IMPORTANT STUFF REMINDERS: First and foremost, if you recognize it, I don't own it. Second, this is written from Beckett's POV. Third, there are a lot of flashbacks in this story. If it's in italics, it's a flashback. Fourth, this is the chapter for which the story got the M rating. Consider yourself warned.

VERY IMPORTANT STUFF: IMW, I can't even begin to express how much your help has meant to me on this story. Thank you doesn't really seem to do it justice. We definitely need to do it again. Maybe with the happy pills on stand-by, just in case?

This picks up about a month after chapter 5 ended.

I settled at my favorite table at Little Owl waiting for Lanie to join me for brunch. I'd been promising her a full report on the change in Castle's and my relationship but things had been rather hectic for the last couple of weeks. She'd finally cornered me yesterday before I left the precinct, insisting that we get together today, and I'd readily agreed.

The waiter brought a glass of water and set it down in front of me, a polite smile on his face.

"Are you ready to order, ma'am?"

"I'm actually waiting for a friend to join me," I informed him.

"Would you like me to bring you anything else while you wait?"

I offered him a smile.

"The water is fine for now. Thank you."

He nodded once before turning and making his way to another table.

I glanced down at the menu, but didn't bother to open it. I already knew what I was going to order. Instead, I allowed my thoughts to drift as I waited for Lanie.

Castle and I were on my couch; a movie playing in the background, the lights dimmed and empty wine glasses on the coffee table. It had been a crazy week with the investigation taking up the majority of our time. We were making up for it tonight.

I was straddling his waist; his hands on my hips holding me against him while my lips trailed along his neck.

"Tell me what you want, Bex," he said as he shifted his head slightly to meet my gaze.

I knew what he was asking. We'd made it to this point a couple of times during the week, but neither of us had been in any rush to move beyond it. Tonight was different; with the case finally wrapped up and a killer behind bars, there was nothing else competing for our attention.

I offered him a sultry smile as I shifted my weight to press more fully against the bulge in his jeans.

"I've got what I want exactly where I want it."

He growled in response, one of his hands fisting my hair, our mouths meeting roughly. Soon our tongues were dueling in a quest for dominance as we tasted one other, our hunger insatiable. My hands went to the buttons on his shirt and I made quick work of the top three before finally tearing my lips from his, moving my mouth to the exposed flesh of his chest. My fingers worked quickly, never losing momentum as I continued in my trek to divest him of the garment.

My hands trailed lower, skimming along his stomach and then going for his belt buckle. When his hands covered mine, my eyes shot to his, questioning.

"Not here," he said simply.

I pressed my lips to his once more before reluctantly easing myself from his lap, disappointment flooding my body at the loss of contact. It didn't last long; he was soon on his feet, wrapping his arms around me from behind, our hands coming to rest on my stomach as we made our way to the bedroom.

Once inside the door, a comfortable silence surrounded us and I couldn't help but smile as I leaned further into Castle's embrace.

"What's the smile about?" he asked as his lips trailed along the shell of my ear.

Tilting my head, I gave him another shy smile.


At his raised eyebrow, I shook my head, deciding to start over. I'd already wasted months refusing to tell him what was really on my mind.

"I'm just really glad you're here."

He rewarded me with a luminous grin before his mouth found mine. I turned in his arms then, my hands pushing his shirt off his shoulders as the kiss deepened.

He pulled back from me slightly, a mischievous smile on his face.

"Why, Detective Beckett, I do believe you're trying to seduce me."

"And who would've thought it would be this difficult?" I teased.

In response, his hands found their way to the hem of my shirt, pulling it over my head and dropping it carelessly to the floor.

When he lowered his hands to his sides, I arched an eyebrow. So he wanted to play?

I reached for his belt buckle, making quick work of it before pulling the belt slowly through the loops. My eyes never left his as I dropped it to the floor and then brought my hands back to my sides.

A smile played about his lips, but his gaze stayed locked on mine as his hands moved to the button on my jeans. Feeling his fingers glide along my skin as he pushed the material from my hips had me biting my lip to keep from closing my eyes to better enjoy the sensation.

We continued the game, our eyes never straying as we pushed the remaining clothes from each other's bodies until there was nothing between us. Only then did he finally touch me, his hands running up and down my sides, his fingers ghosting against my breasts, sending shivers down my spine. I returned the favor, my own hands gliding across his shoulders and down his chest, before finally making their way around his neck when he pulled me against him.

The sensation of his naked flesh against mine for the first time was intoxicating; his lips demanding in a kiss that soon had us pulling apart and gasping for breath.

Our eyes met once again and I saw my own desire reflected in his gaze. His normally blue depths were dark with passion as he slowly took one of my hands in his, guiding it down his body, and encouraging me to curl my fingers around his length. Knowing what he wanted, I began to stroke him, expecting his hand to leave mine; I was surprised when it never did. Instead, he continued to guide my movements, showing me without words what he enjoyed. I kept my eyes locked on his as our hands continued to move in unison over his hardened flesh; our breaths growing shallower with each stroke.

It was Castle who finally broke the silence between us.

"This is what you do to me, Kate."

The thrill that swept through me at his words was at the same time both exhilarating and humbling. In response, I started to increase the speed of our hands, but he resisted.

"Not like this," he whispered, pulling my hand from around him and interlacing our fingers together. "Not this time."

I merely nodded my agreement and then tugged gently on his hand, leading him to my bed. When I felt my knees make contact with the mattress, I lowered myself to the edge and slid gracefully toward the center, fully expecting him to follow me. When he hesitated, I once again lifted my eyes to his.

"Just let me look at you for a minute."

In no way was I embarrassed by my body, yet the way his eyes trailed over me coupled with the intensity in his gaze caused me to flush. His eyes were nearly black with desire when they finally returned to mine.

"You're beautiful," he whispered.

I swallowed past the sudden lump in my throat, the reverence in his voice not something I was used to hearing…especially not under these circumstances. Then again, nothing about our relationship had been ordinary; it shouldn't have come as a shock that this would be any different.

He knelt between my legs, his hands trailing lightly along the outside of them as his eyes continued to rake across my body in what felt like a physical caress. When his gaze paused on my nipples, I felt them tighten in anticipation of his touch. Seeing the reaction brought a smile to his face and I couldn't help but chuckle.

"Castle, if you don't touch me soon, I just might spontaneously combust."

His hands stilled for a moment, resting just above my hips, and his eyes once again locked with mine. There was amusement shining in them and I braced myself for what was to come.

"Are you saying I make you hot?" he teased.

I shook my head even as I grinned.

When he leaned forward, I shifted my weight and rolled so that he was beneath me. The surprise was evident on his face and I used it to my advantage, taking both of his hands in mine and lifting them to my breasts. When his hands closed instinctively around them, I slid my own down until I was gripping his forearms, arching forward into his palms.

My eyes closed on a moan, my head falling forward in pleasure when he squeezed gently, his thumbs stroking possessively against my nipples. He repeated the action and I shuddered, feeling the jolt all the way to my core.

One hand left my breast and moved to the back of my head, tugging me down for a kiss as the other hand continued to tease me. I opened my mouth over his, our tongues sliding together as I shifted my weight until I could feel his hardness pressed against me. When I started to rock against him, he tore his lips from mine and rolled me beneath him, raising my arms above my head and holding them there with one of his hands.

Before I could protest, his mouth was on my breast, his tongue lapping at my nipple before sucking it firmly between his lips. When his free hand slid between my legs, I breathed his name on a sigh.

Without taking his mouth from my breast, he lifted his eyes, his gaze locking with mine as he slid one finger inside of me. I felt the vibrations of the groan that escaped him when he realized how ready I was for him and my hips lifted of their own volition when he stroked inside of me with the same rhythm he was using up above.

I struggled to get my hands free, desperate to touch him, but his grip was unrelenting as he continued his assault on my senses. His mouth left my breast, trailing a path up to my neck as he slid his finger out of my body, sliding it up and circling my clit before moving back to my entrance, this time sliding two fingers inside of me, thrusting them deep and drawing a loud moan of satisfaction from my lips.

His mouth moved to my ear as he continued to thrust into me, his thumb finding purchase on my clit and rubbing against it in slow, firm circles.

"I could get off just from listening to you," he breathed as he increased his rhythm, pulling another moan from me.

I turned my head to look at him; my body rapidly approaching what I knew was going to be an amazing orgasm. Locking my eyes on his once again, I felt the first waves crash over me.

"God, Rick, I'm going to –"

Before I could finish the sentence, his mouth was on mine, swallowing my cries as his fingers worked me through my peak. He continued to stroke me, his lips moving lazily against mine, until my breathing finally slowed. Only then did he pull back slightly, his hand finally releasing my wrists as his fingers slid from my body and began drawing slow, comforting circles on my leg.

"You're amazing, Kate," he murmured softly as he stared down at me.

"Isn't that supposed to be my line?" I asked.

A smile twitched across his lips.

"Why would you need to tell yourself how amazing you are?"

A low, throaty laugh passed through my lips as I brought my hand to cup his face, my fingertips trailing lightly along his jaw. I lifted my head slightly, placing a light kiss upon his mouth before shifting, feeling him hard and ready against my hip.

I allowed my hand to trail down his body until my fingers found his length and curled around him tightly, causing a groan to escape his lips

"God, Bex…"

Without drawing my mouth from his, I shifted, straddling his body, my hips teasing his with delicious friction. I listened as his breathing changed and his hands came to grip my hips, forcing me to slow my movements.

"I'm not going to last if you keep that up," he murmured.

I gave him a sultry smile as I leaned down to kiss him again, my hand moving to the nightstand as I did so, grabbing one of the foil packets from its resting place. I trailed it down his chest, still refusing to break contact with his mouth. It wasn't until I'd ripped it open that I drug my lips from his.

His hands joined mine, both of us working in unison to roll the condom over his length, our gazes still locked. When I moved to sink onto him, he shook his head and pulled me down, flipping us so that I was lying on my back. He moved over me then, his hardness pressing into my center causing my breathing to hitch. I closed my eyes in anticipation, wanting to savor the moment, but he didn't move.

"Kate," he murmured softly. "Open your eyes."

I complied, opening my eyes to find his face inches from my own. Locking his gaze on mine, he offered me a small smile and then, ever so slowly, drove himself into me. We both gasped at the sensation, my hand coming up to cup his cheek. He didn't move right away, allowing my body time to adjust to his size. I felt myself shudder and I convulsed around him involuntarily, letting out a soft cry.

"Damn, Kate," he breathed, pressing his lips against my neck.

He moved then and when he pulled back, I brought my hips up in search of his, sighing at the loss of contact. He grinned, sliding into me forcefully, drawing a moan from deep within. I brought my arms down to wrap around his shoulders and this time when he thrust, I met him, eliciting a groan from him that sent goosebumps down my spine.

His eyes squeezed shut before he buried his face against my neck, his lips whispering along my skin. I tilted my head to give him better access even as I forced myself to focus, calling his name.

"Castle…Rick, look at me."

He pressed a gentle bite at the junction where my neck met my shoulder before he lifted his head, his eyes snapping back to meet mine. We stayed like that, our gazes locked as we found a rhythm, moving in perfect harmony. It was the closest I'd ever felt to physically becoming a part of someone else. His breath mingled with mine as we pushed each other closer to the edge, soft moans and cries of pleasure escaping into the room.

Desperate for more contact, I shifted my legs, wrapping them around his waist. The slight change in angle pulled him deeper than I'd thought possible and I didn't even try to hold back the whimper that flew from my lips. I both felt and heard Castle groan as he twitched inside of me, the movement drawing another gasp of pleasure from me.

"Do you feel what you do to me, Kate?" he murmured.

I whimpered in response, knowing I was getting close.

"I'm close, Rick," I whispered. "So close."

"Yes honey," he encouraged. "Let go."

"Come with me, Rick," I gasped, my breathing growing even more ragged.

He gave a mumbled groan that vaguely resembled my name as his thrusts grew more erratic. Within moments, my body was fluttering around him, his name falling from my lips in a cry of ecstasy even as I forced my gaze to remain locked with his, wanting to watch as he came apart in my arms. His eyes bore into mine as his body tensed above me and a low, guttural cry echoed through the room as he finally joined me on the ride, his body trembling in my arms.

"Oh Kate," he murmured, my name having never sounded sexier coming from his lips.

At last, I slid one hand to the back of his head, pulling his mouth down to meet mine, finally allowing myself to close my eyes as our lips crashed together.

I lost track of how long we stayed like that, lost in one another, our hands caressing in soothing circles as our lips teased and nipped. It wasn't until I noticed him studying me that he broke the comfortable silence that had enveloped us.

"Kate," he whispered softly.

I kept my eyes locked on his even as a small smile played about my lips.

"Say it," I breathed, giving him permission to voice what I'd already read in his eyes.

The smile in his eyes slowly made its way to his face.

"I love you."

We kissed softly for a moment more before I pulled back.

"Hey, Castle?"

"Hm?" he asked, glancing down to meet my gaze again.

"I love you, too."

Lanie's voice pulled me from my thoughts and I knew I was still smiling from the memory of that first night together.

"You had sex this morning," she said as she settled into the booth across from me. "Don't even try to deny it. It's written all over your face."

In spite of the blush I could feel coloring my face, I laughed and decided to indulge her curiosity.

"Twice," I admitted, not counting the time before sunrise when I'd woke to find Castle lying on his side watching me, one hand trailing softly up and down my arm. We hadn't even spoken that time. His desire had been evident in his eyes and it had sparked an almost animalistic reaction within me. Our coupling had been fast and hard, a fight for control until the very end. We'd eventually fallen back to sleep wrapped around each other and when we woke again, our lovemaking had been teasing and playful. When he'd followed me into the shower afterwards, I was afraid I was going to be late for brunch.

"Making up for lost time, I see."

The waiter returned to take our orders and Lanie smiled knowingly when I asked for a stack of pancakes to go with my usual breakfast platter.

"Keeping up your energy?" she teased once the waiter finally stepped away.

"Something like that."

"So tell me how you two figured things out," she said. "And don't spare details."

It was hard to believe it had already been a month since Castle and I had decided to take our relationship to a new level. I had already given Lanie the Cliffs Notes version, but now it was time for the unabridged account.

"Unfortunately, getting called in that night had ruined any chance of exploring things any further for the time being. Then on Sunday, we agreed to talk to Alexis before we did anything else."

"How did she take the news?"

A smile flooded my face at the memory.

"Relax, Bex," Castle said as he reached for my hand, interlacing our fingers together.

It was Sunday evening and we were in the elevator on our way to Castle's loft. He'd called Alexis from the precinct and told her I was joining them for dinner; the two of us having decided to talk to her about the change in our relationship together.

"What if she doesn't approve?" I asked nervously.

He gave my hand a gentle squeeze.

"Have you met my daughter?" he teased. "You two are practically joined at the hip."

"That doesn't necessarily mean she wants me dating her father."

Castle chuckled.

"I can't believe you're nervous about this."

"I can't believe you're not," I shot back.

He stepped in front of me, his free hand tilting my chin up to meet his gaze.

"Alexis adores you Kate."

My eyes locked with his and I took a deep breath before blurting out what had been nagging at me all day.

"I can't do this if she's opposed to it, Castle. You guys are too important to me for that."

The elevator dinged our arrival on his floor, but he didn't move from his spot. Instead, he stood there looking at me with a smile on his face.

"What?" I finally asked.

"Just thinking that is quite possibly the sexiest thing anyone has ever said to me," he replied before stepping back to catch the doors before they could close.

I shook my head and allowed him to lead me down the hallway, my hand still firmly encased in his. When we reached the door to his loft, it swung open and Alexis stood there with a smile on her face.

"You're here!"

Her eyes immediately dropped to our joined hands, but before I could pull away, Castle tugged me over the threshold.

"It smells delicious, honey. Did you cook?" Castle asked.

"You said Kate was joining us, dad. Of course, I cooked."

Alexis closed the door behind us and then walked around to face us again. With a raised eyebrow, she looked from Castle, to our joined hands, and then up to me.

"Is there something you want to tell me?"

I finally pulled my hand free from Castle's, my eyes locking on Alexis'. This wasn't exactly how we had planned on telling her; having decided to ease into the conversation as opposed to just blurting it out.

"Alexis…" I began, only to be cut off by Castle.

"She's afraid you won't approve."

Alexis' jaw dropped in surprise as I turned to glare at Castle.

"Then it's true?" Alexis asked, finally finding her voice, her expression for once unreadable.

Choosing to ignore Castle for the moment, I turned my attention to Alexis.

"Yes, but…" I said.

Alexis squealed in delight as she stepped into my embrace, her arms going around my waist and pulling me into a hug. Recovering quickly from my surprise, my arms went around her as well.

"I thought dad was just yanking my chain when he told me that he'd finally taken my advice. I've been telling him for months that you're perfect for him…for us."

Castle smiled at me over Alexis' head, his expression clearly saying, 'I told you so.' I gave him an eye roll in response. He could have mentioned that fact to me instead of letting me worry needlessly.

Alexis was still smiling when she pulled back to meet my gaze.

"When he told me that he and Brenda had called it quits, I hoped he would find a way to convince you of that."

"Are you sure you're okay with this?" I asked her.

"Are you kidding?" she replied. "I'm thrilled."

Relief flooded my body, and I finally relaxed, glad that Castle had been right about her reaction. I might even give him the benefit of letting him hear me say it later…after smacking him for withholding information, of course.

"I made ravioli," Alexis said as she looped an arm through mine and started towards the kitchen.

"I love ravioli."

"I know," she replied. "Dad told me."

Castle merely shrugged as he fell into step beside us. It wasn't until Alexis moved to pull the food from the oven that he spoke again.

"Proof positive that she's my daughter," he whispered as he draped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me to his side to whisper in my ear. "She thinks you're as wonderful as I do."

His lips brushed my cheek and I smiled as I wrapped my arm around his waist and leaned into his side. Now this was something I could definitely get used to.

Our food had arrived by the time I finished telling the story and Lanie was smiling over a bite of eggs.

"You guys are just so cute together," she finally said.

"Sadly, Brenda disagrees with you," I told her.

"I thought we'd heard the last of Brenda once Castle sent her packing."

"So did I," I replied. "She apparently thought there were some things that still needed to be said though. Unfortunately, she decided that the entire dinner crowd at Balthazar needed to hear them."

"She didn't?"

I merely nodded my head, the memory, by far, the least pleasant one I had of Castle's ex-girlfriend.

I stepped into the restaurant and glanced around for Alexis and Castle. Traffic had been a nightmare and because of that, I was now twenty minutes late for dinner as opposed to the five that I'd originally told them when I'd called from the precinct. Spotting them at a table in the corner, I made my way over.

I dropped a kiss on Alexis' head before settling in the chair next to Castle.

"Sorry I'm late."

"Is everything okay?" Castle asked, his hand finding mine beneath the table and squeezing gently.

"Last minute finishing touches on the paperwork," I explained, turning my hand over beneath his and interlocking our fingers. "Then I got caught in traffic."

"Dad already ordered for us," Alexis offered. "Is that okay?"

"We've shared enough meals that I think I can trust him," I told her.

I caught Castle's smile out of the corner of my eye and gave his hand a squeeze, silently thanking him for his thoughtfulness. He reciprocated; his thumb drawing circles on the back of my hand as we fell into comfortable conversation; Alexis filling us in on her plans with Mark for the upcoming weekend.

Castle's timing had been perfect; it wasn't long before the server arrived with our food: the roasted chicken with morels, potatoes and Swiss chard coming to rest in front of me. My mouth watered at the smell of it and I turned to Castle with a wink.

"Nice touch with the veggies, Castle. You're learning."

"I'm trying," he replied, lifting our joined hands to his mouth and pressing a kiss to the back of my hand and then leaning in to press one to my cheek as well.

He had no sooner released my hand then I heard a familiar icy voice to my left.

"Well isn't this just cozy?" Brenda stated as she stopped next to our table. "The great Richard Castle and his illustrious muse out for dinner with their beloved daughter."

Castle's tone was calm as he met her gaze.

"Brenda, don't."

She ignored him, instead turning her attention to me.

"Tell me, Kate, did you have to call him this time or did he run straight to your bed after dumping me?"

Alexis' eyebrows shot up at that, her eyes darting between the three of us before finally coming to rest on me. I felt Castle stir beside me and turned in his direction for the briefest of moments. Our eyes locked, silent words flowing between us as I placed a hand on his forearm, assuring him that I would handle this situation.

"You two deserve each other," Brenda continued. "Nikki Heat indeed. What kind of a name is that anyway? Is she some kind of hooker turned…"

"That's enough," I said.

I was on my feet in a flash, one hand on Brenda's elbow, the other on her shoulder turning her towards the door. Seeing the manager approaching out of the corner of my eye, I turned my body enough that he could see the badge still clipped to my waist; stopping him in his tracks.

"This is harassment," Brenda stated, her voice carrying through the now silent restaurant.

"No," I whispered, my voice controlled. "This is me keeping you from causing a scene and getting yourself arrested."

"This is entirely your fault," she hissed, turning to look at me over her shoulder.

Ignoring her protests, I led her out the front door, stopping only when we were several feet away from the door. As soon as I released my grip on her, she whirled around to face me, a sharp edge in her voice.

"You think that just because he dedicated a book to you that it's okay for you to swoop in and steal him from me?" she retaliated. "Rick and I were good together. We could've made things work if you would've left him alone. But you couldn't do that, could you? No, you were always there…texting him, calling him, taking his daughter out for 'girl time'. You said you didn't want him, but you sure weren't going to let somebody else have him, were you?"

"Was it some kind of bizarre power trip for you?" she continued. "To call him in the middle of the night, knowing full well that he was with me, and ask him to come over and help you work on a case? And then to have the audacity to insult me at lunch the following day, parading your hold on him in front of me like some prized possession."

"I understand that you're angry, Brenda," I told her. "I get that. And I am truly sorry that you got hurt in all of this. However, regardless of how upset you are – how much you feel entitled to blast Rick and me – you have absolutely no right to bring it up in front of, or to attack Alexis."

Her eyes narrowed and she opened her mouth, but I cut her off before she had a chance to say anything else.

"No! You've had your say and now you're going to listen to me," I said as I took a step closer to her, my three inch height advantage forcing her to look up at me. "You're going to get in a cab and forget that you saw us tonight. More than that, you're going to stay away from them. Is that understood?"

"You can't threaten me like this," she retaliated.

"This isn't a threat," I assured her. "It's a promise. Stay away from them or I will make your life a living hell."

Her eyes widened in shock and I narrowed mine, arching one eyebrow as I rested my hands on my hips and glared at her.

After a long moment in which I wondered if I was actually going to have to arrest her for being a public nuisance, she snorted and shook her head.

"You two really do deserve each other," she spat out. "I sure hope you're happy together because God knows you're incapable of allowing each other to be happy with anyone else."

She turned on her heel and marched away then, stopping only when she reached the street where another woman was standing beside a cab, the back door open waiting for Brenda to join her. I watched as the woman ushered Brenda into the cab, then turned her gaze toward me, giving me an icy stare before hopping in after her. I waited until the cab pulled away from the curb before taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.

After allowing myself a moment to calm down, I turned to head back into the restaurant, only slightly surprised to find Castle standing just outside the entrance, his eyes watching me carefully.

I shook my head as I made my way over to him; he merely shrugged.

"I don't like the idea of you not having backup," he said before I could say anything. "Ryan and Esposito would disown me if they found out I let you enter a potentionally dangerous situation without at least following you to call for help should the circumstances warrant it."

Placing my hand on his forearm, I gave him an affectionate squeeze.

"I'll let it slide, but just this once."

He smiled and took my hand in his, looping it under his arm and turning us back towards the restaurant. Once we were back inside, he leaned down, his mouth mere inches from my ear.

"By the way, Bex," he whispered. "That whole scene back there…so incredibly hot."

I couldn't help but laugh even as I shook my head. Only Castle.

When we reached the table, Alexis looked up expectantly.


I rested my hand on her shoulder as Castle slid into his seat.

"I'm sorry you had to witness that, Alexis."

"Did you arrest her?" Alexis asked, her eyes wide at the possibility.

I shook my head and settled into my seat at Castle's side.

"No," I assured her.

"But you made her leave?" she asked, her gaze darting between her father and I.

"I did," I confirmed. "This isn't exactly the ideal setting for the conversation she wanted to have."

Alexis nodded and then a slow smile spread across her face as she turned her attention to Castle.

"See, dad? I told you that Kate is perfect for you. If she can handle Brenda without blinking an eye, the rest of your crazy fans don't stand a chance."

Castle and I both laughed, the tension from the confrontation draining away. It wasn't long before the two of them were regaling me with stories of some of the more "interesting" fans they'd dealt with over the years and how much better suited I was to deal with them than the security teams who'd been charged with the job.

Dinner passed comfortably after that and it wasn't until we were alone in his bedroom later that night that Castle brought up the subject again.

"Thank you for earlier," he said as he wrapped his arms around me from behind, his hands sliding under my shirt and coming to rest on the bare skin of my stomach.

I arched an eyebrow as I glanced at him over my shoulder.


He nodded and leaned down to place a kiss against my neck.

"It's one thing for her to take her anger out on me. It's entirely different when it happens in front of Alexis."

Turning in his embrace, I wrapped my arms around his neck.

"Agreed," I said, pressing my body against his, wanting to forget the whole mess. "But no more talk about Brenda…unless you want to elaborate on exactly how hot you thought it was."

He grinned as his hands slid down to cup my ass, pulling me even closer.

"Even hotter than the day of our disastrous lunch date," he said as he led us towards his bed. "Because I knew that this time, there was a good chance we would end up here when it was all said and done."

"You're incorrigible."

"Yes," he readily agreed as sat on the edge of the bed and pulled me between his legs. "But you love me anyway."

"I do," I assured him with a soft kiss to his lips before proceeding to show him exactly how much.

Lanie looked at me in disbelief.

"What?" I asked.

"You're serious?" she prompted. "Castle's ex really showed up at Balthazar and caused a scene? And you forcefully removed her from the premises?"

At my nod, Lanie shook her head, her bewilderment evident in her voice.

"Talk about crazy. Was she really so delusional that she couldn't see what was right in front of her? Surely their breakup didn't come as a surprise to her. Dear god, one only has to spend five minutes in the room with you and Castle to know that there's something there. The eye sex alone should have given her a clue. The way you two look at each other…surely she wasn't so oblivious as to not be able to see that?"

"I don't think it was so much as being oblivious as it was denial," I offered. "Heck, Castle and I were both doing a pretty good job with the denial. Why should Brenda have been any different?"

"Yes, but at least you and Castle were both aware of the fact that you were in denial," Lanie countered. "Brenda, on the other hand…well, the fact that Castle was keeping Alexis away from her should have been more than enough of a clue."

"Maybe to those of us who really know him," I said. "For her part, I can see how it would be easy to convince herself that Castle was just being overly cautious, wanting to shelter his daughter until he was sure about where things were going."

Lanie's eyes widened at that.

"Are you defending her?"

"Absolutely not," I replied. "Her actions at the restaurant were reprehensible and if she had refused to leave, I wouldn't have hesitated to arrest her. All I'm saying is that I can understand wanting to convince herself that what she was seeing wasn't the reality of her situation. We all do some crazy things when we're in love. Rick and I surely did."

Lanie's lips twitched in an effort to hold back a grin. Narrowing my eyes, I met her gaze.


She shrugged one shoulder nonchalantly.

"It's rather amusing hearing you refer to him as Rick," she teased. "He's been 'Castle' for so long that it's going to take a little getting used to."

I couldn't help but smile. He was still Castle, but he was so much more than just Castle now.

At my silence, Lanie reached for her water glass, her gaze steady on me as she took a sip and then carefully returned the glass to the table.

"Don't think I didn't notice how you didn't bother to correct Brenda when she referred to Alexis as 'your' daughter, either."

"I already told you that spending time with Alexis is like having the little sister I always wanted," I told her.

"And you're going to sit there and tell me that your relationship with her hasn't changed at all since you and Castle started dating?"

My eyes dropped to my own water glass, my thoughts drifting back to that first "girl's day" we'd shared since Castle and I had stopped fighting our feelings for each other. I'd been more than a little nervous that our new roles in each other's lives would affect the bond we'd crafted with each other to this point.

Finally lifting my eyes back to Lanie's, I offered her a shrug.

"I'll admit that I was a bit nervous on that first girl's only outing to the Met."

"Tell me about it," Lanie encouraged.

Castle sat watching me with an amused smile as I paced idly around his office.

"What has got you so wired today?" he finally asked after I picked up and returned yet another book to its shelf.

His voice caused me to jump and I shook my head as turned my back to him.


He made his way around the desk until he was standing behind me; his hands coming to rest on my shoulders.

"Talk to me, Bex."

Forcing myself to relax, I let out a deep breath.

"What if Alexis starts to see me as just another one of your girlfriends instead of just me?" I blurted out.

His hands soothed down my arms, easing me back against his chest as he entwined our fingers together. I leaned into the embrace, taking comfort from merely being in his arms. When he finally spoke, his voice was serious.

"You know that I would never ask you for anything you're not comfortable giving, right?" he asked.

I tensed at that and attempted to turn in his embrace but his arms gripped me tightly.

"Rick, I never meant…"

"I know," he replied. "I know. But here's the thing, Kate; I need you to know that I'm not trying to change you and neither is Alexis."

He paused for a moment.

"Just keep doing what you were doing before; have your girl time, take her to lunch, help her with her homework, talk to her about boys…just be her friend. It doesn't have to change. I don't want that part of your relationship to and I'm quite certain that Alexis doesn't either."

For the first time since I'd arrived at the loft that morning, I actually felt myself relax.

"Okay," I replied. "I can do that."

We stood there, content to merely hold one another, until Alexis bounded into the room.

"Are you ready, Kate?" she asked.

Forcing myself from Castle's embrace, I offered her a smile.

"Absolutely," I replied.

Castle moved to give her a hug.

"Have a good time, sweetie."

Alexis smiled up at him as she returned his embrace.

"Always, dad."

I waited until they'd separated before stepping over and pressing a kiss to Castle's cheek. He caught my hand in his and gave it a reassuring squeeze as he winked at me.

"I'm cooking dinner," he reminded us. "So don't wait too late to have lunch."

"We won't," Alexis reassured him. She then looped her arm in mine and led me to the door, chatting the entire way. "I hear that the Levi Levinstein exhibit is amazing. I can't wait to see it."

Hearing Castle's chuckle as he followed us to the door, I lifted my hand in farewell, confident that things were exactly as they should be.

"We had a great time at the Met that afternoon," I told Lanie. "The Levi Levinstein exhibit was fantastic and we spent over an hour in that one exhibit. Over lunch, we discussed Mark and the summer exchange program and everything felt exactly as it had before things changed between Castle and me. Well, except maybe the fact that I wasn't worried about accidentally letting it slip that I had feelings for her dad."

There was a twinkle in Lanie's eyes when she looked at me.

"And the fact that after dinner with them that night, you retired to Castle's bed instead of home to your empty apartment?" she teased.

"There was that," I agreed with a sheepish grin. "What can I say? It feels natural to be there with them, Lanie.

"And it only took you several years."

We shared a laugh and when we finally sobered, I changed the subject.

"So tell me what's been going on with you. Don't think I haven't noticed an extra spring in your step the last couple of weeks. What's his name?"

To my delight, Lanie blushed and lowered her gaze from mine. It took several minutes, but I was finally able to wheedle Esposito's name from her, and the smile on her face when she confided in me had me hoping that things would work out as well for the two of them as they had for Castle and me.

Before I knew it, nearly two hours had passed and we were bidding one another goodbye with the promise to do it again in a couple of weeks.

I watched as Lanie disappeared around the corner and then glanced at my watch. Deciding that it wasn't too late, I hailed a cab. "5th Avenue and 84th," I told the driver as I sent Castle a quick text, letting him know I was on my way.

The cab ride uptown was quicker than I'd anticipated, the Saturday morning traffic unusually light. After paying the fare, I stepped out and glanced around, finding them easily with Castle's laughter ringing through the air and Alexis' fiery hair causing her to stand out amongst the browns and golds of the autumn trees.

"Thanks for waiting for me," I said as I joined them.

"We didn't think you were going to be able to join us this afternoon," Alexis said as the three of us fell into step together.

"Are you kidding?" I replied as Castle's hand found mine and intertwined our fingers together. "I love Central Park during the fall."

We walked for several minutes, the conversation flowing easily between us as we admired the beautiful colors of nature, Alexis stopping every once in a while to take pictures for her photojournalism class. We were discussing our upcoming trip to the Hamptons when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that several people had stopped and were watching us.

Trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, I glanced around. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, I turned my attention back to Castle and Alexis.

We were once again laughing, my shoulder pressed into Castle's side as we walked when I noticed another couple watching us intently. Instinct had me tensing and Castle noticed immediately.

"What is it, Bex?"

"People are staring."

Castle laughed softly.

"It's because you're gorgeous."

I rolled my eyes even as I shook my head.

"No, Castle. They're not staring at me and it's not the usual staring you get when people recognize you. This is different. It's like they're staring at the three of us."

He offered me a soft smile.

"Let them stare, Kate. I'm sure they're just people watching."

Choosing to accept his explanation, I nodded and then pulled my hand from his, stepping over to the fountain where Alexis was snapping another photograph. I stopped beside her, pulling an errant leaf from where it had caught in her hair. She smiled her thanks before turning her attention back to the two birds bathing in the fountain.

There was an elderly couple sitting on the bench beside the fountain and the lady looked up at me with a smile when I stepped back to watch Alexis.

"You have a beautiful family, dear," she said softly. "It reminds me of when we were younger and would bring our son to the park."

I started to correct her, but then I caught sight of Castle posing for Alexis. He was making faces at the camera, causing Alexis to laugh even as she protested that he was ruining her shot. Catching my eye, he held out his hand.

"Come pose with me, Bex."

Turning my attention back to the elderly couple, I gave her a bright smile.

"Thank you."

With that, I rejoined Castle and Alexis and as our laughter echoed throughout the park, my thoughts drifted to what she had said. There was a time when imagining myself as a part of Castle's family terrified me. However, what the lady had said was true. I did have a beautiful family. Realizing how close I'd come to losing them only made me that much more appreciative of what we'd built.

Acting on impulse, I reached for Alexis' camera.

"Go stand by your dad," I instructed her.

When they were situated, I turned to the lady and held out the camera.

"Would you mind?" I asked with a shy smile.

"It would be my pleasure," she agreed.

"First family portrait," I said, responding to their unasked question with a wink as I quickly moved to take my place beside Castle. Alexis centered herself in front of us and we each rested a hand on her shoulders, smiling as the woman took several shots before finally handing the camera back to me.

I thanked her again as Castle slid his arm around my waist, while Alexis reclaimed her camera and ran ahead, calling for us to follow.

"That's our cue," I said with a laugh and the elderly woman smiled.

"Goodbye, dear. Enjoy the day with your family."

I bid her farewell before we joined Alexis, the three of us content to spend the day together.

It wasn't until later that night that I finally saw the photographs. I made my way to Caste's bed after having watched a movie with Alexis, surprised to find him gazing down at the camera.

"Did Lex get any good shots?" I asked him as I quickly slipped into my sleeping shorts and a t-shirt before making my way to the bed.

"Quite a few actually," he replied, raising his arm to allow me to cuddle into his side. "I wasn't even aware she took some of these."

Together we studied the photographs of our afternoon in the park. There was one of me with my mouth open in laughter at something Castle must have said; another with Castle playfully tugging at my ponytail; and several of the two of us with our hands joined, gazes locked on one another as we leaned close together.

When we reached the shots the elderly woman had taken, I placed my hand on Castle's arm. In the photo, Castle's head dipped slightly to press against mine as we both gripped Alexis; our smiles radiating from the screen, three matching expressions of joy frozen in time.

Castle's gaze met my eyes then and I gave him a soft smile.

"It's certainly been quite the ride, hasn't it, Bex?" he murmured as he moved to kiss my lips.

"That it has," I acknowledged, my eyes once again drawn to the photograph.

His lips trailed along my cheek, leaving gentle kisses in their wake before he moved to whisper in my ear.

"Here's to family."

I brought my eyes back to his, a smile tugging at my lips.

"To family."

The End

I hope you guys enjoyed the ride as much as I did. It would be nice to hear from you if you did.

Harley, your present is complete.

AC & Bugg, best groupies ever.

Softer, if you're still reading, it's your turn again.

IMW, again, thank you.