"you say you are an unedited novel, broken spine, bad nightmares,
that if i'm not careful i'll be sucked into the silence where it's so cold i forget how to inhale"
He found her sitting in his office, her knees curled to her chest, her arms folded atop the limbs, pillowing her forehead.
She jerks at the soft sound of his footsteps, her glistening eyes rising to meet him with the lift of her tear stained face, and his heart cracks, knowledge already settling in his chest.
He's found her like this before and the first time, he hadn't quite known how to handle it, how to handle her and the panic that slithered around her ribcage like a snake, constricting her lungs and piercing her heart with venom. But she had let him hold her hand and talk her through the final trembles of the attack with stories of Alexis's childhood that had her lips quirking and her eyes clearing.
He knew now how to calm her racing heart, how to distract her from the claws of a nightmare she's trying to escape. Or at least, he had an idea.
"Want to bake some cookies?"
Her brow creases in utter confusion, the flicker of misunderstanding momentarily chasing the terror of whatever dream drove her from his bed, and Castle holds his hand out to her, smiling when she grasps his fingers without hesitation.
"Rick, it's two a.m.," she rasps, but follows him out of his moonlit office nonetheless.
He shrugs and leads her through the living room, into the kitchen, where he flicks on the oven light to give them enough illumination to work without completely dispelling the peace of the hour.
"We can make breakfast too," he decides, easing open a cabinet door to begin hunting for ingredients.
When he rises with the flour, Kate curls her fingers around the collar of his robe.
"I love you," she murmurs, just before she smears a gentle kiss to his mouth that causes his heart to trip and tumble.
The first time she had said the words had been on a rainy night, after she had shown up on his doorstep claiming he was all she wanted, after she had shown him just how much. She had whispered the words into his skin, branding her love for him into the cooling flesh spread across his sternum.
It wasn't his first time hearing it since, but the quiet declaration still steals his breath each time.
Castle abandons the flour to band his arms around her, cradling to his chest when she rests her cheek to his collarbone.
"Love you too, Kate."
Her tears have dried by the time they're mixing a bowl of ingredients, a breathtaking smile stretched across her face while they mold the dough into round, uneven shapes.
"Castle, that's too big," she admonishes around a laugh, plucking his plump circle of chocolate chip filled dough from the pan. "It'll merge with all the other cookies."
Rick grunts and rips his portion of cookie dough in half, hands them back to her and earns another soft peel of laughter. The sound illuminates his entire kitchen, shining brighter than the dim oven light, and he leans over the pans spread across the island to taste the laughter on her lips, chuckling as her tongue delves inside.
"I knew you'd been stealing dough," she murmurs, nipping at his bottom lip in reprimand, but her eyes are like sunbeams and his smile fails to fall away.
Her arms wrap around him from behind after he's slid the last pan of cookies into the oven, her hands sneaking under his t-shirt to splay over his bare torso. The flat of her cheek presses against his shoulder blade, and he reaches around, grazes the cage of her ribs with his fingers.
"Want to watch a movie while we wait for the cookies to bake?" he asks into the comfortable silence of the loft, turning in the welcome circle of her thin arms. "It could be a Disney movie," he bargains, as if it'll seal the deal, and Kate grins once he's finally facing her once again.
"Nikki Heat's the one who likes the Disney movies," she murmurs, and wow, the fact that she remembers that little tidbit... no, actually, it doesn't surprise him at all.
"Beckett, if you don't like Disney films-"
"Oh, is that the big deal breaker for our relationship?" she hums, shifting onto her tiptoes, amused eyes fluttering from his mouth to his gaze.
"Mm, I'd accept it if I had to," he muses, lifting a hand to comb through her hair, releasing a breath of laughter when he notices the streak of flour now highlighting her chestnut locks.
Kate tracks his line of sight, finds the source of his laughter, and groans.
"Hey, you have it on your hands too," he points out, glancing down to the white powder dusted along the sides of his shirt where her hands rest.
A mischievous grin claims her lips and he jumps when her hands migrate, trailing around to his back, sliding down to the backside of his pajama pants. She squeezes once and then lets go, steps back to peer around him and lets out a laugh of triumph.
"That's one way to claim your man," he appraises, craning his neck over his shoulder to see the faint white, Beckett shaped handprints on his ass.
Never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined this is how they would be, baking cookies in the middle of the night to rid her mind of nightmares, playing around with leftover ingredients like children. He knew Kate had a softer side, a part of her that could be silly and free, but he never thought he would see it, not like this.
"I love you," he says again, almost afraid to say it too much, to wear it out, but his heart is ripe with her, swollen and yearning to let her know every chance he can.
Kate doesn't seem to mind, though, sliding her flour stained fingers onto his jaw and rising on the tips of her toes once more. Her kiss is tender, the work of her lips slow and languid, the stroke of her tongue lazy and soothing, and Castle wraps his arms around her waist, sways as he kisses her back.
It isn't always like this, isn't always as easy as it is tonight. There are times when she pushes him away, when she tells him to go back to sleep and deals with her inner turmoil on her own in the form of an early morning run through the city or a predawn start to the precinct. There are times when she apologizes, whispering words about wanting to be better than this when he couldn't ask for anything more. There are times when she pretends they never happened at all, crawling back into bed with him and curling up under his sheets, squeezing her swollen eyes closed until sleep claims her again.
He knows it won't always be easy, that they always won't be an effortless combination, but it's worth it. Always worth it. And nights like these prove why.
"Go pick a movie, Castle," she mumbles into his mouth. "I'll be there in a second."
He squeezes her hipbones, nudges her nose and steals one last press of her lips before he lets her go. She appeases him, fitting her mouth over his in that way that makes his heart race and slam against the cage of his ribs.
She kisses him like he's her anchor.
"but you do know how to kiss me like i'm your anchor
and how to make beds feel like castles and when to bring me hot chocolate even if i didn't ask for it
and you let me marathon disney movies and make cookies
even if it's two in the morning"
He's still sorting through the large assortment of animated movies when she re-enters the office, two mugs of something that steams in her hands.
"Hot chocolate," she explains upon noticing his curious gaze, placing the ceramic cups down on his desk. "Double chocolate, double marshmallow."
Castle pauses, his picks of Aladdin and Tarzan nearly falling from his hands. "How did you know that's how I like my cocoa?"
A shy smile crosses her lips, the one he rarely sees but always cherishes, as she takes a seat on the leather sofa, tugs her favorite throw blanket from the living room around her shoulders. "Alexis. Back when I was staying here when my place blew up."
His daughter is still not her biggest fan, still easing into the idea of accepting their relationship, but knowing that Alexis once told her these things warms his heart nonetheless, reignites his hope that one day they can be that close again.
"Best hot chocolate you ever tasted, right?"
Kate hums, shakes her head to the movie choices he holds up for her. "Perhaps."
He ends up snagging a random DVD from the row in his haste to consume his hot chocolate before it grows cold, ending up with Lilo and Stitch on the TV screen, but Kate approves of the movie about an abandoned little alien searching for a place he can belong.
"I didn't want to watch a love story," she states while he crawls onto the couch beside her, stealing some of the blanket she's hoarding so he can wrap his body around her instead.
"Not much of a romantic, I know," he murmurs, sipping at his cocoa, humming in approval at the signature burst of flavor, the mixture of rich chocolate and melting marshmallow coating his tongue.
"Not exactly," she shrugs, toying with the hand that splays over her ribs, tangling their fingers and circling one of his knuckles. "I just - don't need one. Already have one."
He glances down to her, watches as she trains her eyes on the glow of the television hanging on the wall, but he dusts a kiss to her temple anyway, inhales the subtle scent of flour, cherries, and cookie dough in her hair.
"Oh Beckett, I'll never let you live that one down."
She growls and elbows him in the solar plexus, nearly causes his hot chocolate to splash over the rim of his mug, but her lips are quirked upwards and her head rests back against his shoulder as a sigh of satisfaction leaves her lungs.
"and when you laugh about something it makes my heart race
and i just want to sit in sunbeams with you...
until we both fall asleep"
By 4 a.m., they're still curled up on the sofa in a nest of throw blankets, a large plate of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk between them as another classic Disney movie plays on his flat screen television. Cookie crumbs cling to her lips, milk staining the edge of her mouth and he leans down from time to time, licks the remnants of their late night baking from her mouth. Kate laughs every time - soft, drowsy, and lovely - and tilts her head onto his shoulder, humming in contentment when his arm coils around her neck and his fingers thread through her hair.
"God, I hope a body doesn't drop until late afternoon," she mumbles, stretching to place the plate of leftover cookies on the edge of his desk, adding the empty glass of milk.
"At least if dispatch were to call right now, you'd have consumed a fulfilling meal for a change before heading out."
"Castle, all we've consumed is sugar."
"I know, isn't it great?"
She scoffs, cracks her spine before she settles back against his chest, her half lidded eyes drifting back to the TV screen that he's long stopped paying attention to.
She doesn't use his first name often, even after months of being in a relationship together, it still tends to be reserved for serious situations , and for the first time in the last three hours, apprehension rises in his stomach.
"Thank you," she whispers, turning her face into his neck, smudging a kiss to the hollow of this throat. "For tonight."
Castle breathes a quiet sigh of relief, but shakes his head, drops his lips to the top of her head in return.
"There's nothing to thank me for. I had a lot of fun tonight," he admits, smiling into her hair. "You - you make me happier than I thought possible."
And he's back to holding his breath again as soon as the words have slipped free.
There's an established level of comfort between the two of them after years of working together now combined with these first few months of being together in a more intimate manor, as a couple, but there's still an underlying newness to certain things too. This form of their partnership is still new and sometimes he says things to her that she may not be ready to hear just yet.
Kate doesn't stir though, doesn't stiffen in his loose embrace. Instead, she nuzzles in closer, allows their bodies to become irreparably tangled on his slim couch. "You make me happy too, Castle."
The sunlight breaches the horizon amidst their viewing of Dumbo, and he watches as the gentle beams caress the side of her face and lace through her hair.
"Morning, Castle," she yawns, curling deeper into his side and pressing her nose to the underside of his jaw.
He falls asleep to the fading scent of cookies and the quiet lull of her steady breathing.
"so quiet though your love may be, my dear
your quiet love is the only one for me."
-sunflower love, inkskinned