A/N: And so we reach the end of the line on this story – BlueOrchid96's birthday fic. This has been such a pleasure to write and I am so grateful for all of the amazing feedback this story generated. 'S2 longing' is quite the inspiration, and I know it got a few people through some very tough times. AWM, we salute you.

"Sometimes good intentions

don't come across so well

Get me anazlying everything

that aint worth thinkin' 'bout.

Just 'cause I ain't lived through

the same hand that was dealt to you

doesn't make me any less

or make any more of you.

I wouldn't trade my best day

so you could validate

all your fears

and if I've only got one shot

won't waste it on a shadow box

I'll stand right here"

-Kacey Musgraves, 'Undermine'

Chapter 10 – Brave New World

Before a deep, satisfied, post-coital sleep carried him off to dreamland for an extra hour in bed, Castle plucked up the courage to address the thorny issue of Kate's living arrangements…

"Can we talk about something for a second?" he asks her, turning his head to look at her, his hair whispering across the pillow as he does so, sweat still drying on his flushed skin.

"Sounds ominous," replies Kate, worry momentarily crossing her face.

"Last night," he begins, squeezing her hand and giving her a wan smile, because it looks like whatever is coming next might be important to him.

"What about last night?" asks Kate, warily, hoping they'd got past all the drama and unpleasantness to begin afresh this morning.

"I want you to stay here, Kate," he rushes out without further preamble.

"Okaaay," says Kate, slowly, waiting for more.

"So that's a yes?" he asks, excitedly.

"No, that's a 'tell me more'."

He sighs and then takes another breath to prepare for the next phase of his argument.

"Last night, you...you said that you were leaving today. That you were going to find somewhere else to live. I don't want you to go. I want you to stay. Here. With me."

"Castle, I'm not moving in with you," she tells him immediately.

Because she knows him. He is insistent and pushy, and when he's determined to have something she knows he'll only grind her down until she gives in, and this is not a point to give in on. Not yet, at least. She has to set some ground rules before this situation gets out of hand.

"I'm not asking you to. But you don't have a place, and there'll be the insurance company to deal with and realtors. Let me help you with that. Not to mention you'll be far safer here. Plus we already promised the Captain, and Alexis really, really wants you to stay and…"

"Halt! Back up a second," she insists, holding up a hand to shut him up before he invokes her dad into the middle of this high-pressure sales presenation too.

Castle does as asked for once and falls silent to listen to her.

"In that case, I am going to ask you the same question I asked you last night. What about you, Rick? What do you want?"

"I'm the one doing the asking," he reminds her, as if it should be perfectly plain what he wants.

"No. Seems to me you're using everyone else, Alexis and Montgomery included, to do your asking for you. Tell me what you want. In your own words."

"I want you here…with me. But, I might be hiding behind all those other reasons because I'm worried that if the request comes from me then you'll turn it down flat," he confesses, displaying yet again how well he knows her. "There. How's that for honest?"

"Pretty spot on, I'd say. And I appreciate your honesty. I do," Kate assures him.

"So? What do you say?" he pushes for an answer.

"I'm not moving in with you, Castle. We just got together. This is…huge for us."

"Agreed. So…stay in the guest room if it'll make you more comfortable. Just…don't go yet, Beckett. Please?" he whines, clutching at her hand in a way that kind of melts her heart.

"You really want me to stay that badly?" she asks, frowning at his endearing pout.

He nods vigorously. "Yes."

"Guest room you say?"

"If you must," he sighs, sulking just a little. "But, yes, if it's a deal breaker."

"Well, it is true that I have nowhere else to go. And you are helping me deal with things. Like sleeping, for example," she acknowledges, trying to suppress a ridiculous grin before he can see it. "Only problem is…"

"What? Name it and I will fix it," he promises, fervently.

"How can you help me sleep if I'm all the way upstairs in the guest room?" she grins, watching a smile like a brilliant ray of sunshine break out across Castle's face.

"So you'll stay?" he beams, holding his breath.

"I'll think about it," promises Kate, smiling back at him, pretty helpless to resist this charming, adorable version of Richard Castle.

"You won't regret it," he replies, definitively, as if it's already a done deal.

"I said I'd think about it, Castle," she reminds him, nudging him in the side.

"She's staying," he whispers to the elephant on the wall, punching the air in triumph while Kate laughs beside him, slowly shaking her head and wondering what the heck she just got herself into.

"What about your mother? And Alexis?"

"I already evicted my mother. But if you want me to evict Alexis too? It is probably time she went out on her own," he pretends to muse, with a silly grin.

"Be serious for a second," chides Kate.

"Alexis wants you here. My mother loves you, Beckett. Relax."

"But what do we tell them?" she asks, looking nervous about approaching the whole subject.

"Whatever you want. What do you want to tell them?"

"What do you want to tell them? They're your family."

"How about…Beckett and I just had the most mind-blowing sex of our lives last night," he suggests, flinching when she elbows him in the ribs. "Too much?"

Kate sobers up and thinks for a second before answering, staring up at the ceiling for inspiration.

"Okay. How about this," she swallows, and turns onto her side to face him. "Alexis. Martha. We have something to tell you. Your dad and I are dating?"

"I know my mother looks youthful for her age. But, in case you've forgotten, Martha isn't my daughter," Castle jokes, squealing, "Ahhh! Vicious, Beckett," when she pinches him hard.

"Castle, if you're not going to be serious about this, I'm moving out."

"Ah-ha! So that means you've already moved in."

"Are you going to be this infuriating the whole time if I do stay?"

"How would you like me to be?" he asks, trying to look sincere.

"Sane, for starters."

"Look. You need to calm down. Mother and Alexis are going to be thrilled for us. Whatever words we use…Kate, it doesn't matter. Just to hear you say that we're dating…"

"What?" asks Kate, looking at him suspiciously, waiting for yet another joke.

"No. Nothing," he shakes his head, smiling quietly to himself.

"No. Not nothing. Come on. Tell me? What about us dating?"

"I just…" he shrugs. "It's like a dream, Kate. Having you here. Willingly," he laughs.

"What, you thought you'd have to cuff me?" she jokes back, chuckling, her gaze softening when she sees the wistful look in his eyes.

"I just never imagined it would be this good, this easy, so early on. In fact, I don't think I really believed we'd get here at all. So, like I said before, you amaze me, Kate Beckett. All the time," he adds, failing to stifle a yawn.

"Hey," replies Kate, nudging the yawning writer playfully, "feeling's mutual, old man."

They lapse into silence. His slow, rhythmic breathing is what tells Kate that the writer has finally fallen asleep. And she turns to admire him – this beautiful, funny, kind, unselfish man she believes herself to be falling in love with – and then she rises from his bed to explore this brave new world they are entering together.

After dressing quickly in leggings and a t-shirt, and then standing for what feels like five whole minutes just watching the sleeping man who was her tag-along until yesterday, and who, overnight, has apparently become her boyfriend, Kate pads out towards the kitchen to take a look around.

The loft is so quiet. Here, at the top of the building, there are no neighbors to worry about. No Mrs. Ramos clattering across the ceiling in four-inch stilettos at stupid-o'clock, and no young Eddie Jones through the adjoining wall, playing The Cure's 'Pictures of You' on repeat at full volume in a fit of teenage angst that he seems loath to grow out of. No, here, there is only blissful silence, while Alexis slumbers upstairs and Castle catches up on some much-needed rest.

Kate fills the kettle to make tea and then abandons that idea in favor of figuring out Castle's tricked-out coffee machine. It hits her now and again, at odd moments, that her home is gone. But what she has here – the offer of a new home for however long she wants it, with boyfriend and family suddenly thrown in - goes a long way to make up for any pangs she feels over that loss, as she works her way around his unfamiliar kitchen, searching out coffee beans, spoons and mugs.

He's given her so much in the last year and a half – his time, his light, his humor, his endless support, his intellect, his crazy theories and annoying habits, sure. But also his loyalty and his dogged patience, his heart and courage, and, it is with a chill sometimes that she realizes he is already prepared to protect her with his life. There is very little not to love about this man. If loving were what she were after in this brave new world of hers.

She sits quietly at his kitchen counter, hugging the mug of coffee to her chest, while she scribbles out a list of essentials she needs to buy to begin rebuilding her closet and make a start on replacing some of her lost possessions. Decent lingerie makes an appearance pretty high up on that list, if she's going to be sharing a home and a bed with Richard Castle for the foreseeable future.

She only realizes that she's smiling when she looks up and catches her own reflection in the glass door of his oven. She's smiling like a woman in love, and she's not so sure that the slightly distorted reflection looking back at her is lying to her. He's stolen another piece of her, and instead of missing it, she feels filled in; more whole than she's felt in a long time.

Coffee finished, she hops down off the stool with renewed purpose, deciding to surprise her hosts with breakfast.

She's busy plating up crispy bacon and dishing out scrambled eggs from the pan ten minutes later, when the front door flies open and a very colorful, very cheerful Martha Rodgers appears in the entranceway. She's dressed in an aqua raincoat, the vibrant turquoise hue clashing spectacularly with her not-seen-in-nature shade of red hair and pink leather gloves.

Kate feels like a rabbit caught in the proverbial headlights. Everything she and Castle have talked about – 'I'm dating your son' – all these carefully prepared words just vacate her brain in one great guilt-induced rush when unexpectedly confronted by the man's somewhat arresting mother.

"Martha!" she exclaims, followed closely by, "I'm here on orders from the FBI."

She could smack her own mouth for that one.

"Darling, I'm hardly one to judge," replies Castle's mother, sounding as if she doesn't believe a word of this explanation, while giving her a warm, friendly smile and an airy, dismissive wave of her shocking pink gloves.

Kate finds it hard to return to the prepared script she and Castle hashed out in bed this morning, without him by her side. So she nervously resorts to over-explaining her presence in the loft.

"I'm sorry, I wouldn't impose. But my place is..."

"Ashes. No, I know," Martha tells Kate, grinning when she adds throatily, "Well, that explains the pat-down by the hunky guy with the ear bud. I assumed it was Richard making a dramatic statement about the conditions for my dropping by unannounced."

Kate laughs, some of her nerves dropping away in the face of Martha's welcoming warmth and good humor.

"Would…would you like some coffee?" she tentatively asks the older woman, lifting up the fresh pot and wafting it in Martha's direction.

"You know, I think that might be just what the doctor ordered. Late night," Martha tells her, and Kate catches a slight hesitation just before she replies, realizing that Castle's mother just read her as well as any detective, and she already knows that something is up.

When they're both seated opposite one another, quietly sipping their coffee, Martha waits for Kate to bring up whatever is troubling her. And Kate finds, that for all the woman's natural exuberance, she has a gentle, patient streak, and she is grateful not to be pushed, to be able to take her own time with this.

"Martha, can I tell you something?" she finally asks, glancing up to find the writer's mother already waiting for her to speak.

"Of course, dear. You can tell me anything," she reassures her, with a motherly pat to the hand, before leaning in and lowering her voice to a tone of conspiratorial compassion. "Is Richard driving you crazy already? Because I find ear plugs can be a great help in that department," she winks, sympathetically.

"Eh," Kate smiles, awkwardly. "Not exactly what I was going to say, although those words…"

Kate blushes and tails off, realizing that she's going about this all the wrong way. He is driving her crazy – with his mouth and his hands and, oh god, that tongue! But his mother doesn't need to know any of those details.

"Darling, what is it? You look…radiant this morning, if I may say. Positively glowing with good health," she chirps.

"Thank you, Martha," replies Kate, ducking her head bashfully at the compliment while she searches for the right words to explain to the woman that her successful, famous, millionaire son is now dating a humble homicide detective.

"Castle and I…that is, Richard," smiles Kate tightly, dipping her head in deference to Martha's position as his mother. "We…we reached an understanding last night," says Kate, frowning at her own bizarre choice of words the second they are out of her mouth.

"An understanding?" repeats Martha, smiling pleasantly.

But before Kate can elucidate any further, the older woman adds, "In my day we just called it dating, dear."

When she catches her own reflection in the oven door this time, Kate looks dumbstruck. Maybe the mindreading thing is genetic, she finds herself wondering.

"You…? But I didn't say anything about dating," says Kate, mystified by the seemingly flighty woman's powers of perception.

"Kate, darling," Martha purrs, "you and my son have a special bond. Amazing chemistry. Anyone can see that. And other than Alexis and his writing, I've never seen him remain as dedicated to anything in his life as he has been to you."

"So, you're okay with it?" asks Kate, biting her lip nervously.

"Okay? Darling, I'm thrilled for you both. Why wouldn't I be?"

"I don't know. I'm just a cop," shrugs Kate, exposing some of the insecurity she sometimes feels when she wishes she'd stayed on track and aimed higher after her mother's death.

"You are more than your job, Kate. So much more. And, so long as he manages to avoid writer's block, my son is just a mystery writer. You should value yourself more highly, my dear. He cares deeply for you. And anyone who captures that boy's heart is a special person indeed."

"Thank you, Martha," says Kate, nodding her appreciation.

"Have you thought about how you're going to tell Alexis?" asks Martha, tilting her head to watch Kate's reaction.

"We actually intended to tell you both together," admits Kate, and she can see that Martha is impressed that they've discussed the issue already. "This…" says Kate, waving her hand between them, "wasn't really in the plan."

"Would you like me to tell her?" offers the older woman, meaning well.

"Thank you for the offer. But, I think this is something Castle and I should tackle together," she replies, impressing Martha even more.

"Well, you just let me know if I can be of any help. I have a whole supply of ear plugs upstairs if you ever need them," she jokes, laughing fondly with Kate.

"On that point," begins Kate, broaching yet another awkward subject. "Castle has asked me to stay here for a while. Until I find somewhere suitable to move into," she adds swiftly. "I just thought you should know."

"I appreciate you telling me all of this, Kate. But that is your business. Yours and Richard's. I won't be interfering. Please know that," she reassures Kate.

Kate is in the process of squeezing Martha's hand in thanks when a commotion erupts from the direction of Castle's bedroom.

"I just woke up and literally smelled the coffee. And the bacon!" he exclaims, yawning loudly and stretching, his eyes adorably puffy, his hair rumpled. "Dropping by to return your key?" he teases his mother, leaning down to give her a kiss.

"Very funny, very funny," beams Martha. "No, I am looking for my aqua gloves because these clash," she explains, waving the pink ones for her son to see.

Castle reaches for a slice of bacon and Kate smacks his hand away with the back of a pan, giving him a reproving glance that his mother doesn't miss and highly approves of.

Martha gives Castle a mischievous, twinkling look, while Kate resumes plating up their breakfast.

"Well, she cooks,", she points out proudly, as if selling Kate's talents to her son.

Castle gives his mother a slow, deliberate smile that melts the woman's heart, and then he rounds the counter, surprising Kate by wrapping his arms around her from behind and pressing a kiss to the nape of her neck, just below her ponytail.

"Actually, she does a lot more than cook," he informs his mother, with a smirk.

Kate is momentarily horrified, and she shrugs Castle off, turning to give him a look that would set him alight if he weren't already on fire just from touching her.

Martha laughs, getting her own back on her son when she surprises him by how much she already knows.

"So I hear," she says drolly, lifting a strawberry out of the bowl of fruit Kate has prepared and popping it into her mouth.

Kate recovers quickly enough to steer the conversation away from their combined talents in the bedroom.

"Actually, my mom was an amazing cook," she tells them both. "She used to make Sunday brunch, and I would get the choice between pancakes, omelets, waffles..."

Castle comes back around the counter to give his mother a grateful hug for whatever she's said to Kate in his absence.

"Wow, that's funny," he tells his girlfriend. "Every Sunday my mom would have me make her an ice pack and a Bloody Mary," he quips, kissing Martha on the cheek.

"Don't listen to him," Martha tells Kate, waving her hand dismissively. "That only happened twice. Tops!" she adds, laughing.

An excited yell from Alexis, as she scampers down the stairs, signifies that the entire Castle-Rodgers-Beckett household is now up and about.

"Gram!" exclaims Castle's daughter, throwing herself at Martha.

"There's my girl. Oh, ho, ho! I missed you!" exclaims Martha, wrapping her granddaughter up in a huge hug.

"I missed you, too," squeals the girl, as they spin round gleefully, clutching one another.

Castle comes to stand behind Kate, and she leans back against him, dropping her head onto his shoulder when he wraps his arms around her.

"You'd think it was months. It's been a day," he whispers in her ear, as they watch the heart-warming moment of deep affection unfold between Martha and Alexis.

"I think it's sweet," says Kate, as the two head back upstairs to Alexis' room, gossiping like sisters.

"I think you're sweet," grins Castle, spinning Kate round so that they're standing face-to-face.

They hold one another, surrounded by the best that life has to offer – family, a warm home and good food.

"Sweet?" laughs Kate, stretching up on tiptoe to kiss the writer, her head spinning when he slides his tongue into her mouth and she feels herself go weak at the knees, clutching at his shirt to stay upright.

"First time for everything, Beckett," he whispers in her ear, pressing a kiss to her hair as he tightens his arms around her.

They stand in the kitchen, swaying together, while the world spins by without them, lost in the moment.

Both startle when Kate's cell phone rings, and she sighs, reluctantly easing herself out of Castle's embrace to answer the call.

"Excuse me," she says quietly, squeezing his arm. "Beckett?"

Castle watches her, frantically blowing and fanning his hand in front of his face after he stuffed a large forkful of scalding hot scrambled eggs into his mouth that proves too warm to chew.

"Okay. I'll be right there," says Kate, quickly hanging up the call and turning back to face the writer.

"Castle, that was Agent Avery," she explains, her expression one of extreme concern. "Jordan never made it home last night."

A/N: And so we come full circle, after that pleasant little detour, to return to canon. As I said at the start of this chapter, I have cherished every message and been delighted by your overwhelmingly positive response to this 'what if' scenario that was requested by my dear friend, BlueOrchid96.

I wish everyone luck for getting through the finale without tears when the time comes. Oh, and I'd urge you to listen to the very talented Kacey Musgraves, if you haven't been inspired to already by the song extracts at the start of each chapter.

So, as another great journey comes to an end, I'll simply say, Happy Castle Monday, until next time… Liv x