NOTE: The cheerios talked about in this story are the meat type of cheerios, not the cereal. They're like mini sausages for those who don't know.
The water boils. Castle grins as he grabs the brown package off the counter and takes a few long strides to return to the stove. He rips the package open and one by one, lets the cheerios inside slip down into the pot. Each one causes the water to slosh up against the sides of the container. The third cheerio splashes and he jumps back to avoid the spray.
"What are you doing, dad?"
The corners of his mouth curl upwards even more so as he lets the next cheerio slop in amongst the rest. Added to the sound of the stove humming and the water boiling, is soft footsteps. Alexis.
"What does it look like?" he asks, not bothering to look up. He only flicks his eyes up when he feels her brush up against him; he watches her staring into the pot for a moment.
"Cheerios, dad. Really?"
He nods and smirks when she covers a yawn by putting a sleeved arm up across her face. The silk of her gown flows over her slender arm like water over a stone on the bottom of a lake.
"It's three in the morning," she says pointedly.
Rolling her eyes, she moves around the counter and takes a seat on one of the stools there. "So, it's a bit early for cheerios, don't you think?"
"Daughter of mine. It's never too early for cheerios! What have I been teaching you all these years? Clearly I've made some mistakes along the way."
"How many are you putting on?" she asks.
"Is my perfect daughter considering moving over to the darkside?"
"No, dad. I just want to be sure there'll be some left for tomorrow. Beckett is dropping by, remember?"
"Right. Of course." He had not forgotten about his partner's expected arrival in the morning. In fact, it is part of the reason he is still up. When he invited her over, she said something that gave him a completely new idea for Nikki Heat's character and it has been eating at him since.
Castle holds up the brown package to show Alexis there are plenty more cheerios left. "See? I'm a good guy," he says. "I saved some for my girls."
He smiles when Alexis nods sleepily and waves a hand in the direction of her room. "I'm going back to bed. You get some rest too, dad. Okay? For me?"
Some of the humour leaves his expression. He nods. "Sure, honey. I'll get some z's once I'm done here."
She stands and quickly gives him a hug. "Thanks, dad. Night."
"Good night, hon." He plants a kiss on her forehead. "Sweet dreams." He watches her stumble up the stairs towards her room and then turns back to the stove. The water is still bubbling and his cheerios are coming along nicely. The skin at the ends is starting to peel and curl up on itself.
Castle switches the stove off and collects the cheerios in a bowl. He squeezes tomato sauce on them and heads back to his study. "Nikki Heat," he muses, dipping his hand into the bowl and fishing out a cheerio between his index finger and thumb. "Just what will you have me do next?"