He was like the best, most comfortable t-shirt in her closet. The one she always went for. It was just the right length, hitting her just at the top of her thighs, covering everything important yet still letting her show enough leg to remind her that she was sexy, even when she was alone. It was just the right color, a rich brown with some sort of black image on the front. It was so faded now the image was almost invisible. It was just the right thickness, a perfect weight where it rested on her shoulders, not to light, not too thick, just right. It's arms were the perfect length, falling to her elbows, letting her feel both covered and bare at the same time.

And he was just like that shirt. The first thing she ran to when ever she had a moment to choose for herself. The perfect length, just tall enough to give him a sense of power, of strength, of safety. Yet not some tall that it was intimating. He was the perfect length. The perfect color, or it seemed that way. His shade, the color the seemed to emanate from his very soul and surround him all the time was the perfect shade of blue, light yet tumultuous, like the afternoon sky on a cloudy day. The perfect thickness. He seemed to have an uncanny sense of how far to go with her. At times, when she needed it, he was the most warm, comforting pair of arms she'd ever imaged. She could get so lost in those limbs wrapped around her, shielding her, keeping her safe and secure. At other times he knew she needed her space and he gave it willing, and without judgment. He never took it personally or held her at fault. He seemed to know somehow, just how tightly to hold her.

He had a knack of making her feel like she was the center of his universe, like she was the only thing that existed. And she wasn't entirely convinced that that wasn't really exactly how he felt. He just knew things, things people don't normally know about other people. Either they were exactly on the same wave length and he could read her mind, or he really paid that much attention to the details that made her, her. He knew just how she took her coffee. Exactly how she ordered her sandwiches. How she liked her bubble bath. He knew what song to stop on when flipping through the channels of the radio. He knew which brand of toothpaste she preferred. He knew her. Every little nuance that created the whole of her.

It was frightening. And it had hit her completely out of the blue.

They had been working together for a while and it was just so damned routine and comfortable. Somehow, he had become an expected part of her life. It was the phone calls that really got her. First it was about work. But the late night conversations lengthened into more than that as familiarity deepened. She found herself calling him more often than she called Lanie when insomnia hit and she couldn't sleep. And unlike Lanie, she never felt like she was intruding on him or putting him out by keeping him up. He didn't mind being awoken at two in the morning to listen to her ramble about absolutely nothing because she couldn't get her brain to shut up long enough for her to fall asleep. She knew he lied on several occasions when she asked if she'd woken him up. But there were almost as many occasions her call found him experiencing the same thing she was going through. They would talk about nothing, their pasts, the way they viewed life, the things they really enjoyed and the things they really hated and it stunned her how often their opinions were the same. But she loved it more when they felt differently. No one had ever argued with her like he could. The banter between them was more fun than she'd ever imagined just talking could be. He was never condescending or superior. And at times when he let his ever-inflating ego get out of hand, she always knew just what to say to bring him back to earth just hard enough to sting, but not hurt.

He was the most fun she'd ever had. Anywhere - the precinct, the morgue, a crime scene or a funeral parlor, it was a playground to him. She marveled at the fact that he could be so wise, so worldly one minute and the very next he was innocent, sometimes almost to the point of naivety.

But then again, she marveled at nearly everything about him. She was marveling at him long before she ever met him. He was a friend to her long before he'd ever showed up at her station. Before he was Richard Castle to her, he was Derrick Storm. And she fell in love with Derrick Storm the moment she met him.

There was so much of Castle in the character. And now Jameson Rook occupied another part of her heart. The character was perfect. Just like its creator. Somehow, she had become the luckiest woman in the world. She had her three fantasy men all built into one. Castle, Derrick Storm and Jameson Rook, three very different men, yet all the same. It was her trifecta. Funny, warm and entertaining Castle, strong, gruff, rugged, Derrick Storm, and charming, tempting, and intelligent Jameson Rook. It was all there. Custom made just for her.

God she was so in love with this man. And she had absolutely no idea what to do about it.

She wasn't an idiot. She knew she had to do something. She might seem rough and gruff on the outside, but there was an inner romantic in her that said, ' This is it. He's the one you've been waiting on for so long.' At first she hadn't dared dream it was possible. Richard Castle – one of her fantasies come to life – was her one and done ? When did that happen in real life ? In what universe did fairy tales like that really exist ? The object of some of her college girl fantasies had literally walked off his dust cover and landed in her interrogation room. It had been one of the most exciting nights of her life. She wanted to ask for his autograph.

At first she was disappointed, so disappointed. He wasn't Derrick Storm. He wasn't the man she thought he'd be. He was a lie. An imposter. An imposing, reckless, careless, smug, egotistical, masochistic, imposter.

By the time they were halfway through their first case together, she was changing her opinion, altering her perception. By their first anniversary of working together, she was considering him an important part of her team. By their second, he was her partner, wholly and completely. She couldn't imagine doing her job without him anymore. By the third, he was her soul mate. She was almost certain of it now. Or she would be, if she knew he felt the same way.

But he was always so cautious, so careful where this was concerned. He had carefully constructed a line, one that was somehow perfect for her before, offering just enough companionship without being inappropriate. It was the friendship line. No, more than that, the best friend line.

Maybe it was true, maybe men and women really couldn't just be friends, not friends like that. Ones that knew everything there was to know about you. Friends that would move the earth to help you, that had your back, no matter what. Friends that you connected to on a level so deep and intense it was scary how close you were. When a connection like that happened between two sexually compatible people, there was no containing it just to friendship. It wasn't possible.

She completely understood now that there was very little she wouldn't do to keep Richard Castle in her life, few sacrifices she wouldn't make. That terrified her too. She had never, ever really expected to feel as much for another person as she felt for him. Her happiness had somehow become entwined in his. She wanted to give him everything, to be everything he needed.

Frankly, whenever he was around, she felt fucking needy and she hated that about herself. She needed his attention, his affection, his warmth. No one in the world made her feel as special as he did. And she had become so addicted to the feeling that now she craved it.

It had taken her three years to come to the conclusion that Richard Castle was the one man in the world she simply didn't want to live without. And she had no idea how to let him know that.

She thought about just coming right out with it. She imagined them at the station one night, just the two of them left, pouring over the murder board, heads together as they worked out a theory that was so preposterous it couldn't possibly be true. Then she would just come out with it. Instead of saying goodnight when they both threw in the towel and headed home, she would say ' I love you'. She could almost imagine the look on his face when at first he didn't really hear her, assuming he already knew what she was about to say, then the look of absolute shock and wonder in his eyes when her words caught up to him. What would he say in return ? Would he confess that he loved her, too ? Would he get that furrow between his brow that said he was seriously worried about something and launch into the speech about how he didn't want to risk their friendship by pushing boundaries like that ? Or would he just mumble a goodnight in return and walk away, pretending like he hadn't heard her admission ?

The uncertainty was killing her. She couldn't afford to be unsure about his response. There was too much at stake for her not to know how it would end before she took a chance.

Lanie had already told her that she was being ridiculous. Everyone had told her that, in fact. Everyone seemed to be certain about his feelings for her, except her, of course.

She had taken to watching him a little more closely recently, looking for any sign that they might be right. But all she found was silly flirting and carefully constructed banter. Nothing solid to base a real judgment on. Apparently, if Rick Castle was as in love with her as everyone believed him to be, he had an excellent poker face, at least where she was concerned.

She thought several times about calling Alexis and asking her opinion on the matter. After all, she would ultimately be affected by anything that happened between Kate and her father. But that just made Kate feel like she was using the girl, pumping her for information.

She could call her and ask her out to lunch. She liked spending time with mini-Castle. She was a wonderful, warm, funny, smart, young woman. That was the problem with her plan, actually. Alexis was smart. Kate was certain she'd see right through her if the subject of her father came up between them. But would it be a bad thing ? Would Alexis mind giving her a little insight into the mind of Rick Castle ? After all, Alexis was the authority. No one in the world knew him like she did. If he was hiding something, some unrequited feelings for Kate, Alexis would know. But would she tell Kate about it?

The phone trilled on the corner of her desk, drawing her out of her inner ponderings and making her realize that she had been at work nearly two hours and hadn't accomplished a damned thing.

She snatched it up and gave a little start at Alexis' picture smiling at her from the screen. Apparently the entire Castle clan had some kind of sixth sense where she was concerned. What could mini-Castle possibly want with her ?

She accepted the call and brought the phone to her ear. " Good Morning, Sweetie. What's up ?" She asked cheerfully.

" I was just calling to let you know that Dad isn't coming in today. I'm forbidding him from leaving the apartment." Alexis announced with a firmness to her voice that said ' Dad' was listening close by.

Kate couldn't help her chuckle. " What did he do to deserve to be grounded ?"

" He's sick. He just won't admit it yet." Alexis answered. " So I'm putting him to bed with some medicine and some soup and I'm heading to school. If he sneaks out and shows up there, send him right back home and call me."

Kate laughed again. " Will do. There isn't really anything happening here anyway, except paperwork. Maybe I'll come by and keep him company for awhile. He isn't contagious is he ?"

" I don't think so. He is running a temperature, but I think he'll be alright. He just needs to rest."

" But I'm fine." She heard the man in question whine in the background and she laughed again. The nasal, hoarseness to his voice said otherwise.

" Oh no." Kate gasped in mock seriousness. " Don't tell me, it's the ' man cold'."

Alexis sighed dramatically. " I'm afraid so. And it's only going to get worse."

" Well, then tell him to go to bed and I'll be over to check on him in a little while." Kate answered.

" I will. Thank you. I was worried about leaving him here all by himself today." she replied before saying goodbye.

It was the sweetest, most heartwarming thing, how much they cared about each other. Parents and children were never that close anymore.

The large, round clock on the wall told her it was coming up on eleven by the time she finished up the last of the reports from their latest case. Normally, with Castle there to help her, it didn't take so long to wrap up all the lose ends. The fact that he stuck around for the boring parts had surprised her at first. But she found him sitting in his chair, watching her work so often, that eventually she'd given him a pen and made him help. Now it was a breeze. Paperwork was halved between them most days. She thought, at first, there might be some objection to her method. After all, Castle wasn't a cop, despite what he believed. No one had offered the least bit of protest about it though. She wondered how long it would take the city to give the man a badge. That was the next logical step. That and a gun. God help the city of New York.

She only made two stops on her way to Castle's apartment. One for coffee, the other for take out. It was about time she returned the favor for all the times he showed up with both without her asking.

Standing outside his door, she thought about pressing the buzzer and announcing herself. But then she was afraid she might wake him if he was sleeping and she didn't want to make him get up to answer the door if he really was sick. So she used her key. The one he'd given her months before, just in case. She'd asked him what she would possibly need with his key and that's what he'd told her, ' just in case'.

She closed the door behind her quietly and tiptoed to the kitchen to unburden herself from the bag she was carrying. Then she slipped off her jacket and draped it over one of the dining room chairs before starting a room by room search for him.

Nothing stirred in the huge apartment. There was no sound coming from anywhere. The living room was empty, as were the kitchen and his office.

As she moved down the hall, past the room she'd occupied after her apartment blew up, she realized that she had never gone all the way to the end. His bedroom door was

mostly closed, but not latched shut, so she eased it opened as quietly as possible and peered inside.

Darkness met her, that and the ragged sound of his breathing. He sounded awful, raspy and congested. She took a few more steps, following the sound as she went, completely unfamiliar with the darkened room. Finally her eyes adjusted to the dimness and she found herself standing at the side of his bed, looking at his sleeping face which was illuminated by a single shaft of light poking through the dark curtains that covered the windows.

He looked so miserable. Mouth opened as he drew in breath because obviously breathing through his nose was impossible. Yet somehow she'd never seen him more peaceful, more childlike. His hair was tousled and sticking to his obviously clammy forehead. His chest was bare and from the smell coming from him she imagined it was covered in Vick's vapor rub. The Mentholatum in the air nearly knocked her over with its intensity. One of his hands was resting negligently across his waist. The other, fisted around a balled up tissue, was posed on the pillow next to his head. The cranberry colored sheet was draped low over his hips and several blankets were in a heap at his side as if he'd tossed them off in his sleep.

She reached out, unable to stop herself and let the back of her knuckles graze over his cheek.

He felt like he was burning up. His head shifted and his cheek pushed into her touch just as his eyes began to blink open.

" Kate ?" He whispered. " What are you doing here ?" He barely got the words out before a coughing fit racked his body. He quickly spun to his side and covered his mouth with the hand holding the tissue. The sheet slide ever further from his body. Castle didn't seem to notice how dangerously low on his hips it was now. She could make out the dimple in his flesh where his pelvic bone met his torso. It was unnerving and she felt so guilty for staring that she almost bolted from the room without saying a word.

But she knew that would only make it worse. He was too miserable to realize his state of undress anyway. Maybe he hadn't notice her attention.

" I came to see if you were alright. Alexis didn't tell you I'd be by ?" she asked, touching his check again when he once again settled back to his pillow.

" She might have mentioned it. To be honest, I really don't remember, what with the being preoccupied with dying and all." he confessed still so hoarse she could barely hear him.
She almost laughed. Richard Castle had very nearly lost his voice. What would he do with himself ?

" You aren't dying." she assured him and he gave her a doubtful look in return. " I brought Chinese and coffee. I'll be back. You just lay there."

He raised a hand lamely and let it drop back to his side. " Not a problem." he answered as he watched her leave.

His voice was a little better after the coffee. But he barely touched his food.

" I can't taste it." he protested when she called him on it.

" You don't have to enjoy it. You just need to eat it. 'Feed a cold and starve a fever'." she told him.

He cleared his throat and took a drink of his coffee. Then he held up one finger and gave her the look. The one she knew so well. He was about to enlighten her. " The adage is actually, 'starve a fever, feed a cold'. The phrase originated from Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales. It actually translates as feed a cold, die of fever. It wasn't medical devise, it was a cautionary tale." He paused to take another drink of coffee and Kate watched him contently. She had grown to love watching his mind working. " See," he continued, " It meant if you eat when your sick, you'll die of fever. But take into account that these people also believed bathing would make you sick, so," he shrugged. " You know."

" You sound better." she commented after he ended his oration.

He stretched and pushed the tray she had arranged for him a little further away. " I feel a little better. Maybe...-" He glanced at her from under a veil of bangs as if he were suddenly shy. " Maybe it's the company."

Her pulse jumped into her throat and she swallowed hard against it. There was something very intimate about what was going on between them. Here she was, sitting on the foot of his bed, less than two feet from him. In fact, his feet were nestled against the outside of her leg. She could feel them through the blanket that now covered him. When she returned with the trays, she found, a little to her dismay, that he had gotten up and found a ragged pair of shorts and a t-shirt to cover himself with, making him more presentable to company, yet causing her disappointment over the fact that the expanse of his muscular chest had been taken from her view. Still it was a form fitting shirt and she could make out the ripples of his muscles every time he moved. The only lighting in the room came from a lamp sitting on a table by the bed. His eyes were hurting so she hadn't opened the curtains and let in any sunlight. And he just looked so needy and vulnerable. His face was flushed with the fever she knew he still had. His eyes were cloudy and watering, puffy and red and the palest blue she'd ever seen them. His normally perfectly pink, moist lips were pale, cracked and dry. His nose was bright red from where he'd been rubbing it constantly with a seemingly endless supply of tissues from a box he had hidden somewhere in the enormous bed.

He was a mess. A complete mess.

Then something else struck her and she didn't know exactly how to deal with the information once her brain processed it. The man in front of her, for the first time ever, was just Rick, at his purest, most basic form. He didn't have the energy or the will to hold up any of the well maintained masks people normally wore around others. He wasn't in the right frame of mind to worry about ulterior motives or hidden agendas. He was just himself in his most natural, uncontaminated form.

He started coughing again, his strong, broad shoulders trembling with the effort and she glanced at the clock sitting by the lamp on the table. She was surprised to see that she had been there for nearly two hours.

Gathering herself, she made to stand, but he sat up and stopped her with a hand on her arm. " Don't go." he said, between coughs. " Please."

She gave him a heavy sigh in answer and settled back down. " If you get me sick, I'm going to shoot you. For real this time." she teased. " I hate being sick."

He gave her a watery smile. " I'll bet you're the cutest thing when you're sick."

She smacked at his feet. " No, I'm the most irritable, unreasonable, asshole that you've ever met, when I'm sick. So watch it. And know that I fully expect you to put up with me through it all, just like I'm putting up with you."

He chuckled. " I'm not that bad."

She dipped her head in agreement. " No, actually you aren't. I came here expecting to find a drama king on his throne."

His laugh this time started out as a that but ended in another cough. " No, that comes later. Right now I'm too sick to care. Tomorrow when I just don't feel good, then there will be drama."

" Reminded me to stay at work tomorrow then." she joked.

His smile seemed to melt from his features and his eyes turned suddenly serious. " Thank you for coming over. You didn't have to."

She shrugged trying to brush off the seriousness of the moment. It was still something fairly new for them, this being friends outside of work thing. And she was happier to just let these moments happen and not talk about them. " You're welcome. We were dead at work anyway. No pun intended."

He mustered a smile at her joke.

" But I think maybe I should let you get some sleep. You look exhausted." she told him. " And it's time for more medicine."

She left to retrieve the bottle of thick green liquid before he could protest.

He took the small cup from her and downed it in one gulp before making a face. " That's terrible."

" Yes, but it will make you feel better." she answered.

" Doesn't it come in cherry flavor or maybe even grape ? Anything would be better than that." he continued as he settled back into bed.

" No, its medicine for adults. Surprisingly, they figure most adults can take it like a man." she jibed.

" I'm a man." he protested weakly.

" Of course you are." she replied as she tucked the blankets around him and brushed back the hair from his forehead.

He looked up at her with a wicked smile on his face. " Alexis rubbed some really smelly stuff on my chest before she went to school, but I can't smell it anymore."

She almost, on instinct, told him that he could rub it on his own chest. Then her fingertips started to tingle at just the thought of doing it herself and she closed her mouth before the words could escape. Sometimes her mouth did not work with her best interest at heart.

She tried to take a subtle, deep breath before rolling her eyes at him. " Take off your shirt." she demanded as she reached for the jar of vapor rub.

He blinked at her in utter shock. " No way!" he whispered in awe as she sat down at his side. He simply didn't believe that she was really about to do what he'd suggested she do.

" Yes way. But the offer only stands for a few minutes. So hurry up and get out of that shirt." she answered trying to hide her smile at his reaction. She knew she was crossing into some very dangerous territory here, but then again, when would she ever have another chance to run her hands over his chest in what was disguised as purely something innocent ? There was simply no way she could pass this up. It was too good to be true.

He quickly sat up and yanked the shirt over his head, of course, getting it tangled on the way and making her have to assist him in the end. " You have no idea how long I've waited to hear you say those exact words to me." He told her when he laid back down and put his hands to his sides.

" I'll bet Vick's vapor rub wasn't part of your fantasy." She replied as she loosened the lid and set it aside.

" No, but there was oil, so it's close." he returned just like she'd expected him to.

They needed the humor right then. She needed it as a way to keep her distance from the situation. He seemed to understand and went right along with her, reading her like he always did.

The minute her fingers began to glide over his supple, tanned, muscles she knew she made a mistake. There was no amount of humor in the world that could lighten the situation now. Touching him was everything she expected it to be and she knew there was no way he couldn't feel it, too. It was electric, like tiny sparks dancing between his bare skin and the palm of her hand. A glance at his face proved that she was right. The look on his face wasn't needy or vulnerable now. He was watching her hands move over him with such rapt attention and unmasked hunger she almost gasped out loud.

Noticing her reaction, he quickly slid the vulnerable, weak mask back in place and dropped his head to the pillow. She could almost hear him hoping she hadn't noticed his look. But she had and now she wasn't sure she could pretend she hadn't.

She had been looking for proof that he wanted more between them, really wanted it and he'd just given it to her. He wanted her as much as she wanted him and know she knew it for sure.

She wasn't sure what she should do with the information though. She decided for the moment it would be best to be done with her task and take her hands off him before she lost the will to do it.

Finishing, she got up and stepped into his private bathroom to wash her hands. When she returned, his eyes were so drowsy they were mere slits of blue on his relaxed, sleepy face.

" Will you be here when I wake up ?" he slurred as he rolled to his side and tucked his hands together under his chin.

She stepped to him and moved the blankets up over his shoulders before turning off the lamp. " Do you want me to be here when you wake up ?"

" Of course." he replied dreamily.

" Then yes, I'll be here."

He was asleep before she made it to the bedroom door.