Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I watch the show.
A/N Five-month time jump to mid-December 2011. (Epilogue)
She's in the coffee shop across the street from her apartment, waiting for Castle to arrive. He's meeting her in front of her building in fifteen minutes. Even though it's only a little after nine on a Sunday morning, the sidewalks are filling up with shoppers taking advantage of lots of stores' early-opening holiday hours. She's snagged a window seat and is looking out at her living-room window, three flights up, thinking about their wedding. She hadn't wanted a long engagement or a big ceremony, so they'd gotten married on the second weekend in October on the lawn in the Hamptons, with only their families and a few friends there. They'd had lobster rolls and sparkling cider–"our proposal lunch," Castle called it—cake and champagne. By eleven, everyone had gone, leaving them alone in the house.
At 1:30 in the morning he'd gotten out of bed.
"Get back over here," she'd said. "I'm not through with you yet."
He'd turned around, put one knee on the mattress, and pressed his nose against hers. "I'm kind of counting on your never being through with me."
"Where were you going?"
"Wait here and you'll find out."
"I'm counting, Castle," she'd said, watching his gorgeous ass disappear through the door. She really had been counting, and at 178 he was back, carrying a tray, though it had been too dark for her to see what was on it. "What's that?"
"Pumpkin pie. I sneaked out to get it yesterday morning when you were getting dressed."
"And whipped cream. Our favorite dessert," he'd explained, passing her a plate. "We want to start married life right."
They had, too, especially with the whipped cream. She's chuckling about it now, two months later.
"Would you like a refill?"
"What?" She'd completely forgotten where she is, and the waitress is standing next to her, holding the coffee pot.
"I thought you might like a refill. Looks like you were enjoying it."
"You can't imagine how much. Thank you." Just before the waitress begins to pour, she says, "But, no. I'd like a cup of chocolate for my husband, please, though. To go. I'm meeting him across the street in a couple of minutes."
She hopes the waitress attributes her bright red cheeks to the weather, since it's only eighteen degrees and snow is in the forecast. She looks up at her building again. She'd hung on to her place too long, and she knows why: it represented her independence. It had taken her four months, from the time that Castle had proposed until the middle of November, to make her decision to let it go. It had taken her that long to understand that her independence hadn't evaporated with "I do." Castle, the man who in the years before they'd gotten together had constantly crowded her and invaded her privacy, now gives her space, both literal and figurative. The literal is the room that had been Martha's. His mother had moved to an apartment five blocks away, and he'd carried Kate's computer up to the room, as well as her favorite armchair. "This is yours," he'd said. "Whenever you need to be by yourself."
She'd broken the lease, to her landlord's delight, because he could raise the rent for the next tenant. She'd paid through the month of December, but promised to be out by the twelfth–tomorrow–so he'd have plenty of time to repaint and put it on the market before the new year. She hadn't told Castle; it was going to be an early Christmas present. She'd stolen the odd hour here and there to clear it out, and when he'd had to go to a writer's conference the weekend after Thanksgiving she'd spent virtually every minute there. Most of the things that she'd wanted to hold onto–clothes, books, photographs, a few pillows, a lamp–had already gone to the loft, piecemeal. In the last couple of weeks she'd boxed up bedding and towels for the battered women's shelter; given almost all of her kitchen things and furniture to a non-profit that helps formerly homeless families set up places of their own, and cleaned the place thoroughly.
On Friday she'd told Castle that there were a couple of things that she wanted to pick up from her apartment, and they'd need the SUV. This morning she'd said that she had to go on a (nonexistent) errand and arranged to meet outside. And here he comes now, pulling up to the curb. He is so unerringly punctual that she wonders if a DNA test would reveal that he's at least half Swiss. She goes to the counter for the hot chocolate, pays her bill, and runs across the street.
"Hey," she says, grabbing his sleeve before kissing his cheek, and offering him the brown paper bag. "Brought you something."
"Thanks," he says, extracting the hot chocolate. "Want to drink it upstairs?"
"That's the idea. And on that note, I had her put extra whipped dream in there. In case that gives you any other ideas."
He wiggles his eyebrows and salutes her with the cup.
On the ride up in the tiny elevator she has an attack of nerves. What will he think of all this, that she hadn't told him? Her hand is trembling, and it takes a couple of tries before she gets the key in the lock.
"You okay? Are you cold?"
"Maybe a little." She flips the switch that's just inside the door and stands aside so that he can come in.
He gasps. "Oh, my God, Beckett. You've been robbed."
"Not unless the thieves also ran the vacuum and washed the windows."
"But. But. It's empty? Does this? Is, uh? Did you?"
"Gave it up," she says, unbuttoning her coat, unwrapping her scarf, and dropping them on the sofa. He's gaping, and about to spill his hot chocolate, so she grabs his wrist and takes the cup from his hand. "Want to take off your parka?"
"Where is everything?"
He's standing there, unmoving, so she unzips his jacket and pulls it off him.
"I took a few things to the loft and gave everything else to charity. Except the sofa and the little desk in my bedroom. I paid the super an obscene amount of money to drive the sofa over to Broome Street tomorrow, and you and I will take the desk home today."
Still standing, but now looking around the newly reverberant space, he says, "But it's your apartment."
"Was my apartment."
"You gave it up?"
"I don't need it anymore, Castle. I live with you. In the loft. Are you surprised?"
"Yeah, I am." His face softens and he smiles so that he looks almost seraphic.
"You know," she says, touching her hand to his cheek, "you look like a little boy on Christmas morning. And I did kind of mean this as a Christmas present. Two weeks early, but I told the landlord I'd be out by the twelfth, so this is it. Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas," he says, pulling tight against his chest. "Best present ever."
"Dunno about that," she mumbles into his sweater.
"When did you do all this?"
"Let's sit down, and I'll tell you. Drink your hot chocolate before it gets cold."
They end up, as they so often do on the sofa together, with her feet in his lap, and she fills him in.
"This is really it, then?" he asks when she finishes. "Only the sofa and the desk? How come you want the sofa?"
"I like it, and there's more than enough room for it in Martha's, I mean my, study. Besides," she pokes him with her toe, "I didn't want to part with it. This sofa has seen a lot of action over the past fifteen months."
"Just the thing for my mother's room, then. It'll feel right at home."
"Castle!" She pokes him again.
"You about ready to leave? One last look around?"
"No, I'm done."
"Then let's get the desk." He stands, puts his empty cup on the bare floor, and takes her hand. When they get to the bedroom he says, "You know, it's pretty small. I think I can manage it by myself, but let's take the drawer out. Makes it lighter and easier to carry, if you don't mind taking that?"
He has to jiggles it a little to get it open, and he hears something sliding around. "There's something in here," he says as he pulls the drawer free. It's the pink WHILE YOU WERE OUT pad, a little bit dusty but otherwise just as it looked in the photo that Lanie had shown him last year. He never thought that he'd see it, let alone hold it; Lanie hadn't even let him have a copy of the photo.
She'd long ago told Castle that she'd been hospitalized, but she'd never told him about the message. She'd stuffed it in the back of the drawer when she'd come home, and pushed it out of her mind. And right after that, Castle had shown up with the flowers, and–
He can hardly pretend that he hasn't seen what's on the pad, so he looks at it again. "What's this?" What a stupid question, but he can't take it back.
"It's a WHILE YOU WERE OUT message. You know, like people used before voicemail." What a stupid answer, but she can't take it back.
"This is your writing. And the date. August sixth, two thousand ten. Wasn't that the day you"–
Tell it straight. No more secrets. "Collapsed and was admitted to the hospital? Yes, I wrote that right before."
"You wrote it to me. To Rick Castle. I LOVE YOU." He looks so happy and sad and wonderful and in love.
"I did, Castle. I'm sorry that it took me so long to say it. We were both miserable, weren't we? Me here, never leaving my apartment, and you out in the Hamptons. That's when I knew, you know. I fell in love with you while you were out."
He kisses her with more tenderness than she has ever known, and then he says, "Let's get this downstairs and go home. Our twenty-four/seven home." He smiles again. "Thank you. For everything. All of it."
They get their coats from the sofa, the only thing left in the place that she used to call home, and put them on. "You're sure about this?"
"And you're sure you want to take this sofa?"
"Yes. Why? Don't you like it?"
"Of course I do. Just thought you might want something new up there."
"You should really love it, you know," she says, wrapping herself around him and putting her hands in his back pockets.
"You know I said that my giving up the apartment was meant to be my Christmas present to you, and then you said it was the best present ever?"
"And then I said I didn't know about that?"
"Do you remember when we came over here after the Hallowe'en party to escape?"
He laughs. "Definitely."
"So you remember what we did on the sofa?" She leans back so that she can look up at him.
"Oh, we did everything on the sofa that night. Including, oh, that was the first time you"–
"We did something else, too, though I didn't know it at the time. In fact, I didn't find out until yesterday."
He looks puzzled. "What?"
"We made a baby. Merry Christmas, Castle."
A/N That's a wrap. Thank you again for all your enthusiasm. It's what every writer needs.