XX.


"Hey." She whispered as he walked into the room, his breath coming in small fits from running down the hallway in search for her room. She was smiling, even though her arm was in a cast that went all the way up to her shoulder and the bruise in her cheek was showing in the form of a purple stain.

She was alive. Holy crap, she was alive and there were no more threats on her life, no more hanging by a thread. She was there, she was smiling and she was his.

The velocity of his steps surprised them both. In a second, he was leaning against her on the bed, his hands coming up to cradle her face as his mouth sought hers, a sense of urgency taking the two of them over. It was fire and ice, light and dark, pain and pleasure. It was the kind of kiss made of pure, hollywoodesque mirth. Their tongues came out to play almost immediately — tasting, probing, teasing, loving. Their lips crashed together, the noses brushing one another as their heads moved, their breaths mingled, their hands (only one of Kate's) roamed. It was big and modest at the same time; it was joyful and filled with a quiet sense of relief, of abandon. It was everything.

It took them a couple of minutes to allow the kiss to fade, to catch their breaths and to pull back completely. The smiles on their faces were ridiculous, Kate would say. He'd probably say they looked like teenagers, but his tone would be kinder, almost proud. They'd laugh at it, later. They'd also sigh in relief for the second chance they had been given.

"Castle." She whispered as she ran her fingers along his face.

"Yeah."

"You're sitting on my IV." She said with a chuckle and saw him jumping off the bed, looking around. She tugged on the plastic tube and placed it out of the way, while Castle seemed to get nervous and sat on the bed, almost out of Kate's reach. She rolled her eyes. "Oh come on. Get closer, would you?"

His face split in that smile she loved, the one that made his eyes wrinkle and her heart flutter. Good God, she was in love with this man. Madly so. But she needed to be sure he was, as well. She needed to be sure what he'd felt the day before wasn't a product of the stress, of the adrenaline of the case. She needed to be sure he'd want to stay.

"We need to talk." She whispered, her eyes turning to the window. It was still dark outside. What time was it, four, five in the morning?

She felt his hand clench hers, his fingers a little too forceful, too nervous. "Okay."

"I just —" Kate sighed, extracting her hand from his. She missed his warmth immediately, but forced herself to maintain her distance. "I know you were under stress yesterday. You thought I was going to die. Hell, I thought I was going to die. So I'm not holding you to the things you said."

He blinked at her, once, twice. What the hell was she saying? "Did they give you morphine or something? Are you high?"

She rolled her eyes at him, less than amused. She leaned back on the pillow, her face turning fully to the other side of the room. "I'm not joking, Castle."

"Well, neither am I." He affirmed, seemingly offended. "Are you seriously doing this? Are you trying to give me an out?"

The detective took a deep breath and flexed her fingers against the covers of the bed. She fiddled with the simple stitches on the sheet, avoiding his stare — something she couldn't quite do once he held her chin with two fingers and brought her face up to meet his.

"Kate, I don't want a way out of this. I don't need excuses, I don't want to go away. Yesterday was..." He cut himself off, smiling widely. "It was amazing. And it will be even more amazing when we don't have to rush back to the precinct and catch a bad guy." He cradled her face in his hands, her eyes finally meeting his. There was a small, hopeful smile on her face — but she was still scared, still waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it was partially his fault. He'd be damned if he didn't make her believe he'd stay. Because he would. He wouldn't leave her again.

"I'm not the same person I was when you left, you know?" She whispered, her eyes filling up with stubborn tears. "I'm damaged goods."

He smiled widely, leaning in to press a kiss to the tip of her nose. She chuckled, allowing a few tears to fall and wiping them with her fingers.

"You're perfect." He whispered. "All of you. The scars and the tears and that smile and your eyes and your hands and your brain and —

She cut him off with a kiss so sweet, so tender that he wanted to melt into it. Her good hand came up to rest on his cheek, her thumb caressing the stubble that was already making its appearance.

"Alright." She smiled into the kiss. "But we take it slow, alright? One day at a time."

He pushed her back on the pillow, pressing his hands against the sides of her pillow. "However you want it, Kate."

She hummed her agreement into the kiss and pulling back suddenly.

"Castle." She called softly while he kissed down her jaw, over to her ear.

"Hmm?"

"You're on my IV again."


"Castle, come on! Gia's got everything ready." Kate called from the counter at Alla Luce. They were buying the Christmas gifts for their families — they were spending the holidays together at Casa de Castle, like the writer had started to call it, and there were still last minute presents to get.

Castle appeared from one of the middle aisles, each of his hands carrying a stack of books. Kate rolled her eyes. "Are you serious? You're already taking fourteen, no, fifteen books. You're adding those to the pile?"

He smiled like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Kate's stack of books — already wrapped and paid by herself — was sitting on the far side of the counter, ready for her to take home. His collection, however, kept getting larger and larger every time he went over to one of the shelves to get one little thing. "So? I like books."

"Rick, that's not liking books. That's hoarding." She said with a smile that had both Castle and Marco — who was just appearing from the living room — gasping in offense. She rolled her eyes and looke at Gia, who was watching the exchange with an amused smile. The woman stared at Kate and caressed her hand with the tips of her fingers.

"Boys will be boys, Caterina. Even with their books." She shrugged, moving to take Castle's books from the stack and start wrapping them.

"Oh, I know." The detective chuckled and Castle turned to Gia and Marco, who were searching for more wrapping paper beneath the register.

"Are you guys sure you don't want to come over? We have enough food and space for a football team." Castle had invited them over and over again, ever since Marco had gotten Kate her copy of The End of the Affair. He genuinely wanted to have that small Italian clan at home with them for Christmas — it felt like they were Kate's family. But apparently, they had some cousins coming in from New Jersey and wouldn't be able to make it.

"We would if we didn't have the Salemis coming over." Gia explained while she finished wrapping the last stack. "You know we wanted to, Richard."

Castle extended his credit card and paid for the insane amount of books he was carrying. Kate was distracted checking out the bookshelf at the living room, so Marco leaned forward and talked to the writer in a hushed voice.

"How's she been doing?"

Castle smiled. Their concern for Kate was part of the reason he wanted to buy so many books. I felt like he owed them a great deal for taking care of her, for keeping her alive and sane while he was off being unhappy in California. Buying all these books was the only way he could think of to repay them.

"She's doing okay." He replied with a glance to the detective across the room. "She's taking off the cast in a week, then it's just physical therapy and she'll be back on the field."

"We're glad you're here to take care of her, Rick." Marco said with a wide smile on his face. "She's much happier now."

He smiled. "So am I."


She picked the two small volumes from the shelf, running her fingers over the covers. It was a small edition, a limited one she had managed to buy when nobody knew about these. Two short stories from some guy who had only written those, and never been seen again. Two short stories about New York, about early summer afternoons, about a man and a woman who never seemed to get together.

She had read these when her father had been in surgery, and they had been her lifeline. She'd read them over and over again, the writing striking a chord within her, keeping her inside the story, being swayed by the words as if they were a mother's hand rocking the cradle. Like Rick's books once had, these two stories had brought her back to life.

A kiss on her neck pulled her from her reverie. Castle's arms wrapped around her waist and he pressed himself against her back, inhaling her scent. He still liked to tell her she smelled like cherries, nearly every day.

"Are you ready to go?" She asked, leaning back to kiss his cheek and quietly placing the two small books on the shelf. He looked at the spines and smiled, hiding his face in her hair for a moment. "What?"

"I'm ready. Let's go home." He whispered and she turned in his arms, kissing him softly.

"Let's."


fin


Author's note:

So I decided to cut it shorter. The epilogue ended up not being necessary, so I thought I'd finish the fic right here. I hope you like this ending — I sort of suck at writing fluff, so it was kind of hard for me. But I needed a distraction from some real-life problems, so I dove into this today.

I wanted to thank you all for the incredible support you've given me, while I was writing this story. Whether here or on Tumblr, or even on twitter, you guys were amazing. I'll never be able to thank you enough. This story is yours as much as it is mine.

I am already working on the prequel for this story. It was supposed to be a reeeeeeally long one-shot, but I might be turning it into a multi-chapter. I'm still not sure. I'm still not done with this universe.

Again, thank you so much for everything. A special thank you note goes out to my various beta readers: caffeine-faerie, Kari, Diana and Lina. You guys are unbelievably patient with me and my addiction to commas and semicolons.

I guess I'll see you around the webs, right? If you'd like to know more about the writing process and see me fangirl like a grown up (not really) follow my tumblr (luminous-lu) or my twitter (luminouslu).

I hope you have a wonderful rest of week. To my American friends and readers, have a lovely Thanksgiving! I'll see you all around

- Ana