As it turns out, at four o'clock on Saturday afternoon, she does get called to a scene. He answers on the first ring.


He's whispering and he sounds a little breathless and she wonders what he might be doing. Jealousy flares briefly in her gut before she remembers his words on Christmas Day. I don't want anyone else.

She trusts him.

She's trusted him with her life and her back-up piece. When Raglan had asked in that diner who Castle was, that had been her answer: He's someone I trust.

"Hey Castle, whatcha doing?"

No doubt now. Not in this man. Just curiosity, despite the fact that she should just get to the point.

"Laser tag," he says quietly. "Trying not to give away my position."

Ah, that explains it.

"So what's up? You two still coming over tonight?"

Just as she is about to answer, she hears movement and a mumbled "oh sh-" from Castle, followed by some beeping and a familiar groan.

"What happened?"

He laughs over the line.

"The boy shot me."


"One and the same," he confirms. "We were discussing Ender's Game and one thing led to another."

It turns out that "the boy," as they have come to call his daughter's new boyfriend, is a lot like Castle himself. Kate's been teasing him that girls are drawn to men like their own fathers. That thought horrified him until she reminded him of two things.

He makes her think of her dad, as she told him last weekend. And he himself is a good man.

She decides they don't really have time right now to get into why he's playing laser tag with Drew, not when there's a fresh homicide waiting for them. Or for her at any rate.

"We've got a body, you want in?"

"Yeah, I definitely want in," he says, his voice becoming more distant the longer he speaks. She assumes he's set the phone down so he can start taking off his laser tag gear. It's strangely intimate.

"So I'll pick you up in twenty?"

He lets out a soft grunt, and she pictures him reaching around to unstrap his vest. Heat flares in her belly.

"I can meet you there if it's easier."

She should agree and give him the address. Should, but won't. She needs to see him. As soon as possible.

"I'll pick you up," she says firmly.

"Okay," he replies, and his voice sounds like he's smiling. "I'll have coffee."

She can see him as she pulls up to his building. He's leaning casually against the wall, a pair of travel mugs in his hands as he laughs at something the doorman is saying.

She parks and honks to get his attention. He's smiling already, but when he turns to see her waiting there in the car, his whole face changes. He looked happy enough before, but now he's...radiant.

Is that what she does to him?

He opens the car door and slips inside before she really has a chance to examine that question.

"Good afternoon, Detective."

His voice is low and deep and meant just for her, though there's no one else in the car to hear his greeting. Their fingers brush when he hands off her coffee.

"Hey, Castle."

He buckles his seat belt, eyes darting up to meet hers, crinkling at the edges as he smiles at her. It fills her up, his smile - gives her light.

"So, what've we got on this New Year's Eve?"

She shrugs, noting with interest the way his eyes follow the up-down of her shoulders.

"Your guess is as good as mine. Dispatch just gave me an address."

As she pulls the car back into traffic, she glances back at him. He's still watching her.

"What, Castle?" she asks, her tone more terse than she meant for it to be.

His face drops a little and she curses herself. Even the simplest words have power, especially over him. Especially her words. She needs to remember that.

"Nothing," he says, a little too quickly. "I just... How have you been?"

She's focused on the road in front of them, ever-cautious while driving in the city, but she also watches him out of the corner of her eye.

"Fine, Castle. I've been doing fine."

Her mouth turns up slightly.

"Of course, you already know that, since we've talked or texted every day since Christmas. So what were you really going to say?"

She's put him on the spot. No letting him off the hook this time. They've both been guilty in the past of starting to say things that never get finished. Not anymore.

He nods in her peripheral vision, his voice soft and kind when he speaks.

"I was going to say that it's good to see you. You're a sight for sore eyes."

It's a bit ridiculous what his quiet sincerity does to her insides. She's a romantic at heart, and he sees that when so few others do.

Her hand darts away from the steering wheel to squeeze his forearm.

"It's good to see you too. Been strange not having my partner around this week."

He settles back into his seat. Not smiling per se, but looking a little smug all the same.

"I know, I suffer without me."

She opens her mouth in retort, but he continues on.

"And I'm sure Ryan and Esposito will be glad to have me back and providing you with caffeine again. No doubt they've been on the receiving end of your wrath all week."

It's more true than he knows, both his former and his latter suppositions. But of course, she won't tell him how right he is. That's not how they operate.

"Now see, this is why I don't say nice things to you," she grumbles, turning to catch a shadow of his smile before he schools his features. "Because you always manage to twist it and use it against me."

He shrugs.

"What can I say? I am a master wordsmith."

She shakes her head and lets it go, turning her attention back to the traffic snarl she's currently navigating.

From time to time she glances over at him, alternately finding him staring out the window or playing with his phone. Once, though, he catches her eyes and graces her with a beaming grin.

"You know," she says lightly. "I've never met anyone so excited about murder."

He gives her a calculating look.

"You know it's not the murder that keeps me coming back."

Her heart rates jumps. Is this really the moment? All of the times she's wondered out loud why he sticks around and he's going to bare his soul now? In her car on the way to a crime scene?

"It's the mystery."

Oh. Apparently not. She's oddly disappointed. She turns back to the road. But he keeps talking.

"I come for the mystery. Even the ones I'll never solve. Maybe especially the ones I'll never solve."

She can feel his eyes on her, and the moment his meaning hits her, she knows he sees it, because he lets out a small puff of breath that he must have been holding and starts humming to himself, a jazzy little version of Auld Lang Syne.

That's one conversation she clearly remembers. The honesty in his gaze. The way he knew just what she needed to hear and how to make her laugh.

She'd still been with Josh at the time. And she was vulnerable because of Mike's murder. But Castle had been her dry land that week. And she's not completely sure she would have regretted what might have happened if she had reopened that door a moment sooner.

He's still humming the familiar tune, though he adds his own small flourishes here and there.

"You do like to add your own special flair, don't you?"

Her tone is teasing, and he stops humming, turns to look at her.

"Yes, I do. Though I'm not certain why you bring that up now."

She hums back the bit he'd just finished when she interrupted, and his eyes widen when he realizes what she's doing. She laughs at the look on his face.

"I never realized you were so musical."

He chuckles.

"What can I say, Detective? I am a man of many, ah, hidden talents. I'd be happy to demonstrate any number of them to you."

The way he's leering at her is nothing new, nor is his less-than-subtle innuendo. Used to be, she would have taken offense. Not anymore. It's just part of what makes him who he is. And she knows, after all, that he does respect her. He's never taken advantage, never pushed too far.

She just shakes her head as they pull up at the scene.

"Maybe some other time, Castle."

He gives her a playful smile over as they unbuckle and step out of her car.

She bumps his shoulder in thanks after he lifts the crime scene tape for her, and they approach the medical examiner, who's crouching over the body.

"Hey, Perlmutter, have a good Christmas?"

Castle, ever-cheerful, grins at the man. She wonders sometimes how he never lets the ME's surly nature get to him. She also wonders if Perlmutter will ever just surprise them all and be friendly in response to one of the author's greetings. Not likely.

And not this time. Perlmutter doesn't even deign to reply, just turns to her.

"Male. Hispanic. Around forty to forty-five. He's been dead for at least sixteen hours, Detective. Hard to tell because of the external temperature last night."

She nods, dropping to a crouch next to the body.

She can feel Castle leaning over her, the occasional warm puff of his breath washing across her cheek and ear. When did he start standing this close? And when did she start letting him get away with it? Not socially acceptable. But is she really going to tell him to move. Yeah, right.

"COD?" she asks, pulling herself back from her thoughts.

"Two GSWs to the chest, probably from a .38, judging by the size of the wounds."

Kate stands, a little too quickly, and bumps the author with her shoulder on the way up. He's solid, and she staggers.

He catches her elbow to steady her, earning himself a glare in the process. He doesn't seem to mind, just gives her a cheeky grin.

"Quit looming, Castle," she grumbles. "And stop with that grin too. Crime scene. A man's dead."

He schools his features until he looks properly chagrined and serious. But he can't stop the twinkle in his eyes, and frankly, she's not certain she wants him to lose it.

Once she's dealt with her shadow - her very large and good-smelling shadow - she turns to the nearest uniform, a young man who has just approached the scene, wallet in hand.

"Bradley, we got an ID?"

He hands over the wallet, flipped open to a driver's license.

"Yes, ma'am, we do. Agustin Ramirez. Forty-two years old. Lived in Jackson Heights."

She nods, turning the wallet so Castle can see too.

"Credit cards are still there. No cash." He taps on the plastic insert. "Pictures of his family?"

There's a woman, all dark eyes and tan skin, holding an adorable little girl who looks to be no more than three years old.

Kate flips the picture. Cramped but neat writing on the back identifies the subjects as "Elena y Luz."

She thanks Bradley who shakes his head when asked if there's anything else.

The detective and the writer flip through the rest of the pictures. They're mostly more of the same - the little girl a bit younger, and the woman as well. It has to be the man's family.

Kate lets out a sigh, and isn't surprised to feel Castle's fingers brushing briefly against the backs of her own.

"Not a great way to start the new year," he says quietly, and she nods. "Should we go talk to them?"

He's standing too close and not close enough. It would be so easy just to lean into him. To let him wrap his arms around her and delay this moment for a bit, the moment when she has the horrible duty of shattering someone's world.

But she's working, and he's not her husband, or even her boyfriend. She has no right to that comfort.

So she takes a deep breath and steps away. Just in time too, because at that moment, Esposito and Ryan appear at the mouth of the alleyway.

"Yo, Beckett," Esposito calls out as they approach. "Hey Castle, welcome back, man."

She watches in amusement and barely concealed affection as Castle bumps fists first with Esposito and then with Ryan.

"Where have you two been?" she asks. "Are you just now getting here?"

Esposito gives her what almost qualifies as a smirk.

"Nope. Been here for forty-five minutes already. Don't know why it took you two so long to get here."

She ignores the implication in his words as well as the mischievous twinkle in Ryan's eyes and gestures for her teammates to get on with it.

"Anyway, we've had enough time to talk to Perlmutter and get going on the canvass," Esposito continues. "Ran into Bradley just now, he said they found an ID?"

She passes him the wallet.

"Agustin Ramirez, forty-two, from Jackson Heights. Haven't run him yet, but from the pictures, I'm guessing those are his wife and daughter."

Ryan is peering into the wallet as she speaks.

"Cash is gone. Robbery, you think?"

Castle answers before she has the chance.

"He was still wearing his wedding ring, and it had a nice diamond in it."

Kate nods, glad he was apparently paying better attention than she was. Of course, he didn't have someone breathing down his neck.

"So maybe someone trying to make it look like a robbery. Did you guys find anything on the canvass?"

Esposito shakes his head.

"Not much, but with the ID, maybe we'll get further. Shop owner around the corner did say there was a kid hanging around for a couple hours last night. One he hadn't seen before. Said he seemed jumpy and was looking over his shoulder a lot."

That's a start at least.


The Latin detective shrugs.

"Not very specific. Hispanic, young, maybe late teens or early twenties. Thin, around five-six. Dark pants and a gray hoodie."

Kate reaches for the wallet still in Ryan's hands, taking it and then making a note if the address on the license. She hands it back.

"Castle and I will go talk to the family. You guys show this around, see if anyone recognizes him. And call if you get anything?"

Simultaneous affirmations of "You got it, boss" and "On it" answer her before the boys disappear to the street and she turns back to Castle.

"Looks like we're headed to Queens."

He follows her back to the car, and when she looks back at him, his hands are in his pockets, the light gone from his eyes.

"This is the part I hate," he says softly as they buckle in.

She half-smiles sympathetically.

"Me too. But it's part of the job."

He nods, and his hand moves toward her but then stops halfway across the console. Part of her, perhaps a larger part than she'd like to admit, wishes he would complete the action, wrap his warm hand around hers on this cold day.

But of course, he's coloring within the lines that she drew, staying on the other side of the wall that she built.

"You're good at it though," he says, his voice quiet. "You know what to say. I wouldn't even know where to start. This is one place I can't help you."

For him to say such a thing, for the writer to confess not having the right words - it tugs at her, makes her ache in a way she doesn't completely grasp. But she's glad too, and that's reason enough for her to close the distance between them and quickly squeeze his hand before starting the car.

"I know what to say because I've been there," she tells him, turning her head to meet his eyes. "I'd rather you not have the right words in this situation, because it means you haven't been on that side of them."

He nods his understanding, gratitude in his eyes, and she just allows herself to look at him for a moment. For all that he writes about murder and gruesomeness, she knows that his books are more about the story, the study in human character, and yes, the justice.

Blood for the sake of blood doesn't appeal to him, and she's seen more than once how their cases have affected him. He may try to seem callous and tough to others, but he's shown her his soft side.

She knows the patient and kind man he is with his daughter, the affectionate man he was last weekend with her kitten, the compassionate man he is with her. That's the one she loves.

"Let's go," she says, breaking their eye contact to pull into traffic. "The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can break the case."

The light is back in his eyes when she glances at him.

"And the sooner I get to curl up with my favorite green-eyed lady and bring in the new year," he says with a wink.

She shakes her head, chuckling.

"I assume you're talking about Minerva?"

He just smiles.