"Stay with me, Kate," he rumbles in her ear, his voice soft, his arms still tight around her. "Don't leave me."

She flashes back to the last time she heard those words, his face silhouetted under a clear blue sky, eyes fearful and pleading.

It takes every ounce of strength she has not to shudder at hearing them again. She suspects she hasn't been completely successful though when he pulls back to look her in the eyes.

"Not...not for that," he says, and it takes her a moment to realize what he thinks caused her reaction. "I just want to hold you. To know you're really here. With me."

It's not a good idea. All of the reasons she's shied away from this until now come rushing back. First and foremost being that she's still lying to him about what she remembers from that day.

"I..." she begins, and she can tell he already knows what she's going to say.

Heartbreak and devastation flicker through his eyes, and she can't take it. She can't do it.

"Yeah, okay," she hears herself whispering before she can shut her mouth. Her brain has apparently seen fit to hand the reins over to her heart.

His whole body - not just his face, but his whole body - lights up, blue eyes sparking with delight, lips curling upward, arms tightening around her, every muscle under her hands and pressed against her quivering with his unbridled wonder.

His hands hook under her elbows and he lifts her, groaning as he pulls her up with him.

She shoots him a death glare, and he pales.

"No. I'm just...getting old. Too old to kneel on the floor. You, on the other hand, need to eat more."

A chuckle breaks free from her lips, and he grins, turning her and pressing her down to sit on the edge of his bed. Which is really soft, by the way. Huh. Being a best-selling author certainly has its perks.

"I'll be right back," he says, lifting a hand to brush his knuckles across her cheek.

His eyes say so much, repeat the words she's already heard, and she feels a warm flush rising in her skin.

And then he's gone, striding from the room, and she's left alone to press her hands into her eyes and then steeple her fingers while she considers this surprising, exhilarating, terrifying turn of events.

She could leave. Could walk out of his room and tell him she'd be more comfortable in the guest room. He'd be disappointed, she knows. But he would be his usual understanding self. Heck, she could probably go all the way home and he'd still be up early to bring her coffee and work the case with her. He's proven his ability to come back to her. To take her back, even when she pushes him away.

Soft paws on her thigh interrupt her inner faltering and she looks down over her fingers to find Minnie's bright green eyes watching her. Perceptively. It's really kind of creepy, actually. As if the small creature knows exactly what she's thinking.

Great. And now she's starting to sound like Castle with the crazy thoughts. Wasn't there a movie she saw once as a child? A Cat from Outer Space or something similarly ridiculous? Her writer would probably know the one she's talking about.

Her writer?

Oh, who's she kidding? He is her writer, and not just because he's basing a character on her.

She lowers her hands, one landing on her knee while the other drops to curl around the kitten's little body, petting her lightly and earning a loud purr in return.

"You're just too smart, aren't you, sweet girl?" she says quietly. "You don't miss a thing."

"Much like her mistress."

The detective startles, eyes shooting up to find Castle leaning against the door frame, watching her with that soft, pleased smile. Her overnight bag hangs from his hand.


The word is barely a murmur, timid. But it's enough to propel him forward, enough to bring him back into her orbit.

"I brought your bag."

She nods, smiles at his uncharacteristic shyness, the way his body lists to one side.

"I see that."

He shifts to the other foot, hesitation written in every line of his face.

"You don't have to..." he starts, trails off, starts again. "I mean, I don't want to..."

He goes silent when she stands, leaving Minnie behind on the bed, and steps toward him.

"Kate, I..." he tries again, but she presses a single finger against his oh so soft lips.

"Can I use your bathroom?"

He nods wordlessly and she reaches down to snag the case from his hand, his fingers slow to loosen their grasp.

"Thanks," she whispers, pushing up on her tiptoes to press a soft kiss to the corner of his mouth.

She turns quickly toward the en suite, glancing back just once to see him with a hand at his lips, a slightly bewildered (but happy, so happy) expression on his face.

Closing the door behind her, she leans for a moment over his sink, studying her reflection in the mirror. Has it really only been what? - a little less than ten hours since she called him about the murder? And here they are and she's standing in his bathroom, about to put on her pajamas, about to go sleep with the man she loves. Well, not sleep with him, but yes, sleep with him. In the non-euphemistic sense.

She flips on the cold water, cupping her hands underneath the faucet and splashing a little on her face to clear her head. When she feels slightly less muddled, she turns on the hot, opening her bag as she waits for the water to warm.

Face wash and makeup remover sit on top of her clothes. Oh. She hadn't really planned to see him between taking off her makeup tonight and putting more on in the morning.

And what? He's seen her after major surgery. He's seen her in tears and covered in blood after shooting her mother's killer. He's seen her bowed in sobbing grief over her mentor's body. Hell, he's seen her naked and bruised in her burning apartment. What's a clean face compared to that?

She bends over the sink and washes away the day's grime.

The next step is emptying her bladder, brushing her teeth, and changing clothes, all of which she does quickly. She wants to get back to him, back to his arms, her heart buoyed now by some unknown courage, some strength the memory and promise of his tenderness lend to her.

She repacks her bag and leaves it on the counter, takes a deep breath, and lets her hand hover over the doorknob.

Kate's not sure what to expect. Will he be waiting just on the other side, bouncing on his toes, heart on his sleeve? Will he be in bed already with the covers turned down for her? Fully dressed? Just in boxers and a tee shirt? Just in boxers?

Oh, she's not sure if she's ready for that last one.

But she's definitely not prepared to find the room empty when she finally opens the door. Her heart sinks, too many shades of Los Angeles echoing through her skull.

The detective stands there, feeling herself deflating more and more by the second until she turns back to the bathroom, ready to get dressed and get out of there.


She pivots, and finds her writer walking back into this room, Minnie tucked into one hand and the litter box balanced in the other.

"Wow, you're fast," he comments, smiling. "I figured I'd bring her box."

He pauses halfway across the room, that hint of apprehension flickering through his eyes.

"That is, if you're still staying in here."

She nods, her heart starting to slow down to its normal rhythm. Well, as normal as it ever is when he's around.

"Good," he says, moving past her into the bathroom and setting the box in one corner.

He bumps the hot water fixture with his elbow to turn it on, soaps and rinses his hands briefly, and then tilts his head to regard her as he dries off with a navy blue towel.

"You're adorable, by the way."

Just like that, everything else fades and all she can see is the man in front of her, his slightly lopsided smile, his sparkling ocean eyes, the scanty scruff on his jaw.

"I'm in sweats and a tee shirt."

He shrugs one shoulder, coming to stand in front of her, barefoot and in a pair of flannel pants and a white undershirt. He looks downright delicious and he really needs to wear white more often. She loves the blue shirts. They bring out his eyes...but there's something about the crisp white against his naturally tan skin. Mmm.

"Still adorable."

He lifts a hand to push a dark auburn lock away from her eyes, his fingers ghosting along her temple as he tucks it behind her ear.

She's a tall woman, gangly and somewhat awkward as a teenager before she grew into her looks. But standing in front of him, she feels small, diminutive.

Like he could wrap himself around her and she would disappear. She has a vision of the picture that struck her so deeply earlier this evening, of Castle with Minnie - the tiny creature dwarfed in his arms, surrounded by his affection and care, protected from anything that would do her harm.

And it's silly, because Kate's the one with the gun and the badge and the training and the authority. But right now, all she wants to do is let herself be held.

She turns her face into his touch, her dry lips brushing against his lingering palm.

"Set the alarm for eight?" she asks quietly.

He runs his thumb under her eye, his fingertip just grazing the nearly invisible birthmark there.

"Not seven?" he inquires, and she shakes her head.

Her hand rises to his, tugging it down as she tangles their fingers and pulls him out of the bathroom.

"It's a Sunday. And New Year's Day on top of that. We'll be lucky to find anything new anyway. So we might as well sleep in a bit."

We. She likes that particular pronoun. By the way his lips are twitching, she thinks he might too.

"Which side?" she asks, and nods toward the bed when he looks at her, puzzled.

"Ah," he grins sheepishly. "The middle."

She purses her lips, feels her eyes scrunch up as she considers him. Finally, she pulls back the covers and crawls in, glancing back at him as he stands at the edge of the bed, his expression a little addled.

"Hope you like to cuddle, then."

He slides in behind her, hesitating for a moment and then wrapping an arm securely around her waist.

"I think I can handle that."

She settles back against him, feels the top of one cool foot brushing her ankle as he squirms to get comfortable, feels his breathing regulate itself to hers. He lets out a deep contented sigh that ruffles her hair and she smiles, even though he can't see her.

"Just to let you know, Minnie is a regular little heating pad."

His laugh vibrates into her, resonating within her chest, filling her with warmth.

"So am I. Well, a big heating pad maybe."

She jabs him gently in the stomach with her elbow.

"You trying to get me to tell you you're hot?"

His arm tightens around her.

"Maybe. Now go to sleep. I'm exhausted."

She lets her head sink into his sinfully fluffy pillow.

"Night, Castle."

His nose delves into her hair and then his lips briefly caress the back of her neck.

"Until tomorrow, Kate."

She closes her eyes, hears a small thump in front of her, then feels the pad of small paws across her legs until the kitten settles on her hip.

"Also, don't be surprised if you wake up and Minnie's sleeping on your head."

She can hear his smile as he presses his forehead against her crown.

"Thanks for the warning."

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