Title: Pancakes

Disclaimer: Again, I'm gonna help teach some kids to play steel drums tomorrow...

Summary: Esposito said pancakes are an edible way to say, "Thank you so much for last night." Kate's not sure they could ever say enough.

He keeps getting flour all over her. She can't seem to hold him at bay long enough to get through even three stirs, before he's on her—lips at her neck, hands at her waist, fingers running down her arms. She'd reprimand him, but it feels so damn good that she doesn't care.

She doesn't care about much this morning. Just the happiness in his eyes, the spark of his touch, the way he seems to need to press his lips to some part of her every chance he gets—that's what she cares about. But the precinct? The sniper? The case? The resignation? They're gone in a bubble of him and his lips and his eyes.

"You're quiet," he observes, reaching around her to dip his finger into her batter even as she swats at his hands.

"Sated," she says, making sure to glance back to see his eyes widen. So responsive.

"Thought you nixed the kitchen sex," he growls, attaching himself to her back, his hips flush with hers.

She groans and leans back into him even as she manages to stir the batter smooth. "First, your daughter is supposed to get here soon. And second, have you ever actually gotten flour out of your hair?"

"You care about that?" he mumbles back, lips busy at the lobe of her ear, turning her legs into jelly.

"Not really," she admits, releasing the spoon to clutch at the arm he's got wrapped around her stomach, his other hand clenched into the counter to keep them standing. "But Alexis—"

"Ground rules," he grunts into her neck as he trails down toward her shoulder, nudging her tee shirt with his chin. "No talking about my kid when I'm doing this."

She laughs and pats his arm, finding the fortitude to break free so they can eat something, or else they'll never make it through the day. Between nearly falling off a building and the endless rounds of sex and the emotional upheaval, she's honestly feeling a little faint this morning.

"Let me cook," she says as he sighs into the back of her head where he's found purchase for his forehead.

"You're making me pancakes," he mumbles, and she hears his grin.

"Yeah," she says, miffed. It's not like it's a secret. "So?"

He chuckles and walks around to lean his hip against the counter, watching as she pours the first batch onto one of his enormous pans, reaching out to snag some chocolate chips to add. She catches his eye as he grins, delighted.

"It's an edible way of saying, 'thank you so much for last night.' Well, according to Esposito," he tells her, laughing.

But her stomach bottoms out at his name. Esposito—Esposito got suspended because of her, put on probation. And Ryan. What happens to Ryan? Oh, God. What happens to them? She needs to call, or something, or—


Right, she's gone stiff and the pancakes are burning. She shakes her head and forces herself through flipping them.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing," she denies, hoping he can let it drop, at least until his kid comes back—he made her stay, after all—and things have calmed down. She's not so sure she can deal with it today.

"Are the guys okay? I got," he pauses and she turns to look at him, suddenly stiff beside her. "I got a call from the 12th yesterday, but I…couldn't pick up."

Didn't pick up, he means. She swallows. She can deal with that. They're here now, all previous peril and need aside. She needed it to be Ryan who pulled her from the roof—needed that push.

"What time?" she wonders.

"Around," he squints at her. "I guess around the time you were dangling off a building? Shortly before, maybe."

"Ryan then," she says, nodding. Looks like she'll have to explain. Damn. "He, um, told Gates."

"And they came to get you," he surmises. She hadn't had the heart, or the coherence of thought, to explain last night. And by the time she had a clearer head, they were passing out, plastered together, so sated, so lovely, so free.

"Yeah," she confirms. "But," she peeks under a pancake and takes a moment to flip the whole batch before meeting his eyes again, finding the courage to come out with it. "But Gates went off."

"I figured you guys were, uh, suspended or something, right? Or you wouldn't be here."

"I'd have been here, suspended or not," she says quickly, catching his hand to squeeze his palm—a poor substitute for more eloquent words. "But yeah, Esposito was suspended. Mandated leave, I think she said."

He blinks at her, mouth opening and closing for a moment while she braces herself. "Just Esposito?"

"No," she says softly.

"So you're taking a mandated leave of absence?"

She shakes her head slowly, finds that pushing the words out is near impossible. They stick in her throat, clogging in her mouth. How can she tell him? What if—but no, she's not just Nikki Heat. Badge or not, he loves her, loves her enough to take her back, to wipe the slate clean, to let her be there for his kid to come home to.

"I resigned," she says, finally spitting it out on a labored breath.

"You," he repeats, gaping. "You resigned?" he asks, whispers, breathes out in disbelief.

She nods as his fingers come to clutch at her wrist, his eyes so wide and shocked. "I—I couldn't imagine it. Couldn't go back after—Life. I want life, and you, and," she breaks off, trying to make him understand what she can't even explain to herself.

It was just this moment, this decision, so clear and right. Even now she doesn't regret it. She can't regret it. Because this, with his hands on her cheeks and the pancakes burning again on the stove—it's everything.

"Is it—if you change your mind," he starts, stroking his thumb beneath her eye where a tear has slipped down her face, utterly uncalled for. "Would she let you come back?"

She shrugs. "I don't care," she says softly, though it comes out strangled. She doesn't. She doesn't care. "I don't know, and I don't care, and I don't—" She takes a deep breath. "I don't want to talk about it now?"

His eyes dull for a second before he leans forward and presses a kiss to her cheek. "Okay."

"I will," she intones quickly. "We'll talk about it, I promise."

He leans back and they stare at each other. She sees the distrust, the caution there in his eyes beside love and care and trust. And she sees the battle to come, the weeks, the months maybe, of climbing back. At least they'll do it together.

"I promise," she repeats, raising a hand to card through his hair, straightening it where he's somehow mussed it up.

"I know," he says softly. "Pancakes are toast."

She laughs, startled, and looks down at the ruined, nearly blackened pancakes. "Stop distracting me," she orders, but the smile belies her comment and he laughs, reaching down to knock the pancakes into the trash before setting the pan back on the burner.

"Stop burning breakfast," he retorts, smacking a kiss to her cheek. "And scoot, I'll do it."

"I can cook," she argues, shoving back against him as he tries to hip check her out of her place in front of the burners.

"A skill I'm sure you'll get to demonstrate again," he says loftily. "But I want to cook."

"And if I wanted to cook?" she protests, standing her ground, even though he is slowly sliding her across the tiles, her feet slipping in his huge socks. The air conditioning here is way too high.

"I'll cook for you and my graduate, and tomorrow you can cook for me," he decides, meeting her eyes, challenge and gesture at once.

"Fine," she grumbles, leaving his side to plop herself down across from him, enjoying the surprised look on his face. If he even thought there was a second's possibility that they weren't sleeping together again tonight, he's an idiot, and she'll have to remedy that as soon as Alexis vacates the premises.

"Man, you try to make a romantic gesture," he says, pouting at her.

"Hey, I was making a romantic gesture," she argues, reaching across the counter to grab a strawberry slice. "You took over."

"I have to try to keep up," he says, and she meets his eyes at the tone of his voice, softer and quiet and brimming.

"Keep up," she repeats.

"It's not every day someone gives up a crusade for you."

"Oh," she mumbles, twisting her hands even as she forces herself to keep looking into his big, blue, terrifying, wonderful eyes. "Making breakfast is good," she manages, laughing as he grins at her. "Could go for a walk or something later too."

He wrinkles his nose. "Makes you sound like a dog."

"Shut up," she snaps, but she's mellow, and he just keeps grinning.

"I could take you out to dinner," he suggests after a few minutes.

He looks pretty good, cooking. Handsome, and relaxed—he's a little rumpled and very sexy. If she weren't so tired, and a little love sore (but oh-so worth it), she'd jump him for a quickie before Alexis shows up.

She shrugs, remembering the question, though by the look on his face, he caught her checking him out. Eh. What does it matter? She gets to do that now. "Maybe in?" she suggests tentatively. "I—I'm tired?"

"We do have a standing movie date," he says, winking at her.

She laughs and bobs her head. "Sounds good."

She realizes then that she's starving, reaches over to grab the bowl of strawberries without regret. He smiles and goes back to flipping pancakes, letting them stay in this happy little place, with no complications and no burdens.

A few minutes later, he passes her a plate of pancakes, drizzled with exactly the right amount of syrup. How does he know that already? She grins at him, cutting into them with her fork.

"Love you," she says by way of thanks.

They go still, staring at each other. How—surely she said that last night.

He flips the burner off and strides around the counter, coming straight for her. She can barely blink before his lips are on hers, his body bowed in half to cradle her cheeks as he worships her mouth, hot and giving and full.

They break apart languidly, gulping in air they couldn't possibly keep focused enough to take in before. She grips at his waist, her ankles crossed behind his knees as he leans over her.

"Love you too," he whispers against her lips.

She smiles, rubbing circles against his waist for a moment before she gives him a light shove. "Make yourself food and let me eat."

He laughs and presses his lips to her nose, mumbling, "Bossy, I like it," as he shuffles away.

She smiles and eats her pancakes, listening as he regales her with domestic Nikki Heat ideas, leaning heavily on some x-rated material from the previous evening. She just smirks and keeps eating, making a point of licking her fork and twirling her hair just to see his eyes darken.

She'll make good on those promises later. But now, she has to face the daughter who comes bustling in, grinning, dropping her bag by the door as she gives a rushed explanation of the party behind her.

Alexis falters at the threshold to the kitchen, staring at Kate. She's presentable. She's wearing a tee shirt and jeans they dried in the middle of the night, which lead to round four in the laundry room. Man, she hopes they remembered to clean up.

"Hi," she offers dumbly, ignoring Castle's poorly withheld chuckle. It's awkward. "Congratulations," she adds, finding footing as Alexis looks at her dad and starts to smile. "I hear you made a fantastic speech."

"Thank you," Alexis says softly. "Everything…good with you guys?" she asks as she slowly makes her way into the kitchen, sliding onto the stool beside Kate to take the plate her father extends to her.

"Very," Castle says happily.

"I'm glad," Alexis tells them both.

Kate watches as the girl sighs softly—not sad, just the resignation of change. From all Castle's told her, and the near word-for-word repetition of her speech somewhere around 5am, Alexis is feeling the world rocking. She can relate.

She glances at Castle and gives him a small smile. "Did you have fun at your friend's?"

Alexis nods and shoots her a smile. "Yeah. It was great. Lots of people, lots of dancing."

"Drinking?" Castle asks, ignoring the glare Kate shoots him. Seriously, who asks their daughter that?

"Some," Alexis says easily. "Wasn't in the mood."

Castle gives Kate a triumphant look and extends his hand to feed the birds with his daughter. "See, I'm cool."

Both women snort and he gasps. Kate sees Alexis relax a little, tossing her a grin. "Looks like you might never win again," his daughter teases.

He glances between them, a smile stretching across his face even as he valiantly tries to hold onto his pout. "I know," he says quietly. "My burden to bear, I think."

Kate smiles and sighs as he walks around with his own plate, stopping to kiss both of their foreheads as he sits on Alexis' other side.

"So, tell us the best part of last night," he says as he takes a heaping bite of pancakes. His have suspiciously larger amounts of chocolate chips than either hers or Alexis'.

Alexis laughs and reaches out to steal some of the whipped cream he added to his plate. "I think I'd rather hear about your night," she says impishly.

Castle chokes on his pancakes as Kate lets out a loud laugh. "Oh, she's got you, Castle."

"Yeah," he coughs. "This news to you?"

Kate chuckles as Alexis grins. "No," she tells him. "But there's, well, last night," she tries, but utterly fails in the innocent face of her—what, boyfriend? Lover?—partner's daughter.

"Kate and I cleared the air last night," Castle interjects. "She walked here in the rain," he adds, grinning, obviously in love with their story, even if it's a highly sanitized, she-didn't-almost-die, version of it.

"Yeah," she adds awkwardly. "I—we're better," she decides, meeting Alexis' eyes as they swing back from Rick's. "We're going to be much better."

"Good," the girl says firmly.

She turns back to her breakfast and Kate finds Castle's gaze, strong and loving and sure. She smiles and nods, laughing silently as he reaches out to stroke her cheek over his daughter's back.

"Don't be gross," Alexis mumbles, hunching so his forearm is no longer brushing her back.

"Yeah," Kate agrees jokingly, reaching up to touch his palm, pressing in with her fingers before she kisses his wrist. They're going to be so much better. "Don't be gross, Castle."