3. Challenge Accepted. (post-epilogue)

Kate's eyes drifted up from the dedication page of Stalemate as a shadow fell over her. She could feel his presence wrapping around her like a blanket, and a soft smile settled onto her lips as she tilted her head back so she could peer up at him. Her fingers curled over his words printed in her book. Only hers. For her to see, to read. No one else. Her dedication, her autograph, her proposal.

"Hi," she greeted softly.

"Hey," he answered in kind.

He rocked back on his heels for a second, his hands shoved in his pockets as he looked down at her sprawled out on the floor in between the stacks.

"So…?" His unasked question dying on his lips as his drifted down to look at the words printed under Kate's hand.

"So?" Kate repeated back, her lips quirked, eyebrow raised as she stared up at him, feigning ignorance at his partially asked question.

"Did… did you read it?" Castle stuttered quietly.

"Did I read what?"

"You know, the inscription?"

"Well," Kate started, her lips quirked. She was going to make him work for it, to make him ask. It was only proper after all, and since the rest of their relationship had been far from proper, they should have to start somewhere. "I saw that you had scribbled something here, but it was hard to make out what it said…"

"Hard to make out?" Castle squeaked, squatting down to pull Kate's hand away from the page. It was printed perfectly, neatly. A farsighted child would be able to read that writing. How could she not…

He gripped her wrist gently as he pulled it away from the page, watching as her fingers curled up into a loose fist as he held it up in the air. His gaze dropped to the words before his eyes cut back up to her smiling once. A soft grin greeting him. "You…"

His gaze dropped back down to the page, the scrawled words in black with a simple three letter reply written in red ink underneath them.

Ask.

"Ask me," she whispered as he stared at the word.

His eyes locked with hers and the rest of the world fell away, the bookstore staff manning the counter and wandering the stacks. The sound of the espresso machine steaming in the coffee shop, excited fans twittering about his inscriptions as they hung around the door for one last glimpse as he made his way back out into the world. It was only the two of them, back where they first met; where it had all began with a series of bad pick-up lines and below-the-belt insults. A chase full of banter, tears, laughter, looks and words, spoken and otherwise. A story, a fractured fairy tale; which deserved a happy ending.

He reached into his pocket and she sat up straighter, crossing her legs in front of her as she placed the book on the ground beside her, her lips drawn between her teeth, her eyes never leaving his.

"Katherine Beckett," he started, his voice a rumble, which mixed with the pounding of her heart, making her chest vibrate. "Will you marry me?"

"Yes."

The word were barely a whisper caught in her throat coming out as more of a sob as her chin crumbled and she sniffed in a breath, blaming the sudden tears on jet lag, justifying her state in her head.

"Yes?" His eyes widened as if he had expected her to laugh in his face and run as far and as fast as possible. Instead she reached out with both of her hands to cup his face and bring his lips to meet hers as she murmured the three-letter word against him over and over.

"It was always yes," she whispered, swiping a thumb along his cheekbone as she pulled away to look him in the eye. "All I want is you."

"You have me, forever."

"For always."

He nodded as he grasped her left hand in his, holding it steady as he pried the ring out of the box with one hand, fumbling slightly causing her to laugh.

"No laughing," he chided as he slid the three stone ring onto her forth finger. "This is serious business."

She reached up for his face once the ring was on her finger bringing him in for another kiss as a light flashed, blinding them both.

Kate pulled back tilting her head down so that there foreheads were pressed together. She let out a pained moan as Castle chuckled in her ear. They had managed to keep their public appearances to a minimum since New Orleans.

"And so it begins…"

"So, Mrs. Castle," Castle murmured. "You ready to meet the press?"

"As ready as I will ever be," Kate replied as Castle stood up and reached down to take her by the hands, hoisting her up off the ground, with a little more force than necessary causing her to stumble into him, her front was pressed into his.

Another light flashed.

"You did that on purpose."

"Did not."

"Did too."

"Love you."

He took her hand in his as she reached back down to swipe her book off of the ground. She couldn't forget that.

"Love you too, but you still did that on purpose."

"Prove it," he challenged as they stepped out of the aisle and into the milling crowd of fans and scattered reporters, both of them nodding and flashing the occasional smile.

Kate glanced up at him as she reached up with the hand gripping the book to swipe at a strand of hair that had gotten stuck to her lips. She didn't have to fake the smile that crossed her face as they made their way towards the exit.

Challenge accepted.