Disclaimer: All Castle characters are the property of Andrew Marlowe and ABC.

They spent the next hour working in seamless synchronicity. Rick seasoned and browned the chicken and then the ground beef while Alexis prepared dessert, and Kate chopped tomatoes, onions and jalepeņos.

Castle had known for awhile that he and Kate worked well together. Despite their many relational missteps, when it came down to business, they simply got each other, seeming to be on the same wavelength more often than not.

And of course, he and Alexis had years of practicing the intricate dance of preparing a meal together.

So he had not been surprised-but very pleased all the same-to discover that the steps with his daughter were not disrupted by adding Kate to the mix, nor did his silent communication with the detective seem to be affected by the presence of his daughter.

They were good together. He pondered that while he cooked, remembering his words to the beautiful detective after their first case. He had offered a "debriefing." He had known then that he wanted to get under her skin. But it was when she called him on his crap and refused his blatant advance and told him he had no idea how great they could be that he started to wonder: How great could they be?

Pretty great, as it turned out. Unbelievably great, though he had never pictured great looking like this. Like love and comfort and family.

He turned to watch her for a moment, caught her with her head thrown back in laughter at something his daughter had said from underneath the cabinet where she was searching for the cheese grater.

He was thankful, so thankful, that she'd given him a chance. So thankful that he'd given this life a chance, that he'd given up on actresses and divas and women who gave in to his charms so easily. They were right, whoever "they" were: the best things are worth fighting for. He'd fought for her. Fought his public image, fought her misgivings, fought his own weaknesses.

And somehow, he'd won. He'd won her heart and her trust and here she sat, perched on a barstool at his kitchen counter, chopping vegetables and laughing with his daughter and looking for all the world like she belonged, like she'd been here forever and always would be.

She turned her head just then, as if she felt his eyes on her. At her questioning look he shrugged, his lips quirking in a half smile. Her eyes crinkled at the edges as she grinned at him. He directed his attention back to the pan of browning meat in front of him, but he was still aware of her, always aware of her.

He heard her answer to Alexis when the girl said she was going upstairs to get ready. He listened to the soft scrape of friction as she slipped off the stool, the light thump as she landed on bare feet, the faint slap of her soles against the cool tile. And then...and then her contented sigh from just behind him, the little hum as she leaned into his back, her arms snaking around his chest as she lifted up on tiptoes to rest her chin on his shoulder.

He brought one hand up to smooth across her arms, his other hand continuing the circular motion of the wooden spoon in the pan. Tilting his head toward her, he felt her lips gently meet his ear.

"I'm gonna go change clothes," she whispered, her breath tickling him in all the right ways.

"What's wrong with what you're wearing?" he asked, his voice deep and husky.

She gave a throaty chuckle that sent tremors down his spine.

"I don't think my dad is quite ready to see me wearing one of your shirts, Rick."

Oh. He could see the sense in that.

"Let's save that for later," she continued, her tone still low, a little teasing.

"Later?" he questioned, not really thinking about his words. He was too focused on the feel of her, of her chest pressed against his back, of her fingers flexing against his abdomen.

"Later," she repeated. "Later, when our kids come in and jump on the bed on Christmas morning to wake us up and drag us out to the living room where he's looking groggy himself but thrilled to be playing Santa Claus to his grandchildren. Later."

He was frozen. Completely still, and not even certain he was still breathing. Had she really just said all that or had he fallen too deep into one of his fantasies? It had happened once or twice. His imagination was just too good sometimes and he would lose track of reality for a few minutes until something brought him back, usually accompanied by some strange looks and a little embarrassment.

She tightened one hand on his chest and dropped the other to remove the spoon from his fingers and set it on the edge of the pan. It was enough to restart his breathing. Slowly, hesitantly, he turned in her arms, holding her tightly to himself.

"Is-is that what you want?" he asked in barely a whisper.

She nodded, lifting her face to meet his eyes. He saw a flicker of something like uncertainty in her gaze.

"Is that what you want, Rick?"

His breath left him in a single whoosh, and he was glad for the strength of the counter to lean on.

"More than anything."

It was a prayer, a plea to whomever was listening that they would see that future someday.

She pressed her cheek to his chest, and he was sure she could hear his heart pounding. He lifted a hand from her back to brush her hair away from her forehead.

"I didn't know you wanted kids."

She tilted her head back, her green eyes soft, but still piercing.

"I didn't either."

"What made you decide?"

She hesitated for a moment, but as his hand began gliding up and down her back, she smiled.


He arched an eyebrow at her in curiosity, waited for her to explain.

"Earlier, when I found the two of you asleep in her room, the way you were holding her so protectively, the way she was curled around you. I just...I want that."

He pulled her closer, cradling her head in one hand. He felt a rush of something deep within him, something he'd only felt a few times, an instinctive need to wrap himself around her, to keep her safe from any and all harm.

Somehow, though, he didn't think she'd really appreciate his sudden impulse to become the alpha male marking his territory. So he settled for a tight hug and a kiss to her forehead.

"Thank you," he murmured before he let her go.

"For what?"

"For making my dreams come true," he whispered, and he felt her breath hitch.

Before he knew what was happening, her mouth was on his, her hands tangling in his short hair and drawing him down to her. She was fierce, and he realized she would be this way as a mother too-tender in one moment, ferocious in the next.

He allowed himself to be pulled under. He was drowning in her, the scent of her body wash, the smoothness of her skin, the heat of her body pressed against his. He was floundering in the deep blue of her passion, and he couldn't be bothered to tread water.

"Uggh...twice in one day? Really?"

He jumped back as if shocked, barely avoiding smacking his hand against the hot stove.

"Alexis! Oh...sorry!"

He felt the blush rising on his face as he looked at her apologetically.

She just shook her head.

"Don't burn the beef, Dad."

As he turned back to the stove, he sneaked a glance at Kate. Unlike earlier, she didn't seem flustered in the least. Her cheeks were a little pink, but she bore a self-satisfied smirk that made him grin in return.

"You know, on second thought, I think I'd better take over from here, Dad."

Alexis approached him and removed the wooden spoon from his hand, turning the heat down a little.

"You guys should probably go get ready."

Castle nodded his assent, and began to follow Kate out of the kitchen.

"It's almost 5:30, so Kate's dad should be here soon," she called after them. "So just don't, you know...just don't take too long."

Author's note: Yeah, I imagine things won't turn out this way in "real life." After all, angst and drama make for great story-telling. But sometimes, I just need fluff. And I think many of you feel the same way. Thus, this story. I'm glad y'all are enjoying reading it as much as I am enjoying writing it. As always, I truly appreciate the reviews, favorites, and alerts that pop up in my inbox.

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