A/N: Be gentle. This is my first effort at writing fan-fiction in far too long. I'm hoping it's a step toward finding the spark I lost and getting back on track with The Seduction of Kate Beckett and a new Castle project I've been plotting as a birthday surprise.

Has this been done a hundred times over? Probably... but not by me. There's always room for more smut, right?

For my favorite Castle fangirl lalaurala-bones (I know it must be good if she's saying it made her laugh and cry!). Many thanks to Laura and JMHaughey for beta reading!

Spoilers: Always and After the Storm

Disclaimer: I don't own Castle.

Naked Heat

Rick Castle tries desperately to focus on the little details. Empty. Without Alexis and his mother, the loft is empty. Quiet. Too quiet, even with music playing. Books. The room is filled with books.

It's the books that draw forth memories. Not of writing or of signing them in bookstores around the country, but of a beautiful, little girl with strawberry hair and eyes the color of a robin's egg. His little girl. Only she isn't the child who scrambled into his lap for story-time, insisting on reading to him. Not anymore.

With a longing smile, he proudly hangs her tassel from the lamp. He isn't sure what he'll do without her, but as long as she's happy he knows he'll find a way to manage. Of all the things he's done in his life, Alexis... Alexis is the best thing that ever happened to him.

The phone rings. The image of Beckett's face appears on the screen and he silences the tone with a frown. She changed him, changed his life and what he thought he wanted. She could have been everything, but she pushed him away.

Perhaps even more than wondering what he'd do without Alexis, he has to ask the same about Kate. It's bittersweet walking to the screen and dumping the file for her mother's case into the recycle bin.

How do you say good bye to the person you've lived and breathed for four years? The person who almost lost her life in your arms more than once?

It's easy. You can't. Your heart won't let them go.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Castle ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In all her life, Katherine Beckett has never felt so confused or alone. As she sits on the swing in the park, soaked not only by rain but by the flow of long overdue tears, she realizes the one thing she had that was worth fighting for - worth believing in - is slipping through her fingers.

Rick Castle is an enormous pain in her ass. He wormed his way into her life - into her heart - asking for nothing in return. He makes her feel things she isn't sure she's ever felt. Things that, without him, she isn't sure she'd be capable of feeling.

And, yet, she walked away.

Done with wasting her life, she runs toward the beacon of hope he'd tried to show her. She calls, but he doesn't pick up. Discovering the answer to a question she didn't know she had even asked is an awakening.

What do you do with a moment of clarity? A shimmering chance at a life you hadn't realized was within your reach?

It's easy, really. You knock on the door and hope like hell it opens.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Castle ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rick tries to play cold and stoic even as his heart pounds heavily at the sight of Kate's damp skin and the tremble of her lip. His fingers grip the door knob as if the metal in his palm will give him strength. "Beckett, what do you want?"

Kate's eyes search for any shred of hope that lingers. Taking a bold step forward, her voice breathy from running across the space dividing them - from taking the leap she should've taken long before now - a single word escapes.

"You," she answers, launching herself at him. Her hands cup his jaw and she presses her cool lips to his before he has a chance to say anything in reply.

In shock, he doesn't move to touch her. If asked later, he would confess he was sure she was an illusion - a dream he feared would always haunt him. A brief kiss - a hungry touch of her soft mouth - is enough to steal his breath and he gasps as she pulls back.

Kate clings to him like a lifeline. She holds him, leaning her head against his and closing her eyes as she speaks. "I'm so sorry, Castle. I'm so sorry..." She feels the tears threaten to spill again, the closeness of this man robbing her of her ability to remain collected and stripping her of her defenses in a way only he ever could. "I'm so sorry..."

Rick is done playing games. As she nuzzles against his cheek, her mouth moving to claim his, he pushes her away and looks for answers. "What happened?"

Kate looks down and swallows her fears to tell him the truth. Looking into Rick's eyes, she answers, "He got away... and I didn't care." His brow furrows slightly, but her voice only grows in strength. "I almost died, and all I could think about was you."

She aches to touch him. To taste him and feel the warmth of his body - the subtle reassurance that not only is she alive, but whole. "I just want you..." she breathes, inching forward with her eyes on his lips. Mouth open, prepared to say more - prepared to fight for him the way he's fought silently for her for years - she leans up, her fingers brushing his cheeks.

There's a flicker of hesitation. A heartbeat passes and for a second she thinks she's too late. But he takes control, pushing her jacket from her shoulders and backing her against the wall with an all-consuming kiss. The heat of his mouth scalds her icy skin. It's fitting it would happen like this - not for the obvious Nikki Heat joke, but because of the fight he's awakened in her, chipping away the frozen layer of emotion around her heart. The way he's brought her back to life by setting fire to her soul... and stripped her naked under the blue flame of his stare.

Rick touches her the way he's always wanted to touch her. His hands skim up her sides as he nips at her throat and he smiles softly against her skin as she arcs into his caress. He kisses her chest and his breath catches as he parts the fabric of her shirt to bare her scar. He pauses reverently, Kate's hand drawing his fingers to the mark and covering it with their joined hands.

How many times had he caught himself thinking about this moment? About baring her silky skin to his hands and mouth. How many times had he woken up painfully erect and longed to do exactly what he was doing now?

Many. Far too many. And he almost didn't get the chance.

The rush slows as the soon-to-be lovers realize the gravity of this night, of shared scars and bared feelings. Hurried passion is replaced by untold tenderness as they learn to savor every passing second. Kate smiles and bites her lip, her fingers tangling with Rick's as she begins to lead him to his bedroom.

Pausing to shut the door, Rick sits on the foot of the bed and pulls Kate to stand between his legs. He takes his time undressing her, peeling her wet clothes from her body and trailing kisses over her newly uncovered skin. Pushing her slacks from her hips, grinning as she stands in nothing but her bra and panties, he laughs when she straddles his hips and forces him to the bed.

Kate claims a kiss, her tongue teasing into Rick's mouth as her hands fumble with the buttons on his shirt. Like he has many times without even knowing it, he steadies her.

"Kate, wait..." he whispers, his voice deep and drugging. Sitting up, he wraps his arms around her and presses his forehead to hers. "We don't have to do this. We can..."

Her breath coming in short bursts, she steals a kiss and rolls her hips against his. "I'm done waiting, Castle," she purrs. "I want you."

Together, they manage to get him out of his shirt. The rich purple fabric is soon joined by the soggy satin and mesh of her bra. He palms the weight of her breasts, his mouth teasing first one pebbled nipple and then the other. The author memorizes every intake of breath, every twist of her fingers in his hair. He revels in making her tremble with need.

Kate's head falls back, a low moan escaping. How is it he could find spots - spots other lovers overlooked - the first time they were together? How is he capable of making her melt and unravel at the seams so quickly?

His hands on her thighs, trying to still her movements, she realizes she knows the answer. Observation. He's watched her, immersed himself in her, and paid more attention than anyone else ever has. He knows her. Knows her little ticks and tells.

And she wants to know his. All of them - every last one - even if it takes a lifetime.

Practically vibrating in his lap, she cups his face and nuzzles their noses together before kissing him. "Castle," she whimpers, biting her lip. "You have no idea what you do to me." Hiding her face in the crook of his neck as his thumb strokes her lace covered core, she nips at his earlobe. "No idea how badly I want you."

Facing him, she shifts slightly and gasps as she sees his eyes. "No idea how much I've thought about this..."

"Show me," he taunts, plucking at the elastic edge of the only garment left separating her from his touch.

Laughing in a way she hasn't in as long as she can remember, the light and airy sound tickling his ears and making him smile, she tucks her wet hair behind her ear and trails her fingers down the midline of his chest. "Oh, I plan to," she murmurs against his lips, "...and then some."

Rick allows Kate to take the lead, following along as she comfortably accepts control. The beauty strips away his clothing, tossing his shoes and socks carelessly over her shoulder. She teases him, her damp hair tickling his abdomen as she works his belt buckle and fly. He groans as her kiss swollen lips brush along his exposed length, her tongue flicking across his tip.

"Oh, Castle..." she hums lyrically. "I'm only getting started..."

Rick's fingers sweep Kate's hair from her face, blue eyes boring into her with lust as he squirms. "Ah... Kate? If you..." he moans, a shiver of ecstasy running up his spine as she continues her assault. Where the hell did she learn... "Oh, God..."

Pulling back, Kate smirks and Rick takes the advantage. In an instant he's over her, his mouth hot and demanding as his hand creeps into her panties. If there is one thing he knows - one thing he's learned from all the women in his life - it's how to give back.

She arches off the bed, her hips greedily tracking the movement of his fingers as they stroke along her slick femininity.

Easy. It would be so easy to take her right then, to bury himself within her heat without further thought. But he's waited too long. Too long for this to be anything less than giving her everything he's got.

Lips and tongue pay homage to her scar as he drags her panties down. His breath makes her tingle - tremble - with anticipation and a delicious ache. The first pass of his tongue isn't the timid swipe of a first time lover, but that of one lusting after a specific response. He devours her, applying perfect pressure and speed with almost practiced ease.

Kate Beckett doesn't giggle. She certainly doesn't giggle in bed... only apparently she does when it comes to one Richard Castle. Indescribable pleasure filters through her bloodstream and makes her feel effervescent. It's as though a soda has been spilled beneath her skin.

Never - never - has she reacted this way. Never has someone done what he does to her and dragged such a response from body. Blushing, Kate uses a move from a self defense class to put Rick on his back. She kisses him hungrily, smiling at the flavor of her climax on his lips as she sinks slowly onto him.

Rick shares in Kate's moan, sitting up and wrapping his arms around her as he fills her. Somehow, he'd always known it'd feel like this - like slipping behind the wheel of a car most men only dream of driving. He watches in awe as she begins to move, eyes closing and her head dropping back to expose the elegant column of her throat. He listens to all the little noises she makes, prying her lower lip from her teeth with his thumb to let more of them escape.

Kate's eyes take on a wicked glint as she nips at the pad of Rick's digit. "If you behave, maybe I'll let you be on top for round two..."

He pulls her closer, their mouths connecting in a deep kiss with tongues battling for dominance. Sexy. So incredibly fucking sexy. She'll be the death of him and he knows it... oh, but what a way to go.

She flexes around him, her body rippling as tension builds. His hands slide up her back, unable to gain purchase due to a fine sheen of sweat. "Close, Castle... So close..."

Rick bites his lip, holding back as he watches her come apart in his arms. He thrusts upward, giving her that extra little push that leaves her panting against his chest. He cups her face, bringing her mouth to his and whispering her name against her lips as he joins her in blissful aftermath.

Speechless. He'd have put money on her leaving him that way. They lay there, nothing more than a breathless tangle of gelatinous limbs. Unwilling to let her go - unwilling to chance this being nothing more than the product of his love-starved imagination, he pulls her tight to his side and pillows her head against his chest.

Kate traces her lips with her fingers. This is new and different. Another first. The first time she hasn't immediately wanted to climb from a man's bed and race toward the door.

Safe. She feels safe. With him. With the steady beat of his heart beneath her ear. Voice soft and almost childlike, she whispers, "Hey, Castle?"

"Hmm?" he answers, fingers lazily grazing her arm.

She almost laughs at the sleepy note of his reply, her question dying on her lips as she realizes she already knows the reason. Why'd we wait so long...? Because it wasn't the right time. Because I wasn't ready. Stupid. So stupid...

Rick can sense the wheels in her head turning. "C'mere," he breathes, turning her chin up to pluck at her lips. "No thinking in bed, Kate. Rest. Just rest." He pulls her body to where she's laying partially over him, molded to his frame. "I'm thinking the shower for round two..." His body already responding to hers, he murmurs against her lips, "Or maybe my office..."

She watches his eyes light up as he plots their future exploits. He nods, a mischievous smile curling his lips. "Definitely the office... I'll bend you over the desk and..."

"Castle!" Kate releases a mock protest, looking up at him as she finds herself on her back.

Rick's hips flirt with hers in a rhythmic mating dance. "Then again, here's good too..."

Here is good. Very good. Here is right where she needs to be.

Always.