CLAWS

One shift. One tiny movement and he would have been exactly where she wanted him.

But she knows this man. Her partner.

She knows the way his eyes almost disappear into the crinkles when he laughs really laughs.

She knows how his whole posture becomes tense when he's worried about Alexis and how his chest puffs up when he gets to brag on his daughter his greatest accomplishment.

She knows the texture and warmth of his fingers as he passes over her daily coffee the good morning kiss he's been faithfully offering her for years, long before she understood its significance.

And at the moment, she's becoming intimately acquainted with the fact that how he loves her is the same as how he tells a story the way he gives attention to the details, how he presents twists and turns and surprises, building the tension with rising action until the pressure is nearly unbearable, until the moment when all is revealed: the climax.

Then comes the fall, and after that, the resolution.

But unlike one of his novels, the resolution doesn't mark the end of their story.

No. For her, for them, it's barely even the beginning.

She pants heavily beneath him as he kisses his way up her stomach, moist lips sliding easily across her over-sensitized skin until he reaches her mouth.

"Okay there?" he whispers, a smug smile gracing his lips when he pulls away to meet her eyes.

She lifts her head just enough to nuzzle into his cheek where his own scent is layered with hers, not sure if she has the strength at the moment to give him anything beyond that small gesture of affection.

"More than," she murmurs. "Just feeling a little boneless right now."

He dips his head, presses an open-mouthed kiss just below her ear, and shifts to her side, his knee hitching over her thigh as he slides one arm under her neck, the other tracing soothing patterns on her belly.

Pillowed on his bicep, she rolls to face him, his leg slipping between hers. She lifts her fingers to feather across his cheek.

"You're amazing, you know?"

He smirks, and she flicks his ear.

"Not like that," she says, and he raises one eyebrow. "Okay, maybe like that too, but that's not what I meant."

His smile softens into tenderness, and he turns his face into her hand, lips grazing her palm.

"How am I amazing then?"

She brushes her thumb under his eye, up the ridge of his nose, across his brow. Blue disappears beneath his lids and he lets out a soft, contented sigh that warms her wrist with his exhale.

"You have this way," she starts, hesitates for a moment until his eyes open again. "This way of making me forget all the bad, all of the evil I deal with everyday."

One corner of his mouth quirks up, just a little. His gaze is intense, but gentle, loving.

"I'm glad, Kate," he says quietly. "I'm glad I can do that for you."

She moves from the little scar on his forehead to card her fingers through his messy hair. Messy hair that is entirely her fault. He hums under her touch, the vibrations against her hand sending a lightning bolt of need all the way down to her toes, a shock to her already saturated nervous system.

"You do so much for me," she continues. "So much more than you know."

He studies her, mingled determination and devotion flaring in his eyes.

"If there's ever anything I can-"

She cuts him off with a finger against his lips.

"I know, Rick," she promises. "I already know."

Her hand drifts from his face to his bare chest, his skin slick with the exertion of bringing her pleasure. Her heartbeat is speeding up again - perhaps jumpstarted by that little hum, by that fierce spark she saw in his gaze - and it seems his own heart is determined to match her pace.

But there's still something in his eyes, something needy beyond the physical desire she can feel against her hip.

"Castle?" she whispers. "Okay there?"

He nods, but then closes his eyes, his hand leaving her stomach to clutch her fingers against his chest.

"Just need a minute," he says, and his voice is a little hoarse, a little more uneven than it was when he mumbled a wide range of interesting things against the inside of her thigh a few minutes ago.

"Take your time," she assures him, relaxing her tightly wound muscles and banking the embers of her want. "I'll be right here when you're ready."

He waited for her.

And now she waits for him.


She doesn't move her hand from his chest, and he's grateful for that. He realizes he's probably worrying her. After all, what could possibly slow him down when he's got a certain naked detective in his arms?

But he has this sudden compulsion to lay bare for her more than just his body.

"You don't know, Kate," he says finally, his eyes still closed, his voice more raspy to his ears than usual. "You don't know everything you've done for me. How you saved me."

He does look at her then, sees the confusion in that adorable furrow of her brow, the doubt in her eyes, flecked gold in the sunlight that filters through her windows.

"What do you mean?" she asks, curling her fingers against his chest, giving him an encouraging smile. "And are you saying that I'm ahead in the standings? Of who has saved whom the greatest number of times, I mean."

He chuckles at that, at her proper use of who and whom, at the memory of their friendly, if heated, debate about which saves really counted.

They'd argued at the dinner table in front of his family, but by mutual unspoken agreement were vague about most of the circumstances, making light of them whenever possible, concealing from his mother and daughter just how often they had come far too close to receiving a visit from a somber police officer bearing bad news.

But then he shakes his head, releasing her fingers to stroke his hand over her shoulder, down to her waist. He brushes along the side of her breast and she shivers, eyes darkening.

"I was floundering," he says softly. "You can ask Alexis. Or my mother. I hadn't written a word in the months since I'd sent the last Derrick Storm novel off to the publisher."

She pulls up the arm that has been partially trapped underneath her body, tucking her hand below her chin, settling in for the tale, perhaps.

"And then I met you," he continues, thumb rubbing slow circles just next to her belly button. "Suddenly, I had this brand new character demanding to be written. You gave me new stories."

His heart quickens at the surprise, the joy in every soft line of her face.

"Castle..." she breathes, and it might be a trick of the light but her eyes appear brighter, a little shinier than they were.

He squeezes her side, the skin warm under his palm.

"And then working with you these last three years," he says as his fingers push into the ribs at her back. "I'd never before felt like I was really doing something good, you know?"

Her hand coasts from his chest to curl around his neck, thumb stroking the line of his jaw.

"Don't sell yourself short, Rick," she tells him quietly, leaning forward to press her lips briefly to his. "You're good at quite a few things."

He leers and waggles his eyebrows. She rolls her eyes.

"Thank you," he laughs. "But I don't mean doing something well. I mean doing something good."

It's a grammatical distinction he feels compelled to point out to her. And not only because he's a writer.

"Something worthwhile," he continues, sliding his hand up and down her side in a slow, soothing motion. "Something that makes a real difference. You gave me that. You gave me purpose."

And suddenly she's launching herself into his embrace, all soft curves at his front and gripping fingers at his back. Her mouth finds his ear, her nose nudging at the shell. Her voice is full and giving.

"You were making a difference already," she says, her tone husky with need, the statement earnest and almost beseeching. "With every word you wrote, Richard Castle. Long before we met, you made a difference to me."

He tightens his arms around her, doesn't know what else to do with this new incarnation of the often stolid detective. Yes, she's been more open lately, freer with her emotions and her affections.

But this feels different. This feels even deeper than any of the other reactions they've drawn from each other in the past two days. And he's not going to hinder it by speaking just now.

"After my mother was murdered," she murmurs, and he reflexively holds her closer to his body. "I was drowning. Even more than my dad, in some ways. Until I found your books."

He stops breathing.

"You write justice, Castle, and hope, and no one else had been able to give me much of either."

Her words echo in his ears, the vibration of her voice resonating in his chest.

"Kate..."

She pulls back to meet his gaze, and for the first time, he realizes that when she launched herself at him, she managed to roll him onto his back.

And now, she's looking down at him, dark eyes filled with love and want, long legs bent at the knee, bracketing his hips. The blood that had seeped back into his brain while she came down from her high and then flooded it while they talked suddenly flows in the opposite direction once more.

"Your words saved me, Rick," she whispers, tilting forward to get at his mouth, her lips soft and tender and pliant as she trails kisses back to his ear.

"I love you," she sighs. "So very much."

He closes his eyes. Her whole body is rippling over him, and the only words he can think of are fortunately the only ones he needs to say.

"I love you, too."

She brushes one more kiss against his mouth and pulls away.

"Look at me," she commands quietly. "And just remember: we've got all day."

His eyes pop open.

"All day?"

Then she shifts against him and his hips jerk and his breathing stutters and suddenly her warmth surrounds him completely and he stares up at her in joyous surprise, the expression on her face one he hopes he sees often and never forgets.

"Oh, Kate..."

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