Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop

Castle insisted on driving them back into the city once they had said goodbye to Johanna. Kate handed over the keys without argument, just a look that told him to take it easy with the unmarked. He didn't let go of her hand the entire ride over the bridge, through the tangled traffic on FDR Drive. It stayed against his thigh, her fingers curling against the denim of his jeans every few minutes.

"Did I pass?" he asked finally, stopped at a red light near the Lower East Side.

Kate nodded, her smile brighter than it had been while sitting on the ground next to her mother's headstone. "Yeah. I think you did. Knowing Mom, she would have made it rain or sent a lightning strike down to smite you or something if she disapproved."

"Good to know." The light changed as a man in a suit on his phone started to cross. Castle had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting the idiot, his hand tightening on Kate's as he searched the rear view mirror for Al. "Alright back there, kid?"

Al held a thumbs-up, laughing as she wiggled back into her spot. "A-okay!"

"And Penguin?"

The bird came into view, doing a dance in the mirror. "He's good, too."

Castle started forward again. "Good."

"Where're we going?" Kate asked, scanning the surroundings for a hint.

"Not telling," Castle said in that sing-songy voice that grated on her. "Another secret since you didn't exactly prepare me for meet-the-parent."

Kate sat back, fighting the urge to cross her arms like a child or push her husband out of the car and take over driving responsibilities. Instead, she focused on nailing down the neighborhood they were in using architecture and the clothing of the people on the street. Downtown, sort of near…

"We're going to the old apartment?" she gasped, sitting forward and holding onto the dashboard.

He shook his head, grinning like a cat in the cream. "Nope. Shush with the guessing and just enjoy the surprise."

But she wasn't surprised when he parked the car a few feet from their coffee shop. In fact, she sort of expected it from the route he was taking past familiar landmarks and her old apartment. So when she leveled a look over at Castle and he shrugged, Kate couldn't help but smile.

"Fine. Let's get coffee," she said, giving into the boyish charm being shot at her across the car. Kate grabbed her purse, the book hitting her in the thigh through the old leather of the bag. A reminder. "Come on, kid. Let's indulge Rick."

She helped Al out of the backseat, making sure that Penguin came along. Castle snagged Al's hand as they walked up the sidewalk, keeping the girl between them. Al hummed, skipping every few steps to the beat of her made-up song. She almost always came away from trips to see Grandma in better shape than her mother; Kate could only contribute that to the Al having never really knowing Johanna, learning about her grandmother through stories from Jim and Kate.

A woman and her two kids were exiting the shop and Kate caught the door before it closed behind them. The smell of coffee and sugar washed over them in a comforting wave. One of the baristas waved as they came in, recognizing them, and Castle returned the gesture.

It was Al who halted just inside the shop and Kate had to dive to catch Penguin before he hit the ground. "Mom?"

Kate looked up to see what Al was pointing at. Someone was sitting at their table. Their table at their coffee shop. She felt a surge of protectiveness toward the little wrought-iron table, the plush green armchairs all snugged up next to the window looking onto the sidewalk. Their table.

"Let's get food," Castle suggested, placing a hand on Al's shoulder to steer her toward the short line. "Maybe they'll be done in a few minutes."

That hadn't looked likely either. The young woman at their table had a notebook in front of her, papers spread out around her, fully entrenched in whatever she was doing. There was a mug of coffee next to her, still full, which screamed that the woman was planning on staying a while.

"Rick," Kate murmured as he nudged her toward the cashier.

"I got it," he returned. "Hazelnut coffee."

Kate watched as he strolled over to their table, leaning his head down to talk with the woman, careful not to startle her. The woman glanced up, a hand shooting out to grab one of her papers as it fluttered away with the breeze Castle carried over.

"What's Rick doin'?" Al asked, eyes trained on her table, neck stretched forward as she tried to overhear the conversation. "Mom? What's he doin'?"

"He's charming his way into getting our table back," Kate said on a laugh when Castle turned his head and winked at her. "Come on, kid. Tell the man what you want to drink."

Al bounced forward, reaching her hands up onto the counter so her head was over the edge, smiling up at the barista, whose name was Henry according to the little nametag on his white button down, Her grin could have charmed anything out of anyone if they dared make eye contact with her blue, blue eyes. "Hi. I'm Al," she told Henry calmly.

"Well, hello there, Al," the boy responded, leaning down on his forearm so he was eye-level with the girl. "What can I get you?"

"Hot chocolate, please. And a cookie!" Al added quickly, glancing back at Kate for confirmation. She nodded and Al did a little jumping dance. "Chocolate chip, please!"

Henry smiled, straightening up. "Good choice. They're my favorite. Anything else?"

"Latte, skim milk, sugar-free vanilla and a hazelnut coffee," Kate said with a grin. "And maybe a cinnamon sugar scone and an oatmeal raisin cookie?"

"Gotcha. Give me a few minutes with the drinks, ladies," Henry said, turning to grab a white bag and a pair of tongs to take the cookies and scone from the bakery case, swiping Kate's debit card and letting her sign the receipt. "In the meantime, here's your treats. I'll give you a shout when I've got everything else."

Al took the bag, turning and pausing to search for Castle. He was still at the table, sitting in one of the armchairs across from the strange woman. One arm was propped up on the table, supporting his head as he chatted with the woman who looked more than a little awestruck.

"Go on," Kate said, a hand at Al's back, pushing her toward the table. "Go get our table back from the nasty invader."

Clutching the pastry bag to her chest, Al ran over to the table and straight into Castle's legs, successfully crushing all of the sweets in the bag in the movement.

"Careful, kid," he said, rubbing a hand over Al's hair. "Never know what'll happen if you run into people in places like this. Robin, this is my daughter, Al," Castle said, scooping Al up onto his lap, rescuing the pastries.

Robin tucked an escaped strand of her hair, dyed a rainbow of colors and tied back in a French braid, and closed the notebook on her pen. "Hi, Al. I was just finishing up. English literature homework," she sighed with a roll of her eyes.

"Don't go bashing my domain," Castle said dramatically.

"You a teacher?" Robin asked, gathering her notes up, raising a brow across the table at Castle.

He grinned, turning his head when Kate came over, set his coffee on the table in front of him. "Not quite." Before Robin could take the notebook into her arms, Castle reached over and snagged it from her hand. "Kate, have a pen on you?"

She dug into her purse, knuckles grazing the book, and handed Castle one of the Sharpies she found in a pocket, Penguin balanced in the crook of her arm. She smiled softly as she watched him flip the notebook open, catching a glimpse of notes on Lady Audley's Secret before he scribbled across the inside cover. Robin took the notebook back and went to open it but Castle placed a hand over hers. "Secret. Look later."

"Oh, a mystery," Robin said. "I like those. Have a lovely day, Rick, Al." She nodded at Kate before she headed out into the street.

Kate slid onto the abandoned seat, taking a sip of her latte. "She seemed nice. Didn't need to drive her out."

"It's our table, Mom!" Al said indigently, breaking off a piece of her cookie. "Needed it."

"She's gonna have a heart attack when she sees what you wrote," Kate mentioned, handing Castle the scone knowing he wouldn't touch something with any combination of oatmeal or raisins in it. "What did you write exactly?"

He shrugged, biting into the scone. "Just something encouraging. I like writing things, you know," he said with a waggle of his brows.

Kate took his hand across the cool iron of the table. "I do know. In fact," she said, slipping her hand into her purse and taking out the book.

"That's our book!" Al exclaimed, touching the cover, fingers running over the print of the tree on the front.

"No, that's my book," Castle said, glancing up from the familiar cover, more than a little confused. "What are…?"

Al was the one that flipped open the first few pages, past the publishers and copyright pages. "See? Our book."

Castle heart caught in his chest as he saw his own handwriting slanted over the title page of Flowers for Your Grave. "You got this signed? When?"

"Years ago. When that one," Kate said, pointing at Al with her coffee cup, "was still a baby. I waited in line for hours on my one day off."

He grabbed for her hand, linking them on top of the book. "Was it worth it?"

She hummed, pulling his hand up to kiss his wrist lightly. "I'd say it was."

"Good. Still got that sense of magic?"

"I like magic," Al chirped, stretching her arms out for Penguin. "With princesses and fairies and princes. Mom, are you a princess cause you have magic?"

Handing the stuffed animal across the table, Kate shrugged. "Maybe. A modern day princess."

"Cause you kick butt," the girl said, feeding a quarter of her cookie to Penguin.

"You bet I do." Kate pressed a kiss to the tips of her fingers, laying them over Al's cheek. "Love you, kid. Oh, and you too, Al."

The glimmer of humor in Castle's eyes was enough of a response for her. The words, though, sealed it. "Love you too, my women." He took a sip of his coffee, shifted Al enough to brace his forearm on the table, and kiss Kate's lips, tasting the vanilla of her latte.

Kate grabbed his ear and Al turned her eyes on him. A deadly tag-team that spoke together.

"Not your women."

His cries for mercy and the bright peel of their laughter shimmered in the air of the coffee shop.

Their coffee shop.

Note from Logan: This is going to be emotional – I ask your indulgence. (Or you can skip right over this. I'm not your mother.)

First, to my summer flower, Pau. I can't remember the wording of the prompt that spawned this story (and believe me, I looked through my inbox messages on tumblr for it) but who knew, right? I will never, ever be able to thank you enough for trusting me with your little idea.

Second, to my plucky sidekick, Jenn, for putting up with my incessant teasing of new chapters, my whining over parts that just refused to work with me, and for being there on twitter when I needed to rant. You're the best sidekick a gal could ask for (and I promise to make sure you don't go the path of other plucky sidekicks… you know, all dead and stuff).

Third, to everyone else who reviewed, favorited, and alerted Coffee Shop. I actually don't have the words to describe how humbled and grateful and amazed I am at the response to this story. (Which would make me a bad writer since we're supposed to have words for everything. But I really don't. I'll take the status as a bad writer for this case.) I'm blown away.

I'm working on a sequel titled 'Young at Heart' and a little companion piece. School's back in swing so the daily updates that we all enjoyed over Spring Break will go away (unfortunately) but I'll still be around. Again, thank you from the very deepest well of my heart.