Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I watch the show.

A/N This story ends in M territory. If that's not your cup of tea, please stop reading at "He doesn't get the third word out because she has spun his chair around, thrown one leg over his, and is in his lap, straddling him." You can take my word for it: they're very happy together.

The loft's blueprints would indicate that the distance from where Castle is standing to the bathroom is roughly 67 feet, but as he walks it with Beckett he'd swear on a Bible that it's a mile. He slows his pace to match hers, and tries to envision what he'll do when they arrive. Will she sit or stand? Partially undo her robe or what? Hand him the bandages without instructions or micromanage? He's grateful that she'd given him no warning, because he's a wreck. What if his hands get sweaty and he drops the scissors, or worse? What if, in trying not to stare, he misses his…target…and does something awful like put adhesive tape on her nipple?

He's a man of the world. It's not as though he's unfamiliar with breasts. Even, though he has never divulged this, hers. Well, not completely. Not both of them. Not even all of one, in fact, just the gorgeous curve of the right one, the outer edge of it and part of the areola. Maybe he should tell her, in their new spirit of honesty. Confess his breastpionage. It wasn't really, though: it had been an accident. When she was in the tub, naked, after her apartment had been bombed last year, he had caught sight of it. Okay, he might have looked a little longer than he should have, but who could blame him?

"Castle?"

"Huh?" Oh, they're here. In his daze he hadn't noticed her removing her robe and hanging it on the back of the door. She's standing in front of him in little sky blue sleep shorts—a misnomer if ever there were one, since he will not be able to sleep if he thinks about them—and an oversized navy blue tee shirt that flaps around her. Her hand is on the hem. Now her other hand is, too. This is not the way he'd ever imagined seeing her strip.

"I'll take them off," she says, looking down at the two dressings, one near the top of her sternum, the other much lower, on the side of her rib cage. While she pulls back the paper tape he tries to look at her clinically, and he mostly succeeds. Until she peels off the bandages.

He'd thought that he was prepared for this, he truly had. He's seen horrible, gaping chest wounds at countless crime scenes, and he's as tough as any beat cop. But the crime scene has never been his bathroom, and more to the point, far more to the point, the chest wounds have never belonged to a woman with whom he is profoundly in love. She briefly bows her head when she drops the bandages in the sink, and in that instant he prays that she missed his initial reaction, a grim mix of grief, shock, pain, rage. He hopes that most of it has vanished when she raises her eyes.

He'd meant to say something like, "What should I do first?" or "Is there an ointment that goes on first?" Something straightforward and impersonal. Instead, his voice breaks on, "Oh, Kate," and his hand involuntarily hovers over the raised, purplish-red disc that's between her breasts. He knows exactly what caused it: a 7.62 caliber bullet fired from an MK11 rifle that is deadly accurate at 1,500 yards. But she's not dead. She's not dead. She's alive and all she needs is a little help putting on a fresh bandage. That's all. All for right now. She's not dead.

"It's okay, Castle," she says in the quiet of the white-tiled expanse. "I'm okay."

"I know, I know you are." He feels something wet land on his shirt. What? It's him. He's crying. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. The pain. It must be awful. And the other one. The incision there." He flaps hand in its direction.

"Not as bad as it was. It looks even more hideous than it feels."

"Not hideous. Nothing about you could ever be hideous." He wipes his eyes with his shirtsleeve, takes her face in his hands and kisses her as hard as he dares. "When Alexis was little and got a cut or a bruise I'd always kiss it to make it better. But I'm afraid of kissing your —. Your places."

"Wounds."

"Right, wounds. I'm afraid kissing them might do more harm than good. And hurt like hell. You, I mean. But later I will. Pretty soon they'll be healed and then I'll kiss them every day."

"You promise?"

"Absolutely."

"Better not be the only places you kiss me, Castle."

Bless you, Kate Beckett, he says silently. Bless you for turning this around, for making it possible for me to do this. "They won't be." He grins. "What should I do first?" See, that was easy.

"Wash your hands and then put the antibiotic cream on the wounds. Dab it. Carefully."

He gets through it. Doesn't put tape on her nipple or anywhere else that it doesn't belong. It's only when she lifts her tee shirt from the counter and puts it back on that he realizes that she hasn't been wearing a bra. Maybe he was doctorly after all. "There," he says. "All done."

"Thanks, Castle."

"Anytime."

"Even though you did that, not me, I'm wiped. Going to bed."

"You need anything else? How about pills?"

"Took 'em already."

"Good. Okay. Um, you go ahead and I'll turn the light off."

"No." She grabs his arm. "Don't. Please. I sleep with it on. At night. Just at night."

The memory pounds him savagely in the gut. Jim Beckett had come here, unannounced, right before she'd been shot, and had asked his help in convincing her to stop chasing her mother's case. They'd spoken about how fierce she was. "She wouldn't accept a night light when she was a little girl," Jim had said. "Not that she wasn't afraid of the dark, but I think she just felt it was a point of pride to stare it down." What this must cost her, then, not to be able to stare down the dark. He wants to weep.

"Me, too, sometimes. Sometimes I leave the light on." He squeezes her hand, walks with her to the edge of the bed, and kisses her shoulder before she lies down. "Night, Kate."

"Night, Castle."

He's pulling the door closed when her voice reaches him, and he steps back in.

The light from the bathroom makes her face visible; she's looking sleepily at him. "I love you."

"I love you, too." This time he closes the door completely, walks heavily up the stairs, stays up only long enough to brush his teeth, and collapses into bed. Lord, what a day. What a day. He's not aware of another thing until sunlight hits him full in the face at almost 8:00 the next morning. He'd forgotten to draw the curtains, and the June dawn is so early that the sun is already high enough to be coming in the window next to him. It's 8:00! Shit, Kate must be up, and he has to make her decaf. He grabs his bathrobe, and from the top of the stairs hears noises; he propels himself down the steps two at a time.

"Kate! What are you doing?"

She's in front of the espresso machine, still wearing those tiny shorts and the big tee shirt. "I'm dying for some coffee. And I'm starving."

"Sit down, sit down, sit down. It's too much."

"I got some bread in the toaster."

"Some bread? You mean as in more than one piece?"

"Yeah." She holds up her fingers in a vee. "Two."

"That's excellent news. Let me do the rest. I'm sorry I overslept." Jesus, how long are her legs, anyway? He's seen them on average five days a week for three years, but not like this, uncovered, and the rest of her almost uncovered. Except for the huge shirt. Under which she still has no bra. He permits himself a moment to reflect on this, justifying it as non-pervy after what she'd said about Labor Day. Which is exactly 88 days from now, and yes, he's counting.

"Could I have an egg, please?"

"An egg? You're hungry enough for an egg?"

"Yup."

"I have chicken eggs. Organic, free-range chickens. But maybe you want something bigger. Duck? Ostrich? I can go out."

"One egg from chicken little will be fine."

She eats both pieces of toast and the egg. And when he puts his fork down next to his much larger portion of eggs she leans over, grabs it, and helps herself to a bite. He's thrilled.

When he's pretending to work later that morning he opens his laptop and clicks on a new file that he'd created while she was in the hospital: KB MILESTONES. He enters today's date and time, and types: "She used my fork to eat some scrambled egg from my plate. First time we have shared an eating implement. I haven't put it in the dishwasher yet; might save it."

The days and weeks progress. More important, she makes progress. Not every day, but almost. Sometimes she beats herself up or gets depressed over PT. Sometimes she retreats into herself and closes herself in her room, though it happens less and less often. He father comes over for quick visits or a meal; Lanie and the boys do, too. They do not discuss her case because there is nothing to discuss.

His MILESTONES file gets fatter (June 16: "Kate walked twelve blocks." June 17: "She let me massage her feet." June 25: "Sat on my lap for first time.") On the evening of July 14 she gets up from the sofa where they've been watching a movie and puts her hand out. "Bedtime," she says.

"Bedtime? For you maybe, not me. It's only nine-fifteen."

"What if I say I want you to come to bed with me? Just bed, no extracurricular activities."

"I can come to bed with you?"

"You know what today is?"

"Christmas and my birthday, if I get to share a bed with you."

"Seriously. It's Bastille Day. The French equivalent of the Fourth of July."

"Liberté, égalité, fraternité?"

"Oui. And I have a surprise for you."

"Not sure my heart can take another surprise at the moment, Kate."

"I can lie on my side. Finally! And I want you to lie on your side next to me."

"You mean spooning?"

"Yes. But before you get any ideas, no forking."

"Right."

They spend the whole night that way. When he wakes, she's still asleep, holding onto two of his fingers.

He creeps into his office and clicks on his favorite file. JULY 14: "Shared her bed with me." The next entry is JULY 17: "Took a bath with me."

A week later he brings her breakfast in bed—the bed they've been sharing, relatively chastely, for the last ten nights.

"How would you feel about spending the rest of the summer in the Hamptons?"

"With your mother? I love her, but no."

"Not with my mother. Or my daughter, either. Alexis's day-camp summer program for inner-city kids in Boston goes until the end of August, and my mother is going away with friends for the entire month. They rented a Tuscan farm house."

"Martha's staying on a farm? Sounds like an update of Green Acres."

"That's what I was afraid of, too. I said, 'I hope there's no farming to be done, Mother.' And she said, 'Good Lord no, Richard. But we are paying for a gardener who tends the vegetable plot. It's not an actual farm, you know.' I could hear her shudder over the phone."

"But I have to be in the city for PT and the doctor."

"You could do hydrotherapy every day in the pool, which would be fantastic for you. And before you say that your therapist can't come out there, let me say that I will bring her to the Hamptons."

"She does have other patients, Castle. She can't just go larking around."

"I've already got it figured out. She doesn't usually work on Sundays, so that can be one of your days. And I'll drive you into the city on Wednesdays for your other appointment. And when you need to see Doctor Kovacs you could do it the same day."

"My insurance—"

"Never mind your insurance. That's my present. I'll pay to have her come out here, pay her for a whole day. I'm sure she'd like a little time at the beach. She can stay here in the house, or I'll reserve a hotel room for her if she's more comfortable with that. Besides."

"Besides what?" Her eyes narrow with suspicion.

"The sea air will do you good."

She looks at him for a long time before she responds. "So will you, Castle."

"So will I what?"

"Do me good."

It does do her good, and him, too. She's apprehensive about walking on the sand at first because it shifts under her feet and she's afraid of falling. But every day she gets a little bolder; she gets a tan; she eats properly. The one thing she completely avoids is discussing her Labor Day goal. His mother is due to return in five days and Alexis in four. He starts daydreaming about renting a hotel room for Kate and him. A suite.

They'd gone into the city today for her physical therapy as well as for a lengthy appointment with Doctor Kovcas. She has also been seeing a psychiatrist, Doctor Burke, every Wednesday since early July. Three sessions treating very different parts of her have done her in, and she wants to stay at the loft tonight rather than go back to the Hamptons. "You sure you're all right?" he asks her over dinner, Italian takeout that they're eating in the kitchen.

"Fine. Just a lot to think about."

"Okay. You going to bed?"

"Yeah."

"I'm going to write for a while."

"Good. Good, Castle." She gets up and walks towards the bedroom, stopping to trail her fingertips across the back of his neck. It gives him goosebumps. And other physical responses on which he cannot act.

It's 1:15 a.m. when the alarm on her phone goes off, very quietly. She gets out of bed, puts the tee shirt she's wearing in the hamper, and retrieves a small bag from behind the stack of towels in the bathroom linen closet. She'd stored it there last Wednesday. She looks inside the bag, smiles a little nervously, and checks herself in the mirror before brushing her hair and dabbing perfume behind her ears and her knees.

He has lost track of time. The glow of his commuter screen is the only illumination in his office. He could have been in here for an hour or five, but he looks up because he feels a displacement of air. It's Kate, although he can see her only in outline. He looks at the corner of the screen and notes that it's almost 1:30.

"Couldn't sleep?"

"Oh, no, I slept fine." She takes several steps forward until she's standing almost within reach. "I was just taking a nap."

He gapes. She's in a tiny nightgown. He has never seen this nightgown, this confection of black silk with narrow satin ribbons for straps. She takes his breath away, truly. Blood is rushing to his face and elsewhere. Particularly elsewhere. "Why were you taking a nap in the middle of the night?"

" 'cause of what Doctor Kovacs told me this afternoon."

"I didn't know he'd told you anything. What happened?"

"He says I'm well, Castle. Really well. I've been working so, so hard, you know? I'm ready ten days ahead of schedule. Ten days before Labor Day. That's why I took a nap. I wanted to build up my strength for tonight, and I did. So. I'm ready to fuck your brains out. What do you say?"

"Oh, my G—"

He doesn't get the third word out because she has spun his chair around, thrown one leg over his and is in his lap, straddling him. "I wanted one of our times on our first night to be fast and hard and dirty and sweaty. I wanted us to be saying incredible, deliciously filthy things to each other while we were up against a wall or the closet door or on your desk or the hood of the Ferrari, but I'm not up to that yet. But I'm ready for a lot, and I can't wait any longer, can you?" While she was listing their future sexual,um, venues—he'd committed them to memory as she mentioned them—she had taken hold of his tee shirt and with one yank gotten it over his head and dropped it onto the floor next to his desk. If that's an indication of how strong she is already, then fast, hard, dirty, and sweaty are not far off.

He's trying to answer her, but she's just unzipped his jeans, snaked a hand inside his boxers, and wrapped her long, warm fingers around him. "It feels like you can't wait any longer, either," she murmurs, nuzzling his neck as her hips rock into his.

He slides his hands under her, expecting to fill his palms with silk-covered buttocks, but the silk he feels is her skin. "You're not wearing panties," he says enthusiastically if needlessly.

"Saving time, Castle."

Standing up easily as she wraps her legs around his waist, he race walks them to the next room. "How's that for saving time?" he asks, shoving down his pants and stepping out of them as soon as he's carefully deposited her on the bed. He scoots up on his forearms and settles just above her. "What can I do, Kate?" he whispers. "Can I do this?" He takes her nightgown off her. "Can I do this?" He kisses her between her breasts, then circles each nipple, very tenderly, with his tongue. "Can I do this?" He lets his fingertips dance over her oblique muscles, while he kisses his way from her navel to the sharp jut of her left hipbone, then across the white mark of her bikini line to her right hipbone. "Can I do this?" He pushes up lightly on her calves to make her knees bend, and places her feet flat on either side of him.

Each time he asks, "Can I do this?" she tries to answer, "Yes. Yes, you can. Please, yes," but apparently working so hard on building up her bodily strength has had an adverse impact on her speech. She can't say a thing. But oh, God, can she feel him. She feels everything.

"Can I do this?" He runs his tongue up the inside of one of her thighs and down the other. She may have temporarily lost her power of speech, but not the ability to make sounds. She groans. With each pass of his tongue—and he's proceeding agonizingly slowly but with increasing pressure—she moans louder, and can hardly control her movements. She's half off the bed, straining wildly upwards to his wicked, monstrous, heavenly tongue. And when he stops just long enough to reiterate, "Can I do this?" and curls one, then two fingers into her, her voice miraculously returns. "YES! YES! YES!" she screams, while he works her physically and emotionally higher. Her feet do something, she has no idea what, and she comes hard and tight again and again and again around his fingers. "Holy fuck, Castle," she pants, waiting for her breathing to even out. "Roll over."

"Roll over?"

"Yes. In another month I'll be able to flip you like a freaking burger, but not now. Get on your back."

"Ooh, so bossy."

"Shut up."

"You seemed to like my mouth very much a moment ago."

"I did, I did, but just roll over. Please."

Once he does, she slithers on top of him. She's seen him nude before, skinny dipping in the pool, in the bath, but everything is different now. He's different. He's flushed; every one of his gorgeous muscles and sinews and tendons is glistening, and his arousal is impressive. Magnificent. Huge. In one tiny corner of her overheated mind she's nervous. But she's never wanted anything, or anyone, as much as she wants him right now. She rises up on her knees, and rolls her body up his, one, two, three, four times. Undulating. Sliding over him. "I'm going to make you as hard as I am wet," she says. "Can I do this?" She takes him in her hand, and strokes him, teasing the tip with her tongue before releasing him. "Can I do this?" She slides far up his chest, this time trapping him against her clitoris, and when she clenches they both gasp.

"Jesus, Kate."

"Didn't know I could do that."

"Don't stop there."

"Hell, no," she says, rising up again before lowering herself deliberately onto him.

"God, you feel so good," they say, each to the other, perfectly in synch. Still a little apprehensive about what her body can bear, he lets her set the pace. It's gentle at first, and that's fine with him.

It's fine with her, as she looks into his eyes. No one has ever looked at her the way he does, with such boundless love.

She's rocking faster now, and he's matching every move. No one has ever looked at him as she is now, loving him without limits or reservations.

"Don't hold back, Castle."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Faster, please. I need you to go faster." Still short on stamina, she's leaning on his chest. He has tremendous strength in his legs, arms, shoulders, back, and core, and he lifts her up, lowers her, supports her, takes control, shifts his position slightly so that he is thrusting into her at a different angle. She's clawing at him, forcing him deeper, and then he's gathering her up, and she feels weightless, and flying. She explodes, and seconds later so does he.

"Castle?" she asks much later, after they have drifted in and out of sleep, talked about everything and nothing, nothing and everything. "Thank you."

"Thank you? For what? I should be thanking you."

"No. This is another kind of thank you. Thank you for making sure I came back. Thank you for bringing me back."

"You're home."

"I am."

A/N That's it for this story, which ending up going far beyond the first couple of days in the hospital. Thank you for all the encouragement along the way, especially (as always) those whom I can't thank: Hawkie, Moochiechat, Chacha, Tom Knutson, Aburt221, and many others who are identified only as Guest.