A/N: So, I've had the best time with this story. Mostly because of your deep and unwavering enthusiasm for every chapter all throughout Christmas and New Year. I hope you enjoy this final one. I'm sad to see it go too, but the story is at an end, I'm afraid.

So until next time, kiddos...

"Two sleepy people by dawn's early light

And too much in love to say goodnight"

-Dean Martin – 'Two Sleepy People'

Chapter 15 – Finding Their Land Legs

The time is just after eleven when they finally curl up in bed together, both wearing not a stitch, except for a grin and a slightly glazed expression.

"One hell of a day," murmurs Castle, kissing Kate's shower-damp hair as she leans against him.

There's water on the bathroom floor and a bundle of damp towels discarded in a corner. They almost fell at one point, skidding on a patch of soapy foam, but he saved them both, and she was grateful and her gratitude was loud and he loves her all the more for who she is with him now. He's grateful for who she's decided to let herself be and for the man she has turned him into.

Kate laughs and then yawns at the same time, stretching until her whole body is racked with tiny tremors. "No kidding. What a day," she concurs, tears from yawning clouding her vision as she sags back against the pillows.

They both have books on their laps - unopened books – and a cup of tea on their nightstands, until now ignored, since they're just so caught up in being together, quiet and alone, in bed on a lazy Saturday night.

For them, this is about as surreal as life has gotten recently, and surreal might just be Kate Beckett's new, favorite thing. Except for making love to her partner of course. That most definitely tops her list.

"Tell me more about the tree?" asks Castle, after a quiet couple of moments spent toying with the fingers of Kate's right hand.

Everything about her that has fascinated him for so long - her skin, her hands, that spectacular body hidden beneath her clothes - he now gets to touch and explore up close, and he isn't wasting a minute of that quest now that he has an 'access all areas' pass.

He shifts his weight so that he can hold her even closer. Kate wiggles to one side obligingly so that she can lean back against his chest, and he wraps his arms around her, bundling her up beneath the covers, her naked skin so warm and soft against his. "Whose idea was the carving?" he asks, intimacy and curiosity warming his voice.

Kate clears her throat. "Okay, so, the reservoir is a mile and a half all the way round. My mom used to take me there in my stroller to get me to sleep. She said it was the perfect distance, that I'd be asleep by the halfway point and then she could enjoy the view in peace the rest of the way," she laughs, happy to be recalling this memory.

"How old would you have been then?" asks Castle, completely enthrall to her story, eager as a sponge to soak up every tiny detail.

"Newborn onwards, I think. She walked there several times a week if the weather was good enough. That path is always pretty busy, so I guess she felt safe by herself when my dad was at work. I don't think maternity leave really suited her," she confesses, glancing back at him briefly.

"Being at home?"

"Yeah. She liked to work. Liked being around people…adults, putting her brain to use helping people solve their legal problems. I mean it wasn't that she didn't love me or anything," she adds hastily, in case Castle gets the wrong idea.

"Hey," chuckles Castle, squeezing her tighter, smoothing her hair off the side of her face. "Who could fail to love you?"

"Castle, I cried and I pooped just like any other baby. I'm sure that was enough to drive my mom crazy at times."

"Still, I'll bet you were adorable," he persists.

"Well, thank you. Anyway, when I started school, she used to pick me up in the summer and some afternoons we'd go to a museum. I loved the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, so we'd go there, and some days we'd go to Central Park for ice cream and we'd take a walk."

"And that's when you defaced the tree?" Castle interjects.

Kate turns her head to glare at him with mock annoyance. "Who's telling this story?"

"Sorry, you are," he concedes, holding up his hands in surrender.

"That's right. Now hush and you might learn something," she tells him a little tartly, taking hold of his wrists and wrapping his arms around her again. "So, anyway, one day we were passing behind the Met and my mom strayed off the path. I ran after her and she walked straight over to this tree. When I got there she was studying the bark, running her fingers over something. Whatever it was was too high up for me to see."

"Did you ask her what she was looking at?"

"Yeah, I asked her what she was doing, and she turned around with this smile on her face that I'll never forget, it just lit up her face, and then she dropped to her knees in front of me, took my hands and she said 'Katie, when you fall in love, make sure you take a moment to mark it'."

"Mark it?" repeats Castle, frowning and curious.

"Mmm. Well, I was five and I had no idea what she meant by that. So I said 'But mommy, I love you. Can we mark it?'"

Kate is vaguely aware of Castle withdrawing his hand and pressing his fingers over his mouth. When she turns to look at him he has tears in his eyes.

Kate's eyes widen. "Oh, no, Rick, I'm sorry," she exclaims gently, prizing his hand away from his mouth. "This isn't a sad story. This is a memory I cherish. It makes me smile to think of it, honestly. Don't be sad on my behalf."

Castle clears his constricted throat before he speaks. "How do you deal with this stuff? Remembering? You're always so brave about everything."

Kate gives him a watery smile of understanding. "Years of practice?" she shrugs. "Time does heal, you know. That, and the love of a very good, very kind man," she tells him, squeezing his hand with meaning.

"Don't. You'll start me off and that wouldn't be very manly."

Kate smiles sympathetically, not for the first time amazed by the sheer size of her partner's tender heart. She pats his hand. "Okay, so I'll tell you the rest of the story, shall I?"

"Please, while I get a grip on myself."

Castle sniffs then and they both laugh.

"Okay, so next time we went to that area of the park, I dragged her back over to that same tree and I begged her to 'make our love mark, mommy'. I was insistent. Loud! I'm afraid I made a bit of a scene when she told me we couldn't."

"Oh dear. Little Katie Beckett was a terror, huh?"

"Let's just say I had a fine pair of lungs when I needed them."

Castle laughs. "You still have a fine—"

"Don't say it!" interrupts Kate, shaking her head at him, her eyes twinkling with mirth. "Anyway, this went on a for a while whenever we'd go to the park, until gradually I forgot about it. Years passed and we picked out new routes and the old tree slipped my mind, until one day up by the reservoir. It was raining, one of those late spring showers that's sudden and warm and surprising. It was a Sunday afternoon, I think. My dad was at a Yankees game with his brother and mom and I went out to take a walk. We sheltered under some trees when the rain came on and that's when I found it."

"Found what?"

"The gnarly old tree with all the carvings on the trunk. It was perfect. The idea of marking our love might have changed since I'd gotten older, but I still wanted us to carve our initials into the bark. And this time she agreed."

"When was the last time you went there…saw the carving?" asks Castle, angling his head so that he can see her face.

Kate looks down and takes a second to swallow slowly, letting out a deep breath. Her eyes are shining when Castle gently tilts her chin to turn her head towards him. She shifts so that they're almost facing, every brush of his skin against hers is electric and her heart is over-flowing to bursting point.

"I haven't been back there since before she died. I…I don't remember the exact last time. To be honest, I'd forgotten all about the tree by the time I went to high school, discovered boys, started dating. Then I graduated and then went off to college." Kate shrugs and picks a piece of lint off the covers. "I guess life just got in the way."

"So, what made you think of it today?"

For a second she looks a little embarrassed. She looks down at her hands and then quickly drags her eyes back up to Castle's face. "I'm sure this isn't in anyway unique or…or special, but I just have this…this urge to share things with you all of a sudden. I know it's sentimental and not at all like me, but—"

"Kate?" says Castle gently, silencing her with a quick, surprising kiss. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm kind of big into sentimentality. Just like I'm big on magic and fate and…I'm also kind of big on you."

"Is that so?" she asks, caressing his chin with her thumb, a smiling, happy light in her eyes.

"Yes, you know it is. So, that you thought to share that story with me is wonderful. And you're right when you say it's not unique – wanting to open your life up to someone you're in love with – but it's natural. It's a good thing," he assures her, firmly clasping both her hands in his for emphasis.

Castle smiles then, his head tipped to one side as he looks at her. "And I think your Dr. Burke might approve too."

Kate laughs quietly at his observation. "You're right. I'm sure he would."

They drink their tea and chat some more until the gaps between yawns get shorter and their eyelids begin to droop. They're both fighting sleep because they don't want to leave one another, not even to drift off curled up side-by-side for a few hours, so smitten are they now.

"I feel like I could sit up and talk to you all night," confesses Castle, squeezing her hand when he jerks awake after fleetingly closing his eyes and dropping off for a second or two.

"I know the feeling," echoes Kate, nodding in agreement. "But I think we're both kind of exhausted. How about we lie down and try to get some sleep? Stories will still be there tomorrow."

"Promise you'll keep talking to me the way you been have today?" asks Castle, betraying some lingering anxiety over how open she will remain once another new day dawns and they move further away in time from that pivotal night of angst-ridden epiphany.

Kate hates that he's worried she'll awaken tomorrow and close back down again. So she lifts the covers, slides down beneath them and tugs Castle after her, so that eventually, once they settle, his body is wrapped around hers as they lie on their sides.

"Listen to me," she tells him, stroking the back of his hand, which is spread wide against her stomach. "We're lying here naked in bed together, you just pinned me to the wall of my shower and made me beg for mercy. You think I'm going to clam up tomorrow? Think again. I warned you, Castle, you are going to find it hard to shut me up from now on," chuckles Kate, as Castle gets a little free with his hands beneath the sheets and Kate squirms in his firm grip.

"Then good. I'm glad we cleared that up. Because tomorrow I want to start on 'Kate Beckett: The High School Years'. Find out how adorable little Katie morphed into the notorious wild child I keep hearing about."

"And if I share these things with you, what do I get in return?" asks Kate, her eyes now closed in the dark, her breathing soft and regular, a smile playing at her lips.

"Whatever madam desires," purrs Castle, right next to Kate's ear, sending shivers of anticipatory desire shooting down her spine.

"Then I think maybe we have a deal, lover boy."

"I had a feeling you might say that," he replies, stroking his hand back and forth across her stomach.

"Aaaaand, still as cocky as ever," laughs Kate, elbowing Castle in the ribs.

They fall silent, quiet settling over the bedroom like an extra thick blanket. Kate lets her whole body relax, sinking into the pillows, the mattress and the warmth of her partner's arms, which are draped comfortingly around her.

But still sleep eludes her.

"You still awake?" she whispers, an hour or so later.

Despite being deadbeat tired, her muscles aching in places she hasn't ached in a really long time, her eyes heavy with the pull of sleep and her grip on Castle's forearm slack to the point of slipping, she feels her brain still fighting to stay awake.

"Yeah, you too?" whispers Castle, his fingers twitching on her hip, and they both laugh quietly at how ridiculous they sound whispering to one another in the dark when no one is around to hear them.

Kate groans with frustration at her desperate exhaustion and complete inability to sleep. "Rick, we need to sleep. So tired," she murmurs, sounding faintly delirious.

Castle chuckles quietly against her neck. "Then maybe you should stop talking."

"Right," she laughs, her hair brushing against the pillow when she nods. "How about you tell me a story?" she asks hesitantly, a couple of seconds later, feeling her cheeks flame as soon as the words leave her lips.

But Castle doesn't seem to mind. He certainly doesn't poke fun at her, for which she is very grateful.

"What kind of story did you have in mind? A dirty story, Detective?" he whispers, his warm breath and two-day old stubble tickling her neck.

Kate shakes with laughter at his suggestive tone and struggles against him when he pretends to bite her neck. She makes a half-hearted attempt to push him away, but neither of them is buying it.

She settles in close to him again, letting her head drop back against his shoulder, already anticipating the soothing timbre of his voice. "Tell me about Nikki and Rook. When you started writing about them. What that felt like…these two complete strangers who just turned up inside your head. How you…how you brought them to life."

Kate feels his arms tighten around her – some reflexive response to her question or to the memory it evokes, she isn't sure which.

"Excited," he says suddenly, without any hesitation. "I felt so excited, for the first time in a long time. And the words…I spent two days straight with words just pouring out through my fingertips onto my laptop screen. The words just wouldn't stop once I could see Nikki in my head and could hear her voice…"

"What does she sound like to you?" asks Kate, curiosity about an aspect of this character she's never even considered before just popping into her head.

"A gift," says Castle, unexpectedly.

Not loud or quiet, strident, bossy, in control, mysterious or sexy. None of the adjectives Kate expects to hear come out of his mouth. Just this simple statement – she sounds like a gift.

Kate rolls over in bed to look at him, only a faint seam of streetlight sneaking between the curtains to help her see his face. She tangles her legs with his, lays her hand on his arm, her other hand pushed under her pillow.

"That's how I think of you," she tells him, heartbreak and wonder tightening her throat, stinging her eyes and making her voice faint and hoarse.

"As a gift?" asks Castle, and she sees him frown, his forehead marred by incomprehension and a puzzled hopefulness that this might actually be what she means.

She nods in reply, reaching up to smooth her fingers over these unnecessary frown lines, and even though they can barely see one another, he understands that she means to say yes; he is a gift to her, for all his annoyance and meddling, his faults and pushing. He is her gift to love and cherish from now on. He is the man who made life worth living again, who showed her how to dream in color, instead of just black and white. He's the man who makes her want more, makes her want to share her past, her present and her future with him.

The kiss starts off slow and tender but then it flares to life in the space between heartbeats, slicing through them like an electric shock. Her frenzied attack on his mouth is only matched by his unquenchable fervor for her. They pant and groan and flinch, lick and suck and nip and bite. Fingers grip and knead and grasp and bruise and soothe, desperation coursing between them, feeling like they can never get close enough.

When they pull apart, blood raging, hearts beating like they might burst, hammering so hard that Kate can hear her pulse thudding in her eardrums, she grabs him, hauls him against her chest and then cradles him in her arms, her face pressed in against his neck.

"I'm sorry," she murmurs eventually, trying to bring them back down again to a calmer place, where dozing off might become more than a faint possibility. "That isn't going to help us sleep."

Castle kisses her ear and strokes her spine. "Never be sorry for something like that, Kate. Never," he reassures her, his fingertips tripping lightly up and down her back.

She curls herself around him, feeling any remaining distance between them melt like a snowflake in a shaft of sunlight. He makes her feel whole. He makes her feel like she has come home again, after years of restless wandering alone.

"Who needs sleep anyway?" he mumbles, his body growing slack against hers.

Despite his words, his grip is already loosening, as frenzied ardour quickly makes way for feeling comforted, safe and loved. He drifts off to sleep in her arms a couple of minutes later and Kate soon follows suit.

Kate's cell phone rings a little after five in the morning, the bedroom still more or less dark, and she grabs for the phone as fast as she can in an attempt to silence it before Castle is woken too.

"Beckett?" she whispers, covering the mouthpiece with her hand.

The dispatcher fires off an address and Kate shifts her brain into work mode in order to memorize it.

"Anyone else been called out yet?" she asks, getting the reply that she's first on the detective call-out list by dint of her seniority. She tells the woman that she'll call her team, thanks her and then she hangs up the phone.

When she turns and sits up, tugging the sheet with her to ward off the cold, she finds Castle is lying on his back with his arms pillowed behind his head looking up at her.

"Morning," she grins, leaning back down to kiss him. She ruffles his hair and strokes his cheek, nudging his nose with her own.

"Mmm, morning," he smiles back, sliding his fingers behind her neck in an attempt to keep her close to him so that he can prolong this early morning kiss.

Kate pats his naked chest and sighs, flipping over onto her stomach. Then she leans her chin on his sternum.

"Was that the Universe calling to exact its pound of flesh?" he asks, running his fingertip across her eyebrow and down the slope of her nose.

"I'm afraid so. We've got a body. Male shooting victim found in a car in an alley off Avenue D. I have to call the guys, pass on the address," she explains, holding up her cell phone.

"So, I guess our lazy breakfast is out?"

"I'm sorry. There will be other Sundays, I promise. Just let me make this call and I'll start some coffee. You can shower first if you want or…" She hesitates, before crawling out of bed backwards.

"I like the sound of 'or'," grins Castle, leaning up on one elbow to watch Kate get out of bed.

He will never tire of looking at this woman naked. Never.

"Or you can stay here, sleep for a bit. It's still early...just after five. I can fly solo on this one. "

"Aaaand now I'm not liking 'or' so much," he replies comically, shaking his head as he struggles upright.

Kate shrugs her robe on and loosely ties the belt, and then she leans on the bedroom door to look at him.

"Then I'll make the coffee and you start the shower. Let me call the guys and I'll be right in to join you. How does that sound?"

"Perfect. Oh, and Kate?" he calls after her before she can get too far.

She pokes her head back through the bedroom doorway. "Yes?"

"Good morning. I love you."

The look on her face is almost too much for Castle – a mix of wonder, surprise and delight, he'd probably describe it as, if he could find the words to string a sentence together.

"I love you too," she tells him softly, with a nod and an easy smile. Her eyes sparkle despite their lack of sleep and her face just seems to glow. "Let's get ready to go face our public."

After their shower – which is a severe test of their ability to keep their hands to themselves – Castle gets out first to dry off and give Kate room to finish up by herself. He disappears off to the bedroom in search of his clothes, taking sips of coffee from mug Kate brought through for him as he goes.

"Kate?" he yells, giving up to go back into the bathroom to speak to her directly. "Have you seen my boxer shorts and socks? I can't find them anywhere."

Kate has just stepped out of the shower and is wrapping herself up in a towel when she hears his question. The sharp intake of breath she makes, along with the upward snap of her head from the knot she was busy making in the front of her towel does nothing to reassure him. When she presses her fingers over her mouth to stifle a gasping laugh, he knows he's in trouble.

"I threw them in the laundry last night with my stuff," she says, her eyes dancing with mischievous mirth over his naked torso and legs.

"Great. Thanks. So…dryer?" asks Castle, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.

Kate shakes her head, her smile widening, before she gets a grip and bites her lip, preparing to explain.

"I kind of forgot to finish the laundry when we…you know," she says, arching her eyebrows.

"So…to be clear, I have no clean underwear or socks. Is that what you're telling me?"

Kate nods, unable to keep the smile off her face. "I'm afraid you have no underwear or socks period. They'll still be wet."

Castle runs a hand through his hair and paces back and forth a little.

"You could…uh…" She smirks and another giggle bubbles out of her mouth.

"What? I could what?"

"You could always go commando," chokes out Kate, eventually doubling over with laughter.

"You think this is so funny, don't you?" says Castle, unable to stop himself from smiling when he sees the state Kate is in.

It's about five-thirty in the morning. They're exhausted, should be cranky or over-emotional. But instead they're giggling like a couple of teenagers.

"Should I go home? Change? Maybe we should arrive separately anyway?" offers Castle, waiting for Kate's guidance for once.

"Should? You know what? I'm sick of 'should'. I've had enough of should. To hell with department rules and Captain Gates. You're still friends with the Mayor, right?"

Castle nods.

"Then throw on the clothes you do have and get your coat. We're going to a crime scene."

A little after six, dressed like she just stepped out of the pages of a magazine, Kate pulls up to the address they've been given and then she kills the engine.

Castle has been quiet most of the way, occasionally running his hands through his hair or staring out of the side window. Kate hopes his uncharacteristic silence is just down to a lack of sleep.

"You okay?"

He lets out a long, slow breath before he speaks. Then he swivels in his seat to look at her. "I feel as if we've been inside this protective bubble these last two days," he explains, looking frankly a little worried.

"The bubble doesn't have to burst just because we have to go back out there," Kate points out, thumbing over her shoulder towards the crime scene.

"Are you sure?"

Kate takes hold of both of his hands, keeping them down low in her lap so that no one will see. "Castle, I promise. We're the same people we were on Friday morning when we went to work, and yes…maybe life is totally different for us now too. But we want it this way. This is what we've both been waiting for. A chance to be more than partners, more than just friends."

"More. Yeah, I know," nods Castle, restlessly running a hand through his hair again. "That…that one word about sums everything up for me. Being in your life in any way I could had become so important to me, Kate. But to be more…for you…" he says, shaking his head in disbelief and reaching out to cup her cheek.

Kate quickly darts her eyes out of the car to scan the entrance to the alley across the street where the crime scene perimeter is already being established by a number of Uniforms. She risks covering Castle's hand with her own as he tenderly strokes his thumb over the skin beneath her eye since she can see he needs her reassurance.

"We should probably…" she says eventually, tipping her head towards the gap in the buildings opposite, reluctantly breaking eye contact with him.

Castle grudgingly withdraws his hand back down to his lap, and then he nods stoically. "Yeah, you're right. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. Just…try to remember how I feel about you. Okay? How we can be there for each other now," she says, turning away to release her seatbelt.

When she turns around again she's smiling. "Oh, and Castle? If you feel you might be struggling, keep your hands in your pockets, remember?" she tells him, with a wink and a grin, before opening her car door.

They cross the street side-by-side, trying to keep a respectable, though not unnatural, distance between them as they walk. Castle has indeed shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets, as Kate suggested, to prevent any touching, accidental or otherwise.

When they get midway along the alley, they find Lanie crouched by the open door of a late model Toyota Corolla, her kit already open on the ground by her side. Ryan and Esposito are talking to a man in a black leather jacket by the back entrance to some kind of commercial property a little further down. They both raise their hands in silent greeting when they spot Kate and Castle arriving.

Kate touches Castle's elbow in a gesture of solidarity and reassurance, and then she leaves his side to go and talk to the M.E. while her partner begins to explore the scene.

"Hey, Lanie. What have you got for us?"

Lanie gives her a slow, curious look, studying her for a few seconds longer than normal; as if she's one of those 'spot the difference' puzzles and she's trying to figure out what's changed about her friend since she last saw her.

"You okay?" asks Lanie, her eyes trained on Kate's face, searching, reading.

"Yeah, fine," answers Kate, sounding guilty as hell, though she tries to be breezy. "So…our victim. Tell me what you know."

Lanie narrows her eyes at Kate once more before she breaks the staring contest and begins her rundown.

"Meet Jeremy Thomas. Male, late twenties, single gunshot wound to the head. I'd put T.O.D. around three-thirty this morning based on liver temp. Gun was found lying in the footwell of the car. No signs of a struggle, and all his belongs appear to be intact. Boys found a diamond engagement ring in a box inside his jacket. Watch, wallet and cell phone are all still on the body."

"So, robbery wasn't a motive then."

"Nope," replies Lanie, shaking her head. "Looks more like he died of a broken heart."

Just ten minutes later and the case is all wrapped up.

"Wait. We've never solved a case at the crime scene before," points out Castle, following Kate over to the CSU tech, who's checking the results of an on-scene test.

"First time for everything, I guess," winks Kate, giving him a meaningful, loaded look.

"Beckett's right," drawls Lanie. "Guy's money and I.D. are still in his wallet, techs got a positive result for GSR on his hands and jacket, and there's a full confessional suicide note in his coat pocket."

"You're sure he shot himself though? It wasn't just made to look like a suicide?" badgers Castle, though even he's not sure why he's pursing this one when they could be walking quickly away.

"He's wearing his watch on his right wrist," points our Ryan.

"Indicating the guy was left-handed," adds Esposito.

"Exactly," confirms Lanie. "He shot himself under the chin with the gun held in his left hand. Residue test is conclusive for GSR on the fingers and the palm of the hand, as well as the sleeve of his coat. Stellate tearing to the skin beneath his chin and this muzzle mark with the corona of soot around the entry wound shows it was a pressure contact shot."

"What about prints on the gun?" asks Castle, aware that Kate is giving him a strange look for pushing to point.

"Prints are present. We'll be able to tell if they're the victim's when we get them back to the lab," replies the CSU Tech.

"With the damage to the top of his skull and the blood spatter on the roof of the car…" Lanie shrugs, letting this last, obvious, gruesome observation hang in the air. "Trajectory is pretty clear. Nothing about the scene looks staged."

"Yeah, Castle. And the handwriting on the note even matches his own signature on his driver's license," offers Ryan, holding out a clear plastic evidence baggie containing the victim's I.D. for him to see.

Castle falls silent for a second or two, processing all the evidence that's just been presented to him. Then he takes Kate's arm and leads her away from the group a few feet before he speaks again. "Really?" he whispers, leaning in just a little too close to look innocent. "We got out of bed for this?"

"Yeah, well, just means we can get back in again," she winks, tugging on the front of his jacket.

Castle eyes her hungrily, excited that they get to be co-conspirators now. "Your place or mine?"

Ryan and Esposito call Castle over while Beckett ties up formalities with Lanie.

"So, bro…you and Beckett?" challenges Esposito, as he and Ryan double team to crowd the writer back against the wall of the alley.

"Me and Beckett what?" squeaks Castle, when his head and shoulders suddenly collide with the dirty, rough brick of building behind.

"Oh, come on, Castle. You're not seriously gonna try and deny it?" asks Ryan, shaking his head in disappointment.

"Deny what?" Yep, it's probably futile, but he's going to have a damn good try or go down fighting.

"Unshaven, same clothes as two days ago…" points out Esposito, tutting disapprovingly as he tugs on the front of Castle's wrinkled shirt.

"And no coffee," chips in Ryan, looking him up and down.

"Yeah, man. No coffee," repeats Esposito, as if this alone were a hanging offence. "And what are you, Don Johnson all of a sudden? This ain't Miami, dude, and yet here you are, not wearing any socks."

"In March," adds Ryan, with a gotcha tone to his voice.

Castle is suddenly glad that they can't see that - either deliberately or by accident - Beckett has conspired to force him to turn up at a crime scene minus his underwear.

"Guy, guys," interrupts Castle, shaking his head and trying to laugh at how ridiculous they both sound, though he can already see his chances of denying that there's anything going on between him and Beckett sailing off down the East River. The evidence is stacking up against him. "That's all you've got? I'm not wearing socks and I forgot to bring coffee to a crime scene at six a.m. on a Sunday morning? What if I told you my local coffee shop was closed and I already had some before I came out anyway."

"What about Beckett's coffee?" asks Esposito, narrowing his eyes menacingly, as if Castle has just insulted his sister.

"Maybe Beckett made her own coffee," he finds himself saying, since this at least is not a lie.

"It's more than just the coffee, Castle," adds Ryan, backing his partner up.

"Yeah, man. Look at you. You've lost that torn-up, hangdog thing you had going when you left the Precinct on Friday night," points out Esposito, and Castle can feel his stomach flipping over – not in a good way.

"We're detectives, remember?" adds Ryan, poking him in the chest.

"So, who're you trying to kid…exactly?" muscles in Esposito. "With this…this Mr. Innocent look?"

Castle is just about to open his mouth again to attempt to refute what is clearly irrefutable - though he will have a damned good try - when his guardian angel appears a few feet away. Long legs, tousled hair, and a body he now knows is to die for.

"Castle, you comin'?" asks Kate casually, her arms crossed and a lazy, sexy smile on her face that does nothing to back up his assertion that they haven't just spent the entire weekend in bed together, getting to know one another a whole lot better.

"Yup, be right there," he grins in reply, before patting both male detectives on the chest and pushing his way between them. "Bye, suckers," he crows, bumping shoulders with Esposito as he strides after Kate down the dirty alley.

Castle quickly catches up with his partner and they easily fall in step.

"They giving you trouble back there?" asks Kate, letting her arm brush against Castle's as they walk.

"Nothing I couldn't handle," he replies lightly, though deep down he knows they're probably screwed. And on day one!

"Yeah, Lanie made me too," responds Kate, giving him a flash of a grin when he glances over at her in surprise. "Hey, it's not your fault. We're just not as good at hiding things as we thought."

Castle nods, glad that she isn't mad at him for being such a poor liar.

"So, what's it to be. The quiet of your apartment or—"

Kate winces before she answers his question. "I have to do the notification to next of kin, I'm afraid," she explains, turning her head just in time to catch her partner's face fall. "But you—No, Castle, just listen to me," she says, discreetly taking hold of his wrist when she hopes no one is looking and leading him over to the protection of the wall. "You go home, get some rest. See your daughter…your mother. Answer all their awkward questions, and then when all of that is out of the way, how about if I come to your place and we pick up where we left off?"

"Promise?" he asks, eyes already dancing with excitement at the thought.

"I promise. I'll even bring a good bottle of wine with me. How does that sound?"

"And an overnight bag? You will stay, won't you?"

Kate kicks a stone across the alley and then she looks up, straight into his eyes. "I actually kind of assumed that part was a given," she grins, shrugging her shoulders a little apologetically.

The way he smiles at here then – as if she is his whole world – she can't help but stretch up on her toes to kiss him. She believes they're partially secluded by the row of Dumpsters lined up against the wall, but when a round of slow handclapping and a volley of wolf-whistles start up, she knows for certain that they are not.

Kate drops back down onto her heels and presses her fingers to her damp lips trying to conceal her smile beneath her hand.

"About damn time, girl!" yells Lanie, and she and Castle both giggle, far too well caught out to do anything about denying it now.

"I should probably…go," says Kate, jerking her head back towards the scene.

"Right. So…I'll just grab a cab," suggests Castle, though neither of them makes a move to go anywhere.

"Great," grins Kate, reluctantly letting go of his hand.

"See you tonight."

"Yeah. I'll see you at home," replies Kate, shyly meeting his gaze, knowing exactly how laden with meaning her choice of words is for both of them.

"I'll be waiting," Castle promises, backing away from her with a stupefied grin on his face.

"Hey, Rick?" she calls after him, just as he turns away and takes a further few steps from her.

"Yeah?" he asks, his chest flooding with hope that maybe she's going to ask him to stay, though he knows he isn't really needed and a little space won't do them any harm.

"Don't shave, okay?" she asks tentatively, her cheeks coloring at this personal request.

Castle grins and self-consciously touches his jaw, fingers rasping over the two-day layer of growth. "You sure?" he asks, with an amused frown.

"Indulge me," nods Kate enthusiastically, her eyes twinkling.

Before she can turn back for the alley Castle strides over to her, eating up the distance between them in seconds, and then sweeps her up into a bruising kiss, wrapping his arms tightly around her and lifting her off her feet.

Kate squeals and he tries to stifle the noise with his mouth.

"You know I'd do anything for you. Anything at all," he breathes against her parted lips, his forehead resting intimately against hers once he lowers her back to the ground.

He kisses her once more before he lets her go and then reluctantly backs away.

This time, when he turns to leave, the entire alley full of CSU techs, Uniforms, Detectives and even the M.E. are left too speechless by this sudden, powerful display of passion between the writer and the detective to even raise a whistle.

Castle saunters off to the next busy intersection in search of a cab with a spring in his step and a smile on his face, and Kate watches him disappear all the way to the corner, before she too turns and walks away.

"'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning"

- John Legend, 'All Of Me'

A/N: And there we have it. The End. Thank you once again for all your support and encouragement. These final lyrics seemed apt and were shared with me by my friend and yours, NoOrdinaryLines. I will be returning to finish 'Coming Home for Good' as soon as I get a chance to catch my breath and transport my brain back to the little town of Luray, VA. Thanks guys, love to hear your thoughts on the completed story if you can spare a few seconds. Liv