Minerva had started meowing as soon as they got in the car to head to Castle's loft. She's agitated, and Kate's not sure if it's simply because of being in the carrier or if it's the frequent stops and starts or something else entirely, but the kitten just won't settle down.

They'd set the carrier in the back seat to begin with, but for the first several minutes Castle was half out of his seat leaning back to check on her. The detective gave him the look that usually gets him to stop messing around. But it didn't work, and his eyes pleaded with her until she finally nodded her consent.

At that point, Castle had reached behind them and pulled the carrier into his lap, shushing the kitten softly. She still didn't quiet, though, so he undid the latch and scooped her into his arms, tucking Minnie beneath the lapel of his coat, into the warmth of his chest.

"You're okay, you're okay," she can hear him saying quietly now, over and over, his voice low and soothing as he holds the kitten tightly.

Kate glances at him, the genuine concern in his expression catching her off guard.

"She'll be fine, Castle," she says kindly while they're stopped at a light. "She's a little worked up is all."

He turns to look at her as she speaks, his eyes expressive even under the limited brightness of a street light.

"I know," he murmurs and her heart contracts at his tone. "She just sounded so upset."

But Minnie is calming down now, and Kate catches a wisp of a smile on her partner's face as she starts driving again. The next few minutes pass quickly, and almost before she realizes, they're pulling up in front of his building.

He deposits the kitten back into the carrier quickly, latching the gate before opening his car door and stepping out. Between the two of them, the detective and the writer gather everything up and make it into the building. Every hand is full and she's thankful for the doorman who greets them and presses the elevator button for them as well.

Minnie's crying again by the time they reach his floor, and she gives him an apologetic look. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea.

He shrugs, setting the carrying on the floor as he fishes out his keys.

"She'll be fine in a few minutes," he says. "We just need to get her situated."

And then he's ushering her in, his palm at the small of her back momentarily before he stoops to retrieve the carrier.

As soon as he shuts the door and turns on the lights, he drops to his knees.

"Make yourself at home," he calls over his shoulder as he opens the gate.

She sets down her burdens but then watches him. He doesn't reach in to pull Minnie out. He just waits in his spot on the floor, talking softly to her, coaxing her out to explore and play. And after a minute or so, she emerges, looking this way and that, getting her bearings in a new place.

"Hey pretty girl," he says in that tone that Kate has come to love. "How ya doin' there?"

He extends his hand, and the kitten sniffs it, then rubs her whiskery cheek against his knuckles.

The writer looks up and catches her in a smile. No point in hiding it then, is there? She gestures toward the food and litter box as she shrugs off her coat and toes off her shoes.

"Where should I put this stuff?"

He hangs her coat next to his and then unpacks the bag with the food and fills the bowl halfway, setting it on the floor in the kitchen.

"Do you have a water bowl for her? Or do I need to grab one?"

She knew she'd forgotten something.

"Oh, I left it at home. Sorry."

He dismisses her apology with a wave, stretching up to pull a small bowl from a cupboard and running a little water from the tap before setting it next to the food.

"We'll put the litter box in the bathroom, if that's okay."

She nods and reaches down to scoop up Minnie, following Castle and the box down the hallway.

"Aren't these things usually stinkier?" he asks, looking back at her over his shoulder.

She laughs.

"I cleaned it right before I headed to the scene this afternoon. It was plenty smelly then."

He grins and steps into the guest bathroom, crouching down to arrange the box on the floor. Kate leans over to set the kitten next to it, and of course, the little thing jumps right in.

"No shame, huh?" he chuckles and she shakes her head lightly in response.

It's when they both stand that she realizes just how small this bathroom is and just how large her partner is by comparison. They're much closer than she intended. Too close, if the sudden flush of his cheeks is anything to go by.

She's backed up against the door frame and he against the sink and this bathroom is too cramped for a millionaire's loft and how can there be absolutely nowhere to go?

There's a moment's awkward silence. She wants - no, needs - to touch him, to brush her fingers along his biceps, across his shoulders, up the back of his neck to his silky short hair. It would be so easy, so perfect. His eyes have darkened, she realizes, his pupils widening still further the longer they stand there.

And then it's not his eyes that she's studying but his lips. And oh, how she wants to just push up on her tiptoes and brace herself against his broad chest and press her mouth to his.

He clears his throat.

"Well, shall we see what Dick Clark is up to tonight?" he asks, his voice a little hoarse.

She nods, and he steps past her, his chest brushing hers, his breath wafting across her cheek, coffee and chocolate and him. Her eyes close as goes by, and when she opens them again, he's out of sight already.

"Wine?" he calls out, and she hears him puttering around in the kitchen.

It's a moment before she can rein in her breathing and follow.

"Sounds good," she says when she finds him again, arching an eyebrow as she watches him rip the plastic off a microwavable popcorn bag. "What, no top-of-the-line popcorn popper?"

He smirks.

"Oh, I've got one, Detective. I'll pull it out if you want."

She takes the bag from him and sticks it in the microwave.

"Kidding, Castle. This is fine. And easier when it's just the two of us."

While she waits for the microwave to ding, he pulls out a bottle of wine, expertly opening it and pouring them both generous glasses.

"Easy there," she cautions. "I've gotta work in the morning, and as I recall, you like to follow me around."

He chuckles and stops pouring.

"That I do."

Carefully, she pulls the popcorn bag from the microwave as he snags a pair of bowls from the cabinet.

She tips the bag, allowing them both healthy portions, and then watches in amusement as he pulls a tray from under the counter, doctoring his serving with butter, salt, and cheddar cheese flavoring. The last thing he does is drizzle caramel syrup over the top.

Really? He's going to eat that? She'd wanted desperately to kiss him a few minutes ago. Should have taken the chance when it presented itself, because she certainly isn't going to kiss him now.

"You want some?" he asks, holding out the bottle of caramel syrup in front of her face and wiggling it side to side.

She shakes her head. "I think I'm good."

Castle's got that twinkle again and he waggles his eyebrows at her, so it's really no surprise what comes out of his mouth next.

"Oh, I have no doubt that you're very good, Detective. But the question is, would you like some caramel sauce for your popcorn?"

She shouldn't, but playing his game (and beating him at it) is just so much fun sometimes.

"I think I'll let you save the caramel for other things."

She catches the bottle as it slips out of his hand, setting it on the counter and floating off into the living room with her bowl of popcorn and glass of wine. When she glances back, he hasn't moved.

When he does join her a moment later, he says nothing, just picks up the remote and turns the large television on, flipping to the right channel and leaning back into the welcoming embrace of his couch.

She follows his lead and settles in beside him, their arms brushing.

"Glad you're here," he says quietly, and she glances up to find him with that soft, sincere smile stretching his mouth.

She bumps him with her shoulder.

"Me too, Castle. Thanks for the invitation."

He bobs his head.

"You're always welcome here, Kate. You and Minnie both."

It's funny how that addition makes her feel, how incredible it is to know that he'll make room in his world, not just for her but for the cat as well. Like he's willing to conform to her shape, to let her in and fit himself around her.

Of course, that thought brings to mind other images of how they might fit together, pictures in which it's just the two of them, no kitten to be found. She shivers.

"Cold?" he asks, but before she can answer, he's already reaching for the throw on the arm of the couch, draping it across their laps.

She hums her gratitude and then there's Minnie, leaping up. She's misjudged the distance and her little claws scrabble for purchase on the blanket, but Castle gets a hand around her and pulls her into his lap. She stands, circles a few times, and settles into the small space where the blanket dips between their thighs.

They chat through the commercials, sipping wine and munching on popcorn, the amiable conversation a good way to decompress.

When the commercials end and Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest appear once more, she realizes that it's already closing in on 11:30. She may not have been working until she got the call at four o'clock this afternoon, but that doesn't mean she wasn't up early anyway, cleaning, doing laundry, taking care of all the things that don't get done when she's at the precinct.

She's tired, and warm, and comfortable here in Castle's home.


There he is in her head again, and she wonders how he always seems to know these things about her. She nods, leaning forward to set her popcorn and her wineglass on the coffee table.

She debates leaning back into the couch, but she knows that would inevitably lead to leaning into Castle, and with the way her heart's been acting lately, that might not be the best idea.

So she turns to face him, scooting back on her rear, resting her head against the arm of the couch. Her legs are scrunched up, knees pointing into the air as she tries to avoid tucking her toes into the warmth under his thigh.

Minnie, disturbed by all the movement, stands up, meowing, and jumps down from her spot. Castle surprises the detective by grabbing her ankles and pulling her legs over his, rearranging the blanket to cover her feet.

She's about to move - and chastise him - when the kitten jumps back up, landing squarely on her legs and stretching across them. It can't possibly be comfortable, but Minnie doesn't seem to care. Well, she can't exactly move now, can she?

Kate looks from the kitten to the man. The man who currently has a smug smile playing across his features. She rolls her eyes.

"Don't think you can steal a kiss if I'm still asleep at midnight."

He laughs, mischief sparking in his eyes.

"Oh, don't worry," he promises. "I'd wake you up."

"To watch the ball drop?" she asks, and his mouth twitches.

He nods.

"Yeah, for that too."

He's pressing his luck, and she finds she honestly doesn't mind. Probably wouldn't mind if he stole a kiss either, though she honestly would prefer to be awake for that.

"As long as we're clear then," she says, closing her eyes.

He's got the volume down low, and it's peaceful here, all too easy to just let herself drift off, lulled by the warmth and the wine, and the easy company of the man whose thumb is stroking back and forth across her blanket and jean covered shin. She could get terribly used to this, couldn't she?

The thought startles her, and she opens her eyes suddenly, only to find Castle's deep blue staring back at her.

"Relax, Kate," he whispers. "Just rest for a bit."

Minnie decides to change spots, forsaking the detective's legs to climb up to her previously favored spot on Castle's shoulder.

Kate should move. Should sit up, or at least get her legs off the writer's lap. But his hand is warm against her ankle, and he just looks so content, and she can't bring herself to be the one to take that serenity away from him.

So she purses her lips and shakes her head at his smile and lets her eyes fall shut. There'll be time to examine boundaries later. Right now, she's happy where she is.

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