A/N: This is for everyone who's read, and reviewed, and followed my story "Vice". You guys are amazing. Thank you.

Disclaimer: Castle belongs to ABC - nothing is mine.

"You're gonna make us late," he said, but his voice was a little too breathy, his eyes a little too encouraging for her to take him seriously.

She smiled at his collarbone and didn't bother answering, feathered her fingers over his ribs as she went down, her mouth brushing slowly against his chest. He grunted, his hips readily rising into her palm, and she took a second to savor the power she had on him, how delicious it was, to wake up in his bed on a Saturday morning and make his skin ripple with her touch.

"Took the day off for you," she finally replied, flashing him a dark smirk as her hand tripped lower, taunted him. "I deserve to have a little fun, don't you think?"

His response wasn't articulate, was only a low groan pulled from deep in his chest, and she caught the hand that came for her, laced their fingers together with a grin, leaning in to kiss the supple skin at the base of his thumb.

The world suddenly spun; the white of the sheets merged into the pale yellow of Castle's ceiling as she was rolled onto her back, the writer's large body pinning her to the bed, leaving her stunned and breathless.

She arched against him reflexively, not even thinking, and he laughed in pleasure, that rich, beautiful sound that made her skin burn. "I want in on your fun," he declared, a seductive eyebrow rising at her, and then he sank down, his warm mouth opening at her breast.

Her whole body shivered with it, an undulation that started at her toes and never seemed to end, but a timid knock at the door interrupted it, jerked Kate's head from the pillow.


Castle lifted his head, orienting his ear towards the door in a dog-like manner that would've made her laugh in any other circumstances. "Yes, Alexis?"

He was still close enough to Kate's chest to drop his cheek down, graze her nipple with his five-o'clock shadow; she had to bite her lip so she wouldn't moan, the sensation incredibly sharp on her aroused skin.

"Castle," she hissed, giving him a look.

"I don't know what to wear," his daughter was saying, that tone halfway between a whine and a snap that Beckett remembered so well from her own teenage years.

Castle wrinkled his nose, eyes briefly closing in dismay, glanced back down at Kate in regret. "I'll be there in a sec, pumpkin," he called back, and then he lowered himself to Beckett, collided his mouth to hers in a harsh, erotic kiss.

"Don't you dare move from this bed," he murmured. "I'll be right back."

She curled her lips into a smile, dropped her eyelashes flirtatiously. "Thought you didn't want to be late," she breathed out.

He growled and snagged her bottom lip between his teeth, soothed the sting with his tongue before he rolled off her.

"I changed my mind," he threw over his shoulder as he slipped on his pajama bottoms, and the hot look he gave her as he opened the door made her insides clench with sweet anticipation.

Mmm. Life was good.

Rick came out of his daughter's bedroom and sauntered down the stairs, made his way through the living-room as fast as he could without actually running. He didn't really expect Kate to wait in bed for him, but some part of him couldn't keep from hoping, even if it was late, even if he should've been in the shower already.

In his study he slowed down, listened for the sound of running water - but there was only silence. Encouraged, he pushed the door open inch by inch, revealing his small bookshelf, the chest of drawers, the foot of his bed-

And his bare, crumpled sheets. He was torn between disappointment and amusement that he knew her so well.

He stepped inside, nudging the door shut with his foot, and since there was still no trace of her, he headed for the bathroom. "Kate?"

There was a trickle of water, the tap being closed, and the door opened onto a smiling, seductive, alluringly naked Beckett.

Oh. Maybe she had been waiting for him after all.

"I know you from somewhere," she said, knitting her brow in mock thoughtfulness, her head tilting as she came closer. Her fingers hooked at the waistband of his soft pajama pants, knuckles brushing over his abs, and his breath came out on a rush, his hand blindly going for her.

"I think maybe I've seen you in the paper," she hummed, the line of her body stretched against him as she rose on tiptoe, pressed her mouth to his jaw. His eyes slammed shut and he stroked whatever he could find, her side, her back, the soft swell of her ass.

Shit, shit, he had to focus - he had something to tell her.


"Aren't you like...a famous lawyer or something?"

He could feel her grin at his neck before she nipped at the skin, laved her tongue over that sensitive spot just below his ear. His body rippled, hips jerking at her clever touch.

"Or maybe - maybe a secret agent," she murmured, her breath hot and tantalizing, fingers drifting down. "Hmm? That why you can't tell me anything? You don't even exist?"

He never should have told her how much he enjoyed role-playing.

"Kate," he rasped, caught her wrist before she could - do more damage. Jeez, he was Richard Castle; he was supposed to have game. But a few playful whispers, the tempting brush of her nude body against him, and he was reduced to nothing. Gone. It was pathetic.

"Alexis wants your opinion," he managed to stutter, his voice still raw with arousal. It felt wrong to even say his daughter's name like that.


Her mouth lingered at his throat for a second before she swayed back, her dark eyes meeting his, entirely too alert considering how muddled his brain was.

"About the dress," he said hoarsely, rubbed a hand down his face as if it could mitigate the reality of Kate Beckett, stark naked in his bedroom, a tempting flush on her cheeks. "The clothes she's wearing for today. She, um. She wants your opinion."


She looked at him, teeth sinking into her bottom lip, didn't seem quite sure what to do with that.

"You need to get dressed," he sighed mournfully, looking around for her clothes. She had a bag, didn't she? He remembered that black bag she's brought with her the night before, swatting his hand away when he'd tried to peek inside.

She had a few changes of clothes at his place, t-shirts and leggings to sleep in - even her own toothbrush in the bathroom - so he'd been curious to know what she'd brought with her.

"Okay," she said, drawing his attention back to her as she nodded slowly to herself. "I - yeah. I'll put on some clothes and go upstairs. You," she added with a pointed look, "need to shower, Castle. Jeez, it's almost eleven."

He couldn't help feathering his fingers over her hip, watching the flutter of her lashes. "I want you in my shower," he said darkly, delighted to see his need reflected back at him in her eyes.

She grunted and squeezed her hand around his bicep, hard enough to bruise, pushed him back instead.

"There's no time," she scowled, and she was adorable, trying to be severe when he could see the quick rise of her chest. "You shower, and get ready. I don't want your lovely publisher to blame it on me when you're late."

"I don't care what Gina says," he said, going for her mouth, but her palm was at his chest, arresting, and he knew better than to finagle with Kate Beckett.

She could take him.

With a whine he gave in, turned away to step into the bathroom - entirely less appealing now that she wasn't in it anymore - and heard the decided click of the door behind him.

"You locking me in?" he smirked, reaching to start the water.

"Don't tempt me, Castle."

He grinned to himself, knowing the threat was real, and he kept his mouth shut. No point being locked into a room if she was on the other side of the door.

"She stood there in stunned disbelief as the light in his eyes dimmed," Castle read, his face grave, his voice lower than usual. His eyes flickered between the book open in front of him and the audience, catching Kate's only briefly before he went on. "He reached out for her and she took his hand, squeezing it for the very last time."

If she didn't know him personally, Beckett would probably have thought he was putting on an act, playing the crowd like he certainly knew how. But she was familiar by now with the way honesty made his voice catch, made him blink a little faster, and she found herself genuinely touched by his reaction to Derrick Storm's last moments.

Despite his boasts that Storm had gotten boring, that he didn't want to be writing the detective anymore, that he could barely wait for the Nikki Heat series to start, he still cared, didn't he?

This was still one of his characters, and maybe it was a little harder to let go than Castle had expected.

Kate unconsciously shifted a little closer, where he could see her, and her arm accidentally brushed against Martha's vividly red coat. Castle's mother turned her gaze to Beckett, that warm, knowing smile on her face that always made the detective a little uncomfortable, and she tilted her head to whisper, "He's doing a pretty good job, isn't he? Although that last line could've used a more dramatic pause. But well. Not everybody is born an actor."

Kate pressed her lips against the smile that threatened, met Castle's eyes again, so blue in the late morning light that splashed over the bookshelves.

"He's pretty good," she agreed, her heartbeat picking up when he gave her that slow, beautiful smile.

Oh, the reading was over. People were clapping heartily and calling out words of praise, and Beckett joined in, dropped her eyes to see Alexis's enthusiastic applause. The girl's red hair shone softly under the September sun, set off by the deep green dress that had been the cause for such hesitation, and Kate reached out without thinking, stroked her fingers to the sweep of fiery hair.

Alexis looked up and flashed her a bright grin, her eyes dancing with excitement. Beckett opened her mouth to tell the girl how pretty she looked, but just then a voice came at her back, startlingly familiar.


She whipped around, nearly knocking her elbow into the woman next to her, and her throat went dry.


He looked good, better than he had in her memories. The lines on his face didn't seem so deep today, and the recent haircut, the dark leather jacket made him look rather dapper.

"You're early," she said, nervousness threading her voice. She'd told him to meet them at one outside the bookstore, figuring that would be time enough to prepare herself, but-

Here he was.

"I was curious to hear some of that reading," he said, moving to embrace her briefly. "I wanted to see the man who's stolen my daughter's heart."

Oh god. She managed a strained smile, saw the way his eyes slitted as he studied her.

"You were always going to see him," she pointed out petulantly. "The whole point of this lunch is for you to meet him, Dad."

"I know," he replied smoothly, unaffected by her tone. "But he is your favorite writer, isn't he? Am I not allowed to come listen to his reading, make my own opinion?"

She opened her mouth, closed it, willed herself to calm down. He was here now, and ready or not, she just had to deal with it.

"Of course," she said, forcing her lips into an upward curve. "Well, since you're here - let me introduce you. Martha," she called, grateful for once that Castle's mom was always eavesdropping and ready to step in. "This is my father, Jim Beckett. Dad, Martha is Rick's mother. She's a well-known Broadway actress."

"It's such a pleasure to finally meet you," Martha exclaimed, shaking Jim's hand energetically. "Kate is a wonderful young woman, really, but she's so secretive about her life. We hardly knew of your existence at all," she concluded in a laughing, slightly reproachful voice.

Jim glanced at his daughter with an imperceptible rise of his brow, and Kate wanted nothing more than to disappear. Whose idea was this again?

A small hand nudged at hers timidly, and she lowered her eyes to find Alexis at her side. Bless the girl.

"Dad?" Kate said, lacing her fingers with Castle's daughter's. "Here's someone else I want you to meet. Alexis - this is my father, Jim."

"Hi," Alexis offered with a shy smile, her fingers coming up in a little wave.

Beckett could see the exact moment when her father's heart melted, because his eyes softened, turned a warm blue as he held out a hand, and gently shook Alexis's.

"It's a pleasure," he said, as serious as ever, his mouth pressed in the lightest smile. "Kate has told me a lot about you."

Alexis's eyes flicked to Kate, her cheeks reddening, and went back to Jim. "Really?"

Pleased with herself for redirecting her father's attention so effectively, Kate smoothed the black fabric of her dress, her index finger tracing the v-neck that she found too deep. Castle had said once he adored it, though, and he'd peeled the dress off her with such love and attention that the mere memory sent shivers to her blood.

It hadn't been very hard to decide what to wear today.

And speaking of Castle-

She looked around but couldn't find him; the room had gotten more crowded over the last five minutes, the gathering attracting customers who'd only come in to buy books, and Rick was no longer standing next to the dais he'd been reading from.

Gina was in her line of sight, her blonde hair arranged into an elegant and recognizable up-do, and Kate shifted a little bit, trying to see if Castle was anywhere near-

An arm wrapped around her waist and she nearly cried out, had to curb her first instinct to slam her elbow into the person's face. A second later his mouth was at her neck, warm and seeking, and a long frisson ran through her, her body automatically canting into his.

"Castle-" she breathed, a warning on her tongue, but before she could finish he was twirling her around and slanting his lips over hers, a deep, leisurely kiss that had her toes curling.

"I love that dress," he murmured finally, grinning against her.

She was smiling too, a little light-headed and completely distracted, when a throat loudly cleared next to them.

Oh, shit.

"Um, Castle," she said, trying to quell the frantic feeling that rose in her stomach. She grabbed his hand from her ass - oh god, oh god - and turned him around, fighting for breath. "I - would like you to meet my dad. Dad. This is Rick," she said, resisting the urge to fidget.

Her father looked as stern as ever, all that Alexis softness gone in a breath. Damn it.

"Mr. Beckett," Rick exclaimed, his voice only slightly close to a squeak. He plastered a smile on his face, remembered too late to extend a hand that Jim didn't shake. "How nice to finally meet you."

There was an awkward, palpable silence before Kate's father answered at last. "And you," he said in a clipped voice.

Beckett's heart stumbled with relief, and then Martha was stealing the spotlight again, announcing that she had prior engagements and was devastated at not being able to do lunch with them, taking a dramatic leave. Kate felt the comforting squeeze of Castle's fingers over hers, but she didn't dare look at him.

Her cheeks were still burning. And they weren't even at the restaurant yet.

"So, Mr. Castle. You write for a living."

Rick slowly set down his menu, glancing at the vanishing forms of Kate and Alexis. This was how Jim Beckett wanted to do things, huh? A manly confrontation when his daughter wasn't around to silence him with her eyes.

Fine then.

"Yes, sir," Castle answered, leaning back into his chair. "I have to admit, I've been very lucky. I sold my first novel when I was nineteen, still in college, and it somehow turned into a best-seller. From then on... I'm not saying it was easy, of course, but I never doubted that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

He tried his best to sound humble, because it was obvious from Jim's face that he was not easily impressed. Especially not by fame and easy money and twenty-years-old splurging their first book's revenue within six months.

"In other words, you're a rich man," Kate's father said, an assessing glint to his blue eyes.

Huh. "I suppose you could call me that," Rick replied, trying for a smile.

"And do you have - plans for my daughter? Are you hoping that she will simply quit her work and make a bunch of little brothers and sisters for Alexis to play with?"

Castle had his hand curled around his glass of water, but he was suddenly glad the liquid hadn't made it to his mouth yet - otherwise he would have been sputtering it out.

"I - ah - no. No, sir. I...I don't think your daughter would abide by my plans, anyway. If I had plans, that is. Which I don't." Shut up, shut up.

A distinct flash of amusement crossed the older man's eyes. "Too bad," Jim hummed. "I wouldn't mind seeing her in a safer line of work."

Castle opened his mouth, hesitated. That was a joke, right?

"I think," he said, careful with his words, "that it would be a shame if Kate were to leave the NYPD. Of course I'd love for her to be safe, and not risking her life every day, but from I hear she's...extremely good at what she does. I mean, look at her - she's not even twenty-five and they've already made her a detective. That's gotta be breaking some kind of record, right? Something to be proud of, for sure."

Jim Beckett gave him an unfathomable look. "You suggesting that I'm not proud of my daughter?"

Rick held back a groan, fought the desire to close his eyes. "No. No, of course not. I'd never-"

"Because you'd be wrong, Mr. Castle. I'm very proud of Katie. I might have trouble sleeping at night when I imagine her out in the streets with only her gun for protection, but I know what a good cop she is. She's always excelled at anything she applied herself to."

Yeah, he wasn't exactly surprised to hear that.

"I believe you," he said with a half-smile. "Her spirit, her determination is - inspiring. She told you I want to create a character based off her for my next series of novels, I think?"

"Yes, she mentioned that," Jim answered, his voice still cool and reserved.

He doesn't trust me, Castle thought, but he understood. He would just have to work his hardest to change that.

"I think your daughter is extraordinary, Mr. Beckett," he declared simply, owning the truth. "I've never met anybody like her. She's got such fire, such passion to her, and at the same time there's this capacity for empathy, for compassion that I've never seen in anyone. She guards her heart fiercely, but she opens up to you it's so very-"

-beautiful. He swallowed back the word, glancing at Kate's father, but the man was still observing him, his expression undecipherable.

"You'll have to understand, for a writer - it's impossible not to want to write about her. A character like that, so rich, with so many facets to her...How could I resist?"

"And what happens once the book is over?" Jim Beckett asked gravely. "What happens once you've solved all her mysteries, Mr. Castle? Do you just turn to the next object of interest?"

Rick made sure Kate and his daughter were still out of earshot before he made his answer.

"I'm not sure I can ever solve all of Kate's mysteries, sir. But I'd be more than happy to spend my life trying."

Beckett was surprised at how well lunch had gone. After the awkwardness at the bookstore and in the car, she'd expected a reenactment of the Cold War - death stares and stubborn silences, something along those lines - but Castle was as charming as ever, going out of his way to make them all laugh, and her father had been much more approachable after she and Alexis had come back from the bathroom.

She couldn't help but wonder what had happened there.

"It's on me," Rick insisted with a smile when the waiter brought them the check, and Kate held her breath, waited to see what her dad's response would be.

Jim looked for a second like he wanted to argue, but Alexis was giving him a sweet look (she'd been coached by Castle, no doubt) and with a sigh Kate's father relented, leaned back into his seat.

"Well. That's - very nice of you, Rick."

Oh. Rick, huh?

Beckett ducked her head to hide her smile, slid out of the booth once Castle had slipped the cash into the black leather check holder. He was up immediately after her, their fingers brushing when he stood too close, and she let it go on for a moment, enjoying his warmth and the scent of him while her father and Alexis rose from the table.

The four of them headed outside; the September sun was surprisingly warm, spilling over the sidewalk, and Kate stuffed her scarf into her bag instead of wrapping it around her neck.

"So," Castle said, offering his hand warmly. "It was nice meeting you, Jim. Alexis and I have to run because she's invited to a birthday party this afternoon and we still don't have a present, but we should do this again soon. Maybe next time you can come to the loft."

"Sure," Kate's father answered, shaking Rick's hand firmly this time. "And thank you for lunch. I had a good time."

"Me too," Alexis piped in, and Jim turned a genuine smile to her.

"I hope you have fun at the party, Alexis," he said, and from her position Beckett could see him cant forward slightly, as if he wasn't sure whether or not he wanted to hug the girl.

She grinned to herself, decided it would probably be a little much for today.

"Well guys, I'll see you later," she said, winking at Alexis and catching the flash of heat in Castle's eyes meant only for her. Mmm, she wished they were at the loft already, the two of them alone. "I'll walk my dad to the subway, and then I have some laundry to do at home."

"Okay," Rick said, that smile that said I'll be waiting. "Later, then."

"Bye, Kate," Alexis added, waving her fingers. "Thanks for helping me choose my dress."

"No problem," Beckett answered easily, and then the two of them turned away, moving towards the car that was waiting.

Kate watched them disappear, warmth licking at her heart, and when she glanced at her father he was regarding her with too-knowing eyes. She huffed and then reached for his arm, hooking it with hers, felt a pinch of sadness when she couldn't remember the last time they'd done this.

Despite his going to rehab, despite their careful attempts at mending their relationship over the last few months - some things only healed with time, didn't they?

"He seems like a...nice man," Jim said suddenly, a note of hesitation in his voice.

Beckett worried her bottom lip, found a smile at the thought of Castle. "He is," she said softly. He was - so much more than that.

"He's older than you," her father observed, trying to keep a neutral sound. "He has a kid."

"And what an adorable kid, too," Kate volleyed back, an eyebrow arched at him. "Don't you think?"

He chuckled, admitting defeat. "Yeah, she seems pretty great. Reminds me of you a little bit, actually."

Kate hummed. "I was never that serious, was I?"

"Oh, you could be. When you took something to heart - your mother and I used to laugh about that, the way you'd scrunch up your face, come up with a list of rational arguments. You were never the tantrum sort."

The ghost of Johanna lingered with them for a moment as they walked side by side, each lost in their own thoughts.

"Where is her mother?" Jim asked when they came into view of the subway station. It took Kate a second to realize who he meant.

"Oh, um. In California. Meredith - that's her name - is an actress. She and Castle got divorced when Alexis was only a baby, and he got full custody. I haven't met her, but from what I've heard she's a little...irresponsible. She's a nice person, Castle says, just not - mother material."


She glanced at her father, but his face was unreadable, his thoughts well-concealed. Kate fisted her free hand in her pocket, tried to gather the courage to tell him what she'd been meaning to. This was her chance; if she let him vanish into the subway, then-

"I'm thinking of moving in with him," she blurted out, the words all running together.

Jim came to a complete stop, untangled their arms so he could turn fully to her. His blue eyes roamed over her, wide with shock, and he asked, "Are you pregnant?"


Kate gaped at him, couldn't believe- "Dad! No. No, I'm not - why would you even-"

"I'm sorry," he said immediately, lifting up his hands in an appeasement gesture. "I'm just - a little surprised here. Katie, it seems so...quick. And you're usually so circumspect, so careful."

"We've been dating for six months," she said, winced at how defensive she sounded. Damn it, she should've kept her mouth shut.

"And you only just introduced us today," her father pointed out, a thin edge of disappointment to his words.

Oh, great. "I was waiting for the right moment," she answered lamely, knew how it sounded. But things had been so rocky between her and her dad-

"Katie, I know," he said soothingly, his hand briefly squeezing her elbow. "Look, I don't mean to berate you, I...You've caught me off-guard, that's all. Do you - do you love him?"

She lifted her head, met his eyes again. "Yes," she said. "Yes, I do."

Her father nodded slowly, parted his mouth, hesitant. "And are you still working on your mother's case?"

What did that have to do with anything?

She stared at him, didn't want to give him an answer - but her silence revealed enough. Her father's face hardened, a deep crease forming in her brow. "Katie."

"What?" she said stiffly. "I know what I'm doing this time, Dad. I'm being careful - I'm not letting it take over my life, and Rick's been helping-"

"What?" Jim's voice dropped, a low murmur than she knew didn't bode well.

She nearly stepped back, but she caught herself in time and stood her ground instead, raised her chin defiantly.

"I - I told him about Mom, and he has all these different contacts from writing murder mysteries, and - he has money, too. He wants to help-"

"Katherine Eleanor Beckett," her father interrupted sternly, his eyes a stormy grey now. "What game are you playing at? This man has a child, an adorable child, as you said yourself, who apparently has only one stable parent she can count on. Are you planning on taking him down that dark hole with you? I know what it is to be obsessed, Katie-"

"I'm not obsessed," she choked out, hated herself for the tears in her voice. "I'm fine. It's not like last time, Dad-"

"Do you really believe that?"

Shit, she couldn't hold his gaze. She clenched her teeth and dropped her eyes to the ground instead, wished herself anywhere but here.

"You need to ask yourself the right questions," her father said, softer now. "If you move in with him, Katie, he has to come first. His daughter has to come first. You realize that, don't you?"

She swallowed, gave a small nod.

"And if you're not ready to change your priorities, if you still think your mother's case needs your full attention, then maybe you shouldn't rush into this."


She forced herself to breathe deep - she couldn't cry in the street - and before she knew it his arms were around her, thin and strong, the reassuring smell of his shirt against her nose. She sighed and gave in, melting into his embrace even as his words kept slashing at her heart.

She knew what her priorities were. Didn't she? She was ready for this. She was-

"I want it, Dad," she murmured pitifully against his chest.

She felt his hands on her shoulders, and he pushed her away gently so he could meet her eyes. "Then make it happen, sweetheart. Work for it. I obviously don't know Rick very well, and I don't know how he and you work, but - you seem to have a good thing going there. You love him; he clearly loves you. Just be honest with him."

"I am," she rasped, remembering all the late night confessions, the whispered words that she couldn't take back. "I am."

"Then you've got nothing to worry about," Jim smiled lightly. "Don't listen to the ramblings of an old man. What do I know?"

She gave him a trembling smile back, but his words weren't so easy to dismiss as he made it sound. Still, she put herself back together enough that she could push him into the subway, thanking and hugging him one last time before she let him go, and she stood there on her own, the sun no longer warming her skin.

If you're not ready to change.

The knock on his door came later than he'd expected. Castle sprung out of his desk chair and beelined for the door, flipped the locks eagerly.

Alexis had ended up staying at her friend's, the party prolonged into a sleepover, and he'd texted Kate to let her know they'd have the loft to themselves. A couple hours ago. She hadn't replied, but he'd told himself it was fine, nothing to worry about - she did that sometimes when he hadn't asked her a direct question, or when the answer was too obvious.

And they had agreed beforehand to spend the night together.

So he didn't obsess over it, worked on Nikki Heat instead, and now, wow, it was nearly ten o'clock and Kate Beckett was standing at his door.

"Hey," he breathed out with a smile, feeling the usual warmth bubbling in his chest whenever she came to him willingly. No matter how many times it happened, he couldn't seem to get enough of it.

"Hi," she murmured, pushing her hair back, and his heart sunk when he realized how tired, how...crushed she looked.

What was going on? She'd been fine during lunch, had laughed at all his jokes, and her father had even smiled when he and Alexis had said goodbye.

"Come on in," he invited, stepping back to make room for her.

She hesitated, her bottom lip pulled between her teeth, and the reluctance in her eyes was a punch in his gut. No, no, no.

"Kate?" he said, moving a little closer.

"I tried calling you twice," she sighed, rubbing at her forehead. "You didn't answer."

Oh? Oh. He'd left his phone charging in his bedroom. Probably on silent. Damn.

"Sorry," he winced, taking another step towards her. "I was writing-"

"I wasn't gonna come," she said, the apology in her dark eyes laced with something else he couldn't decipher. "I was calling you to cancel tonight, but you weren't answering and I didn't want you to think..."

He stared at her, unable to decide which won, the hurt that she'd wanted to cancel on him or the sharp tug of pleasure at her not being able to stand him up.

"What's wrong?" he asked gently as he bridged the space left between them, caught her forearm in his hand. Because he could, because he knew what his touch did to her.

She let out a trembling sigh and averted her eyes, but now that he looked closely he could see the red, irritated skin under her lashes.

She'd been crying.

"Kate," he exhaled, sorrow leaking out in his voice, and that seemed to finally do it - she came into his arms, her face pressing against his neck, her hand fisting on his shirt. He barely had time to wind an arm around her waist, though, before she tried to pull back, her teeth gritted, shaking her head.

"I shouldn't-"

He grabbed her other wrist, didn't want to hear her excuses. He just wanted her here with him.

"Come inside and tell me what happened," he said, his voice teetering on that fine line between question and order. "Please," he added with an intense look at her.

She didn't want to. She was still searching for a way to run; he could tell from the way her eyes kept darting to the sides, avoiding his. But he didn't give her a chance to escape, didn't release his hold on her - he kept his face pleading and earnest, and after a long moment she relented, headed inside with her head bowed.

The rush of victory in his blood was dizzying, especially when limned with concern. He took his time closing the door, and when he twirled around she was standing in his living-room, her jacket still on, uncertainty written in the line of her body.

He sighed inwardly and went to her, nudged her towards the couch. She sank down heavily, and he took the armchair next to her, wanting a clear view of her face.

She looked so demoralized; he had to lean in and curl a hand around her knee, his heart painful in his chest.

"Kate, what happened?" he asked softly. "I thought lunch went pretty well. Your dad didn't want to maim me so much at the end, right?"

She huffed a laugh, her eyes reluctantly dancing up to his face, and her hand came over his, her fingers light on his skin before they fell back to her side.

"Yeah, I think you're safe, Castle. You did good," she said with a smile, tenderness flashing across her face. It made his breath catch like it always did, her opening up to him, and he squeezed her knee, fought the urge to kiss her.

"What's wrong, then?"

She released a long breath, pursed her mouth as she looked down at her hands. "My...my dad said some things to me after you left. Things that were - true, I guess. And it just...made me think."

Uh-oh. That didn't sound good. "What things?" he asked, stroking his thumb over the fabric of her jeans and inwardly cursing Jim Beckett. "What did he tell you?"

She shook her head, wouldn't look at him. "It doesn't matter, Rick-"

"Clearly it does," he disagreed, ducking his head to try and capture her gaze. "Kate, please."

She sighed, but he could see her shoulders straighten, her chin lift. "He asked if I was still working on my mom's case."

Castle kept silent, waited for more, but apparently that was all she was going to give him. Huh.

"O-kay," he said slowly, trying to understand what the issue was. "Is that a bad thing? I mean, yeah, you're still working on your mother's case, but you're not drowning in it this time. Right? And I'm here to help you. I can't see how that's-"

"How do you know?" she asked a little sharply, her eyes dark when they found his. "How do you know I'm not gonna drown?"

He opened his mouth but didn't know what to say to that, to the quiet fear that lined her words.

"Because I know you," he murmured finally, curling a hand around hers. "I've been with you for six months, Kate. I've seen how strong, how amazing you are, even if you don't think so. And this time we have good leads, strong leads. I promise - I won't let you fall down that rabbit hole again."

She pressed her lips together, closed her eyes for a moment. "My dad...thinks you might get sucked into it, too. That my obsession might consume us both and then-"

"That's not going to happen," he huffed indignantly, his chest squeezing with her implied meaning. The image of his daughter flashed in his mind, how she still asked him to check for monsters under her bed sometimes, the dimples in her cheeks when she smiled. "Your dad doesn't know us - I'm sure he means well, and he seems like a great guy, but he doesn't know us, love. You shouldn't let that..."

"What if he's right?" Kate rasped. "Are you willing to take that chance? Alexis deserves more-"

"Kate, please. Slow down. What - what chance? What are you talking about?"

"My moving in," she answered as if it was obvious, and suddenly he was breathless, his heart dropping like a stone. No. No. They'd talked about this-

"I just think that my father made a few valid points, Castle," she went on, such disappointment, such mourning in her voice. "And it wouldn't be wise to go ahead and ignore them if I'm not ready..."

"Kate," he pleaded, his fingers lacing with hers.

"No, listen to me," she said, her authority shining through and silencing him. "My dad might not know us, but he was right when he said you and Alexis should come first. I need to sort out my priorities. I can't be living with you if that case is eating me inside-"

"Is it?" he cut her off, switching strategies. "Right now. Would you say the case is eating you alive?"

She gaped at him, hesitated. "N-no," she answered after a moment. "I guess not."

"Do you obsess over it? When we go to bed together, are you thinking of leads and motives and theories that make it all make sense?"

She bit into her lower lip, a slight blush painting her cheeks. "I - no," she let out reluctantly. "Not - no."

"See? You have it under control," he said, softening. "You're doing just fine, Kate, and I'm not sure what you're worried about."

"I always think I have things under control, Castle," she replied with a bitter smile. "Until I realize I don't."

"So what? You think it'd be healthier for me to ask you to drop your mother's case, force you to choose? Admitting you decided to stay - which honestly, I'm not sure I'd bet on - you'd only end up resenting me. And where would that leave us?"

"You and Alexis should come first," she insisted stubbornly, tears glistening in her eyes. "It's the only way to do this, the only way we can be..." her voice stumbled on the word, "a family."

He didn't speak, couldn't; he was blown away by the fire that shone in her eyes, how ready she was to fight for them. How could she not see that?

So he gave in to his instinct, leaned in to kiss her; his hand curled at the back of her neck as he crushed her lips under his. She resisted for a second, fingers pressing into his chest before she melted into him, her body lifting, so close and warm.

He thoroughly devastated her mouth, used the heated press of his tongue and the nip of his teeth to make her moan softly against him; her hips came up when his fingers ventured south, skimming the curve of a breast, and then he let go.

Her eyes opened slowly, wide and dark, her breath coming in sharp pants against his chin.

"We already come first," he whispered fiercely, watching her face. "Every moment you spend with us at the dinner table, every time you help my kid pick her outfit. Every night that you spend in my bed, Kate, you're choosing us over your mother's case. Over and over. And that's why I'm not worried, that's why I think your father's wrong. Because consciously or not, babe, you know what your priorities are."

She licked her lips - so sexy that he just wanted to kiss her again - and pushed her hair back, processing his words.

He said nothing more, just waited her out as his breathing slowed down.

"You're right," she said at last, sounding a little awed and a lot disbelieving.

"That's something I'd like to hear more often," he joked, wriggling his eyebrow, and he loved the unwilling laugh that spilled out of her.

"No reason to babe me though," she said with a pointed look. He could only smile.

"Duly noted. No babes." She nodded in satisfaction, and then dropped her eyes to her hand, drawing small whirls over his shirt.

"I choose you," she murmured to herself, and he stroked his thumb over her cheekbone, his lips glancing off the corner of her mouth.

"Yeah," he hummed, resting his forehead against hers. "And the day when you don't choose me, Kate? Don't worry, I'll be there to make you change your mind."

She made an amused sound at the back of her throat, her fingers curling dangerously close to his ear. "Always so cocky," she said, but her nose was nudging his, her breath warm on his lips.

"Don't you love that about me?" he grinned back - until she was wiping it off his face, her kiss so lazy and clever that he was a complete wreck by the time her mouth gently trailed off.

"So you're moving in?" he found himself asking stupidly, the need much too raw in his voice.

She smirked, and he realized that at some point she'd migrated into his armchair, was now sitting in his lap and dominating him. He had no objections to that. None.

"You're still coming into work with me on Monday?" she countered, that lovely husky tone to her words. Jeez, she was going to kill him.

"Yeah," he answered immediately, didn't care if his eagerness showed. "Yes, yes, yes."

She laughed again, more of a giggle this time, and she tilted her head at him. "Don't you think you're gonna get tired of me, Castle? Spending our days and nights together?"

He wasn't sure if she was teasing, or honestly concerned, but he slid his hands up her thighs and drew her closer, loving the hot brackets of her legs around him. He skimmed his lips down her neck, drinking in her rippling shiver, and he smiled.

"No," he murmured. "Not gonna get tired of you, Kate."

She gasped and he could feel the beautiful give of her body, the way she surrendered to him. "No?" she repeated, her voice a thin thread.

"Never," he promised in a growl, baring his teeth at her collarbone. He grazed her skin and then laved the sensitive spot with his tongue, the undulation of her hips making his heart clench like it always did. "I'll never get tired of you."