by Sandiane Carter and chezchuckles

He has to slip out of bed in the middle of the night - an irrepressible need to pee - and when he comes out of the bathroom, he pauses, humbled, arrested by the sight he's offered.

They didn't bother to close the curtains, and the moon casts its silver glow over their little room; Kate's hair scintillates with it, light catching in her dark curls. It spills on her forearm too, the pale glisten of it, on the wrist that she's rested on the pillow, next to her cheek.

She looks like something out of a dream. A painting. The sheet draped over her perfect form, the gorgeous play of shadows-

He shakes his head, struck silent. No words.

There are no words for it. Her.

His heart hammers in his chest, jumbled, quickened beats that belie the peacefulness of the scene; he has to swallow past the lump in his throat, force his feet forward.

He eases back into the bed, as quiet as he can; he tries to make himself light, one leg after the other, so that she won't feel the mattress shift with his weight. He's almost there, reaching for his corner of the sheet, when she moves.

He goes completely still, breath gathered in his throat, waiting on her; but she only scoots closer, the warmth of her body enveloping him, arm close, forehead flirting with his shoulder.

He lets the air out of his lungs, slow and relieved, closes his eyes in amazement.

Thank you, God.

He wakes with Kate Beckett in his arms, and he can't remember the last time anything's felt so good.

He lies there for a long moment, eyes closed, reveling in it, her heat against him, the feel of sunlight on his face, and then he opens his eyes.

Kate is awake, and she's watching him.

He blinks slowly, stunned by the absorption on her face, the sunlight in a nimbus around her body, gilding her skin, and then she uncurls a finger, strokes it down his nose.

She's gonna kill him. She's gonna twist his heart into a mess of adoring knots. Hopelessly tangled up in her.

"Hey," she whispers, and trails that one finger down the groove that brackets his mouth. She leans in, hardly even a breath exists between them, and she kisses the spot just above her finger, as if she's marked her place.

Picking up where she left off.

"Hey," he whispers back, and he knows his voice sounds shaky and weird and probably a little too desperately awed, but he can't help it. He kisses her back, avoiding her mouth, skimming the line of her cheekbone as she feels her way across his face, her lips following her exploring finger.

"Watching you sleep," she murmurs against him, and it's one of the most romantic things he's ever heard, ever felt; he's reduced, a total sap, a mess of quivering hormones and heart, and she was watching him sleep.

"Kinda get why you do the creepy staring thing," she says, her mouth moving to his ear, a puff of breath.

"Yeah. Good, huh?"

She laughs then, a delicious sound that curls around him. "Yeah. Good. Very good."

"I'll show you very good," he says, and shifts her above him, his eyes glancing to the mirror and back.

Her thighs slide to bracket his hips; she raises up. He can see her here and overhead. Glorious.

"You already have, but I'm not opposed to seeing it again."

Kate calls Esposito while Castle showers. She's lying in bed, flat on her back, and there's something ridiculously satisfying about looking at her reflection in the ceiling and lounging in the sheets while her team is already at the precinct, working.

Going undercover does have its perks.

She sums up last night's events for the Hispanic detective, explains their decision to stick around Josh and Violet because they made good potential victims; it's actually rather tricky, because she has to leave out so much, the...evolution in her relationship with Castle, the pool, the reason she decided against making the writer a target.

There's no talking her way around Josh and Violet's - peculiar - habits, though, and of course Esposito is thoroughly entertained.

"Swingers?" he echoes, his voice stuck halfway between disbelief and laughter. Then it grows suspicious - she can see the way his eyes narrow just as clearly as if she were standing in front of him. "Beckett. You messing with me?"

"Do I sound like I am, Esposito?"

She rolls her eyes at his beat of hesitation, meets her own gaze in the mirror; an involuntary smirk plays on her lips. This is... fun. Sorta. Kinda.

Eh. It *is* fun.

The other detective has apparently decided to believe her. "Alright. Swingers. So what did they do? Proposition you? Man, I wish I could have seen Castle's face," he regrets, and the grin on her face widens.

"Wish you could have seen it too," she drops without thinking. In her mind, the scene plays again; Castle hits Josh and Josh goes down, and then it's the writer's arms around her, his mouth at her cheekbone. She closes her eyes.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Ryan complains - she had no idea he was listening in, too. "Beckett, come on, have some mercy. You're the one having all the fun on your cruise; at last share the juicy bits. What did Castle do?"

She bites her lip, wondering what to say. She sort of wants to keep it to herself, Castle's chivalry, the outrage in his eyes, battling with the need to protect her - but at the same time, Ryan's right. She *is* the one having all the fun. Oh yeah, she thinks darkly, her body remembering last night, a flip of her stomach and a flush in her chest.

Last night and this morning.

Maybe she can share the more...PG-rated parts.

"He punched Josh," she finally lets out, knowing her voice doesn't hide any of her amusement. Ah, well.

"He what?" The mirroring exclamations of surprise make her smile wide; she catches a glimpse of teeth and tongue in her reflection, feels like an adolescent girl talking about her latest crush. Really, Kate.

"Woah, wait," Ryan says. "Castle punched the guy? What happened? What did he *say*?"

"I don't know," she says, laughing. "Castle won't tell."

"You're smiling," Esposito observes very astutely. But there's a knowing undercurrent to his voice, and she's suddenly very eager to change the subject.

"Anyway. Violet told me that they've been - been doing this - for a while now -"

"And by this," Ryan interrupts entirely too sweetly, "you mean going on cruises and trying to lure troubled couples into foursomes?"

"Yes, Ryan, it's what I mean. Now can I go on, or do you two need a minute to get over it? Maybe I should call Jenny," she adds, "tell her how interested her husband is in swinging partn-"

"That won't be necessary," he says hastily, and Esposito takes over, asks her for Josh and Violet's full names so that he can run a search on them.

Kate gives him all the information he needs, but she also tells him the truth - that she doesn't think Josh and Violet did it.

"Castle would love it if that were the case, but I didn't get that vibe from her. Check if they were on the same cruises as our victims, though. That should do it."

"But if it's not them, then who did it?" Ryan objects, sounding confused.

"Honestly, guys...I think maybe those deaths were just accidents. Castle himself wasn't steady on his feet last night and almost went overboard when we were going back to the room, so - we know there are places where the railing isn't quite flush with the life boat's housing."

"So you saved his life, uh? Clutched his shirt and kept from drowning in the Atlantic?" Esposito's voice is openly derisive, but she shrugs and lets it go, remembering with a shiver that split second when she thought he was going to topple over.

"You could say that."

She pushes back the sheets and swings her legs out of bed, taking a good look at the gorgeous blue of the sky, reflected by the ocean and only broken by the white foam that crests the waves. It's a beautiful day, but it doesn't have much to do with her current relaxed, happy state. There could be a storm outside and she would still feel like her whole being has been lit up from the inside.

Damn. Castle's making her sappy.

"How romantic," Ryan whispers suavely on the phone. "You saving his life on a deserted gangway, Castle looking into your eyes, shock and gratitude written on his face-"

"Maybe you should work for Black Pawn instead of the 12th, Ryan," she smirks. "Got a lot of imagination, that's for sure."

The door to the bathroom opens behind her; she feels the hot caress of steam lick her naked back. Then the mattress dips, giving her a moment's warning before Rick's hands tangle into her hair, gently pushing it to the side. He presses a warm kiss to the side of her neck; her lashes flutter.

"So what do I tell Gates?" Esposito is saying at the other end of the line. She swallows, focuses. The fingers wandering over her shoulder make it insanely difficult.

"Check the cruises, see if Josh and Violet were on them. If they weren't - which is most likely - tell her that the deaths were accidents."

"She's not going to like that."

"She'll have to, if it's the truth," Kate hisses sharply. Castle's hand is on her waist now, soft and tender, and her patience is quickly waning. "Call after you've talked to her," she concludes, and she hangs up before he can say anything else.

Her lips find Castle's and she can't help thinking that this is a much, much better use for them.

He tries to convince her that missing their last session with the therapist is no big deal - he's reluctant to let her get out of bed at all, has this irrational fear that if she might not come back if he lets her walk away - but Kate is nothing if not stubborn.

"No, Castle," she tells him, her brow knit and her voice definitive. "We're going. Get your ass out of bed, and get dressed."

He makes a small, whining sound at the back of his throat, not loosening his hold on her a bit; she turns narrowed eyes to him. And then, without warning, she snatches the pillow and smacks him with it, getting him in the face. The thing is too soft to hurt, but surprise suffocates him a little, and Kate gets another shot at him before he manages to wrench her weapon from her.

Of course, that's what she intended all along. Because now she's free, and she can wriggle out of bed, a flash of long legs and smooth skin that leaves him gaping. He looks down at the pillow in his hand, remembers.

"Kate Beckett. You're going to pay for this."

She's crouching down to get clothes from her bag, but she spares a second to glare back at him.

"No more, Castle." She is all cool threat now, and he feels a delicious shiver run down his back, plows ahead anyway.

"I didn't know you were one for pillow fights, detective," he grins, moving his hands so he's got a better grip on the pillow.

"Castle, I said no-"

She moves before he's even managed to get her, so fast that his brain can't follow; one moment she's on the floor, easy prey it seems, and the next she's pinning him down to the bed, fingers curled on his wrists, knees on either side of his waist.

Hot. He doesn't even care that she's taken the pillow away from him.

"What part of no do you not understand?" she asks in a low voice. But he can tell it's all for show; there's no anger in her eyes, not even a hint of annoyance.

Her lips are parted, dark hair tumbling down her shoulders, breath coming out too fast, even with the stunt she just pulled out. She's as turned on by this as he is.

"I liked it better when you called me Rick," he murmurs, choosing to ignore her last - rhetorical - question.

Her eyes widen and he watches, fascinated, her struggle to get a grip on herself, the slow pull of her teeth over her bottom lip, the enticing shine of moisture on her red mouth.

She draws in a deep breath - his eyes are on the beautiful line of her neck, entranced - and then she smiles, a small, dark, cheeky thing.

"Liar," she says, and she slides off him.


Oh. That line about wanting her to call him Rick. Hmm. Okay. Not entirely true, he has to admit.

"Come on, Castle. Or I'm going without you."

That's all the incentive he needs to move.

Alicia welcomes them with a smile, lets them in her spacious office. The morning light bathes the room in gold, every angle softened, every object embellished; Kate wonders if it's been like this every morning, and she was simply too nervous to notice.

"Hello, Kate. Rick."

They sit in the same chairs as before; Kate tries to suppress a smile when she realizes that, realizes that they've already got their little habits here. Like a married couple, really.

Alicia's perceptive, warm brown eyes linger over them; she sets her elbows on her desk, rests her chin on top of her hands.

"I'm glad to see you both still looking so relaxed," she says with a curve of her lips. "Do you feel like this cruise is helping you? Like you've...found what you were looking for?"

Kate lifts surprised eyes to the woman. She tenses for a second, her NYPD reflexes kicking in - Alicia may know something, know about their investigation, be hiding information - but she relaxes quickly when she sees the therapist's friendly, innocent face.

She just means - their relationship.

Kate looks over at Castle, finds his eyes on her, gentle, happy eyes. Her breath catches in her chest.

"No," she finds herself answering, even though he's usually the one handling Alicia's first questions. "No, I think I've found - more?"

He understands; she sees it in his face, the beginnings of a smile, the startled joy in his eyes.

"More than I was looking for," she adds needlessly, a murmur intended for the therapist maybe, or herself.

Castle beams.

"That's a beautiful thing to say, Kate," Alicia says in a soft, encouraging voice. "Rick, do you want to answer that?"

He opens his mouth, closes it, shakes his head. Ha. She's struck the great Richard Castle speechless, hasn't she?

"Just." He struggles with words, hesitates, then goes all in, in true Castle fashion. Their chairs are close enough that he can grab her hand, hold it in hers as he says, "I love you, Kate. That's - that's all I want to say. I love you."

She knows she's grinning like an idiot, but she can't help it, no more than she can help the wild pounding of her heart. She bites her lip and squeezes his fingers, the only thing she can do, the only thing she wants to do.

No need for words.

His hand, his eyes are saying it all, saying everything, and she knows hers must be, too.

She knows - she's known - that he loves her, but-

She's been waiting for this. She's been waiting for the day he would say the words again, and this time she wouldn't be dying, wouldn't be dazzled by the too-bright sun as she gasped for air in the grass, her whole world going black, despite the desperate urge in his voice.

She'd be his. She'd be ready.

She is ready.

I think you two can overcome anything.

The therapist's words ring in his ears long after they've left the room, follow him down the stairs to their deck, step over the threshold with him.

A natural team. You two make great life partners.

They did. They do. Don't they?

"Espo texted me while we were in there," she says, pulling out her phone and checking her messages. She's all business now, hair scraped back behind her ears, mouth in a straight line, eyes flinty.

But in that therapist's room, she was all brimming hope and expectancy and wide-open heart. She was the woman who teased him last night even as he made her gasp.

The change isn't unwelcome, not at all. He likes this woman too, loves her, this side of her. No-nonsense and taking care of business.

"Those two weren't on either of the other cruises," Kate says, lifting her eyes to him. She's grinning, but his shoulders slump. "What?"

"I kinda wanted Josh to be a murderer," he confesses, wincing.

She bursts into laughter, drops her phone on the bed, and links her arms around the back of his neck. Surprised, stunned really, he traps her waist in his hands, feels her sway, swing, against him. Her mouth comes to his neck, sucks lightly at his skin, her tongue soothing.

"We dock in Cape Canaveral in two hours, Castle. There's no murder, no case. I'm not at all disappointed that Josh isn't my guy."

"Damn right he's not your guy," Castle growls back, bending his head to bite her jawbone, feeling her body arch suddenly against his. She likes it. Her hand in his hair tightens, her hips lower a little, but her heat is still pressed close.

"You my guy, Castle?" she mutters, tilting her head back as he works his way down her neck, teeth and tongue, scraping against the outline of her larynx.

"Yes," he says, pausing only to put the word right against her ear. Her head snaps down, her eyes hot and ready and intense on his.

"We've got two hours. Prove it."

They take their bags with them, make stupid excuses about being all cured now, and the ship leaves port without them.

Her body is still buzzing with awareness, bright and tropical heat inside her veins, and she barely notices the Florida humidity. She leads him to the cab stand just past the massive check-in center, rolling her suitcase behind her. When the driver puts her stuff in the trunk and she turns, she sees Castle hesitate.

"What?" she asks warily. She doesn't want him to come up with another bright idea; his last one ended with him punching Josh.

Well, no, actually, his last idea ended with her sprawled in the deck with him, clutching at his belt and wanting nothing more than to lead him by it back into their room.

So okay, bright ideas aren't so bad.

He doesn't answer, just watches his bag being loaded into the trunk next to hers.

She wonders if he's worried that things will go back to how they were; she extends her hand to him with an easy smile, squeezes his fingers when he takes it.

"Let's go home, Castle."

He gets in beside her and spends the whole drive to the airport brushing maddeningly at the skin of her hipbone, over and over, his eyes on the scenery. She is content to let him think, and touch, certain it will only be to their benefit.

Eventually anyway. There might be some punches involved, maybe a near-fall, but they'll get there.

At the airport, she takes her luggage and starts walking towards the desk - they'll have to buy their tickets here since Gates hadn't wanted to put a firm date on their return. Gates kept hinting, before they left, that Kate ought to get it cleaned up quickly. Perhaps the Captain meant for Beckett and Castle to put in a perfunctory effort and come home within 24 hours.

She pauses when she realizes that Castle isn't actually following behind her. When she turns her head to look for him, he grabs her by the wrist; his face is suddenly eager and alight.

"New plan," he says, nearly giddy. "Let's not fly home."

She laughs. "We have to go back sometime. Don't worry, I-"

"No, I know. I mean. Let's not go home on an airplane."

"What else is there, Castle?" she says, raising an eyebrow at him but reaching up to stroke her fingers down his cheek. "You okay?"

He captures her hand and kisses her palm, effortless and rather unconscious looking, and it makes her heart flip in her chest, her stomach drop out. How natural it is for him to love her. How easy.

And how she still hasn't really said it, has she? Because it's not so easy for her.

"I'm good. I'm fine. More than. No. I mean, let's rent a car and drive."

"Drive where?" She has no idea what sight-seeing there is to do in Cape Canaveral, and honestly, while she's not dying to get back to the city by tonight, she doesn't exactly want to hang out here either.

"Drive home," he answers, grinning at her. "Road trip."

"Road trip? Castle-" She starts to shake her head at him but he captures her with both palms against her cheeks, stills her instinctive denial.

"Wait. Just think about it. Take a couple days off, Kate. Here to New York is about 20 hours on I-95, so say tomorrow through Monday? That would only be three days PTO. We could just . . . have fun together."

She blinks at him, sees the car rental place just over his shoulder. He's serious, and he's happy, and he wants to have fun with her.

But she has a job she needs-

No. No more excuses. He wants to have some time with her and she wants to have fun again. "Five days of driving?"

"I'll do my share of the driving. If you'll let me," he says darkly, then laughs at her look. "We'll shoot for five hours of driving a day. We can stop in DC and Philly on the way back up. Or wherever else looks interesting. Just go where the road takes us."

Kate bites her bottom lip. "Where would we stay each night?"

"Together," he says cheekily, grinning at her.

And now she's got images in her head, her body is doing a pretty fine job of remembering as well, and the heat is climbing up her insides like a match being set to a stick of dynamite.

It's stupid, and frivolous, and she doesn't really have any more paid time-off, not after this summer, but she won't tell him that. She won't mention this summer.


"Okay, Castle. Road trip."

He rents a car while she calls Gates and requests time off. She stands a little ways off, her back to him, and when he gets the keys, he has to go over and snag her elbow.

She holds a finger up to him and stalks off.

The guy behind the counter is waiting to show them to their car, and Castle shrugs, glances back to where Kate is pacing the floor just past the row of plastic chairs. When she starts talking, she stops moving, her body tense and still. Then she nods, says something, hangs up.

She doesn't say anything when she rejoins him, just follows the attendant out to the car, pulling her suitcase after her. Castle doesn't push, waits for the guy to sign the car out, and then he loads their bags in the trunk and gets in the driver's seat.

His turn to drive for a while.

"What was that about?"

"I told her we couldn't fly."

"You lied?"

"Shaded the truth. For that. And then I outright lied. She didn't want to give me the time off."

Castle wonders, suddenly, if Kate even has the time off to begin with. He forgot about this summer, about how long she was out. Were those sick days, a leave of absence, or jeez, worker's comp?

"What was the lie?"

"I said you were too seasick to fly. I said you might've gotten one of those cruise ship illnesses and we were going to have to drive back."

"Oh. Gross, Beckett."

"So, if Gates should ask you how you felt," Kate finishes. "You tell her you felt awful, you were a whiny baby, and that you begged me not to leave you."

"I can do that last part, if you need me to."

She huffs and shakes her head as he starts the engine, adjusting the air conditioning. "No, Castle. You don't have to beg. I won't be leaving you."

He startles, dropping his hand to the gearshift, surprised by both the ease with which she says it, and the fervor in her voice. She reaches out and takes his hand, laces her fingers through his.

Her hair spills around her face, the sunlight making it nearly blonde in a halo around her head. Her eyes seek his and hold on, fervent, knowing, laid bare. He feels it choke him, feels it rise up in him and clamor for his attention.

He's got to say it again; he let it out in their therapy session this morning and now that he has, again, now that it's in the wind, he can't keep it back.


She reaches out quickly and snags his lips, shutting him up.

"Your turn to drive. But my turn for this," she says, and leans across the center console to kiss the mouth she hushed, moist and warm, her tongue playing with his. She smooths her fingers over his jaw, back and forth like she's gentling him.

When Kate pulls back, her lips have that lovely smudged look, her eyes are dark pools.

"Your turn?" he questions, and reaches up to take that hand still caressing his jaw.

"My turn. Before we start this," she nods to the open space before them and the GPS waiting patiently with a map. "It's my turn now."

He's about to ask again when she brings his fingers to her mouth, presses her lips against the back of his hand and inhales, deeply, as if she's drawing in strength or courage.

Bu when her eyes lift to his, there seems to be no need for either of those things. She's dazzling: rich, dark gold, her mouth ripe and smiling, her eyes filled up with something he can't name, has never really seen before-

"I love you too," she says, clutches his hand harder to her chest. "I love you too. I love you. I-"

He swallows her next words with the force of his kiss, takes them inside himself where they can never grow old, never rust away.

Never be apart from him.