The next morning Beckett wakes up feeling well-rested, which is somewhat diminished when she gets out of bed and discovers just how sore and stiff her muscles are. She has to do some deep stretching and a little yoga before she can even get dressed.

But damn, was it ever worth it.

She arrives at the precinct at her usual time, responds in kind to some ribbing from Ryan and Esposito about her dress and the charity event, and gets to work on filling out the forms to process their suspect. The Sunday shift didn't do any of it, so the suspect is still in holding.

Castle breezes in a little while later, bringing coffee and bear claw as usual. Beckett has her cop armor on, although she's not sure it will hold; she thinks vaguely that maybe she needs a new, stronger emotional shield to help her keep composure. Castle armor.

"Good morning, all," he says with perfect cheer, setting the coffee and pastry on her desk. "I ditched the paper already. They had the nerve to omit us from page six."

"What, not even a nice shot of me and Javi handcuffing Reynolds?" Ryan asks, pretending to be offended. "The sorry state of journalism these days, eh?"

"Pathetic," Esposito comments, shaking his head.

"Gentlemen," Beckett says coolly, "when you've quite finished," but then Captain Montgomery arrives, looking for an update.

They give the captain a blow-by-blow of the weekend's events, starting with the reconnaissance at the charity ball, all the way through identifying, locating, and apprehending the suspect.

"It was real helpful the way Castle stopped the dude's fist with his face," Esposito smirks, and Castle turns his head to show Montgomery his black eye, already fading to green and yellow.

"Impressive," the captain comments. "So, your guy's still in holding?"

"I've just finished the release forms," Beckett says, and goes to submit the paperwork and supervise the suspect's transfer to prison. Along the way, she makes a quick stop downstairs.

When she gets back to Homicide, file folders in hand, the men are still sitting around chatting. "What is this, happy hour?" she asks, and then, in deference to Montgomery, "...sir."

"Castle was just inviting us all over to his place for a game of poker," Ryan says. "You in?"

"Really?" she replies, looking at Castle, who gives her a perfectly innocent smile. "Don't you already have a regular poker game with your mystery buddies?"

"Yeah, but that's my high-stakes, cutthroat game," he says. "This would be more casual, you know, between friends. Do you play poker, Beckett?"

"I suppose I could spare some time to take your money," she says, letting her lips curve slightly. Montgomery grins, pleased.

"I like your attitude, Beckett," the captain declares. "This guy has far too high an opinion of his card-shark skills. We need to take him down a peg."

"Can do, sir."

"Great," says Ryan, "so, when?"

"Tomorrow night?" Castle suggests. "My loft. Pizza and beer."

"Why not tonight? You need time to prepare to get your ass kicked?" Esposito puts in. Castle just grins.

"Nah, I've got something else to do tonight." He carefully doesn't look at Beckett.

The poker game thus scheduled for tomorrow, they all retreat back to their desks. Castle plops down into his usual chair next to Beckett's desk and watches her shuffle papers around.

"Not much going on this morning, huh?"

"No," she says, and lowers her voice, "but I have something for you."

He raises his eyebrows, but bites back whatever naughty remark came to mind. "Oh?" is all he says.

Beckett slides a file folder out from the bottom of her pile, and pushes it over toward him.

"What's this?" he asks slowly as he picks it up.

"I heard you know a guy. A forensic pathologist?" She looks down at her desk and takes a careful breath.

Castle opens the file, looks at the paperwork on the murder of Johanna Beckett. The photos, the autopsy report (with start and end times highlighted, less than an hour apart), the investigating officer's notes, everything: it's all there, a complete copy. He raises his eyebrows again, looks back up at her. She breathes carefully, blinks slowly, reaching for her inner calm.

"Are you sure?" he asks very quietly. She sees that he recognizes everything that this means. She struggles to keep her voice even.

"Do it before I lose my nerve, Castle."

"Okay. Yeah," he says, swiftly closing the folder and standing up. "Uh, I'll be back later."

"I'll call you if we catch a murder."

He nods and departs.

Beckett gets up also, goes to the restroom, takes a moment to compose herself. She pulls her mother's engagement ring out from under her shirt and holds it in her fingers, watching it sparkle.

She takes a deep breath, drops the ring back into place against her heart, and gets back to work.

Two months later...

The wind plays with Kate's hair through the open driver's-side window of Castle's Ferrari as it whizzes up the highway headed northeast. Castle sits in the passenger seat, watching her.

You driving my Ferrari is like the hottest thing ever, he said earlier, and she narrowed her eyes and said Maybe you should drive, but he insisted, No no, I can control myself. Really. I promise. And she does so love driving the Ferrari, especially out of the city like this, where she can open it up a bit.

"I love your new dress," he says, speaking loudly over the rush of the wind. "Herve Leger, right?"

"You're so metrosexual," she teases, flashing him a look from the corner of her eye. He smirks but doesn't respond to the jibe.

"You should wear that to the Heat Wave book release party," he says.

"That's months away."

"Never hurts to plan ahead." He shifts a little in his seat, dropping into his silky bedroom voice. "I want you to wear that to the book party, with no underwear, so that all night I can look at you and know you're bare underneath it, and when I'm done mingling I can pull you into a quiet corner and-"


"I like to plan ahead," he repeats, grinning - but then he quiets, watching her for a few moments. "Are you okay?" he asks finally.

She doesn't answer immediately, but she reaches for the button that closes the window, shutting out the noise of the wind and road. "Why?"

"You've been on edge since the kidnapping case. And with Sorenson getting hurt, and what we've learned about your mom's murder..." He lets that sit in the air between them, not exactly a question.

She takes a breath. "You were right," she says slowly, and pauses in case he's going to gloat or make a smug remark. But he reads her mood and responds in kind.

"About what?" is all he says, gently encouraging.

"About me and Will being too similar for it to work. When we were together, I thought our similarities made us a good couple. It seemed to make sense, but really it didn't."

Castle waits a moment, and when she doesn't go on, he prompts, "What are you trying to say?"

"You don't have to be jealous of him," she says softly.

"I'm not." She shoots him another sideways look, narrow-eyed. "I'm not," he insists. "He's injured, in the hospital being a hero, and he made it pretty clear that he - how he feels about you, and yet, here you are. With me."

"Yeah..." She breathes deeply again. "When we get back, on Monday, I'm going to talk to Captain Montgomery. Come clean about ... about us. Find out if he'll be on our side."

Castle takes in a deep, quick breath, surprised. "Are you sure?" he asks quietly, his voice a little rough with suppressed tension.

She nods slowly, firmly. "Yeah."

She doesn't quite know when she decided, but yes, she is sure. It was not long after they found out that Sorenson had been shot while transporting her witness. At some point, after the initial rush of horror and guilt, she found herself comparing her reaction to Will's injury with the fear she had felt when Castle got into that wrestling match with the home-invasion killer a few weeks earlier - or the anxiety she felt when Castle volunteered to make the money drop during the kidnapping case. And it had nothing to do with the fact that Will is a trained and experienced law-enforcement officer whereas Castle is ... not. It wasn't about that at all; it was about her different feelings toward the two of them.

Kate Beckett has been running scared from her feelings for almost her whole adult life, but in those moments, with Will in the hospital and Castle solid beside her, she couldn't escape noticing and acknowledging how she felt.

It might take her a while yet to put it into words for him, but Castle knows her by now. She doesn't need to say the words for him. It's enough, for him, that she's ready to start telling people about them.

As if reading her mind, he leans toward her in the car and says softly, "Kate, I love you."

She purses her lips, her fingers tightening on the steering wheel. It's the first time he has said it since that day, the day when she pushed through her fear and told him the rest of their story. He's been holding back, all this time, not saying it again, although she knows he has wanted to.

He reaches over and puts his hand over hers. "You don't have to ... Just tell me that I can say it without making you run for the hills."

"We're in the hills now," she points out, her voice a little shaky. "This is Connecticut."

He smiles softly and lifts her hand off the steering wheel, bringing it to his lips. He kisses the back of her hand, slowly. She twists her wrist in his grasp and turns it into a caress, running her fingers over his cheek before bringing her hand back to the wheel. And he understands. That's all he needs.

"I think this is our exit," he says.

Shortly they're turning off a picturesque country road and into the wide driveway of an equally picturesque New England country estate. Kate unfolds her legs from the car - slowly, because she knows Castle enjoys watching that - and yields the keys to the valet.

"Gorgeous day for a wedding," Castle comments as she comes around the car, slipping her purse onto her shoulder. They proceed along the path around the house.

"Yes, beautiful," she murmurs, taking his arm.

The ceremony is set to take place outdoors, in a lavish tent set up in the middle of a field behind the estate. As they make their way down the marked path toward the tent, Beckett's old friend David comes rushing over to them, flushed with excitement and gushing with enthusiasm at seeing her. "Becks! I'm so thrilled you could come! You look fantastic, girl." They hug each other tightly.

"Thanks, David. And you look radiant, the blushing bride," she teases. "I want you to meet Rick," she adds, "Rick Castle, this is David."

"My pleasure, and congratulations," Castle says smoothly, shaking David's hand. David makes a show of looking him up and down, then nudges Beckett with a smirk.

"Girlfriend, you're just lucky I'm already taken."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Castle grins. "And I'd love to take you out for drinks sometime and hear all the juiciest stories about Kate's college days."

"Oh, not a chance in hell, studmuffin," David replies, grinning widely. "Anything I could tell you, she knows something just as bad about me."

"Insurance policy," Beckett puts in, nodding coolly.

"Oh well, can't blame a guy for trying," Castle shrugs, unruffled. "By the way, David, I understand that I owe you a big debt of gratitude."

"Oh, really? What'd I do?"

"As I understand it," Castle says, "if you hadn't strong-armed Kate into being your beard at another wedding years ago, I never would have gotten to meet her."

David's eyes go wide. "Ohh! Becks, you didn't tell me this was ... that guy!" He cocks his head curiously. "But I thought you were never going to see him again."

"So did I," Beckett agrees, gazing at Castle. "But life had other plans."

"Oh my god, girl, tone down the love eyeballs, would ya? This is my wedding," David teases. Then with another nudge, "We'll talk later, 'kay?" and he's off to mingle with the rest of the crowd.

The ceremony is short but lovely; unlike that other wedding years ago, Kate pays attention this time, and is grateful when Castle nudges a tissue into her hand at just the right moment. After she wipes her eyes, she slips her hand into his and squeezes. He rests their joined hands on his knee and smiles softly.

Afterward, there's a reception inside the big house; there's food, and music, and dancing, and laughter. Kate finds herself on the dance floor, wrapped in Castle's arms, both of them smiling a little at the symmetry, remembering their first dance years ago.

"Just think," he says, calling her attention to the head table, where David and his new husband are laughing happily with their parents, "if they had been this accepting back then, we wouldn't be here."

"Crazy, isn't it?" she muses. "How the actions of someone you don't even know can have such an effect on your life." Then she lays her head on his shoulder, and she isn't thinking about David's parents any more. The grief is muted after all this time, but it still has the power to take her by surprise sometimes.

Castle's arms tighten around her and she presses her lips together, feeling a surge of gratitude for how well he knows her.

She thinks about that day in the hospital corridor outside Will Sorenson's room, when Castle pulled her aside to tell her that Clark Murray had found something - new information about her mother's murder. She leaned against the dingy hospital wall, trembling, and Castle put his hand on her elbow - a careful substitute for a hug, since they were in public - and said We don't have to do anything with this now, if you aren't ready. It's waited this long. And all she could focus on was the fact that he had said we. In that moment, it was just as comforting as a hug.

She lifts her head and presses a kiss onto his cheek, shaking off the gloom. He studies her as they sway to the music.

"You okay?"


Then David is there, with a swift "May I cut in?" and whisking Kate away to whirl across the dance floor in a giddy rush, startling a laugh from her. He slows them back down to the beat of the music and says into her ear, "There's a storage room in the back if you two kids need to sneak away. Though I gotta warn you, you might have to wait your turn."

"Oh my god, David," she gasps, blushing, smacking his arm. "Please don't let Rick hear you saying that. I'm not that girl any more."

"Maybe just a little bit?" But he softens, looking at her face, and grows serious. "We're all grown up, Becks, aren't we? Look at me, married! Who would have thought?"

"It suits you," she tells him, casting a look over at the side where Scott stands watching them with a fond smile.

"And you..." He trails off, glancing over at Castle, then back at her. "Ya done good, honey."

"I know," she murmurs, and hugs him.

As the party winds down, she and Castle say their goodbyes and walk hand in hand down the house's wide front steps toward the driveway.

"Car sex?" he asks hopefully, squeezing her hand. She rolls her eyes.

"For the hundredth time, no."

"Kaaaate," he wheedles. "You know you want to."

"I really don't." The Ferrari is too cramped for sex. Which she has told him repeatedly, but he keeps trying. "We could get a hotel room, though."

"That's not romantic," he pouts.

She bursts out laughing. "You're saying car sex is romantic?"

He chuckles and pulls her close for a kiss, earning them wolf whistles from tipsy wedding guests at the top of the stairs.

"I love you, Kate," he whispers into her mouth, and she just smiles. She knows he's thinking that if he says it often enough, eventually she'll get comfortable enough to say it back.

And he's probably right.

She presses into him for another kiss as the valet pulls up next to them in the Ferrari. Then, from her purse comes the chime of her phone, startling them both. Beckett raises her eyebrows as she fishes it out to look at the screen.

"A text from the precinct," she says, surprised.

"A body?" Castle asks eagerly. She nods. "But you're not on call."

"No." She chews her lower lip. "It must be one of the freaky ones."

"Well, what are we waiting for?" he asks, holding the car door open for her. "Let's get to work."


Once again, thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed the story. I love hearing your thoughts so please don't hesitate to comment or PM me.