Of Snow, Hot Chocolate and Promises

The cold seeps into her bones, but she refuses to go back inside. Not yet. Everything looks so peaceful out here, the snow slowly falling in tiny, soft flecks from the sky and melting with a hiss when they meet the water. She stands there in the cold, hands shoved into her coat pockets, staring mesmerized at the same repetitive process of watching the snow disappear into the pond. Light is almost gone, but still she stays. If she closes her eyes, she can almost feel her mother next to her, her quiet laughter at Kate's willingness to stay out in the cold just to watch the snow falling. She would always say that she could enjoy it just as much from inside the cabin where it was warm, but Kate always refused, even as a little girl. If she stayed inside, she couldn't feel the cold wind on her cheeks, the quiet noise of snow melting as it hit the water. It wasn't the same.

Just like now standing here by herself.

It's not the same.

And yet she came up here, anyway, trying to escape the grief and longing and sorrow that had been threatening to swallow her whole this entire past week. Ever since Ryan's wedding, she has been feeling more and more detached from the world, drowning in her grief and the fact that she missed her mom so much it was actually hard to breathe. Watching her friend getting married brought all these long forgotten feelings that she didn't even know she possessed in the first place. When she saw Jenny hugging her own mother after the ceremony, it was like a knife was carving into her chest, twisting into her heart with its sharp blade.

It didn't help that the thirteenth anniversary of that horrible night was the day following the wedding. To make things worse, they had caught a tricky case and, without Ryan there, they felt a little shorthanded. By Thursday, she felt like she was running herself into the ground from exhaustion. They worked for hours on end and, at night, she found herself plagued with nightmares, so sleep wasn't exactly an option. When they finally caught their killer on Friday afternoon, the first thing she did was drive to her dad's apartment and get the key to the cabin. She was dead tired, but she didn't care. She needed to go up there; to be somewhere where she had beautiful memories of her mother; somewhere she could finally chase those nightmares away by watching old videos and flipping through photo albums. The solitude was also a bonus as she needed time to pull herself together.

She knows Castle and Esposito noticed how she was not okay, but they'd let her be. And she is thankful for that. She is thankful that they know her so well by now that they already knew that letting her sort through her problems on her own was always the best course of action. Castle texted her a few times over the past twenty-four hours she has been up here and she always smiles when she sees his name flashing on her screen. He doesn't pry or ask her if she is okay; just texts her about random things he is doing or watching on TV and she loves him even more for it; for trying to provide a distraction.

Letting out a sigh, she watches her breath condensing in a white cloud in front of her lips and kicks a few pebbles into the lake. She is surprised it hasn't frozen over yet, but it hasn't been a particularly cold winter so far. The pebbles kick once, twice before disappearing beneath the surface. She closes her eyes again and remembers competing with her dad when she was kid to see who could make the pebbles kick more times over the water. Shaking her head at the memory, she brushes her hair back when a gush of wind makes it fly into her eyes. Just as she is tucking her gloved hands into her pockets again, she hears the sound of a car driving up to the cabin. Frowning, she turns around, hand reaching for the gun tucked into the back of her jeans. When she recognizes the car, she has to fight the urge to roll her eyes and smile at the same time because, really, she should have known.

She turns back to the pond and waits. He'll come to her. He always does; didn't he just prove that theory right this second? Leaning back against a boulder, she shivers at the contact with the cold surface, tucking her hands back into her pockets, pulling her coat tighter around her body. The temperature has dropped significantly and she knows it's almost time to go back inside.

When five whole minutes pass and he still hasn't shown up behind her, she decides to check his whereabouts, finding him sitting on the steps leading up to the cabin, watching her. Even now, in his own way, he is giving her space, letting her come to him in her own time. Suppressing a smile, she looks out at the scenery one more time, taking it all in, and turns around to head back to the cabin. It is almost completely dark out already and the snow is coming down a little harder than it was before.

"Got lost?" She asks when she reaches the bottom of the steps. A teasing smile plays on her lips and he smiles back with a shrug.

"Went out for a drive. Ended up here." He says casually, but she knows it's bullshit; knows he is here to check on her because he just couldn't not know if she was okay or not. It was one of his attributes that she had once found annoying, but now it's one of the things that endear him even more to her.

"That so?" She shakes her head and walks up to him, offering a hand to help him up. He takes it, pulling himself into her personal space, squeezing her hand before letting go. She doesn't mind; they have been touching a lot more lately, more so after Ryan's wedding where they had been practically attached at the hip. He shrugs again and touches the small of her back, guiding her to the door. "How'd you even know I was here?"

"Your dad." He says simply and she is surprised he didn't even try to make up a story. "I was worried about you. So was he." He tells her once they're inside and helps her out of her coat after she closes the door.

"I just needed to get away for a while." She confesses and heads to the fireplace, starting it. "I just… it's been a tough week, you know?" She turns back to him and finds him watching her, still standing by the door. He nods and starts toward her, stopping when he is standing right in front of her, so close she can feel the heat emanating from his body.

"Is it helping?" He asks quietly and she shrugs again, looking away. "Kate." He insists, boldly touching her chin to make her look at him.

"A little." She lets out a breath and bites her lip before continuing. "Helping a little more now." She offers him a shy smile, pleased at the surprised look in his eyes. "Coffee, tea or hot chocolate?" She asks, bypassing him, escaping from his intense gaze.

"Hot chocolate." He tells her and follows her into the small kitchen. She can feel his presence behind her, but she focuses on the task of preparing their warm beverages. The small cabin is finally heating up and she can feel her toes again, curling them inside her boots when she feels him at her back, his arm reaching up to take two mugs from the shelf above her head. "Do you want me to stay?" He asks quietly after setting both mugs on the counter. She shivers at his words, his lips so close to her ears she can almost feel them brushing her skin.

They have been steadily making progress in their messed up relationship these past few months and things fast forwarded last weekend during Ryan's wedding. They didn't talk things through per se, but came to a sort of understanding between them after spending the night basically in each other's arms. They both know that this thing between them is inevitable. It is going to happen and soon.

Maybe sooner than she thought.

"Yes," she turns the stove on to heat the water for the hot chocolate and closes her eyes, trying to find the courage to turn around and face him. When she finally does, he is standing even closer than she thought, their chests almost touching. She has to look up to meet his eyes. "If you want to, yes. I'd love the company." She smiles and sees the relief in his eyes when he smiles back at her, his hand reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.

"I'd love to."

The smile in his eyes is enough to prove she has made the right decision.

"What are you doing?" She asks, returning to the couch with two glasses of wine. "Hey, where did you find that?" she exclaims and fights the urge to take the photo album from him. It sits on his lap and he is perusing the pages with an amused smile and soft eyes.

It is much later and the cabin is a cocoon of warmth in the middle of the blizzard coming down outside. They watched a movie, sipping their hot chocolate, and shared a bowl of popcorn and a blanket. Halfway through the movie, she found herself leaning against his side, seeking his warmth, but he didn't seem to mind. In fact, he welcomed her need for contact, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and trailing his fingers up and down her arm for the rest of the movie. Kate even found herself dozing off on his shoulder afterwards, but he had let her stay where she was, apparently enjoying their new found closeness just as much as she was.

"It was on the coffee table. Look at you." He chuckles, pointing at one of her baby pictures. She had reddish brown hair when she was a baby and when she was in the sun it really looked like she was a redhead, her bright green eyes only adding to the cause. "I had no idea you had red hair once." He turns to her with a soft smile and she wonders what he is thinking. As much as she is usually able to see through him, she still hasn't learned the skill to read him like a book, as he does to her.

"I eventually grew out of it. But it was reddish until I was about six or seven." She hands him the glass of wine and sits next to him again, leaning into his side like she had been before going to the kitchen to pour them some wine.

"You were such an adorable kid." He takes the glass from her and clinks his with hers in a silent toast. They take a sip before she retorts with a smirk.

"What, I'm not adorable anymore?" She teases and he rolls his eyes at her, flipping to the next page.

"You're beautiful, Kate." He says matter-of-factly and she bites her lip to hide a smile. "You look a lot like your mom." He examines a picture of her ten-year-old self hugging her mother and smiles, reaching out to touch the picture, tracing her mother's features with a gentle finger.

"I know." She sighs and lets her head fall onto his shoulder. "I miss her so much." She whispers, feeling tears welling up, but refusing to let them fall. "My dad always said that. It was hard for him after she was gone, you know? Being around me. Because I reminded him of her too much. It took a few years in therapy for him to get over it. Give up the bottle. But he finally did."

"How long has he been sober now?" He asks hesitantly, his arm back around her shoulders, fingers doing a slow dance on her arm. It is soothing.

"Eight years." Closing her eyes, she allows herself to enjoy the warmth of his body so close to hers for a moment. It seems they have just seamlessly gravitated to this moment, to this stage in their relationship where touching like this is okay. They're silent for a few minutes, lost in their own thoughts as he continues to flip through the album in his lap. "I've been seeing a therapist." She confesses after a while and feels him turning to look at her.

"Yeah?" He doesn't push her; waits for her to elaborate and she sits up straighter to look at him.

"Since my first case back. When I froze up, remember?" She tells him and he nods, pulling his hand back to push her hair away from her face.

"Does it help?" He tilts his head slightly as if examining her and she closes her eyes at his gaze.

"It does, yeah." She sighs and opens her eyes again, finding his blue ones regarding her with a soft, caring gaze. His hand has taken up residence on the side of neck as his fingers gently caress the base of her skull. It makes her sleepy. "He's helping me get over this. Letting go."

"Your mom's case?" His voice is so quiet that if she wouldn't have heard it if they weren't so close.

"Yeah. I don't-" She swallows hard, trying to dissolve the sudden knot that is blocking her throat. "I want to live my life, you know? Be happy." With you. She hopes he can hear the last part, even though she doesn't have the guts to say it out loud yet.

"Anything I can do to help?" He asks and she can hear the hope and uncertainty in his voice. Covering her hand with his, she takes it from her neck and holds onto it, placing them on her thigh.

"You're already helping." She says, hearing his sharp intake of breath, and threads her fingers through his. "More than you know." She adds and rests her head on his shoulder again. A moment passes before she feels him pressing his lips to her hair, followed by a comforting hand squeeze.

"What about the wall?" he asks after a couple minutes and she sighs.

"I don't think it has to do with solving my mom's case." She says eventually and brushes her thumb over the back of his hand. "It's something I have to work on my own, I guess." She shrugs and takes a sip of her wine. "I'm getting there." She comments after a moment. "I'm trying to get better. To be better. But I'm not there yet."

"I'll wait as long as you need me to." He tells her in a whisper and she almost thinks she has imagined it. "If you want me to, that is." He adds and she turns to look at him, leaning in to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth. A promise. He looks surprised and she smiles, repeating the action.

"I'm really glad you're here." She whispers and burrows her face into his neck, breathing him in. She thanks whatever higher power put this man in her life and wishes they were on the same page already.

He kisses her forehead and wraps his arm around her again, pulling her closer, and she knows she will be ready soon.

Because she loves him.

A/N: Thoughts?