Disclaimer: These characters are the property of someone far luckier than I.

AN: Happy Half-Hiatus, friends. Hang in there!

Paper Trail

"Castle," he croaked snappishly, the harsh ring of his cell phone having jolted him awake. He rolled his nearly naked body over in an effort to try and make sense of the blurry red lines emanating from the nightstand clock and groaned as his eyes began to settle on their message. Tomorrow night he'll finally remember to set the damn phone to vibrate he vowed internally, as his pulse began to calm from the unexpected shock.

"Are you ever gonna stop answering the phone like a cop?" she teased with audible amusement, forgoing any formal greeting. "I mean, as I recall, the only badge you've ever had is made out of chocolate."

It was far too early, she knew, but there were mornings when she simply couldn't help herself. The timbre of his voice in those unanticipated calls at dawn, a sweet amalgam of haze and exhilaration, made her heart beat faster than any of the subsequent miles she ran along her DC neighborhood's quiet streets.

She could hear it as he stretched his weary body, the small sound of delicious relief that escaped from somewhere deep within him. "It doesn't bode well for you that you're apparently sick of hearing my surname. Get used to it Ms. Beckett. You too will be saddled with it soon enough."

God, she longed for that day. More every minute.

He adjusted onto his side, his gaze fixed then upon her empty pillow. "So, how far are we going this morning?"

"Ha! Now by 'we', I assume, you mean me, since I know the second we hang up these phones, you're going to roll over onto my side of the bed and fall back asleep."

"What? You don't know me," he stammered meekly, without enough awareness to offer a befitting comeback. "Besides, the only time I ever roll onto your side of the bed is when that lovely body of yours is there to catch me- which, incidentally, I would so enjoy at this moment…as would you, I assure you."

She laughed out loud and it felt so good, her days now often deprived of such simple pleasures. This is what he did for her, what he gave to her, always.

"Pretty sure of yourself for a guy with a chocolate badge, aren't you?"

"Yeah, well that's not all I've got," he reminded her suggestively. There were moments he truly hated DC. Moments like this.

Why the hell did he have to say things like that? And like that?

"Um, yeah, anyway, just six miles this morning. It's pretty chilly out there." She'd dressed in layers, the late-September morning air too crisp for the comfort of bare skin. "As a matter of fact," she continued, "I decided that it would probably be smart to wear my thermal cap to cover my ears and as I pulled it from the drawer, out fell number sixty-nine."

"Aw, man!" he screeched in feigned disappointment. "I was so hoping that we'd find that one together." He chuckled and she huffed, though the humor wasn't entirely lost on her. She blamed the early hour. "Remind me what it says."

She grabbed her bottle and took a sip of water before reaching for the small folded piece of paper on the counter in front of her. "It says 'I love how you lean forward when you're listening intently to someone.'" She'd been thinking about it since she first read it. She had no idea that she even did that, as was the case with so many of the other things this game of his had brought to light.

"You don't even realize that you do that, do you?" he asked, sensing it from her silence. "You do. And it's adorable." He closed his already heavy eyes and imagined it with a sentimental grin. "So, is that the only new one you've found? It's been a few days, you know. What if the feds get wind of your waning investigative skills?"

"Well, I guess it's lucky for the United States that bad guys don't hide in my wool coats in the middle of summer then, huh?" she quipped without a moment's hesitation.

"Hey now, it's not my fault that your new apartment doesn't offer enough practical hiding spots for all of the things I love about you," he protested, awake just enough now to comprehend that her sarcasm was a knock at his powers of concealment. "What's a man in such love supposed to do?" he sighed rhetorically.

They nearly knocked her over sometimes, the words that flowed from his mouth. And it seemed so often as though he had no true understanding of their power or their effect.

"I really love you, you know," she declared wholeheartedly before a marked moment of quiet.

"Wow," he finally whispered. "I felt that one."

"Glad to hear that not all of my skills are waning," she joked. "Tell me, though, did it feel as good as number…hang on," she reached for a second bit of paper, "ninety-two? That one says 'I love how your hand rests against my cheek when you kiss me.'"

"Holding out on me? Cruel woman. And in what ridiculous hiding spot did you find that one?" He punctuated his adjective for mocking effect.

She snickered. And she ached to be close to him. "Actually, this one wasn't so bad. I mean, at least I need to go into that tampon box every month."

He coughed awkwardly and without physical reason or necessity, an utterly male reaction to the mere mention of such feminine things. "Sounds ingenious of me," he boasted in an attempt to recover with some Castlesque flair. "Those feds of yours have any job openings down there?"

"That's all this country needs, Castle. As if we aren't in deep enough as it is," she taunted.

"Ouch!" he whined, loud enough to force the phone from her ear.

"However," she began, interrupting his pout with a soothing tone, "I have an opening that I need filled, if you're up for it," she purred, taking sudden and unfortunate notice of the time.

"Well…that's…" Cruel, cruel woman, he repeated in his head.

"And it will be my pleasure to fill you in on all of my requirements when we talk tonight. Right now, though, I have to run- literally." She zipped up her windbreaker and took another sip of water, both an act of hydration and a sudden need for aid in the composure department.

He felt as though he could barely string two words together at that point and consequently managed only an "mmmk" in reply.

"I'll call you later, okay?" she said, placing the water bottle back in the refrigerator. "I love you."

"Yeah, for sure, number seventeen is most definitely my favorite," he grinned after a few requisite deep breaths. "I love you too. Bye."

She placed her cell phone on the counter and turned to leave, pausing in front of the refrigerator to find it. There, under one of the magnets, rested one of his previously hidden pieces of folded up paper, number seventeen. "I love the sound of your voice when you tell me you love me," it read. It was her favorite too.