****SPOILERS****

Contains spoilers for "Always," "After the Storm," and "Still."

TIME FRAME: Occurs sometime after "Always" and before "Still."

DISCLAIMER: I own nothing of Castle or its characters and I am not making any profit from them.

TYPE: Fluff, Hurt/Comfort, Angst, Romance, Caskett.

STORY NOTES: I got the idea for it after many Twitter discussions with MajorSamO who was also kind enough to look it over and offer a few suggestions as well! This is my first Castle (Caskett) fan fiction and it's VERY fluffy. It's basically my take on how Castle first hears Beckett say "I love you." So perhaps it's a bit belated now but, oh well! Hope you enjoy!

HOLD ON

"CASTLE!"

Richard Castle was suddenly wide-awake and sitting up in his bed. He looked around wondering what had woken him so abruptly. The clock on his cell phone read 3:18 AM. There were no missed calls or texts. He looked around the room, listening for what had startled him out of sleep.

Nothing.

The loft was silent; even the traffic and noises from the street below were uncharacteristically quiet. He laid back down, preparing to go back to sleep when he felt the bed move violently.

"HELP! Oh God! NO! Not like this! CASTLE! HELP!"

Rick turned to look at Kate lying next to him in the bed and quickly realized what had startled him.

Kate Beckett was lying on her back, her arms stretched out across the pillow above her head. She was still asleep but she was drenched in sweat and gasping for breath. As he watched her, she struggled, tossing her head and kicking some of the bedding to the floor.

With everything that Beckett had seen while working as a homicide detective, with all that she'd been through after her mother's murder, and sniper's attempt on her own life, Castle had expected Kate's nights to be haunted by horrific dreams. In the months since she'd begun sharing his bed, however, he'd been surprised to learn that, in sleep at least, her mind rarely revisited the terrors of her past. Nightmares were rare for both of them, but Castle was more likely to be the one who had them, and most often his nightmares revolved around his fears of losing Kate. On occasions when his bad dreams woke her, Kate would wrap her arms around him in an effort to reassure him.

The bed shook again as Beckett kicked and struggled, grasping at something in her sleep.

"CASTLE! I'm over here!" she cried. "Oh God! NO! Please, grab my hand!" she gasped.

Suddenly, Rick realized that Kate was reliving the afternoon when Cole Maddox, the sniper hired to take her life, had thrown her over the edge of a roof. She was dreaming about the day that she almost fell to her death.

She had come within seconds of falling to her death that day, and Rick had not been there to help her. As justified as he knew his absence and his anger had been, the thought of how close he'd actually come to losing her forever, to never seeing her again, chilled him to the core. He always made an effort to focus on the way things had played out later that evening, and tried not to think about the "what ifs" of that afternoon. In spite of his efforts though, there were moments when he couldn't help but think about how terribly things might have turned out. Thankfully, Kevin Ryan had notified Captain Gates of Beckett's location, and had called for backup. Castle would be forever grateful to Ryan for being there, along with other members of the city's police force, to save Beckett from falling.

Beckett struggled again and cried out, jolting Rick from his worrisome memories.

"Oh God! NO! Not like this! Castle! Please grab my hand!" Rick noticed that her face was now wet with tears and her voice had the despondent tone of someone realizing that the help she so desperately needed would never arrive.

"Kate! I'm here; I've got you!" He hadn't even realized he'd taken her hand until he heard himself utter the words. Using his free hand, he tried to pull the covers back up around her hoping that the added warmth would be a comfort to her and would help ease her back down into a peaceful sleep. But as soon as he moved away from her to grab the bedding that remained within reach, her grip on his hand tightened.

"Rick, please don't let go!" she gasped.

On hearing those words, Castle's heart melted and he pulled her into his arms, holding her tightly.

"Never," he whispered hoarsely as he gently kissed her forehead. "For as long as you want me to, for as long as you need me to, I'll hold on."

Kate finally stilled within the warm circle of Rick's arms. She pressed her face against his bare chest and in a voice that was barely audible, she whispered, "I love you Rick."

Castle's eyes stung with tears on hearing her utter the words in sleep that she could not yet bring herself to say while awake. He tightened his arms around her, kissed the top of her head, and whispered, "I know," then added, "and I love you too."

Rick felt Kate begin to relax in his arms. As her nightmare faded, she drifted back into a deep peaceful sleep. Then, with his eyelids growing heavy, Rick rested his cheek against her head and followed her.