By the time he gets to the kitchen, she's on the phone and ordering his favorite and hers while she rummages under the counter, emerging a moment later with a bottle of wine and pointing at the drawer where she keeps the opener.

It surprises him, though he knows it shouldn't, that she knows his Chinese order. He's not the only one who observes. It's her job, after all, to detect.

Like last Wednesday. His phone rang at 6:17 in the morning, her face appearing on the screen. He answered, she tersely told him to be outside in ten, and then the call disconnected. He'd stared at his phone for a moment, not quite awake, until her words registered.

Nine minutes later, he was greeting the doorman after the quickest shower ever, dressed but still scruffy, not to mention uncaffeinated. She was there, leaning against the hood of her Crown Vic, holding two red Starbucks cups.

He could smell her peppermint mocha as he approached. When he took a sip of the drink she handed to him, his eyebrows lifted and he couldn't keep the smile from his face. Gingerbread latte.

Once, two years ago, he'd accidentally handed her his coffee instead of her own. She'd grimaced and nearly spit it out then, but apparently she'd remembered that this was the seasonal flavor in which he occasionally indulged.

He'd tweeted about it later, not mentioning her name of course. But she walked up behind him while he was sitting at her computer (too many games of Temple Run had exhausted the battery on his phone). She swatted him on the back of the head with her folder, and leaned over to see what he'd been typing.

"I think you misspelled annoying in your hash tag," she'd teased, but he'd seen the pleased twinkle in her eye.

So yeah, he shouldn't be surprised that she knows what he likes. But he is. She knows him, and that thought creates a warm tingling in his belly.

He's pulled from his thought by her arm, reaching in front of him to dig in the drawer he has opened. She pulls out the wine tool, shaking her head at the delay, muttering something about men never being able to find anything.

He turns and takes the gadget from her hand, opening the bottle quickly and efficiently while she sets two glasses on the counter. He pours a good measure of the dark liquid into both glasses, placing the bottle back on counter and lifting his glass to clink against hers.

"To friendship," he says, and she smiles shyly at him. "And slumber parties."

The end of his toast has her drawing back with a glare, and he realizes how that sounded.

"Oh. No. That's not what I...no."

She's still glaring at him.

"I meant Alexis and her friends. Just that if she hadn't kicked me out, I'd be spending a boring evening at home, trying to write, not hanging out with a pretty detective."

Her eyes lose some of their fire at his explanation, gain a different kind of heat when he calls her pretty.

"So it is a slumber party then?" she asks, and he nods.

"Yeah, that's what Alexis said. So looks like I'll be staying in a hotel tonight."

Kate looks at him for a moment, opens her mouth, closes it, then opens it again.

"You could just stay here. My couch is pretty comfy. And it should be plenty long enough for you."

His eyes widen.

"You're serious?"

She shrugs.

"My cat likes you."

He smiles, but shakes his head.

"I don't want to impose, Kate."

She rolls her eyes.

"What exactly do you think you'd been doing for the past three and a half years?"

He grins.

"Touché, detective. So, do we braid each other's hair and talk about boys now? Or should we save that for later?"

He can tell she's trying not to laugh, and she's doing a fine job of it, but her eyes give her away, as they nearly always do.

"We," she says, gesturing between the two of them, "are not having a slumber party. There will be no braiding of hair, no talking about boys, unless you mean Ryan and Esposito. Nor will we tell ghost stories or have a pillow fight."

He slumps his shoulders, and frowns sadly, blue eyes wide open, hoping for a response. He gets one: a finger poking his chest, hard.

"And if you try the puppy dog eyes on me one more time, you can kiss your couch privileges goodbye."

He smirks at her.

"Does that mean I'd get to sleep in your bed instead?"

She backhands him across the chest, but she's laughing, so he's not worried that he pushed too far. He thinks, hopes at any rate, that she knows by now that he wants more than that.

Wants everything. Wants always.

He's just not sure what she wants, though recent behavior has made him hopeful that they might be on the same page, even if he reads a little faster.

"So," she says, holding her glass in one hand and reaching down to pick up Minerva in the other, "shall we find another movie while we wait for our food?"

He nods his agreement, and follows her back to the couch, plopping down next to her, his whole side pressed against her. She doesn't move away, just jostles their shoulders until she's comfortable and stays close.

She flips channels until he stops her with his hand on her forearm.

"Wait," he requests, and she goes back to the previous station.

There are singing rats on the screen, and she turns to him with a smile that matches his own.

"Good eyes, Castle. I love this movie."

She has surprised him yet again, but she's already watching with rapt attention, so he doesn't say anything this time, just focuses on Mr. Scrooge and Kermit the Frog on the television and the feel of the warmth and soft curves of the woman at his side.

Well, mostly soft curves. Her hipbone juts into his sharply, and he makes a mental note to keep her bowl of M&M's stocked. Her body is long and lean, needs to be for her job, but a couple pounds wouldn't hurt her at all. She's still a little too gaunt after this summer.

She laughs at the shrill "Light the lamp, not the rat!" and Minnie stirs from where she rested on Kate's lap, arching her back and padding over to settle on Castle, nuzzling his hand.

He scratches the small ears affectionately until the kitten rolls onto her back, at which point he moves his hand to rub her belly. Strong back legs wrap around his wrist while tiny paws with needle-sharp claws trap the rest of his hand. She gnaws on the tip of his index finger, giving it a rough lick when he wiggles it.

Kate is watching him. He can see, out of the corner of his eye, the look on her face. It's the same expression she wears when she sees him with Alexis, the other times she's seen him interacting with kids they've encountered on their cases.

"You're a good man," she says quietly, echoing her earlier words, and he looks up in surprise.

"That's twice tonight you've told me that. Did somebody forget to tell me I was dying or something?"

A shadow flashes across her eyes, and she turns back to the tv.

Well, crap.

He lifts his free hand (the one not currently trapped and covered in kitten drool) and closes it over hers.

"Hey, I shouldn't have made that joke," he whispers. "I'm sorry."

She turns back to meet his eyes, and he's grateful to see that she doesn't look angry, nor ready to burst into tears. Just a little...haunted.

"S'okay," she assures him. "We thrive on the gallows humor, but after the past year..."

She trails off, but their connection holds, and he finishes her thought.

"It hits a little too close to home."

She nods, and they go silent for a moment. He knows where his own thoughts will lead, and he wonders if hers are the same, of empty warehouses and sunny cemeteries, or if they revolve around sketchy hotel rooms and blown-up banks.

He squeezes her hand briefly and then releases, drawing her attention.

"Sooo...you were saying something about how wonderful I am?"

She purses her lips, eyes narrowing.

"I don't recall saying anything about wonderful..."

He figures she'll play it off now, but she doesn't. She lifts her hand to his shoulder, touching it lightly.

"I just...I don't always see you as a genuinely good man."

He furrows his eyebrows. He thinks he's been mostly on the nice side lately. Sure, the snark comes through now and then, but he doesn't think he's been truly unkind. Not even when they were cuffed together and arguing in the basement.

"What do you mean, Kate?" he asks, keeping his voice soft, not challenging, not accusatory, just curious.

She shrugs, and her cheeks redden a little. She breaks his eye contact.

"Nothing. I don't know. When we're at work, you challenge me and you annoy me and you play with the boys. And you act tough, and you make crude jokes. Basically, you behave like a guy."

He tilts his head, not quite getting what she means.

"I am a guy."

She shakes her head, and he knows she's not disagreeing with him, just trying to figure out how to phrase what she wants to say, how much of herself to reveal.

"Sometimes you," she begins, but then pauses, biting her lip. "Sometimes you remind me of my dad. The way he was when I was growing up."

He's still not sure what she means by that, but he thinks it's a good thing. He likes her dad. And he knows the man must be different now than when Kate was young, but still...

"How so?" he asks.

"Just. The way you are with Alexis, and your mother, even when you're on the phone with one of them. You're different. Did you know your voice changes? It gets...softer."

He nods, still lost.

"My dad used to always bring me food or hot chocolate when I was studying or working on a project. He'd distract me for a few minutes until I yelled at him to let me work in peace. But I think he knew when I needed someone to make me take a break."

He smiles, starting to catch up. Like her father, Castle tries to take care of her.

She glances down at Minerva, who has moved from his fingertip to a knuckle and is chewing happily. He hadn't really noticed.

"My parents would have been married for 35 years now."

He whistles. "Wow."

"My mom and I are a lot alike. She worked too hard, and she didn't always know when to stop, and she would forget to eat. And more often than not, she'd gripe at my dad when he tried to get her to slow down. I tended to do the same things."

She looks up at him, and he quirks one side of his mouth upward.

"My dad was just so patient with her, he always knew how far to push and when to step back. With both of us. I know he got frustrated sometimes, but somehow, he was always kind. He's always had a tender heart."

Her eyebrows scrunch up, and he knows that's a sign that whatever comes next won't be easy for her to say. He wants to touch her. Wants to, but knows that might make it harder.

"Castle, I..."

She's cut off by a buzzer. Their food. He's not sure whether he should be relieved or frustrated. She's biting her lip, and he thinks she might be wondering the same thing.

He stands, turning his hand as he does, and setting the kitten on her lap.

"I'll get it."

"You don't..." she says, but her dismisses her objection with a wave.

"I've invaded your home and forced you to keep me company. The least I can do is pay for dinner when I mess up your evening."

She smiles, that soft, affectionate smile that he's seen much more often lately, though usually when she thinks he's not looking. But she's open about it this time, and his chest tightens at the sight.

He heads to the door, hand reaching back to his pocket for his wallet, when he hears her voice and his step falters for a moment.

"Best night I've had in a long time."

If he wasn't so attuned to her particular frequency, he might have missed it. It was that quiet. And he's not sure she meant for him to hear it either. So he keeps going, opening the door for the delivery boy, paying for their food.

He snags the wine bottle on his way back to the couch, refilling their glasses as he sits.

Minnie is awake, nose in the air, jumping onto the coffee table before Kate can catch her. But Castle's large hand swoops her up and deposits her on the back of the couch.

"Thanks," Kate says, and he nods, smiling.

He opens the bag and hands her a container. She opens it, wrinkles her nose, and gives it back.


He laughs. She can't stand his usual order. He wonders how she'd feel about a s'morelet. Probably wouldn't be a fan.

She takes the other container from his hands, and he passes over a pair of chopsticks. They settle back into the couch, shoulder to shoulder, elbows bumping as they eat and drink and laugh, previous conversation put on hold for now. The moment had passed. If it came around again tonight, maybe they'd talk more. If not, that's okay too. He's just glad to be here, to be given a chance.

He hears Kate laugh, but this isn't a funny point in the movie, so he turns toward her to see what's got her going. Minnie's perched on her shoulder, little green eyes following each bite that the detective takes. He chuckles, and Kate looks over at him, grinning.

They lock eyes for a moment before a movement just past her ear distracts him. He's barely quick enough to keep the kitten from diving nose-first into her food. Apparently she was just waiting for the right opportunity. He can't help but admire her courage.

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