Castle wants to contact Elena right then and there, but Kate makes him wait, reminds him that they know nothing for sure, that they only have suppositions and conjecture, and that, for all they do know, this Claudia could have been involved in Agustin's murder.

That slows him down. The four of them work another hour more, searching through records for any mention of Agustin Ramirez or Claudia Restrepo.

Castle's refilled their coffee cups (all of them - earning grateful nods from Ryan and Esposito and an almost smile from Kate), and has retreated to his chair, back in its usual spot at the side of the desk.

They've found nothing more, and a call to Claudia Restrepo's number on the vic's phone records went unanswered, the tone and automated message informing them that the number had been disconnected.

'We'll head over there in the morning," Kate says to her partner, drawing his attention from his phone. "Or I will, at any rate. You don't have to go with me if you've got something else to do."

He gives her an incredulous look.

"A mother thought murdered but possibly alive? I'm in."

She blanches a little at his phrasing and immediately sees his eyes widen. His hand shoots toward hers on the desk.

"Kate," he breathes.

She shakes her head, squeezing her eyes shut for a moment and inhaling deeply. When she opens them again, his fingers are hovering just short of hers, as if she might break if he actually touches her. His expression is concerned, repentant.

"I wish..." he begins in a whisper, but stops when she closes the distance and clutches his hand tightly. The grasp lasts less than a second, but it soothes them both.

The pain in his expression lingers for a little longer, but it's muted, back to what she always sees in his eyes where her mother is mentioned in everyday life. Her own sudden longing is quelled as well as she brings herself back to reality.

"Me too, Castle," she says, and returns his sad smile.

The moment is broken by loud shuffling from the direction of her other boys. Ryan and Esposito are both shifting papers around, but neither one is looking at her or Castle. Sometimes they really do make her feel like a schoolteacher with unruly students.

But it's the tension-breaker she needs. She's surprised to look at her father's watch and realize that it's past ten o'clock.

"Somewhere you'd rather be, gentlemen?" she asks, arching an eyebrow at the two when they turn to look at her.

Ryan coughs, but Esposito just shrugs.

"Do you really think we'll get any further tonight, Beckett?"

She shakes her head, and lets a teasing note enter her voice.

"A couple more hours and I'm sure we'd find something."

Even Castle looks worried now.

"Kidding, guys," she finally says after torturing them with her silence for a few seconds more. "You're right, Esposito, we're not going to get any further tonight. Go on home, or...wherever."

Ryan is out of there faster than she thought possible. Esposito grins.

"He's got a date night with Jenny, no wedding planning allowed," he supplies, then stands and collects his own things. "See you tomorrow."

He doesn't offer any indication of his own plans, and they don't ask. If he's going out with someone other than Lanie, Kate doesn't really want to know. She was serious when she said she didn't want to get stuck in the middle of their relationship arguments.

"Just give them time," Castle says.

She turns to look at him.

"Do you know something I don't?"

He shakes his head.

"No, but I do think they're meant for each other. And they're both going to Ryan's wedding. That tends to bring people together, so who knows?"

She smiles. He believes in magic and soulmates and fate and the universe, and it's refreshing when she sees what she sees everyday. She wonders sometimes if he just has an innate optimism, or if it's caused by something else.

She begins straightening her desk while Castle takes their almost empty mugs to the breakroom to rinse them out. By the time he returns, she's just shutting down her computer.

"I'll take you home?" she offers, wondering to herself why it sounds more like a question than a statement.

He lifts her coat from the back of her chair, holding it out as she slides her arms in the sleeves.

"Only if you're coming with me."

Surprised, she turns to stare at his rapidly reddening face.

"Uh, not what I meant. I just...you said you'd watch the ball drop with me, and I wanted to see Minnie too. We can go to your apartment if you'd like."

She lifts one eyebrow at him but he says nothing more.

"So now you're inviting yourself over?"

He lifts his hands in front of him, backpedaling quickly.

"If you're tired or something, it's okay. Don't worry about it."

She shakes her head.

"It's fine, Castle. I'm just teasing you. Glad the offer still stands, actually."

He smiles, genuine happiness shining in his eyes.


She nods, looking down to button up her jacket and double check that she has her keys and everything else she needs.

"My neighbor is having a party, so it'd actually be nice to be out of my place for the night."

He's still beaming at her as she links her arm through his elbow and lets him lead her to the elevator.

"Besides, didn't you say Alexis was going to a party with Drew tonight?"

Castle presses the down button and hums in confirmation as the door opens.

"So I can do the girl a favor and make sure you're not waiting up with a shotgun."

His deep chuckle vibrates into her, warming her heart.

"Just let me stop at my place to get Minnie and grab some stuff."

"You'll stay the night?" he asks, and she can hear the hope in his voice. "I mean, in the guest room, of course."

She rolls her eyes as the elevator door opens and the two of them head toward her car.

"Yes, if that's okay. It'd just be easier, and probably safer, with all the traffic tonight, not to mention the pedestrians that are bound to be roaming around at all hours.

He nods his assent, meeting her eyes over the top of the cruiser before as he opens the passenger door.

"Of course, that's fine. Then we can get going whenever you want to visit Claudia Restrepo in the morning. Easier all around."

The drive to her apartment is spent mostly in small talk. He tells her about the places he and Alexis visited in California. She fills him in on the cases they had while he was gone.

Really, it's nothing they haven't talked about already. The past week apart saw plenty of use for both of their cell phones. But it fills the silence in the car as she navigates the herds of taxicabs and crowds of revelers on the city streets.

"Come up?" she asks, when they pull into a spot in front of her building.

He nods and gets out of the car, following her up the steps and into the waiting elevator. The ride is brief, and before she knows it, she's unlocking the door to her home, Castle on her heels.

It's strange how this feels. It's not like he's never been here before. But this is the first time he's arrived with her, with her full knowledge and approval, the first time he hasn't just shown up on her doorstep.

She gets the door open and then he's crowding in behind her, away from the stream of people heading into her neighbor's apartment, laughing as a small gray streak barrels toward them.

Kate doesn't bother with taking off her coat, just heads to the bedroom to gather a few things, glancing behind her to see Castle with a handful of kitten. He's cradling Minnie like a baby, her little paws in the air, and rubbing her belly. The creature seems to be thoroughly enjoying his affections.

"I'll be right back," the detective calls out, smiling at his answer of "Take your time."

It doesn't take her long to find a pair of sweat pants and a long sleeve tee, fresh underwear, and clothes for tomorrow. She tosses them all into an overnight bag, along with a little travel container she keeps stocked with shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and the other few things she'll need for her morning routine.

When that part is done, she goes into her closet for the cat carrier she bought a couple weeks ago. It's good that he came up with her. She'll need his help to get her stubborn Miss Minerva into that thing.

The first time had been easy: she'd just opened the door and the cat had strolled on in. She'd closed it tight and taken the young kitten to the vet for her first round of shots. It was the next time that was a trial.

After Castle had departed last Saturday afternoon, she and Minnie had engaged in a battle for dominance. Kate is pretty sure she'd won, but not without gaining a few wounds in the process. One particular scratch on her arm still isn't completely healed. Her sweet kitten had turned into a holy terror.

She shakes her head at the memory and pulls the carrier from its spot on a shelf next to her ice skates.

She emerges back into the main part of her apartment to find Castle with his back to the bedroom door. He's laughing quietly, bouncing on the balls of his feet a little, and she can tell by the way his arms are arranged that he must still be holding Minnie.

Is this how he was with Alexis when she was a baby? All warmth and smiles and soft joy?

A baby and a kitten clearly aren't anywhere near the same. But still, she wonders. She likes this side of him. Heck, she likes nearly every side of him these days.

But this, this gentleness and affection and the way the size of his body both dwarfs and protects the tiny being in his arms...it might be her favorite side of him right now.

She hesitates to approach him, to shatter the bubble of happy peace that seems to surround him, but she can't help herself. She steps closer.

And then, as if he senses her presence (really, who is she kidding? He probably does), he turns around, and his face is so completely open, so filled with tenderness. It leaves her breathless and longing.

"Hey, there you are," he rumbles, heedless of the pounding of her traitorous heart. "She remembers me. And I think she's grown since last weekend. She seems bigger, at any rate."

He doesn't seem to require an answer, just continues to rub the tip of his middle finger up the kitten's nose and across her forehead as his index and ring fingers smooth her whiskers on either side. The little eyes are closed, and Minnie is purring, back legs wrapped around Castle's wrist.

"You ready to go?" he asks quietly, and she nods.

"Almost. Just gotta get her into the cat carrier."

She'd anticipated this being a two-person job, but with the way Castle has Minnie lulled into submission, maybe it'll be easier than she thought.

Slowly, she releases the door of the carrier, careful not to let it make a sound that would rouse the little animal. Once it's clear, she nods to him and he extends his arms, tucking Minnie in through the opening and setting her down on the blanket inside. He pulls his hands out quickly, and the detective shuts the door.

She lets out the breath she was holding in a sigh and he gives her a questioning look.

"Oh, nothing," she answers, though he hasn't actually said a word. "This was just a lot harder last weekend when I had to do it on my own."

He tilts his head, and she sets the carrier on the floor, pulling up her sleeve a bit when she straightens. The movement reveals an angry pink line, mostly healed now, and she holds out her arm to him.

"Ouch," he murmurs, his fingers twitching at his sides. "How did that happen?"

She laughs. It was frustrating at the time, and her cat's claws are really sharp, but looking back, it's sort of funny.

"Minnie and I had a battle royale when I tried to get her into the carrier to take her to my dad's cabin. This was her way of letting me know that she didn't want to go. Probably because the only other time I'd put her in the carrier was to take her to the vet for her checkup and shots."

He winces, and she's not sure if his sympathy is for her or for her cat.

"Well then," he says gallantly. "Glad to make this easier on both of you. Got everything you need?"

They're halfway to the door when she sets her bag down and turns around.

"Litter box," she calls over her shoulder as she heads toward the bathroom.

He laughs when she returns.

"It's like having a baby again...diaper bag, food, toys. Gotta make sure they have everything they need."

She stops in her tracks. She's forgotten both food and toys. Is it really worth it? Trekking all the way to Castle's apartment with all of Minnie's things? And for what? To watch the ball drop, to hang out for one evening?

He must see the hesitation on her face because he steps forward before she has a chance to tell him to just forget the whole thing.

"I've got this," he says, taking the box from her hands. "Just grab some food for her and whatever you think she'll want to play with tonight."

She smiles gratefully at him, and heads to the kitchen, wondering when this became such a big production, wondering why it makes her this nervous.

There's a half-empty bag of dry kitten food under the counter, and she grabs Minnie's bowl too, stuffing both into a reusable shopping bag. The bedroom is next, to retrieve a toy or two, and when she comes back to Castle in the entry, he's crouching down by the cat carrier, poking his fingers through the door and talking softly.

His voice is deep and smooth and it makes her wish he did audiobooks. Yeah, that'd be perfect. She could slide into a hot, bubbly bath with her wine and not have to worry about getting the pages wet. She could just let herself sink into the warmth and listen to his stories, his voice.

That image morphs into reclining in her bathtub while he sits propped against the edge, reading to her. And that picture leads to yet another fantasy, one that has her blushing when the actual man himself clears his throat and calls her name. He's standing and she didn't even see him get up.

"Ready?" he asks, making no mention of the pinkness she knows must be visible on her cheeks.

She nods, watching him pick up the carrier and balance the litter box while she opens the door, flips the light off and steps out after him, locking her apartment up for the night.

When she turns around, he's standing there, looking expectant, and it catches her off guard. She knows he sees the pause in her eyes when he cocks his head to one side.

"Did you forget something?"

She shakes her head, shaking off her own doubts at the same time, and smiles at him, lips pressed tightly together.

"No. Got everything I need right here. Let's go."

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