Disclaimer: once again, I own nothing.
Author's Note: so here we are, the final part of the little series that was inspired by the first chapter of "To Kate". I had an absolute blast writing all of these stories, and I really do want to say thank you so much for all the lovely feedback – it's been phenomenal and I really do appreciate it all. I really hope this one lives up to the previous stories, and I'd love to hear what you think. I do have something else I'm working on which I hope I'll be able to post soon, so I hope everyone will keep an eye out for that. On a practical note, although I've just started watching season three, the disclaimer that this was written when I'd only seen season one still stands – whilst I've tweaked and edited it since, I've not changed any of the details so I've taken nothing past season one into account. If you haven't read the previous stories, they are "To Kate" and "Bound" (although the latter comes with a very definite M rating, it does have a large helping of relationship bundled in there despite the somewhat deceptive title/summary. If you haven't read it and you're comfortable with the M-rated stuff, I hope you'll give it a go because it's most definitely written in this universe). Neither story is essential to understand this one, but they were written to be read as a whole. That's enough from me – enjoy!
They are lying quietly in bed, heartbeats slowly returning to normal when Kate's cell phone vibrates across his nightstand, indicating the arrival of a message. She braces one hand on the mattress and reluctantly stretches across his body with her other arm, fingers wrapping round the offending object. Rick runs his fingers gently through her hair as she settles back against his side to read the message, tilting the screen up to show him when she's finished.
"Lanie's having man trouble," he remembers, turning his mind back to the explanation she'd given him when her quick trip down to the morgue the previous morning had left him sitting by her desk for over an hour. Alone. She sighs and nods, her exhale of breath hitting his chest as she snuggles in a little closer. He knows she's had a long and gruesome day and he can tell that she doesn't really want to move anywhere. He also knows that she will, and he can feel her preparing to extract herself from both his bed and his loft.
"Tell her to come here," he says suddenly, not quite realising that the words have left his mouth until they... already have. She looks up at him instantly, her eyes wide with surprise. "She only lives a few blocks from here, right?" he questions, not waiting for an answer because he already knows. Kate had walked to his loft a few weeks ago, late at night and not entirely in possession of all her usual sober traits after what she described as a girls night with Lanie, and had woken him up in an incredibly pleasurable way. "And she knows we're together?" he continues, again not waiting for the answer he already knows. "So tell her to come here. I'm sure she could do with getting out of her place for a while, and here you have really good wine, a couch to die for and I... will make myself scarce and write, or bug Alexis," he grins. "Maybe get a few more answers about this boyfriend of hers."
"Rick," she sighs, and he can read her quiet form of contemplation all over her face.
"Shut up, Katie," he tells her affectionately, leaning over to kiss the irritated smirk off her lips at his use of the nickname she loves to tell him she hates. "Shut up, call her, go get in the shower. And take your time. Relax a little. If she gets here before you're done, I'll let her in."
"Rick," she says again, and he can see a smile tugging at the corner of her lips.
"Yes, darling?" he grins, propping himself up on his elbows.
"I was just going to say thank you," she tells him sweetly, leaning down to kiss him soundly.
She likes to have the last word, and the look on her face is enough to let her have it without a fight.
Lanie wonders what she's letting herself in for as the door before her opens to reveal Richard Castle and his very lavish home. She likes the writer, must do if she thinks he's good enough for her friend, but he's not exactly known for his serious side so she is surprised when he greets her with nothing more than a warm smile. "Lanie, always a pleasure. Come in," he offers, his voice free of his normal humour.
That said, he's free of a lot of the usual Castleisms they've all grown to love at the twelfth, as she walks in. Dressed casually in faded jeans teamed with a cream sweater that hugs the muscles Lanie's never really noticed before, he seems calmer, softer. She can tell that he wants to ask her what's making her so sad, but he also seems to know better and settles for a quick touch against her back as he closes the door behind her.
When Kate had called her with a hesitantly spoken explanation that she was at Castle's and because that was closer, why didn't Lanie come there, she had been cautious. She was having a terrifically awful week, all things combined. She did want to escape but she also wanted comfort and familiarity both in company and location, and that was why she had turned to Kate in the first place. Her best friend's apartment was the closest to a second home Lanie had and it had been on the tip of her tongue to decline the unexpected invitation, but there had been something so cautiously hopeful in Kate's voice that she hadn't quite been able to.
Something had told her that this invitation was a big deal, and so, she's here. If nothing else, hoping that she might find some sort of distraction in this uncharted territory of her friend's life.
"Castle," she greets eventually, glancing around with barely disguised interest as distraction does start to tug at her mood. "Nice place," she assesses eventually, settling for as close to normal as she can manage. When he smiles, she thinks he might just understand. "Not that I expected anything less, really. Man with an ego as big as yours."
"You wound me," he shoots back with a laugh, taking her coat from her. "Kate's in the shower," he adds as he turns to hang her coat up. Lanie doesn't know why it seems strange to hear him use her first name. It shouldn't surprise her. At work, he sticks to his many variations of Detective Beckett, probably on threat of something Lanie doesn't want to know about, but she's never suspected that he calls her them when they're alone. "She shouldn't be long." He's continuing, and she forces her attention back to him. "That case was... pretty gruesome. I think she might have broken out the high strength citrus stuff in there."
"Daily requirement where I work," she counters wryly, and feels herself smiling. She's starting to realise why Kate's been so much more relaxed since she started dating the writer. He really does have a way about him.
Suddenly the front door bursts open behind them, and they both spin round in time to watch the young redhead Lanie recognises as his daughter stumble through the door, laden down with takeout bags. Castle steps forward instantly, and Alexis thrusts bags of takeout towards him with a roll of her eyes, before turning to Lanie.
"Hi," she greets with a friendly smile. "Lanie, right? Kate's friend and the doctor of death," she adds, doing a mean impression of her father. Lanie finds herself laughing and warming to the younger girl instantly. She can see why Kate speaks so fondly of her.
"A nickname which was meant to stay between the three of us," Castle jokes, his true personality shining through in the affection he shows his daughter. Lanie isn't blind though, to the fact that the three he refers to probably includes her best friend. "Dr Parish," he adds, gesturing towards Alexis, "have you met my charming daughter Alexis? Likes to embarrass me at any given opportunity." Lanie just rolls her eyes, grateful for the distraction and making a mental note to torture him for the irritatingly appropriate nickname later.
And maybe Kate, too.
"I hope you're hungry," Alexis is continuing, still smiling. "My dad has ordered enough food to feed the entire starving population of Africa," she deadpans, gesturing to the bags they both hold. Lanie is trying to find an appropriate response when the teen's attention is drawn away. "Kate, he's done it again," she complains, speaking a little louder and holding the takeout aloft as she alerts Lanie's to Kate walking down the stairs to join them.
She is dressed casually too, barefoot in a pair of dark yoga pants teamed with a grey jumper which falls haphazardly off one shoulder as she finishes her descent. Her hair is wet and curls loosely around her face, and even though the smile on her face is tired, it's genuine and relaxed and she looks younger than her years. She also looks very much at home, and Lanie knows that's something that doesn't come easily to the cautious detective. Somehow though, it seems like Richard Castle is managing to break through all her defences, one by one.
"Tried to feed the population of Africa again?" she asks Alexis as she walks over, grinning at the teenager. "Hi, Lanie," she adds, her fingers gripping Lanie's arm in a gentle squeeze as she moves between them. "I didn't know you were getting food," she adds as she comes to a halt next to Castle, her voice soft and her face turned up towards him in question. He shrugs, and Lanie watches as a boyish grin takes over his features.
She realises not for the first time that he really is disarmingly attractive when he wants to be, and it's a nice distraction to focus on the obvious effect he has on her best friend.
"Thought the two of you might need sustenance for the night ahead," he admits easily, and Lanie watches as warmth floods Kate's eyes. Her hand shoots away from her side and she touches his arm quickly, almost as if she doesn't realise. Before Lanie really has time to study the gesture though, she's realised and her arm is back at her side. Lanie knows she's private, so it doesn't surprise her.
What does surprise her though is the way that Castle ignores her reaction and hooks an arm casually around Kate's shoulders as they walk into the kitchen. She has to stop her mouth from dropping open when Kate doesn't put up the slightest bit of resistance. Lanie even thinks she sees her friend lean into him, and she doesn't think she's ever seen Kate Beckett willingly lean on anyone.
She almost jumps out of her skin when she feels a hand on her arm, and Alexis is smiling apologetically and gesturing towards the kitchen when she turns to her. "They're different together, right?" she asks perceptively. "I don't really see Kate in work mode a lot, but even I notice it. It took them a while though, to get over the awkwardness." Lanie nods, and returns her smile as they move to follow the couple into the kitchen, but her attention is drawn away before she can respond to the young girl at her side
"Does Lanie not get the same warning I got before I was subjected to my first Castle dinnertime?" Kate is asking, her voice playful as she questions the man in front of her. She passes a handful of cutlery to Alexis without being asked before moving to sit next to Lanie.
"Of course not, mother's out," Castle shoots back instantly, his grin triumphant for a second.
"I meant the warning about you," she answers sweetly, sharing a look with Alexis before they both laugh. Castle pouts at them both, but Lanie can see the affection shining through his expression.
"I'm on my best behaviour Dr Parish, I promise," he tells her beseechingly, standing a glass of wine in front of each woman and pressing a kiss to Kate's cheek that's so quick Lanie thinks she could have blinked and missed it. What she definitely couldn't have missed, though, is the grin that spreads across her best friend's face. Castle takes a seat next to his daughter, and Lanie finds herself joining them as they dig enthusiastically into the takeout boxes spread out before them with an appetite she wasn't expecting.
"He has a knack for these sort of things." Kate's voice is soft as a lively debate strikes up between father and daughter, and Lanie notices an affectionate smile on her face as she watches the scene in front of her, before shooting a confused glance at her friend and waiting for her to elaborate. Kate gestures to the food in front of them. "Sixth sense, or something. Most of the time I don't even realise it's helping until I'm almost finished."
By the time the four of them have made a sizeable dent in the food in front of them, Castle and Alexis have cycled through a monumental number of topics, attacking each one with gusto. Lanie has kept quiet for the most part, letting the atmosphere calm her with surprising effectiveness. Kate joins in easily though, and as she returns to the table with a second bottle of wine, she high-fives Alexis as they join forces to back Castle into a figurative corner.
Lanie watches as Kate steps over to fill Castle's glass with wine. He moves slightly to accommodate her, but doesn't break his conversation with his daughter. He seems to know something Lanie hasn't figured out yet, because as she goes to move he catches her arm, flashing her a grin as he chuckles. She seems almost pliant in his arms, and Lanie is shocked when she leans in for a kiss. It's brief and barely lasts a second, but she laughs afterwards before turning back to Lanie, picking up her own glass without bothering to refill theirs and gesturing to the living room. As she follows her, Lanie realises.
The rest of the bottle is for them. That's what Castle was laughing about.
When they reach the expansive, open plan living room, Lanie watches as Kate quite literally climbs into the corner of the vast couch and curls her legs underneath her, patting the cushion next to her. She fills both their glasses with wine, places the bottle on a strategically located table, and then she relaxes, practically sinking into the cushions.
"This is a couch you will never want to get up from," she explains, sighing contentedly. They hear raised voices from the kitchen and Kate laughs to herself. "The second we left, Rick was planning on interrogating Alexis about her new boyfriend," she explains, and Lanie finds herself struck again by the fact that her best friend is an actual part of this family. Allowing herself to settle on the admittedly comfortable couch, she looks around and is surprised to realise that for all its grandeur, the loft is subtle and calm and relaxing, and surprisingly homely. "It was his idea, you know," Kate offers quietly. "He thought you might appreciate the change of scenery." Lanie finds herself considering a newfound respect for the writer as Kate continues. "Once they're done, Alexis has homework to do, and he's promised me he's going to write."
"So relax?" Lanie asks with a slight smile, well practised in reading her thoughts. Kate nods, sipping her wine.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asks eventually. Lanie shakes her head, knowing that one of the main reasons their friendship works so well is the way that Kate simply accepts her answer. She already knows the details anyway, and Lanie could really do with thinking about something else. She wonders if Kate realises that her invitation has worked wonders in that department.
"It's weird, hearing you call him Rick," she offers eventually, and Kate just laughs softly.
"Wouldn't it be weirder if you knew we were together and I still called him Castle all the time?" she asks, head tilted slightly. Lanie has to admit, she has a point. Before Kate has an opportunity to say I told you so though, they're momentarily distracted by Alexis running upstairs after casually calling out goodnight. Seconds later, Castle ambles out of the kitchen after her, a hint of a smirk on his face. He looks over at Lanie and Kate, and his eyes settle on Kate for a second before he seems to make a decision and heads towards the sofa.
Kate tilts her head back to look at him as he stops, and she smiles warmly as Castle tangles his fingers loosely through her hair for a second. Lanie can't help herself watching as they seem to have a silent conversation.
"He's coming for dinner next week," he speaks aloud eventually, grinning almost sheepishly after Kate tilted her head towards the kitchen. "I'm not allowed to ask questions before I meet him, apparently."
"I'm not running a background check on him," Kate counters immediately, and they both laugh. "Nikki's calling," she tells him eventually, and he laughs, giving her shoulder a quick squeeze.
"Enjoy your wine, ladies," he tells them, before heading off in the direction of his office.
"You're lucky," Lanie says eventually, a hint of jealousy in her voice as they hear the soft click of the closing door. Kate turns back to her, confusion on her face. "You've got this perfect relationship, and you met him through a crime scene." She knows it's mean, but when she can't make a relationship stick, it seems unfair. "You practically stumbled across him, fought it for ages and suddenly it turns into this perfect relationship that you weren't even looking for. I go out and I date with the intention of finding a relationship that sticks, and they all end like this." She knows it sounds mean. She also knows that Kate realises she doesn't mean it. She's not oblivious enough to miss the fact that her words sting just a little though.
"You think our relationship is perfect?" Kate asks softly, and she almost looks like she wants to laugh.
"Looks that way," Lanie answers, gesturing around. Kate does laugh this time, but she takes her time thinking about her answer and Lanie realises that their conversation is about to get fiercely personal.
"We fight, all the time, Lanie," she says quietly, with a passion Lanie has never heard from her before. "You've seen how irritating he is to work with, multiply that by about a hundred and you'll be somewhere close to what he's like to live with on a daily basis." It's strange to hear her best friend talking this way, and even though what Kate has just said is negative, Lanie realises it sounds strangely like she's talking about forever. "He has the mental age of an eight year old on speed and he doesn't know when to stop sometimes, but I..." she sighs, taking her time over her words. "I'm a workaholic and I have some serious trust issues, among other things. I avoid where he faces things head on. I'm private to his public, and to be perfectly honest with you we're just about everything the other would never normally go for. I ask myself all the time how he's possibly falling in love with me, Lanie. All the time. So this idea of perfect you've got? Rick and I don't fit it, not at all." She stops again, fixing her eyes on Lanie. Her words are soft and sincere, and Lanie can't remember ever hearing Kate talk this way before. "But he's also funny and sweet and unendingly kind, and somehow despite all our problems and differences we actually work really well. I think that's more important than whether or not we fit someone else's definition of perfect."
"You've thought about this," Lanie says quietly. "Really thought about this."
"Of course I've thought about it," Kate agrees instantly. "I've told you before Lanie, I'm a one and done type of girl." She stops, and as she stands her wine glass down, Lanie thinks her hand is shaking ever so slightly. "This is the single most terrifying thing I've ever done."
"But you're doing it anyway."
"Yeah," Kate acknowledges, a grin spreading across her face in contrast to the seriousness of her words. "I guess I am." Her words are uncertain and almost vulnerable, but when Lanie looks at her she finds that her eyes are nothing but confident and sure.
"Richard Castle is your one and done," Lanie breathes, realising that her friend is in this far deeper than she thought. Kate averts her eyes, and Lanie realises that they're edging into territory that's more than private. If she's honest, she didn't even expect to learn as much about her friend's relationship as she has. A sudden sparkle catches her eyes though, and she watches as Kate's fingers ghost over a bracelet encircling her right wrist. Lanie hasn't noticed it before. Kate certainly doesn't wear it to work, and as she looks closer, Lanie can see delicate stones shimmering from every possible angle. It's exquisitely understated, and somehow doesn't look at all out of place on her friend's arm. She knows it was Kate's birthday a few weeks ago, and she also knows that it was with Richard Castle that she celebrated.
"That's beautiful," she says quietly, and Kate glances up, the flush covering her cheeks suggesting that she knows she's just been caught.
"We even fought about this," she laughs, going back to their earlier conversation as she rubs her thumb against the bracelet. "I had some serious apologising to do after that one."
"I thought Kate Beckett didn't say sorry," Lanie points out. Kate shrugs, her expression coy for a moment. Lanie thinks again that she's a little too close to the feelings Kate still keeps closely guarded. From everyone except for Richard Castle, it seems. Suddenly though, she speaks again.
"I guess I make some exceptions," she offers softly. Lanie suspects that the truth of the statement is that the only person she makes those exceptions for is Castle. She has watched Kate put herself back together and become almost fiercely independent over the years, so she knew before Kate started to talk that the relationship was a huge deal for her. It doesn't stop her own love life from hurting, but in a strange way, it gives her hope.
Because if Kate Beckett can manage to find love in the most unlikely of places, then surely there's hope for everyone.
"You never told me, you know," she comments eventually, deciding to risk one more question. Kate looks up expectantly, and Lanie can see that her walls are still down. "What he said to make you change your mind about the two of you in the first place." She is silent for a long while, seemingly lost in her memories, and Lanie watches as a smile slowly spreads across her best friend's face.
"Give us a chance, Becks," she voices eventually. She doesn't try to imitate Castle's voice, but Lanie can hear his inflection in the words. Kate smiles an intimate little smile that suggests there's far more to the story, and her eyes flit towards the closed door of his office, just for a second. Almost like she can't help herself. She turns back to Lanie quickly, and shrugs her shoulders lightly. "I guess that maybe I'd run out of reasons not to."
Lanie has no doubt that there's far more to the story than those five simple words. She can also tell that it's a story Kate doesn't plan on sharing. And so, she does what she knows best. Lightens the conversation.
"So, how good is the man in bed?"
Rick doesn't look up from his laptop when he hears the soft opening and closing of his office door. He knows the sound of her well enough by now. Alexis is his daughter so he's had almost seventeen years practise listening to every move she makes, and Martha does nothing with subtlety. But Kate moves quietly, with a calm certainty that he now recognises easily over the other two habitants of his loft. He continues to type but lets a smile grip the corners of his lips as she walks over, coming to a halt behind his chair and wrapping her arms around his shoulders.
"Lanie gone?" he asks with a full smile, and she nods silently into his neck, her lips lightly brushing his skin. She feels soft and pliant behind him, and he's glad that her night with Lanie doesn't seem to have returned the stress to her body that he'd taken care to erase.
"Thank you for dinner," she whispers softly, the sincerity slipping against his skin. "It was... lovely of you, Rick," she tells him, her arms tightening around his shoulders a little. It's her second thank you of the night, and that isn't something that goes unnoticed. "You're lovely," she adds softly, and it takes all he has not to pull her into his arms straight away.
"You're welcome," he tells her instead, his fingers falling away from the keyboard. "I just... thought it might help, a little."
"It did," she tells him earnestly, pressing a brief kiss against his neck. If he's honest, he did it as much for her as he did for Lanie, but he suspects that she probably knows already and decides not to tell her.
"Did you solve her man problems?" he asks instead, leaning back completely in his chair. Writing often leaves him tense and wound up, but he has learnt that all it takes is the feel of her lips for all of that to fade away.
"We didn't really talk about them," she tells him softly, letting out a gentle sigh in worry for her friend even as she moves to rub her fingers against the back of his neck. "I think she just wanted to forget for a bit."
"Distraction is a good technique," he agrees, closing his eyes and letting her fingers work their gentle magic on his neck. "What did you talk about then?" he asks after a pause, curiosity getting the better of him.
"We talked... about us, actually," she admits almost shyly, and although she now spends more nights in his bed than away from it, he knows that this, talking about them, is a big step for her. He hums slightly in question, and after a long moment of silence she moves, her lips hovering delightfully against his ear. "She asked me if you were good in bed," she murmurs, teeth nipping lightly at his earlobe. One of his hands reaches up to cover the arm she has slung around his shoulders as he lets loose a chuckle, moving her bracelet gently around her wrist with his thumb. He knows she's dodging the real nature of their conversation, but she's there and talking and doing other delightful things with her lips and wearing his bracelet. He can work with what she's offering him.
"And what did you tell her?" he asks, biting back a groan when she sucks lightly on the spot just behind his ear. He turns his head just a little, and finds her mouth mere millimetres from his own.
"I told her it was a very private question," she answers coyly, her lips brushing his when she speaks.
"What's your real answer?" he pushes gently, his voice dropping to the low, aroused rumble that he knows drives her crazy.
"Incredible," she whispers, as she catches his lips with hers in a searing kiss. "Best I've ever had," she continues, and he feels her mouth turn upwards against his. She might be mocking him slightly, but they both know that she's actually speaking the truth. They've had this particular conversation before.
"How's Nikki?" she asks eventually, pulling her lips from his to begin a trail down to his neck. She hovers over his jaw line until he speaks.
"Two chapters ahead of schedule," he tells her, finding it ever so slightly hard to concentrate on anything other than the warmth of her lips on his skin. "So she was thinking it was about time to turn in for the night." He feels her smile against his skin before she sucks gently on his pulse point. Knowing she can feel it thumping beneath his skin, he groans softly, pushing his chair back just enough for her to slip onto his lap as he saves and backs up his work. He's shutting his computer down when her arms snake their way back around his neck.
"Would you like to take me back to bed, then?" she murmurs, her voice sultry as her lips catch his in a kiss that is almost his undoing. He slides a hand into her hair, fingers slipping easily through her wavy locks as his tongue locks with hers in a lazy duel.
Eventually though, her question registers in the back of his mind and he closes his laptop with a little more force than usual.
"It would be my pleasure," he tells her, and she laughs happily as he stands up quickly. "You do wonderful things for a man's ego you know," he adds, taking their shift in position and his height advantage to turn the tables slightly, almost lifting her off her feet as he kisses her thoroughly. She moans softly against his lips in response and he chuckles, before wrapping her fingers in his and leading her out of the office.
They're halfway up the stairs when she stops, her grip on his fingers tightening just slightly. He stops too and turns to face her, rubbing his thumb soothingly over the back of her hand. He knows how to read the look on his girl's face by now, and he knows that questioning or teasing won't help. He can almost see the thoughts turning round in her head, so he reaches out to catch her other hand and waits patiently.
"You know that this relationship is about more than just the physical for me, right?" she asks softly, turning big eyes up to his with an intensity he wasn't expecting. He's considering his answer when she continues. "It's just, a lot of people assume that you and me, it's all about the sex, but you know it's more than that for me right?" she asks earnestly, and he thinks that his heart might burst.
If that were at all possible.
He still hasn't decided whether it surprises him or not that when it comes to relationships, the woman he is now lucky enough to share a life and a bed with is nothing like the cool, confident detective he originally thought he had met. She is beautiful and everything that he wants for the rest of his life, but there's a lingering insecurity. Insecurity feels like the wrong word though, because he understands why she feels the way she feels. Why it means that she finds it hard to accept that he loves her, just because.
"Are we having a moment Becks, right here on the stairs?" he asks softly, tugging her hands gently to pull her into the circle of his arms. She comes willingly, and he feels a shiver cross her skin at the intimacy with which he now uses the nickname. She nods slightly, though. "We agreed when we decided to give us a chance that we were all in," he tells her quietly, watching a smile stretch across her lips almost instantly. "And I still mean that. The sex is... incredible," he continues, smiling at the blush that creeps its way across her cheeks. He's a writer, he makes a living out of using words. Watching their effect on Kate is nothing less than fascinating, especially now that she's let him into her heart. "And I make no secret of the fact that you're the best I've ever had, too," he murmurs, picking up their earlier banter and stoking the fire spreading across her cheeks.
"Rick," she murmurs, delightfully red as she moves a little further into his embrace.
"I'm just speaking the truth, love," he whispers, nuzzling below her ear. It was one of the promises he had made her, when they started this. "I'm not going to deny that sex is a big part of our relationship, and I wouldn't want it any other way." She nods what he knows is her agreement, and he continues. "But I love you because... you're extraordinary. Because when I try to tell you how much, it's hard for me to put it into words. I'm a writer, Kate," he adds, watching as a smile lights up her face. "Words are what I do, and sometimes they fail me when it comes to you," he tells her quietly. "I'm not really sure how else to explain it."
"I understand," she says quietly. "And I love you, too." As the enormity of her words sink in, he feels like his heart might beat right out of his chest. Because somehow, standing on the stairs in the dark, they're having what he knows is the most defining moment of their relationship.
"You've never said that to me before," he tells her quietly, and she shrugs a shoulder gently as she buries her face into his shoulder. "Kate," he calls quietly, resting his fingers gently against the back of her neck. She shakes her head very slightly, and as he eases his fingers against her muscles, somehow he realises that maybe they've only ever had the important discussions in bed before. "We haven't really talked about this properly, have we," he says eventually.
"Lanie thinks we have a perfect relationship," she says into his neck, and it takes his brain a few moments to follow her train of thought. "But we fight and argue, and I push you away..."
"And we only have the important conversations when sex is involved," he voices his thoughts with only a moment's hesitation, smiling warmly as she looks up at him, realisation slipping across her face. He cups her face in his hands, and leans down to kiss her softly. "Maybe we're our own definition of perfect," he suggests, kissing her again. "Because despite it all, this feels pretty perfect to me."
She is quiet for a long time, eyes closed as she rests her forehead against his. The only sound is their breathing, and he slides his hand gently down her spine until it settles at the small of her back. Barefoot, she feels delightfully small in his arms and so he lets her take her time. Even so, he can't help wondering whether he's said too much. Suddenly her eyes are open and focused on his though, with a certainty he has never seen when it comes to their relationship.
"We're really going to make it, aren't we?" she whispers, sounding almost stunned.
"I think we might," he answers quietly, before she is stretching up on her tiptoes to meld her lips with his. When she pulls away they're both breathless, but somehow he knows that there will be no more sex tonight. Somehow, standing on the stairs, they've taken a huge step in their relationship.
"Now are you going to let me fulfil that promise to take you back to bed?" he asks anyway, rewarded by a stunning smile as she nods gently.
"Always," she whispers, letting him pull her gently towards the bedroom. "Rick?" she asks, lingering slightly as they step into his room. He turns and tilts his head slightly as he waits for her to continue.
When she does, it leaves him well and truly speechless.
"It feels like perfect to me, too."