Huh. She'd really thought he would kiss her. Under the guise of the new year and tradition, of course. But still...

She's not complaining though. Not when she can feel every hard line of his body pressing into her curves. Not when he's quite literally breathing down her neck. Not when his hands are cradling her like she's the most precious treasure he's ever held.

No, definitely not complaining.

She remembers waking up in that basement next to him, how right it felt. Well, not the being handcuffed together part, nor the being in unknown peril bit, but the way she woke up with her hand on his chest and his head pillowed on her arm. Yeah, that was good.

She remembers his brief, astonished pause when she asked him to lift her shirt. She remembers the way he touched her back: carefully, tenderly. He didn't poke or prod. He soothed.

He caressed.

And for all the times she's seen him blunder into danger, he's abandoned the rashness when it comes to her. He thinks now, in a way he never did for the first years of their partnership.

But sometimes she wants the impetuous. She wants the charming and playful boy he was when they met, just as much as she wants the serious and gentle man he's become for her.

He needs to know that. She wants all of him.

She vaguely wonders where Alexis and Drew are, but then she hears them in the kitchen debating the merits of cheddar versus American for grilled cheese sandwiches.

Castle's laughter has subsided, but he's still embracing her. She suspects his mirth was a desperately needed release of the pressure that's been building for both of them after the past year.

His respiration is a little ragged now. Like the laughter might have given way to something else. Delayed grief, perhaps, for the events of the past year. She wonders if he ever let himself properly mourn Montgomery.

He was her strong for her after her mentor's death. And then she was shot, and the boys told her he threw himself into her case. Did he ever stop to allow himself the time and space to process what he had gone through in those days?

She suspects he never did, and unfortunately with his daughter and her boyfriend in the next room, she know her partner can't take the opportunity now.

Later. Later, she'll make sure he knows that she is here to listen, to help him heal from whatever wounds have been inflicted upon him. Even the ones she caused. Especially the ones she's caused.

Now though, she needs to get him back to laughter, back to the light, away from fear and hurt and shadows.

"Are we going for the world's longest hug record?" she asks teasingly, her voice muffled by his shoulder. "'Cause you know how competitive I am, and we could totally do it, but it would have been nice if you'd warned me so I could have properly hydrated beforehand."

He gives a startled chuckle that ruffles her hair and a final squeeze before loosening his arms around her, pulling back to grin at her.

"That wasn't really the plan," he concedes. "But it's good to know you'd be a willing participant if I ever want to try for it."

He doesn't apologize for holding her, nor does he let go just yet and her heart swells at the knowledge.

"Ah, well in that case, I think I heard Alexis talking about grilled cheese sandwiches, and I haven't eaten since last year."

He snickers in amusement, removing his hands from her sides but catching her fingers within his own.

"Katherine Beckett, that is the oldest New Year's joke in the book. I truly expected better of you."

She rolls her eyes, squeezing his hands before releasing them and taking a half step back.

"Sorry to disappoint."

He sighs, his shoulders slumping.

"Oh, how are the mighty fallen."

She shakes her head and walks away, glancing back over her shoulder to see him with his lips turned up and eyes twinkling.

When they reach the kitchen, Drew is manning the skillet, spatula in hand, while Alexis is assembling the sandwiches. Minnie is circling the boy's feet.

"American or cheddar, Detective?" the redhead asks.

Castle sidles up next to her at the bar, and both he and Drew look to her expectantly. Suddenly it feels as though her answer may change the fate of the world, and though she was ready with her answer a second before, now she's not so sure.

She has a feeling that the debate she overheard between Alexis and her boyfriend may echo one the girl has had many times over with her father.

"Actually," she says after a moment, "do you have any pepper jack?"

Drew grins, Alexis turns to dig through the refrigerator, and Castle gives her a slow, thoughtful nod.

"Motorcycles and grunge rockers. I should have known. You do like to walk on the wild side."

Kate says nothing, just purses her lips and stares back at him.

"I'm a traditionalist," Alexis says, breaking her attention. "I like American. Dad usually goes for cheddar. So does Drew. I've never tried pepper jack on grilled cheese though."

Alexis finishes assembling the sandwiches and hands the tray over to her boyfriend, who's already flipped the first two. They're golden brown, cheese oozing out the sides, and the detective's stomach grumbles loudly. She claps a hand over her belly as Castle laughs.

"Geez, dad," the girl admonishes him. "Didn't you feed her?"

Kate's not sure whether to be offended or amused, but the affronted look on Castle's face has her patting him on the shoulder and reassuring his daughter.

"He did, Alexis," she says. "He picked up dinner for the whole team, actually. But that was hours ago, and all I've had since then was a handful of popcorn and a little wine. And the sandwiches smell delicious."

Alexis still looks concerned though.

"I could make some soup or something," she says. "I mean, it would just be from a can, but if you're really hungry... Oh, and there's potato salad in the fridge."

Castle's regarding his daughter with something like pride, and Kate wonders if she looks too skinny or if it's just some genetic trait that makes this family feel the need to ply her with food whenever possible. She shakes her head.

"The sandwich will be fine," she says. "But thank you."

Alexis concedes with a nod, but Castle leans over the counter toward his daughter, whispering loudly.

"I taught you better than that, pumpkin. Get the potato salad too."

She wants to kick him in the shin but thinks better of it. That wouldn't exactly set a good example for the two young people currently preparing their food. Generosity shouldn't be met that way, even if she knows that Castle's trying to pull her pigtails.

She settles for giving him a too-sweet look that she knows he'll correctly interpret to mean that sugar-coated death awaits him if he doesn't stop making it look like she can't take care of herself.

"What?" he asks. "I'm hungry too, and I don't want you stealing my sandwich when yours isn't enough."

He's happily digging himself deeper with every word, and Kate begins looking for an ally.

"Drew, do you do this to Alexis? Publicly contradict her and imply that she doesn't know what she wants?"

The boy glances up from his grilling duties and shakes his head, expertly using one hand to pluck off the kitten that is climbing up his left leg and setting her on the floor.

"No, ma'am. I know better than to do that if I want to stick around."

The detective turns back to Castle, ready to point out that the high school student has better sense than he does, but her partner has an almost stunned expression on his face.

She mentally rewinds, and then stifles a groan when she realizes that both her question and Drew's answer have, in essence, compared the relationship between Alexis and her boyfriend to that of the detective and the writer. And the two are most definitely not the same.

That wasn't her intent at all, but the soft way Castle is looking at her now keeps her from backpedaling. Let him think that's what she meant to do. She cares for him, feels something much deeper than friendship or partnership, and she does want him to know it, even if she can't say the words just yet. Even if she can't admit to knowing that he feels the same way.

"Plus, she's always right anyway," the boy says, startling Kate from her thoughts.

Alexis turns a pleased smile on the young man, even as Castle laughs, and the detective nods.

"You will go far, young grasshopper," the writer says sagely, eliciting a grin from the boy who is sliding the sandwiches from the skillet onto plates and handing them to his girlfriend.

Alexis takes the plates and tosses a large dollop of potato salad on each one before passing them on to their intended diners, winking at Kate when she hands the detective her meal.

Castle reaches toward his daughter, fingers pointed down and pressed together, his classic feeding of the birds gesture. Alexis accepts, and this time Kate does kick him lightly in the shin and glare at him.

He smiles infuriatingly.

"Just eat your food, Detective."

The younger pair join them at the other end of the bar and quickly dig in. Kate follows their example.

Castle's not eating though, and when she glances up at him, he's watching her with undisguised affection.

"Eat," she commands gently, and when she goes back to her own plate, he starts in on his.

She has a mouthful of potato salad when she sees his hand sneaking over to grab one of her sandwich triangles.

"Hey," she says loudly, pulling her plate away and rapping his knuckles with her fork. "You've got your own."

Blue eyes plead with her.

"I just wanted to try a bite with the pepper jack," he murmurs.

He's wearing that look, the one she's mentally dubbed his 'kicked puppy' expression. She knows he's faking. She doesn't want to give in, but hell if that face doesn't make it impossible not to.

"You could have just asked," she says reproachfully, but she pushes her plate back in his direction.

His eyes light up, the pretended hurt instantly disappearing as he reaches over to rip off a corner of her sandwich.

"Castle," she warns, her tone stopping his hand's progress halfway to his mouth. "It'll be your own fault if I wake you up at three in the morning because I'm hungry."

He nods and pops the bite into his mouth, chewing slowly, savoring. His eyes fall half shut and he makes a little humming noise in the back of his throat.

She really wishes they were alone right now.

He swallows and her eyes follow the bob of his adam's apple. When she looks back up at his face, his mouth is trying to remain solemn, but there are slight crinkles at the edges of his eyes.

"Duly noted, Detective," he says soberly. "If you feel the need to wake me up in the middle of the night, by all means, do so. In whatever way you see fit."

There's a coughing on her other side, and she turns to see Alexis, red-faced and leaning over her plate, Drew patting her firmly on the back.

Kate stands and makes her way around the counter to grab the girl a glass of water, elbowing Castle in the side on her way.

"You okay there, sweetie?" he asks, and Alexis nods as Kate hands her the glass.

The redhead takes a long sip and glances at her boyfriend before looking back at the two adults.

"I'm fine. Just bit off more than I could chew."

Kate clamps both lips between her teeth to keep from laughing at the girl's obvious embarrassment, though she herself is slightly mortified and even Castle is a little pink. Drew, on the other hand, seems to be quite enjoying the evening's interactions if the twinkle in his eyes is anything to go by.

She heads back her spot, passed Minnie's food and water, wondering where the little creature has gone. It doesn't take long to find out, because as soon as she sits, Castle yelps in surprise, and of course, there is the kitten, halfway to his knee.

He scoops her up and sets her on his thigh, where she promptly curls up and goes to sleep.

Kate should probably be offended by how little her cat takes notice of her when Castle's in the room, but honestly, she's not surprised. He seems to have a way of capturing the attention of the Beckett women.

"Well," Drew says, drawing Kate's focus away from Minnie and her favored human. "I should get going so you all can get some sleep."

The detective glances at her watch to find it's nearly one o'clock.

"You wanna call the car service for him?" Castle asks his daughter, and the boy shakes his head, but the writer insists.

Alexis pulls out her phone and steps away to make the call while Drew comes over to their end of the bar.

"Very nice to meet you, Detective," he says, holding out his hand to grasp hers in a firm shake. "Thank you for checking on the bruise."

She nods and smiles at him. He really is very polite.

"Nice to meet you as well, Drew. And it was no problem."

He steps up to Castle next, shaking her partner's hand as well.

"Thanks for letting me hang out here, Mr. Castle, and for letting me use the car service."

The writer claps him on the shoulder.

"You're more than welcome, Drew. Thank you for watching out for Alexis. And your delicious grilled cheese sandwiches too. Be safe."

The young man grins, then stumbles back a step when Minnie (she had been asleep, hadn't she?) launches herself from Castle's thigh straight at the boy's chest.

He catches her though, and rubs an affectionate hand across her ears.

"Nice to meet you too, little one," he says kindly before handing her back to Kate.

Alexis returns then, telling them that she'll wait in the lobby with him and be back in a few minutes.

The two head out, Drew calling "Happy New Year" over his shoulder before he closes the door.

"I like him," the detective says, nudging Castle's knee with her own.

The writer nods.

"It goes against all my fatherly instincts, but I like him too. He's a good kid."

She probably shouldn't, but she's going to do it anyway. Show him her hand. Tease him a little, even if it is true.

"Funny," she says, turning to face him. "That's what my dad said about you."

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