He has to trek out into the backyard to find her.
It's a gorgeous day. The sky is cloudless and blue, the sun warm without being overbearing, a subtle breeze in the air. He isn't surprised to see Kate laid out on a lounge chair, dressed in a pair of shorts and a loose tank top, soaking it all in.
"Didn't your doctor advise that you try to stay out of the sun while you're recovering?"
The sunglasses slip just slightly down the bridge of her nose. One of her eyebrows arches even as she gives him a withering look from behind her shades.
"Is Alexis down for her nap?"
"Yep," he grins. His daughter isn't minding their impromptu beach getaway one bit. He honestly isn't sure how he's going to convince her to go home when the time comes, not when he's witnessed his baby bird so at ease within the bubble of his Hamptons home, a bubble that keeps him and his family safe.
They've only been here for a few weeks, finally settling in comfortably for Kate's recovery, for her safety. Will Sorenson is their contact on the case - as awkward as that is for all involved - and while all leads in Raglan's murder quickly went cold and no active investigation can be pursued, Will is keeping an eye out for them. Along with Kate's captain, Roy Montgomery.
"I'll make sure it's safe before she comes back," Montgomery promised him in the hallway outside of Kate's hospital room. Her superior was so solemn, like he was swearing by an oath, and something about the meant reassurance caused Rick's stomach to flip. "Just help her heal and don't let her worry about making detective. The position will still be waiting for her when she gets back."
He shook Montgomery's hand, thanked him, and relayed the news to Kate. But he still shifts with unease every time her captain crosses his mind.
He shakes it off, refuses to let the paranoia seep any deeper. He only has room to focus on two things anyway: his daughter and Kate. Driving out to his house in the Hamptons after Kate's release from the hospital, spending their days lounging in his luxurious home by the pool or on the shores of the beach has been helping immensely.
"Josh told me that for the sake of a clean scarring process, I should keep my wound out of the sun. Which I am." Her gaze flicks down to her bare shoulder, a thin hand towel from his bathroom draped over it. "Happy?"
"I was," he nods. "Until I realized you're calling your skeezy surgeon by his first name."
Kate rolls her eyes but her lips are quirking, allowing him a glimpse at the whites of her teeth.
"Baby, you know Doctor Davidson's got nothing on you."
She's appeasing him, teasing him, but his chest swells with pride nonetheless.
"As long as he never has you on him-"
Her good arm shoots out to smack his thigh. Hard enough for him to dance away from the sting of her hand and the nip of her fingers.
"Not funny," she scowls, hooking her fingers in the leg of his shorts and tugging instead. "Come here."
"Are you going to hit me again?" he asks, shuffling into the reel of her arm regardless. "Because I apologize. I'm just easily threatened by your hot doctor."
"Why would you be threatened?" she smirks. "And shouldn't I be the one feeling threatened if you think he's hot?"
It's his turn to shoot her a look, glowering at her as his shins bump against the lawn chair.
"Hotter than me," he relents, bending a knee to rest beside her hip. Her fingers release their grip on his shorts to slide around to the back of his knee, tucking there. "More your type."
"How would you know my type?" she challenges, squeezing at his flank. "It's always been you."
He blinks, a little stunned, a lot flattered. He wasn't expecting that, especially not so casually and while she isn't even on morphine anymore.
"I just... assumed, with Will, that trainer guy you liked-"
"Royce was my training officer and nothing happened," she reminds him calmly, patiently. Because they've had even more time to talk lately, to catch up in the hours she's spends stranded somewhere - his bed, the couch, the floor when she's being extra stubborn and manages to push too hard too fast. If he wasn't well-versed on those five years of her life that he missed before, he definitely is now. "I was just lost. Got lost for a while."
"Just about five years," he shrugs, but she already knows he shares her grief in those five years of wandering through life without each other. Lost is a solid summary of that time for him too.
"Mm," she smirks, but her hand remains a comforting weight at the back of his leg, drawing him in. "When I said come here, I meant sit down."
He hesitates, always so wary of her injury. It drives her crazy and she notices the reluctance immediately, its cause.
He sighs and carefully takes a seat next to her on the lounge chair large enough to fit two, trying his best not to jostle her.
"Speaking of inadequate ex lovers-"
"Castle," she huffs, pinching his thigh. Hard.
He hisses, squirming away from the reprimand of her fingertips, and nods to the cellphone balanced on the arm of the chair. "Heard anything from Will?"
"No, but I don't really expect to any time soon," she admits, sparing the phone a fleeting glance. Her throat ripples with a swallow, her jaw hardening with acceptance.
He knows Johanna's case remains heavy on her shoulders, a weight that will never truly dissipate, will refuse to lessen until it's finally put to rest. But he wants to believe that it's at least become a little easier for her to balance now that he's carrying some of it too.
"They'll call," he promises her, words of encouragement that do no good, but never fail to earn him that quiet flicker of gratitude in her gaze. "And we'll get the bastards."
She exhales, shallow and slow, lets his words soak in like she needs them to breathe a little easier.
"I know." Her attention falls away from the phone, returning to him. The line of her mouth, gentles, curves, as stares at him, seeming to abandon thoughts of failing investigations in favor of him. "Do you remember the cottage my parents used to rent out here?"
"Of course. It was at that cottage that I saw you in a swimsuit for the first time. Unforgettable."
She shoots him a glare as he settles a little more comfortably alongside her, draping her legs across his lap and covering one of her knees with his palm. She squirms when he strokes his thumb to her patella, a patch of unshaved hair prickling beneath his fingertip. She hates not being able to shave properly and he never manages to thoroughly go over her knees when she lets him try and do it for her.
"I remember the first time you guys invited me to come for a weekend," he adds on a murmur, the humor in his voice softening.
"You came with us every time after that," she nods, her chin tilting towards the ocean in the distance, the muffled crash of the waves.
"Your dad would always take us fishing," he recalls, lips twitching.
"Until you started bringing your notebook along. Then he and I would fish while you sat in the boat writing," she teases, but his smile only grows.
"Something about the beach just gets my creativity flowing," he shrugs, following her gaze towards the water. "One of the reasons I ended up getting a place out here."
"I'm glad you did," she murmurs, easily coaxing his eyes back to her. The glasses are up now, propped atop her head and leaving her face clear and open to him. "I missed it here."
"Did you ever come back, after they were gone?"
"I thought about it maybe once a few summers back," she muses. "But no, I never really wanted to."
"And you're sure this isn't too much?" he inquires, waiting for her eyes to meet his again. "Being here?"
"No, I'm here with you." The corner of her mouth curls, affection spreading soft and light to her cheeks. "Maybe not under the best circumstances..."
"I definitely would have preferred your first time here to include the ability to skinny dip," he sighs, expecting another roll of her eyes, a smack of her hand. But she merely bites her lip.
"There's still time."
A flare of heat spreads through his abdomen, longing searing his insides. It's not fair that they were only allowed one night together before she was shot and the physical limitations her recovery stalled any hope for more for a while.
Not that Kate doesn't try to test the boundaries of that too, pushing his willpower to its limits.
Castle squeezes her knee. "You really need to get better."
"My point is that it doesn't hurt so much with you here," she murmurs,. "Kinda applies to all areas of my life at this point."
It makes his head spin and his heart ache, how much in love with her he is. How she loves him back.
"You sure I'm the sap in this relationship?"
She's careful of her shoulder as she leans forward, her hand rising to curl her fingers at his chin, guiding his lips to hers. He's been on the receiving end of her kisses for months now, but the spark and spread of fire sweet and warm through his bloodstream has yet to dim. It only grows.
"Drugs lowering my inhibitions," she mumbles, smirking into their kiss.
"That excuse would work if you were actually taking your painkillers," he counters, grin matching hers.
Her lashes flutter against his cheeks with the roll of her eyes he was waiting for, a sensation he's grown all too accustomed to by now.
"Love you," he mumbles, feeling every inch of her soften.
Her nose dusts along his cheek. "I love you too."
The breeze lifts her hair to skim along his skin in an additional flutter of kisses and he opens his eyes to the view of her tanned skin, the sun-streaked strands of her hair and the freckles scattering across her cheeks and shoulders, the scenery around them that only seems to illuminate her.
"This is where I want to marry you."
She goes quiet, but doesn't look away, her eyes soft and golden and so very close. Close enough for him to see everything. "Here?"
"Here. Right here. A wedding on the beach, but not quite," he muses, casting his gaze to the expanse of his backyard. The rich green grass, the excess of space, the opportunity for subtle decoration and enough guests to fill a row of chairs while keeping the event intimate. "That day at the church-"
"Feels like another life sometimes," she fills in on a whisper, the pad of her thumb absentmindedly tracing back and forth over his fourth finger. A habit she's developed. "Only been a few months."
"It wasn't you," he finishes, watching her eyes ripple like the waves of the ocean with curiosity. "Big church wedding with no one but Lanie to be there for you."
Kate bites down on her bottom lip. "What were you picturing?"
"An outdoor ceremony, a small gathering, a different dress." Her lip slips from between her teeth, a trickle of amusement tearing it free. He keeps going. "A sunset sky, just enough light to bring out the streaks of gold you've always had in your hair. You and me, my kid as a flower girl, empty chairs for your parents, our friends-"
"Rick," she breathes, the sun causing her eyes to glisten. "This better not be your version of a proposal."
He scoffs. "No." Not that he isn't already planning one. Not now, not while she's hurting and miserable and wrapped up in the treacherous blend of Johanna's murder and her own recovery, her own survival. Not while he still wakes drenched in sweat from a nightmare that feels too real, dreams where she doesn't make it out of that coffee shop alive, not until she's waking up too and reminding him just how alive she still is. "No, not yet, love."
She cranes forward to brush a kiss to his jaw, gentle and pleased. "Good."
The hand twined in his draws closer to her heart and he follows its lead. "Too much?"
"No," she murmurs immediately, earnestly, pressing his knuckles to her chest. "I want that. Marrying you, here, the way you described. I - I know we're not there yet, that I... with everything going on, I can't be," she sighs, but he shakes his head, drops it to rest against hers.
"We'll get there." He squeezes her hand, hopes he can transfer some of his affirmation into her through the press of palms and fingertips. "We've already come so far and it hasn't even been a year, Kate. You've got me, my kid, and we aren't going anywhere."
"Neither am I," she says with conviction, standing strong in her vow to put him and Alexis first. He hasn't doubted her, but he thinks she'll always doubt herself, that she'll always fear the draw of the rabbit hole.
But things are different now; she's no longer a rookie lost in grief and reckless urgency. She has a partner now, one who loves her too much to let her go, and a little girl who shines like the sun the moment she sees Kate walk into a room. She told him in the hospital that she has a life worth living and a heart that's too full to risk, that her mother would never want her to risk it, that Johanna would be too overcome with joy over the two of them finally getting together to even fathom letting Kate put it at stake.
And she was always one to listen to her mother, even when she hated to admit Johanna was right.
"Just..." She stares back at him with so much hope, with so much yearning and need. It's the way she's always looked at him since they were kids - in a way that makes him want to give her the world. "Promise me we'll have that one day, a future."
"Oh, Kate, I don't have to promise," he answers without thinking, doesn't have to. He strokes his thumb back and forth along her sternum, feeling the rise and fall of bone, the wild call of her heart thundering to meet his touch. "I don't have to hope or wonder, not about that. It's just inevitable, like everything with us."
Yeah, that's a good word for them, a satisfactory adjective to sum up their story.
Rick lets his forehead remain at rest against hers, sighing out a breath that lets his heart float to the surface, but she says it before he can.
"We've always been inevitable."