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

Author's note: Sorry for the long delay. I considered leaving this where it was, but got a few requests to continue, so I figured I'd keep going for a little longer.

Around 6:30 the next morning, Kate awoke to the sound of a key turning in the lock and two muffled but familiar voices bickering.

"But Gram, I have that physics test today! I can't miss it."

"I know, Darling, but I think your father needs you. Can't you make it up or something?"

"Make-up exams are always harder than the originals and I'm not even as ready as I'd like. Can't you stay home with him?"

"I have rehearsal at eleven, and the opening is only two weeks away. I have to be there."

"Fine," Kate heard Alexis say with an exasperated sigh. "Can we compromise? I'll go to school until I finish my test in second period and then come home."

"I think that sounds like a lovely idea. Come on, let's put our things away and go check on your father."

Kate listened as they removed their jackets to hang them in the coat closet and headed upstairs to deposit their belongings in their rooms. She debated getting up, knowing that they would surely be discovered when they returned, but then realized that she didn't really mind. She loved Alexis, and Martha was dear to her as well.

Besides, she was comfortable. Sometime during the night, she and Castle had shifted so they were stretched across the length of the couch on their sides. His nose was buried in her soft curls, his arm slung across her belly as he held her to himself. Their fleece blankets lay crumpled on the floor, but for the first time in 36 hours, she wasn't cold.

"M-morning," he yawned, and tightened his hold on her. "Are you awake, Kate?"

He yawned again and his warm exhale on the back of her neck sent a sudden jolt of electricity down her spine. As she tensed in his arms, Castle lifted his head to look at her.

"You okay?"

Seeing the concern in his blue eyes, she couldn't help but smile back at him.

"Good morning to you. And yes, I'm fine. I think I heard Martha and Alexis come in just now."

"Really?" His eyes brightened and he nearly vaulted off the couch in his haste to see them for himself before realizing he was still wrapped around Kate who was regarding him with an amused twinkle.

"What? I missed them!" he defended.

"I know you did. Just don't drop me on the floor, please."

"Sorry," he said, his tone contrite as he began to extricate himself more carefully.

Kate took pity on him and smoothed a hand up his chest to his cheek as she sat up. He stilled at her actions and turned his attention fully to her.

"You know, when I first met you, I thought you were an arrogant playboy. It was your devotion to your family that changed my mind. You're a great son, Castle, and an even better father. They're lucky to have you."

"I'm pretty sure I'm the lucky one," he said and turned his head slightly to kiss her palm. "Now, are you going to stay for breakfast, or do you want me to distract them while you sneak out?"

"Why would I want to sneak out?" she asked with slight confusion.

"Well, I wasn't sure if you'd be up to the walk of shame this morning. I...I mean, not that there's anything to be ashamed of or anything." He was blushing now and Kate found his stutter highly entertaining.

"Not yet, Writer Boy, not yet," she said and smirked at his gobsmacked expression. "I'll stay for breakfast. Unless you think they'd rather have you to themselves for a bit?"

"Nonsense, dear," Martha declared as she and Alexis entered the room. "You are always welcome in this home."

Alexis bobbed her head in agreement before rushing to wrap her arms around her father and bury her face in his chest.

"I'm so glad you're okay. We were so worried."

"Me too, pumpkin."

Kate watched as his eyes misted over and he reached for his mother, drawing her into the embrace. She felt somewhat as if she were intruding and briefly considered heading into the kitchen and giving them a moment alone. Before she could put that plan into action, however, a thin arm shot out of the tangle, grabbed her hand, and pulled her in.

"Thanks for keeping him safe, Kate," the young redhead whispered fervently, and the detective felt her heart well up as Alexis squeezed her hand at the same time as Martha wrapped an arm around her waist and Castle tilted his head to lean his temple against hers.

"Actually, he's the one who kept me safe this time," she confessed softly. "I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for your brave dad."

Alexis leaned back to look at him and narrowed her eyes slightly, although they still held a twinkle. "What stupidly heroic stunt did you pull this time?"

"Heh," Castle let out a nervous chuckle. "Funny that you should use the word 'pull.' I sorta disarmed a bomb by yanking all the wires right before it was going to explode."

"Dad, what have I told you about bombs?"

"Umm...stay away from them?"

"Yes," Alexis scolded him, and then turned toward Kate. "That goes for you too, detective."

"We'll try," she mumbled, feeling strangely chagrined, and Castle added, "No more bombs, got it."

"Good, now that we've got that settled, what's for breakfast, Dad?"

"Pancakes sound okay?"

"Chocolate chip?"

"Is there any other kind?" Castle asked with a raised eyebrow, rubbing his hands together. Kate just rolled her eyes at the exchange.

The four of them made their way into the kitchen where Alexis immediately poured two glasses of orange juice, handing one to her father and taking a sip of her own.

"What's your pleasure, Detective? Orange juice? Coffee?"

"Bloody Mary?" added Martha.

"Coffee," responded both the writer and the detective at the same time. "Two creams, one sugar," Castle added with a wink as he noted Beckett's shy smile.

"Coffee it is, then," nodded Alexis. "You want a cup too, Dad?"

"Yes, please. Kate, my daughter makes the best coffee. A fact for which I have no explanation, since she doesn't even drink the stuff," he said with a laugh. Kate just smiled at him.

Both Alexis and Martha raised their eyebrows upon hearing Castle call her by her first name but wisely chose not to say anything. The detective and her shadow were too wrapped up in each other to even notice the look that passed between the two redheads.

"Well, I'm sure she'll be drinking it soon enough. Gotta stay awake for those college all-nighters somehow, right?" Kate nudged Alexis and gave her a kind smile. "Have you decided where you want to go?"

"Still thinking about it. I've narrowed it down a bit, but ultimately, it'll come down to who has the best programs and offers me the best scholarship."

"Ale-" Castle began, but his daughter cut him off.

"Yes, Dad, I know you have plenty of money set aside for college, and I'm sure I'll be asking you to send me some from time to time, but I want to be able to make my own way too." She turned to Kate. "You know what I mean, don't you?"

Kate nodded and clapped a hand on the teen's shoulder.

"Yes, I do. It's important to make it on your own merits. But it's also good to know you have people who love you and who you can count on when the going gets tough."

Alexis smiled at this and leaned over to hug the woman.

"You need to come over more often so you can defend me to Dad. He's so overprotective."

"Trust me, I know," Kate responded in a whisper loud enough that all the occupants of the kitchen could hear.

Castle, who had been flipping the pancakes, turned and brandished the spatula at the two while Martha looked on, amused.

He tried to look menacing as he pointed the utensil at them. The flowery apron he wore and the chocolate chip smudges around his mouth, however, did not help his image.

"That's it! You're out of the will!"

Alexis replied with a simple, "Oh, come on, Dad," while Martha added, "Now really, Richard."

Kate went straight to the heart of the matter.

"That's okay, Alexis, I'll adopt you and add you to mine," she said with a wink, squeezing the girl again.

Castle melted. When Kate and Alexis looked up at him, he had a sappy, sentimental grin on his face. He read the question on both of their faces.

"Nothing...I mean, I'm fine," he mumbled, then blurted, "It's just that I never thought having the women I love gang up on me would make me so happy!" He turned back to the pancakes.

In the moment it took said women to process what he'd said, three things happened: Kate's heart did a flip, Martha gave the detective and her son a knowing look, and Alexis squealed, jumping off the stool to wrap her arms around her father from behind.

"You told her? Finally! I was hoping you two would see the light sometime this century!"

"You knew?" the detective asked, incredulously.

"Well, yeah," the teenager shrugged. "I mean, he never told me outright, but I know my father pretty well. And even though I don't know you as well, I could tell you cared about him the same way."

"What do you mean? How?" The question came from Castle this time.

"Really, Dad? Even Dr. Parish's 'patients' could see there was something special between you two. I'm just glad you finally realized it."

Castle shook his head and locked eyes with Kate who allowed a small smile to play at her lips.

"Me too, pumpkin, me too."

He slid the pancakes onto a platter and carried it over to the table, which Martha had already set.

Kate piled two pancakes on her plate, slathered them with butter and strawberry syrup, and proceeded to observe her fellow diners as she enjoyed her breakfast. She watched as Castle teased his mother about her cultured manners while winking and grinning at his daughter, who rolled her eyes. The man himself already had a spot of syrup on his cheek, an inch or so to the right of his smiling mouth.

Suddenly, she couldn't help herself. She set down the knife on the edge of her plate, licked her left thumb and lifted it to the writer's face. As soon as he felt her touch, wiping away the sticky substance while her fingers caressed the edge of his jaw, Castle froze, the smile disappearing from his features. When she removed her hand, he involuntarily leaned toward her, closing his eyes at the loss of contact . He opened them again just in time to see her run her tongue across her thumb, removing the last remnants of the syrup. Neither noticed that the table had gone completely silent or that its other two occupants were staring at them.

Her eyes rose to his, and she noted - not for the first time in the past day - something she'd never seen there before, an unfathomable tenderness mixed with unbridled desire. She felt the warmth flooding her face and the shift of something deep in her belly. Just as she began to reach for him, she heard a noise. The sound of a throat being cleared. The throat of a certain Broadway diva, if she wasn't mistaken.

"Well, I hate to break up this little party, but I must go and prepare for the coming day," Martha proclaimed, nudging her granddaughter, whose eyes were still fixed on her father and his muse.

"Oh, uh, yeah, me too," the girl managed to get out, dropping her napkin onto the table and rising from her chair to follow Martha up the stairs.

"Wait, pumpkin," Castle sputtered as he returned to his senses. "I was hoping you could stay home with me today, maybe have a movie marathon or go to the Met?"

"I've got my physics test this morning, remember?" she said, but rushed to finish when she saw his dejected look. "But it's in second period, so I could come home right after that and we can do whatever."

Her father brightened.

"Yeah, okay! That sounds good."

The teen turned to address the detective, whose face was still a rosy pink. "Can you hang out with us, or do you have to go to work?"

"I, uh, well, I've got the day off," Kate began. "But I figured you'd want to spend time with just your dad, so I was going to head home."

"Well, I'm sure you wanna go home and take a shower, and as busy as you are, I bet you've got a few other things you need to do. But maybe you could come back this afternoon for that movie marathon and stay for dinner?"

Alexis and Kate both looked to Castle who nodded, beaming.

"Okay, I think I could do that. What time?" the detective asked, once again experiencing the infusion of warmth that seemed to accompany spending time with this family.

"Is three o' clock alright?"

"That sounds good. Hey, how about I give you a ride to school on my way home?"

Alexis smiled. "That would be great. Paige has a dentist's appointment at 11, so she can bring me home on her way there." She turned and headed toward her room, calling back to Kate. "I should be ready in about half an hour."

Kate nodded, and then turned to see Castle looking at her both affectionately and sadly.

"What's up, Castle? What's wrong?"

He shook his head. "Nothing really, just sorry to see you go."

She wrapped her arms around him and rested her cheek on his chest.

"I know, but I really do need to go home for a bit so I can get a few things done. Besides, you won't be alone," she said, knowing that was the crux of the matter. "She may not have said as much, but I think your mother will enjoy having you to herself for a little while this morning. And Alexis needs time with you too. If this is going to work for us, your family needs to know that I'm not going to steal you from them."

"So there's officially an us?"

"That would be the part you'd latch onto, wouldn't it?" she chuckled, lifting her head from his chest to meet his eyes. "Yes, Castle, there's officially an us. What, you think I tell all my partners that I think I love them?"

He smiled and dropped a kiss on her forehead. "I sure hope not."

They stood quietly in the embrace for a few minutes, until Kate felt a vibration coming from Castle's chest and heard him softly humming.

She pulled back a little to look at him questioningly. "Really, Castle? 'Up Where We Belong'?"

"Hey, I was just thinking about how far we've come and all that we've been through together, and it's the song that came to mind!" he defended. "You know, mountains in our way, happy to be alive."

She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. "You know, maybe you're right."

His expression of surprise quickly turned into mischief. "Can I get that in writing, Detective?"

She removed her hand from where it rested on his back to playfully swat him upside the head before leaning back into his embrace.

"Dance with me?" he whispered, beginning to slowly sway as he resumed his humming.

Kate tucked her hand into his, lacing their fingers together, but didn't straighten her posture. She couldn't get enough of his strong baritone resonating through his chest into her body.

Leisurely he led her around the room, dodging furniture as they went. The last few notes found them standing in front of the picture window in the living room, looking out over the city they both loved as it came to life in the morning light.

"With all the horrible things we see every day, it's easy to forget, but it really is beautiful, isn't it?" he said softly, squeezing her hand.

"Yes," she breathed as she studied his face. He dropped his gaze from the window to meet hers, quickly noticing the unshed tears.

"What is it, Kate?" he asked as he lifted his hand to brush the hair away from her forehead and then brought it down to cup her cheek.

"Just realizing how lucky I am, that's all."

"Oh, sweetheart," he whispered. "You and me both."

She could still see a hint of the desire she had stirred up in him earlier, but it was the tenderness by far that shone most clearly in his blue eyes. She unlaced their fingers and brought her hand to the back of his head, running her fingers through his short hair. The hand she'd just released found the small of her back, pulling her closer to him.

With a slight pressure on his neck, she dragged him down to meet her, tilting her own face to just the right angle. He resisted ever so slightly, but allowed their lips to brush once, twice, and then with a soft groan, he gave in. He settled against her mouth, and she could feel the longing in his kiss. He kept it soft though, and she could tell he was holding back, trying to take things slowly.

She broke away from him, her gaze penetrating. "Castle," she called his name softly, but with an air of authority. "This is real, you and me...I know you're worried, but I won't break, and I sure as hell won't run. Kiss me the way I know you want to."

His eyes darkened. The hand on her back fisted in her shirt while the hand that cupped her cheek moved to tangle in her dark auburn locks. The look in his eyes now was bordering on dangerous, but she knew that she need not worry. The passion she saw there was one that protected and cherished those he loved, not one that destroyed.

Fiercely, he brought his mouth back to hers, lips crashing together as both sought to know and be known, to taste and feel the melting away of the years of tension that had brought them to this point. They had looked death in the face together, not once, but many times. Both of them had regrets, but neither would trade this moment for any other in the world.

She could barely breathe, though she wasn't certain if it was because he was crushing her to himself or because all of the air had rushed out of her lungs when he finally kissed her with the intensity she knew he possessed.

After a long moment, he lifted his head away from her, but she raised her body on tiptoes to once more tenderly press her lips to his. Lowering herself, she wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her cheek on his chest once again.

"Now that's more like it," she whispered. "I'm glad you finally learned to do what I say."

She felt a laugh rumble through him, and she smiled.

"I love you."

"I love you too. Now, let's go see what happened to that daughter of mine."

He release her from his embrace, but quickly twined his fingers with hers, smiling as she leaned into him. They made their way to the entry hall, finding Alexis gathering her things.

"Oh, I was just about to come find you. Ready to go?" the redhead asked.

"Yes, just let me grab my purse and put my shoes on."

As Kate turned to slip back into her heels and retrieve her purse, Castle wrapped his daughter in a warm hug.

"Good luck on your test, pumpkin. I love you and can't wait to see you later."

"Thanks, Daddy. I love you too. I should be home around 10:30. Can we have grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch?"

"That sounds great."

"Kate, are you parked in the garage?"

"Crap," the detective interjected. "I totally forgot I'd left my car at the precinct last night! We'll have to take a cab, Alexis. Is that all right?"

Before his daughter could answer, Castle retrieved a set of keys from a hook next to the door.

"Just take mine."

"The Ferrari?" the detective asked with a raised eyebrow.

"No," he said, rolling his eyes. "I have an SUV for when I'm NOT trying to show off."

"Must not have very many miles on it, then," she quipped, and he swatted her arm.

"Go on, Alexis knows which one it is. See you this afternoon. Be thinking about what you want for dinner."

She gave him a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek, both of which he returned.

"See you, Castle."

"Until this evening, Kate."

She linked arms with Alexis, and the two of them walked out the door and down the hall, simultaneously glancing back to see Castle standing in the doorway with a half-smile and crinkly eyes. They waved and entered the elevator, Kate asking Alexis for the latest details on school, prom, and Ashley.

When they reached the garage, Alexis pointed out Castle's SUV, a dark pewter Navigator.

"Not what I would have pictured," Kate commented.

"Yeah, it's not flashy, but it is really nice inside. And check this out..."

She grabbed the keys, unlocked the doors and opened the passenger side, giggling while Kate watched in amazement as a running board unfolded from the car.

"That is so cool!"

Kate made her way around to the driver's side, listening as Alexis continued to talk to her.

"Dad can be outrageous sometimes, and he's good at being the center of attention, but sometimes I think he wishes his life were more normal. Of course, that doesn't mean he doesn't love a car that does neat stuff."

Kate nodded as she buckled her seat belt.

"I've noticed that he's been staying out of the public eye more recently. I mean, he still uses his connections sometimes and he tried to convince someone he knew the governor a couple days ago, but just in general, he seems like he's changed some."

"I think he's just become more comfortable around you and your team," Alexis said sagely. "He's probably just acting more like the real him, the way he does at home with Gram and me."

Kate was touched to hear the girl's assertion that the Rick Castle she was beginning to see more and more of was not just another side to his character but was the genuine man.

A silence descended on them for a few minutes as Kate focused on finding her way out of the garage. As they entered the morning traffic, she turned to Alexis.

"Alexis, I just wanted you to know that if you really do want your dad to yourself this afternoon, I understand. I can make some excuse."

"You don't want to come over?" The teenager looked hurt.

"No, no. It's not that at all. I just mean, that I don't want to infringe on your time together. I get him all day at work, I just don't want you to feel like I'm taking him away from you, especially after all that's happened the past few days."

"Kate, you make my dad really happy. As much as I worry about him sometimes, I know you'll take care of him. He needs you," Alexis said, then continued quietly, "And I think you need him too."

Kate was astounded by both the teen's honesty and her insight, but she hid her surprise, simply nodding and replying, "I think you're right."

Alexis smiled at the affirmation and managed to surprise the older woman even further.

"Plus, every time you guys have a rough case, he gets really clingy." She laughed. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I adore my dad, but it can be a bit much, you know?"

She turned to Kate and gave her a sly smile.

"I'm kinda hoping you'll be the one he clings to this time."

With that, the two saw that they'd arrived at Alexis' school. The girl unbuckled her seat belt, opened the door, and hoisted her bag to her shoulders.

"Thank you for the ride, Kate. See you at three."

"No problem, and yes, I'll see you then."

Alexis began to close the door, but paused. "Oh, you might want to bring pajamas with you. We tend to get pretty comfy when we have movie marathons. And don't worry about bringing any snacks or anything. We have everything...even a popcorn machine."

She shut the door and Kate began to laugh as she pulled away from the curb. What in the world had she gotten herself into this time?

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