"You want to hear a story?"

She smiles as she leans back into his chest, savoring the way his arms tighten around her waist, the way his breath ruffles her hair.

"A new one?" she asks softly. "Or are we picking up where we left off yesterday? I believe you were telling me you'd be up all night."

He chuckles, tilting his head to press his open mouth to her neck, warm tongue brushing against her pulse point. His teeth scrape gently against her skin, and she shivers in response. "Castle..."

At her breathy plea - for what, she doesn't know - he pulls back, nuzzles the spot under her ear with his nose, whispers to her. "A new one."

He's been telling her stories every day for a month.

Beyond building theory, beyond the elaborate tales he concocts about their suspects, he's been whispering words meant only for her, make-believe worlds made real in his imagination and transferred to hers so easily that she can see them when she closes her eyes.

One night he sat with his back braced against her bathtub and her back braced against him as she soaked away the day's tension. He'd brought her a glass of her favorite red and pried his latest book from her fingers, setting it carefully on the counter. And then he stroked his thumbs along the bare skin of her arms as he told her how he imagined it would go if he ever came home early from a book tour.

The water was long cold and their fingers and toes were pruny before they emerged from the bathroom that night.

His lips at her ear bring her back to the present, his rumbly voice tunneling under her skin. "So what'll it be tonight?"

"You tell me," she murmurs, lifting her hands, letting one cover his at her waist while the other rises to curl around the back of his head, tugging him closer.

"More exploits of Minnie the Cat?" he offers, breathing hotly against her neck. "That adorable little ball of gray fluff with the bright green eyes?"

The detective wrinkles her nose, and he chuckles. She is *so* not a cat person, and she's really not sure what his fascination is with the little creature he's apparently imagined so clearly.

Well, but-

But the kids come with the cat. The blue-eyed girl who dreams about hippos and the curly-headed boy who loves Toy Story. The children who call her 'Momma' and sleep in her arms. She does understand the draw, the power they hold they hold over him. She'd be lying if she said they hadn't taken root in her heart as well.

"No Minnie then," he drawls, dropping his forehead to her shoulder and nibbling along the smooth line of her trapezius.

She forces her breathing to stay steady as he works his mouth against her flesh, thinks back to the other stories he's told in the past few weeks.

There was the one about a bookstore. She teased him about it for days, referencing comic book characters at random moments just to see his eyes darken, asking him about his next signing and if he'd mind her stopping by, just in case she needed to protect him from rabid fangirls.

He recreated the scene in the precinct archives instead, pressing her against the file boxes. She laughed and told him she hardly though the sergeant on duty would be stalking the writer for his autograph. He told her to just count it as another dumb idea.

Warm fingers sneak under the hem of her loose shirt and she feels the muscles of her abdomen contract at his touch. "How about another one of the ways I thought of proposing to you?"

She laughs, a little breathless with need. "I like the way it really happened. I would like to see the Northern Lights someday though."

He mumbles something she can't understand. Or maybe she could, if only he wasn't skirting the waistband of her pants, nimble fingers toying with the button.

"What?" she husks, and he deserts his task for a moment, warm hand sliding around back to palm her curves.

She can feel him smiling against her cheek when he growls his words at her. "I said you've got good jeans."

Groaning, she elbows him lightly in the stomach. "Don't start with the puns again."

"I'm a wordsmith," he points out, fingers tracing letters against the bare skin of her lower back where he's rucked up her shirt. "You knew what you were getting into when you said yes."

She nods, eyes falling shut as she leans into his touch. "I did."

"And you love my words."

She nods again. "I do."

"And-" he begins, but she cuts him off.

"Quit stalling, Castle, and tell me a story."

His laughter rings in her ear, rich and musical - the melody of his joy.

"So pushy," he teases, hands falling to either side of her hips and tugging her back into his body. She goes willingly.

She settles against him, secure in his embrace, listens as he hums low in her ear.

"Once upon a time," he finally says softly, and she shakes her head in amusement, rolling her eyes even if he can't see it from his position.

"Once upon a time," she echoes.

"Hush," he whispers, squeezing her waist. "Once upon a time..."

She opens her mouth again, but he cuts her off, lifting a hand to turn her face toward him and covering her lips with his own. She's panting by the time he pulls back, his blue eyes hooded.

"On second thought," she whispers, "let's forget the story tonight."

He raises an eyebrow. "Really?"

"Yeah," she murmurs, turning in his grasp and looping her arms around his neck. "Forget the story. I'd rather skip to the happy ending."

He grins. "Who says we can't have both?"