It had been a week. Seven days while they tested the boundaries of their relationship. Kate had refused to move in with him, and as much as he wanted to argue, Rick understood. She still needed her space, somewhere to run to, to be alone in, a place to hide. As it happened she'd only gone home for an hour every day to shower and change, something Rick found delightful, as if she'd come over all shy. And considering what they'd been doing for those seven nights – and early mornings, and evenings, and one glorious lunchtime when she'd surprised him making sandwiches and they never had got around to eating – he seriously considered the modesty train was well and truly gone.
She'd almost given him a heart attack that first morning, though. He'd woken up and reached for her, only to find that side of the bed empty and cold. He had visions of Bobby Ewing stepping out of the bathroom, then luckily heard movement in the living room just as he reached for the phone to call Belle View and ask to be admitted.
He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and just sat for a moment, staring down at his toes, wondering why he felt like all his Christmases and birthdays had come at the same time. Kate Beckett. He'd thought, just twenty-four hours before, that he would never see her again, had started to wipe everything physical about her from his life, and now ... He wiggled his toes, a smile tugging at his lips.
Standing up he grabbed his robe from the chair and tugged it on, pausing only a second to rub his hands through his hair before opening the bedroom door.
Aromas that had his mouth salivating smote him.
She'd cooked, and was just getting a tray together, her back to him. The smile grew as he realised she'd found one of his t-shirts, way too big on her, and barely covering her assets. In fact, not at all as she reached up into one of the cupboards.
"Morning," he said.
Kate turned quickly. "Oh." She grinned. "Hey."
"I was just ... breakfast in bed." She gestured towards the tray.
"I gathered." He crossed the loft towards her, sniffing appreciatively. Eggs, bacon, little pancakes ... A memory assaulted him of a similar morning, the day after her apartment had been bombed, but at least this time they weren't likely to be interrupted by Jordan Shaw. "Thank you."
"It's just food."
He was so close now he could feel the heat of her body. "I know." In bare feet, without those ridiculous heels, she was three or four inches shorter than him, so he dipped his head to kiss her, his hands coming up to cup her face. She hesitated, but only a moment, before leaning into him and returning the kiss, grasping his robe and twisting it in her fingers.
It seemed like an age as they explored, Rick rediscovering that little hollow just above her collarbone that made her gasp when he sucked on it.
He had been just about to take it further, to edge them towards the couch or back to the bedroom when Alexis had come in, and squeed. There was no other word for the high-pitched sound she made, almost clapping her hands and jumping on the spot in delight.
Kate turned away, tugging the t-shirt down as low as she could get it, while Rick adjusted his robe and decided to stay behind the counter.
Alexis, though, had shown immense restraint and proved herself the adult in the family by immediately going upstairs and packing a small bag. On her return to find her father and Kate waiting in the living area in matching robes, she had hugged them both tightly, and announced she'd spoken to Tyler and she was going to stay with her for a few days, to give them some space.
"How did I ever get so lucky as to end up with a daughter like you?" Rick asked, holding her close.
"I was probably meant for someone else, only the stork took a wrong turn." She laughed, her clear eyes dancing. "Oh, and I called Gram. I think I managed to persuade her not to come back from the Hamptons, at least not yet."
"Did she say 'I told you so'?"
"She's going to be hell to live with."
"She was right." With a final kiss to each of them, Alexis skipped out of the loft.
"Now ..." Rick turned to Kate, that slow smile on his face that made women putty in his hands. "Where were we?"
She put her hands on her hips. "Having breakfast. Before it gets cold."
He'd muttered something obscene about breakfast, grabbing for her instead, elated when she didn't step out of his reach.
They'd talked too, Kate telling him what had happened.
"I don't blame Kevin," she said, her head pressed into the crook of his neck as they sat on the couch. She had her legs over his lap, and he had one arm around her shoulders, the other holding her close. "In fact, I'm grateful."
"Hey, me too," he assured her. "I just wish I'd been there to save you instead of him."
"You were all I could think about," she admitted. "Not seeing you again, never being able to tell you how I felt ..."
He hugged her tighter. "It's okay."
"It's not." She looked up into his face. "And you were right. I did remember."
His heart contracted. "Yes."
"I just ... I couldn't face it. Not that as well. Trying to deal with everything, with my mother, being shot ... it was all I could do to face the day."
"Rabbit holes can be difficult to climb out of."
She looked up into his eyes. "And I knew I'd hurt you. More than once."
"I did the same to you. So we're even."
"Is that how it works? A relationship? We keep score?"
"Exactly the opposite, I'm thinking."
"Because I've saved your life more than you've saved mine ..." She yelped as he pinched her, just lightly. "But the point is, I almost ruined it."
"How do you figure that?"
"I pushed you away. So many times."
He thought for a long moment, then said, very slowly, "Kate, I think, maybe, if you had slept with me when we first met, we wouldn't be here now."
"It wasn't love at first sight. I saw ... something I could use." It was painful to admit, but he had to be truthful. "My new character. Nikki Heat."
"I still haven't forgiven you for that name."
"Granted. But the point is I was attracted to you, but not ... not like this." He licked dry lips. "I learned you. Grew to understand you, what made you tick. Everything that was incredible, annoying, wonderful, infuriating about you, and I wanted to know more. If we'd had sex, if you'd given in back then, my body would have been grateful, but I'd never have gotten to know the real you."
"And you think you do now?"
"Oh, Kate." There was yearning in his voice. "I think it would take a lifetime."
"You think you're going to be around that long?"
He touched the scar between her breasts, just lightly, with the tip of his forefinger. "I thought I already had."
She watched, then lifted her face to his, hunger in her eyes.
There were other conversations.
"So what now?" he asked as they walked by the lake in Central Park.
"I don't know." She exhaled heavily.
"You're a bit young to retire –"
He grinned and ignored her. "– so you need to consider your options."
"I do realise that."
"Unless you'd like to be a kept woman. And in case you're not sure, I'm offering to keep you."
"This isn't the eighteenth century, and your apartment isn't a bordello. Although I have heard stories –"
His hand went to his chest. "Not true. None of them."
Her eyebrows rose in enquiry. "From you."
"Oh. Well, yes. Maybe."
"And I don't want to be kept. I pay my own way."
"Fine. If you like I'll work out your share of the utilities on the loft."
She elbowed him in the stomach then went to sit down on a vacant bench.
He joined her, just enjoying the closeness, watching life go by them, the joggers, the businessmen, the women with baby buggies.
"I don't know what I do now," she admitted after a minute or two, resting with her elbows on her thighs, her hands loose between her knees.
"You could always work for me. At the Old Haunt. You could be a barmaid."
"You'd throw Brian out on his ear?"
"In a heartbeat."
"That's nice. But I don't see myself washing glasses for the rest of my life."
"What did you want to be? Before everything, I mean."
"Of course. Like your mother."
"You still can."
She looked out across the water. "I don't know. I don't know that I can."
"If it's money you're worried about, I can pay."
He thought she was going to snap at him, remind him about not being a kept woman, but she surprised him. "Thank you, but if I was going to go that route then I'd manage."
He chuckled. "Have you got that much in the way of savings?"
"Some." She smiled and shook her head. "Anyway, I don't know whether I could work on that side of the law, not now."
"Seen too many bad men get off because of good lawyers?"
"I ... enjoyed being a cop. Putting a case together, getting the evidence, knowing that it was rock solid ..." She sighed. "I miss it."
"It's been four days."
"I don't care."
"Anyway," he said, rallying. "You can be anything you like. Supermodel. Airline pilot. Cheerleader."
"Mmn. In one of those little skirts, twirling a couple of pompoms ..." He gazed into nothing, letting his imagination run riot, until she elbowed him again and they went to buy fresh bagels for lunch.
Another, less pleasant conversation.
"She resigned, Mr Castle." Captain Victoria Gates' voice over the phone was firm. "It wasn't my choice, but hers."
"She's the best cop you've got." Kate was back at her apartment getting a few things, so he thought it was safe to call.
"I am aware of that. But she stepped out on her own, and I can't have that, not one of my officers."
"What would have happened? If she hadn't resigned?"
Gates sighed. "There would have been an investigation, she might have been demoted, or reinstated, depending on the outcome."
"And if she changed her mind? Now? About resigning?"
There was an almost imperceptible pause over the line before Gates asked, "Has she? Changed her mind?"
"I'm just ... putting out feelers."
"Have her call me, Mr Castle. This is a conversation I don't intend having with you." She hung up.
He'd told Kate. He had to. Now wasn't the time to be keeping secrets, not when doing that had nearly driven a wedge so tight between them that they might never have pried it loose.
She was angry. "You had no right, Castle."
"Yes, I did." He stood still under the onslaught. "Whatever we are now, it's you and me, Kate. Us. Together."
"So I can interfere in your life too?"
"Go ahead. You have done already. And I wouldn't have it any other way."
"You should have asked."
"You'd have said no."
"Kate." He watched her pace. "Kate." He gave up and grabbed her by the shoulders, turning her to face him. "Kate. You're a cop. That's what you do. What you are. It's so deep within you I wouldn't be surprised to find your blood was NYPD blue." He knew it wasn't, though. He'd had it on his hands, and he knew it was bright, bright red. "I had to know if you could go back. If you wanted."
"Is that it?" she asked, anger still bright in her eyes. "You don't want me if I'm not a cop?"
"Kate, I'd want you if you went down the sewers in big rubber boots." He micro-paused. "Big rubber boots ..."
"And you know exactly what I'm saying. Only keep the big rubber boots in mind."
"You are such a –"
"Wonderful human being?"
"Not the words I was looking for."
"Kate, it's your life. I was just seeing if the door was still open for you."
She glared at him, then the wattage faded and she deflated a little. "I don't know what I want."
"Then how about we sleep on it?"
"Is that all you think about?"
She glanced towards his study. "Don't you have two books to be finishing?"
"I'm ahead of the game."
"Okay, fine, but what are they going to do? Shoot me?"
"I've been tempted."
"There are worse things."
"You've never been shot."
"No." He swallowed. "No, I haven't. And if you don't mind, I'm not planning on it anytime soon."
"Good idea." She pulled away from him and dropped onto the sofa. "I just feel so ..."
"Give it time," he advised. "You've got plenty."
They both carefully avoided mentioning the gunman still out there.
And now the first week was over, and a feeling of normality had returned with Alexis coming home, Martha not an hour after her.
They were sitting around the table, the remains of a good dinner in front of them, and Rick was surprised to find himself happy, secure in the knowledge that this was family.
"That was amazing," Kate said to the chef. "I didn't know you could cook like that."
Rick shrugged. "I had to learn. What with a mother who was out at the theatre at all hours of the day and night ..." His gaze dropped pointedly to his left.
Martha took it in her stride. "I was working."
"Right." Still, it was too nice an evening to argue. "Anyway, you still haven't told me why you came back from Hamptons." He looked at Kate. "Mother doesn't like the city in the summer."
"I ... got bored," Martha announced.
"Got curious, is more like it. Just to see if Kate and I could make it as far as the first week." He raised his wine to the woman in question. "Speaking of which ... to our anniversary."
They clinked glasses.
"I admit that was a part of it." Martha wasn't fazed. "And I'm one to talk. I've had relationships that didn't last the night, let alone the first week."
"My father being a case in point."
Rick shook his head and leaned towards Kate. "See, she does this. Comes over all cryptic every time I try and ask about him."
"There's nothing to tell." Martha dismissed his interest. "And that's my life, not yours."
"It doesn't stop you interfering in mine."
"I'm your mother. It comes with the territory."
"Anyway, the Hamptons was dull. All the same faces, doing all the same things. So I decided to stay in the city and do something different this year."
"Really?" Rick looked apprehensive. "Like what, exactly?"
"I was thinking ... summer stock!"
Rick glanced at Kate and Alexis, then said, "I know I'm going to regret this, but ... summer stock?"
"You know how I've always loved it. I had decided not to try out for anything this year, not with my acting studio getting going properly and everything, but having locked horns with Grace Sheldon ..." She waved the remainder of the sentence away. "Well, never mind about that. Anyway, it occurred to me to use the empty theatre space and putting on a series of plays using resting actors." Martha looked smug.
"Isn't it a bit late? It's already May," Rick pointed out.
"I have contacts. And lots of friends who are out of work. It could be fun." She saw the look on his face. "Why don't you take Kate instead? You can work on your books anywhere, and it would be good for you." She peered at him. "You look a little peeky, kiddo."
"I do not." In fact he'd been thinking that, if his dreams coming true persisted and they were accompanied by good food and wine, he might actually have to exercise, and swimming was as good as anything. "But it's an idea."
"Oh." Alexis looked crestfallen.
He looked at his daughter. "Sweetheart?"
"Well, if Grams wasn't going I was going to ask if I could, with some of my friends."
"Girl friends, you mean?" Rick asked.
"Probably," she responded, teasing.
"I don't know ..."
"I'm eighteen, Dad. I think you know by now I can be trusted." She absolutely forbade herself from thinking about the time her father had gone to Atlantic City, and the party that had got out of hand.
"Exactly." He fixed her with his warm blue eyes. "You're eighteen. How do I know what you're likely to get up to? Do you have any idea what I was doing at eighteen?"
"All too well," she informed him. "I still have nightmares over some of the stories you've told."
"Ah, good times. And I've only told you the Bowdlerized versions." He sighed in happy remembrance, then brought himself back to Earth quickly as he felt Kate's inquiring gaze on him. "But that's not the point."
Martha patted his arm. "I won't be working the whole time. I can pop down, check up on things occasionally."
"And there's always the phone," Alexis added, warming to her subject. "We can set up a videolink so you can see I haven't wrecked the place."
"It's not the house I'm worried about."
"And I'll be busy in the studio so it would give you and Kate some quality time together," Martha finished.
"So would taking her to the Hamptons." He looked at Alexis, extraordinary as she was. "If I say yes, will you promise not to do anything I ... might have done at your age but wouldn't even consider now so doing in case I gave my father a heart attack?"
She smiled at his turn of phrase. "I promise."
"And not to do any studying at all?"
"Promise. Or I hide the keys."
Her head dipped slightly to one side as she gazed at him, her clear eyes humouring him. "Okay, Dad."
"Then ... I guess it's okay. It'll be like a trial run for Columbia."
"It'll only be a couple of weeks," she assured him, already grabbing her cellphone and starting to send texts.
He smiled, and Kate's heart did a flip, just as it had the day she realised how much he loved his daughter. There was such warmth in it, such pride, and ... grown-upness.
"Fine," he said. "Just don't burn the house down."
"That was you."
"Ah, but that was a great barbecue." He looked at Kate. "I'll tell you later."
Kate laughed. "I'll hold you to that."
Alexis stood up, pushing her chair back. "We need to celebrate. Ice cream?"
"Uh, I don't think there's any left," Rick said, almost apologetically.
"There were six tubs a week ago. You couldn't have eaten it all ..." Alexis stopped, a pink blush burning her cheeks. "Oh."
Rick grinned, enjoying the memories of a certain evening when he and Kate had re-enacted the scene from a certain Mickey Rourke/Kim Basinger film ... "I'll go get some more."
"No, I'll go," Alexis said quickly, happy to get away from her own imaginings of what her father had been doing with that much ice cream. She grabbed her purse and almost ran to the front door. "I won't be long."
"Honestly, Richard," her grandmother's voice followed her out as the door closed.
In the evening shadows the figure watched the young woman leave the apartment building, waving goodbye to someone still inside. The doorman, probably. As she passed under a streetlight, her fingers busy with her phone, her red hair seemed to flame, but he didn't move to follow. His quarry was still inside ...