His ankle does bother him a little. But they - hum - they find ways around it.

Really, really nice ways around it.

"Oh," Kate pants into his chest afterwards, her body limp, boneless against him. He loves it, loves the feeling of smooth, malleable skin, loves knowing that he's responsible for it.

That he did this to her.

"Worth the wait?" he whispers against her hair, unable to keep the grin off his face.

She makes a soft sound between a snort and a laugh, lifts dark, dark eyes to him. "Almost as much as the tiramisu," she says with a pointed eyebrow; and then he's laughing, a deep belly laugh that cascades off him without his permission, delight and relief and pure joy at having her there.

With him.

"Ouch, Castle, my ear," she complains, lifting herself off his chest, giving him a look that is probably supposed to be a glare, but falls a long way off. She's too radiant tonight, her eyes too bright; even her cheekbones look like they're scintillating.

God, she's so beautiful.


He threads his fingers into her hair and brings her down to him, uses her gasp to slide his tongue past her surprised lips, stroke hers lovingly; the way she mellows into his kiss, moans into his mouth, lazy and languid, is just too good.


He abandons her lips reluctantly after a while, but keeps hovering near, brushing at her nose, her jaw, her chin, unable to break away completely. He rests his hand at her waist, fingers curling around her ribs, and relishes the ripple of her skin at his touch. One of her legs is still tangled in his; her body feels hot, and right, against him.

She sighs at his neck, a warm, satisfied sound that tugs at his heart, and curls in closer, shifting to find the best position. When she stops moving, she has her eyes closed, and looks like she's already half-asleep; he runs a light finger across her cheek, pushes back a strand of dark hair.

Asleep or not - it will be okay. They will be okay.

He's confident enough now, hopeful enough to let them out. The words he's been holding prisoners for so long.

"I love you, Kate," he murmurs, his lips tracing the words to her forehead.

She hums, sleepy, groggy voice.

"Yeah," she mumbles. And then she's out for good.

Castle stays awake for a while longer. Grinning in the dark.

When he wakes, she's draped all over him, a warm, breathing bundle on his chest.

His body feels hazy, a light, floating thing, but her weight anchors him to the earth, to reality; his eyelashes flutter as he grabs a mental hold of her, hangs on, lets it slowly drags his mind up, away from the fogginess of sleep.

Mmm. He's not dreaming.

This is Kate Beckett, asleep against him. In his bed.

A man could get used to this, he thinks with a happy sigh.

Her arm is wound around his waist, her cheek pressed to his ribs; he can feel the lovely heat of her radiating down the lines of his own body. And then, as awareness dawns upon him, he realizes that she is truly curled around him, as close as she can get; that the soft, tender roundness crushed to his chest is-


Oh, yeah. Niiice.

He closes his eyes again, smiling, willing to enjoy this as much as he can. His whole body buzzes with the pleasure of finding her here, in his arms; the sense of deep contentment that steals over him almost overshadows the more...physical aspects of his reaction.

He grins, wonders if it's worth trying to wake her up for an encore.

He's not too sure how she'll react to being woken up.

Which, he has to admit, is half the fun with Kate Beckett. The mystery, the not knowing; it's exciting and thrilling, makes him want to find out.

Makes him very intent on finding out.

"Kate," he murmurs, shifting, trying to give himself a little more leeway.

All he wants, all he needs, is space enough for his hand to wander-

Ah, yeah.

She sighs against him, moves a little. Her lips brush against his chest in a sloppy, sleepy kiss; he pauses his fingers, lets them splay on her abdomen, his thumb brushing against her belly button.

She shivers, but doesn't wake; he wants to kiss her so badly that it's not even funny anymore. All this smooth, lovely skin, and the dark sweep of her eyelashes; it's making him dizzy.

"Kate," he calls again, louder this time. He wants her awake, needs her awake for what he wants to do to her, all those dark, dirty pictures in his mind-

She makes a soft sound - could be acknowledgement, could be a shorter version of, "let me go back to sleep" - and rubs her face against him. Seriously. Nose, forehead; she feels like a small animal nuzzling into his chest.

Ah, it's cute. Not something he would expect from her, but cute - just, totally not what he's going for right now.


"Kate, love," he says, curious to see the word will bring her out of it. He also dips his hand a little lower. Just in case.

She trembles against him, lets out a soft gasp before she finally heeds him and looks up. Her eyes are dark, hazy through her lashes; she's warm under his fingertips, and so very gorgeous.

Oh. Oh, Kate.

He wants to kiss her, but he can't in this position, not unless he breaks his neck. Which would be counter-productive.

Still, he's considering it when she solves his problem for him, lifts herself off his chest so she can lean in, and meets his lips with hers.

She tastes like sleep, like slowly-spreading arousal and this distinctive Beckett flavor that he might be completely addicted to by now; he parts his mouth for her, lets her set the pace, enjoying the languid, haphazard skid of her lips over his.

Kate Beckett in his bed, for the second time in two days. This is bad for him; he's not sure he can ever let go again.

But maybe he's not supposed to. When he breaks the kiss - intending to come back for more - Kate's mouth pursues his; he feels the soft moan that vibrates in her throat, the smooth glide of her tongue along his lower lip, the way she braces herself against him, the press of her long, lean body, inviting, irresistible.

Mm, yeah.

Castle suddenly remembers where his hand is, curls his fingers with a wicked grin; Kate jerks against him, panting, shoots him an incredibly hot look, shock and sizzling desire battling in her wide eyes.

And then she kisses him deeper, more forceful, and the air stills in his lungs as he gives back, teeth, tongue, feels the hot, tantalizing play of muscle into his palm.

Her hand moves too - her hand - and - oh God - oh crap, Kate, Kate-


Alexis's voice. Living-room. His mind takes longer than it should to register these two simple facts.


Kate freezes against him, rolls off a second later, breathless, her cheeks flushed, her hair tangled, looking lovelier than ever.

And all he can think of is, Alexis. Have I taught you nothing?

When she hears his daughter's voice, realizes what it means - shit, shit - Kate slides off him immediately, and would roll off the bed if it wasn't for his hand on her wrist.

She glares at him, a naked leg half free of the covers, her cheeks heated. It's part leftover arousal, part growing self-consciousness, and there's just nothing she can do against it.

"Where you going?" Castle asks, and his tone seems a little too defensive for the situation.

"To put on some clothes, Castle," she hisses. "Unless you want Alexis to find me in here, like this." Oh god, no. No. The girl said, "Take care of my dad," and if she walks in on them like this she's gonna think-

Ug. Please, no.

"I don't mind," Castle replies with a shrug. "I mean, yeah, sure, it's probably not the best way for her to learn about us, but the end result is the same, right?"

She's shaking her forearm, trying to get his fingers off, but he doesn't seem to want to let go.



"Kate." He sounds so calm and unaffected; she hates him a little, but it also helps her own quivering insides to settle. Damn him. "She's going to come in here, whether you like it or not. And I'm not going to try and hide you in the bathroom like some dirty little secret. No way. Not when you're so much more than that."

Her lips quirk into a smile at that, because in spite of everything, it warms her whole body to hear those words fall from his mouth.

He tugs at her, and she falls back into him, groans without conviction. "Castle."

"And. Kate."

She lifts her eyes to him; he looks so serious, so intense. Okay.

"This is *my* life," he murmurs, brushing his mouth to hers. "And you-" he stops to press a kiss to her cheekbone "-are the one I choose." His lips ghost her ear. "The one I would choose, over and over again, Kate. You make me happy. And I don't need anybody's approval to know that. To be with you."

She stares at him, speechless, her heart still in her chest; she doesn't know what part to react to first, the fact that she makes him happy (she does?), or him basically declaring that he doesn't care what his daughter thinks.

He must read her disbelief on her face, because he laughs, squeezes her wrist gently, and gives her this slow grin that she loves. "I'm not saying I don't want Alexis to be okay with it. Of course I do. But I know that ultimately, she will. And I know that because - I love you, Kate."

His lips brush hers as he speaks the words, as if to soften the blow; but there's no need to soften anything, and she kisses him back fiercely, saying all the things that won't roll off her tongue yet.

"Let me grab a shirt at least?" she asks when they come apart, his fingers caressing her jaw.

He smiles, leans away to reach past his side of the bed, and comes up with the black t-shirt he was wearing last night, before she - took it off him. "Will that one do?"

A knock at the door startles them both; she wrenches the fabric from his hand, hastily pulls it over her head while Alexis calls, "Dad? Are you awake?"

"Yeah," he answers slowly, his eyes on Kate. She nods once, bracing herself. She's ready. As ready as she will get, anyway.

"You can come in, sweetheart."

The door opens.

Alexis isn't sure what she expected to find, going home early like she did, but she had not really planned on this. Kate and her dad. In bed. Together.



She takes a breath, attempts a smile.

"Hi. Dad. Kate."

At least Kate's wearing a shirt. Thank god. Alexis hates these embarrassing scenes in movies when the female character is holding the sheet to her chest, looking both stupid and awkward.

"Hello, Alexis," the detective says, and although her smile is genuine, there's a good measure of nervousness in it.

Good. so they're both uncomfortable.

"Did you have a good flight, pumpkin?" Her dad is *not* wearing a shirt, and Alexis doesn't know where to look, because although she's seen him shirtless more times than she can count, it's been a while since the last time she, hum, found him in bed with a woman.

He's always been so careful around her; she thinks Gina might actually the only one she's really...seen, in that bed. Wow. Yeah. Not even her mom-

"Yeah, yeah," she finds herself answering when she suddenly realizes his question is still hanging in the air. "I took the early flight because Mom had an audition today, and so I would have been hanging around the apartment on my own anyway, so I thought-"

She thought she'd go home to her poor injured daddy. Yeah. The 'poor' can probably be removed from that sentence.

"That's great," he says. "You did the right thing, Alexis. But you should have told me - I'd have come to pick you up."

Ah. The warmth in his blue eyes is authentic, yes, but she can also tell he would liked more...alone time with Kate.

Oh, shit, shit. But he should have told her - last night on the phone - if he had only hinted to it, then she wouldn't have-

"How's...your ankle, dad?" she asks, desperate for something to say. But then she involuntarily cuts her eyes to Kate and realizes - oh no, oh no - that it might sound like she's judging, disapproving, like she thinks his dad shouldn't be doing - whatever they've been doing - when he's hurt, and oh, damn, now she can't keep herself from picturing...

"It's fine," he answers, looking amused, at the same time as Kate asks, "Did you have breakfast already?"

Oh. Breakfast. She could kiss the detective right now.

"Hum, no. No, I just - grabbed a croissant at the airport," she says. "I'm still starving." Kate's face lights up, something like relief brightening her eyes, and Alexis feels it ripple through her too, some of the tension loosening in her chest.

"Well then, maybe we can all have breakfast together?"

The detective looks over at Alexis's father, a question in her eyes, and he smiles warmly. "If you give us ten minutes, I'll get some clothes on and meet you in the kitchen," Kate says, turning back to Alexis with a hopeful, hesitant, beautiful smile.

"Sure," the girl says, her breath strangling in her chest. Is this - are they- "So you guys are...together now?"

She half expects her dad to say yes and Kate to say no, just because, well, that's how they seem to work, but while the yes does come out as expected, Kate only looks at her with a small smile, gives a single nod.


Oh. Good. Yes. Right.

"Okay," Alexis breathes out, and it hits for the first time, how pretty a picture they make, Kate's thin frame leaning into Alexis's father's larger built, the detective's dark curls catching the timid rays of sunlight that sneak through the window, the mirroring smiles on their faces.

The ease, the happiness they radiate is - almost too much. It hurts.

Even though she doesn't care about Ashley, she doesn't, she's forgotten all about him-

"I'm going to unpack," she says, pushing the words past her throat. "Meet you guys in the kitchen in ten."

And she retreats, escapes, the stupid tears bottled up in her chest.

This is good, she tells herself firmly as she hoists her suitcase up the stairs. This is what her dad has wanted for so long; this is the woman who makes him happy. And if Kate's into this too - if she's as committed as she seems to be-

Then it's good. More than good.

He must be so thrilled. The girl smiles a little, pauses to take a deep breath and drive away the rest of her unwanted emotions.

Her dad's happy. Finally.

Nothing else matters.

Kate curses as she hunts for her missing bra, unsuccessfully goes through the scattered trail of clothes that they left behind. Oh, damn - to think Alexis saw this -

She closes her eyes and sighs. It's done now, right?

Next time, she won't let Castle convince her so easily.

Next time. Huh. It's a little scary, how easy that thought came.

She picks up the last of her clothes - still no bra - and spins to look around; Castle is leaning on his crutches, closer than she thought, and she almost collides into his chest. He uses the occasion to steal a kiss, warm and gentle; it makes her want to hum, stretch lazily and push him back to the bed.

Do it slow this time.

"Have you seen my bra?" she asks, breaking away and forcing her brain past the hazy, appealing fantasy.

"Mmm, no," he answers, his teeth going for her ear next, making her shiver. Damn it, Castle.

"But I'm perfectly fine with you not wearing one," he offers, his voice dark and suggestive.

She takes a step back, smacks his chest, arching her eyebrows at him.

"Okay. Enough. If you're ready, and you're not going to help, then you can go wait for me in the kitchen, Castle."

He grins.

"Oooh. Am I grounded?"

Jeez, he makes it sound so dirty. It's not even the words - she's heard much, much worse - it's his voice, his goddamn voice, low and beautiful, so sensual, that wraps around her heart like a deadly web.

"Seriously," she hisses, poking at his ribs. "What is wrong with you? Your daughter is next door and-"

He is laughing now. Why is he laughing?


"And you call me easy, Kate?" he says, looking way too delighted for her taste.

Ug. He's playing her? That's what it was?

Shit, and if the heat burning her cheeks is any indication, it worked, too. She sinks her teeth into her bottom lip, looks away. Her eyes land on a patch of navy blue lace that sticks out from under the sheets, and she steps away to grab it with a triumphant exclamation.

She has no idea how it landed there. She's pretty certain she was already naked when-

She turns back with the question on her lips, but it dies off when she sees the look on Castle's face. Oh. Obviously, *he* remembers.

"Need help with that?" he says, tilting his head, giving her a look that is both hot and tender at the same time.

Oh, man. She's never going to get dressed.

"Out, Castle," she commands, pointing to the door, trying to ignore how raspy her voice sounds, raw with arousal.

He stares at her for a moment longer, looking like he's not going to obey at all.

"Go see Alexis," she insists, and finally, finally, he moves towards his study.

Relief, she tells herself, relief is the only thing swirling in her stomach. No disappointment.

"Don't be too long," he says, pausing at the door to look back at her; and the thing is, he looks entirely too sincere.

Arg. Castle.

"Go," she orders, waving him off. The moment he disappears, she lets herself sink down on the bed, lays back into the sheets with a long sigh.

She's never going to survive that man, is she?

He watches shamelessly as Kate and Alexis dance around each other in his kitchen, passing the salt, the eggs, and whatever the other is asking for.

They made him sit at the table, both of them adamant that he shouldn't be doing anything; so he chose the chair that gives him the best view, and has been studying his women ever since.

Yeah. Because they're his women now, aren't they? The phrase that only encompassed his mother and Alexis before has just had its meaning extended, enlarged, opened wider to include his partner, his friend. His love. The thought makes it very hard to restrain the idiotic grin that threatens to burst onto his face at any moment.

The snippets of conversation that he catches between Kate and his daughter seem hesitant, a little stilted, maybe - but he's not worried. He just has to look at the way they move around each other, so graceful, so natural, to know that it will be fine.

They will all be fine.

They'll just have to adapt to a new normal. Alexis, after all, isn't used to sharing him. Ah, not exactly true - he does spend a fair share of his time at the precinct - but she's not used to sharing him here, in the loft that has been their cocoon for the last sixteen years.

He's proud of her for the way she tries, though, proud that she even let Kate this close, that she allowed her to care for him, until Alexis's return. Delegate. This is what Alexis did - she delegated.

He's impressed.

His daughter is usually not very big on letting anyone else step in for her. He wouldn't say she's a control freak - of course not, she's his daughter - but she does like to have things go her way.

He always says she was an easy kid, and it's true, but what's also true is that he was an easy dad; they rarely got in each other's way at all.

He wonders what kind of a mother Kate would-

Whoa. Hold your horses, Rick.

They're not...not quite there, yet.


He looks up to find Kate in front of him, putting plates and glasses on the table; she turns to him last, produces the box of pain medication.

"Might want to take one of those," she says, studying him like he's a suspect with a flimsy alibi. "How's the ankle?"

He moves it a little, testing his limits. "It's honestly not so bad," he answers, surprised. "I think I can do without the meds for a while longer, Kate."

She presses her lips together, considering him, and lifts her hand to push her hair back, tuck it behind her ear. His heart flips, stupidly taken by how very casual, how natural she looks in his home, asking questions and making decisions about his health.

"Okay," she says slowly, tilting her head. "But the moment it starts hurting, you promise you'll take them?

He smiles, bathed all over again in gratitude for seeing her so involved, caring for him.

"Dad. Kate asked you a question."

Alexis sets the bacon on the table and gives him a pointed look as she gathers her red hair in a long ponytail; Kate looks startled at the intervention, but pleased at having back-up.

"Yeah, yeah. I promise," he grins, unable to help himself.

One day - maybe not so far from now - he might not enjoy having them team up against him quite so much. But for now?

He's freaking ecstatic.

"Sooo. What do we have for breakfast?"

He rubs his hands together, and Alexis gives him an incredulous look.

"Unless your sprain has somehow affected your sense of sight and your sense of smell, I think you can wait two minutes and find out, Dad."

Something like a chuckle comes from the kitchen, where Kate is tipping scrambled eggs onto a plate; he gives her a narrow-eyed look that she doesn't see, and it's just as well. He can't hold it for more than two seconds.

"Fine," he says, turning back to his daughter with a long-suffering sigh. "But you could be a little nicer about it. I *am* a poor injured man."

"Oh, I think Kate's been nice enough for two already," Alexis shoots back with an arched eyebrow.

He spurts out a disbelieving laugh, more discomfort than amusement really - did his daughter just imply...? - and risks a glance at Kate. She froze on the way back to the table, is staring at them, her cheeks flushed, her mouth half-open.


His daughter turns, following his gaze, blushes profusely when she realizes Kate heard it all.

"Oh. Uh. Detective Beckett, I didn't - I didn't mean-"

Kate's phone chooses that moment to ring, saving them from an, oh, so awkward situation; his partner excuses herself and picks up with a brisk Beckett, leaving Rick alone with a mortified Alexis.

"You didn't mean - what, exactly?" he can't help teasing.

His daughter groans, presses the heels of her hands to her eyes. "Dad."

He grins, lets her stew for a little bit before he leans in to curl an arm around her shoulders. Alexis hides her face into his shoulder and he thinks, with a surprised, joyful heart, that she's still his little girl after all.

"I'm just - I'm so sorry. I don't even know why I said that. Ug, Dad-"

"Don't worry, pumpkin," he says warmly, kissing the flaming hair that he loves. "Kate will live. She's tough."

"Who's tough?" Kate emerges from his office, phone in hand, and he smiles at her.

"You are."

She looks like it too, looks every bit like the no-nonsense detective who crashed his book party, years ago, to bring him back to the precinct. No trace of the soft-eyed woman from this morning, with her tender mouth.

"Dead body?" he asks, knowing the answer already.

"Yeah," she answers, and the touch of regret in her voice does more for him than any admission of love could, unwinds whatever tension is left inside him, gentles the raw places around his heart.

She doesn't want to leave.

Kate Beckett doesn't want to leave him.

She comes back all the way to the table, puts a hand on her hip, her bottom lip curled between her teeth as she looks from him to Alexis, and back.

"Go, Kate," he says gently, nudging her with a hand on her thigh. "Go do your job. Arrest bad guys. Make them confess. We'll be fine."

Something flickers in her eyes, so fast, and she nods, steps back. "Right."


He stares at her back, uncomprehending, as she stalks away, disappears again into his bedroom. What did he say?

"Dad," Alexis whispers urgently, pushing on his shoulder.

"What?" he answers the same way, lifting his hands in puzzlement. "What did I do?"

"Just. Go after her," his daughter orders, grabbing one of his crutches from the floor and putting it in his hand.

He's scrambling to his feet when Kate comes out, her bag in hand; she frowns at his efforts to keep himself balanced on one feet.

"Castle, what're you doing?"

Bag. She's leaving?

"I'm, uh. Walking you to the door. Like a good host."

She looks like she's going to say something, but she gives up, heads to the door instead. He watches her slip on her heels, hops closer, his heart desolate. She's leaving?

For good?

"You can - leave your bag here, you know," he says, can't help it, even though he knows it's a bad idea. He can't even make it sound nonchalant and unaffected.

She flicks her green eyes back to him, her lips twisting as if she's repressing a smile. Oh, that's good. Smile. Smile is good.

"This was always the deal, Castle," she points out gently. "I was only supposed to be here until Alexis came back. Alexis is here now, and the precinct needs me, so..."

"Still. You could leave your bag here."

Oh, man. He sounds like a moron, repeating himself over and over again. He sounds like he's trying to make her, and that's-

Not good.

Not good, Castle.

But Kate smiles, her lips parting on a glimpse of teeth. She glances over his shoulder, as if making sure where Alexis is, and then steps closer, her heels putting her exactly at the right height, her mouth brushing his jaw.

He shivers, in surprise or delight, he's not sure.

"You don't trust me, Rick?" she murmurs against his skin. "You need a guarantee that I'll come back?"

"I need you," he answers without thinking, her hot breath on his neck far too distracting.

He feels her sharp intake of hair, curses his big mouth and his runaway brain, opens his eyes again. But she's still here, still hovering close, dark eyes studying him, her face tender again.

More Kate, less Beckett.

"Come back for dinner," he says suddenly, trying to inject some confidence, some manliness to his voice, instead of that pitiful whine.

Kate laughs softly, shakes her head in that light manner that means she's going to say no.

"Please," he adds before she gets a chance to. "Please, Kate." He cups her cheek with his hand, brushes his thumb under her eye, kisses her top lip. He feels her mouth respond under his, faint but there, and he kisses her again, deeper, darting his tongue to hers before he moves back to whisper, "Please. Kate. Please. Please. Plea-"

"Okay, okay," she cuts him, her eyes laughing, her fingertips pressed to his mouth to shut him up. "Jeez, Castle. You're high maintenance."

He beams at her, ridiculously pleased, both with her answer and her comment. "I think you're the first woman ever to tell me that."

She smirks at him, but he can see a flash of satisfaction in her eyes, too. She likes that, huh? Being the first.

"I need to go," she says, taking a step back, and there it is again. That little flicker of regret. It's crazy what it does to him.

He catches her mouth with his, unwilling to part with her, to let her go at all; she makes a small sound into his lips, pushes him back with a hand on his chest. "Castle, I almost forgot."

She reaches into her pocket, takes out a pair of keys. Ah, right. His mother's keys.

He doesn't want them.

Kate dangles them from her index finger, smiling like she knows exactly what he's thinking. How reluctant he is.

"Rick. Take them."

He obeys half-heartedly; the metal feels cool and unwelcome in his palm.

"I'm not quite ready to move in yet," Kate adds teasingly, with an arch of her eyebrow and a lovely curve of her lips.

He looks at her, speechless, stunned; and she must find that hot, somehow, because she leans in and presses a hard kiss to his mouth.

"Besides, it's nicer this way," she murmurs. "I get to knock, and let you know I'm here."

He hums in agreement - he would agree with anything she said, at this point - and she laughs again, low and throaty; he wants to just - take her back to bed-

"Alright," she says, letting go of him with a pat on his chest. "I'm late, and I'm going. Have fun with Alexis, Castle. Careful with your ankle."

"I will," he calls back, watching her walk away and loving the spring in her step, the confidence and the grace that radiate off her.

He can still taste her, can still smell her all over his clothes - and she's coming over tonight.

The world hasn't looked so bright in a long time.

They end up spending the afternoon sprawled on the couch, watching old cartoons from Alexis's childhood; when they reach the end of the dvd, her father decides that it's time for Star Wars, but no amount of nudging and whining can make her move.

She's way too comfortable.

"Alexi-is," he says insistently, stretching the last vowel for as long as he can, and rhythmically pushing on her foot as he does.

She solves the problem by folding her leg, and putting her foot out of his reach.

Her dad pouts.

"I want A New Hope."

"I thought you had that already," Alexis replies with a sly smile, shifting so she can get a better view of his face. They each have one end of the couch to themselves, their legs tangling in the middle; her dad's wrapped ankle rests against her thigh, safely maintained by two cushions.

He lifts surprised eyes to her, but a smile blossoms on his face as he catches her meaning; his daughter is not sure she's ever seen that expression on him, so tender and hopeful, radiant.

"Ah. I...guess I have?" he says, his voice low and a little dazed, almost timid. Oh, wow.

Wow. Her father's in love.

Alexis's heart catches in her chest, because she's *never* seen him looking like that, and if this is his I'm in love face, then-

Oh, Dad.

"So what happened?" she asks, curious and touched at the same time, wondering at that man who looks like Richard Castle, yes, but a younger, happier version of him.

All the little wrinkles smoothed out by the beam in his eyes.

"What do you mean, what happened?"

Huh - is he blushing?

Alexis laughs, cannot curb the delighted giggle before it's out her lips. Richard Castle blushing - a sight unseen.

"Not that, Dad. Although, well - do I need to give her the talk?"

He huffs a laugh, runs a hand down his face. "Ah, I uh, don't think that will be necessary."

"Her intentions are pure?" Alexis questions, teasing.

Her dad groans, looks at her from between his fingers. "Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?"

She grins. "I thought the resemblance had never been more obvious."

He laughs at that, really laughs, the deep rumble that she loves, that makes his belly shake, and he sits up to grab her wrist and pull her into him, tickling her as he does.

"Dad! Stop it!" She squirms, but there's no escaping him, not when he has a strong arm wrapped around her waist, securing her into place. He blows a raspberry in her neck and she shakes her head, shivering, hits his shoulder in the process.

"Dad. I'm not five years old anymore."

He stills, sighs, and even though it's the truth, she kinda regrets saying it.

"I know," he murmurs, and he leans back against the couch, taking her with him. It's always been her safe place, the warmth of his chest, the nest of his arms, and Alexis curls up into it, rests her cheek to his heart.

Her daddy.

"So what happened?" she asks again, softly, the curiosity still prickling inside her. "Did Kate suddenly realize her undying love for you?"

She's only half-joking, to be honest, because she thinks there's been feelings on both sides, for longer than either of them is ready to admit. Then again, maybe it's just her romantic nature speaking.

Her father hums, and she can tell he's smiling just by the tone of his voice.

"Not...exactly," he says. "But, yeah. Close."

Alexis knows better than to ask another question; she just has to wait.

He can never resist the urge of telling a good story.

"I just think," he says slowly after a moment, "that it was - time."

Time? She cranes her neck, tries to get a glimpse of his face. He's staring into space, lips pressed together, pensive.

"And maybe it was - spending that time together, without the excuse of the precinct, of the murders, you know? Just. Having Kate here, willing to do this for me, to commit herself to helping me-"

He pauses, contemplating his words (Alexis knows exactly how he works), then smiles.

"It made me realize that maybe I wasn't giving her enough credit. I was laying back, waiting for her, thinking she wasn't ready, when in fact..."

"She was more ready than you'd thought?"

His hand stills on Alexis's back, stops tracing soothing circles as he takes her words in.

"Yeah," he says, with a smile in his voice, as he squeezes her a little tighter. "Yeah, she was."

Alexis sighs and lifts up to kiss whatever part of him she can reach - his chin, as it happens. "That's good, Dad."

"Uh-huh," he agrees, grinning now. "It is. It's very good."

"Hey now. I don't want to know," she jokes, settling back against his chest and swatting his arm.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were the one asking questions."

Alexis gives a noncommittal grunt.

They fall silent for a while, comfortable enough with each other, and their own thoughts, until her dad nudges her hand.

"Hey. You okay with this?"

She smiles, turns knowing eyes to him. "Does it matter?"

He chuckles, but answers more seriously than she'd expected. "What you think will always matter to me, pumpkin."

"But it won't change your decision," she says, because she knows - she can see it in his eyes. And it's probably a good thing. He does need to live his life for himself; before Kate came around, Alexis never realized how much of her dad's life revolved around her.

So much. Too much.

He doesn't answer, though, and Alexis hastens to add, "And it shouldn't, Dad. I can see that now. But anyway - you know I love Kate, right?"

"You do?"

His voice sounds more uncertain than it should; his daughter shifts in his embrace, sits up a little and meets his eyes.

"Yes. Yes, Dad. I do. I think - I think Kate's an amazing person. And of course, no one's perfect, and she has her problems, just like everyone, I know, but... What matters is that - that you think she's right for you."

His eyes shimmer when he looks at her, and he curls both hands around her cheeks, just like he did when she was little, and crying - he would wipe the tears off her face with his thumbs then. How easy it was.

"She is," he says, his voice raw and tender, and Alexis smiles, smiles, because she just can't hold it in anymore. So happy. She's so happy for him.

"Then I think we're all good," she says, and she wraps her arms around his neck, kisses his cheek, and hugs him.

"All good," he echoes, the words strangled and yet so joyful, and he holds onto her like he never wants to let go.

At six, Castle is already cooking, putting all his extra energy into hopping around the kitchen.

He steadily ignores Alexis's efforts to make him sit down - "Dad, really, come watch Star Wars. This is the best part, when they freeze Han" - and instead of watching Han Solo reply to Leia that he knows, the writer anxiously puts together ingredients, agonizes over whether or not Beckett likes zucchini.

He thought she did, but now he has this weird memory coming back to him - a couple weeks ago, he grabbed lunch for the team, brought it back to the precinct, and there were a few complaints. About zucchini.

Maybe it was Ryan? It must have been Ryan.

Still. He'll keep the zucchini for another time.

At seven, he has the table set, despite the partly annoyed, but mostly pity-filled looks his daughter keeps giving him ("Dad, don't you know how late you get home when you're working?").

He's vaguely ashamed at the way she says it, but he can't help the little spark of warm that flickers in his chest. When he's working. He likes that. Being at the precinct does feel like a real job now, and he's glad at least another person feels the same way.

Well. He thinks Kate does, too. When she calls him her partner, she means it; it sends his mind into overdrive every time.

At eight, he's pacing the living-room - or well, as close to pacing as he can come with crutches - and staring stubbornly at his phone although Beckett hasn't texted him back all afternoon. He tried reading, tried watching TV with Alexis, but he's restless; he just can't stay put. The food smells tantalizingly good, and all he wants is for her to get here.

Get here already, Beckett.

By nine, he's thoroughly disheartened. He texted Ryan and got no answer, which means the boys are probably busy too, which means the case isn't solved and they're working on it, but that's not-

It's not as reassuring as it should be.

What if she leaves the precinct at ten, eleven? What happens then? Will she decide it's too late, will she just - go home? To her apartment?

She said. She said she would come, she said "okay"...


Oh, he's an idiot.

He begged her, pleaded with her, whined like a baby, and he expects her to show up now?

This is Kate Beckett. The woman who hides away for three months, who heals alone, who thinks everything through. She's not like him; she actually likes being on her own. She likes having time to think.

She just spent three days with him, in his home, and when she finally gets to leave, he makes her promise that she'll come back for dinner?

He collapses into the couch, throws his head back, covers his eyes with one hand, groans.

Stupid. Stupid, Castle.

He checks his phone again, but still no text, of course. Maybe she's home. Maybe she's ignoring him.

No. No. She would tell him. She would at least let him know. Beckett can be stubborn, she can be cold, she can be angry, but she's never heartless. She wouldn't let him stew, wouldn't let him wait if she didn't plan on showing up.

That still leaves the option of her staying at the precinct until the middle of the night - he can picture it, the look on her face when she lifts her eyes to the clock, realizes it's much too late to stop by the loft. His heart drops at the thought. Too likely for his taste.

She would text him, though. If that happened. She would text him, and if he can just stay up, wait for her-

He'll text her back. Tell her to come anyway.

Castle smiles, pleased with his plan, comforted. This is what he'll do. He'll wait. As long as it takes.

His stomach grumbles loudly, clearly disagreeing with his head, but he dismisses it. He can find something to snack on, can even eat a little bit of his dinner; it doesn't matter. The food's not important; the food is just an excuse. He told Alexis she could eat, anyway, because she was starving and wanted to go to bed early - long day - so it will just be Kate and him.

He's struggling with a sentence for the next Nikki Heat, his laptop on his knees, when a knock on the door startles him at 9:27. He looks up, a little breathless, wondering if he's dreamed it.

Another rasp on the door, softer this time, and he's on his feet; it's pure luck that the computer lands on the couch and not on the floor, because he's put his weight on his left foot, and he's too busy biting his tongue in pain to pay any sort of attention.

He grabs the crutch that is nearest to him, beelines for the door, doesn't even check who it is before he yanks it open.

Kate Beckett is standing on the other side.

He lets himself feast on the sight of her, the relief tasting like sweet honey at the back of his throat; she looks tired, her hair gathered in a messy knot at the back of her neck, and she's still wearing the clothes from this morning.

She didn't even stop at her apartment. He feels guilty for doubting her.

"I'm sorry I took so long," she says, rubbing her fingertips to the curve of her eyebrow, taking him in.

She sees too much, he can tell. She sees everything, every second he spent waiting for her, every moment peering at his phone; he can't hide from her. Never could. Still, he doesn't look away, not even when she starts worrying her bottom lip.

"The case just got...more and more complicated," she sighs, taking a step forward. "And then Gates wanted an update, but that turned into half an hour sitting in her office, listening to her complaining, and-"

He silences her with his mouth, tender, gentle; he doesn't want her excuses, doesn't need them. Just the glorious relief of her, the sweet song of her body against his, the lines of them merged - it's enough. It's everything.

All he needs.

In all honesty, she did consider going home. Not for long - no more than a couple seconds - but the day just dragged on and on and on, and those last thirty minutes in Gates's office were just...too much.

She needed the quietness, the isolation of her own place, the relaxation of a bath and a glass of wine before going to bed.

She came here instead.

She promised him. And if she's going to do this, if she's going to be with him, then she will do it well.

She'll give him what he needs, especially when it's this easy. When it just means giving a different address to the cabbie.

And the best thing, she thinks as she kisses him back, her fingers warm around his neck, his mouth moist and rich against her tongue, is that she doesn't even regret it. Not even a tiny, tiny bit.

His hands on her waist are better than a bath; his breath in her ear is better than silence.

Kate kisses him until she's dizzy, until she's breathless, until he's the only thing in her world; no murders, no Gates, no conspiracy - nothing but the solid breadth of his chest, the demanding tug of his fingertips, the exhilarating taste of his tongue.

"Castle," she murmurs into his lips then, drowned with gratitude, with her love for him.

She feels him smile, and warmth coils up in her stomach in response, crackling, delicious.

"Come in," he says, pulling her with him.