Title: The Marriage Question

Summary: After going public about their two-year relationship in an interview, Castle and Beckett have an argument about marriage.

A/N: Haven't written anything in a while, mostly due to a lot of real life commitments. This is a little piece I've been playing with for a while. Takes place about a year and a half in the future. No spoilers beyond what has already aired.


"So, how did you two meet?"

The reporter's question sounded both smooth and sly, like the words scribbled down on her notepad may reveal a salacious secret. But Castle and Beckett's meeting was no tale of star crossed lovers and forbidden embraces.

"He stalked me."

"I did not," Castle scoffed at her.

Kate raised her eyebrows at him in disbelief. "You followed me around - against my will. What would you call it?"

Castle paused for a moment before answering. "Research."

The two of them had been publically 'outed' a week earlier when an astute freelance photographer for the Times - who was supposed to be looking for someone else - snapped a picture of them. With the cat out of the bag, Paula and Gina had both recommended doing the joint interview, just to get their relationship out in the open. Of course, they could have simply denied it. The picture the photographer had taken was not exactly incriminating. But lies would have to be told to counter the adoring look on Castle's face as he gazed at Beckett over mushu pork and spring rolls and he fed her bites with his chop sticks. And there was no guarantee anyone would believe those lies.

"...and so he got the mayor and my captain's permission and started following me for inspiration for his new series of books," he heard Kate say, finishing the story of their first case together.

"And thus was born the Nikki Heat series," he interjected, not wanting to miss a chance to highlight Beckett as his muse for what he considered to be some of his best works.

Taking the cue, the reporter quickly rolled with the introduced topic. "So was this a case of art imitating life or life imitating art?" she asked. "After all, Nikki and Rook - the character in the novels based on you, Mr. Castle - began a relationship together very quickly into the story."

"That was complete fiction," Kate was quick to interject, shooting the writer one of her long-perfected looks of irritation.

With a diffident shrug, Castle commented, "Well, sex sells."

Pressing ahead, the reporter - Candy? Christy? Castle could not remember her name - inquired, "So it is safe to say that it wasn't love at first sight?"

"No," Kate responded with a laugh, even as Castle answered, quite seriously, "Yes."

Their differing responses caused the two to look at each other in surprise.

"You... really?" she said, somewhat tentatively.

"You didn't?" he replied, unable to keep the hurt out of his voice.

"Well, you know..."

"I was a five-year old on a sugar rush," he recalled.

She pursed her lips. "I didn't say that." He opened his mouth to argue but she continued, "I said you were like a nine year old on a sugar rush."

Castle smiled in amusement at the correction. "And that extra four years makes all the difference?"

"Apparently." Her eyes flashed with dangerous humor, the kind of teasing that he sometimes worried could get him killed.

The woman reporter - Laura? Lana? - watched with interest as they bantered but quickly jumped in at the break in their verbal sparring.

"So how long did you work together before you started dating?" She phrased the question almost nonchalantly, although Castle could see the obvious interest. How long did they keep their romance secret? There had always been speculation about the writer and his murder detective muse, even in the early days before they began using the word "partner" so freely. But the woman wanted them to nail down exactly when.

"It was about a year after I was shot," Kate interjected. She spoke boldly, without hesitation, despite the reservations he knew she had about doing such an interview. They had already spoken to Captain Gates and even the Chief of Detectives and the mayor. The fact that he was a civilian, and not subject to department regulations, helped a great deal. Officially, that was the reason why they were allowed to work together despite their romantic relationship. Unofficially, if the political winds ever changed and a new mayor took office, their situation would probably be re-evaluated.

"Tell me about that," the reporter said, and Castle had a flash of remembrance that her name began with a D. Maybe Deanna? Or Dana? Daria?

Kate raised an eyebrow at the request. "About being shot? It was no fun."

"Did Rick nurse you back to health?" the woman kept on, oblivious to the changing tide of Kate's mood at this new subject.

"No."

The one word answer finally caught the reporter's attention, and perhaps sensing that she was losing her subject, she quickly moved on to a different question. "So what happened in the year between your recovery and the two of you getting together? By the sounds of it, the shooting may have played a large role in the change of your relationship."

Castle had to hand it to her - the woman wasn't stupid. He was now almost certain her name was Rachel. Or Rita. Or maybe Teresa.

"Well, I don't know about Detective Beckett, but it certainly forced me to admit some things about how I felt," he stated.

Stay with me, Kate. Don't leave me, please. Stay with me, okay?

Kate, I love you. I love you, Kate.

She turned to meet his gaze, understanding reflecting in her eyes. "It took me a little longer, but I got there," she said.

I think I'm almost where I want to be now.

And where is that?

In a place where I can finally accept everything that happened that day... Everything.

"Sounds like you two had a tough time before you even started dating. How was it after the relationship began?"

Castle resisted the urge to give a snarky, sarcastic answer. Instead, he said simply, "Well, all new relationships have their problems. It's all about learning about the other person. Little quirks, habits, jealousies, mistakes."

"But it's also fun and exciting, getting to know someone in a new way," Kate added, her lips curled into her adorable smirk.

The reporter looked back and forth between them. "So... any plans to get married? Have kids? Rick, I know you have a daughter from a previous marriage..."

Nina? Nadia? Whatever her name was, she wasn't the first to ask the question. It started with his mother, unsurprisingly. When was he going to pop the question? Did Kate want to have a family? Then Alexis started to weigh in, mentioning that she wouldn't mind a little brother or sister. Of course, she was also quick state that she was fine staying an only child, if that's the way it turned out.

Then the comments began at work. Almost everyone at the 12th Precinct had dropped some sort of hint or outright asked.

"So when are you going to make an honest woman of Beckett?" Esposito demanded unceremoniously.

While less pointed, Ryan's hints were equally obvious. "You know, there's nothing like being married to the right woman, Castle."

Annoyed with the frequent topic of conversation, he had flippantly replied to Ryan, "Nothing like being married to the wrong one, either." But it didn't erase the idea from his mind or from anyone else's.

The only one strangely silent on the marriage/children subject was, surprisingly enough, Lanie.

"It'll happen when you two are both ready," she said pragmatically, giving Kate a meaningful look as she spoke.

As it so happened, he and Kate hadn't actually talked about it yet, at least not directly. They'd spoken over the years about a hypothetical "third time's the charm" for him and an equally hypothetical "one and done" for her, but never had it gotten past that point. The possibility of kids had come up even less. Castle had no idea whether she wanted to have children or not. He wasn't entirely sure whether he wanted to have more kids.

Raising Alexis by himself after Meredith left had proven quite the challenge for him as a young, burgeoning writer. But he'd not only gotten through it - he'd thrived off his relationship with his daughter. Beyond every bestselling novel and every million made, Alexis was still his greatest source of pride and amazement.

When he married Gina, they never spoke of more kids. She'd maintained a good relationship with Alexis, but his ex-wife was a career woman above all else. She had little interest in home and family.

But Kate...

Castle just did not know. She was such a professional and she loved her job. Her pursuit of killers often blinded her to the point that she forgot to eat or sleep. And she'd never mentioned wanting kids.

But then again, she was Kate Beckett, the woman who gave him countless advice about his dealings with his teenage daughter. The woman who comforted and soothed victims as easily as she eviscerated suspects in the interrogation room. She was the same woman who talked about her mother and family traditions with such reverence that it took his breath away.

Maybe she did want kids.

It did not really matter because Castle had come to a realization very quickly after they began dating. Whatever Kate wanted, that was what he wanted. If she wanted to have kids, he wanted to have kids with her. If she preferred not to, then he was fine with knowing that the next baby he would hold would probably be a grandchild. If she wanted a lavish wedding at the house in the Hamptons, he could make that happen. If she preferred a small ceremony in Mexico with just their family, he had no problem with it. If she preferred they remained like Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell and never get married... well, actually, he did kind of want to get married.

And the more he thought about it, he did kind of want to have kids with Kate. The image of her pregnant would not leave his mind, nor would the thought of her laying in a hospital bed, sweat from a long delivery dotting her forehead, holding a wailing infant as she smiled up at him.

Castle realized with a start that he was staring into space, a silly grin having plastered itself on his face as the reporter raised her eyebrows in curiosity, waiting for him to answer the question.

"Um..." he fumbled, still too distracted by the thought of carrying a brown-haired toddler into the precinct to visit the child's mother.

Kate answered for them both, "I think that's a question for a later interview."

The rest of the questions and answers passed quickly and before long the reporter was gone. Whatever her name was. He'd need to call Paula at some point and have her tell him or it would bug him for weeks.

"I think that went well," he declared jovially.

Kate's expression said otherwise.

"What?" he asked. "What did I say?"

Rolling her eyes in annoyance, she responded, "It's what you didn't say."

"What didn't I say?"

Her look of astonishment made Castle wonder how he had messed up this time. He had no idea what she would be so upset about from the interv-

Oh.

The marriage question. The one he hadn't answered.

"Kate, listen..."

She waved a hand at him. "It's okay, Castle. Don't worry about it. We never talked about it. I never expected her to bring it up."

Her voice was composed, the kind of stiff inflection he recognized when she was slamming up walls.

"You think I don't want to marry you?" he asked in astonishment, still not quite comprehending how she could ever think such a thing.

She gaped at his boldness before retorting, "Well, you never said you did."

"I never said I didn't. And you haven't exactly been vocal on the subject, either."

Raising her voice a level, Kate said, "Well then why didn't you say anything when Brenda asked about whether we're getting married? You just sat there, completely silent, like the thought had never occurred to you."

Blinking at her as his mind raced to catch up, the first words out of Castle's mouth were, regrettably, "Her name was Brenda?"

That name had never entered his mind, had never even been an inkling-

Oh yeah, they were still fighting. Or at least, Kate was fighting. He knew how ridiculous the turn of the argument was, but he could not figure out how to appropriately impart that to her.

"Castle, weren't you listening? She said it at least five times. And that isn't even the issue. Unless you were too busy looking at her-"

"Okay, hold on now," he interrupted.

Allowing himself just to marvel at the fact that he'd completely overlooked the beautiful reporter's name - when was the last time he'd found a woman as interesting as Kate? - Castle turned his full attention back to his raging girlfriend.

"I wasn't looking at her anything. I didn't answer her because I didn't know what to say. You're right; we've never talked about marriage. So maybe it's time that we start."

His blunt statement startled her, if her expression was any indication, and for a few seconds she simply stared at him. Finally, she ventured an uncertain, "Okay."

"Do you want to get married?" Castle asked.

"Is that a proposal?" Kate returned.

"Should it be a proposal?"

She sighed in exasperation at Castle answering her question with a question, just as she had done to him.

"What about kids?" she inquired.

"What about them?"

"Do you want more kids?"

In turn, Castle asked, "Do you want kids?"

This time, Kate rolled her eyes. "Castle, that isn't helping. I'm trying to have a serious conversation."

"So am I!"

"Then why won't you answer a question with anything other than another question? Do you want to get married again? Do you want to have more kids?"

Castle resisted the urge to answer her immediately, instead pausing for dramatic effect as he gathered his words.

"I only want to get married again if I'm getting married to you. I only want more kids if I can have them with you."

The answer was as truthful and straight-forward as he could make it. Now, he had only to wait for her response. Castle watched as the edges of her mouth pulled up into a small grin.

"That's really sweet, Castle," she said.

"And what about you?" he prompted. "What do you want?"

Kate was quiet for a moment, her chin tilted down as her eyes examined the floor, some dusty corner of the room, as Castle waited in growing fear as to whether she was just composing her response or trying to think of an easy way to let him down. Maybe this wasn't as serious for her as it was for him? They'd been together for a while, but maybe he was just a passing-

"I love you, Castle," she said, interrupting his mental panic attack. Her eyes were level with his and he could see moisture in the corners, the tell-tale physical signs of an emotional reaction. Her lips curled into a smile even as she continued speaking. "I love you, Castle, more than I ever thought I would. And yes, I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

Not only was she answering his question, she was doing so in such a beautiful, exposed manner that Castle could not take his eyes off her. He almost didn't press for more, but a deep, inner part of him needed to know. "And kids?"

The conflict warring in her eyes betrayed that this was a much more difficult question. She may not even know her own answer to it. Castle had not been completely sure about what he wanted until the middle of the interview with the reporter, Brenda. Or had it been Barbara? Kate had just told him the name...

But thinking about the name made him start thinking of other names, baby names. What would it be like to have a little boy? Unlike many men of his acquaintance, Castle had never experienced the desire to have a son to pass down his family name, mostly because his name wasn't a legacy but rather a self-made image. And Alexis carried it very well. But what about another little girl? A mini-Kate Beckett with her extraordinary mind and his sense of humor?

Kate took a breath before responding. "Let's just say... how about... can we just say kids are on the table and leave it for now?" she asked. "I'm just not ready-"

Seeing her uncertainty and discomfort, Castle quickly stepped forward and pulled her into his arms. "It's okay," he assured her. "No matter what, it's okay."

He could live with her wanting to spend the rest of her life with him, no matter what the ultimate decision on having kids was. But it was important to know how she felt, and how he felt, about the subject. Kate hugged him back even more tightly and he breathed in the scent of her hair. But as they stood there, a thought occurred to him and he pulled away for a second.

"Now when you said spend the rest of your life, does that mean you want to get married?" he clarified.

Letting out a laugh, Kate answered, "Yes, Castle. That's what that means."

"Okay, just checking," he concluded, and pulled her against him once more. Thoughtfully, he remarked, "Well, I suppose this whole conversation took any romance out of any proposals I might make... were I to make any proposals, of course."

He felt her shrug slightly. "I don't know, Castle - there's something to be said for getting to pick out your own ring."

He nodded as he contemplated that statement, both the ease with which they'd made it out of a very awkward - and potential relationship damaging - discussion. The way she said "ring" left Castle feeling positively giddy.

They were silent in each other's arms for some time before Kate inquired quietly, "So... what do you want to do today?"

Without missing a beat, Castle suggested hopefully, "Ring shopping?"

She grinned at him with that light-up-the-room smile, the one he liked even better than her about-to-tell-you-a-secret smirk because it showed happiness. Pure joy from Kate Beckett was a rare and magnificent treat. And he was looking at getting a lifetime of it, based on recent discussions.

"I'll get my coat," she said.

fin