A/N: A couple of months ago, I coauthored a story with bravevulnerability called Sting a Second Time in which I mentioned Kate and Rick spending some time at her father's cabin the first summer they were together. A lovely review from Everythings-Castle requested that we delve in to that plot point a little more, and although bravevulnerablity is too busy with her own wonderful writing to collaborate again, she has graciously allowed me to write it without her.

Summertime, and the living is easy

Fish are jumping and the cotton is high

Living is Easy

"Are you sure you don't mind?" Kate asks again, chewing on her lip as she watches him rifling through his bathroom cabinets. Her own suitcase is by the front door; Castle keeps reassuring her that he's almost done and then remembering something else it's vital he bring on their trip.

Snapping closed the plastic head that protects his toothbrush, Rick drops it into his wash bag and meets her eyes in the mirror. He's distracted for a long moment, eyes on her but his brain someplace else, and then he notices her concern and comes away from the counter and towards her.

His fingers curl in the bottom of her shirt and he uses that grip on the fabric to reel her in and press his mouth to hers. His tongue strokes at the seam of her lips and she unfolds for him, lets him slick inside. Castle's fingers are much thicker than hers, and it still surprises her how delicate his touch can be. He sifts through the spill of her hair, flirts with her clavicle, skims his knuckles against the curve of her breast.

"Why would I mind?"

"This is. . .our first vacation," she admits, resting a palm against his chest. He's wearing a t-shirt today, the material clinging tight to the swell of his biceps, and Kate is having to push back her aching for him over and over again. "I thought you would want to go someplace exotic."

He hesitates a moment, hand sliding underneath her shirt to circle her waist. Their relationship has become so much more tactile in the last five weeks and Kate is wrecked by it over and over again, feels herself trapped and tumbling in a current of need. Castle's mouth skims her cheekbone and her head turns into the touch, giving him access to her earlobe. Teeth catch the sensitive skin and she gasps, arching.

"I don't care where I am, as long as you're there too. And you know I've wanted to see the cabin since I found out about it."

She laughs, dipping her head and letting her eyes slide away from his. Sometimes she still feels so terribly shy around him, giggly and smitten as a schoolgirl. The way he seems to orient himself around her and make her the sole focus of his attentions has her heart thrashing, love staining her cheeks. "I know. I'm excited for you to see it."

"Good," her partner grins, leaning in to take her mouth again. It's a slow and lazy kiss, like they've got all the time in the world, but Kate would like to make it there before lunchtime and it's already past nine. She tugs out of the kiss, presses her head back against the doorframe and arranges the attractive flop of his hair away from his forehead.

"Are you almost ready?"

Castle wheels around, moves for the counter and rummages through his wash bag. She doesn't know exactly what he's packed - she was doing her best not to hover - but the way the thing bulges assures her that he'll be just fine. "I'm all set. Just let me grab my laptop and the charger."

"You're bringing it?" Kate is careful to keep her voice soft, let the question tiptoe up to him. This trip was her idea, yes, but she's not looking to boss him around for the duration of it. What she loves most about Castle is his eagerness to make other people happy, but she won't let him do so at the expense of himself.

"Yeah, I. . .thought I might do some writing?" he shrugs, zipping the wash bag closed and moving past her into the bedroom to drop the bag into the suitcase on the bed. The way he packs is methodical, all crisp folding and careful use of space, and Kate runs her fingers over the worn cotton of the top shirt on the pile. "Being around you like this gives me so many new ideas."

Kate pins him with her gaze for a moment, waiting until he turns back around to face her, and she takes a predatory step closer. "Castle, if I find any of the details of our private life in your next Nikki Heat novel, you're going to have to rely on your memories for the rest of your writing career."

"You know I wouldn't," he starts, reaching for her hand and cradling it to his chest. "I want to show you off to the world, yes, but I also want our sex life to be just ours."

A shiver rattles through her at the low rumble of his voice, leaving a trail of gooseflesh in its wake. The fact that they even have a sex life is more than she ever dared hope for, and Kate arches onto the tips of her toes to kiss him.

"I know. I trust you."

"We can use it to watch movies too, if you want. Since there's no TV."

Kate winces, peeks up at him from underneath her lashes. He seems oblivious, turning away from her to unplug his phone charger from the nightstand and tuck it into one of the pockets inside his suitcase. She blows out a long breath, counts backward from ten and clears her throat. "Castle. . .there's no wifi either."

"What?" he chokes out, sitting heavily on the end of the bed. Rationally, she knows he's just being melodramatic, trying to be funny, but she's worried all the same. Her family used to escape to the cabin when they needed some space from the chaos of the city, so for Kate it has always been a sanctuary. Only, she's never seen Castle go more than a half hour without touching his phone, and she isn't sure how he'll survive ten days without the internet.

"We don't have to go."

"Kate, hey," he splutters, standing up and reeling her in to an embrace. His palms splay wide at her back, thumb circling over the nape of her neck, and Kate lets her forehead meet his shoulder. Relief has her sagging and his mouth brushes the crown of her head, lips warm everywhere they touch her. "I'm just kidding. I don't need wifi or television, just you. Only you."

Swallowing back the clog of gratitude, Kate's arms circle his waist and she tilts her head, lets her lips brush the side of his throat. "Are you sure you won't be bored?"

"I'm certain," he says firmly, pulling back to capture her gaze and hold it for a long moment before he lets her go with a nod. "Now, are we ready?"

Gratitude washes her clean, makes her feel like cut glass, and she wants to give some of that lovely light back to him. Kate captures his face in her hands and draws him down to her, licks at the corner of his mouth before she sweeps inside. He gasps, groaning, and palms her ass to hoist her closer against him. Their kiss is narcotic and Kate lets her hips roll against his once, twice, before she breaks away.

"We're ready. Let's go."

She's not letting him drive - of course not - but she is driving his car and somehow that almost seems better. Rick reaches underneath the seat for the lever and pulls, sends his chair backward a few inches and straightens up again. They're at a stoplight, so Kate glances over at him and arches an eyebrow.


"Uh-huh," he grins at her, reaching across the center console to squeeze her thigh. She shoots him a glare, her knuckles bleaching at the steering wheel and he chuckles softly, lets her go. As much as he loves getting Beckett all riled up, he knows she takes driving very seriously. There will be plenty of time to distract her later.

Castle reaches out to touch the control panel for the radio and his girlfriend grunts, driving ahead now that the light is green. "Do not start fiddling."

He doesn't even bother to leer at that - way too easy, Kate - and busies himself with tugging his phone free from his pocket instead. It pings when he unlocks it, an email notification from Black Pawn that he ignores in favour of bringing up the music app. When the message pops up on the car's display screen to connect to his phone he accepts, and the first notes of the song swell to fill the car.

"Oh jeez, really?" Kate huffs at him, but he doesn't miss the grin wriggling at one corner of her mouth. Her focus is on the road ahead of them, and for a moment he's so arrested by the marble-cut grace of her profile he forgets his retort.

And then the chorus starts and he crows with delight, sings along as out of key as he can just to mess with her. "Nice try, Beckett. I know you love Carly Rae. I've heard you in the shower."

"Shut up," she groans, lifting a hand from the wheel to press to her cheek instead. No use, he can still see the furious colour of embarrassment, and he really wonders how it took him this long to realise that Kate is totally adorable.

"No, no, it's fine. You can pretend your tastes are superior if you want. Just means you'll miss all the fun of singing along."

He waits her out, glances out of his passenger window instead, and when the next chorus hits she groans softly and then she's singing. Last year when they worked the case that led to him buying the Old Haunt, he got to hear her sing a little bit. A handful of words snatched up and held close to his chest for safekeeping, and it wasn't enough for him to realise just how beautiful her voice is.

Kate's eyes flick over to him as if she's waiting for the tease, for mockery, but he's still so taken in by her every time he gets to hear her sing that he can do nothing but beam at her like an idiot. "I love when you sing. Your voice is beautiful."

"I thought you were gonna duet with me?"

He laughs, reaching for the volume control to turn the song up, and he joins her for the last chorus. Their voices mesh wonderfully together and he can't stifle his grin, lets it crack his face open in all of its lopsided glory. As the closing bars of the song fade out Rick leans back in his seat and shuts his eyes, listens to Kate humming along until the last possible moment.

"You know Castle, your voice is pretty wonderful too," she says when the song is over and he turns his head to look at her, can't help but reach out and cover her hand on the wheel with his own for a moment.

The playlist rolls on and he's completely delighted by just how many of the songs Kate seems to know, how many of them she's willing to sing to. This morning fog settled its heavy coat over the city, but the clouds have burned away with the heat of the day and the sky above them is clear and brilliant.

"Can you pass my sunglasses? They're inside my purse."

"Yep," he nods, reaching down to grab her purse from the footwell and rummaging inside for the glasses case. Aside from when they've been undercover, he's never seen Beckett carry a purse before, never seen her in ballet flats, and he loves getting to be here for this. Getting to see off-duty Kate.

Rick fishes the glasses out and hands them over to her, opens the glove compartment to fetch his own. When he slides them on and turns back to Kate she spares a glance towards him and laughs quietly, shaking her head.


"Oh, nothing, just. . .reminds me of that first night we met."

He groans, dropping his head into his hands and refusing to look at her. Even the memory of who he was back then makes him want to cringe away from her and wither a little. Kate Beckett is so amazing, and he wishes desperately that it hadn't taken so long for him to realise he didn't need to try and impress her. That she was, and still is, far more impressed with the real him.

"You mean that time I was wearing sunglasses at night like a total jackass and offered to sign your boobs?"

She crows with delight at that, tipping her head backward for a moment, and he's glad at least one of them is amused. "Oh, don't look so maudlin. You made it through that trying time unscathed, didn't you?"

"Relatively unscathed," he mutters, lifting a hand to the ear that still sings in protest every so often. "I wish I'd never treated you like that, Kate. Made you think I only wanted your body and not everything."

The exit for a rest stop looms up ahead and Kate flicks on the blinker, moves the car across a lane. "Let's stop for coffee."

Kate manoeuvres the car into a parking space and cuts the engine, reaching down to collect her purse before she gets out of the Buick. He lets himself have just a moment to suck in a breath and hope he hasn't ruined things before he follows.

She's waiting for him next to the car, purse slung over one shoulder, and when he comes around to her side she slides her hand into his, fingers laced and thumb circling. He knows his fingers are too stocky for this handhold to be comfortable for her, but today she doesn't seem to mind. Kate walks at his side across the parking lot and towards the building, her body warm and like liquid lapping against his own.

A queue snakes around the Starbucks counter and he sighs, but apparently Kate is in too good a mood to let a line bother her. She stretches up on tiptoe to get her mouth at his ear, two fingers against his shoulder for balance, and his arm loops around her waist to keep her close. "How about you go find us a table and I'll get the coffee?"

"Sure," he smiles, stealing a kiss from her mouth before he lets her go and moves for the seating area. There are tables with proper chairs, but also a few sofas with coffee tables pushed up close, and he decides to settle onto one of the couches. It'll be worth the eye roll if he can get her to snuggle up with him, even just for a minute.

While he waits, he pulls out his phone and checks his emails, finds one from his daughter. Alexis and his mother are in Austria this week, and his little girl has emailed him a video of her grandmother staging a one-woman performance of The Sound of Music. He saves the video to his phone, deletes a few irrelevant marketing emails, and then Kate appears and sinks down to sit next to him.

She sets both of their cups down on the table and laces her arms around his neck, her kiss gentle and tasting of forgiveness. Castle squares his shoulders, gears himself up to hear what she really thought of him back then, but her thumb traces the line of his jaw and she tilts her head, pondering. For a long moment, silence hums between them, and then she nods. Decision made, and he closes his eyes to take it.

"You know, you were pretty annoying that first year. But I wouldn't change a thing, Castle. Not when it led us here."

His eyes pop open and he stares at her, feels her admission like a fist to his solar plexus. "Really? Because I know I was an asshole."

"I never thought you were an asshole. Irritating, yes, but I always saw past that persona."

"Are you sure it's not just your feelings for me now clouding your memory?" he laughs, nudging her with his shoulder, but Kate folds her arms and frowns at him.

He reaches for his cappuccino, but apparently she's not done yet and she circles his wrist in her fingers, gathers his hand between both of hers instead. "Don't be self-deprecating. It's not cute. I'm dating you because I-" her eyes close for a long moment, her palms growing clammy. "I think you're pretty amazing. So when you're so determined to put yourself down, it's an insult to my judgement really."

"Okay," he whispers, awed and humbled by how fiercely she fights for them. So she hasn't yet told him she loves him, so what? He hears it in everything she does say, feels it in the sweet touch of her mouth. "I think you're amazing too."

"And maddening, right?" she laughs, letting go of his hand to wrap both of hers around her coffee cup. An eyebrow arches at him from over the rim but he doesn't have the wits for a comeback right now, utterly wrecked by how much he adores her.

Instead, he drinks the coffee she bought him, smoothing two fingers along the outside of her thigh over and over as he does. He doesn't miss her shiver, the quiet moan she offers him, but he forces himself to behave. Plenty of time once they get there.

"Ready?" he asks once she's finished her latte, and at her nod he takes her cup and carries it with his own over to the tray of used dishes. Kate follows close at his back, almost stitched to his heel, and once he sets their cups down her hand slides into his again. She's wearing a dress today, a striped summery thing, and it swishes around her thighs as she walks.

They step out into the parking lot and sunlight pours over them, limning Kate's bare shoulders. Just the few walks they've taken in the park this summer have allowed freckles to erupt across the lovely skin, her cheeks too, and he can't help but dust his mouth to them.

"How much longer?"

"A little less than an hour," she turns to glance at him, squinting against the sun, and he chuckles and nudges her sunglasses down from her head and back into place. "Thanks."

He presses his smile to her cheek at that, doesn't say a word as he follows her to the car and climbs back into the passenger seat. The giddiness is already welling up inside him; it's always at a high when he's around Kate, and the prospect of seeing the cabin and maybe weaselling some childhood Beckett stories out of her has him almost bouncing in his chair.

When the turning for the cabin comes up, Kate finds herself holding her breath. Ridiculous, because it's only Castle and she knows he'll be delighted no matter what, but. . .she's seen pictures of his family's vacation home. The cabin can't really measure up to a house in the Hamptons.

Guiding the car down the long driveway, Kate carefully ignores the vibration of Castle's excitement. Instead, she lets her own childish joy fill her up until she can't help but smile. Every time she sees the house looming in front of her she's reminded of the first time, her seven year old self and a little nose pressed to the window to watch. She had been awestruck, kept asking her mother over and over if it was really theirs, and Johanna had laughed and promised that it was.

The cabin feels like home, her mother's presence always close, and she's so looking forward to sharing it with somebody else that she loves. "This is it."

"It's gorgeous Kate, wow," he breathes, stealing one of her hands from the wheel to squeeze in his before he lets her have it back. She brings the car to a stop and cuts the engine, unfastening her seatbelt and reaching across to touch his bicep.

"You think so?"

"Yeah. When you said cabin I thought. . ." he trails off, wincing, and she can't help but laugh. Kate unfastens her partner's belt too and nudges her elbow into him, nods to his door. She climbs out of her side and comes around the front of the car, taking his hand again and giving him a moment to take it in.

It's not huge, but not exactly small enough to be a true cabin either. The exterior is wood panelled, but the windows are large and the ceilings high and inside the walls are mostly white. Her mother always said they bought the cabin to escape the claustrophobia of the city, so they didn't want the place to be nothing more than a glorified shed.

"I'm glad you like it. Let's grab our bags and then I'll give you a tour."

Kate moves to open the trunk but Castle stops her, reels her in close and wraps his arms around her waist as he leans in to take her mouth. His hands splay wide at her ribcage and she lifts up into the kiss, clings on to his ears to keep her balance. When he pulls back, it's enough to drop a closed-mouth kiss to her lips, another, and then he grins. "Thank you for bringing me here. I know what it means to you."

She nods, struck dumb by his gratitude, and after a moment he remembers to let her go so she can collect their luggage from the trunk. Castle follows her, hauls his suitcase and hers out of the back of the car and sets them onto the gravel of the driveway.

They wheel their luggage up to the house and Castle insists on carrying both bags up the three steps and onto the porch, freeing Kate's hands to search in her purse for the key and unlock the front door. Her dad was up at the cabin a few weeks back, and she's so grateful that they're not hit by a wall of stale air and the awful smell of an unloved home.

Kate steps inside and moves through the entryway and into the main living space, striding across to open the french doors that lead out onto the back porch. Behind her, she feels the warmth of Castle's body, the smell of his cologne, and she leans into the wall of his chest and lets him have silence to take in the view from the rear of the cabin.

Mountains scrape against the sky in the distance, and a lake sits nestled in the valley between them. The steps down from the back porch lead to a path that cuts through the grass all the way to the dock. Her father's boat is tied up, bobbing gently with the susurration of the water, and Castle lets out a shaky breath against her cheek.

"This is so beautiful."

"Yeah," she smiles, tipping her head back to see him. Their suitcases are abandoned in the middle of the living room and she smiles, presses a smacking kiss to his cheek before she heads to collect them. "How about we put these away and then I'll show you the rest of the house?"

A beat of silence stretches and swells, Castle still caught up in looking out at the water, and then he turns and comes to join her. With their backs to the fireplace and the deck, they face the kitchen and Kate leads him over to it, suitcase in hand.

"It's got all the mod cons and everything. Appliances, you know."

He laughs, shaking his head and curling an arm at her waist. His mouth lands at her neck, open and wet and she moans, rocks her hips backward against his. Castle pants, groaning, and his fingers are bruising at her hip. "This sexy real estate agent thing is really doing it for me. Kind of want you up against the counter, kind of want the rest of the tour."

"Tour first," she smirks, patting his chest and breaking away from him. Kate steps out of the kitchen and down the hallway, opening a door and stepping inside. Something in her chest splinters off at being here again, the memories of last summer swallowing her up, and for a moment it's all she can do to press a hand against the wall and stay standing.

Castle is right behind her, of course, and he must notice her crumbling but he doesn't say anything. Sweet man. He moves to stand at her side and she lets her head meet his shoulder, waits for a kiss at her crown before she can straighten up again.

"This is my room."

"This is where you were," he murmurs, moving towards the bed as if he's expecting to find the spectre of her wounded self waiting for his comfort. Castle stares at it for a moment and then he straightens, whips around to face her. "Kate. This is a twin."

"Yeah," she sighs, detaching from the wall to stand at his side. Her finger hooks in the belt loop of his shorts and she nuzzles at the inside of his bicep. So grateful to have him here in this room with her. "Sorry."

He laughs, sliding a hand up the back of her shirt to splay at the curve of her spine. "Did you just smell my armpit?"

"No," she huffs, knocking her head into his arm. He's still laughing, fingers moving to tickle her sides and she squirms away from him, trips over his foot and ends up on her back on the bed. The way his arm was around her gives him no choice but to follow and he catches his weight on his elbows, body nestled in the cradle of hers.

It's still so new, so strange to be with him like this, and the breathlessness is not entirely because of his weight on top of her. Castle kisses the end of her nose and she blinks, lets out something that might have been a giggle on somebody younger, more girlish.

Oh, who is she kidding? She is a giggling, lovestruck mess and Castle looks absolutely awed by it, staring down at her with that smile she thought he only saves for Alexis.

"Okay," she murmurs, arching her neck to kiss the hard edge of his jaw. "Maybe I was smelling you, just a little bit. It's so good to have you here."

"I wish I could have been there then," he admits, playing with her hair where it sprays out across the pillow. He's trying not to dampen the mood, but she can hear the sorrow in the gruffness of his voice, see it in the thin line of his mouth.

Kate wriggles her arms free from under him and laces them around his neck, drawing him down into a kiss. She plays with the fine baby hairs at his nape, traces the shell of his ear. Still, every time, finding something else about him that makes her want to weep in awe.

She lets his kiss get richer, more searching, lets it fill up with grief and then she pulls back, washes them clean with the sweep of her thumb underneath his eye. "No more. Come on. You're here now. Let me show you the rest of the house."

He clambers off her, offers a hand to help her to her feet and she takes it, still a little wobbly after the assault of his kiss. Kate opens the other door, the one they didn't come through, and shows Castle the attached bathroom that she had been so delighted with as a little girl. His eyebrows dance at her and he growls into her ear, something about the shower being spacious enough for two.

Not trusting her voice, Kate manages a nod and drags him with her out into the main living space. She gives him time to meander, pull out some of the titles on the bookshelf and leaf through them, run his fingers along the ornaments above the fireplace, test the comfort of the armchairs. He opens cabinets in the kitchen, gasps dramatically at the emptiness of the fridge, and Kate finds herself trailing behind him, holding onto his tail as he explores. She doesn't want to miss a second of his reactions to her safe space.

Once he's done with the main living space of the cabin, Kate draws him over to the family bathroom, chuckles when he lets out an appreciative whistle at the tub. The windows next to it offer an amazing view out onto the lake and he drops a kiss behind her ear, catches the lobe in his teeth.

"We're going to need to make good use of that view."

Kate opens the door next to the bathroom to show him her parents' room, their private porch. "This room doesn't have an attached bath, but it does have its own deck and a lake view, so." She shrugs, feels so foolish as she seeks his approval.

He gives the room a slow surveillance and then he nods, holding out a hand to her. "It's lovely. Really, so beautiful. But Kate. . .your room is a twin, and I'd really rather not do what I want to do to you in your parents' bed."

"Right," she laughs, even as her cheeks burn. "I thought, if it's okay with you, we could sleep out on the porch? There's a screen that comes down, so the bugs won't get us, and I'm sure it'll be warm enough."

Castle's face breaks open with that boyish grin he has, his body humming like he wishes he could bounce on his toes, and she does her best to soak up his joy. "That sounds awesome! Sleeping under the stars?"

"I'm gonna see about getting a queen for my room here," she assures him, chewing on her lip again. She doesn't want to force him into vacationing here, but this is where she likes to come to be with family. And that's what Castle is to her now. "If. . .if you think we'll come back here sometimes?"

"This is great," he assures her, casting another glance around himself. He does look awed, as if he can't quite believe he's really here, and her heart softens like butter. "Now we've got two family vacation homes. I bet it's amazing here in the winter too."

"Yeah. We've got a couple of snowmobiles in the garage."

His smile grows so wide it scrunches his eyes almost closed and he pumps his fist in the air. "Yess, awesome. We are so coming here for Christmas."

Kate's eyes close a moment, the thought of that particular holiday like lead that sinks in her gut, but she forces a smile for him. Christmas is still six months away, so that argument - and there will definitely be an argument - can wait. "I'm glad you like it."

"I love it," he says, pressing a delighted kiss to her mouth and backing out of her parents' room, tugging her along with him. "This place is great, and I'll definitely be doing some more exploring later. But right now, I just really need you."

His voice grates like gravel at her sensitive nerve endings and she quivers, doesn't bother trying to hide as Castle stalks towards her and palms her ass.

"Oh," she gasps, but Castle is already swallowing her surprise and lifting her. His tongue presses into her mouth, so determined, and Kate wraps her legs around his waist and rolls her hips. He takes a stumbling step, another, and she holds her breath through the vertiginous drop to the couch below and the crash of his body on top of her.

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