her dislike of the holiday season."
He'd even wrapped the ring, hidden the smaller jewelry box in a larger one and an ocean of tissue paper. He had planned it all out only to rip the wrapping apart a few minutes later. He'd planned the proposal for himself, not for her. He had wanted it to be for her.
"So, we spent Christmas Eve together, and by then I was sure I wanted to marry her, but I still had no plans to propose. We opened midnight gifts with my family, and sipped hot chocolate, and even though Beckett isn't all that fond of Christmas, I think she had fun," he says. "We had a lot of fun."
That has his students groaning, and a chuckle bubbling up from his chest. If Kate was here, she would definitely swat at his chest and remind him that these are his students.
Even though it's not his fault that his students' minds go there.
"What? We did. It was Christmas," he says, still laughing, and shrugging one shoulder. "Point is, she spent Christmas Eve with me and spent the night at my place. But when I woke up on Christmas morning, her side of the bed was empty. At first, I thought that the big family Christmas might have been too much for her, and that she needed a break, but almost as soon as I went to get up, she came back into the room."
Her smile had been so bright, so beautiful, one of her hands wrapped around a mug of coffee, the other hidden in the pocket of his pajama pants that she had borrowed.
"She sat down on the bed next to me, and pulled the ring box out of her pocket and sat it down in between us. And she told me to ask her." His smile widens. "Of course, I knew she was going to say yes, but I went through the whole speech I had planned out anyway, although she cut me off halfway through with her answer."
She had practically lunged at him, crying and thanking him, without telling him what she was thanking him for, and pressing kisses to his shoulder, to his neck, to any skin she could find. Emotional from Christmas, emotional from the promise, and he had just held her, buried his face in her hair and kissed her until she pulled away. And then, with shaking hands, he had slid the ring onto her finger, watching the diamond sparkle in the morning sun, watching the sparkle in her eyes.
"Obviously, she said yes, since we're getting married on Saturday," he finishes. "And that's the story of how your favorite teachers got engaged."
A few of the students scoff, but it takes him a second to realize that most aren't even looking at him. His gaze follows theirs, cutting to the door, where Kate is leaning against the frame.
He asks his class to excuse him for a second, and follows her into the hall. His hands find her hips and hers land on his shoulders. Her eyes are bright, betraying the mock frown gracing her lips.
"You spilling our secrets?" she asks.
He smiles. "You are, too. You're telling them about the wedding," he counters.
Her cheeks turn pink, her head dipping to hide her blush. "Whatever," she dismisses. "Just don't even imply anything about our sex life, okay?"
"Okay," he agrees.
And then he's dipping his head to steal a kiss from her, squeezing her hips as he does. She pulls away, laughing at the gagging noises that come from both his classroom and hers, and at the one student who reminds them that PDA in the hallway is against the rules.
He kisses her again, for good measure.
Then she shoves his chest, laughing softly. "Go teach your class," she says, as though she isn't the one that silently beckoned him out of it.
"You, too," he says, pinching her side as she turns to walk away.
She turns back to face him, though, still smiling. "And remember," she says, "nothing, not even an implication, about our sex life."
He nods, swallowing back the response telling her he would never do such a thing.
It's only after her class is empty, and she's slipped the last stray piece of paper into its place for next year, that he joins her in her classroom. His arms snake around her waist, his lips landing on her neck, and even though they're in full view of the students in the hallway, she sinks back against him, her hands landing over his.
"Can you believe another year's over?" he asks, his breath warm against her skin, his arms squeezing her middle.
She shakes her head against his chest.
"Did you ever think, two years ago, that you would be marrying me?" he adds, pressing another kiss the side of her neck.
It draws a laugh from her throat, and she shakes her head again. "Two years ago, I probably thought it was more likely I would be arrested for your murder than that I would be your fiancee," she tells him. "Although this is, admittedly, much better than that would have been."
"Because you love me?" His voice is at her ear this time, his tongue tracing the shell of it to punctuate his sentence and draw a shiver up her spine.
But she manages a shake of her head. "Because orange really isn't my color," she teases, leaning back to press her head against his.
He hums, amusement laced evident in the sound. "I think you would look beautiful," he tells her.
"Oh?" she breathes. "So, if I ended up in jail for whatever reason, you would still find me attractive?"
She means for it to be teasing, rhetorical. Means for it to draw a laugh from his throat and his fingers pinching at her sides as he leaves the question unanswered because they both already know the truth.
But he leans down, and presses his lips to her shoulder, soft and sweet as his hands drift across her sides, over the ladder of her ribs and down to her hips again. He lingers there, his mouth pressed to her skin, his hands holding her close, and nuzzles his nose against the side of her neck when he pulls away.
"Always," he whispers.
It sends her heart soaring, her pulse stuttering, and she squeezes his hands. "You're sappy today," she whispers.
He pulls back, ever so slightly, and his one hand escapes her grasp, coming up to cradle her jaw instead. His thumb traces her cheekbone as he angles her head so he can meet her gaze. Her teeth find her bottom lip, her heart racing at the look in his eyes, at the sweet, loving smile gracing his lips.
"I'm marrying the love of my life in two days," he whispers, as though she could possibly forget. "I'm allowed to be sappy."
Her heart melts, and she tilts her head just enough for her lips to catch his, to steal a kiss from his mouth, to swallow the sappy words threatening to escape her. Her fingers thread through his at her hip, her free hand coming up to frame his jaw. He pulls back, sucks in a quiet breath, and kisses her again, squeezing her hip, making her knees go weak.
And then there's a knock at the door.
She doesn't bother pushing him away, and he doesn't jump back. The school year is over, they don't have students anymore. And their co-workers have long since gotten used to Castle's—okay, and her—affectionate behavior. But when she turns to the door, she doesn't find a co-worker standing at the door.
"Hi, Jordan, Lucas," she manages, eyeing the grasp of the teens' hands.
Jordan's cheeks turn bright red. "I didn't mean to interrupt," she says, just like the first time she walked in on them.
"You weren't," promises Castle from behind her, and he takes a step back, putting some space between them even as his arm stays banded around her waist.
"Yeah, you weren't interrupting anything," she agrees.
Jordan nods. "Okay," she says, the word a whisper. "I just wanted to stop by and congratulate you guys." She smiles. "I'm really happy for you."
She feels a smile curl at her lips, and the memory of the day Jordan pushed her back into Castle's arms flashes into her mind, the quiet reminder that Castle made—makes—her happy.
"Thank you," she breathes, before Castle can say a word. "For…everything."
And from the smile on Jordan's face, she knows the teen knows exactly what she's thanking her for.
Jordan nods. "You're welcome," she says. "I hope you guys have a great wedding, and a great summer."
"You guys have a wonderful summer, too," she tells Jordan, and Lucas, who remains silent, smiling at them.
Jordan nods once more, her pitch black bangs falling into her face, and then, with a tug on Lucas' hand, leaves the doorway.
Still smiling, she turns back to Castle, and pushes herself onto her toes once again, smudges a kiss to his cheek. "Remind me to tell you what she did later," she whispers to him.
"Who?" he asks. "Jordan?"
She nods, and he squeezes her hip, nodding his promise, and sealing it with a kiss to the top of her head.
He sits on one of the desks while she does a last minute check of the room, making sure everything is put away and in its place before they leave for the summer, and only stands when she finally turns to him, offering him a smile and a nod of assurance. He reaches down, and swipes her bag off the floor, the strap falling to rest in the crook of his elbow as he holds his other arm out for her.
Her smile is sweet as she reaches for him, looping her arm through his and letting her head fall to rest on his shoulder.
"You ready to go now?" he asks.
She nods. "Thanks for waiting."
He laughs. "Well, you won't let me drive your car, so I kind of had to," he teases, and she swats at his chest in response, her laughter bubbling up from her chest.
"Just take me home, Castle," she tells him, her cheek falling to rest on his shoulder only for her to pull away again as she takes the first step towards the classroom door.
He follows without argument, without another word, and lets her lead him through the empty halls, the buzz of excitement seeming to linger in the emptiness. She turns a corner, dragging him with her, and reaches forward to push the door to the stairwell open.
He presses a kiss to the top of her head as soon as they cross the threshold, like he always does, a reminder of the day she realized she wanted him, of the day he realized she wanted him. The day he realized that he might not be crazy for wanting her, and for thinking she might, one day, want him, too.
She presses her head against his shoulder, and then slips her arm from around his, reaching down to intertwine their fingers instead. She practically runs down the stairs, pulling her with him, and then he's pressed up against the wall, her bag falling from the crook of his elbow to land on the floor as her lips crash against his.
Her hands curl tight around his shoulders, her tongue finding his without hesitation, her chest, her hips pressed against his. He wraps his arms around her waist, crushing her against him.
She pulls back with a gasp. "Just one more…before we get married."
He leans down, and nips at her jaw, humming against her skin. "More than one," he mumbles.
She hums, threading her fingers through his hair and tilting his head back to press their lips together in another kiss. "More than one," she agrees.
He grips at her hips, pressing her harder against him, and then he's spinning them, crushing her against the wall as her leg comes up, the heel of her shoes digging into his leg as her hips cant into his.
He's the one that gasps when they part again, and his lips slant over the thundering of her pulse, his tongue darting out to taste her skin.
"You know what I've always wanted to do?" he asks, the words a whisper against her neck.
"What?" she breathes.
He grins, nipping at her collarbone. "Have sex with you right in this stairwell."
She moans, so quietly he feels it more than hears it, and then she's pushing him away. He barely has time to blink before she's adjusting her clothing and fixing her hair and letting her fingers drift across her swollen lips.
"That is so not going to happen, Castle," she says. "I draw a line at places in the school with double doors with windows."
He reaches for her, his hand curling around her hip once again. "Oh, come on," he says. "It would be great."
She rolls her eyes at that, and reaches down to take his hand in hers. "Whatever. Not gonna happen, babe," she says. "Now, come on, Alexis is probably waiting for us. We're her ride, remember?"
"Could you not mention my daughter when I'm talking about having sex with you?" he groans, but he follows her willingly, only pausing to reach down for her bag.
She turns back to face him. "Technically, I think I mentioned your daughter while I was talking about not having sex with you," she counters.
"Whatever," he says. "It will happen, Mrs. Castle."
She shakes her head. "It will not, Mr. Beckett."
And then she laughs, and he's not sure what's funny, or if it's just the joy bubbling up, but he doesn't care, he just laughs with her and watches the sway of her step and the way her ponytail swings behind her head. Her steps are quick, and he follows without thought until she's sliding into the driver's seat of her car.
He throws her bag into the backseat so it lands next to Alexis before situating himself, drawing his seat belt over his body as Kate does the same.
She's still laughing. And her smile still makes his heart soar.
"I don't even want to know," says Alexis.
It draws a laugh from his throat, his gaze still locked on Kate as she turns to key in the ignition, and then his eyes flit back, so he can see them both, his daughter and his fiancee, who's going to be his wife in two days.
And when they pull away from the school, the distance between them and the year that just ended growing with every minute, it feels like the start of something new. The start of a new chapter in a story he never imagined he would love so much.
A new chapter.
He already knows he's going to love what's on the next pages.
And it's done. I don't know if I'm relieved or sad, but I hope you all enjoyed this final chapter/epilogue.
Thank you so much to everyone who favorited, followed, reviewed and/or read this story. I feel like this is kind of the story that put me on the map as a fic writer in the fandom, thanks to you guys, and it was a wonderful journey. You're the reason I stuck with this story for eight months, through writers block and scrapping complete chapters and not knowing what I wanted to happen next. You guys inspired me and made me smile, and that means so much to me.
Finally, Lindsey, you know how much your beta'ing means to me. The latter part of this story is better off because of your input and eye for typos, so thank you so much.