Kate came to consciousness slowly, the strong scent of coffee pulling her pleasingly to wakefulness. When her eyes finally opened she could see Rick's face as he grinned at her over the rim of the steaming coffee cup. This was a weekend morning routine that never got old. Those few days when she was able to sleep in, Rick almost always seemed to wake before her to slip out of bed and return with a cup of delicious wakefulness.
The act had been one of the high points in his arsenal of reasons for her to move in months before. It had taken her a while to relent, not that they had spent many nights apart, but looking back she couldn't see them any other way than they were right now.
As she slid up to lean against the headboard and took the cup from his hands, she spotted the shiny red and green wrapped present in his other hand and rolled her eyes at him. She knew something was coming today and despite her rolling eyes, she couldn't quell the sudden increase in her heart rate. She had been counting the days since she knew Castle would have been counting them as well.
True to her instructions a year ago today, he hadn't brought up much in the way of permanence besides his not so subtle hinting after a month that she should move in that lead to an eventual onslaught of nearly epic proportions including a rather juvenile PowerPoint presentation on the big screen in place of movie night six months before. She may have thought it was cute as hell, but she had refused to admit it to him and actually let him get through his entire presentation complete with twenty minutes of puppy dog looks and an over-dramatized pouty lip before she caved. He didn't stop grinning for three days.
Now, months later, he was still living up to the fourth slide in his presentation with the steaming cup of caffeinated goodness cradled delicately in both of her hands as she took a careful sip followed by a longer swallow when it was the perfect temperature to be hot without burning her. She should have been used to it after all the mornings he had managed to sneak away and bring her coffee in bed, but old habits die hard.
After that first long pull, she finally let her eyes travel back to the excited grin that Castle was wearing as he pulled up space on the bed beside her and folded one leg beneath the other so he could face her more directly. The package was still in his hand and she knew there was something significant inside the unassuming red and green wrapping.
She had been a little worried he would try something over Christmas, but her presents from him had been nothing in the way of presumptuous. She should have expected this a few days after Christmas, marking the one year point from the time she had told him he couldn't bring up anything of permanence for at least a year. However, as she let her eyes casually take in the package in Rick's hand she was relieved to see it was too large for a ring, so perhaps this was to be the shot across the bow. Maybe he was starting the same kind of subtle hint campaign that had lasted about four months between him first broaching the subject of her moving in and when he had finally convinced her that it was a good idea.
"Did Santa forget one?" she asked tilting her head slightly to indicate the gift in his hand and for a moment he looked at her with confusion. He seemed to finally remember he was holding something so gave a mere shrug to her question and then held the small box out to her. It was a rectangle, the size and shape not giving away any details about the present itself.
After taking another long drink from her coffee, dropping it to just below half empty, she held the mug out to him and he set it on the bedside table before handing the present over. The twinkle in his eyes was still there and she could tell that he seemed so pleased with himself over whatever was inside.
With her own, indulgent smile, she accepted the gift from him and then lost herself for a moment in his kiss as he momentarily distracted her from the task at hand. Finally, he pulled away from her lips, though it seemed a very reluctant move made of far more uncertainty than he had expressed previously.
Kate slipped a finger beneath the edge of the wrapping on one of the shorter sides, carefully pulling the gift wrap away from the present in that way he had previously expressed drove him crazy.
"It builds anticipation." she had explained when he grumbled that she should just tear the paper and despite how much she wanted to fall right in line with his way of thinking, she found herself intentionally procrastinating through any and all presents he gave her.
This one, however, wasn't something she was sure she wanted to see at all. The man had a way of getting under her skin in ways she'd never known before and while he had respected her 'nothing elaborate' rule for Christmas, his gifts to her had been heartfelt and impressively personal. Despite the fact that she had practically lived with him for the past year and officially so the last six months, she was still sometimes surprised by just how well the man knew her.
Castle continued to be an enigma to her, but a wonderful set of surprises to be sure. He had done something for her that no other man had put the effort into doing, and in hind sight it was such a simple thing. No one before him, however, had even tried to know her to the extent that he did, no one before had seemed interested in digging deeper than those surface details that she gave to everyone and perhaps a few sexual aspects and culinary favorites.
Castle was a cut above on that. He had her tastes and preferences down and even seemed to be able to gauge the type of mood a day set her in like he had some sixth sense that existed solely to read her. He tried to explain it to her when she had been baffled by it enough to bring it up one night. He explained that there were certain outfits she wore if she woke up in one kind of mood or another; there were small mannerisms she employed only under certain circumstances and in certain mindsets. He had describe the different ways she ate her lunch at mid-day and what each of them meant for whether he needed to cheer her up, cool her down or just leave her alone.
To her surprise, the man was obviously right, because he seemed to know what she needed and when and that was what he would become in those moments. The rest of the time, however, when he wasn't defusing a situation with her, he had changed over the year in subtle ways himself. Love made him soft, not that he hadn't been two shots of pressurized air away from being a marshmallow already, but it was something different. It wasn't immediately obvious, though she did spot the change in the way he looked at her or just the way he looked. Love had given him something that seemed to lift a weight from his shoulders and left Mr. Carefree Exuberance in rare and spectacular form on more than one occasion.
She had nearly decked him when he'd followed through on his promise that he would shout his love for her from the rooftops so there was no mistaking that he wasn't a single available man anymore. That, after she had an admittedly ridiculous reaction to some crap published about him in some garbage rag gossip magazine. Still, she had to explain, in rather harsh words and a very firmly poked finger in his ribs, that the rooftop of the precinct where she had to work every day was not the ideal location for him to find roof access to do as he had proclaimed. Castle had merely shrugged her off, explaining, "They already know, it's the rest of the world that's still in the dark."
It had been the thing that shattered her last issue with them keeping their relationship out of the papers and out of the public eye. It hadn't taken long, as Castle had assured her, for the paparazzi to grow tired of them being boring together and move on to the next drug addicted star or party animal. She still had yet to admit to him that he was right about that and it had been nearly ten months since that particular conversation.
Thinking about where they had been a year ago left her feeling a little uneasy. They had gone from friends to lovers who were in love, or at least finally willing to cop to it out loud with each other, so quickly that sometimes she thought back and wondered if they had missed out on some things. There had been no real dating until they had been together for a few months. They had both been a mess and going out in public was not their idea of a good time. Still, thinking back she wondered if they had missed out, especially with her moving into his place.
It still shocked her sometimes to think of the loft as her home. She had never been the type to move in with another person. On more than one occasion a man had gotten close enough to her that he practically lived in her apartment, but it had never worked the other way around before Castle. Before he showed her that there was no need for home field advantage because he wouldn't let her push him away any more than he was willing to let her walk away. That had been in his little slide show, too, the only slide that had left her feeling almost nauseous as the statements swam before her on the large projection screen.
He had promised not to let her push him away and to always chase her when she ran. It was as if he was already planning for the moment when she would try to fight against all of this. It was a little disheartening, but she was able to talk herself out of making an issue of it under the knowledge of exactly how true the line of thinking had been. She had only run once and it hadn't really been him she was trying to get away from. Still, despite how he'd done nothing wrong, Rick followed through on his promise to always come after her. After having a mini-meltdown (that she can look back on now and realize was an over-reaction) from feeling like she was part of a family again and being shocked in that realization, she had left almost mid conversation over dessert one night.
Rick had found her and she'd surprised herself by feeling relief over the frustration she had been certain would be present if he imposed on her quest for solitude.
"It's alright to be scared." he informed her as his not so quiet footsteps approached on the rough gravel roofing near her perch overlooking the city.
"I'm not scared." she had denied almost immediately, not needing to see his expression to know that he was looking on her with disbelief. When he remained silent and slipped up behind where she was sitting, resting strong hand on her shoulders, she felt them sag beneath the warm touch. "I'm not." she tried defending.
"It's alright." he reiterated, though she hadn't been sure if he meant it as acceptance of her fear or her denial. Either way, he was right, but she wasn't ready to admit it.
Castle's breath against her hair, seeping through the strands to tingle against her scalp pulled her out of her own thoughts more than the words he was speaking as he explained. "I'm sure I know what's going on in that head of yours." his tone was soft, though his words seemed mocking and she had to fight to not take them at face value. "It's not necessary, though."
"What are you talking about?" she'd asked, not sure until that moment just how much faith she'd had in him and his perception of her. She found herself turning to him more often than not in matters such as this and he never disappointed. He had an ability to look at her life and reactions objectively and come up with a theory that seemed to fit. Unlike his take on crime scenes, however, these thoughts shared with her, usually under cover of night, were enough to expand that warm fluttering in her chest and ease her worries. She'd found herself hoping he would that time as well.
"We're just being a family, Kate." he'd explained. "They care about you nearly as much as I do and they just want to include you in things."
Kate felt the heat in her cheeks as she thought about the way she had walked away from all three of them a short time ago and how that must have felt to both the older and younger women in Castle's life. "I didn't mean anything by that." she finally managed to breathe into the cooling night air.
"Hmm." he agreed wordlessly before giving her shoulders a squeeze and leaning fully into her back, suffusing her with warmth she hadn't realized she'd been missing up on the roof. "They know."
Her quiet gasp had him wrapping his arms fully around her as she let herself melt back into his embrace, closing her eyes against the glittering city lights and counting his heartbeats vibrating against her back as she tried to wrap her brain around everything that had changed. "I don't think I know how to do this, Castle." she finally admitted, her tone as unsure as she had ever heard it echoed in her ears above the distant sounds of the street traffic below them.
Castle's laugh against her shook their bodies as if they were one and had her twisting to get away from him so she could try to read exactly what he was thinking in his expression. He didn't release her, but tightened his arms and leaned down to press his lips along her neck. When he shifted back it was only as far as her cheek before he whispered, "Of course you don't." as if it were the most natural and obvious thing in the world. "No one expects you to know where you stand when your center of gravity has been shifting for so long."
It had taken her a long quiet moment to decipher exactly what this crazy man was talking about, but when she did she had to chuckle, too. Why should she have expected everyone to think she would master this on the first try? She knew she put too much pressure on herself, but this was being a little ridiculous. The first reference to them being her family and she was running scared, but to hear Castle tell it, they had been expecting this for at least some time.
"We still love you." he explained softly, his tone nearly silent, words floating the short distance from where they were quietly spoken against the skin of her cheek. It was so quiet she wondered if she was supposed to have even heard it, but it had been enough.
"Let's go home." she'd told him, finally succeeding in pulling herself away enough to stand up and take his hand in hers.
Love, they hadn't gone back on their use of that word in the previous year, no matter how much she had felt the need to back pedal after the pain killers wore off. She was still amazed at her own restraint for not shutting him out that first day her doubts shifted through so strong that she was nearly sick with it. Then, to hear it as a group statement to encompass more than the changes between just him and her, had pushed her resolve not to fight this. It was love and she felt it, too. It was family and she had to stop running from the one thing she had thought she wanted since it was stripped away from her so long ago.
That night, on the roof, she'd finally let herself fall without restrictions, fall without limits and without skipping all the labels that had been swimming in her mind, dangerously mocking her with negativity. That night she went home with the man she loved to the two women she loved as her own family and gave them something she had been keeping in her heart for so long that it almost hurt to release it. That affection that had been stripped away by brutality when she was just a teenager was found again and shared in dozens of ways over the past several months.
She and Martha took to having lunch sometimes when she had a day off and she found she enjoyed the company of the quirky older woman. She'd had to work a little harder to build something with Alexis, but to her surprise it had only taken a couple months before the teen would walk into the living room while Kate was reading and drop onto the couch beside her. At first it felt too close, but as Kate forced herself to stop fighting it, she got used to the feel of the smaller woman burrowing into her side or dropping a head to her lap and rehashing a particularly grueling day at school. Not only used to it, but those became some of her favorite times Castle's daughter. The moments they could steal away for just the two of them.
Still, despite how comfortable she was and how intensely positive she became that this was what forever was supposed to feel like, the present in her hands slowly being unraveled still unnerved her. She didn't know if she was more concerned that it would be a declaration of his intent for a permanent future together or that it wouldn't be. She had spent the past couple of weeks convinced that he had something up his sleeve for today and had managed to work herself up over it just a bit.
Lanie had taken to giving her crap about it on a near daily basis and the more her friend needled her about wanting that permanence, the more she was convinced that she was right. Still, the thought of what all of this meant was enough to leave her hands slightly shaky as she finished with the paper and pulled it back from the plain white box beneath the wrapping.
She wouldn't have put it past him to hide a box in another one, he'd proven his proficiency with quadruple wrapping presents to keep Alexis guessing just a few days before on Christmas and as a result of watching the nesting doll style of wrapping he had employed, she was still nervous about what might lie under the unassuming flap of cardboard.
The tension in her chest coiled tighter as she flicked her gaze up to his for the briefest of glances to notice he was intently focused on how her finger was slowly moving beneath the lid to open the package. His expression was nearly unreadable, almost blank but it seemed to be hiding an undercurrent of nervous energy that he was trying to rein in. That didn't help her at all. He had been like an excited toddler all through Christmas morning as he watched with joy as presents he had chosen were opened. He seemed to find more joy in watching his gifts to others be enjoyed than he had been in opening his own presents.
It was something that still made her smile because she might not have believed it if she hadn't seen it herself. He was such a kid sometimes that she had expected that excitement to be focused on tearing into his own packages.
When his eyes shifted back up to her face, she quickly averted hers back to the task at hand and made the move to pop the tape on the last side holing her box closed. With shallow breaths her only option from the tightening in her chest, she carefully pulled back the lid to reveal the contents inside.
A mixture of relief and disappointment filled her as her eyes fell on the item gently nestled on a veritable nest of tissue paper as if it were a priceless artifact. The moment lasted but the space of a blink before she felt laughter bubble in her throat and escape into the room as she fell forward into his chest, disregarding the box for a moment to place a quick kiss on Castle's neck. "Really?" she asked him, sarcasm nearly dripping from the single world as she leaned back and reached into the box to pull the pink collar free from its packaging.
"What?" he asked, his tone as fake innocent as she had ever heard it. "You said we could get a dog and I always figured you'd be the type to like a big dog over a little one named Princess Buttercup or something."
She was about to chastise him for his assumption that her statement on talking about it in a year was permission when the feel of cold metal hit her fingers and she realized the collar already had a dog tag on it. She almost groaned at the thought that not only had he made this decision but he had either already given the dog some ridiculous name or he'd already bought it and this was just how he was presenting it too her. She figured it would be the first if anything and looked up at him with a subdued eye roll as she felt the weight of the collar in her hands and let her fingers find the rough patch where the dog's name was engraved. "If you named this dog Darth Vader, you can just forget about me ever agreeing to its existing outside the realm of your imagination."
His exaggerated look of feigned shock was enough to bring the lightness back as the tightness in her chest finally eased completely. She felt him shift on the bed beside her as she returned her gaze to the collar in her palm. Instead of a standard oval, circle, or even dog bone shape, it was a simple silver heart. She smirked at the man's ridiculous sense of romance as he tried to ply her with a little heart on a pink collar and flipped the tag over to read the inscription.
Kate's breath caught in her throat as her eyes finally adjusted to read the tiny cursive print. Her gaze shot to him to find that the shift in the mattress she had felt a moment before was Castle rising up slightly on the knee he had folded on the bed between them.
Rick stayed there, poised in silence, his eyes searching hers for a long moment before her gaze fell to the small velvet box open in his hand between them. Light from the open curtain caught the stones in the ring, making it sparkle as if it were glowing just for her, just for this moment and she felt the need to look away. Searching out his eyes again she was relieved to see the air of nervousness surrounding him as he waited silently for her answer.
Her mind was awash in swirling thoughts and conflicting emotions, but one thing stuck in the forefront. That brief moment of disappointment spoke volumes to how much she had been expecting this and had been just a bit crushed when it wasn't what had happened.
Following his lead, Kate finally managed a watery smile, surprised but not embarrassed by the moisture gathering in her eyes as she gave him an answer just as silent as the proposal had been. The tiny nod was enough to pull a huge smile from his lips. With hands that looked more than a little unsteady, Castle pulled the simple ring from its perch between the folds of black velvet and caught her eyes for a long moment as he gently moved it into position on her finger.
She shouldn't have been surprised that it was a perfect fit or that it was not some giant monstrosity verging on the ridiculous, but she was. The simplicity of the cut, the way it lay nearly flush in the setting showed just how much he knew about her. It was the type of ring she could put under a pair of rubber gloves and that simple act of skipping the chance to flaunt his wealth with ornate and unnecessary decoration in favor of something she would likely not take off even to work was more than enough to bring that warm glow back into her chest and spill the twin tears of joy out of her eyes.
The ring box was quickly discarded in favor of his hands being free to frame her face, thumbs wiping gently at the tears as he leaned in to touch his mouth to hers. It was a simple kiss, something small and careful, but a promise nonetheless. She felt his smile against her lips a moment before he pulled back to look into her eyes. "I love you, Kate."
His smile was bright and more free than she had seen it in weeks as if he had been carrying a weight with him. Perhaps he hadn't been sure of her answer, but something in her was surprised by that. "I love you, Rick." she parroted back, watching the joy overtake him before passion filled his eyes and he caught her mouth in a kiss far more heated than the one moments before.
It was several moments and many articles of clothing later when Castle's hand reached into the bedside table in a gesture that had become commonplace to them both over the past year. He stilled in his pursuit and she watched his brow scrunch in confusion as he felt inside the drawer before leaning over to peek inside. His expression was a mixture of amusement and delight as he pulled the little box from inside and flashed her a grin. "What's this?" he asked raising an eyebrow at her.
With a shrug and a forced nonchalance Kate let her eyes flick to the box and back to his face, "I just figured it was as good a day as any to mark as our anniversary." she explained, watching his eyes darken as that level of lust they had achieved ramped back up a bit. However, not having found what he'd gone to the drawer for, he pulled back after another heated kiss.
"Happy anniversary." he whispered, pulling in a breath and letting it out slowly. Finally, he managed to pull himself away from her enough to prop up on the bed on an elbow with the little box between them. "It's a watch." he guessed and she smiled at him. He had done this all through Christmas and was surprisingly accurate in his guesses nailing nearly two out of three.
She just smirked at his guess trying not to give away the answer and forcing herself to keep it together just a few moments longer. "Open it and see." was all she managed before letting her gaze drop to the box as if she were as interested in its contents as he was.
Kate watched as he tore into the paper, an act made more difficult by the fact her was trying to do it one handed. When he'd finally pulled away the paper to reveal a rectangular jewelry box his smug look was almost overbearing. Certain that she hadn't gotten him a necklace as the shape and size suggested as another option, he was obviously feeling very confident in his guess. Mouth dry with anticipation, Kate finally pulled her eyes away from the package as he grabbed it by the lid and shook gently to pull the top off one handed.
Her eyes reached his face and watched the subtle play of muscles beneath his skin as he smiled. She felt the moment the shaking stopped and knew it was finally open, but didn't move her eyes from his face. She watched as the smile dropped completely to be replaced with a slack-jawed expression that was almost completely blank, to the point of scaring her a little. She had just long enough to think that she shouldn't have given him this today before shocked eyes moved to hers and his face split in a grin that rivaled the one from a moment before.
"Seriously?" he asked, his voice pitched slightly higher than normal with surprise.
She could do nothing but nod before he was on her. His mouth claimed hers possessively as his hands roamed her skin before settling against her still flat midsection. She could feel the grin against her mouth at the contact and felt herself smiling in return. It was a short moment later before he seemed to regain himself and he pulled back to look down at her. "Are you sure?" he asked, his voice breaking slightly with the power of emotion bestowed upon them this morning.
She could only nod and a moment later she had to roll her eyes at his quirked eyebrow that signaled he was waiting for a real answer, "That's the fifth one and they're all about 99.9% accurate." it wasn't until he gave her a little glare that she realized that wasn't the answer to his question. She had to laugh at how serious he was, though thinking about it she'd had almost two weeks to adjust to the information. "No, I'm not 'sure'." she finally responded and watched his face fall almost immediately. "I'm thrilled." she amended quickly with a shy grin that felt odd to her.
The answer he had apparently been looking for was enough to have him pulling her into his chest, tightly. His eyes were suspiciously moist when he took a moment to pull back and gazes into hers before he leaned in to capture her lips again. Gentle kisses led to loving caresses progressed to passionate actions and resulted in both gift boxes being knocked out of bed.
His pink pet proposal lay beside her pregnancy test proclamation and neither was moved for several hours as the occupants of the bed lost themselves in each other and gave up any desire to leave the nest of warmth and comfort they had created together.
A/N: I know it took about a million years to get back to do this epilogue, so I hope you enjoyed it. Though it was likely not worth the wait considering it's been nearly a year. I hadn't intended this to be almost real time lapse of a year between end and epilogue, but it is what it is, I guess...
I know, I know, get to work on Your Last Day and Karma's Hand. I'm on it, but sick and busy so not sure on when that will happen. Soon, though.
Thanks again to everyone for reading.