Silently, he leads her through the office, past the dimmed storyboard that haunted them this morning. It's been a very long day.
She pauses at the threshold of his bedroom, takes a deep breath. He turns around, her hand still encased in one of his.
"Kate," he says softly, coming to stand directly in her path. "You know there's absolutely no-"
"Pressure," she finishes for him. "I know. I want this. I want you."
Joy blends with desire in his eyes, and his free hand rises to curl around her elbow. His dips his head.
And kisses her.
Slow. Deep. Searching for her and letting himself be found.
She dislodges his hand from her elbow when she slides her fingers up his chest, lingering at his clavicle. Her fingers trace the bones, press lightly against the muscles, testing their strength. Her thumb strokes at the hollow underneath his collar, feeling the vibration of his vocal cords as he hums in response.
His palm finds a home on her side, warm and sure, gliding over her obliques to curve around her lower back, rising to cover her jutting shoulder blade.
So this is what it feels like to be loved by Richard Castle. He surrounds her, but there's no claustrophobia in his embrace, no sense of being closed in, trapped. She knows that if she asked him to stop, to step away, he would. But she won't.
She clutches his hand more tightly, and then lets go, fingers skimming up his arm to his shoulder, around to the top of his spine to tickle soft skin at the base of his neck. He shivers, and she pulls away from his mouth, smiling.
"Cold?" she asks teasingly, watching him through long lashes.
He shakes his head, raising his now free hand to tuck an errant lock behind her ear, calloused fingertips scraping gently against her cheek.
"What about you?" he returns playfully. "Are you cold?"
She gazes up at him, at those blue eyes that have invaded her dreams for months - sometimes laughing, sometimes wanting, sometimes pleading for her to stay with him. But now they're looking at her like she's a new creation, something he's never seen. And maybe he hasn't. Not fully.
"Freezing," she tells him, teeth sinking into her bottom lip to keep from smiling. "Warm me up?"
His rich laughter fills whatever small space remains between them, his breath hot against her mouth.
"As you wish."
Before he can kiss her, though, she leans back, still in the circle of his arms, but far enough to see him properly.
"Really, Castle?" she drawls. "That especially cheesy movies line? That's your strategy?"
His eyes twinkle, perhaps the result of her reproach, perhaps because simply because she recognized the line.
"Would you prefer a different line? Maybe 'Love is what bwings us togetha today' or something like that?"
She should laugh, should tease him about his extensive knowledge of that movie, listen to him defend its merits and cult status. But that word - love - it still catches her by surprise, still sends tremors through her chest.
She's known, for months, that he loves her. Has seen in the way he looks at her, felt it in the way their fingers brush when he hands her a cup of coffee, heard it every time he says her name. And of course, he'd spoken the words too. Not just in the cemetery but this morning as well. And again this afternoon. And in the elevator on their way up to the loft this evening.
He's stopped his joking for now, must have seen the seriousness on her face.
"What is it?" he whispers, and she shakes her head, pulls herself out of her thoughts, back into the present with this man.
"I love you," she murmurs. "That's all. I love you."
His eyes soften and crinkle at the edges. He tilts his head toward her, and she rises on tiptoes to meet him, nudging his cheek with her nose, bumping his mouth with her smile.
"I love you," she repeats, and then his fingers are tangled in her hair, holding her close.
His eyes slide shut as his mouth collides with hers in a languid kiss that leaves her breathless.
"Oh Kate," he pants when he pulls away. "I love you. I love you so much."
She tucks her face into the crook of his neck, overwhelmed. Overwhelmed, but happy. At peace.
He cradles her body securely, one large hand spanning her lower back, the other at her neck, kneading the tight muscles there as she slowly melts under his touch. A low hum reverberates in his chest, flowing into her, the same tune she heard when she found him in the kitchen this morning, cooking breakfast. She still can't place it, but knows she's heard it before.
The voice of his daughter surprises her, and she startles in his arms. He chuckles, turning his face to press his lips against her temple.
"Be right back," he whispers, and she nods against his neck before he untangles himself from her, turning her with his hands as he steps past her through the still open doorway to his bedroom.
She looks up, and finds Alexis leaning against the shelving that separates the office from the rest of the apartment. The girl is smiling timidly, a slight flush on her cheeks.
"Hey sweetheart," the writer greets his daughter. "Heading to bed?"
The young redhead nods, pushing off from the shelves and into her father's sturdy embrace. She hugs him tightly, then pulls away, small hands resting on his sides while his brace her back, holding her in place.
"Just wanted to say goodnight, and the door was still open, so..."
She trails off, and her eyes flick from Castle's face to the detective.
He reels the girl in, kisses her forehead, and Kate watches as the young woman's eyes close, lips curving upward in a content smile.
"Sleep well, pumpkin," he says, his voice low and tender.
The detective knows she could feel like an intruder in this moment, but she doesn't. They're sharing with her, openly, letting her into their lives and their hearts. And she's grateful, so grateful just to be here and bear witness to the love of this family.
The girl pushes herself up, and wraps her arms around Castle's neck as he bends down to reach her.
"You too, Dad," she says, and then giggles as he tightens his grip on her, lifts her off her feet.
He groans something about how his back hurts and he's getting too old for this, and sets her back on the floor, releasing his daughter with a squeeze of her side.
"Goodnight, Kate," she calls, throwing a smile over her shoulder as she heads out of the room and shuts the door.
The detective responds in kind, a 'sweet dreams' leaving her lips before she looks back at Castle to find him smiling - no, beaming - at her.
"Getting too old?" she teases as he stalks back toward his bedroom. "Sure you're up to this? Wouldn't want to injure your back."
Oh, she should know better by now than to taunt him, but she just can't resist. And when he crowds her into his bedroom, turns her and presses her against the door until it snicks closed - well, she's not going to complain about the results of said teasing. If he feels the need to give her concrete evidence of his youth, she's not going to stop him.
"Not too old for this," he growls. "Never too old for this."
Every line of his body meets hers, his hands bracketing her hips, and his bedroom door is cool at her back.
"Yeah?" she breathes in his ear, teeth nipping at the lobe. "Prove it."
His fingers flex against her, thumbs delving under the hem of her shirt to feather across smooth skin.
She feels the muscles of her stomach contract, and he repeats the motion, draws the same reaction and a husky moan.
He covers his mouth with hers, warm and soft and so demanding, enticing sounds from her throat that she's never given to any man. He presses into her, forcing her shoulders to flatten and her arms to curve yet further around his neck.
She uses what little leverage she possesses at the moment to get one foot up and shove away from the door. He stumbles back, and for just a second, she fears they'll go crashing to the floor. But he catches himself, regains his balance, and tugs her toward the bed without ever letting go - with his hands or his mouth.
His knees hit the edge of the bed, and he drops down unexpectedly, pulling her with him. She lands in a heap on top of him, narrowly avoiding smashing their noses together. She lays her head on his chest and allows herself to catch her breath. He sighs.
"We'll get better at this, won't we?" he asks, and she doesn't have to look up at him to know he's smiling.
But she props her chin on one hand, lifts her eyes to meet his. He's tilted up so he can see her, head pillowed on one bent arm.
"We probably will," she says, bringing her other hand up to brush the hair away from his forehead, to smooth the slight furrow in his brow. "Practice makes perfect, you know."
His smile widens.
"And we'll be doing a lot of practicing, will we?"
She nods, lowering her eyes, tracing circles on his chest.
"We will," she promises. "But awkward is good, Castle. Awkward is real. And I want real."
He pushes himself up on one elbow to kiss her softly.
She gives him a moment, pours her heart into the kiss, and then pulls away, rolling to the side and sitting up.
"Where are you going?" he asks, and when she looks at him, there's a clear pout in his expression.
She lift her hand, pulls one corner of his mouth back into a lopsided smile.
"I'll be right back, you big baby. I just want to brush my teeth."
He shakes his head.
"Your breath is fine," he implores. "You don't need to brush your teeth."
"Thanks. But you've been plying me with coffee all day, and I also need to go to the bathroom."
He blushes. She loves that, loves that she can embarrass him sometimes without trying. So she leans in and presses her lips swiftly to his before she stands and saunters across the room, turning back to wink at him as she closes the door.
She takes care of her needs quickly, washes her hands, and brushes her teeth. She hesitates for a moment, then opens the overnight bag that still sits on the counter, cleaning the makeup from her face and then changing into her pajamas from the night before.
When she emerges, he's waiting, reclining against the headboard, hands folded over his stomach, the picture of serenity.
"Your turn," she tells him, and he heaves himself off the bed, deliberately brushing against her as he passes.
She makes herself at home until he returns, dimming the lights and folding back the covers that they'd so carefully arranged together this morning.
This is it. This is the moment.
And yet, no. It's not.
Last night, comforting him and relieving him of his guilt, falling asleep in his arms. This morning, telling him that she'd heard his desperate words all those months ago, telling him that she's in love with him. And then, mending their brokenness in front of the makeshift murderboard. Those are the moments that mean everything to her.
This, this is just the next step, the natural progression. It will be wonderful and earth-shaking, she's certain. They've always had an undeniable chemistry. But their chemistry isn't what binds them together.
It's the way he's stood by her, no matter what. It's the way she's believed in him and trusted him to have her back. It's the sum of their shared experiences. And this will be just one more piece of the puzzle.
The door creaks open and there he is, shifting from foot to foot, in maroon boxers and a white t-shirt, light from the bathroom silhouetting him as he stands in the doorway. He looks adorably nervous, and she leans back on the bed, fluffy pillows cushioning her head. One finger crooks to beckon him closer. And he lurches forward, compelled out of his spot toward her.
He stops when he reaches the bed, and she lifts her hand to tug on the bottom of his shirt.
"You coming, or what?"
He grins, and the tension breaks.
"You're giving me all the easy jokes tonight," he says. "I'm a little disappointed."
She smirks up at him.
"Why?" she asks, a hint of tongue poking through her teeth. "Are they beneath you?"
His knee rises to balance on the mattress, pressing down hard as he swings his other leg over until she's well and truly trapped.
"Not the only thing that's beneath me," he rumbles.
Her heart pounds in her chest at the predatory look in his eyes. But all too quickly the glint of danger disappears and he's just his goofy self again.
"Thanks for the setup."
She shrugs, nudging his thigh with her knee.
"What are partners for?"
He braces his hands on either side of her shoulders, angling his head to kiss her soundly on the mouth.
It's everything she could want in a kiss. His lips are warm and supple, pliant and giving, smooth. In delicious contrast, the day old stubble on his cheeks scrapes against her skin, reminding her that he is all man, rugged and strong and fierce in the way he loves her.
She strains upward, tongue diving into his mouth, and he groans. She savors the sound, and he generously returns the favor, coaxing a whimper from her throat.
If he keeps kissing her like this...
A sound to her left jolts her out of the haze of pleasure, and she drops her head back to the pillow, staring up into his hungry face. His eyes are clouded with arousal, his lips swollen from the pressure of her kisses.
"What?" he whispers, and she remembers why she stopped. She heard a noise. A noise that didn't belong here in the bed while they made love.
"What is it?" he asks again. "Kate?"
But she doesn't have to answer, because at that moment, he lets out a frustrated sigh, and then chuckles. She follows his gaze over to the hand that presses into the mattress in the middle of the bed, bearing his weight.
She should have known. Minnie is there, kneading the sheets and nuzzling his fingers. Purring happily. It'd be sweet if not for the timing.
Kate shakes her head.
"And terrible timing."
She reaches over to run her hand across the little creature's head, and when Minnie blinks sleepy green eyes at the two of them, she knows this is it for tonight. Practice, right? And if they really do have kids someday, this won't be the last time things come screeching to a halt. That image from this morning of the dark haired children comes rushing back. She turns her gaze back to her partner and knows that he's once again on the same page.
Of course, in order to actually have kids...
He hovers above her, blue eyes that see all, that know her so well, that speak when his lips are silent. Not that they're silent now.
"I think this is where I say 'Next time, without the kitten.'"
She laughs, can't help it, but his mouth over hers muffles the sound. When he pulls back from the kiss, he's smiling.
"I don't have to work tomorrow," she whispers, lifting her hand to run across his cheek, his jaw, down his neck to his cotton-covered chest, and then his stomach until she can just tuck her fingers into the waistband of his shorts. "What do you say we leave Minnie here with Alexis for the day?"
He props himself on one elbow and reaches down to still her questing fingers.
"I don't know, Detective," he says playfully. "What did you have in mind?"
She chuckles, watches as his eyes widen.
He gulps, and lifts his head an inch or two, but she abandons his waistband to curl her fingers around the back of his neck, holding him close, not letting him escape.
"And you want to leave Minnie here for the day?" he asks. "All day?"
She hums, and he smiles, mouth pressing quickly to hers until she squeezes his neck so he'll pull back. So she can see his eyes. So he can see hers.
"All day, Castle," she whispers, fingers sliding from his neck to rasp against his scalp. He shudders in her arms.
"Kate..." he murmurs, and nothing more. Just her name.
Breathless, speechless. She loves his voice. Loves his words. But this will work too. Yes... This will work just fine.
"So we should probably get some rest," she says wickedly, lifting up to meet his mouth one more time. "Gonna need our strength."
Author's note: We've reached the end of the line, my friends. To each of you who have read this story, whether you just started it within the last couple of days or have been with me since December 6th and the first chapter of Fluff: I thank you. Thank you to all who have reviewed and added to favorites and alerts - the emails have been a great source of joy. To Emma, who reviewed first: thanks for recommending and reblogging - thanks for getting the word out. To AC: thanks for inviting me to be part of the club - the words of wisdom and encouragement found therein have been invaluable. To Laura and SexySheep, who both continually left me reviews that essentially urged Castle and Beckett to get it on already: use your imagination. ;)
Again, thank you all for sticking with Minnie and me. It's been a blast.