Alexis left an hour ago to go see a movie with a boy she's known as a classmate for years. She says he's quiet, a little geeky, but sweet and always kind to her. He asked her out a few weeks ago and apparently he bought her a gingerbread latte after school one day (she does take after her father with her tastes in that respect, even if he hasn't sold her on the s'morelet).

So far, he's only met the kid once. This evening, actually, when he stopped by to pick her up. He seems nice enough, if a little nervous. He shook Castle's hand, gained a measure of respect in the author's eyes for the firmness of his grip.

Martha is out with some actor friends, living it up as always. So he has the loft to himself.

It's been a great day, but Castle's rather glad for the chance to decompress a bit, to relax before what he knows will be a long (and likely incredibly trying) week ahead. He had promised his daughter months ago that he'd take her to California to visit her mom over Christmas break.

He's most definitely not looking forward to seeing his hurricane of an ex-wife. But he is looking forward to time with his little girl. And since he has no doubt that Meredith will ditch them at least once or twice, he should get to hang out with Alexis plenty.

It'll be warmer than it is in New York, and though he loves the winter chill, he likes the sun too. It would be an ideal trip really, if it weren't for Kate.

Kate. She's never been more than a breath away from his thoughts since he left her smiling in her hallway yesterday afternoon.

She texted him last night to say that she'd made it to the cabin safely. He hadn't expected that, nor the feeling the brief message stirred up in him. He'd texted her back a simple thanks for letting him know, in place of all the things he really wanted to say, questions about whether her checking in with him was going to be a regular thing now.

This morning his phone had trilled with another incoming message from her. This time it was a video.

Jim Beckett stood in an open doorway looking out over a snow-covered porch. He could see Minerva standing next to the man on the doormat, head cocked as she considered the white blanket. She put out a paw, cautiously, to touch the snow, jumping straight up and back when she felt the cold.

Kate's laughter rang out from behind the camera, and Castle felt his heart swell with affection.

"Minnie," she called in that soft, sweet voice he'd never heard until this weekend. "Come here, baby girl."

The kitten hesitated, but then stepped out. Slowly, she moved across the porch, putting one paw down at time, drawing back frequently, but slowly venturing forward toward the camera, moving faster as she seemingly gained confidence.

"We woke up to snow this morning," Kate's voice told him quietly over the video. And I wanted to show you, came the unspoken message.

He watched as Minerva reached the edge of the steps. The detective must have been standing just a few feet down the walk because he could see the footprints she'd left behind. Castle figured the kitten wouldn't leave the safety of the porch. But she did.

Kate's gloved hand shot forward into the frame of the video, but she was too slow and too far away to stop the little gray cat from taking a flying leap from the steps, disappearing straight into a small snow drift at the bottom.

"Oops, gotta go," he heard. The camera moved forward and a faint meow came across the line before the screen went black.

Adorable, he'd texted her back. And Minnie's pretty cute too.

He'd taken a chance, hoping that their openness from Friday night and Saturday morning could be maintained, despite the distance now between them.

Her reply had made him laugh out loud, earning a look from his daughter as she waited for him to finish making the mashed potatoes. My dad says if you think he's adorable now you should see his baby pictures.

Good, she was playing right along with him. Haha, he answered. He said nothing else, leaving the ball in her court, knowing full well that she'd understood what he was saying before. She hasn't texted him back, but he's not worried.

Now, hours later, their typed conversation is still bringing a smile to his face. He needs to talk to her, needs to hear her voice at least once more before he and Alexis leave in the morning. Even though they're separated by many miles, he feels like they're still in their own bubble, where no murders or ex-wives exist, where it's just the two of them. He wants to hold onto that feeling as long as he can.

He calls her.


A grin spreads his cheeks when she answers with his name rather than her customary use of her own surname.

"What's up?" she asks when he doesn't reply.

"Hey Kate," he says quietly, his voice deeper than usual. "Merry Christmas."

There's a momentary pause, some shuffling, and he thinks he hears a door closing.

"Merry Christmas to you. Good day?"

He allows himself to sink further into the back of the couch, watching the flames dance in the fireplace.

"Yeah, very good. You?"

She hums softly through the speaker, and he's struck with the sudden vision of her doing the same thing into his ear while they're cuddled up in bed. It leaves him winded.

"Mmhmm. We've had fun."

"How's your dad?" he asks when he's sufficiently recovered.

"He's fine. Says hello."

The last time he saw the man was in the hospital while they waited for news on Kate. The look on the man's face...he'll never forget it.

"Tell him hi for me too," Castle says. "And Minnie."

She laughs lightly. "Tell her yourself. Hold on."

There's a creak, something that sounds like bedsprings, and he imagines her cloistered in a bedroom for privacy, leaning back against a pile of pillows.

"You still there?" she asks, her voice sounding a little farther away, with a hint of an echo.

"I'm here," he responds.

He hears more shifting, a muffled "oh, come here, you," and then she's talking to him again.

"Here she is."

He thinks he knows what's going on, but no, surely not. Not his serious detective.

"Who? Minnie?"

She chuckles.

"Uh-huh. Sorry, she was more interested in playing with my hair."

"Can't blame her for that," he quips, distance and love making him bold. "I would be too."

Her breathless laugh tugs at him, stirs up desire within him.

"Annnyway," she says, drawing out the word awkwardly. He loves awkward Kate. Normally she's all grace and poise. But awkwardness? It suits her just as well.

"I've got you on speakerphone," she says, pulling him from his thoughts. "So you can talk to her. If you want."

He wonders if this is how it will be when they have kids. If they have kids, he corrects himself. No. When. He's determined to make that happen, to see what Kate Beckett would be like as a mother, to see more than these brief glimpses of the woman she could become. He wants to call home when he's on a book tour and have her put their kids on the phone so they can talk to daddy.

"Hey pretty girl, whatcha doing?" he sing-songs, his voice rising into that same tender tone that used to come out when he would lean over his daughter's crib to find bright blue eyes focused solely on his own.

"I told you, Castle. I'm sitting here with Minnie."

Oh, she's got a little boldness of her own tonight. A little sass to spice things up.

"Sorry," he jokes. "Should have been more specific about which pretty girl I was addressing. Could you put your cat on the line?"

Her laughter warms him, fills his empty places. He hears a mew, and then the dead line beep echoes in his ear. He pulls the phone away to look at it, and it almost immediately starts ringing again, the detective's smiling face appearing on the screen.


"She hit the 'end call' button with her nose. Sorry. I don't think she wants to talk."

He grins, though he knows she can't see it.

"It's okay. You might be a better conversationalist."

He can almost hear her eye roll.

"Thanks for your vote of confidence in my intelligence."

"Hey," he defends himself. "Cats are really smart."

She hums again. That's quickly becoming one of his favorite sounds.

"Well, she did hang up on you, so I guess you might be right."

She insulted him and told him he was right all in one sentence. Sexy. He laughs.

"So what have you guys been doing?"

He hears the squeak of springs again and thinks she might have rolled over. Getting comfortable for their conversation.

"We've just been hanging out mostly. Watched A Christmas Story last night during dinner. Opened presents this morning."

"Did you get anything good?" he asks.

She chuckles. At his child-like excitement, he assumes.

"New motorcycle helmet, so that's nice."

"You should take me for a ride sometime, you know?" he teases.

Her voice is throaty when she answers.

"Oh, I know."

His mouth is suddenly dry, the moisture evacuated by her innuendo, gone the same way as his coherent thoughts.

"Did I lose you, Castle?"

He opens his mouth and then closes it again.

"No, no, you've still got me," he finally says after she's called his name again.

She laughs, but it's not the light laugh of before. This one sounds dark, bewitching, almost a siren-song.

He can do nothing but breathe for a moment, and she seems to be doing the same.

"So." His voice comes out more than a little strangled. "What did you do the rest of the day?"

There's a pause, and he wonders if she is coming back from the same place he was.

"Just messed around mostly. I played in the snow for a bit with Minnie."

His heart clenches. Kate Beckett, playful and relaxed. He wishes he could have seen more than just the video she sent.

"How'd she do with it?"

She giggles. Actually giggles.

"Okay, after I pulled her out of the snow drift and took her back to the porch. She was actually shivering when I brought her back inside though."

He smiles.

"Poor thing."

"I wrapped her in towel and we sat in front of the fire for a bit to warm up."

She's painting pictures in his head in a way he doesn't think she even realizes. It's a side of her he hasn't seen much, this happy Kate. He likes it more than he can say.

"Sounds like a good day."

She sighs, but it's not the discouraged or upset or annoyed one he hears sometimes. It sounds more like contentment, a release of the satisfaction that is too much to stay inside.

"Doesn't hurt to be wrapping up the day with my favorite author."

Oh. His stomach flips. He didn't expect that. Didn't expect that at all. He's not really sure what he's supposed to say. He falls back on the familiar.

"Patterson's there?"

He can hear the smile in her voice.

"Nope. Not him. You might know the guy. Follows me around sometimes?"

"Alex Conrad?" he offers.

Her sigh this time is one of frustration. But frustration tinged with happiness, so he thinks that's okay.

"I told you, Castle. I'm a one-writer girl. Did you forget that?"

No. He didn't. Couldn't. Ever.

"Ah," he says.

The silence stretches between them. He dearly wishes he could see her face. Could lie next to her on the bed and twine their fingers together and let the silence wrap around them like a blanket.

"What time do you and Alexis leave tomorrow?"

He lets out his own sigh.

"Early. Eight o'clock. Have to be at the airport by six-thirty."

"You come back on Friday?"

He nods, then realizes she can't see him.

"Yes, late. You're working, aren't you?"

"I am on Friday. Just on call for New Year's Eve. I was supposed to be working Saturday too, but Karpowski switched with me. Needed an out on a party invitation she felt obligated to accept."

He laughs at the thought of the tough cop not wanting to hurt someone's feelings. But he hesitates before extending his own invitation. She might have been telling her schedule just so he'd know whether or not he might get a call about a body. But she might have meant something else.

"Come over? If you don't get called in on Saturday night? We could watch the ball drop."

He wants to do more than that. He wants to do so much more.

"Doesn't the Mayor always have a big party? Aren't you going?"

She hasn't said no.

"Not this year," he says honestly. "I don't like going by myself. I was going to see if you wanted to go, but I thought you were working. And Mother and Alexis had other plans."

He hears an intake of breath. Not a gasp. Just a quickening.

"You couldn't find someone else?"

This. She needs to know this.

"It's too late to RSVP anyway. And besides, I don't want anyone else."

She goes silent on the other end. Literally. He can't even hear her breathing anymore.


Nothing for a moment. His whole body coils. And then she speaks.

"I can't make any promises, but I'll come over if I don't get called in."

Whatever had tightened inside him comes loose, and he lets out a shaky breath.

"Of course, if a body does drop, you know I want in."

She chuckles, the tension between them dissolving.

"I'd expect nothing less, Master of the Macabre."

He chuckles, relieved that he doesn't seem to have screwed anything up.

"Hey Kate?" he calls. "If you do come over, bring Minnie. I miss her."

He listens to her slow exhale. She seems to have come back around to contentment.

"You know, Castle, I think she misses you too."

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