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

They had both had to make adjustments to her moving in, but the process–both emotional and physical–had been remarkably smooth, and the loft had quickly gone from being his space to theirs. Martha is ecstatic about the arrangement; Alexis is not, but she's warmed up considerable. She's also seldom there, since she lives in the dorm.

They work together at least three days a week, though he usually shows up with coffee a couple of hours after she's left home. He usually writes when he's not at the precinct or out on a case with her. He often writes a while in the mornings, evenings and on weekends, when she might read, go for a run, do errands, or bake. To her astonishment, she's discovered that she loves baking, and she takes cake or cookies, muffins or rolls, a tart or a pie to every AA meeting she attends.

"Holy shit, Kate," one member with a pierced eyebrow, nose, lip, and cheek told her as he wolfed down three of her cookies. "These are totally, like, a bazillion times better than Chips Ahoy!"

She hadn't given much thought to what it would be like to work cases when they weren't just partners but partners. One difference is that they're even more in synch than they had been before. Their friends know, so there'd been no need to be on guard with them, but they had to be careful at the precinct, especially in front of Gates. Until the day things had changed. Until the case that had truly nearly blown them apart, when she had been standing on a bomb and couldn't move or she'd end up like Cole Maddox. She'd told Castle to leave; he'd insisted on staying. Afterwards, while they'd been standing outside, Gates had arrived and instructed her, yes instructed her, to kiss him.

"Sir, you know?"

"Do you think I'm an idiot? I need to maintain plausible deniability, which I can continue, as long as you two both act professionally at the precinct."

Which they had done and continue to do. The minute they had reached home that day, however, professionalism had gone out the window, and their clothes had hit the floor.

It's a relief that the Captain knows. It makes everything easier. Life as a whole is easier for her than it had been since her easy childhood. And happy? God, she is happy.

She'd been an optimistic kid, even an optimistic adolescent, until her mother's death had also been the death of her hopeful nature. Castle had revived it. His optimism is infectious, and so is his enthusiasm. She has come to delight in holidays, including ones she'd never heard of, beginning with St. Cecilia's Day, which is five days after her birthday. That morning Castle had given her a new iPhone and a $500 iTunes gift card. When she'd been puzzled, he'd explained: "Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music, Beckett. I don't know if she'd approve of all your musical choices, but she's a saint, so she's forgiving." For his birthday, when he'd been going stir crazy, stuck at home with a broken knee, she'd invented, with considerable help, a Rear Window-ish fake homicide for him. A year earlier, the thought would never even have occurred to her.

But her favorite holiday to date might be June 7. This year it had fallen on a Friday, and the instant that her shift had ended she and Castle had gotten in the car and headed north. All she'd known was that they had, had, had to go to an unspecified place outside the city, and it had to be now. He'd also put a mysterious package on the back seat. "No peeking, Beckett. And by the way, it's not for you."

When they'd turned off the road into a strip mall, she'd known exactly what their destination was: Dunkin' Donuts.

"Carol Ann no E, Castle? I'm finally going to meet the mature woman of your dreams?"

"You are."

"I've been asking about her for ages. Why today?"

"Why today? And you a member of a mighty police force. I'm shocked." He'd clamped his hand over his heart. "It's June seventh."


"So? So June seventh is National Doughnut Day."

"Please excuse my ignorance."

"This once," he'd said as he'd taken the small shopping bag from the back seat

He'd talked about Carol Ann so often that she could have picked her out of a crowd of a million, even if she hadn't been wearing her DD uniform. The end-of-day rush was over, and aside from two teenage girls giggling at a table by the window, Carol Ann had been the only person there.

"Wow, Rick," she'd said as they'd closed the door behind them. "I'm not usually one for clichés, but you're a sight for sore eyes. So is she. She's the one, right?"

"She is. Carol Ann no E, this is Kate Beckett."

"I figured. It's about time."She'd wiped her hand on her apron and extended her arm across the counter. "Pleased to meet you, Kate."

"Pleased to meet you, too, Carol Ann. I've heard a lot about you."

"That probably goes double. Mind if I give this guy a hug?"

"Not at all."

"Good, 'cause I would have anyway." She'd come out from behind the counter and had indeed hugged him, so hard that Beckett had half expected to hear his ribs snapping.

"So, what brings you here today of all days?" Carol Ann had asked him.

"It's June seventh."

"Of course. Silly me. National Doughnut Day."

"I didn't know until a couple of minutes ago that there's a National Doughnut Day," she'd admitted.

"They'd looked at her in matching gazes of horror. "Celebrated in song and story, Beckett."

"Really? Song and story? What song?"

"Okay, not a lot of songs. But I could name a lot of stories."

"Such as?"

Castle had looked at Carol Ann. "Hard to believe that I fell madly in love with a woman, a woman who is a voracious reader, who's never heard of a doughnut story, isn't it?"

"Love is strange, Rick. Why don't you fill her in?"

"Geez," she'd half-heartedly protested. "I just walked in here and the two of you are already ganging up on me."

Carol Ann had patted her on the hand. "Nah. But I'm going to get coffee and doughnuts and bring them to that table over there, and Rick and I will enlighten you." She'd stepped over to the kids, "Hey, Tiffany and Brooklyn? I'm locking up for the day now, okay? You have a nice weekend." She'd more or less whisked them out the door, put the CLOSED sign in the window, and put some things on a tray.

"Here we go," she'd said, placing a plate of doughnuts in the middle of the table. "Glazed. Rick is a discerning man. Knows his doughnuts. Here's your skim latte with a double shot of vanilla, Kate, and Rick's black coffee, and mine with half and half."

"You know how I like my coffee?" She'd been horrified to hear herself squeak.

"Course I do," Carol Ann had said with a wave of her hand. "Please, have a glazed. On the house. So, Rick, what's your favorite doughnut story?"

He'd scrunched up his face as if he were pondering an intellectual problem. "Gotta be If You Give a Dog a Donut. What about you?"

"I'm going with Who Needs Donuts?"

"Oh, yeah. Classic, a classic. Still holds up forty years later."

She remembers thinking that this had been like watching some otherworldly tennis match or stumbling into an obscure literature class.

"Don't mean to leave you out of the conversation," Carol Ann had said kindly. "You know what would be the perfect book for you?"

"Um, no."

Her eyes had lit up. "Bet he does. Don't you, Rick?"

"I bet I do. You mean the–"


Dear Lord, they even finished each other's sentences.

"That's the one," Castle had said, smiling widely. "Shall we?"

And together they'd shouted, "The Case of the Missing Donut."

"I promise to buy you a copy, Beckett," he'd said solemnly.

The three of them had sat at the table for hours, talking and laughing on National Doughnut Day. It had been perfect. Sometime after 8:00 Castle had stood up. "We shouldn't keep you any longer, Carol Ann no E. I don't want you to have to drive home in the dark. And I have to settle my bill."

"No bill to settle, Rick. It's National Doughnut Day, and I was closing up, anyway. Your coming here, and bringing Kate, that means more to me than even those outrageous tips you always give me."

"Thank you. Oh, I forgot, I brought you a little something in honor of the holiday."

"You did, huh? Does it come with a card? You ask me, Hallmark could do a lot worse than having a line of cards for National Doughnut Day."

"Sorry, no card. I wrapped it, at least."

Carol Ann had carefully untied the ribbon and rolled it up, and just as carefully peeled back the paper. "Oh. Oh, my. Is this?"

"It is."

"A galley? Proof? Whatever you call it?"

"That's exactly what it is. Of the new Nikki Heat book. Won't be out for a few more months. There are probably some typos in there. If you find any, let me know so we can fix them before the pub date."

"Gotta give you another hug for this. Thank you. Gotta hug Kate, too."

It had been a rib-cruncher, and she'd loved it.

"Come back soon, you two. Don't wait until next June seventh."

"We won't," she'd promised.

"When you get to the end there are a couple of blank pages," Castle had added, "but then there's a paragraph on page two sixty-eight. Don't miss it."

As soon as they'd gotten back in the car she'd asked about page 268. "Acknowledgements, right?"


"Is Carol Ann in there?"


"What did you say?"

" 'Enormous thanks to Carol Ann, whose counsel, doughnuts, and unlimited kindness helped me through the hardest summer of my life.' It's true."

"I know it is. That's really sweet, Castle. I can see why you're crazy about her."

"Pretty crazy about you, too."

"Same here."

A whole summer has gone by since then. Alexis has started her sophomore year at Columbia, and Martha has a plum part in an Off-Broadway play that's such an immediate success that there's talk of moving it to a big theater. Today is September 29th, a hugely important day for her, as well as for Castle, and she's grateful for the luck of it being a Sunday so she doesn't have to ask Gates for time off.

"Ready, Castle?" she asks at 4:15.

"Ready. You sure you want me to come?"

"Five thousand percent sure, yes."

She wants to leave now, to make sure they have plenty of time to drive to the Upper West Side, even if the traffic is awful. They're going to an open AA meeting at 5:00, open because it's not only for recovering alcoholics but for friends and relatives or just interested people who don't have a drinking problem. She's chosen it so Castle can be there. It's a first for him; he's never attended a meeting with her, heard her speak openly about her problems with other people.

They enter the church basement fifteen minutes ahead of time. She recognizes a handful of people, but the remaining four dozen or so are strangers.

At the beginning of the meeting a woman named Kayla asks, "Is anyone having an anniversary today?"

"That's my cue, Castle," Beckett whispers, then walks to the front of the room and turns to face everyone in the chairs.

"My name is Kate, and I'm an alcoholic."

The community of men and women, millennials and octogenarians, someone in an Armani suit and another in jeans and flip-flops, calls out, "Hi, Kate."

"I've been sober for one year today." She smiles and nods at Castle. "My partner over there scraped me off the floor one night, held me up in a cold shower and washed off all the vomit and blood. I know a lot of you are familiar with a scenario like this, right?"

There's a forty-part chorus of rights, yeahs, and laughs.

"I called him a son of a bitch, but he kept holding on. A few months later he had to get me off the floor again, only this time it was in some crappy bar where I drowned sixty-six days of sobriety in a glass of bourbon. I had to start the clock all over again, a year ago today, and he was there to back me up, every minute."

She talks for a while longer, and two others speak after she does. When she takes her seat again, next to him, he says quietly. "I am so proud of you."

"Couldn't have done it without you," she says, and kisses him on the cheek.

When they're on the way to the car he takes a wrong turn.

"This way," she says, pointing south.

"Nope. I'm taking you to dinner to celebrate. I made a reservation at a new place three blocks from here. To celebrate you."

"It's not a big thing, Castle," she says.

"No. It is a big thing."

"Okay. You're right it is a big thing. Where are we going?"

"Hudson Al Fresco," he says. "It's on the roof of a new building with incredible river views. Good thing the weather is so nice."

The dinner is lovely, but she's itching to get home. There's something she wants to say to him, but not in a public place.

When they come into the loft, she takes his hand. "I know some people don't like the fall, because it's a sign that winter's coming, but I love it."

"Me, too."

"It always feels like the start of something new. I think I've felt that way since first grade. New pencils, new lunch box, new shoes, everything. The air is so clear. But especially this year." She stops for a moment. "Castle?"

"Mm hmm?"

"Let's get married. Let's get married and have a bunch of kids and adopt a dog."

A smile erupts on his face, one so broad that it seems to spill over his cheeks and out into the air. "You read my mind."

"Always could. Since day one." She takes his face in her hands and gives him a deep, passionate kiss. "What do you think? Is it a deal?"

He's still holding her hand, but he lets go, reaches into his pants pocket, and takes out a tiny velvet bag. "Give me your hand again, Beckett. I've been carrying this around since the day after your birthday, when I asked you to move in with me. When you said yes I went out and bought it. Almost accidentally sent it to the dry cleaners last month." He slips a diamond ring on her finger, and kisses her knuckles. "It's a deal."

"All of it?"

"You mean marriage, kids and dog?" he asks.


"Good. Let's start working on it tomorrow. Right now there's a bed waiting for us."

A/N After everything they've been through, they deserve a happily ever after, and in my world they get it. I started this as a short (!) birthday present for a friend on a bitterly cold January day and finished it on a blisteringly hot one in July. Thank you for going through the seasons with this very difficult story, the toughest and longest that I've ever written, and for sending so many kind words of encouragement along the way. I hope to be back soon with another story.