Instead of Castle's voice (or better yet, his lips) waking her in time for the countdown, it's the sound of the front door opening a few minutes before midnight.

"Just hold on, I'll get you some ice or something," she hears. What is Alexis doing home, who's with her, and why do they need ice?

She opens her eyes to find Castle asleep, head tilted against the back of the couch, mouth hanging open slightly. His hands are heavy on her legs and she has to nudge him with her knee to wake him.

He jolts, looking around blearily for a moment before his eyes find hers.

"Hey, did we miss the countdown?" he asks, his voice rough and so very sexy with sleep.

She pushes back the spark of need in her belly and shakes her head, turning to pull her legs from his lap.

"No, but I just heard Alexis come in."

He sits up at that.

"She's home? She was supposed to be at a party all evening. Is she okay?"

The detective shrugs and stands, extending a hand to help him up.

"I'm sure she's fine, Castle."

He gets to his feet, squeezing her fingers tightly for a second before releasing her. Minnie has wandered off, she notices.

Kate follows him to the kitchen where they find Alexis holding Minerva up for inspection while the boy - Drew, she remembers - leans on the bar, holding something wrapped in a dish towel up to his cheek.

"Pumpkin?" Castle calls, making the girl look up. "Everything okay?"

Alexis tucks Minnie into her arms and greets them both.

"Hey Dad, Detective Beckett," she says cheerily. "Everything is fine, just left the party early."

It's so obvious that she's not telling them the whole story that Kate has to forcibly keep herself from raising a dubious eyebrow. Castle has no such qualms.

"Really?" he questions, turning to Drew and laying a hand on the young man's shoulder. "You okay there, Drew? Has my daughter been abusing you again?"

The boy's face reddens, but he chuckles as Alexis comes around the counter to punch her father in the arm.

"Not exactly disproving my theory here, sweetheart," he says, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her into his chest. "What happened?"

Kate sees the quick nod Drew gives Alexis, and it piques her curiosity even more.

"There was a guy, at the party," the redhead begins. "One of Ashley's old friends."

The detective already dislikes where this story is going.

"He was just being a jerk. Apparently Ashley took the breakup harder than I thought he would, even though he was the one who'd basically been ignoring me the whole time. And his friend decided to give me some grief over it, accused me of cheating on Ashley with Drew."

Castle's whole face darkens and Kate feels the wash of anger flow through her own veins.

"Drew, uh, defended my honor, I guess you could say," the girl says, her eyes flitting from her father to the boy in question, affection and no small amount of pride shining in her crystal depths.

"And then he punched me," Drew says dryly. "Thus the frozen peas."

Kate has remained silent through the whole exchange, but now she steps forward.

"Mind if I take a look?" she asks quietly.

The young man shakes his head, dropping the hand that holds the peas to the bar counter and revealing what already looks to be nasty bruise forming under his left eye.

She takes his chin in hand and turns his face to and fro, checking his eyes for signs of trauma or concussion and then prodding gently at his cheek. He winces a little, but makes no sound.

"Looks like nothing's broken, so you'll be fine," she tells him after a moment. "Just keep ice on it."

He nods.

"Thanks, Detective. I think I moved just at the right moment. He was aiming for my jaw."

Kate looks up at Castle to see his expression shifting from respect while he's listening to Drew to respect and affection when his eyes meet hers.

He claps the young man on the shoulder.

"Thank you, for watching out for my daughter."

Drew nods, his own eyes flicking toward Alexis. The care between them is evident, and Kate can tell that even if the relationship itself is new, he must have been carrying a torch for her for quite some time.

"Glad to do it, Mr. Castle."

She likes this boy. She likes him a lot. And though this is the first time she's actually met him, he really does remind her of Castle - the willingness to step in and defend someone he cares about, the gentleness in his eyes when he looks at Alexis.

Minerva chooses that moment to make her presence known, meowing loudly from within the redhead's grasp, and wiggling her little body until Alexis releases her onto the counter.

Drew lets out a startled chuckle as the kitten immediately comes to him, rubbing up against his arm until he runs his hand over her back and all the way up to the tip of her tail. She purrs, and the boy breaks into a smile, hesitant but pleased.

"Well," Castle says, pulling Alexis into his side once more, "shall we adjourn to the living room for the countdown?"

He looks to Kate, and she nods, leading the way. Once she reaches the couch, she pauses, unsure of where she should sit now that she and Castle are no longer alone.

She glances back at the rest of the party, finding the writer approaching with his arm still around his daughter, head bent down to whisper something in her ear that has her blushing and smiling. The boy is right behind them, holding the bag of frozen peas to his cheek with one hand and cradling Minnie in the other.

It's five minutes until midnight and she truly hopes that the coming year will be a good one for all of them. This past year...it's been tough, to say the least. She smiles to herself, knowing that Castle would qualify that as a huge understatement.

"Hey, why are you still standing around?" the man himself asks, pulling her from her thoughts. "Get comfy."

He's already sitting, a Kate-sized space open next to him with Alexis on his other side and Drew on the floor, leaning against the couch next to his girlfriend's legs.

Castle's hand is extended, and she slips her fingers into his, grazing his warm palm and allowing him to pull her down.

Usually she's working on New Year's Eve, either on a case or as extra presence at the Times Square Festivities.

So it's been a while since she watched the countdown on television. It brings back memories of falling asleep against her father's chest, awaking to her mother stroking her cheek just in time to see the ball drop.

The writer's fingers tighten around hers and she realizes that they're still holding hands.

"You okay?" he asks, his warm breath tickling the hair against her neck as he leans in to speak softly in her ear.

She turns her head to look at him, his nose brushing her cheek briefly before he leans back just enough to give her a little space.

"Just thinking," she says quietly. "Memories."

The concern in his blue eyes in nearly overwhelming, and she's struck again by how lucky she is to have a man - this man - who cares so much about her well-being.

She squeezes his hand tightly and smiles, blinking back the rush of moisture that is beginning to fill her eyes.

"I'm good, Castle. Really. We made it to another year, right? So I'm good."

He nods, pulls their joined hands to his chest, and she can feel the steady pound of his heart against the back of her hand.

"We still have," he starts and looks over at the clock on the screen, "a minute and a half before your statement comes true. Anything could happen in ninety seconds."

There's something in his statement that lightens the load, makes her laugh. She bumps his firm chest with her knuckles.

"Somehow I think we'll make it."

Their gazes catch on one another, and suddenly everything is laid bare before her. His eyes, his smile, the lines in his handsome face - they all speak of his loyalty, his devotion, the depths to which he will go to stay at her side and keep her at his. She sucks in a deep breath, and his head tilts, the curious look he sometimes gives her when he's trying to figure her out.

It's too much. After all these months, it's still too much, this knowledge that he loves her, that he would take a bullet for her. She breaks their staring match and turns back to the television. Thirty seconds to go.

He lowers their hands, squeezes, then loosens his grip. She squeezes back, and then lets go, lifting her hand to brush a wayward lock of hair out of her eyes.

Alexis begins counting down at thirty, Drew follows at twenty-six, and at twenty Castle joins them, albeit a little more quietly than the detective would have expected. She glances over to find the young redhead with a hand at the back of Drew's head, thumb smoothing lightly across the hair at the base of his skull. Minerva is, of course, perched on the boy's shoulder. The girl's other hand is tightly enclosed in her father's.

Kate feels her heart clench, and just as the three reach the ten-second mark, she slips her hand back into her partner's grasp, and starts counting with them.

Castle's fingers twitch against hers, and she turns her head just enough that she can see his profile. His eyes remain fixed on the television, but a delighted smile is blooming on his face. Her own mouth curves upward in response.

She's not sure what to expect when they reach the end of the countdown, but as they get to five, she finds herself at peace. The last time she and Castle held hands during a countdown, the outcome was extremely good. And there's very little chance that the end of this one will result in a bomb going off, so that's already a step in the right direction.

And then it's over. It's a new year and fireworks fill the screen and she can hear cheers rising not only from the television but from the streets below.

She sees Alexis bent over, her lips just drawing away from Drew's in a chaste kiss (she's sort of surprised the girl did that much in the presence of her father, and by the expression on his face, she thinks Drew might be thinking the same thing).

Castle's grip on her hand remains tight, even as he leans the other direction to wrap an arm around his daughter. Kate watches as he presses a kiss to the girl's temple.

"Happy New Year, pumpkin," he's whispering and the detective suddenly feels like an intruder into an intensely private moment. "I love you."

She's hit by a flash of memory, of Alexis yelling at her outside that bank two months ago, and she's so incredibly grateful that she was able to keep her promise to the girl. She hopes beyond hope that she'll never see the day come when she can't.

Alexis and Drew are standing now, the girl saying something about being hungry, and before she knows it, Kate finds herself alone on the couch with her partner.

He stands, pulling her up next to him, his thumb skating across the back of her hand. His perceptive eyes bore into her for a moment, questions and declarations swirling in their depths. And then she's in his arms, his large hands spanning the length and breadth of her back, her nose tucked into his collar against the sweet-smelling skin of his neck.

"We made it," he rumbles in her ear. "I wasn't sure we would, but we did."

She nods against him, tears pricking at the backs of her eyes as scenes play through her memory. All the ways she could have lost him in the past year: to bullets and freezers and bombs and her own despair.

But they're here, and he's safe and warm and real and his fingers are pressing into her shoulder blades.

"We made it," she whispers, her lips brushing his skin as she speaks.

She's not sure if it's his own memories of their near misses or the feel of her body cradled against his that causes him to shudder then, but she intensely wants it to be the latter.

Her arms tighten around him for a moment and then she pulls back, creating a little distance between them. Her hands remain on his biceps and his on her sides, but she already misses his warmth and the way he smells and how his muscles feel when he's wrapped around her.

"Happy New Year, Castle," she murmurs, squeezing his arms.

She searches his eyes, finding affection and tenderness, but no lust, not right now.

"Happy New Year, Detective," he says softly, lifting his hand to tuck her hair behind her ear.

He studies her for a moment, and she could swear she's breaking open before him, her eyes shouting all her secrets, and surely he will know, surely he can tell that she heard him in the cemetery, that his love gives her hope, that she is completely terrified of losing him or screwing this up but that she's also completely in love with him too.

But no words come from his mouth. He only looks at her. And just as she is about to say something, anything - perhaps everything - to break the tension, he pulls her forward again, once more into his arms, cocooned and sheltered in his strength.

And then he's laughing, his frame shaking against hers, sending delicious vibrations through her entire body.

"We made it. Oh, Kate, we made it."

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