She glances over her shoulder even as she allows herself to be drawn toward the kitchen by the promise of wine, watching Castle as he goes in search of his daughter. She's reluctant to let him out of her sight for even a moment, and after the day they've had, who could blame her?

He comes to a stop in the doorway of his study and Kate's gaze lingers far longer than is acceptable between two people who are supposedly just good friends, but ever since she laid eyes on him in that bank vault, alive and whole and blissfully unscathed, she can't stop staring at him. And when she finally deems it safe enough to look away, it's only to find herself peering directly into the very blue, very knowing eyes of Martha Rodgers.

Standing on the opposite side of the kitchen island, she's got what looks to be a pricy bottle of Cab in one hand and an empty wine glass in the other, a curious tilt to her curly red bob and a shrewd smirk playing on her face. Busted. Kate's cheeks flash hot under the intensity of Martha's appraisal, the sudden surge of self-consciousness leaving her feeling overheated and dizzy, and damn it, she is so off her game tonight. She hasn't even had any wine yet.

The surge of adrenaline that began that morning when Castle implored her to tell him that she needed him had spiked when the bank exploded in a shower of smoke and shards of glass. The rush had been enough to keep her buoyed through the remainder of their investigation, but now? Here? There's no more case to distract them, and the only mystery left to solve isn't if she and Castle are going to get together, but when. This place and these people feel far too much like the home she's been looking for since she lost her mom and it leaves her feeling raw and exposed, and seriously rethinking her decision to accept this dinner invitation.

Martha's expression softens then, a sly smile curving her lips as she takes mercy on Kate and looks away to fill the glass. The momentary reprieve allows Kate to take a few deep, calming breaths as she watches the claret wine gathering in the bowl, hoping beyond hope that Martha just lets this go, that she doesn't make a pointed comment about how she caught Kate staring unabashedly at her son's backside. She honestly doesn't think she'd have the strength to offer up any of her rote denials. Not tonight.

But Martha surprises her, as always. "I owe you an apology, Kate. Well, actually, you and my son."

She opens her mouth to respond only to close it again, because why on earth would Castle's mother need to apologize to her? To hear him tell it, she was a hero in her own right today, a gutsy voice of calm and courage when things were threatening to go to hell. Martha is sliding the filled glass toward her when Kate finds her voice again.

"Martha– no. You have nothing to be sorry for. What happened today was in no way your fault. You couldn't possibly have known-"

"Oh! No! No no, not that." Martha waves her empty hand theatrically, dismissing the suggestion. "No, I mean, I'm so terribly sorry about what happened in the vault."

Uh oh. Kate's fairly certain she knows where Martha might be going with this, and if she's right, it's not much better than being called out for ogling her son's ass right in front of her. It might even be worse.

Martha plows on, undeterred by the look of mild panic brewing on Kate's face. "I mean…" she bends toward her conspiratorially, and Kate is powerless to resist leaning forward to meet her halfway. "I'm sorry that I interrupted your moment with Richard."

Kate's grateful she's not yet taken a sip of wine because Martha would almost certainly be wearing it if she had. For a split second, she considers feigning ignorance and denying that she and Castle shared a moment, but it's a lie and Martha looks to be brooking no lies tonight. Kate knows for a fact that when she fell to her knees before him in the vault, she was looking at him like he hung the moon and stars, an elated, love-drunk smile plastered onto her face. His mother, even in her rush to be freed from her restraints, couldn't possibly have missed it.

Actually, she can't help but wonder what might have happened had Martha not spoken up in that instant and broken the spell. Would she have tugged him forward by the lapel she had latched onto, pulling until his lips met hers somewhere in between? Slid into his lap, wrapped herself around him? Never let him go?

Oh God- this needs to stop. This conversation is going to be the end of her because she's just…she's not ready for it all. Not yet. Is she? She finds that her head stubbornly says no as often as her heart cries out yes!, and hell, she doesn't even know what to think anymore. She decides her best bet is to keep it simple and respond truthfully.

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Martha. I'm just so grateful that you were all okay."

Martha smiles kindly, and for a second, Kate thinks she's dodged the proverbial bullet, that she isn't going to be put on the spot. But then Martha's hand shoots out and grabs tightly onto one of her own, and Kate knows she's escaped nothing.

"Katherine, tell me. What are you and Richard waiting for?"

Kate sputters weakly before falling silent, her denials futile before they've even been formed.

"I…I mean, we…we've been…" she manages before she has to look away from Martha's piercing gaze, swallowing though the thickness in her throat. She's got nothing. She's out of excuses.

"Listen, kiddo. No one knows what the future holds." Martha's voice is soft but it's steely, and Kate can't help but think that this is exactly the way her own mother would talk to her. "The way I see it, you two are damned fools for waiting even a minute longer. Someone could have died today, you know."

Kate knows that. Of course she does. Terrible, tragic things happen everyday, to innocent, unsuspecting people. She knows that better than anyone.

And yes, they've been waiting, and this morning she could have easily ticked off all of her perfectly logical reasons for delaying the inevitableness of them; her mom's case, her shooter, her wall. But now, those reasons are as mangled and broken as New Amsterdam Bank's façade in the wake of yet another life-or-death situation that easily could have ended in calamity for any one of them. For all of them.

She shuts her eyes tightly against the rising tide of emotions that concept brings up; this day could have ended so differently, so disastrously. No, she doesn't need another untimely reminder of their mortality. No, she doesn't want to miss her chance with this man.

No, Martha is right. This really can't wait another day, wall be damned.

Kate squares her chin, squeezing Martha's hand and meeting her unwavering gaze, so much like her son's she almost has to look away, but she holds steady. She can only hope the fire in her eyes and the set of her jaw conveys her understanding to Martha.

Martha, for her part, searches her face and must see the truth of it there, because she smiles and nods and utters a simple, "Good." She takes the empty glass still clutched in Kate's hand and fills it, setting it next to its already-poured companion and suggests, "In that case, why don't you take one of these to Richard?"

And then Martha is gone with a wink, amidst a sea of brilliant, fluttering paisley silk, calling out, "Alexis, darling, help me with the duck l'orange, s'il vous plaît."

Kate knows that's her cue, and if anyone knows a little something about timing, it would be an actress the caliber of Martha Rodgers. She pushes out a long, steadying breath as she picks up the glasses and spins in the direction of her partner.

Here we go.


A/N: When my dear friend Maribea visited me back in June (and we marathoned a LOT of Castle together), she made the comment that she would have loved to have seen a scenario like this one play out at the end of this episode, and when I wanted to write about that, she kindly gave me her permission to run with it. I hope I've done it justice for you, Mar.

I hope you've enjoyed reading and if you feel so inclined, I would love to hear your thoughts. Chapter two is complete and will be posted in a few days.

A huge thank you to Morgan and Becca for the always-stellar beta services.