Sitting on the couch in Kate's apartment with her curled up beside him, books in both their laps, all Rick could think was that he was having a perfect evening. He hoped that evening was the start of many equally perfect evenings just like it. They wouldn't always be reading, he imagined, but whether it was watching a TV show, sports, or even spending the night out on the town they would be together. Because they were a couple. A dating couple—the thing he'd wanted for the prior few years. And it was incredible.

Only a few days had passed since Christmas and both of them had been busy, so that evening was the first time they were actually seeing each other since. They had spoken on the phone, though. Two nights prior they'd talked for two and a half hours. Kate had told him more about what she was working on in therapy and reiterated what had been implied during their Christmas day conversation: that she wanted to take things slow between them. She wanted their relationship to start right, and she was afraid because of how she'd conditioned herself to behave in the past, that she would mess it up.

Upon hearing this, Rick did his best to assuage her concerns. He told her that taking things slow wasn't a problem at all and that he was more than willing to help guide her through any concerns she had. He also pointed out that he knew her well, which meant being aware of her tells. He'd seen her attempts to shy away before so, with her permission, he was more than happy to gently point out when she might have been doing something to hold him at arms' length. He wasn't sure how she'd react to the suggestion, but thankfully she seemed quite pleased with it and thanked him for the idea. "That's what partners are for, Kate," had been his gentle response.

During that phone conversation they'd decided to get together that evening, originally at his apartment for dinner, but then Kate had been loaded down with casework that had run late. Since she had to start again early in the morning, Rick offered to come to her, so she didn't have to worry about anything other than going to her apartment. As she'd already grabbed pizza at the precinct, he ate before going over to her place, but brought along a small Tupperware container for her to have for lunch or dinner the following day. She'd called him sweet, kissed him briefly, and then they'd settled down on to the couch together.

About an hour into their reading session, Kate began to shift beside him. Rick continued to read, thinking she was just switching positions, but then he felt her lips against his cheek. Intrigued, he turned his head towards her, and saw her wearing a rather mysterious smile. "Hi," she said.

"Hi," he echoed.

"You can go back to reading if you want; I just had the sudden urge to kiss you."

Rick shoved the book on his lap to the floor with such speed that Kate let out a laugh. He wrapped an arm around her back, pulled her body towards his, and said very seriously, "Never, ever fight an urge to kiss me."

She laughed again and said, "I'll try not to."

"Good." Then, with that, he tilted his face towards hers. Her hands cradled his cheeks as they kissed, soft and slow. Rick pulled her body in closer to his, letting his hand gently skim up and down her spine. God, she was incredible. Every second, every moment he'd spent waiting for her was worth it ten times over and with her body against his he knew for sure that his feelings for her hadn't changed, only blossomed. He loved her and knew the relationship they were about to embark on was going to be extraordinary.

With that in mind, when Kate broke their kisses and sat back down beside him, he grabbed her hand and said, "So…I was thinking about New Year's Eve."

She arched her brow. "While we were kissing?"

"No—no, earlier today."

"Oh, okay."

"It's in three days."

Amused, she nodded. "Right."

Deepening his tone, he asked, "Have any plans."

She laughed out a, "No."

"What do you usually do on New Year's?"

"Um…it varies, I guess. Sometimes if I'm in a relationship with someone we'll go out to dinner or something, but honestly, I think I've stayed in for four of the last five or six years. I much prefer to watch the people in the freezing cold of Times' Square from the warmth of my couch."

As she'd set him up for the perfect segue, he said, "What about watching from my couch?"

Keeping her face stoic but intrigued she asked, "Are you inviting me over for a date?"

"Yes. For dinner, drinks, sitting in front of the fire…and to spend the night."

"Castle," she grumbled, dropping her chin to her chest so that the curtain of her hair fell across her face.

Knowing she would protest Rick was prepared with a defense. Squeezing her hand he began, "Hang on hear me out. I know you want to take things slow and I'm okay with that. We don't have to have sex if you're not ready. I just want to start the new year by waking up beside you."

She gazed at him for ten seconds with awe and amazement before giving her head a little shake and dragging her teeth across her bottom lip. "Well. How am I supposed to say no to that?"

Grinning, he replied, "You're not."

Chuckling, she pulled their linked hands into his lap and leaned her shoulder against the back of the couch as she faced him. With a very serious expression she said, "Rick. Can you and I really sleep together without having sex?"

"We absolutely can if that's what you want." When thinking about their possible plans for New Years, Rick had considered the fact that many years of sexual tension between them would make sharing a bed without being intimate…challenging, to say the least. However, he was an adult. He was certainly capable of sharing a bed with a woman while keeping his hands—and other parts—to himself. Most importantly: he was one hundred percent dedicated to making Kate feel happy and secure in their relationship. If she wanted to wait, they would wait; it was as simple as that, but that didn't mean he couldn't try to nudge at some of her boundaries.

"I want…to start the new year waking up beside you, too."

"Yeah?" he replied, his heart fluttering.

She nodded. "Yeah, but I am on shift that day. I get off at six."

He nodded as a plan formulated in his mind. "Okay, okay. We'll have dinner, some wine, good conversation…then watch the footage from Times' Square and call it a night."

"That sounds great, Castle, but can I make a small suggestion?"

"Of course."

Her expression transformed from sweet to slightly dangerous as she said, "Let's forget Times' Square and have our own New Year's celebration."

Given the look on her face it was not difficult to pick up her implication. Surprised, Rick half-choked as he spluttered, "R-really? It's not too soon?"

She slid closer and hugged his arm to her body, saying, "If one thing the last month has taught me is that I don't want to miss any more chances."

With his free hand he brushed his thumb gently across the hollow of her cheek and reminded her, "Kate I was serious—I'll wait if you-"

"I know, I know, but I want to. I really want to."

Feeling some blood travel southward at the vision of her biting the inside of her lip, he shifted his hips against the couch and nodded in agreement. "I want to, too."

After a rarely-heard giggle of, "Okay," she kissed him sweetly and added, "New Year's. It's a date."

On December thirty-first Rick found himself so busy he barely had time to sit down and the only thing he'd consumed that day was his first cup of coffee and the bagel and cream cheese he'd grabbed during his morning errands. He traveled to three different food stores to procure the makings of a perfect first date meal. He bought flowers to present to Kate and a small gift for his mother to soften the blow of requesting that she spend the night at the hotel suite he'd booked for her. Then, he came home, changed the sheets on his bed and thoroughly cleaned his bathroom, which was normally done by their weekly housekeeper except she was off for the last two weeks of the year due to the holidays. Once all that was done, he did a quick clean of the rest of the apartment before he needed to start preparing their meal so it would all be done in time.

As five p.m. rolled around, however, Rick was feeling quite confident about the scene he was setting. His mother would be departing shortly. Their meal would be done by six-thirty when he anticipated Kate's arrival. Everything was going exactly according to plan—and then his phone rang.

Seeing the lovely face of his detective on the caller ID, he answered with a cheerful, "Hello! Calling to tell me you're getting off early?"

From the way she breathed into the phone, he immediately knew that wasn't the case and felt his entire body deflate.

"Actually, the opposite."

"You caught a case," he concluded. As it was the nature of her job, he wasn't mad, just disappointed.

"Well yes, but we were able to make an arrest-"


"-and now I have paperwork."

"So, you'll be a little late? That's fine. I can adjust."

"There's one other thing." She took in a deep breath, leaving him endlessly curious for several seconds until she said in one long string, "I'm fine, but I was injured slightly during the take down—I'm FINE—but, I, um, I'm not sure I'm going to be up for a full celebration like we planned."

"Oh…oh no—no don't worry about that," he said, taking a moment to recover from the way the word "injured" had spiked his heartrate. "You're okay, though? You're sure?"

"Yeah, I'm okay."

"Well, that's all that matters to me. Would you like me to send a car to pick you up?"

"No, I'm not sure when I'll be done."

"Then you can call me, and I'll come get you."

"No, no, Castle—traffic will be a mess by that point. I'm okay to take the subway; I promise. I'll text you when I'm leaving, okay?"

"Sure okay. Call me if you need anything," he added before ending their conversation.

His chest feeling a little heavy, Rick put his phone down on the kitchen counter and leaned against it. In his chest, disappointment over his spoiled plans fought a war with his concern for what Kate's injury was. What exactly did "fine" mean if she also felt she could not partake in their sexy plans? Surely, her misfortunate was more than a paper cut, but to what further extent? Had she been cut or stabbed? Had she taken a bullet to her vest? The possibilities in his mind spiraled to the point where his mother's departure actually startled him. He managed to recover well enough to send her off with a smile, but inside he knew he'd be worrying about Kate until she showed up at his apartment and he could get a sense of her injuries in person.

Thankfully, Rick only had to worry for a little more than two hours, because shortly after seven he heard his doorbell sound and practically sprinted towards it. He whipped open the door and immediately yelped, "Oh my god!" at the sight of his wounded girlfriend.

"I said I'm fine," she sighed with exasperation. She stepped into the apartment, set down her purse and a small backpack, and shrugged off her coat as though nothing at all was wrong.

Still gaping at her, Rick yelped, "But you have bandages on your head!" Across her right eyebrow and up a little higher on the same side Kate had two sets of butterfly bandages. Around the edges Rick could see some dried blood and the area around them on her forehead appeared dark and bruised, though that may have also been dirt.

"Yeah, but I didn't need stitches, so it's fine."

"Sti—what happened?!" he demanded.

Leaning down to unzip her boots, she began to explain. "We got the call that a body had dropped first thing this morning, suspected robbery turned homicide. It happened right in front of security cameras, so we had a great profile image of the guy and he left prints all over the vic. We ran them, he had other robbery charges on his sheet, so we knew we had him. When we went to his apartment to make an arrest, he resisted. He threw his body back and knocked into me and my head slammed against a metal doorframe."

His heart clenching at the thought of her injury being much worse, he said, "You could have a concussion!"

She nodded. "That's what Ryan said. Plus, it was really bleeding so EMT's checked me out. I probably have a grade one concussion, but I'm fine."

"Your concussed; that is not fine," he pointed out.

She gave a little shrug. "I just have a little headache. And like I said—no stitches needed. I'll be just fine; there's no need to worry."

His tone softening, he reached out, so his hands closed around her elbows and he pointed out, "But I do worry about you."

She smiled. "That's sweet, Castle; but I promise I'm okay."

Still uncertain, he twisted his mouth to the side and said, "Okay, but will you at least let me clean up your forehead?"

"I can do it."

"But I want to."

She frowned slightly and suggested, "After we eat? I'm kind of hungry."

He nodded. "Sure, of course. Let's eat."

Rick had to admit he was not as happy and relaxed as he should have been during their first official date together. While the food itself was lovely, he felt a resurgence of concern every time he looked across the table and saw the state of Kate's forehead. He understood that as far as injuries went Kate's was legitimately mild, but it still worried him because of how much he cared for her. Plus, it felt like the elephant in the room as she seemed determined not to talk about it. She had decided not to have any wine because the EMT had given her an extra strong pain killer, but beyond that she wanted to keep their discussion more neutral.

Almost the second they finished eating Rick insisted upon taking Kate into his bathroom and dabbing at her forehead with a damp washcloth. He didn't want to scrub too much and hurt her, or disturb her still healing wounds, but some of the blood was a challenge to get off. He did discover that the marks he thought were bruises were mostly dirt, which made him feel better.

When he finished, Kate kissed the corner of his mouth, thanked him for his help, and insisted once again, "I'm really okay; I promise?"

"I know I know I just…I worry about you, especially when I'm not there with you."

She hugged him tight, told him he was sweet, and then requested that they have some hot chocolate in front of the fire. It was only then as they sat sharing a blanket that Rick felt himself truly relax and enjoy his time with his girlfriend.

They sat in front of the fire for about an hour, then moved to the sofa where they turned on the TV. He put on a local station so they could get some shots from Times' Square and they watched for about twenty minutes when Rick began to sense Kate was feeling uncomfortable. She shifted her position a lot, constantly raked her fingers through her hair, and rubbed her forehead off and on. In addition, she just looked…weary.

Brushing his lips against her temple he said, "Please don't take this the wrong way but: I think you need to go to bed. And not the fun kind of bed."

She almost looked relieved as she turned to him. "Yeah, I know. I'm so sorry Castle."

"Whatever for? You're here. We spent the evening together just like we planned. There's nothing to be sorry about. Just go to bed."

"I'm disappointed, too – that we couldn't celebrate, I mean."

He shook his head. "There's no disappointment from me. We still get to wake up on January first together."

Smiling, she nodded. "That's true."

"Just go to bed, Kate. Let me know if you need anything. I'll be in shortly."

She kissed his cheek and said goodnight before retrieving her backpack from the hall and disappearing into his bedroom. He watched her go before leaning his head back against the couch and letting out a long, slow breath. Yes, it was slightly disappointing that he wouldn't be sharing a midnight kiss (or any other activities) with Kate, but as far as he was concerned they had many, many years ahead of them to do just that. What mattered most then was her getting some sleep so she could recover from her injury.

Kate Beckett opened her eyes and blinked several times to adjust to the dull morning light. She lay on her side facing an unfamiliar chair and wall and it took her a few moments to realize that she was not waking up in her bed, but Castle's. Soft smile on her face, she began to roll her body towards the center of the bed. She found the writer laying facing her, both hands tucked under his right cheek, a smile on his face. She let out a breathy, slightly embarrassed laugh as he appeared to be watching her sleep.

"Happy new year."

She shielded her mouth with the back of her hand as she yawned. "Hey. Happy new year."

"How's your head?"

"Oh." She thought for a moment and concentrated on the spot. With relief she realized the dull ache inside her skull from the night before was gone. To check further, she brought her right hand up to skim across her brow. "Not bad. I—ow!" She grumbled when her fingertips pressed a bit too firmly over the bandage spot. Okay, so the inside of her head felt fine, but the outside didn't. "I don't have a headache, but that spot is definitely sore."

He hummed and reached out his left hand towards her face. He brushed some of the hair back and she dropped her chin so he could get a better look at the area. "I can definitely see a bruise above your eyebrow, but it doesn't look too terrible." He then dusted the tip of his index finger down her temple and across the apple of her cheek before pulling it away.

Kate felt her heart swell with joy at this simple, tender gesture. Last night he'd taken care of her cut without even being asked and he'd been so attentive with her the entire night, so kind and gentle. They'd barely been together for a week, but yet he seemed to be falling into his role as doting boyfriend quite easily. Giving herself another moment to think over that notion, she realized it made perfect sense. They had been working partners for several years, but for a good portion of that time she knew feelings on both sides had run deeper. Though they had not been romantically together for more than a week, their emotional connection was much longer, so it made sense that they were able to fall into their relationship roles quite easily.

His lips pulling up into a dorky smile drew her back to the present. "Oh well," she said in reference to her bruise. "It could have been worse."

He hummed and moved his left hand to cover the inside of her right wrist.

Feeling tingles across her body she pointed out, "You were right, you know; this is a really nice way to start the new year."

"I thought so."

They lay side by side for a few more moments before he moved his hand from her wrist to her waist, drawing her closer to him. He easily threaded their legs together and used his hand to pull her against him until their hips were almost flush. "This okay?" he asked softly. She nodded and hummed in response, which led him to kiss her lips gently. Then he kissed her nose, the spot between her eyes, her eyebrow just beside the bandage, and her cheek just below her eyelid. Pulling back, he breathed out, "You're so beautiful," in a tone that set her skin on fire.

No question in her mind existed that he wanted them to celebrate the new year in the way they hadn't been able to the night before, and she absolutely wanted that as well, but she also needed to have a few moments of practicality first.

"Wait, hold on please." She placed her hand flat against his chest to prevent her from kissing again. He moved away from her, pulling their legs apart, and propping his head up with his fist.

"Too fast?"

"No, not that. I just wanted to talk about some things first."

He nodded. "You want some coffee?"

"No, I'm okay if you are." She laced her fingers together in her lap and tugged at them. These types of conversations were never her favorite to have, but they were all part of a healthy adult relationship, so she needed to have them all the same. "Before we, um, go any further I'd like to know the last time you were tested and if the results were all negative."

He nodded and pushed himself up into a sitting position. His hair stuck up at an odd angle on the side and it was all she could do to keep from smiling, because it strangely made him look quite adorable.

Rubbing his eye with his fist he said, "Ah, yeah. I was tested after I ended things with Gina and everything was fine."

Kate's brow furrowed as she considered this for a moment. She felt a slight surge of disappointment at how much time had passed since that event. "Wasn't that almost a year ago?"

He yawned and scratched the side of his head. "Yeah, but I haven't been with anyone else."

"O-Oh." She stammered slightly, tripped up by the shock not so much of his words but the gaze that went with him. The way he looked at her said more than just "I was taking a break from dating for my own health." It said, "I wasn't dating anyone else because I wanted to be with you." Deep down, she'd known that. He was, after all, not the subtlest when flirting with her. But still hearing it from his lips was surprising as it was reaffirming of how their relationship really was already on pretty solid ground.

"I, um, I was tested a few months ago at my annual—everything was negative—and I haven't been with anyone since I was shot. I'm also on birth control."

"Okay. I can still wear a condom if-"

"No, no. You don't have…" Her voice drifted off when a memory from her past flashed into her mind. With nearly all her past lovers, she did insist on condom usage, mostly because she was still fully building trust with the man and she wanted to make sure she was protected. Once they were established as monogamous, she no longer insisted, but that was generally at least a month or so in. With Castle, she didn't need to worry about building trust; it was already implicit between them.

It had taken them so long to get to that place—years, to get technical about it. She remembered the many times she'd wanted to just surrender to her feelings and kiss him or invite him home with her, but fear had always held her back. Though it wasn't gone entirely, the fear had largely been replaced by faith in him, in them, and in herself. She was ready to accept how deeply he cared to her and to do her best to care for him as deeply in return.

"What?" he asked, concern appearing on his face.

She shook her head. "Nothing, nothing…I just momentarily felt amazed to be having the pre-sex conversation with you. Some days…some days I was afraid I'd never get here."

He smiled easily and skimmed his hand under her jaw to cradle her face. "But here we are."

"Yeah, here we are," she echoed.

He leaned forward and kissed her, again and again. He gently lowered his body on top of hers as their lips met. He soon moved his kisses to her jaw and down her throat. When his stubble scratched against her skin, she felt a burst of excitement and let her eyes drift shut as she lay back against the pillow. Obviously eager, he soon began to work her shirt up and over her head. She did the same to him and allowed her fingers to roam across the smooth plane of his back while his kisses traveled lower and lower on her chest. He spoke soft words of adoration that brought tears to her eyes, but just before they fell, she spoke her name softly.

"What is it?" he asked, gazing up at her with concern.

She shook her head and a tear fell from each eye. She brushed them away quickly saying, "I just wanted to say thanks for being you."

Grinning, he said, "Always," and then lowered his lips down to meets hers.

A/N - thank you guys so much for reading and happy new year!