Disclaimer: I just watched the Christmas episode. This is autumn. Ergo, fair to assume they're not mine. Winter's coming here though, I promise. Hopefully, before spring…

Author's Note: so when I started writing this (far, far longer ago than is acceptable), it was going to deal with the re-emergence of 3XK. I was spoiler free. And then Probable Cause happened. There was no way I could even come close to the sheer brilliance of that episode, so I decided to leave 3XK as it was. That said, there is mention of that episode. I have deliberately left the case they've just closed in this chapter vague – let's assume it was difficult for them all, particularly for Castle, but please feel free to draw your own conclusions as to the nature of the case – pick one we've seen if you want, or imagine your own. Thanks as always to Tammy for being my first audience, and I really would love to know what you think as we follow their relationship through the seasons.

2. Autumn

"Hey, boys," Kate offers tiredly, pulling the door to the conference room shut behind her and swinging herself onto the table, reaching out for one of the dripping beer bottles that rest next to her with a smile for her boys.

"Yo," Esposito grins back at her, her tiredness reflected in his own face as he leans over to open her bottle for her before tipping his own against hers. Her smile is muted but genuine as she takes a sip, nodding towards Ryan as well.

"Good work, guys," she offers, waving her bottle in a sort of salute. The case they have just closed was… well, it was hell, and she's immensely proud of her boys. All of her boys, even if she's only drinking with two thirds of them. They fall back into a comfortable silence as they drink, and not for the first time she finds herself grateful that she ended up working with these two all those years ago. Their partnership has never been conventional, but they way that they get one another even in silence, means more than any words.

Ryan lets out a deep sigh, dragging her out of her thoughts as she watches Esposito bump his shoulder against his partner's. She kicks her foot out just enough to nudge Ryan's knee with the toe of her boot, receiving another smile in return as they turn back to their beers. The silence is broken as Lanie strides into the room, door banging shut behind her in an entrance that is more than worthy of her best friend.

Especially as it was her last minute revelation that allowed them to finally crack the case.

"Y'all better not be starting without me," she announces, pulling a face at the bottle Esposito opens for her but accepting it without comment, her hip bumping Kate's as she hops onto the desk next to her.

"So what'd the Captain want?" Ryan asks eventually, tipping his chair back against the wall as he turns his attention to Kate.

"Actually, it was what I wanted with her," she answers. "Can you guys hold the fort for the next couple days?" The boys nod their agreement without question, but Lanie twists to face her, a hint of a sparkle in her eyes.

"Going somewhere nice, Kate?" she asks, and Kate knows from the softness in her eyes that she already knows the answer. There's a hint of wistfulness in her best friend's eyes too, and not for the first time she wishes that Lanie and Javier would work things out just like she and Castle have managed to.

"If the Captain asks, my dad's cabin," she tells Lanie, shooting a look at the boys before continuing. "Really, we're… going to get out of the city for a while. Go to the Hamptons." She's still not entirely comfortable talking to them about this beautiful, fragile relationship she has with her partner, but she trusts them with her life and she knows that there's no reason not to trust them with this, too.

Lanie grins at her, and she rolls her eyes good naturedly as the boys tap their bottles together.

Somehow, she can't bring herself to care too much.

"Where is Castle, anyway?" Lanie asks eventually, concern clouding her voice. "Not like him to miss out on a celebration, particularly not one with contraband beverages." She lifts her bottle and her eyebrow at Esposito, and Kate watches as his chest all but puffs. Maybe there's hope for them yet.

"He went home," she tells them eventually, when she realises that they've all turned to look at her expectantly. "I think he wanted to call Alexis." She almost feels a ripple of understanding run through the room, and she herself has to take a moment to remind herself why she's here rather than halfway to his place already.

For her team.

"So," Ryan drawls, some of that humour finally back in his voice. "Just how good is this mansion in the Hamptons?"

"You know, this would be a hell of a lot easier if you were wearing less clothes," she finds herself murmuring the next day as she kneels behind him on one of his sinfully comfortable sun loungers with her fingers tucked into the collar of his sweater, seeking skin and massaging gently.

"Are you trying to seduce me?" he asks eventually, a hint of a smile and a lot more relaxation finally infiltrating his voice.

"Mmhmm," she answers with a smile, pressing her thumb gently into the back of his neck as she leans forward, brushing a kiss against his cheek. She's working on accepting the realisation that she would do just about anything to keep that smile there, and as she eases a particularly stubborn knot at the base of his neck, she figures that if it has to involve seducing him, well that's just something she'll have to deal with. Not that it's any real hardship for her. "Preferably inside and lying down, too," she adds with a chuckle.

"But then I wouldn't have your legs wrapped around me," he complains, all but moaning as the knot finally gives beneath her fingers. She smiles, pressing her knees gently against his thighs in a silent answer. She's rather fond of their current position too, if she's honest. He drops a warm palm over her left knee, comfortable and distracting all at once, and she turns her attention back to her massage.

"That can be arranged," she murmurs, smiling when his palm tenses automatically around her knee. There's something incredibly intimate about the way his fingers curl around her kneecap, and she has to fight back a shiver and remind herself why she's doing this in the first place. "But you're in knots, Rick."

"I can be unknotted," he offers instantly, and she has to hide her laughter in his neck.

"Unknotted, seriously?" she murmurs. "That's your best line?"

"You know what my best line is, Detective…"

"Please, don't! Once was bad enough." She laughs against his neck, realising as he gives into his own laughter and leans back against her a little that it's the most relaxed either of them have felt in more than a week. In longer than she can remember, actually. "The Hamptons really is good for you, isn't it?" she murmurs, moving to work on the thick muscles banding his shoulders. He lets out a groan as his head drops forward, and she digs her fingers in a little, slowly working the tension out of his muscles.

"God, you're good at this," he murmurs eventually, that deep tone of relaxation really starting to creep into his voice. "And it's like chicken soup. Good for the soul," he continues eventually, as if it's just registered that she asked him a question.

He gets like that sometimes. Words are so much a part of his daily life that when things have been tough or busy or stressful and he finally starts to relax, it's like they all just… jump out of his head. It used to worry her at first, but they've been doing this for a while now and she's actually come to adore the intimacy of the fact that she gets to see it.

"Good for the soul, huh?" she asks, smiling as he nods. "I'll have to remember that."

"Hopin' you would," he tells her, lifting his right shoulder a little. "Can you… to the right a little? Yeah, right there." He groans contentedly as she finds the right spot, and she lifts her left hand for a moment to scratch her nails in a gentle caress through his hair.

It's too much sometimes, the amount she feels for him.

Nuzzling into his neck for a moment, she breathes through how overwhelming it feels, rubbing her thumb gently against the back of his ear. "How are you doing?" she asks eventually, her lips brushing his skin with every word.

"Just fine," he answers softly, reaching up to tangle his fingers through hers and drag them down to his stomach. "Wrapped up in you, how could I be anything else?"

"Cheesy, Castle," she murmurs, laughing softly. "I was going for serious, there."

"I'll be fine, Kate," he tells her after a moment, his voice taking on that softer tone that she knows he reserves only for her. "This, all of this, helps. You help."

"I'm glad," she murmurs softly, letting her hands slide down to rest at the top of his thighs, her fingers flirting with his hips where she knows his nerves are particularly heightened, even through clothing. True to form he shudders, but relaxes against her a little more. "It's been… the last couple of months, Rick, and then this case? No one would blame you for not being okay."

His hands close over hers, thick fingers worming their way between hers on his thighs as she speaks and she shivers a little at the intimacy of the gesture.

"I wasn't being cheesy, before," he murmurs eventually. "It's… been hell, Kate, but you've been right here the entire time. You never stopped believing me, even when…even when it felt like no one else did. And then you've just… kept being here." He takes a breath, slightly shakier than before, and she pushes up on her knees to press her lips to his jaw.

"I love you," she breathes out before he can continue, raw and desperate and no less overwhelmed by her love for him.

"Exactly," he whispers, letting her hands go easily so that she can lean over and kiss him. He tangles a hand awkwardly in her hair, stroking his fingers against her scalp. When he lets her go she's breathless and flushed, and she can't help the chuckle that escapes her lips. "Exactly, Kate," he whispers. "Being arrested for murder, almost losing everything to that man, then this case on top of it all…" he sucks another breath in, closing his eyes for a moment, so close to her that it feels like his lashes flutter against her cheek. "You being here is all I need." She's known him long enough now that she knows how to recognise the raw honesty in his words, and she nods carefully against him, letting her silence speak more than her words can.

Draped over his body, she lets her fingers stroke his cheek, brushing her thumb over his bottom lip gently in acceptance. Time passes, she's not sure how much, but just as she starts to feel the burn in her thighs from her awkward position, she feels a slight upturn of his lip beneath her thumb, and can't help the smile that spreads across her own lips, glancing across his cheek.

"Do you need to talk about it, though?" she asks eventually, dropping back a little and letting her fingers settle on his shoulders. He's a talker where she isn't, and this is what she needs to know.

"Eventually," he murmurs softly, reaching up to wrap his hand around one of hers. "Eventually, Kate. But for now, just… keep doing what you're doing, because you're perfect." His words are sincere, she can tell, but they're a massive cliché and she can't help the little giggle that slips past her lips.

"Flattery gets you everywhere," she murmurs, pressing a gentle kiss to his cheek.

"Including in your bed?" he asks hopefully, that boyish charm back in full force. She laughs, but can't help herself nodding.

"Technically speaking it's your bed, but I'm sure that can be arranged," she murmurs against his ear, nipping the lobe gently with her teeth and enjoying the resultant shudder that slides through his body. And suddenly, she realises exactly what he's saying. Exactly what he needs.

If he needs this weekend, carefree and escapist, then she can give it to him.

"It is beautiful this time of year," her voice is soft when she speaks again, and as she feels his hand squeeze hers tightly, she knows he understands what she's realised. "I thought it was amazing back in the summer, but now… the colours in the trees are just… phenomenal," she sighs. "Like they're out of a painting. And the ocean… it's picturesque, Rick. I know I was a little overwhelmed last time, and I still am if I'm being honest, but I can really see why you bought the place now."

It's true. The late morning air is cool and crisp but it's not cold out, and she's actually feeling pretty toasty in an oversized, hooded sweater of his, with the warm heat of his body in front of her. His sweater is a different colour to hers, but his hand is warm even through the fabric of her jeans as it lands on her thigh and she smiles, realising that his furnace like tendencies could really work to her advantage this winter.

She spent so much of last winter struggling to stay warm.

"It's our favourite season out here," he's telling her eventually, encouraging her to start up her massage again where she had faltered. "Alexis has loved it since she was a child, and we always tried to get out here at least once when the leaves were changing."

"I bet you had fun," she murmurs, picking up on his wistful tone and pushing up on her knees to drape her arms around his shoulders and her body over his back once again. Her fingers are chilled instantly, but he reaches a large hand up and wraps them up easily, like he knows.

"A couple times we made it out when the leaves were falling. She used to run through the piles of leaves in these adorable little pink boots, hair flying everywhere… I think I've got a picture somewhere… and then she'd sack out on the couch, completely exhausted, and sleep the afternoon away." She's chuckling softly as she presses a kiss to his cheek, completely taken in by pictures he's painting in her mind.

"You tell it like you weren't chasing after her the whole time," she murmurs, laughing softly as he doesn't disagree. "Busted," she murmurs, leaning round to kiss him softly. "Did you talk to Alexis this morning?"

"Mm, between classes," he murmurs, leaning back against her a little. "She told me to officially invite you to Thanksgiving, by the way."

She… what?

"Alexis wants me to come for Thanksgiving?" she whispers, pushing up on his shoulders so that she can get a look at his face. He laughs, and gives her arm a tug.

"Switch," he murmurs, pulling until she's sprawled half in his lap and he has a proud smile all over his face. He yelps when she reaches up to touch his face, batting her cold fingers away. "Cold, woman," he mutters, ignoring her glare. "Yes, she wants you to come to Thanksgiving," he continues, shooting her a glare of his own as she hooks her arms round his shoulders, fingers seeking warmth under his sweater again. "That's an open invitation to your dad too, by the way, so that's not an excuse."

"I'd love to come," she tells him softly, because it's the truth and she's told herself more than once that that is the way forward in this relationship. The way to make this work. "And I'll ask my dad when we get back to the city."

"You… really?" he asks, interrupting himself when her words sink in. "You'll come?"

"Yes, I'll come." She's laughing softly when his lips land soundly on hers and really, he makes it so easy to be this hopelessly in love with him that it's almost embarrassing how much of a lost cause she is. "I love you," she whispers softly when he stops for breath, laughing at the growl he gives her before he attacks her lips again.

"Inside, Kate. Now. It's too cold for what I want to do to you."

She wakes to the feel of fingertips, barely grazing her side, followed by a warm palm settling over the scar that mars her skin there. It feels good, heavy and soothing. Combined with the intoxicating, comforting smell of him, she doesn't really want to move.

It's a warm nose and lips that she feels next, nuzzling just beneath her ear. Pressing a gentle kiss…mm, right there, before an equally warm exhale glances across her skin. She stretches her legs out a little in contentment, feeling the softness of the sheets and the yielding shift in the mattress. She feels soft laughter against her neck before he eventually speaks.

"Hey, sleepyhead," he whispers, laughter battling affection in his voice. The mattress dips with his weight as he settles in behind her, chest to her back, palm sliding round to rest on her stomach where her tank top has ridden up. It leaves the gentle strength of his bicep resting against her scar and she hums softly, shifting back a little against him in response.

"Sorry," she offers eventually, her voice rough and hoarse with sleep. She doesn't actually remember falling asleep. Coming up to change, yes, and his bed looking so inviting… yeah, that might be where she went wrong. It's not quite dark yet though, so that has to be a good thing. And he did do all manner of unspeakable things to her just a few hours ago, so a nap is totally justified. "What time is it?"

"Little after five," he murmurs, brushing his lips beneath her ear again. "You've only been out for about an hour or so. You looked so comfortable I almost didn't have the heart to wake you."

"So what are you doing then?" she mutters petulantly, knowing he'll hear the smile in her voice. True to form he chuckles, his arm tightening round her a little. It feels nice, and she wants to move even less.

"You don't sleep well at night when you nap during the day," he offers into her neck, smiling against her skin as she shivers. "Thought I'd cook you dinner too, if that'll lure you out of bed." Mmm. That'd work. "Thought so," he chuckles, and she has to wonder if she said it out loud.

"You don't have to do that," she offers, reaching up to rub her eyes as she shifts onto her back, dislodging his arm from her side and blinking up at him in the gentle light of his room as guilt starts to seep in, just a little.

She's meant to be looking after him this weekend.

"I want to, Kate." His smile is soft as he gazes down at her, grazing his thumb beneath her eye before letting his palm drop to settle at her side again. She keeps meaning to ask him how he figured out just how comforting that simple gesture is. "You look exhausted," he continues, interrupting her thoughts as he leans down to kiss her softly before flexing his fingers against her side gently. "And you relax every time I rest my hand here, without fail."

"How do you do that?" she asks, trying desperately to push the sleep away and figure out how he knows the answer to a question she hasn't even finished thinking.

He's right, napping during the day definitely doesn't work for her.

"Your brow furrowed right here, when I moved my hand back," he tells her, his grin soft as he touches his fingers to her forehead. "It's kind of adorable, actually, but how adorable you are is not the point. The point is, you were fast asleep at four in the afternoon. You, Kate." His eyes get softer as he keeps talking, bringing his free hand up to brush her hair off her face. It's too tender and too much for her to take in all at once when she's only just woken up, and she can't do anything but watch him. "You're exhausted, Kate. You worked all week on the… case from hell." He pauses, and she can almost see the memories that flash through his mind as feels his thumb graze the soft skin beside her ear. "And then you drove all the way out here last night, I know you didn't sleep well and you've spent all day looking after me."

He makes a compelling argument. Four years of working with her haven't yielded nothing, after all.

"I want to," she gives him back softly, and he nods, accepting the simplicity of her statement as he smiles at her.

"Fair point well made," he murmurs, kissing her lightly, "but we're partners, remember? And this last couple of months, it's been hard on you too, Kate." She shudders slightly, closing her eyes for a moment as the feeling of helplessness washes over her again, almost transporting her back to that holding cell. His fingers stroke lightly beneath her eye and she opens them instantly, because she's never been able to hide from him the way it made her feel. Reaching her fingers up to curl tightly around his, she breathes through the memory, letting the smell and the feel of him drag her back to the present.

"So how about you let me look after you for a while, too?" he asks after a long moment, and she can't help laughing softly as he continues quickly. "I know, I know you don't need looking after, but… maybe you could let me cook you dinner and then we'll chill out together and get a long night's sleep? Look after each other."

It's tempting, and… oh, hell. She spends enough time justifying every move, every little decision.

Because it has been hell for her too.

"Sounds like heaven," she breathes, unable to stop a grin spreading across her lips as he smiles back at her. It feels like the first time they've really smiled at one another in months, and before she knows it she's breathless from kissing him, finds her fingers are tangled in his hair as she tries to unscramble who kissed who.

"Heaven, huh?" he murmurs, grinning softly as he sucks in a deep breath, hovering over her. "I think we can arrange that."

"Oh you're all about the bad lines today aren't you?" she counters, her fingers grazing against his jaw and sliding up to cup his ear.

"I'll have you know," he murmurs, rolling with an agility she hadn't been expecting to pin her gently into the mattress, "that my lines are exceptional, baby." She laughs properly at that one, twisting his ear without a hint of malice. "Apples!" he yelps, shooting her a wounded look that's… oh, adorable.

And she's doomed, isn't she.

"Now that's the kind of line I like," she murmurs, letting her lips graze against his before she pushes him up and off of her.

"Kinky," he drawls, letting his fingers trail a lazy path up her thigh as he props himself up on an elbow. She can't help the shiver that runs through her body, and he chuckles softly, letting the wide span of his palm settle just above her knee.

"You've seen nothin' yet, baby," she offers through a grin, reaching up to kiss him softly. There's no intent in her words though, because much as they're both nothing short of adventurous in the bedroom and he's seen, inspected and tested out the contents of her kinky box, there's something about the Hamptons that makes her want candles and flowers and romance, and… damn. "You're turning me into a sap, Castle."

"I'm… sorry?" he asks, any contrition in his words failing as his grin only widens.

"Should be," she murmurs, leaning in to kiss him softly. "That said, I'm not sure I'm quite ready to try out those handcuffs again," she whispers quietly, curling her fingers around the back of his neck as he shakes his head vehemently.

If she's perfectly honest, she's not sure she'll ever be able to put a pair of handcuffs on him again in the name of fun.

"Is that your way of asking to be romanced, Detective?" he murmurs, his lips brushing against hers in a kiss full of promise. "Because that can be arranged." There's no intent behind his words though, and she almost doesn't think she's ever loved him more for knowing exactly what she needs.

"It's my way of asking you to come take a shower with me," she whispers against another kiss, feeling a smile tug against her lips as he kneels up, catching her fingers in his.

"My pleasure," he murmurs, before leading her through to the bathroom.

She honestly doesn't intend to seduce him. She doesn't intend to be seduced either, but there's something about the heat of the water and the soothing curls of steam that wrap around their bodies; the intoxicating scent that's a mix of her shampoo and his body wash and the pressure of the water pounding against her muscles that means that before she knows it she's letting him back her against the wall and reaching up into his kiss.

His lips are as warm and soothing against her own as the water is against her muscles, and she slides her arms up and around his neck, feeling her muscles go all but limp against him as she lets him keep her upright.

"Kate." Her name is more of an exhalation against her cheek, and she lets her fingertips stroke the back of his neck as his lips trail along to her ear. His sigh is warm and content as he reaches her ear, and she shivers bodily against him as he nips her earlobe with a gentle swipe of his teeth. "Kate," he breathes again, his tongue sneaking out to join his teeth and oh, he's trying to leave her speechless, isn't he?

"Yeah," she gets out eventually, her breath feeling hot against his cheek as he slides his palm around the back of her thigh before letting it just rest there, hot and heavy against her already oversensitive skin.

"Yeah?" he murmurs, a hint of a chuckle in his voice even though she can feel him hard and insistent against her belly. "That the best you've got?" His teeth trail down her jaw as he lifts her thigh up around his waist and she can't help the breathy little moan that slips from her lips, making him chuckle again. Before he can get in another smart mouthed comment though, she's shifting, wrapping her other leg around his waist and hoisting herself up against him, pulling an answering groan from his lips as the changes in angle make him slide against her, and damn if that doesn't do it for her, but focus.

"Yeah," she breathes against his ear, laughing shakily at the shudder that runs through his body. Locking her ankles at the small of his back, she drags a loose, lazy thrust of hips from his body that almost sets her on fire, and as she lets her heels dig in just a little against the sensitive skin there, she knows that the time for talking is over.

From there on in it's a heady mix of his fingers against her and the pounding water tangled up with his lips on her skin and the first never ending thrust of his hips, and then he's inside her and the space behind her eyelids goes white. It's slow and careful and gentle and everything that makes her fall head over heels in love with him but she's still sensitive from their earlier rounds and that makes it intense.

Too intense for her to think.

Her fingers are tangled in his hair when she comes on a perfectly angled thrust of his hips, and all she can do is give into the sparks shooting through her body at random, unexpected angles as he presses her into the wall a little more and comes right along with her.

The next thing that registers in her mind is a slow, careful sweep of his palm along the back of her shoulders along with the inherently relaxing scent of cherries, and she realises that her feet are back on the ground even though he's got to be all but holding her up. The smell is coming from the body wash that he's working into her skin with a touch that's so feather light she could almost fall asleep right under the pounding water.

Damn, she really must be exhausted if an orgasm, mind shattering as it may have been, can leave her feeling like this.

"Hey there," he murmurs softly after an indeterminable amount of time, his hands sliding lightly up and down her sides, slick with soap and gentle against her skin.

"Hey," she whispers, surprised to find her voice is more than hoarse again. He laughs softly, tipping her chin up gently to press a kiss against her lips.

"Mm, I really got you, didn't I?" he murmurs, awe and a hint of pride in his voice as he takes in what she can only imagine is written across her face. She feels her cheeks flush even though she's never shy or reserved when it comes to sex, and presses her burning cheek into his shoulder for a moment. His touch feels like it gentles even more, and his fingers slide to… mm, her favourite place on her back, making her sag against him a little more. "I'm sorry," he murmurs softly, his lips soothing against her ear. "You're just exhausted, Kate. It's okay."

She nods slowly against his neck, not quite trusting herself enough to speak.

He's more than right, and somehow mind blowing sex in his fantastic shower is the last straw.

His fingers stroke lightly up her spine until they're at the base of her skull, applying just enough pressure to ensure that she's lifting her face to his, and then his lips are almost feathering against hers as he kisses her slowly, one large palm lifting up to cup her cheek and angle her lips against his just so. She shivers against him even as the steam of the shower curls around them, before she feels the water pounding down soothingly against her over relaxed muscles as he guides them back under the spray.

She never would have imagined before they got together that he could ever understand her need for silence, but as his thumb strokes gently along her jaw and guides her to rest her head back against his shoulder, she's reminded that in a lot of ways, he's actually more similar to her than she ever expected.

He might be playboy author Richard Castle when the cameras are out, but he feels things just as deeply as she does, and while he can be an incessant chatterbox on a normal case, even as a writer she's learnt that silence can be his greatest tool. She remembers vividly the night after the bridge, sitting on his bed with his head resting against her stomach. His fingers had been curled tight against her hip, and she had been stroking her fingers against the spot where his shoulder meets his neck.

Neither of them said a word for hours, but when he eventually looked up at her, his eyes had been clearer and she'd certainly felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders, replaced by the warm, constant presence of his body against hers.

He's had a horrible couple of months, but she has too, and the way she's feeling right now with the warmth of his body all but holding her up against the strength of her water doesn't feel dissimilar to the way it felt that night.

Just at the point when the steam and the heat are starting to leave her a little dizzy though, he speaks up, his lips gentle against her ear ash e steadies her. "Why don't you go crawl back into bed, and I'll bring dinner up to you? Some proper comfort food." She can only hum softly in response, and she feels his chuckle against her. "That a yes, Kate?" She manages a nod, before he's guiding her out of the shower and into a fluffy white towel that feels even more like heaven, and somehow she knows.

She knows they're going to spend the rest of the weekend tangled up together, lying in his bed and wrapped in oversized blankets by his pool, and maybe curled up in front of that enticing fire that she hopes she can convince him to light.

She won't have to think, won't have to be strong, won't have to keep going like nothing's happened, but she won't have to talk about it.

Not this weekend.

And it might be what he needs, but she has a sneaking suspicion that it's actually what she needs, too.