*A friendly reminder that this story is now rated M. In other words, expect some M-rated content in this chapter.


Solid Ground – Chapter 21

It was all so frustratingly stressful. She could literally feel the knots of tension manifesting along the muscles of her shoulders and back. The shock from her confrontation with the stranger hadn't dissipated. The gun in the front pocket of her hoodie felt heavy; the emotional weight almost as severe. Even though he hadn't pulled the gun on her, she still felt the trickle of apprehension run up her spine at the possibilities.

Distant moments flashed before her eyes.

A sharp pain in her chest, her words choking in her throat as the world spun around her and the sunlight glaring in her eyes as Castle hovered over her, eyes watering as he pleaded with her to stay.

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

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

Despite her yearlong lie, those words, especially those last ones, had been seared into her memory. She'd never forget. She never wanted to forget. Those words had given her the motivation to fight, to live… to be better, for him, for her… for them. It had been tragic, and all wrong, yet at the same time as her heart had struggled to pump blood through her veins it also swelled with joy when she heard his confession of love. She'd spent so long in denial, wondering if it was worth risking her heart to a man with Richard Castle's reputation. Unlike Josh, or Tom and Will, for that matter, Castle wasn't the safe option. Yet playing it safe had proven trying, unsatisfactory… boring. She was done with wasting her life. And like what Royce said in his letter, she didn't want to look back on her life and wonder… if only.

The memories of that moment flooded back to her. She was blind to anything else but those memories. Her breath hitched up and her heart pounded beneath her ribcage. Unconsciously, her hand flew up to her chest, fingertips lightly brushing over the scar hidden beneath the fabric of her hoodie and blouse.

"Kate."

His hands swept up her back, soothing, gently squeezing her shoulders. Letting out a soft sigh, she eased into his touch, relishing the comforting warmth that came from his hands. He expertly kneaded the tight muscles on her shoulders and rubbed his thumbs in rhythmic circles along the back of her neck. Once she'd given in to her feelings, she never once took for granted Castle's very talented hands.

"It's going to be okay, Kate."

She blinked, slowly coming back to reality thanks to the low encouraging sound of his voice. Castle massaged her shoulders and back for a moment longer, his skill undeniable and effective, before he slipped his hands down her sides and around her waist, linking his fingers above her stomach as his broader frame embraced her small one from behind, soothing her in a way only his presence could. He canted into her, nuzzling his nose into her hair. She closed her eyes briefly, basking in the security and assurance she felt in his hold. The sudden panic that had come earlier as she flashbacked to her shooting faded away.

"You need to relax," he murmured into her ear, his breath hot and seductive. "Let me help you relax."

Kate's breath came out in stuttering gasps and her heart once again pounded profoundly within her chest, but for an entirely different reason. Slowly, she turned around in his arms and flicked her eyes up to stare into his, reveling in the absolute love that radiated out. She sighed and leaned against him, letting go of her stubborn pride and allowing him to hold her up. She gave him her answer, pressing a soft kiss against his lips, surrendering herself to him.

"Okay," she murmured. "Help me relax."

XXX

His hand slipped down her arm until he found hers, interlacing their fingers together. Giving her a warm smile, he leaned forward and pressed a kiss against her lips. He pulled back and gazed at her with undisguised desire, lust and love all combined into one intoxicating gaze. She licked her lips and smiled back, letting him tug her away from the clinic and the mystery of the stranger and take her back to their hut.

Ducking through the doorway, Kate kicked off her shoes and stepped over to the small shelves Castle had constructed with Gervasio's help. She removed the gun from the front pocket of her hoodie, and stared at it. Despite it's troubling appearance, she couldn't help but relish the feel of it in her hand. It wasn't that Kate enjoyed using her weapon; no… it was the security and control that it brought that she coveted. Sighing, she stepped over to her roller, and unzipped the bag, burying the Berretta at the bottom of her suitcase.

Castle came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist protectively. He hugged her tightly, pressing a brief kiss against the top of her head, before reaching up and brushing back some of her hair to nuzzle against her neck. Kate sighed, closing her eyes as she eased into his touch, letting out a soft moan as he kissed that one spot behind her ear that he knew drove her wild.

She hummed in appreciation, and his name fell from her lips on a soft contented sigh. Kate wiggled her backside against him and smiled when he groaned and squeezed her tighter, pressing his body even closer to hers, providing her with evidence of his want. She turned around in his arms, and arched her neck to gaze up at him. Sometimes she forgot how tall he really was. It was easy to forget when she was so often wearing those killer high heels that increased her height. Without hesitation, she pushed up on her toes, capturing his lips in a languid kiss, needing to feel the connection between them that transcended the physical.

His hold loosened and she slipped out of his arms, walking away from him, backwards. She pursed her lips and smiled at him seductively, leading him to their cushioned pads that had been their bed for over four months. Kate grabbed onto his arms for support as she sat, pulling him down with her. Castle planted his knees on the cushions and loomed up in front of her. She licked her lips, dropping her eyes to his. He moved his hands up to her shoulders, and pressed his forehead against hers as they shared panting breaths, the air hot around them.

Her eyelashes fluttered as his hands dropped to her waist, fisting around the hem of her hoodie. He nipped at her lips as he rucked the fabric up, slipping his hand underneath, rubbing his palm tenderly along the small round pregnant bump on her stomach. Her breath caught as his hand went up, tickling her ribs. She released a husky sigh and Castle smiled smugly, closing the gap between them and sealing her mouth with his in a fierce and heated kiss. His tongue flicked out and teased the seam of her lips, before she granted him entrance, deepening the kiss.

Their noses smashed together as they consumed one another. Kate's heart went wild inside her chest, as other parts of her came alive with warm tingling sensations, screaming to be touched. She arched her back, moaning when Castle's teasing fingers ghosted across the bottom curve of her breast. Yes, yes, yes, she chanted over and over in her head. She wanted him to touch her, to distract her from the day's events. And after her flashback earlier, she really needed that physically intimate reminder of his love for her.

They both gasped for air when they break the kiss, chests heaving as they refilled their lungs. Castle withdrew his hand and tugged at her hoodie. Kate locked eyes with him, and they stared wantonly at one another as she raised her arms, allowing him to pull the hoodie up and over her head. Once freed from the garment, her long sun-kissed brunette hair cascaded down in soft waves, bouncing around her shoulders. Castle grinned at her, his eyes twinkling as he unceremoniously tossed the NYPD hoodie over his shoulder, uncaring of where it landed.

Kate reached up and grabbed the lapels of his shirt, pulling him down to meet her in another passionate kiss. She breathed in his scent, marveling at how despite the lack of his expensive bath products and cologne, he'd retained that unique scent that she'd always associated with him. In fact, being outside had given him a fresher smell, like sunbeams and rainbows. It was intoxicating, and Kate couldn't help but lose herself in the fluttering sensations his scent was causing her insides.

Sucking on his lower lip, she fisted his shirt in her hands, wanting it gone. Without words, Castle understood her desire. He leaned back, just enough for them to work equally, as partners, to unbutton and divest him of his shirt. Kate groaned in carnal delight when she was able to slip her hands beneath the material and feel his warmed skin. Sweeping her hands up his chest and over his shoulders, she removed his shirt, and feasted on his naked flesh.

Grinning wickedly at him, Kate leaned forward and grazed her teeth across his collarbone, soothing the skin with her hot tongue as she nibbled up his shoulder and along his neck and jawline. Finding his lips again, Kate dropped her hands down his chest, brushing her fingertips against his contracting stomach muscles, pleased with the effect she had on him.

Castle canted forward, brushing his nose against hers, almost like they were Eskimo kisses. She pursed her lips and smiled, tilting her head so that their mouths could meet in a slow and sensual kiss, filled with heat and love. Pulling back, she nipped at his bottom lip, pulling it into her mouth with her teeth, before sucking on it seductively. A low growl rumbled out of his throat, and Kate grinned triumphantly, pecking at his mouth again, before she grasped at his belt. She kissed him hard, and then tilted her head down to watch as her deft and experienced hands worked at the buckle, easily unfastening the belt and quickly popping the button of his jeans.

"Oh God, Kate," he groaned when she shoved a hand into his pants. She worked her naughty fingers over him as his chest heaved, his mouth hanging open in stunned arousal.

She nipped at his chin, giggling softly as his whiskers tickled her skin.

"What… what's so funny?" he stammered out, barely keeping it together.

She chuckled, and slipped her hand out of his pants, resting a palm against his heaving chest as he glanced down at her with a slightly vexed expression. She laughed even more, shaking her head and squinting her eyes in amusement. Kate took in a deep calming breath, flicking her eyes back up to meet his.

"It's just that if things had gone according to plan," she explained, her cheeks flushed with the growing arousal coursing through her body, "you'd have smooth cheeks right now."

"Smooth cheeks?" Castle furrowed his brow in confusion. "I… I don't understand. How could I shave without a razor?"

"I'd have used mine," she answered, staring at him as if it was obvious, and for added measure, rolled her eyes.

"Gross," he grimaced, scrunching up his nose in manly disgust. "You use that to shave your legs. I don't know if I want it near my face."

"Ah, is that so?" she feigned a hurt look, sticking her lower lip out in a pout.

"It's a guy thing," he tried to explain, falling for her act. "It'll be too difficult to explain."

"But I thought you liked sticking your face between my legs," she continued, unable to resist any longer as the sly smile spread across her mouth.

Castle pursed his lips and what little of his cheeks she could see underneath the scruff on his face turned red in a blush. "I do," he spoke up in a strained voice, as if he was trying to suppress the jolt of heat pumping through his veins at the reminder of how he enjoyed devouring her. "Very much."

"I know," she flicked her tongue out between her lips and glanced up at him with a triumphant look before pushing up and kissing the slacked expression off his face.

Castle hummed into her mouth, and snaked his hands around her waist, tugging at the hem of her blouse. "You… have far too many clothes on," he commented, the urgency in his voice left her breathless.

"Then lets fix that," she responded with a saucy wink before pulling back and letting him rid her of her blouse. His eyes immediately dropped to soak in the newly exposed skin and Kate felt her heart swell with everlasting gratitude at how he never seemed to tire of her naked flesh.

Castle sprawled his fingers wide along her bare back and pulled her to him, kissing her hard as he worked on unfastening her bra. His fingers were talented as ever, and he had the clasp unclipped in seconds. Kate rolled her shoulders as he swiped his hands across the straps, letting the bra fall away from her chest. She let out a throaty sigh of pleasure when his hands returned, palming her breasts. His touch was knowing and assured, massaging the soft flesh with experienced effectiveness.

He eased her down onto her back, looming over her as he kissed her deeply. She fell back, and closed her eyes, her breath stinted and hot, as she surrendered her body to the knowledgeable and skilled touch of the man she loved. Castle opened his mouth and sucked lightly on her neck, pulling a strangled moan out of her. He worked his way down her body, moving his hands across every curve and contour as if it was the first time he'd ever touched her and had wanted to map out every square inch.

Kate sucked in a breath, completely caught off guard when she felt her pants being tugged down her legs, exposing her heated core to the late afternoon air. She squirmed and arched her neck to look down, watching with rapt attention as Castle kicked off his shoes and chucked his pants. He cocked his head back up to her, and smiled lovingly. His eyes raked up and down her nearly nude body. All that remained were her cream colored panties. They were a utilitarian cotton brand, not really all that sexy, but with the way Castle was staring at her, they might as well have been some little racy lace number.

"You're beauty, Kate… it never ceases to amaze me," he attested, the truth of his word mirrored in the absolute devotion in his eyes.

Her lips trembled and her chest fluttered with the swell of emotion. Her eyes welled up with happy tears and she bobbed her head. "I can say the same about you, Rick," she asserted in a shaky voice, making sure she used his first name so he'd know she was serious. She held out her arms for him. "Come here."

He complied without hesitation, climbing up over her, his hands skimming her bare legs as he came, until she could grab his face and draw his mouth to hers into an all-consuming kiss. Her body quivered with anticipation as it came into contact with the heat radiating off of his. She closed her eyes and kissed him all the more, tangling her fingers in his rich hair as she arched up into him, all but begging him to make love to her.

Castle slipped a hand between them and palmed her center, groaning slightly as he recognized the wetness that soaked the cotton fabric. Kate groaned, arching up into his touch as he wiggled his fingers, being the dirty tease he was.

"I love you," he declared, as if she didn't already know, bringing both hands up to cup her face. He stroked her cheek with his thumb, and slanted his lips over hers. She gasped into his mouth, startled when she felt his thigh come to rest between her legs. The friction was delicious. Castle grinned mischievously, clenching his thigh muscles and rubbing against her, driving her wild.

She sobbed in pleasure, clutching his shoulders tightly with her trembling hands, her fingernails digging into his skin. He kissed her again, rocking his thigh against her center, causing her hips to undulate against him, wanting more. He claimed her mouth with his, muffling her moan of euphoria at the continued friction.

Kate shook her head, though, pushing him back lightly. While she enjoyed what he was doing, and loathed to stop it, she wanted more. Kate locked dark eyes with him, her eyelashes fluttering when he moved his thigh against her again. Her mouth dropped on a gasp, and she shook her head, flicking her eyes back up at him in glare.

"Castle… stop teasing me, please," she pleaded, her voice close to a sob. "I need you… inside me. Now."

He grinned, as if making her beg had been part of his plan. She knitted her eyebrows together and narrowed her eyes at him, not quite mustering a full on glare, but managing enough of it to let him know that if he did not comply with her request soon, he'd be in some serious trouble. She bit her lower lip and clenched her eyes shut as he wiggled his thigh against her again, generating some seriously delicious friction that almost had her undone on the spot.

"CASTLE!" she managed to shout, pleased with the warning hint in her voice. "Stop teasing me!"

"Oh shut it," he chuckled throatily, pressing a kiss to her lips to silence her. "You know you love it."

Kate was so close to agreeing. One more jerk of his leg between hers, and she'd be incoherent, falling over the edge into that wonderful oblivion of complete bliss. She had always been unnerved at the power he had over her. No one had ever been able to assert so much control over her like he could. She was a shameless control freak, yet with Castle, Kate was willing to surrender the keys to not only her heart, but also her entire being. She was his… completely.

"I do," she panted out, bobbing her head, her pulse quickening as his hands dropped to her hips. "I love it. I love you… so much." She paused, heaving in a breath. "So… quit stalling and make love to me!"

Castle chuckled, but finally relented to her wishes. He dipped his head down and kissed her soundly. She reciprocated, kissing him back with the same tender affection and love. His fingers nudged under the waistband of her panties, slowly edging the soaked fabric down her legs. He pushed up slightly, canting away from her just enough to give him the room he needed to pull the garment down her long and slender legs. And then, without any further instruction, Castle divested himself of his boxers, and grabbed her legs, gently parting them as he settled above her.

"Yes," Kate panted, caressing his face as he loomed over her. He gazed down at her with dark cobalt eyes, so filled with undiluted adoration and love.

Closing his eyes, he dropped his head, resting his forehead against hers. She shared a breath with him as they both savored the moment. Kate started it first, tilting her hips up to meet him. Castle opened his eyes and gazed down at her, watching as she smiled up at him. She rolled her hips, teasing him with the wetness of her arousal. His mouth dropped open and he breathed heavily.

"Now," she whispered in command, willing and eager.

Castle made his move instantly, thrusting his hips in a quick motion, impaling her completely within seconds. Kate gasped, and felt her whole body quiver with the sudden welcomed intrusion. She stretched her legs further apart, allowing him to sink deeper into her velvety core. Kate mewled softly, arching up into him as he wiggled his hips until he was completely sheathed inside her. Castle reached up with one hand and brushed her silky hair back from her face. She kept her eyes locked on his, wanting him to witness every spark of pleasure that flashed across her eyes.

"Oh… yes," she hissed out, immediately clenching around him with delight at their connection, making him whimper and involuntarily jerk his hips.

"God, Kate… don't do that," he complained.

"What? Stamina not what it used to be, Rick?" she teased, earning a fierce glare from him.

"Just for that," he declared, defiantly, like he had any say in the matter. "I'm going to go slow."

"Whatever you say, Castle," she purred, seductively running her hands up and down his back as he shifted, settling his weight more conformable against her. She wiggled her hips, making him groan. "If you think you can last."

"Challenge accepted!" He scoffed with indignation. "Oh, you have no idea what you've just started, little Miss Smarty-pants."

"Shut up, and move," she interrupted, squirming her hips in frustration.

Kate gasped, her entire body rippled with pleasure as he finally began to move inside her. She wrapped her legs around his middle, changing the angle just enough to pull him in deeper. She dropped a kiss to his neck as she slipped her hands up to his shoulders to hold on. Kate knew from experience that he was as good as his word when it came to slow and languid lovemaking. She'd only been teasing him about his stamina, which was really good for a man his age. Never once had he left her wanting.

His strokes were deep and knowing, hitting her in all the right places. If she so desired, Kate could just sit back and let him do all the work. After all, Castle knew how to please her, and always sought to do so, even before himself. But Kate was restless from the events of the day, and wanted to participate, to show him how much she appreciated all the support he gave her.

Castle dipped his head down and slanted his lips over hers, his nose mashing against hers as he deepened the kiss. Kate responded in kind, moving her hips in sync with his, letting him set the pace… for now. Her hands, however, roamed freely, needing to touch him all over. She captured his lips, muffling his moan as she grabbed his delicious bottom and squeezed playfully. Kate tickled his side, and smiled when his hips gave a sudden startled jerk, breaking his steady rhythm.

"You did that on purpose," he objected in a breathy grunt.

Kate merely beamed up at him and shrugged her shoulders innocently. It was true. She was guilty of breaking his rhythm. But it was for the greater good. While she loved it when he was tender and loving with her, that's not what she needed… not what she craved. She'd just had a flashback earlier to her own mortality, and after that what she needed was an affirmation of life. And while making love slowly would do that under different circumstances, it wasn't what she needed right now.

"Castle," she murmured, looping her arms around his neck as he stared down at her with a hurt expression, like she was complaining with his technique. She pursed her lips and shook her head. Silly man. She needed to correct that assumption immediately.

Looking up at him with soft eyes, she assured him that she loved what he was doing to her. "But, right now that's not what I need," she tried to explain.

"I don't understand," he furrowed his brow in confusion, shifting his weight above her as to not crush her. "Did I do something wrong?"

"No, no," she reassured him, palming the side of his face and caressing his scruffy cheek, needing to rid his face of the worry that had suddenly propped up. God, she was screwing this up. "You didn't. I… how do I explain?"

Kate knitted her eyebrows together and looked away in thought, trying to think of a way to explain it to him. And then it hit her, making her laugh at how obvious it was. Her body shook with mirth, which unintentionally caused some delicious friction down where their bodies were connected. Castle's head dropped against hers and they both shared a low moan of mutual pleasure.

"It… it's like after the bomb," she panted out, regaining her breath and coherency. "I'd been standing so still for so long that all my muscles were tense and stiff."

"Oh," the light of understanding hit his eyes. He glanced down at her with a mischievous glint in his eye and a boyish smirk. "I can do that."

"Good," Kate dropped her voice to that husky quality she knew drove him wild. "Because I really need that right…" Her words trailed off as her wishes were granted. Castle's passion had been unshackled, the chains released.

Kate whimpered and moan, her entire body quivering and undulating under him and his knowing ministrations. He touched her all over, kissing and sucking on her skin, pulling gasps from her throat as his fingers did wickedly naughty things to her that were both old and new. Castle grunted, his strokes becoming more powerful, reaching deeper with each thrust. Kate was left breathless with the skill in which he fucked her, sending sparks of rippling pleasure up her spine and throughout her body.

She couldn't hold still. Not now. Not with how he was touching her. Grabbing his head, she kissed him hard, ravishing his mouth with her tongue as she pushed her hips up into his, rolling and bucking, matching him thrust for thrust. Sweat was dripping from her skin, mingling with his, as they moved together, each pulling and pushing, bodies intertwining until Kate was unsure where one began and the other ended.

The dim interior of their shack faded away. Nothing else existed except her and Castle, and their love. It was just them. They existed in a world of two. She was rapidly approaching the threshold. It wouldn't be long now. Clutching at him for support, Kate threw her head back and screamed in pure unadulterated pleasure, shattering around him as her body shook with unleashed desire. It was so easy to lose herself in the euphoria of her release. But she was still aware of enough to feel Castle pump his hips a few more times, before his rhythm stuttered and stilled as he followed her over the edge.

XXX

"Kimberly!?" a strained voice called out into the predawn air as the shadow filled the doorway. "Are you here?"

There was no response. The clinic was empty saved for the unconscious stranger. She clenched her jaw, clutching her stomach as a jagged shot of pain violently flickered up her side. Her chest heaved as she worked at suppressing the agony in her side as she stumbled inside the structure, stumbling against the tables and shelves, searching for something to ease the pain.

"Ugh! God, no!" she cried out, tears streaking down her face as she hunched over in rippling torment. Her insides seemed to be on fire, and all she could do was silently scream. The pain was blinding, and she had to hold out her arms to feel her way around the room, searching for the free bed.

Finding it, she clenched her teeth and hissed out, stifling the throbbing warmth in her center as she heaved herself up and onto the bed. She clutched her belly, feeling like she was being stabbed with thousands of little pinpricks. She had no idea what was going on. Part of her was afraid they'd gotten a little too rough last night, but she'd been so very horny and needed him, frenzied and passionate, like they had in the beginning, when everything was still all fresh and new.

She'd left him asleep in their shelter, thinking that it had just been cramps, but now she was starting to regret her decision to leave him behind. Her one hope had been that Kimberly would still be here at the clinic, keeping watch over the stranger. But she wasn't.

Cursing, she cried, burying her head in her hands as her body continued to torture her with painful convulsions. Her crying intensified when she felt a trickle of something warm and sticky manifest between her legs. Her sobs were heart wrenching, and she lost her balance as she felt the blood ooze done her legs, staining her grey leggings in a dark crimson color.

Using all her strength, she rolled off the bed, and stood up on wobbly legs. She had to find Kimberly. Kimberly was the only one who could help her. She shifted forward, but stopped, her muscles seizing up as a new wave of pain washed over her. Her abdomen grew into tight knots and she cried out a strangled moan of anguish, feeling like she was on fire.

A shadow appeared in the doorway, and her eyes flirted up, hope and relief awash on her face as she recognized the person's silhouette. At last, help had arrived. She staggered forward, holding out a hand in call for assistance, while her other hand gripped her stomach, fingers curling as the pain intensified.

"Help me," she croaked out, voice hoarse and rough.

Her savior hesitated for a moment, before stepping across the threshold. She sighed, closing her eyes as she sent up a silent thank you to whatever deity was watching over her. But when she looked back up, her savior had turned into her damnation. Confusion flashed across her eyes as the thick branch violently collided with her head.

And then there was nothing.

XXX

Kate startled awake, gasping for air. Her chest heaved as she gulped in a lungful of oxygen, her entire body drenched in sweat. She shook her head, clearing away the images from the nightmare. After all the stress and confusion over the stranger, she'd been full of nervous energy, with no clear way to relieve that worry. It just bottled up, and manifested in surprising ways. At first, it had been her flashbacks to her shooting. Now it was nightmares. She was feeling anxious, and had been unable to get much sleep the previous night.

Castle's method of helping her relax had only been partially successful. It had been wonderful, and she loved every moment of their intimate connection, but in the end it had only been a temporary fix. She'd only managed to fall asleep from sheer exhaustion, only to then find herself waking up again, still weighed down by an all-consuming concern that permeated all her waking thoughts. Unable to get back to sleep, Kate would then shake Castle awake and coax him into 'helping her relax' again.

Needless to say, she was very sore this morning. It wasn't necessarily unpleasant. In fact, she liked it. It had been a while since they'd screwed around to the point where she had to remain in bed for a little while before getting up on wobbly legs. She loathed to cheapen what they did together intimately, but sometimes she just needed a good fuck—or a series of good fucks—and Castle never disappointed her when that need came knocking on the door.

Yet despite all that, she found it slightly annoying this particular morning, as it forced her to remain lying down when all she wanted to do was get up and pace. Again with the nervous energy. It just wouldn't lift. Her eyes flirted across to Castle, watching him sleep, marveling at how peaceful and relaxed he looked. Well, he should be, considering the number of times he got lucky last night, she thought as a sly smile formed on her lips. She contemplated waking him up for another quick round, but decided against it. He'd done more than his fair share last night, and he'd earned a respite from the demands of his horny pregnant fiancée.

She sighed, holding up her left hand to gaze at her engagement ring. The diamonds sparkled in the shaft of sunlight that shone through the doorway of their little hut. Her heart fluttered in her chest as she remembered his proposal, how desperate and afraid he'd been. Kate had originally thought he was going to break up with her, but then he'd dropped on bended knee, and popped the question.

Katherine Houghton Beckett, will you marry me?

Just like her shooting, it was a pivotal moment in her life, one she'd never forget. And just like her shooting, it had been all wrong, yet so perfect all at the same time. It was so very them to never do anything the easy way. And it was a beautiful ring, not at all over the top. It was elegant in its perfection, and so very her. That fact alone was enough to tell her that he must have had it for a while, that it hadn't been an impulse buy.

Kate turned onto her side, and smiled down at the man resting beside her. He truly was her one and done. Despite all the ups and downs, she couldn't imagine her life without him. He was it for her. There was no one other than him.

He stirred slightly, but remained asleep, and her smile grew wider when she heard him mumble her name as he turned his head to bury it into the cushions. She was a little envious of his ability to let go of all the turmoil and fear she knew he was feeling. Castle wasn't always a nine year old on a sugar rush. He could be serious—deadly serious—when the situation called for it. Kate had had brief glimpses into that version of him, and to be honest, she'd found it a little terrifying. It had been surprisingly frightening to witness how far he'd go for the people he loved.

She brushed back the hair from her face, and absently dropped a hand to her belly, caressing the small round bump. Kate knew that he'd do anything for her and their baby. Anything. And she was afraid of that. She needed him, right here, by her side. She couldn't do this alone, could never do it without him. A treacherous tear leaked out and streaked down her cheek. She sniffled and reached up to swipe it away angrily.

"Castle," she reached across the space between them and gently shook him. "Castle, wake up."

"What?" he mumbled in question, his voice thick with sleep.

She shook him again, and he grumbled, turning onto his side, pushing her hand away. "Castle," she hissed out, needing him to wake up.

"What?" he repeated, his voice still groggy as he blinked his eyes and arched his neck up to look back at her. "Again? Already? Just… just give me a few more minutes and then I'm all yours."

Kate bit her lower lip and blushed. Apparently she'd really worn him out last night with her sporadic and copious physical demands. She almost felt like apologizing, but knew that if she did, he'd stare at her like she'd gone crazy. Yeah, that was a stupid idea. No way would Castle ever be miffed at being left sleep deprived after a long night of having lots of sex with Kate Beckett. Besides, didn't he just offer himself up for another round?

And now he was snoring.

She shook her head, chiding herself for getting lost in her thoughts. Leaning over, Kate brushed the flop of hair away from his forehead, before dropping her head down to press a gentle probing kiss to his mouth. Castle instantly responded to her, kissing her back and rolling over to pin her beneath him. Kate parted her legs and cradled his hips as his hands skidded up her sides, tickling her ribs and teasing the bottom curves of her breasts.

She hummed. "Good morning, handsome," she sighed, closing her eyes as they broke apart for air.

"Is it morning?" he asked, voice heavy with sleep, his forehead resting against hers.

"Yes. It is."

"I sort of lost track of the hour with the number of times you woke me up during the night."

"Sorry," she apologized, even though she had previously decided against it.

"Don't be sorry," he soothed, pecking at her lips. "I enjoyed it."

Kate opened her eyes in time to catch the mischievous sparkle light up his eyes. She sighed in relief. "So did I," she said. "Thank you. I really needed that."

"I'm here to serve," he joked, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively as he moved one hand up to fully palm her breast. "Anytime. Anywhere. Always."

"I know," she replied, breathily, her chest heaving from a sudden intense burst of arousal. Castle grinned sleepily, and bent down to thoroughly kiss her, invading her mouth with his hot and talented tongue. Kate moaned, and arched up into him, temporarily forgetting the reason she woke him up.

"Let me take care of you," he murmured.

She bobbed her head. "Yes. Yes." A startled groan fell from her mouth as he slid inside her, hot and ready. She gasped, clutching at him, a little caught off guard, but not at all complaining. He kissed her hard, eager to please. It was a little fast and hurried, but was still exactly what she had been wanting. He never disappointed. When they were both satisfied, he rolled off her, breathing heavily as he collapsed beside her on the cushions. She cuddled up close to him, leaning up to kiss him soundly in eternal gratitude for putting up with her seemingly always turned on pregnancy hormones.

"You… you wanted to talk about something?" Castle panted out, catching his breath.

Kate hummed in acknowledgement, still amazed at how well he knew her. She rested her head against his chest, absently listening to the rapid beating of his heart. "I had a nightmare," she revealed, pursing her lips and clenching her eyes shut against the unwanted images that threatened to assault her mind's eye.

"What about?" he asked, though she suspected he probably already knew. Her nightmares rarely varied in theme.

"Bracken," she hissed out his name like a curse. "He'd sent more thugs after us, and we'd been too slow. They got the drop on us, knocking you out. I couldn't stop them, couldn't save you."

"Shh," Castle soothed, caressing her back, sending shivers up her spine. She nuzzled closer into him. "You're okay. You're safe. I have you. I'm not letting go."

Kate gave him a weak smile. "I know you do," she assured him, pushing up to press a quick kiss to his lips. Easing back, she cuddled into him, wrapping her arms around his waist. "I guess maybe it's a good thing I'm pregnant now, then."

"Hmm? What do you mean?" he asked, raising an eyebrow, a little perplexed.

She knitted her eyebrows together as she thought about how to explain her reasoning. "It… it's just that being here, stranded on this island, we can actually be happy and enjoy ourselves," she said.

"Well, we've certainly been 'enjoying' ourselves during the past couple of hours," he interjected with a boyish smirk.

Kate slapped his chest playfully. "I'm not talking about that," she said, shaking her head and rolling her eyes at his comment. "I'm talking about how I'm happy that the circumstances, though difficult, have made it possible for us to enjoy my pregnancy without the constant threat of Bracken looming over us."

"Yeah, I can see that," Castle concurred, cocking his head slightly as he gazed at her with an intrigued look.

"What?"

"Just you," he said, smiling. "I'm proud of you."

"Huh?" she was confused now.

He chuckled and brushed a lingering kiss against her cheek. "Just nice to see you thinking of the silver linings."

Kate flashed him a quick grin, and a wink. "I guess you're just rubbing off on me."

"Oh, I'm rubbing off on you, most definitely," Castle murmured in a deep voice, adding a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows as his hand dropped down low on her back, cupping her ass.

Kate beamed, her eyes sparkling with joy as she giggled. Castle flashed her a boyish grin before removing his hand from her backside to wrap her up in his embrace. She eased into his hold, arching up to press a lazy kiss against his lips. She sighed when they broke away, content and relaxed against his side.

A sudden knock startled them out of their own little paradise. Kate frowned, having just been about to fall back to sleep. She raised her head and squinted across at the doorway. Whoever it was, they were standing off to the side so that they wouldn't see anything indecent.

"You guys making out?" came Kimberly's voice.

Castle chuckled as he reached down for the thin blanket and pulled it up, draping it over Kate as he searched for his jeans. She let out a groan, when he rolled away and stood up, disappointed in the loss of his warm body beside hers. He shot her a wink as he bent down to grab his jeans. Kate bit her lower lip, allowing herself the pleasure of gazing at Castle's delectable backside as he tugged his pants up.

"What is it, Kimberly?" Kate called out, brushing her hair back from her face as she sat up, wrapping the thin blanket around her torso, covering herself.

Kimberly ducked her head as she entered. When she looked up, her green eyes immediately landed on Castle's bare chest as he greeted her with a little wave, before snatching up a t-shirt and putting it on. She blushed and averted her gaze, before turning her attention to Kate. Kimberly pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows in question. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" she asked.

"No, not at all," Kate replied, knowing that both her and Castle looked and smelled like sex. For some reason, it didn't bother her that Kimberly saw them like this. She was surprised that she didn't even feel a blush warm her cheeks. "What's up?"

Kimberly snapped her gaze back to Kate. "You two need to get dress and come down to the clinic… like now," she said, her voice grave. "Something's happened."

XXX

"Murder? Are you sure?" Castle hissed out in disbelief as he stood behind her, the shock evident on his face.

After Kimberly's announcement, they'd gotten dressed as quickly as possible and hightailed it down to the clinic to see what had their friend so distressed. Kate was crouching down next to Kimberly, their positions so reminiscent of other times, where instead of the blonde green-eyed EMT there would have been Lanie with her sassy and knowing smirks as she gave Beckett the breakdown on the victim.

"Yes, Castle, I'm sure," Kate replied tensely, clenching her jaw as she stared down at the body. "It was murder." She let out a sad sigh. "Poor Irene… she didn't deserve this. She was so young."

"Oh God," he rubbed his hand down his face. "This is awful." He paused, and frowned. "Has anyone told Chris?"

"C.C.'s handling that," Kimberly asserted, glancing back and forth between them. "She was a bereavement specialist back home."

Kate inclined her head, grunting slightly as she stood up, placing her hands on her hips. Castle stepped forward, brushing a concerned hand against the small of her back. She sighed and gave him a nod, letting him know she was okay. She wiped at her nose, and closed her eyes, keeping the tears at bay.

"She lost her baby," Kate said, her voice shaky. "Before she was killed… she lost her baby."

Castle gripped her arm and turned her towards him, wrapping his arms around her in a comforting embrace as she buried her face in his chest. She clenched her jaw and willed the tears away. Castle soothed her as best he could, but it was too tragic to suppress. Kate silently cursed her pregnant hormones for making her so emotional. She'd never lost her composure at a crime scene before. The only time she could think of was when she'd broken down during that sniper case, which had triggered PTSD induced flashbacks.

"Who could have done this?" Castle asked, the dismay in his voice all to clear. She couldn't help but smile. Despite all the horror and evil he'd seen while shadowing her, he still overwhelmingly believed in the good of people.

"I don't know," Kate said, pushing back and wiping at her eyes, pleased that no tears had actually escaped. She narrowed her eyes and knitted her eyebrows together as she glared at the empty med-bed where once there had been an unconscious man. According to Kimberly, he had been gone when she'd come in this morning to check on his wounds. "Whatever happened, it had something to do with the stranger."

Castle gave a nod of agreement. "We need to find him, and soon, until someone else gets hurt."