One and Only

Disclaimer: I own nothing. Title and song lyrics at the start are Adele's "One and Only"; lyrics at the end are Lady Antebellum's "Just a Kiss".

Author's Note: I've been meaning to post this one for quite a while, but I've been distracted with a certain thing I like to call chain-watching Castle (I've just watched 'To Love and Die in LA' and I'm honestly more in love with the characters than ever). I'm pretty close to caught up, and it's just inspiring me to write more. Having said that though, I'm not entirely sure where to place this so I think I'm going to leave it somewhat open to your imagination. All it needs is for Beckett and Castle to both be single. Whether you want to place it in an earlier season or in season 3 but minus the Gina/Josh situations (although I would say it would definitely have to sit pre-Knockdown), I think it's up to you. I'd be interested to hear where it sits in your mind if you'd like to let me know – the response I've had from the fandom so far has been overwhelming so I really hope you enjoy this one as much.

I dare you to let me be your
Your one and only

It has been a long day.

A long day, a long week and a long month, if Richard Castle is perfectly honest. Their team seems to have caught case after horrific case, each one proving itself as slightly more disturbing than its predecessor. It would have been too much to ask for a little downtime, for the odd run of the mill, jack-shot-jill-over-bill homicide during which they would all have been able to catch their breath.

Shake the worst of the images from their minds, maybe.

All he knows is that it definitely hasn't happened, and it's affecting his writing. Along with just about everything else if he's honest, but it's his writing that disturbs him the most. He's a crime novelist. This is what he thinks about day in, day out. The macabre. He creates, plots and solves his own crimes, his own murders, over and over. But faced with a mental slideshow of horrifyingly disturbing images that are very much reality assaulting him from behind his own eyelids, he finds that the words just don't come.

He hasn't even opened his laptop, for fear of that arrogantly flashing cursor sitting atop a blank page.

That would be one image too far. One too many for his brain to cope with.

Yet somehow, the fact that he finds Kate Beckett at his door holding a bag bursting with takeout makes that and everything else start to fade into the background. It's not the first time that she has had this effect on him, and he doubts it will be the last.

It's also not the first time that her timing has been nothing short of perfect.

They stare at one another in the dim light of the hallway for what seems like a lifetime. She's the first to break the silence.

"I thought that maybe you would want to eat," she says softly, forgoing a traditional greeting for words which are full of hesitance and hope and a million emotions that he doesn't quite dare to define. To him, she's utterly captivating. She looks slightly windswept and younger than her years, dressed simply in an oversized, deep red sweater layered over a white camisole and skinny black jeans. Flats put her a good few inches below his height, slim and petite and perfect to him, and he can't shake the overwhelming urge to take her in his arms and never let go. Especially after the day, the week, the month they've had. He's considering it quite seriously when she speaks again, and he thinks, hopes, that she looks like she wants to reach out and touch him too. "Rick?" she asks softly, uncharacteristically. The hand that is free from takeout eventually seems to win out over her head and she reaches out, laying cool fingers on his arm. "I know it's been a rough week," she continues, her thumb gently caressing the inside of his elbow, skin left bare by his rolled up sleeves. He has to stop himself from shivering. "So maybe we could eat together?" she suggests, and when he looks at her he can read the exhaustion radiating off her in waves.

It's battling the hesitance in her voice, mixed with something that he now suspects is vulnerability and means that she doesn't want to be alone tonight any more than he does.

"What did you bring?" he finds his voice eventually even though it's quiet and strained, as he slides a hand to rest against the small of her back and guides her into the loft. The uncertainty seems to seep out of her body as she leans almost unnoticeably into his touch. Then she smiles, and he's a brilliant enough writer to know that it's a cliché when he thinks that it brightens up the room.

"Chinese," she answers, letting him take the bag from her hands. He watches sparks flash through her eyes as she considers her next statement. He struggles to take his eyes off her on a good day, but now that she's a veritable port in a storm, he finds that the struggle increases tenfold. "Chopsticks mandatory," she offers eventually.

He laughs fully for the first time that he can remember, and suddenly it feels a little easier to breathe as a memory floods his senses. While eating Chinese takeout at the precinct a few weeks previous, she had well and truly thrashed him with her chopstick abilities in an impromptu battle. The case they had been working at the time had left them feeling like they were sinking in quicksand - her analogy, not his, but the sound of her laughter as she emerged victorious with chopsticks held aloft had pulled him out, just a bit. The grin that crosses her face as she tugs her bottom lip between her teeth in a move he wants to bottle tells him she has the same memory in mind.

"Go through," he tells her, steering her towards the living room even though she knows the way well enough.

It crosses his mind as he follows her that he should be nervous, but there's something about the way she moves that makes him forget. Somehow, there's something that has changed between them again that he thinks means there's nothing to be nervous about. He finds his heart beats a little faster anyway, and while he could blame it on a million things, he knows there is only one cause.

Kate Beckett, standing right in front of him.

"Rick," she whispers a second later, her breath coming out in a gasp as she stops still, one hand reaching out as if to steady herself against the arm of the couch. He knows that he needs to say something. He's let this thing between them that's not quite a relationship but far beyond a professional partnership or a friendship grow organically, but he has to explain the sight before her. Writer or not, he knows that this might just be a make or break moment. Whilst he normally has all the beautiful words in the world at his disposal, something tells him that the only tool he can use in this moment is the truth so he takes a deep breath.

"I guess I didn't want to be alone either," he tells her quietly, feeling bold enough to slide his hand against her hip as he steps beside her.

Two overstuffed cushions sit on the floor in front of them, kept apart by a bottle of wine and two glasses.

He doesn't know how to explain to her that he knew she was coming. That he needed her. Warmth floods his body as she leans into him and as he feels the tickle of her hair against his neck, he finds that he doesn't have to explain. They've had dinner once or twice a week, outside of work, for the last couple of months. There has been no pattern to the location or the timing. No planning. No acknowledgement as they continue to work together that anything has changed.

He had no way of knowing that he would find her on his doorstep tonight, yet somehow he did.

He knows that neither of them is very good at relationships, albeit for incredibly different reasons. But even as they are, broken in their own different ways, they seem to find some common ground in the hours they share over their favourite food and wine. She lets him hold her hand and starts to fall asleep on his shoulder, and he talks her through his bouts of writers block and lets her ease the tension from his hands after too many hours spent in front of his computer.

It's comfortable, whatever it is that they've become. Unlike anything he's experienced before. She is open with him in a way that he has always hoped she was capable of, but never quite let himself believe that she would be, at least not with him. Every time she wakes up and lifts her head from his shoulder, there's a look in her eyes that leads him to suspect that she has never experienced it before, either.

Above anything else, he knows that he's desperate for what they have become to change even further, but at the same time he never wants what they are now to end and it's a puzzle he's never had to solve before.

She takes the bag from his hand and sets it on the ground, shaking him out of his memories as she turns to face him fully. Before he quite has time to take in the look on her face, he feels her arms around his waist and finds himself unable to do anything other than wrap her in his arms and breathe. She smells like cherries, delicate and strong and entirely feminine all at the same time, and it's intoxicating. He can feel the barest hint of a shake in her body, and he knows that she's probably running on something close to empty. It's only then that the physical effects of a case make themselves known in her body. He slides his hands back to grasp her arms, squeezing gently before disentangling their embrace, hoping that he's given her at least a little of the comfort she gives him.

She keeps her eyes closed for a long moment before her long lashes part and reveal wide, dark eyes that confirm he has. He smiles, and reaches up to smooth her hair off her cheek before catching her hand and turning her towards the cushions. Her smile reappears and matches his, and she toes off her shoes before easing into a comfortable, cross-legged position on the nearest cushion.

Joining her on the floor, he pours them a glass of wine as she unloads takeout containers in a routine that is becoming comfortingly familiar. Keeping one container for herself, she tosses him a pair of chopsticks which he catches easily. Their eyes meet as he snaps them apart, and before they know it they are laughing, really laughing, over everything and nothing but so hard that it almost brings tears to their eyes.

Laughter can be exhausting, though, and their bodies feel too abused to take it for long. She wipes her eyes lightly, hair falling over her face as she leans over to open her container. When she speaks, there's a lightness in her voice that he hadn't actually noticed was missing. "Let's not talk about work tonight," she urges, digging her chopsticks decisively into her noodles. He doesn't think that he could deny her anything in this moment, even if it wasn't such a gloriously attractive proposition.

"Deal," he tells her without a second's hesitation, and she nods her gratitude.

"How's Alexis?" she asks after her first mouthful. "Have you made any more teenage parenting faux pas' recently?"

"She's good," he confirms, the horrors of their day slipping away a little more as thoughts of his daughter muscle their way in. "She's at Paige's tonight, something about a history project." He laughs, and her eyes crinkle slightly in confusion. "She's far too well behaved for the Castle name" he explains, smiling. "And I'm pretty sure there's at least one faux pas a week, but none embarrassing enough to share with you."

"You know how lucky you are, right?" she asks quietly, pausing in the quick progress she's making of her noodles. Looking down, he realises that he's doing the same without even realising. He hadn't been hungry until she shown up.

"Every day," he answers, running a hand through his hair. She nods slowly, but her chopsticks lie forgotten in her container as she drops her head. He doesn't need an explanation. He knows why she asked the question, and when he catches the shaky inflection to her breathing, he moves.

Pushing the takeout containers that sit between them to one side and standing the half empty bottle of wine on the coffee table, he sits back, right where he was, and waits. He wants to hold her, more than anything. He has from the moment he found her on his doorstep, but want turned into need right around the time when her head fell forward. This thing they've become is fragile right along with comfortable though, and he knows that this is something that she needs to do herself.

He doesn't have to wait long until she shifts a little, lets out a sigh that is shaky in its execution and leans her head against his shoulder. She draws her knees to her chest and her ankle rests against his knee. He doesn't try to put an arm round her, as much as he wants to. Somehow, there's something about the position she's chosen that feels far more intimate so he settles instead for resting a hand on her thigh.

Beneath his hand and against his side she feels strong. He knows what the muscles he can feel are capable of, he's seen it first hand on more than one occasion. But her toenails are painted a delicate, shimmering and delightfully contradictory shade of pink and somehow despite the strength that he can feel, she seems more feminine to him in that moment than she ever has. He's seen her wear a dress more than once and knows she has a catalogue of expensive shoes, but sitting on his living room floor, barefoot, slightly vulnerable and more open than he thinks he's ever seen her, she's never looked more beautiful to him and he thinks that he'd be content never to move from this spot.

He feels her take a deep breath eventually, and when she finds that she can exhale without a shudder he watches as she reaches out a hand to retrieve an unopened takeout container. "Wanna share?" she asks softly, setting the container on his thigh. He smiles, passing her chopsticks to her in answer as he picks up his own. The container she chose holds their favourite pork dish, and she laughs when he battles her with his chopsticks for the first piece. "Thanks," she says softly after a moment of silence while they both eat, and he knows that she's thanking him for not making her speak as much as she's thanking him for the comfort he's managed to give her.

"You're welcome," he tells her, rubbing his thumb against her thigh in a gentle caress as she settles just a little bit closer to him. As he takes a breath that is filled with cherries, he feels brave. "It's as much for me as it is for you," he tells her quietly. She nods against his shoulder, and the hand that isn't holding her chopsticks comes to rest over his on her leg. When her thumb rubs against his finger he turns his hand over, and her fingers twine through his. "So did you find out who Esposito's date was with in the end?" he asks, rewarded with her gentle laughter as a smile crosses her face. The subject of Esposito's love life had provided them all with five minutes of well needed relief as they packed up at the end of the day.

"Who said I needed to find anything out in the first place?" she asks quietly, the teasing tone in her voice hitting him full force.

"You know!" he exclaims, laughter hitting him completely. She chuckles softly, and her fingers squeeze his gently as she reaches for another piece of pork. "Don't leave me hanging, Becks," he murmurs softly, using the moniker he knows she would never admit to liking as much as she does.

"Sucks to be the one kept in the dark, doesn't it?" she asks coyly, nudging him gently with her elbow. She's entirely right, and it's exactly what makes sparring with her so much fun. He considers her words for a moment, and the mystery writer in him eventually catches up with his brain.

"I know who it is, don't I?" he murmurs, but his lips brush her ear as he finds her a little closer than he was expecting and as a gentle shudder slips through her body he finds himself completely blindsided by how much he wants to kiss her neck. Her fingers tense very slightly against his, but she's so close that he knows he would be able to tell if their proximity was unwanted so he just squeezes her hand gently and lets himself enjoy the moment of intimacy.

"Lanie," she whispers eventually, and he starts slightly as he struggles to remember what they were talking about in the first place that would warrant the use of her best friend's name. She realises just at the moment that his brain kicks in, and nudges him lightly with her foot. "Esposito's date," she tells him, with a smile in her voice, "is with Lanie."

"Well that... is a turn-up for the books," he mutters, a little bit disgruntled that he didn't manage to spot that one on his own.

"Oh come on, Rick," she counters, her usual form of verbal attack softened by the use of his name, "you could cut the sexual tension between them with a knife every time they flirt over a dead body." He can't help himself and so he grins, and as her cheeks flush tellingly, he knows that the pertinence of her words isn't lost on her either. "Shut up," she mutters, even as her eyes meet his and they laugh.

"Lanie and Esposito, huh," he murmurs, grinning at her as his brain processes the new information. "I can't quite figure out who would wear the trousers in that relationship," he muses eventually, and she kicks him lightly even as she laughs a little harder with him. Her laughter eventually slows to a slightly breathy giggle that he wants to hear over and over, but she moves away from him slightly until she's sitting cross legged at his side and is in a better position to look at him. It crosses his mind to be upset that she's no longer all but cuddling with him, but she doesn't let go of his hand and he can't bring himself to care.

"You," she orders eventually, tugging his hand lightly to get his attention as she speaks, "you keep this to yourself, okay? This is kind of a big deal for Lanie and you will not screw this up for her." Her voice has that tone of authority that has almost brought him to his knees more than once, but he takes a deep breath and flashes her a serious look, to which she nods. "And in answer to your question," she adds, a grin taking over her lips again. "Totally Lanie." Laughter catches them again, and he realises that the look on her face as she gives into laughter is possibly even better than the sound it produces.

"Somehow that doesn't surprise me," he chuckles, and accepts the box of takeout she offers him with a smile.

They pass the rest of their somewhat unconventional dinner swapping silly, inconsequential stories. She tells him a little about her girls nights with Lanie, although he suspects she's probably keeping quite a bit to herself, and he describes his poker nights with his fellow authors, but chooses not to mention that he's talked her up so much they pester him to bring her along. He tells her that he's secretly quite sad that Alexis is growing up because nothing made him felt like a good father more than being able to talk her down from a nightmare, and he learns that she spent the majority of her childhood years unable to decide whether all monsters were female or whether male monsters were cross dressers, because her father had told her that the monsters she dreamt about were only trying to steal her clothes.

She looks like she's about to throw some noodles at him when he laughs at her story, and he reaches out to catch her wrist before she manages it. She starts to laugh with him, and when he goes to release her wrist she reaches for his hand. He eats the rest of his noodles one handed.

Once their food supply has been seriously depleted he leans back contentedly against the couch, and as she moves again to settle next to him, he realises that suddenly it doesn't feel like it's been such a long day, something he credits solely to the extraordinary woman next to him.

They sit in silence for what feels like a second and an hour all rolled into one, and then she holds her hand out in a move that he's come to recognise over the last few months. He rests his fingers in her upturned palm without a second thought. Her fingers curl and close around his, and he thinks that this is probably better than holding her hand.

"Have you written any tonight?" she asks softly, even as her fingers start to work at the non-existent tension in his fingers that he knows will give her the answer she's looking for. She doesn't stop though, and he doesn't think that anything she has said or done has ever meant more to him. Her eyes are cast down towards their hands, and somehow he finds it easier to speak that way. He thinks she might be doing it deliberately.

"I can't," he confesses quietly, and her fingers squeeze around his a little tighter before returning to their gentle ministration. He knows that there's more to say, but with her he feels like he's more than just a writer. Like he doesn't have to have the right words for everything. She understands him anyway.

"Maybe tomorrow," she says simply, and as she reaches for his other hand he closes his eyes and finds that he wants to do nothing but let her wash away the stress that he didn't realise was locked up in the fact that he hadn't written anything for a week.

His mind wanders a little and he finds himself painting something resembling a story in his mind as she continues to focus her attention on his fingers. It's a story just as captivating as it is inappropriate for his new Nikki Heat book, filled with Kate, lazy nights at the loft intermingling with summer weekends in the Hamptons, all set in a relationship he finds himself ever more willing to dream of.

He's getting a real life insight into the fact that it could be really, really great and it's utterly captivating. In his mind she's smiling, calm and relaxed and all his. He doesn't get possessive in relationships, not really, but he has a feeling that a relationship with Kate Beckett might just break all the rules.

"What are you thinking about?" she asks softly, her voice breaking through a particularly pleasant image of them curled in a chair in his Hamptons library that is just big enough for two, with a gentle squeeze of his fingers. He finds that the tension has all but vanished from his wrist as he moves to hold her hand properly, and when he finally looks up at her face he finds that she's smiling just like she was in his mind. It's a smile that he hasn't really seen before, soft and private mixed with a hint of coyness as she meets his eyes questioningly.

Instantly, he likes it a million times better than her usual style of interrogation. He suspects it might be significantly more effective on him, too.

"If I said you, would I have need for the word apples?" he asks cautiously, rewarded with her laughter as she pokes him with her elbow.

"I think I could let it pass, this once," she offers eventually and he moves to wrap an arm around her shoulders, feeling unjustifiably bold. She hesitates for a moment and he worries that he's moved too far, but then she lets out a sigh and almost seems to melt against him and he doesn't think he cares. Her fingers start to move over his free hand again, this time in a gentle, almost ticklish caress, and he can't help but wonder what the rest of their relationship will be like if such a simple touch feels that good.

"Kate?" he asks softly, smiling as she tilts her head up a little. Her eyes are softer than before, wide and expressive and inviting, seemingly free from some of the horrors they held. He knows that he had a question to ask her but he reaches up to touch her cheek gently instead, his fingers barely grazing the sensitive skin at the corner of her eye. She leans into his touch a little in response, and her hair falls against his hand as he lets his thumb rest by her ear. He has learnt that she is a lot more tactile than he ever realised, and he now knows that it's much easier to calm or relax her through touch than it is with words.

As a writer it goes against everything that he believes in, but as a man who is slowly but surely falling for the woman in front of him it's exhilarating, familiar but new all at the same time.

He realises that she is about to ask him what he was going to say but he doesn't think that he could remember even if his life depended on it, and so he shakes his head slightly. Her eyes seem to sparkle in the dim light, and he feels her fingers close gently around his other hand. He uses that hand to draw her a little closer, and watches the way that she tugs her bottom lip between her teeth lightly. The desire to kiss it free is almost overwhelming, but he waits until he feels the barest inclination of her head against his hand before he does.

This thing between them is too important to him to mess up.

Her lips are soft against his as she releases her lip from her teeth, and she meets his kiss without hesitation. It lasts for little more than a moment, but her cheeks are delightfully flushed when he leans back. Her fingers have tightened through his, and he moves his hand from her cheek to sweep her hair back from her face, tucking it carefully behind her ear. She inclines her head slightly and brushes a second kiss to his lips. She lingers no longer than he did, but it feels like she's flooding his senses anyway.

He doesn't know who initiates the third kiss they share because he is aware of nothing but the feel of her lips, warm and pliant against his in a kiss that's soft and gentle but demanding all at once. Full of the promise of more than everything he was expecting it to be. This time, neither of them pulls away, and she eventually releases his hand in favour of sliding her arms around his neck. Her fingers tangle lightly in his hair, and he takes that as his signal to deepen the kiss, closing his lips around her lower lip and drawing the softest moan from her that he's ever heard.

Some day in the future, he has no doubt that it's the sound that will be his undoing.

But tonight it feels like they have all the time in the world for that, and he almost feels like a teenager all over again when he realises that all he wants to do is kiss her until the sun rises. She feels real and warm in his arms, and he doesn't want to taint the start of their relationship with the memory of everything they've endured this month. She leaves a couple of quick butterfly kisses on his lips as if she's reading his mind as she eventually pulls away, but when he feels her nose hit the crook of his neck a second later, he wraps his arms around her without hesitation.

Fuelled by nothing but the feel of her in his arms, he thinks that maybe he could get used to a relationship where touch is more important than anything else. Their kiss hasn't left her breathless or even breathing shakily, but he can feel her steady exhales against his neck in time with the fingertips that are gently rubbing the nape of his neck and he realises that they're on the tipping point of the moment where she becomes all his.

He can't wait.

He's about to breathe her name when he feels her shake her head. Realising that this time she needs a minute or two, he simply tightens his arms around her a little. He knows that he is privileged to be a part of a family who are so openly expressive when it comes to their emotions, but he's also not naive enough to believe that that is the norm. He knows that Kate is capable of loving just as deeply as he is, if not more so, but he also knows that life has taught her to be a lot more guarded than it has him, and he's already accepted the fact that he would give her all the time in the world if it was what she needed.

She sits back eventually, just enough to be able to look at him, and as she opens her eyes he finds them full of unanswered questions. Questions he knows are entirely justified and deserving of answers. He knows that in her eyes he doesn't have a stellar reputation which is largely his own doing, and alongside everything else that she's been through he can't blame her for being cautious with her heart. He knows that she trusts him. She wouldn't be here in this moment trying to find the courage to leap if she didn't, but he also knows that she's scared and he's always known that he would do anything to take that away from her.

"What do you need to hear?" he asks softly, watching as she lets out a breath he doesn't think she realised she was holding. The barest hint of a smile slips across her face for a second, and she reaches out to run a hand through the hairs at the nape of his neck as she considers her next words. It draws a hint of a shiver from his body, and her expression is sweetly flattered as her fingers gently still against his neck. She takes a deep breath, and he finds himself watching as his own reaction to her gives her the courage to speak.

"That this is the real you," she says softly. He smiles, because he doesn't think she realises that she's hit on a question that she herself has helped him figure out the answer to.

"I'm not sure that I realised it," he tells her quietly, and her attention is solely on him as he tries to find the words to explain himself. "I'm a writer, Kate," he tries again, shaking his head slightly. "Creating characters is what I do, and I have many of them for myself. Sort of like a coping mechanism. You've seen a lot of them, whether I'm proud of that or not. Somewhere along the way, I confused myself and got lost in between what I made up and the truth. But when I'm with you... as Kate rather than Detective Beckett," he adds quickly, reading the scepticism on her face, "When I'm with you, like this, I don't have to try and figure out what's real and what's not. You don't make me feel like I have to be anyone other than me." He takes a deep breath. Her fingers close around his gently and he holds on tight, because suddenly it feels like she might not be the only one who's vulnerable. "What else?" he asks eventually, emboldened by the spark of hope reflected in the depths of her eyes.

"That you won't hurt me," she tells him quickly, almost before her brain has the chance to censor her. Biting her lip, she adds to the statement a second later. "Intentionally, I mean."

"Kate," he sighs gently. "I can't promise you that I'll never hurt you because I'm almost certain it's a promise that I would never be able to keep." She nods quietly, and he reaches out to tuck her hair behind her ear again. "Intentionally?" he asks, in a question he doesn't really want an answer to. "I want to promise you that more than anything, Kate," he says, smiling slightly before he continues. "But I know you, and I know me, and I think we will hurt one another, and we'll probably do it intentionally too." Her smile meets his as she nods very slightly and he laughs a little, but he can see the question lingering in her eyes and nods slightly, gesturing for her to speak.

"Promise that you'll try?" she asks hesitantly, her fingers barely tightening on his.

"I promise," he tells her instantly, touching a finger to her lips when she goes to speak, because he's not finished. There's more that she needs to know. "More than that, Kate? I promise I won't walk away just because it gets hard or just because we do hurt one another, intentionally or not. How does that sound?"

"Sometimes I hate the fact that you're a writer," she tells him quietly, her smile entirely betraying the meaning behind her words. He laughs, and drops her hand in favour of resting his hands against her waist. "I won't walk away either," she whispers eventually, and he pulls her gently into his arms as he drops a kiss against her hair. She didn't have to tell him that, because he knows that Kate Beckett is a one and done girl and once she decides to take a chance on this she'll give it her everything, but the fact that she tells him so anyway makes his heart beat a little faster.

"You've got a pretty marvellous way with words yourself," he tells her, smiling as her arms dart cautiously around his waist. They sit in silence for a while, hovering in the space they've created for themselves somewhere between friendship and relationship. He knows that she has something else to ask, but it takes her a lot longer to ask the next question and he suspects that it might be the big one. As she drops her head a little he is more than happy to sit with her, fingers lightly caressing the small of her back through the soft sweater she wears. When she eventually looks back up at him he can see the struggle in her eyes and he wants to tell her that it's just the two of them.

Somehow he knows that this question has to come from her rather than on the back of anything he says to her, so he does nothing but flatten his palm gently against her back. She leans back into his palm a little as she studies his eyes and seeks the courage to ask her next question. Whether she does it subconsciously or not, he knows that it's a big deal for her to lean on someone. Especially him.

And eventually, she asks, even though her voice is little more than a hoarse whisper. "That you love me, even though I don't know how to say it back yet?"

He doesn't even have to think about this answer.

"I love you," he tells her, cupping her cheek again so she looks into his eyes as he says it. It isn't the way that he had imagined he would tell her for the first time, but he wants her to know that it's the truth. If he had to hazard a guess, he thinks that he might be the first man she's ever thought about saying the words to and really meaning them. She closes her eyes after he speaks, and he leans forward to brush another kiss against her forehead as the realisation of just how far he's fallen for her hits him again. "Even if you never find the words to say it back, I love you."

She slides her arms around his waist and lets him hold her as she buries her face into his neck, but he can feel the rapid fluttering of her eyelashes against his skin telling him that she's fighting her own emotions. He holds her a little tighter as she fists a handful of his shirt, and eventually her breathing steadies against him again.

"Anything else?" he asks eventually, his voice soft against her ear as she instantly shakes her head in response, her nose rubbing gently against his neck with the movement. He feels a smile spread across her lips, and even though he knows that her very next words really are their make or break moment, he knows that he is smiling too.

She pulls back from his arms, and as she looks up at him her eyes are wide and moist but clearer than he's ever seen them. "I'm in," she whispers softly, and with those two words he identifies the emotion that he can see lingering in her expression as confidence. There's not a doubt in his mind that it's the most stunning expression he's ever seen. "And I will find the words, Rick," she whispers fiercely. "I promise." He has realised already that she uses her words sparingly when it comes to matters of the heart, but he would be damned if she didn't knock the breath out of him every time.

She wants to fall in love with him.

Shaking in his arms, he can tell that she's absolutely terrified of the whole thing, but she's there, doing it anyway. He might already be head over heels in love with her, but it's the best feeling in the world and suddenly the way that he has told her he loves her for the first time feels nothing less than perfect. He can feel the shake in her fingers as she reaches up to touch his cheek, and he grasps them in his own, holding tight until he feels the shaking subside a little. Her smile grows slowly, and he rests his other hand on her knee as she moves closer and hooks her legs over his lap. Before he quite realises what's going on, she's tilting her head upward and their lips are meeting in a kiss that's no longer full of promise.

It's full of certainty.

Her lips are gently demanding against his even though he can feel the delicate weight of her body shaking against his, so he kisses her leisurely, taking his time and brushing a series of butterfly kisses across her lips until she laughs softly, the sound bubbling against his lips as she smiles into the kiss. Holding her a little tighter he kisses her properly, brushing his tongue against her lips until she parts them and her tongue darts against his. He feels like he's starting to lose control of his senses as he lets the kiss deepen slowly and she murmurs softly against his lips as he sucks on her lower lip before letting himself explore her mouth slowly.

As he eventually breaks the kiss and rests his forehead against hers, he can feel that the shake of her body has intensified and even though he knows that it's probably fuelled at least partly by the adrenaline that he can feel coursing through his own body with the realisation that they're actually, really doing this, he also knows that the rest of it is not something that they are going to solve overnight. Losing himself for a moment in the knowledge that it really is them now, he presses another, gentler kiss to her lips before guiding her fully into his arms.

"It's okay to be scared," he whispers softly, allowing himself to brush his lips against her hair as she nods slightly before falling still against him.

"I don't know why though," she whispers softly, her fingers settling into a gentle caress against his side as she tries to work through the thoughts swirling in her mind. "You're probably the person I feel safest with, most of the time," she adds quietly, her tone so thoughtful that he isn't sure if she even knows she has spoken the words aloud.

"Except when I don't stay in the car and get into trouble, right?" he murmurs softly, warmth spreading through him when she laughs in his arms.

"Except then," she confirms quietly, her laughter subsiding as she settles just a little closer. "I'm terrified, Rick," she whispers haltingly, her words slightly obscured by his sweater. "And I think it's mainly because I don't know why I'm so scared, because when I know why there's something I can do about it, and I..." she stops and takes a breath and he smiles without even thinking about it, because somehow her little ramble is anything and everything he loves about Kate Beckett all wrapped up into a single, albeit poorly formed sentence. He knows that it probably comes down to a question of control, something that he's learnt she definitely is terrified to find herself without. If she wasn't shaking in his arms he knows that he would probably point out to her that this means that it's okay if she's not in control all the time anymore, because he's there to take over when she isn't.

But he can't shake the feeling that this is probably the only time she has even considered putting all of herself into a relationship, and he doesn't want her to feel any further outside of her comfort zone than she already looks. They've had a long day on top of a whole month of long days, and he's not convinced that either of them could cope with the intensity that he suspects the conversation could require.

That doesn't solve the physical aspect of her fear though, and he sighs gently as he rubs her arm slowly and settles for what he knows best.


"I think it's a good thing," he tells her quietly. "Being scared. It means that you've got something to lose." She is quiet for a long time and he almost starts to second guess his decision to try and give a little more definition to the feelings he can see her struggling with, when she takes a deep breath.

"Are you scared too?" she asks softly, and he rubs her back gently as he nods against her hair, drawing her closer still as he takes a moment to digest the significance of her question because in this moment it feels like he has something close to everything to lose.

"Out of my mind," he tells her, settling for honesty over what might be too much information for her to cope with. "You're important to me Kate, of course I'm scared. But..." he pauses for a second, taking a moment to digest the truth of the words he's about to speak as a grin catches the corners of his mouth. "I'm excited, too." She has the potential to break him more than he thinks she realises, but together they also have the potential to be the best thing that has ever happened to him. And when you look at it that way, excitement wins over fear.

Every time.

"Me too," she whispers as another smile that he's never seen before but looks like a beautiful cross between shy and seductive crosses her lips and reminds him that he's not even come close to discovering the extent to which she can make him feel. "It feels so certain," she offers eventually, drawing him from the briefest of imaginings of what could be. He nods slowly as she shifts a little to look at him, eyes wide and questioning as she turns them up to him. He knows instantly that she's looking for confirmation that it feels just as big and scary to him as it does to her.

"One and done?" he asks quietly, using her own words from so long ago as he frames her face with both of his hands. The next words out of her mouth are four that he knows he'll never forget.

"One and only, Rick," she whispers, and he thinks he could go a lifetime without hearing her say she loves him if she keeps saying things like that. She's already told him he won't have to though, and he can't quite get over the sheer amount of feeling he has for her. He feels her hands come up to cover his on her cheeks, small against his as her fingers stroke lightly against his. "Overwhelming, isn't it?" she asks quietly, and he finds he can do nothing but nod as he stares into her eyes, because it feels like she's reading his mind. She tugs her lower lip between her teeth and he feels his eyes drawn downward as a smile breaks across her lips. "Maybe you could kiss me again and it wouldn't feel quite so overwhelming?" she suggests, a hint of huskiness appearing in her voice that he thinks he could quite easily become addicted to.

Dipping his head, he captures her lips with his in a kiss that's somehow gentle but almost bruising at the same time. When her tongue snakes out to tangle with his he groans softly, sliding his hands to her hips to hold her gently as he kisses her thoroughly and finds out just how easy it is to get lost in her. When she pulls away to suck in a breath he spots an opportunity and trails a slow, fiery path of kisses along her jaw and down to her neck.

He hears her pull in another shuddering breath as she winds her arms loosely around his neck, and when he finds her pulse point it's racing beneath his lips. Changing tactics, he covers her neck with feather light kisses, taking his time as he makes his way back up to her lips. She shivers in his arms and he smiles, brushing her lips carefully with his. Her fingers tense slightly in his hair seconds before she pulls him back in, tilting her head slightly as her tongue brushes past his lips, and he knows that he's losing track of the amount of time he's kissed her for when she's pulling him in for another kiss after they gasp in another breath.

It's unspoken between them that they are both a little too emotionally raw for there to be anything more than kissing, but she's barely shaking and her lips are sure and confident and warm against his, so he loses himself in her kisses over and over. When he slides a hand up her back to settle against her neck though, he finds himself reminded of the tension coursing through her body. He knows it's from the month they've endured because it was there when he hugged her at the door such a short time ago, but it's enough for him to guide them back to the gentler kisses they started with. Her arms tighten around his neck a little as the mood between them changes, and he finds himself again wanting to hold her and never let go.

"Kate," he whispers eventually, and he feels her smile against his lips as he breaks the kiss, moving to brush a couple more against her neck before pulling away properly. Her eyes open slowly, and he can't help but feel a little proud when it takes her more than a second to focus. "Tonight..." he breathes, shaking his head slightly as he finds that it takes him more than a second to find his words, too. "Not tonight," he settles on eventually, and her fingers come up to rest against his cheek again as she nods that she feels the same.

They don't really need the words to explain why.

"Can we stay here for a little while longer, though?" she asks, settling her head comfortably against his shoulder as she asks. He knows that he would be powerless to resist her even if he wanted to, and he tightens his arms around her as she settles into the place in his arms that he didn't realise she would fit quite so well. Caught up in just how right she feels in his life and his loft and his arms, he finds himself speaking before his brain quite catches up to his mouth.

"Don't go home tonight," he says quietly, feeling his heart leap into his throat as he voices what he didn't even realise he was thinking.

"Rick," she breathes quietly, but even though her voice is uncertain she doesn't move out of his arms and he doesn't think she looks like she is going to disagree with him, even if her head hasn't quite caught up with her heart.

"I'll let you leave, if that's what you want," he tells her quietly. She says nothing, but as he feels her fall into his arms just a little he knows that she hasn't missed the sincerity in his words. "But Kate, will you really sleep if you go home alone tonight?" he asks gently. Her answer is a little less than a whisper and possibly the most hesitant sound he's ever heard from her, but it's accompanied by a shake of her head that gives him his answer.

He rests a hand on her arm, and she covers it gently with his. He can still feel a slight shake in her fingers but it's overshadowed by the unwavering certainty in her eyes as she finally raises them to his.

She doesn't want to go home tonight.

"I'll show you the guest room," he tells her quietly, because even though he knows that he's not ready to move from this little safe haven they seem to have created between whispered confessions on his living room floor, he doesn't want there to be a doubt in her mind that he's looking for anything more than for her to get some sleep. She shakes her head almost emphatically when he speaks though, and this time it's her turn for her words to tumble out before her head has quite caught up with her heart.

"I don't want to miss you tonight," she whispers, and he gathers her up in his arms as she throws her arms round his waist, holding on tighter than he ever imagined she would as he nods into her hair and promises her that she won't have to, because if he has his way she'll never have to feel alone or miss him again.

It's not his most eloquent of speeches and he knows he forgot to even think about whether he was telling her too much for her to handle, but when she turns tear-filled eyes up to his with a brilliant smile, he forgets to even care.

Later, when they make their way through to his bedroom together, he knows that it will probably be the best night's sleep that either of them have had in longer than they can remember. A smile threatens to burst onto his face when he thinks about waking up with her in his arms, warm and real and his in a way that he has been dreaming about for so long, but he knows that the most important thing that he will remember about this night is the way they sat right here on his living room floor, talking and kissing and holding one another.

Making promises that he knows without a doubt are the start of their forever.

Just a shot in the dark that you just might be the one I've been waiting for my whole life.