Disclaimer: All Castle characters are the property of Andrew Marlowe and ABC.

Three months had passed since Richard Castle's world had exploded in shades of red, albeit temporarily. Three months since he had found out about the captain's betrayal and redemption. Three months since he had been given the distinctly painful honor of serving as a pallbearer at the man's funeral. Three months since his partner—his love—had been shot by a sniper before his very eyes.

And though he wished with all his heart that Roy Montgomery was still safe and alive with his family, and though he would never wish harm on the beautiful Detective Kate Beckett, and though he wished he could take away the memory from his little girl of seeing a friend and guide gunned down in front of her, he knew he couldn't change anything. This wasn't one of his stories. He couldn't rewrite the ending if it didn't suit him.

He sometimes felt guilty though, because in so many ways, this ending suited him just fine. Oh, he hated that Kate had been grievously injured and was still hurting. He hated the pain that her friends and family-her father-had gone through in those miserable hours of waiting. He hated that the strong independent woman he'd fallen in love with had to rely on him for sometimes the simplest of things. But at the same time, he loved that she knew he'd be there, always. He loved that she knew he would cheer her up when she was upset and hold her when the pain got to be too much. He loved that she knew that he loved her—and that she had told him she loved him too.

He just wished this ending hadn't been so damn costly. He wished it hadn't taken pulling her away from her mentor as he sacrificed himself and tackling her to the ground a moment to late to stop a bullet for them to finally be on the same page. Was it worth it? Was it worth a man's life and nearly her own? No, he decided, without a moment's hesitation. Given the choice between Roy's life, Kate's health, and his own happiness, they would always win. But then, he pondered, he hadn't been given a choice, had he? He was dealt a hand, with no chance to trade the cards he didn't like. He'd just have to make the best of it.

Of course, it wasn't hard to see the sunny side of life when he had a caring (if a bit kooky) mother, an amazing daughter, and an extraordinary woman who all loved him, along with some of the best friends a man could ask for in Ryan, Esposito, and Lanie. Still, he had his days when the darkness overtook him and he sequestered himself in his office to think and mull over the past few months. Sometimes he wrote, little pieces that would never see an editor's red pen, just bits of prose to clear out his own head.

"Rick?" a voice broke him from his burdened thoughts.

He looked up from his laptop to see her leaning on the doorframe to his office, dressed in navy blue sweat pants and one of his t-shirts, hair falling into her eyes, looking adorably sleepy and rumpled.

"Hey," he said softly. "How was your nap?"

She padded over to him and he set the computer on the desktop, scooting his chair back so she had room to settle on his lap.

"Okay," she murmured, sitting down and leaning into his chest. "Hurts."

"I'm sorry," he whispered, raising his hand to stroke her hair and down her back. She had just gone back that week to being part time at the precinct, on desk duty, but still had physical therapy a couple of times a week. Those were the worst days, because even though they both knew that it would help her regain her strength in the long run, she always came home exhausted and aching.

They knew from experience that there was little they could do to ease the pain. Massage helped a little, and he was certain that he'd be rubbing her sore muscles later. But for now, she just needed his strength and warmth, and he was happy to provide both.

"Sorry I fell asleep on you," she mumbled.

"S'okay," he answered quietly. "Not like we haven't seen that one before. Though I know how you love Cary Grant."

"Mmm," she hummed, and he felt her smile against his neck. "So suave and debonair."

He tilted his head back to take in her teasing smirk.

"I thought you preferred your men a little more rugged."

"Nope," she said, with a slight quirk of one eyebrow. "Not really."

He put on a wounded look, and she chuckled, lifting a hand to rest it over his heart. He tangled his fingers with hers on his chest and pulled them to his lips, placing a sweet kiss on her palm.

"However do you put up with me?" he asked.

She sighed and squeezed his fingers.

"You're just my cross to bear, I guess."

He let out a laugh and saw the twinkle in her eyes as it rumbled through her.

"Hungry?" he asked, and she nodded. "What do you feel like?"

"Something warm and high-calorie."

"Comfort food?"

She nodded. "Something with cheese."

"Macaroni?" he offered, but she shook her head.


She considered it for a moment, but then shook her head again.

"No, but Italian sounds good."

"Do you want me to cook?"

She burrowed deeper into his warmth, and he took that as a sign that he wasn't allowed to get up yet. He dug his phone out of his pocket and opened a saved page for Pepe Rosso To Go, his favorite of the Italian places near the loft. He quickly placed an order and slipped the phone back into his pocket, wrapping his arms tighter around his beautiful detective and closing his own eyes for a brief repose.

He would never get tired of this, and though he longed for the days when she would be healthy and back at full strength once again, he hoped desperately that Kate realized she would always have a home in his arms.

He heard her mumble something into his skin.

"Hmm?" he asked, opening his eyes, and she moved her head a little so he could make out her words.

"Whatcha thinkin'?"

"How much I love having you here," he whispered honestly.

"Mmm," her acknowledgement vibrated into his neck. "Love bein' here."

She was beautiful and strong, a warrior woman whose fire had drawn him like a moth to a flame. But he treasured these moments, these precious unguarded moments when she let herself relax into him and when he, for once, had the privilege of being her rock and her protector.

"You gonna order something?" she asked sleepily.

"Already did. There's an app for that," he answered with a chuckle. "Well, a website actually."

She purred her contentment, and he dropped a hand from her shoulder to her belly, rubbing gently, laughing when her stomach growled in response.

"Good thing, too, sounds like."

"I think something's alive in there," she said, drawing another chuckle from him.

"We'll just have to feed it and keep it happy so it doesn't gnaw its way out."

He felt her laugh a little, and her soft exhale tickled his skin. He shivered, and she pressed a gentle kiss against his neck.

"Cold?" she asked, and he shook his head.

"No, you?"

"Uh-uh. Nice and toasty."

"Good," he whispered, tightening his arms around her the slightest bit. "Rest a little more until the food gets here."

"'Kay. Love you."

They had exchanged the words more than a few times in the past three months, but his heart still did a little flip every time. He tilted his head a bit to kiss her chastely, lingering for the briefest of moments.

"Love you too."

She nuzzled into the hollow of his throat, her breath warming the skin exposed by the vee neck of his t-shirt. He closed his eyes again and leaned back against the soft leather of his office chair. He knew the dark thoughts would come back to him, that he would have the occasional nightmare. But not tonight. Right now, right here, he had everything he needed.

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