Final chapter. I wish I had a good excuse for how late it is, but I don't, so...well, here.

(If it wasn't real, it wouldn't be them)

The elevator pings, the doors slide open, and Kate sighs and steps off. She spent the day pounding the pavement, following one dead-end lead after another. Around eight o'clock she gave up, went back to the precinct to check in with Gates, and then decided she'd pick it up again in the morning. The boys were halfway to the elevator before she finished telling them they were done for the day.

Kate flips through her key ring, searching for the right key. She finds it and looks up, only to stop dead in her tracks.

There's someone slumped in front of her front door. Kate takes a few cautious steps forward, her hand moving toward her gun. She's about five feet away when she realizes that the someone in front of her door is Rick, and he's asleep. She stares at him, unsure if she's actually seeing things correctly, and then a voice comes from somewhere behind her.

"Poor dear got tired waiting for you."

Kate jumps and whirls around to see Mrs. Reynolds from 731 standing in her doorway. It's only the loving stare Mrs. Reynolds has focused on Castle that saves the elderly woman from seeing Kate's gun.

"Mrs. Reynolds," Kate says, taking a deep breath to calm her racing heart. "You scared me."

"Oh, I'm sorry dear," Mrs. Reynolds says, fixing Kate with a smile. "I've been checking on him every hour."

"Every hour?" Kate repeats, glancing at Rick. "How long has he been here?"

"Oh since about four or so."

Kate glances at her dad's watch. It's nine o'clock. She looks up at Rick incredulously. "Five hours," she mutters.

Mrs. Reynolds is smiling indulgently at Rick. "I brought him out some brownies around seven. He asked if he could keep one for you." The older woman looks at Kate with her eyebrows raised. "Such a nice boy, Katie dear. Is he your boyfriend?"

There's a pang inside of her somewhere deep, and Kate shakes her head. "No. Just a friend."

"Well he's quite fond of you. We talked about you for over an hour."

Kate's saved the trouble of a long story by the appearance of an orange cat at Mrs. Reynolds' feet. "Oh, Charlie, look who's here," Mrs. Reynolds exclaims, scooping up the cat. "Katie, say hello."

Kate smiles and pats the cat on the head when Mrs. Reynolds holds him out. "Hey little man."

Charlie flicks his tail at her. "Time for bed, Charlie," Mrs. Reynolds says. "Good night, Katie dear. Take care of that young man."

"Yes ma'am."

Mrs. Reynolds' door shuts, and Kate's left alone in the hall with Rick. She stares at him for a long moment, wondering what the hell he's doing here, and then she finally steps toward him and kicks his foot.


He snorts and shifts but doesn't wake up. Kate kicks him again, maybe a little harder than she needs to. "Castle."

He shoots up, his eyes wide. "Didn't do it, I swear!"

Kate can't help but smile a little. Rick blinks up at her, confused. "Kate? What are you doing here?"

"You're the one sleeping in front of my door, Castle. What are you doing here?"

"Oh," he mutters, glancing around. It takes a minute to sink in, and then he looks back at her. "I was waiting for you."

He gets to his feet and stretches, groaning. Kate watches him, an eyebrow arched.

"How long?" she asks, even though she already knows. She's curious to see if he'll exaggerate.

He shrugs. "Not long." He nods at Mrs. Reynolds' door. "Your neighbor brought me brownies. I saved you one." He digs it out of his pocket and holds it out to her, but it looks like a rock covered in dirt and there's a gum wrapper stuck to it. Kate crinkles her nose. "Oops," Rick mutters sheepishly, flicking the wrapper off. He holds the brownie out to Kate, and she shakes her head.

"No, thank you."

He shrugs and pops it in his mouth. He says something to her around the brownie, but she can't understand him. She gives him a look, and he swallows the brownie and grins like a five-year-old. "I'm supposed to tell you that Charlie and Mr. Muffins are waiting for you to come over and visit."

"Okay. Anything else?"

Rick knits his eyebrows in thought. " Not that I remember anyway."

He smiles at her, and Kate waits expectantly to hear what he's been doing waiting for her outside of her apartment for five hours. When he doesn't offer an explanation, she prods one out him.

"What are you doing here, Castle?"

He shrugs. "I'm fighting for you."

It's the last thing she expects to hear, so she just stares at him for a long moment. "You're...what?"

"Fighting for you," he repeats.

Kate still doesn't know what to say, so she just remains silent. Castle's staring at his shoes now, bouncing slightly up and down in a way that Kate refuses to acknowledge might be kind of cute. He holds out his hand, and when she looks down, she sees a pair of handcuffs. Painted red writing glints on the silver, and she looks closer. Frozen Heat, it reads.

"They're door prizes for the launch party," he says softly. "This morning I met one of Black Pawn's people at a coffee shop so I could approve the final design. I asked if I could borrow a pair to give to Ryan and Esposito. I accidentally left them on the table."

Kate looks up at him. He's watching her closely.

"Her name's Morgan," he continues. "She works with Hollywood people a lot, which means she's overly touchy and calls me awful pet names that make it sound like she's seen me naked. Which she hasn't, by the way."

Kate shakes her head. "You don't need to explain anything to me."

"I think I do," he contradicts.

She thinks back to the way she'd stormed off at the coffee shop. She opens her mouth to apologize, but he waves her off.

"I don't blame you. I…well, we don't have the best track record, do we?"

She nods in agreement. They definitely don't. "So is that why you're here?" she says. "To explain Morgan?"

"No. I told you. I'm fighting for you. Which is actually rather difficult, because I've never had to fight for anyone before." He shrugs. "Usually I buy women something expensive and say something charming and I'm forgiven, but're not like other women."

Kate gapes at him, caught off guard and helplessly flattered. He's gazing at her intensely, his hands shoved in his pockets, and she can't make herself look away.

"I could try that, if you want," he says softly.

She swallows. "Try what?"

"I could buy you a pony. Or a new squad car." He takes a step toward her. "Or maybe I should tell you that I spent all summer pining over you. Which was really fun for like a week because I finally got to be a brooding artist, but then I started to miss you too much and it wasn't fun anymore."

He takes another step and suddenly he's right in front of her, so close that she's sure he can hear her heart thudding in her chest.

"You're not an easy person to miss, you know," he tells her.

"I'm not?" she says before she can stop herself.

"No," he reiterates, giving her a crooked smile that charms the hell out of her despite her best efforts to stop it. "Everything reminds me of you. Food. Writing. Talking. Breathing. I couldn't escape you when I was sleeping either, but I won't go into that cause it makes me sound like a creeper."

She smiles again, she can't help it, and it makes his smile wider. He just takes her in for a second, and then his smile fades.

"You know what makes missing you the worst?" he asks quietly.

She can't find her voice to ask, but it doesn't matter.

"The regret. Constantly thinking about how if I'd just cut through everything that held me back, good intentions and all, then none of this would've happened. Then I wouldn't have to live with knowing that I hurt you, or knowing that you don't trust me."

He shakes his head and looks at his feet. "Truth is, I'm kind of miserable without you. But I'm not going to push you. I'm just going to wait, if that's okay with you."

"Again?" she blurts out.

He looks up at her, surprised. She feels her face flush.

"Sorry," she mutters. "I just…" she wants to ask him if he's tired of waiting for her, but she's afraid of the answer. So she says nothing.

He gives her a soft smile, as though he can read her mind. He probably can. Damn him. "I'll bring you coffee," he continues. "And I'll be your friend, and I'll just wait until you trust me again. I'll fight for you without fighting with you. It's not how the knights do it in those stories I used to read to Alexis, but I figure you're no damsel in distress, and we've always done things our own way." He glances down at her lips than back up. "And I like that about us."

He doesn't say anything else, and for the longest time neither of them says anything at all. Kate is fairly certain that there's something in the back of her brain that's set on buzz. Her entire body seems to be vibrating, or maybe just trembling, or maybe the world around her is shaking and it makes her feel like she is, too; whatever it is, she knows that this, at last, is the moment when she's got to decide. In or out. Do or die. Castle or not.

He's staring at her like she's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen, and maybe she is. She feels like she is, and she knows that it has nothing to do with the way he looks at her when he wants to take her to bed. No, it's something else. Something about her fits with something about him. It's like sliding her feet into her favorite pair of running shoes. It's so familiar, so comfortable, and yet she can never be sure where he'll end up taking her.

So here she is, in a place she never thought she'd be. Or maybe she's exactly where she always knew she'd be. Maybe all along she's just been waiting for this, for him, and now he's here and she's trying to come to terms with the fact that she is literally shaking. That her heart is thumping wildly in her chest. That she wants him like she's never wanted anyone or anything, and he wants her, too.

"I miss you," she finally whispers.

A huge grin threatens his lips, but he manages to keep it in check. "You do?"

"You're not an easy person to miss either."

It's her turn to glance at his lips, and she bites her own absently. She goes still when he reaches up and slides his fingers through her hair. Then he drops his hand back down to his side. "I've been wanting to do that since earlier."

She smiles faintly. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." He reaches forward and laces his fingers through hers. "This too."

His voice is getting quieter, lower, and Kate can barely hear him over the roar of her blood pounding in her ears. "Anything else?" she wonders in a barely audible voice.

He nods. "Yeah."

He tugs on her hand, pulling her closer so that his other arm can wrap around her waist and hold her body against his. She feels herself react instantly, feels the hot lightning bolt of desire race through her. "I'm gonna kiss you now," he murmurs.

She swallows. "Okay."

And then he does, and her mind goes blank, and all she can think about is him, and his hands reacquainting themselves with her body, and the way his hair feels underneath her fingers. When he finally pulls away he leans his forehead against hers.

"Did you miss that too?"

Kate smiles against his lips. "Shut up and do it again."