Oh, she's in trouble now.

Strong fingers bracket her hips as he steps forward, the tenderness and ever-present humor in his smile turning predatory.

"And how exactly, my dear detective," he intones, carefully freeing his feet from the jeans that lay tangled on the floor, "do you suggest we go about this 'finding out,' hmm?"

Her eyes drift down his body, linger awhile at his middle. She's tempted to tell him that she no longer needs to find out anything, that he possesses all the information she needs, right there, accentuated by teal striped boxers. She already loves his body.

But when she glances back at his face, he's got that story-telling glint in his eyes, and as much as she wants to just get there and get there now, she knows he'll want to draw out the process - draw out their pleasure - until its inevitable conclusion. So she gives him a pressed lip smile, permission to prolong as much as he likes. And really, she has a feeling she won't be complaining.

"I'm open to suggestions."

He looks at her thoughtfully for a moment, cocks his head, and she shivers in breathless anticipation. A hint of red tongue slides out to moisten his lips, and he nods, squeezing her hips.

"Usually, when there's something we need to figure out," he says slowly, "we begin by walking the scene."

She takes an obliging step backward, and as always, he follows. Another step for her, another step for him. Then another, and another, until they're poised at the threshold of her bedroom.

With his hands still on her hips, it feels a lot like dancing. But with the image of him at a gala or a club (or walking a crime scene, as he mentioned), dressed the way he is now - she can't hold back a laugh.

"What?" he questions her, the corners of his mouth lifting automatically in response to her joy.

She shakes her head.

"If you ever show up to one of my crime scenes dressed like this, in a dress shirt and boxers..."

She trails off when he grins.

"I could take off the boxers, if that would help."

She hums a little, low in her throat, watches as his eyes widen.

"That would lead to the next step," she offers teasingly, and he raises an eyebrow.

"Which would be-"

She pulls her bottom lip just barely between her teeth, gives him a slow blink, drags her eyes down his chest, and then releases the lip to finish his sentence.

"Searching for evidence."

He lets out a little breath, and her gaze bounces back to his face. One hand twitches at her hip to curl around her side, just enough to edge under the hem of her blouse. His fingers are gentle, probing against the sensitive skin at her waist.

"And would this be a strip search?" he asks, his other hand mirroring the first, blazing twin trails of heat an inch or two up either side of her body. "Do you want to go first, or shall I?"

She laughs again, and the dangerous look in his eyes lightens into tenderness.

"You first this time," she says. "I'd like to see if you've learned anything since you started shadowing me."

He smirks.

"Trust me, Detective. I've learned plenty. All the same though, any tips you want to share?"

She presses a hand to his chest, twisting a button between her fingers as she looks up at him through her lashes. Barefoot, she's a few inches shorter than he is.

"You've been working with me for how long now, Castle?"

He smiles, thumbs rubbing softly at her sides. She knows how long she's wanted this, wanted him.

"Since March of oh-nine, so it'll be three years in a couple of months," he says, dipping his head to press a sweet kiss to her lips and then pulling back.

"So you know that you should thoroughly *examine* any evidence you may uncover."

He nods, and lets his thumbs circle higher, the rest of each hand following. Cool air hits her belly, but then he pauses.

"If I'm going to be handling evidence, shouldn't I be wearing gloves?"

She laughs, shakes her head, and when she speaks again, she can hear the drop in her own tone, the sultry smoothness of her voice.

"Not this time, Rick," she says, and he listens, entranced. "This time, the more fingerprints the better."

Her skin is warm under his fingertips, soft and silky. He glides his hands upward, lets her sides fill his palms. Her eyes slide shut, and she takes a deep breath.

Every inch gained feels like a mountain scaled. Kate Beckett is letting him touch her. Inviting it, actually. Kate Beckett. He takes his time, savors the feel of her under his hands - strong muscle and hard bone and delicate skin. Freezing time and staying here forever seems like a pretty damn good idea.

He shakes his head to himself, grateful that her eyes are closed, not sure if he wants her to see just how much he has ached for this moment. He wonders if it makes him pathetic - how long he has followed her around like a faithful puppy, how much he has hoped she would notice him someday.

But as his thumbs catch against her ribcage, her eyes open and everything is laid bare before him, his own need mirrored in hers.

She sets her hands on his forearms, and for a single second he thinks she might pull him away from her. She doesn't.

Instead, her palms press against his wrists, slide over his knuckles, and her fingers fill the hollow spaces between his.

And then they're gone, arms bending and twisting behind her. It takes him a moment to grasp the sight in front of him - his hands spanning her abdomen as she reaches back to unclasp her bra.

"I thought this was supposed to be a strip search," she says throatily.

He has to kiss her for that. Has to pay homage to that wonderful, lightning-fast mind of hers.

His lips curl upward when she kisses him back enthusiastically, arms twining around his neck as she meets every swipe of his tongue with one of her own, moaning at the nip of his teeth on her jaw.

Her fingers tangle in his hair, rasping against his scalp, and he's certain that if every nerve in his body wasn't awake and damn near on fire, that sensation could easily put him to sleep.

It's soothing and familiar. He remembers when Alexis would drift off during a movie, her head in his lap as he played with her hair, scratching gently at the crown of her head.

He wonders if it was the same way with Kate and one of her parents, if it will be the same way when she has a child of her own. Their child, his brain supplies eagerly. Her child with him - because he's never letting her go.

Her hands drift down from his neck to his shoulders. She squeezes his biceps on the way to his forearms and continues on to his wrists. She curls her fingers around each palm and draws their hands upward together, hooking on the hem of her shirt and lifting.

His eyes stay locked on hers. She shudders under his touch as their joined hands smooth across the outer swells of her breasts, but her gaze never wavers from his face.

She doesn't let go of his hands until she absolutely must, and then he takes over the task, pulling the shirt over her head and arms, leaning forward to make sure her long hair doesn't get caught in the process.

When he pulls back, he doesn't look down. He glances to the side, tosses her shirt on the floor next to the simple white bra she must have shrugged off.

And then he meets her eyes. She watches him, her gaze vulnerable, yet defiant. Defiant? Does she think he'll judge her, compare her to the other women he's slept with at some point in the now hazy past?

He knows, just from the way she was pressed against him earlier, that she isn't lacking in assets. Nor is she as thin as she was when she came back to the precinct after the summer. He keeps her stocked with M&M's. And sometimes he orders her a regular latté instead of skinny. He could feel her ribs when he touched her, but there was enough meat on her bones. She's healthy. So what is it?

Castle stands, stock still, waiting for a sign from her. After a moment, she does more than give him a sign. She reaches down and takes one of his hands in both of hers, cradles it carefully. And presses it between her breasts.

His eyes drop to her chest then, and he catches sight of the thin line that demarcates the area where the surgeons performed emergency surgery last May. Where they did what he couldn't do on that too-sunny day - save her life.

Oh. Oh, Kate.

He realizes at once the gift she's giving him, the patch of damaged skin his hand protects, the challenge in her eyes to accept what she offers-

-her whole self.

Scars and all.

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