Rick pulls up to the station and lets his car idle while he waits for Beckett to appear. It's the Friday before Thanksgiving, and since she managed to get the entire week off, they're already headed up to the Hamptons. His mother, her father, Alexis, and Daniel plan to join them Wednesday night, but Rick and Beckett are leaving early because Miranda said she had some news for them, and it would be best if they could come in person.

When Kate walks out the front door of the building she's all smiles for the two cops she passes going in, but when she gets in the car the smile drops. Uh oh.

He doesn't even attempt a kiss. She's putting her seat belt on as he eases into traffic, and she still hasn't said anything beyond "Hello."

As they sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, at long last he gives up and asks, "Is there something on your mind?"

"Is there something…?" She huffs a laugh that's not at all happy. "When were you going to tell me, Castle?"

"Tell you…" Uh oh again. He didn't realize that this was something to do with him; he just assumed she'd had a bad day at work or something. He's searching through his memories of this morning and last night to see if he can pinpoint it, but there's nothing. "What?"

"That your new book coming out next week is your last Nikki Heat."

Oh. That. The one he'd written last fall was finally out in print, and he'd had a long talk with Gina, but he'd been putting this conversation with Kate off for a while. But to be fair, no one was supposed to know about that yet. "How did you even find out?"

"Esposito and Ryan. It apparently leaked from your publishing company and now it's all over the Internet. I had to hear it from them, and I had to pretend that I already knew, because they assumed that of course you would've told me."

"And I was going to. I just hadn't found the right time." Besides, he honestly didn't think she'd be that fazed by the news. She never was overly excited about being the inspiration for it in the first place, and somewhere along the line she made peace with it, but to get this worked up? It made no sense.

"So how did you do it?" She crosses her arms over her chest and looks out the side window.

"Do what?"

"Don't play with me, Castle. How did you kill Nikki off?"

"Oh!" It all dawns on him now. He's keeping one eye on traffic and the other on her incredibly adorable expression, the one where she's trying to pretend like she doesn't care. "I didn't."

"But they said that—"

"I didn't kill her off. She's still alive and kicking. I told Gina that I might consider writing more Nikki Heat books in the future, but for now I wanted to take a break because I have a new series that I'm starting."

"You do?"

"Yes, so it just goes to show that you can't believe everything that you read on the Internet."

"Well," she gives in, letting her arms drop and her hands begin fiddling with the belt of her coat. "It's good to know that you're not sitting around thinking of ways to kill me."

"Oh please, I do that all the time."

She rolls her eyes.

Rick answers the doorbell and greets Miranda and the guest she's brought with, a man in his late 20s by the name of Darren. Mr. and Mrs. Glendale along with their daughter Dana and son-in-law Grant are already seated near the fireplace, and Rick's not surprised to see Mrs. Glendale get up and amiably greet Darren despite the bizarre set of circumstances that have resulted in this cocktail party on a Sunday evening. Kate even made Hors d'oeuvres, as if that would lend an air of civility and normalcy to this entire thing.

Rick pours Darren a drink and refreshes his own and Mr. Glendale's before sitting next to Kate. Miranda begins explaining. "Darren has been with our department since he was a teenager, isn't that right?"

Darren nods and is having a hard time meeting anyone's eyes. Rick would otherwise conclude guilt, but he knows, or rather he's learned from Beckett that the rules change when you're dealing with someone who has mental deficiencies.

"I'm good at my job," Darren says. It's not a defense, but rather a statement of fact, like he's simply repeating what he's heard on the last employee annual review.

"Darren," Miranda puts a hand on his arm, "can you tell us the name of your cousin?" Darren swallows, looks at her and then down at his feet. "It's OK, these are nice people and they want to hear what you have to say, just like you told me."

"My cousin…" Darren takes a sip of his drink. Rick made it very light on alcohol, but he feels for this poor kid and kind of regrets not giving him a little more in the way of liquid courage. "My cousin's name is Travis."

"That's good, Darren."

Darren's story slowly begins to tumble out. He was always following his older cousin around, wishing he could be more like him. He talks about life at home growing up with their grandfather and grandmother, because Darren's family was dead and Travis' father drank. At one point, Darren even recalls seeing Dana at a party talking to Travis, and she shakily accepts a Kleenex while Grant puts an arm around her.

Miranda guides Darren gently through telling his tale. It's a sad but all too often repeated pattern of neglect and abuse. Travis fell into increasingly darker thoughts and actions as a result of his background, and it's almost textbook. Darren didn't actually witness it, but he is later told the details of the first time Travis kills a young boy, instead of the animals in the woods he'd been, in his words, "practicing on" for years.

It turns out that the resulting years and eventual capture and trial of Travis Millicent broke their grandmother's heart until she died of it, and left their grandfather in a nursing home. According to Darren, "He can't ever be the same again."

"It's over," Darren says. He's meeting their eyes now, pleading in a way. "Travis was put away, and it was all over. I just didn't want it opened up again. I'm real sorry."

Mr. Glendale stands and excuses himself when the entire story is over. Mrs. Glendale and Dana are holding one another, with Kate nearby, and it leaves Grant and Rick to stand and thank Darren for his courage in telling what he knew. Rick accompanies Darren and Miranda to the door.

Darren's out on the front porch, but Miranda lingers back. She's going to drive Darren home, and Rick insists that she come back after and rejoin them. "At least for a nightcap?"

"Maybe," she says, but Rick knows she won't be back. She's fighting her own demons in this too; the fact that under her nose in her own stationhouse was a janitor with the answer all along. "We've talked to the DA, Rick."

"And let me guess. Even with this, they're not going to change their mind and charge Travis?"

"There's still not enough solid evidence, and besides…"

He understands, "Yeah. But at least you've given the family this, and I can tell you that it means a lot."

"No small thanks to you and Kate."

They exchange goodnights. Rick closes the door, not only to her, but to something that as a little boy he couldn't seem to let go of, that had lived in his nightmares for years.

Kate has gotten the sense that the Castle/Rodgers family and the Glendale family don't typically have Thanksgiving together, but that this year, an exemption has been made. Castle insisted it had nothing to do with the recent revisit of Jason's case and how they've finally been able to put a face and name to the evil that took the young boy from his family, but Kate thinks otherwise. It's been difficult on all of them, but in some sense, there is something extra to be thankful for this year.

None of that gloominess hangs over the table, however. Instead the stuffing and cranberries and turkey are all being passed around amongst the noise of laughter and conversation. One of the Glendale grandchildren throws a roll to his cousin across the table and nobody seems to notice. It's the kind of loud family gathering with an excess of food that Kate had no experience with up until now. She glances over at her father, tucked between another teenaged Glendale grandkid and Martha. Her dad seems to be having a blast, and Kate can't help but take in the sight of it with wonder.

It's not like she hadn't noticed the changes in her own life, but she has been putting one foot in front of the other with her head down for so long that she wasn't aware. It's as though she's stepping back now for the first time and noticing the effect of that journey, the decisions and the turns in direction along the way have led to this. It's not only her that's changed, but all the people around her as well, as if the journey has shaken the snowglobe and the tiny bits of snowflake magic are falling on everyone, changing the fundamental perception forever for all gathered here.

It's a simple realization, but powerful enough to make her stop and take a breath. She has something that she never thought she'd ever find again after they buried her mom. She has family. She's a part of it, and she helps shape it and they shape her. Her own little corner of the world, and tonight it's a happy corner. And there are dinner rolls being thrown like footballs, but who really cares?

She reaches under the table and puts a hand on Rick's knee. It steadies her. And then she smiles wide and joins in the conversation, asks for someone to pass the potatoes, and lets go of the past.

"Kate, do you have a minute?" Martha asks. Kate nods and stays back while the others move to the living room. When they're alone gathering dishes from the table to carry into the kitchen, Martha says, "About the events that have unfolded over the last year, I wanted to… I just want to say…" Then almost chuckles at herself and shakes her head. "For an actress, I'm certainly having a difficult time working out my lines here."

Kate can guess what is on Martha's mind; it was exactly a year ago this week that everything to do with Johanna Beckett's case finally unraveled. There's a part of this entire saga that Martha has to carry around too. She's not responsible for any of it, but guilt is hardly ever a logical thing. The monsters that are responsible for inflicting pain almost never feel guilty afterwards; those that are pulled into loss due to the monster's actions never seem to fully forgive themselves.

"There's no need for you to say anything about it, Martha." Kate's not even sure who initiates it; perhaps they simultaneously reach out and clasp hands.

"But I am sorry, just the same." Martha sighs, dramatically of course. "The part I feel worst about is that it drove a wedge between you and Richard for a period of time. My secrets were never meant to hurt either of you."

"You didn't know what that man was capable of. You're just as much of a victim in all of this."

Martha doesn't appear convinced. "Regardless, I'm glad the two of you found your way back to each other."

"Thank you." Kate's not sure what to do next, exactly. Bonding time with Martha over the years has mostly been with Rick or Alexis or other people around. Not that she minds it; she enjoys it, actually. It's just, how exactly to be… "Coffee?" Kate asks.

"I'd love some." Martha moves around her toward the kitchen. "And we should probably set out dessert too. Though I don't know about you, but I'm not sure where I'd put it."

Family. A thrown together peculiar one, but it's family, and it feels good.

When Rick comes up behind Kate, she's alone in the kitchen with the noise of everyone talking in the living room behind him. She's already loaded the dishwasher full, but there's even more dirty dishes remaining in the sink, so she picks up a bowl to begin washing it by hand.

"Need some help?" he asks.

"Nah, I got it."

Other than Alexis' sweet potatoes and Kate's apple pie, Mrs. Glendale and her children did most of the cooking, so he's sure Kate feels that this is the least she can do. He hovers anyway, her back to his chest, her refection in the kitchen window his only way to see her face.

"You sure?" he asks, inching closer still but staying just shy of actually touching her.

"What are you doing?" She must detect some mischief because she quirks a half-smile, the kind that she can't hold back when she's amused by him but not wanting to indulge him.

"Nothin'." He puts a hand on her hip, the other arm circling around her to rest low across her belly. She leans back a little so her head can lie against him as she works, washing wine glasses and coffee cups and setting them in the drying rack to the right of the sink. He kisses her somewhere northeast of her left ear and gets nothing more than curly hair against his lips, but it's nice.

He considers how hot it would be if she let him slip his hand into her pants and flick her hard and fast until she came apart right here, with their backs to everyone, and her desperately trying not to make any noise.

"Don't even think about it."

How could she…? Oh. Now he's noticing his own reflection in the windowpane and yeah, that leer is definitely what gave him away. Plus his writer's imagination combined with a lot of field research over these last couple of months has allowed him to picture exactly what her expression would have looked like as she came, and how it feels to have his fingers moving inside her wet heat. It's made him half-hard on the mere concept alone, and he presses against her.

"Castle," she growls out her warning. It's sexy as hell.

He's quickly trying to calculate a plan here. There are people everywhere in the house and therefore there are not a lot of places they could escape to where it won't be noticed and there's no chance someone could walk in on them. Damn it, next year they're doing Thanksgiving alone.

"How about you meet me in the pool shed in five minutes?" he asks.

"No way." She's finishing the last dish and puts it down before spinning around to face him. "You did not just ask me to go out to the pool shed and have sex with you. It's not even a shed; it's got mechanical things and bottles of chemicals everywhere, and no heat. It's November and it's, like, 20 degrees outside, and you want me to get naked with you in a dirty shack?"

Well. When she puts it like that.

"Sorry, sorry, you're right." He glances over to where people are milling around and talking about gas prices and Syria and Christmas shopping. Yeah, that's so not appealing. "I'm an idiot."

"Yes you are." She leans in and kisses him on the cheek in forgiveness. "But you're a cute idiot. And you're my idiot."

"Yes, I am." He can't help but grin at her. The new car smell on moments like this has still not worn off yet. He's beginning to wonder if it ever will?

"So go in there, make small talk for a couple of minutes, make an excuse, and meet me in the garage." With that she was off, leaving him alone in the kitchen. Did she just…? The garage door closed behind her before his brain caught up with what just happened.

"Like the garage is any better?" he asks the empty room, as he stands there a little bewildered. Well, actually, now that he takes a second to think about it, at least it is heated. And it has that workbench at the perfect height so that if she were sitting on it, pantsless of course, he could totally…. She always has the greatest ideas.

Now all he needs to do is face the longest three minutes of his life. But otherwise, best thing to be thankful for on Thanksgiving ever! Yes.

On Sunday morning, Kate wakes to the sound of two little birds outside the window chirping at each other. She lets her mind wander, speculating whether they are the same two birds from earlier this summer. Or are they the type of bird that doesn't migrate south for the winter, instead hunkering down together and toughing it out? Or perhaps they are late in getting their start this year? Maybe their nest here has come to mean so much that they are reluctant to leave, putting it off until the very last minute.

She rolls over and finds the other side of the bed empty. The house is quiet, too; it's still early. She's about to get out of bed when Castle enters the room carrying two mugs and something else tucked under his arm.

"Coffee?" she asks hopefully.

He smiles and hands over a mug as she sits up in bed. He joins her, propping himself up against the headboard. "Everyone's still asleep," he confirms her suspicion. It's not too surprising, given that it was a late night watching movies and eating popcorn.

"What've you got?"

"This?" He pulls out the stack of papers several inches thick and held together by a big binder clip. "The first draft of my new manuscript."

She hadn't realized it was even started, let alone this far along. "Already?"

"Yeah, it kind of wrote itself." He pauses, regards her in a way that makes her shift. She's gotten used to morning looks that have to do with how much he likes it when her hair is all messed up or she's wearing one of his t-shirts. She's not used to something like this, something so serious before they've even finished their first cup of coffee. "Want to read it?" he asks.


This is not something he's ever offered. At first, she got the book the same day the public did. Later in their partnership he'd give her advanced copies, but those were always after he'd made revisions and editors had their pass on it also and it was essentially a finished book. But this? Sharing something that is rough and in progress? This is new, and she knows it means something significant. He never, ever shares his writing with anyone before it's polished and ready; that fact is easily found on his fan website. This is perhaps the most intimate thing he's shared with her, more laid bare than even sex.

"Yeah, really. I want to know what you think."

She's nervous for some reason. "Are you going to sit there and watch me read it?" He clearly hasn't thought this through by the way he reacts to her question. Which also tells her he hadn't planned this out. Perhaps it was a decision made on a whim this morning as he passed his office on the way to the kitchen to make coffee.

"I could go get the paper and look at that while you read? I mean, unless you really don't want to—"

"I do." She cuts him off before the writer-fears kick in. "I really do." She leans over and kisses him, taking the manuscript from his hands.

He smiles at her, relieved for the moment, then disappears in the hallway presumably to go find the paper on the front porch.

Kate sits back against the pillows and sips her coffee as she starts to read. A couple of pages in, she's so distracted that she doesn't notice at first that Castle has returned. He hands her a pen.

"For what?" she asks.

"To mark it up or make any notes you have."

She stops and can't help the overwhelming feelings that surface. This is more than just a courtesy, more than him opening up this last final part of himself to her. This is about trust and companionship and being true partners, in every sense. She gulps down more coffee to cover for it, and he offers to get her a refill.

After that, she's engrossed in the manuscript, and he doesn't interrupt. The first thing she notices is Castle's characters are brand new. A man and woman are co-leading characters, and they're married. She raises an eyebrow at that, but keeps reading without comment on it. The female character is a detective and the male character is retired, but it's a little unclear exactly what he used to do and how he made his money so that he could retire so young. Kate makes her first note in the margins.

As the story goes along, she can pick up bits and pieces of his inspiration. There's a side character that reminds her a bit of Bob, their summer stalker, always with his camera in hand. It's not hard to miss how some of the banter back and forth between the leading male and female characters reminds her a little of their own relationship, but it's also got its own unique flavor. And the characters are entertaining in a way that she's pretty sure she and Castle could never achieve even if they tried.

The story is rich with details; the case they are attempting to solve is interesting and has even her own experienced detective's mind twisted around and guessing. And the writing itself, it's… she's not even sure she can describe it. It's more mature, maybe? But that would imply that his previous work has been immature and that's not at all what she means. It's just that this story has more to it, more layers, more everything.

Halfway through, the evolution of things hits her. First, Castle had Derrick Storm, a man on his own facing the world. Then there was Nikki Heat; sure, she had Jameson Rook at her side some of the time, but the series was always focused on her. And now, for the first time, he's writing about two people. Two people who are in love and work hard together and it's as much about them as it is about solving crimes. You can tell by the writing that he's more comfortable with this than he's ever been before. This is Castle's journey, and it's ended here. She forces herself to put aside analyzing the implications and keeps reading.

Hours later, and more cups of coffee than she's kept count of, she finally turns the last page. By now Castle has been in and out of the room a half dozen times and has showered and changed. It's early afternoon and her stomach growls, but she's reluctant to get up, as if that might break the spell she's still under created by his words.

He pops his head in, a hopeful but guarded look on his face. "So?"

"It's good, Rick."

"You think so?"

"Really good." She can't even begin to tell him how much, but something in her expression must be enough because he grins. She reaches out to beckon him to join her back in bed, and when he does, she kisses him slowly and thoroughly.

"Wow," he says when she finally lets them both come up for air. "That good, huh?"

She chuckles. Then he asks for her notes and ideas, and she lays them out – places where he could clarify things, moments that he speeds through too quickly and she'd like to have the story linger a little longer, character questions she thinks remain unclear. He's genuine in his appreciation of her suggestions. She teases him about the male character being a little too head-over-heels for the female, but he insists that part is non-negotiable. They talk, debate, kiss, and more. They finally make their way downstairs and have a late lunch with Martha, Alexis, and Daniel.

It's like any other Sunday. But even better, there's a whole future of Sundays ahead of them. There's more of his books to be written, now with her help. There's certainly going to be more challenging cases ahead of her, and as always, he'll provide his own special Castle-brand of assistance. But for now, there's this Sunday stretched out before them with nothing more to do than to enjoy each other's company.

As for that, Kate wouldn't change a thing.

Rick finds Beckett on the back porch. Of course, he should have looked there first. They are finished closing up the house for the winter, and the rest have all headed back to the city, but he and Beckett are going to spend one last night here in the Hamptons, alone.

Beckett isn't on the swing, as usual, but at the other end of the porch, sitting on an old wicker loveseat with a faded yellow seat cushion. She looks up at him and smiles as he closes the sliding glass door behind him. Walking over to her, his bare feet make no noise on the wood deck boards.

As Rick sits down next to Beckett, he thinks about how this porch has become an important spot for them, starting back in the summer when he came out here and dragged her into that rainstorm. Looking back now, he realizes that's the night that everything really started to change for them. It was the tipping moment in the journey of them finding their way back to each other, again. And this time in a way that is more permanent than ever before.

That night, with the storm around them, he could feel the power of nature, of forces beyond his control. The sorts of forces that can change everything in a moment, forever altering the course of your life. But he had a hold on her during that storm; they never let go of each other.

It seems fitting, now, to be sitting here with his arm around Kate on this same porch. She leans into his side, putting her head on his shoulder. They're comfortable. They're happy. And best of all, he fully intends to grow old with her and one day be sitting on this porch thinking back to all the memories of their life spent together. Sure, there's going to be storms. But they've learned how to weather them together.

Today, the clouds that were overhead have rolled out to sea. The sun is shining and the sky and the water are bright blue.

"What are you thinking about?" she asks.

"That I'm really glad you let me follow you around."

A/N: Thanks to all the readers that gave this a shot! I really appreciate those that were kind enough to send messages or reviews. Also, a big thank you once again to mrspollifax for her beta work and support.