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

Author's note: So, I decided to keep going, at least for one more chapter.

"Kate!" he exclaimed, with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "I didn't expect to see you again so soon. Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, Castle," she told him, as a weight lifted from her shoulders. "Yeah, I think everything's good. Could I come in?"

"Of course!" he replied and stepped out of her way as he opened the door fully, the navy blue fleece blanket flapping around him like a cape. Just like a superhero, she thought.

As she stepped inside, Kate was met with a blast of warmth and she noticed that he'd changed into sweats and, by the looks of it, swapped his shoes for a second pair of warm socks.

"You're still cold, aren't you?" she asked gently as he shut the door behind her.

"Yeah, I mean, I was okay when we were out running around and then back at the precinct, but on my way home, I just started shivering again. So I bundled up when I got here and tried to take a nap but I couldn't sleep because I was still so worked up and..." He seemed to realize he was rambling and abruptly stopped to see that Kate was looking at him with a twinkle in her eyes.

"Can I tell you a secret, Castle?" she asked with a slight upturn of her lips. Without waiting for his answer she leaned toward him and stage whispered, "I'm wearing long johns, two shirts, a jacket, and three pairs of socks. And I'm really hoping you might offer to loan me a blanket while I'm here."

"Oh, yeah, sure." He turned and padded into the living room, leaving Kate smiling at the slightly bewildered look on his face.

He returned quickly with a second blanket, this one a dark green, and watched as the detective set her purse on the entry table, unfolded the warm fleece and pulled it around her own shoulders before turning her gaze back to him.

"Can I get you something to drink?" he asked after a moment of just staring at her.

"Got any hot chocolate?"

"I believe we do. Marshmallows?" He raised an eyebrow at her.

"Of course," she answered with a quick grin.

He shuffled off to the kitchen and she followed, perching herself on one of the bar stools. She watched as he set the milk to heat on the stove and rummaged in the cupboard for the hot chocolate mix and the bag of marshmallows (immediately popping two into his mouth, of course).

"Oo wa wo?"

"No thanks," she chuckled. "I really only like marshmallows when they're all melty in hot chocolate or s'mores."

He shrugged and replied, "Or oss," causing Kate to shake her head at him as he turned his attention back to the stove.

Seeing that the milk was hot enough, he turned off the burner, stirred in the mix and distributed the beverage evenly into two ceramic mugs. He started to reach for the marshmallows but paused.

"Do you trust me?"

"Always," she responded and caught a glimpse of something flash across his features before he leaned down and pulled a dark-colored bottle out of what she knew to be his liquor cabinet. He poured a small measure into each mug, added the marshmallows and handed the drink across the bar into her waiting hands.


"You're welcome."

She took a sip, closed her eyes, and nearly moaned as the warm beverage slid down her throat. She opened her eyes again to find him regarding her with a small smile, one that truly reached his eyes this time.

"I take it you approve, Detective?"

"Castle, this just might be the best hot chocolate I've ever had. What in the world was in that bottle?"

He leaned in and gave her a conspiratorial grin. "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."

He was acting more like himself now, Kate thought, a fact for which she was grateful.

"Just remember, Kitten, I'm the partner who carries a gun," she threatened, seeing his eyes soften as the word 'partner' left her lips.

"Fine, fine," he acquiesced as he held his hands up in mock surrender. "It's butterscotch schnapps. An old trick I learned when Alexis was little and had trouble sleeping."

Her jaw dropped at that statement. "You added alcohol to her hot chocolate to get her to sleep?"

"What? No! No." he backpedaled quickly. "Hot chocolate always made her sleepy, so I would make two cups. But it didn't work on me and I'd stay up worrying about her long after she'd drifted off. I started adding the schnapps to mine so I wouldn't be awake all night when she woke me up at 2 a.m. with nightmares."

"What kind of nightmares?" she asked, satisfied that he had not, in fact, been drugging his little girl.

"Well, she never wanted to talk about them much, but it was right after Meredith had left us, so..."

"That must have been a hard time, for both of you."

"She cried for weeks," Castle admitted. "I think that was the worst part—knowing there was nothing I could do to make it better."

Kate knew that after the emotional day they'd both had, their current conversation that had quickly turned from joking and banter to a much more serious topic, well, it wasn't what either of them needed at the moment. She reached over to squeeze his hand and changed the subject a little.

"Where are Alexis and Martha anyway? I figured they'd be home by now."

"No, I called them to let them know they could come back, but apparently there's a big storm rolling in, so they opted to spend the night and head home early in the morning." She could see how much he missed them, but then he perked up a bit. "We did get to video chat for a few minutes."

"That's good," she said and released his hand to take another sip of the hot chocolate.

"What about you? Where's Josh? I figured you two would be celebrating tonight, what with him not being in Haiti and you not being..." he trailed off suddenly.

"Dead?" she supplied quietly and watched as his face lost all its color.

"Yeah, that..." he breathed out.

"Captain gave us tomorrow off, by the way. Said we should get some rest after everything we've been through."

"Maybe I can convince Alexis to stay home from school so we can spend some time together. Life's too short, you know?"

"Yeah, I know. You should definitely do that."

She went silent then and they both just sat for a few moments, each lost in their own world. Finally, he looked at her mug and realized she'd hit bottom.

"I could make more if you'd like?"

It took her a second to catch his meaning, and then she shook her head, hopping down from the stool to wash her mug out.

"So you never told me where Josh was," he said quietly as he joined her at the sink. "Did he get called in or something?"

"No, we went to dinner. It was good," she said with a sigh. "I told him about the case, how you managed to save the city by virtue of your sheer dumb luck."

She bumped his shoulder playfully, and he grinned at her.

"That WAS pretty lucky. I still can't believe it really happened."

"I know, me neither. Josh and I agreed that you are very brave and very stupid."

She winked at him as he opened his mouth and began to look affronted, but before he had a chance to say anything she continued.

"We also agreed that we're glad you're my partner."

"You are?" he asked softly.

"Yes, Castle, very much so," she responded, drying her hands on a dishtowel and using them to brace herself against the counter behind her.


"You may not be a cop, but I know you've always got my back, even if your only weapon is a bottle of champagne."

He chuckled at that and she went on.

"You make me laugh, and in a job like mine, I need someone who can do that."

"Most of all, you've proven yourself loyal to those you care about, nearly to the point of self-destruction." She reached out to touch his arm so he would face her, so he could see the sincerity in her eyes.

"Castle, you put up a hundred thousand dollars so I'd have a chance – a CHANCE – at finding my mom's killer. You ran into a burning building to drag me out. You tackled a man who was trying to shoot me and beat him to a pulp. And today, when you could have gone and been safe in the Hampton's with your family, you chose to stay with me instead. To most people, doing even one of those things would sound crazy, but that's just who you are."

His eyes crinkled. "Are you calling me crazy, Detective Beckett?"

"Yes, yes, I am," she said and laughed with him for a moment before becoming serious again.

"Really, Castle, thank you. For everything you've done for me."

"Always," he said, and though he was smiling, his blue eyes were earnest and piercing. She was momentarily stunned at the expression on his face, seeing perhaps for the first time the look that Josh had spotted.

Sensing that something had inexplicably shaken her, Castle covered the hand that still rested on his arm. "Kate, are you alright?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm good." She let out a ragged breath. "Just remembered something Josh said to me earlier."

His eyes darkened a tiny bit, but all he said was "Come sit with me in the living room? I'm getting cold again, and I've got the fire going in there. Unless you need to go…"

"No, no point in going home to an empty apartment right now."

Castle lifted his eyebrows but said nothing for the moment, and Kate didn't offer anything else, just followed him, sank into the warm leather couch and closed her eyes. She could feel Castle hesitating before finally sitting next to her, still huddled in his blanket. She knew his insatiable need to know everything would come through soon. Sure enough, she didn't have to wait long before he spoke, just loud enough for his voice to cross the foot between them but softly enough not to startle her if her mind was elsewhere.

"What brought you to my neighborhood this evening, Kate? You didn't come just to steal my blankets and drink my hot chocolate, did you?"

She opened her eyes to find him a short distance away with an amused, yet questioning look on his face.

"No." She paused and he began to look worried again.

"You asked me where Josh was."

"I did."

"Well, I can't be positive, but I assume he's at home, packing."

Castle sucked in a quick breath. "Son of a…after all that, he's still going to Haiti?"

"He is. He leaves in the morning."

"Kate, I'm so sorry." Castle reached for her then, placing a comforting arm across her shoulders and, when she showed no signs of resistance, drawing her into his side. "Do you want me to go over there and torture him with my 'vast arsenal of rapier wit'? Or punch him? That worked the last time someone was trying to hurt you."

She laughed, touched by his instant willingness to be her white knight.

"It's okay, Castle. We had dinner, we talked. Not how I expected to spend my evening, but we parted on good terms. He certainly wasn't trying to hurt me."

"Did he tell you why he decided to go?" he asked timidly, not wanting to pry, but curious all the same.

"Yeah, he told me the whole story, and I understand completely. It's his calling. It wouldn't have been fair of him to ask me to give up being a detective, right?"

Castle nodded.

"I couldn't have asked him to give up his passion either. He's a good guy and hearing him talk about his work, well, it always made me want to be a better person."

Castle squeezed her shoulder.

"Having a teenage daughter, I know that I should offer you some chocolate ice cream right now, but that would kind of defeat the purpose of the blankets and the fire, right? I mean, I'll be happy to grab some if you'd like, but…"

"No, Castle," she cut him off. "It's fine. I'm fine. Besides, Josh gave me something far better than chocolate ice cream before he said goodbye."

"Better than chocolate ice cream?" he asked, disbelievingly. "Impossible!"

"Yep, better than all the chocolate ice cream in the world. He told me a story, one even more beautiful than the ones you write."

"Does that mean my stories aren't better than chocolate ice cream?" he asked as his bottom lip began to push out into a pout.

She rolled her eyes, but graced him with a soft smile nonetheless.

"I think you'll like this story. It's about a man who nearly froze to death."

He stilled beside her then and gazed into the flames dancing across the room. She reached out to grasp the hand that wasn't on her shoulder.

"The paramedics and a doctor managed to save him, but when he woke up, the only person he could think of was his partner. She was okay, but he didn't know. The paramedics kept trying to calm him down but all he would do was ask about her. Finally, the doctor came and told him she was just fine."

She felt him shudder and let go of his hand to touch his cheek, turning him to face her, immediately noticing the moisture brimming in his eyes.

"God, I thought I'd lost you," he whispered and a single tear trickled down his cheek. "When you passed out in my arms in the freezer, I didn't know what to do. And then, when I woke up and you weren't there…"

She wrapped both arms around him and quietly shushed him as he buried his face in the crook of her neck, the sobbing now beginning to wrack his blanket-covered shoulders.

"Hey now, shhh, it's okay. We're both alright. We made it out just fine. A little cold, a little tired, but we'll live to fight another day. Come on, Castle…shhh."

Slowly his sobs subsided as he clung to her. She carded her fingers through his silky hair and it seemed to calm him further. When he finally sat up again, he pushed his fists into his eyes. Like a little boy, she thought, and she couldn't help leaning forward again to place a kiss on his forehead.

"I was scared too, you know. When they brought me around and you hadn't woken up yet." She felt the tears spring into her own eyes, and for once, didn't resist them.

"I can't lose you, Castle. You're my partner and my—my best friend. I don't know what I'd do without you."

It was his turn to wrap her up, and with the blanket still on his shoulders, she got the funny impression of being a baby chick gathered under its mother's wings. Her tears turned to giggles, then chuckles, and finally she couldn't keep herself from breaking out in laughter, even as Castle pulled back and stared at her, completely mystified.

"You *gasp* reminded me *gasp* of a chicken," she tried to explain as her laughter slowed, knowing full well that she was failing miserably. "With the blanket, I mean. Earlier, I thought you looked like a superhero with a cape." He grinned at this. "But just now, you were more like a mother hen with one of her chicks."

He began to laugh then too, and they both giggled until their sides hurt and the tears streaming down their faces were no longer from fear or hurt, but from relief and pure joy that somehow, they'd made it through the past few days relatively unscathed.

Finally, she sighed and leaned back into him, relaxing into the arm that was still draped across her shoulders.

"Kate," he called softly after a few minutes of comfortable silence.

"Mmmhmm?" she murmured as she lifted her head to look at him, witnessing a flash of trepidation in his expression before it settled into something she could only describe as hope.

"Please don't kill me," he began, and at her raised eyebrow he continued. "I know I probably shouldn't be saying this right now and you'll probably hate me for telling you, but…"

"What is it, Castle?"

"It's just, after everything that's happened the past few days and how many times we came so close to dying…I just, I just have to get something off my chest."

"It's okay, just tell me," she encouraged him. "Whatever it is, we'll figure it out."

He looked deep into her eyes, and she could clearly read his pleading for her to not be angry with him.

"I think I love you," he whispered, and she could tell he was steeling himself for the worst. She smirked.

"I know."

Shock appeared suddenly in his features as he leaned back to take in the upturned corners of her mouth, the quirk of her brows and the glitter in her eyes.

"Did you…I don't believe it! You just pulled a Han Solo on me!" he cried, torn between being indignant at her response and wanting to fall into fits of laughter all over again.

"Yes, I did, though if I'm Han, that would make you Leia, and let me just warn you that if I ever see you in a metal bikini, I'll consider it a crime against humanity and shoot you on the spot."

She took in his astonished expression, but before he could respond, she cupped his cheek and, sensing the shift, his eyes grew serious once more.

"That's the rest of the story Josh told me. He said he recognized the way you look at me. That his dad looked at his mom the same way, that he had looked at the girl he loved that way too before she was killed in an accident. He's the reason that I came over tonight. I had to find out if he was right when he told me that you loved me."

"Pretty smart guy, that Doctor Motorcycle Boy," he commented, and she laughed, dropping her hand from his cheek to wrap her arm around his chest that still rumbled with an echo of his laugh.

She hid her face in the folds of his blanket, but he could still hear her as she started to speak. "I realized something today, Castle. When you grabbed my hand while we were standing in front of the bomb?"

His arm tightened around her shoulders and she felt him nod.

"I think I love you too," she whispered.

He didn't respond, but she heard his breath hitch before his body relaxed a little more.

She knew he'd want a moment to absorb it all, but she needed to break the sudden silence, and he heard her mumble, "Is it okay if I still call you Castle? Rick just doesn't sound right."

He chuckled. "Sweetheart, you can call me Castle, Writer Boy, Crazy Idiot or whatever else you want as long as you're telling me you love me."

She smiled and burrowed further into his warmth, lifting her eyes to watch his face.



"Can I kiss you now?"

"I'd be disappointed if you didn't," she teased.

He bent his head and sweetly pressed his warm lips to hers for a brief moment before smiling against her mouth and allowing his forehead to rest on hers.

Kate knew that there would be time tomorrow for talking about where to go from here, setting ground rules at the precinct, handling the inevitable publicity, and telling his daughter and mother.

But for now, all they wanted was a little peace and quiet after a long day. His arm tightened around her as he drifted off, and she sighed happily. For now, this was perfect.

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