Author's Note: The good news is that I was able to post this sooner than I thought. The bad news is that the next chapter may be a little while. I have random parts written for all the rest of season 3 but they've got a ways to go before they're legit chapters, and writing on my iPod isn't the most efficient thing ever. Long story short, the next update may not be until next weekend.

One Life to Lose

"Keep going?" Castle murmured after a minute.

Kate nodded against him, burrowed further into his warmth and his solid body and strong arms. For someone who spent so much time insisting that she didn't need protection, he knew that she secretly loved how secure she felt when wrapped up in his arms. She'd even admitted it once while hovering on the edge of sleep, whispered words that Castle will forever hold dear.

She leaned forward to deposit her coffee mug on the desk, freeing up both arms to wrap around him. "Sure."

Castle smiled softly in agreement and together they began to read the next letter.

Dear Kate,

Thank you for passing along that Temptation Lane story to me, for allowing me a glimpse into a very special time in your life. I know sharing doesn't come easily for you, and it means a lot to me to know that you trust me enough to share those types of things.

I could tell that you were uneasy, that you thought I was going to judge you and laugh at you for that. But I want you to know that I would never do that, especially about something involving your mother. I know I've never met her, but I respect both her and you far too much to make fun of you about such a treasured memory.

Besides, it's stories like those that make me fall a little more in love with you because they provide me with a peek into the other parts of your life, the ones I don't see on a daily basis. Don't get me wrong, I love the badass detective you are during the day, but now you're showing me more and more of the other sides of you, too; the Kate who watched Temptation Lane with her mother, who had a typical Manhattan childhood all the way down to tonsillitis and lots of ice cream during recovery. The Kate who feels and cares just as deeply and passionately as anyone else. And it's little details like that which make me fall even farther.

And the way your mind works…the quick wit and innuendo…it's so sexy, Kate. (By the way, if you ever want to 'sleep on it' with me, all you have to do is ask.)

I know I've spent a large portion of my life hanging out with various beautiful women, but I'm finding that brunette and brainy and multifaceted (and gorgeous) is so much better, for so many reasons. I know you think you're damaged and flawed as a result of your past. I know you think you're not good enough. But I want you to know, Kate, that what's happened to you doesn't define you. You're allowed to carry that around with you and be changed by that, but it doesn't make you damaged. We all have baggage. And yours, doesn't matter to me. It's a part of you. I accepted that long ago. And when I fell in love with you, I fell in love with all of you.

Exactly the way you are.



"You're so sweet," Kate whispered as she finished reading, met Castle's eyes in earnest. "I just..." she shook her head, unable to find the words to adequately convey all of the feelings he ignited inside of her. "I love you."

"And I love you," he replied quietly, lips brushing her hair as he spoke. "And I know that if I'd met your mom, I'd have loved her as well."

She smiled, joy and love mixing with a pang of sadness, lifted a hand to cup his jaw. "Wherever she is, I know that she loves you, too."

Castle felt tears prick the backs of his eyes at her words, still sometimes caught off guard by how much Kate loved him. And now she was saying her mother felt the same. He was just...speechless.

Slowly but surely she was opening up, sharing more and more of her mother with Castle. For the most part he didn't push, and his strategy appeared to be working because in the last two years he'd been to Johanna's grave, spent a rainy day curled up with photo albums as Kate relived her childhood for him, held her in his arms as she laughed and cried and reminisced about beloved memories from before her family had been torn apart.

When Kate spoke again her voice was softer, more melancholy. "I miss her."

"I know you do," he consoled, setting the journal aside so he could hold her tightly. "And you always will, and that's okay."

"You know, for a long time, I was afraid that I'd forget her," she said quietly, and Castle had the impression from her body language that this was something she'd probably never shared with anyone. "Forget her smile, her laugh, the sound of her voice. The way it felt to be hugged by her when she got home from work, kissed good night when I was a little girl. The way she was always there for me to cheer me up and make me smile and support me and kick my butt when I needed it."

She chuckled slightly at that and Castle did as well.

"I know now that I won't. But I didn't at first, and it terrified me."

"You'll always remember her, Kate," he assured her. "And you'll always have those treasured memories that will remind you of the time you had with her. Things like that are never forgotten."

"I know," she breathed, images playing through her mind herself as a young girl braiding her mom's hair and building a snowman and staying up past her bedtime watching Temptation Lane with her mom.

Until Castle, that particular memory was one she'd never shared with anyone. And not only had she shared it with Castle, but he'd taken it to heart, understood how much it meant to her, and the result was that they now had Temptation Lane memories of their own to add to those from her childhood.

The loft was still when she arrived, much warmer than the storm that was blowing through outside. It was calmer now than it'd been but snowflakes still clung to her hair, melting on her skin and blending with her lingering tears and the chill of her skin from too much time spent out in the winter air. January was unfortunately not an optimal time to spend an hour in the cemetery, but on this day she had a set routine from which she didn't vary.

She would drag herself out of bed in the morning and swing by the nearest little shoppe for flowers on the way to the cemetery, where she'd spend about an hour in front of Johanna's grave, talking and laughing and crying and remembering. Her father always stopped by as well but not usually until later in the day. It'd always been an unspoken understanding that visiting Johanna was something they each needed to do on their own. In between the visits, they'd meet at a small diner, one they'd found not long after Jim got sober, and since then it'd always been their place.

Following lunch and a certain amount of reminiscence they'd part with a long hug and head their separate ways, Jim to the cemetery and then back home and Kate to her apartment, where she'd spend the rest of the day curled up on the couch with blankets and photo albums and her tears.

This year was different, though, because she no longer had a cold, empty apartment to come home to. And she had someone there for her who was very ready to help her shoulder the pain, ease her burden. She had Castle and the warmth of his loft and the mesmerizing dance of the flames in his fireplace. She had his arms and his kisses and his love.

So this year, she'd come home to Castle, and it was the most relaxed and comforting January ninth in fifteen years. He met her at the door, helped her out of her jacket and scarf and then folded her into his warm embrace. He slowly guided her to the sofa where there was a pile of pillows and blankets waiting, a glass of water and a bottle of ibuprofen on the end table.

Rather than protesting, insisting that she needed to be alone, Kate melted into him, allowed the tears to flow as his soft words and caresses calmed her, his fingers in her hair and on her skin relaxed her tense muscles. He covered them in blankets, held her close as she allowed herself to be entranced by the flickering flames, by his gentle fingers tracing patterns on her skin.

After almost an hour of silence, Castle reached for a remote, careful not to jostle her. Kate looked up in confusion as his projector came to life, image broadcast on his giant shower curtain screen. The Temptation Lane DVD menu floated across the screen and Kate was silently overwhelmed with love, both for her mother and for the man currently holding her in his arms.

"This okay?" he asked softly, hand cupping her jaw, thumbs wiping away the lingering moisture on her cheeks.

She nodded, grasped his wrist as she leaned into his touch.

"It's perfect."

"Wanna watch?" Castle asked softly, tearing her from her memories.

Kate smiled gently, pressed her lips to his. "Sure."