The best word he can find to describe her right this moment is snuggly. Or maybe cuddlesome, but he's not positive that's an actual word and not one he's made up on the spot. Of course, necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. Whether snuggly or cuddlesome, she is, as always, lovely. Not as beautiful as she was the day he walked into her hospital room to see her sitting up, talking and smiling and breathing, but beautiful nonetheless.
He's still standing in the doorway, he realizes, and from the half-annoyed, half-amused look she's giving him, he surmises that he's been staring at her for quite some time now. He steps inside and turns to watch as she shuts and locks the door behind them.
It's as if the artist who sculpted the masterpiece in front of him has decided to sand down her sharp edges. She seems softer, warmer, in her dark purple flannel pants and lavender tank top, her hair pulled up from her neck in a loose bun. He resists the sudden strong urge to kiss the creamy skin of her shoulder, to smooth his hands down her enticingly bare arms.
When she turns back to him, it's with a question in her eyes. It's not the first time he's shown up at her apartment unexpectedly, but there's no case this time, nor a dead lottery winner to inspire altruism and invasions into her personal life.
"Alexis kicked me out," he explains with a shrug. "Movie marathon and sleepover at the loft, no boys allowed, which apparently includes dear old dad. And the boys were busy and I didn't feel like going to the Old Haunt by myself, and..."
She just smiles and shakes her head, reaching for one of the cups he has forgotten he's holding.
"It's fine, Castle."
"Hot chocolate," he offers as their fingers brush and she takes the beverage, lifting it up for an eyes-closed sniff and a long sip.
"Oh," he says quickly, sliding his hand into his deep coat pocket and pulling out a bag, half full and secured with a twist tie. "Marshmallows."
Her eyes are open again and her lips quirk upward affectionately. She takes the other cup from his hands, and tilts her head toward the kitchen before she walks away. He slides his coat off and hangs it on the hook next to the door, opening the bag as he follows her.
He moves to stand beside her at the counter, lifting the lid on his still full cup and plopping in two marshmallows before repeating the routine with hers.
She watches silently as he sidesteps her to open the refrigerator, leaning down and rooting around for a moment, finally pulling out a can of whipped cream.
As he straightens, he notices an empty bowl on the floor next to the table, but he is too focused on the way she's rolling her eyes at him to really give it much thought.
He's added a healthy dollop of whipped cream to each of their cups, and offered her a squirt (which she turns down), and now he's positioning the nozzle in front of his own mouth.
He's got a mouthful of whipped cream halfway swallowed when he yelps at the dozen tiny pinpricks suddenly climbing up his jean-clad leg. Imagine his surprise when he looks down to find bright green eyes staring back at him and rising ever higher.
The kitten is a tiny ball of gray and darker gray fluff, not yet old enough to be sleek, probably only a few weeks old, if he had to guess.
He hears a muffled laugh and looks up at the detective, her hand covering her mouth and mirth dancing in her autumn colored eyes.
"I see you've met Minnie," she says, with a lilt in her voice that he's certain he's never heard.
"Minnie?" he asks, glancing back down at the tiny animal who has now reached his hip.
"Well, Minerva, actually."
"As in the goddess of war?"
"Mmm," she hums in confirmation. "And head of Gryffindor."
He grins at that, and brings his hand to his mouth as he coughs something that sounds suspiciously like "Nerd."
She smacks his chest lightly, but her eyes are twinkling.
He cringes as needle-sharp claws dig into the soft skin of his waist. Seeing the grimace, she reaches over to pluck the kitten from his shirt, but she's underestimated Minerva's tenacity.
His shirt is nearly untucked by the time the detective gives up and allows the kitten to resume her ascent of the writer's chest. He makes faces with each inch gained, but it doesn't take long for the small creature to reach his broad shoulder and settle there.
The purring begins soon after that, and he lifts a gentle hand to stroke over the soft fur once, twice, with a finger rubbing under the kitten's chin on the third pass.
Kate just smiles tenderly at him, and he briefly considers giving up writing for life as a crazy cat lady, just so she'll look at him like that again.
"C'mon," she says quietly. "We can watch a movie."
She picks up her hot chocolate and he picks up his, and she catches his fingertips to lead him over to the couch, Minerva still perched happily, albeit precariously, atop his shoulder.
He sits, propping his feet up on the coffee table, and she drops down next to him, curling her legs underneath her and pulling the throw blanket down from the back of the couch to cover their thighs and her bare feet.
He slouches backward, pressing his head into the back of the couch as she fiddles with the remote, flipping channels quickly, looking for what, he doesn't know.
It's a few days before Christmas, and all the classics are on, have been on non-stop. She doesn't strike him as one who would be drawn in by a sappy sentimental movie like Miracle on 34th Street or The Bishop's Wife, not when she doesn't believe in magic or psychics or fate. But then, she never struck him as the type to have a tiny kitten that would perch itself on his shoulder either.
She stops flipping and leans back, her arm pressing against his but not moving away. He focuses on the screen, listens to Jimmy Stewart telling Donna Reed that he'll give her the moon, that he'll lasso it for her.
He turns, arches an eyebrow at the detective.
"What?" she defends quickly. "It's a classic!"
He shrugs, and Minerva mews her displeasure at his movement.
"I just didn't figure you'd like this kind of movie," he says. "I mean, It's a Wonderful Life is about as sappy as it gets, and you're not usually a sappy kind of girl."
She rolls her eyes at him.
"This," she says, with a gesture at the screen, "is not sappy. Sweet, yes. But it's all about the difference one person can make."
He grins, turning toward her, jostling the kitten who meows again and stands up on his shoulder, arching her back.
"You, Detective Beckett," he sing-songs, "are a sap."
She purses her lips at his teasing.
"This coming from the man with a kitten snuggled against his neck."
He hadn't noticed, but now that he's paying attention, he sees that yes, the kitten has forsaken his shoulder for the warmth of his neck, tucked neatly inside his collar, cool nose pressed to his skin and soft fur slightly tickling the underside of his chin.
He smiles, and turns back to the movie.
She bumps his shoulder with hers and they watch in companionable silence as George Bailey marries his sweetheart and takes on Mr. Potter.
They've touched more lately, he's noticed. He's not sure if it's the cold weather causing an instinctive need to seek out another's warmth, or maybe the fuzzy feelings Christmastime always seems to stir up, even in hard-nosed Detective Kate Beckett. Or maybe it's the hours they spent cuffed together, forced into closeness and reliant on one another for survival.
Hold my hand, she'd commanded in that dark basement. Not grab, not take. Hold. And he did.
Whatever the cause, he hesitates to call attention to it for fear that she'll pull back. He likes touching her, likes the warmth of her fingers around his, likes the press of her shoulder against his own, likes helping her with her jacket. So he stays silent.
A few minutes later, it's time for a commercial, and the detective stands, stretching her arms above her head, and revealing a sliver of pale skin above her pants.
"More hot chocolate?" she asks, pulling his concentration from her midriff.
"Oh, umm, sure."
She picks up their empty mugs and heads for the kitchen.
"Can I help?" he calls after her.
She turns him down, telling him to stay put and not upset the cat using him as both pillow and heating pad.
He chuckles, and then listens as she puts milk on to heat, pulls things out of the cupboard.
The commercials end, and he is about to call her back when he realizes she's standing right behind him, hands gripping the back of the couch. He tilts his head back, and she looks down at him for a moment, smiling, and then palms the back of his skull, pushing him upright again, her fingers sliding briefly through his hair. He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, she is standing next to him, holding out a steaming mug.
"No marshmallows?" he whines as he takes the proffered drink.
She shakes her head.
"You really don't need that much sugar."
"And no whipped cream, either? Geez, you're boring."
She kicks him lightly in the shin before she sits next to him, rearranging the blanket, and pressing once more against his side.
He takes a sip of the warm drink, and its richness surprises him. It's sweet, yes, but a little salty too, with a hint of flavor he can't quite place.
"This is good," he exclaims, and she glares at him.
"Your confidence in me is astounding."
He waves off her sarcasm.
"No, I just mean, it's not what I was expecting. It's hot chocolate, but there's something else there. Butterscotch?"
"And something more," he continues, taking another sip and swirling it around his tongue thoughtfully. "Irish cream? Wait, really?"
She startles at his interjection.
"This is like hot chocolate with a Buttery Nipple."
He'd said worse, made far more blatant and obscene comments around her, but this, this reference to a common shot, this brings a blush that begins below the neckline of her tank top and rises quickly all the way to her ears.
"Now why should that embarrass you, Detective?" he asks, and she can hear the gentle teasing in his deep voice.
She elbows him in the side, and ducks her head, hiding her eyes from his laughing gaze.
He opens his mouth to say something else, but Minerva chooses that moment to make known her displeasure at his continued movement and loud talking. His words are lost to a yelp as tiny needles dig into the soft skin over his collarbone.
Beckett lifts her head, a hand rising to cover her mouth, stifling a giggle at the glare he is sending toward the creature that has slipped down and is resettling on his chest.
She can't hold back the smile when he winces as the kitten begins to knead his pectoral muscle. He reaches down to move the kitten, but hisses in pain as she just digs in more.
"Gonna have a bloody nipple if you don't settle down and quit upsetting my kitten," Kate says teasingly.
He glances down and then back up to meet her eyes.
"Would you kiss it and make it better?"
"In your dreams, Writer Boy."
His eyes darken a fraction, and he gives her what she can only label a lascivious smirk.
"You have no idea."
It's further than he's pushed in a while, and he's not sure exactly how she'll take it. He's backed off the innuendo in the past several months, compassion trumping lust.
She rolls her eyes, and he gives a mental sigh of relief before noticing with some interest that she seems to be holding back a smile. Her lips don't move, but her eyes twinkle just a bit.
Now that he thinks about it, she might have made more suggestive comments in the past few months than he has.
There was the cryogenics case, when she commented that she didn't think she needed implants and blatantly looked at her chest (he quite agreed...he's only ever gotten brief and limited glances, but he's pretty sure she's perfect).
Then, there was her revelation that she'd posed in "not a stitch."
And most recently, when they were trapped together and he'd had to pull off her boots, she'd told him he could "fantasize later."
It's almost as if she's been inviting him to think of her in not-so-platonic ways. He doesn't mind.
Their silent eye contact has stretched out for a few seconds now, and is just approaching uncomfortable. He nudges her with his elbow.
"Thanks for the hot chocolate, Kate," he says quietly, giving her a sincere smile.
She nods and smiles back, her eyes softening, holding his gaze for a moment more.
She reaches up toward him, and he's not sure what to expect, but she sets her hand on the kitten, stroking across the small back and eliciting a contented purr. Castle has to hold back the sound in the back of his own throat as her thumb brushes his chest.
"She's made herself quite at home," the detective observes.
Castle grins. "What can I say? You should know how comfortable it is to sleep on me."
She raises her eyebrows at that, and he smirks.
"I seem to recall you using me as a pillow more than once."
"Yeah, when I've been drugged," she points out.
He tilts his head in acquiescence.
"Fair enough. Just sayin' though. Feel free to make yourself at home anytime. I'm happy to be of service."
She narrows her eyes, pursing her lips in the way that he's learned signals that she's trying not to smile at him. Finally, she nods, her eyes sparkling.
"I'll keep that in mind."
He gives her a soft smile.
"That's all I ask."
When she turns back to the movie, he notices that she's sitting a little closer, one hand under the blanket, tucked between her thigh and his. He says nothing, just revels in the warmth invading his chest that has nothing to do with the kitten sleeping there.