His voice is low and breathless, and she suspects that even though he was goading her, urging her on, he didn't really expect her to say the words.

But she's not taking them back.

"I'm in love with you," she says again, leaning down to drop a kiss on his nose, his eyes sliding shut as she nears.

"I'm in love with you," she repeats once more, nuzzling into him, pressing her forehead against his and letting her mouth linger over his, sharing his breath.

"I'm in-"

And then she's on her back, stunned as he laughs over her, blue eyes sparkling and pleased with himself, pleased with her too.

One of his hands curls around the back of her neck, his elbow against the mattress for stability. The other hand slides slowly up her side, lingering briefly over the surgery scar under her shirt (she's still not sure how he knows its exact location), brushing lightly against the side of her breast as he draws his fingers up to her clavicle, thumb gently caressing the jutting bone.

She closes her eyes against the sudden onslaught of sensation.

Right. That's the only word she can come up with at the moment. This feels right.

Her thighs cradle his hips. His belly presses against hers. Her feet bracket the strong muscles of his calves. His whole body seems to be quivering against hers, and when she opens her eyes again, she still sees joy in his gaze. Need now too. Lust, yes. But mostly love and that boundless joy.

"Kate," he whispers, his lips curling upward as he speaks her name in a reverent tone.

She unwraps one arm from around his neck (when did that happen?) and brings her thumb down to rub his cheekbone, her index finger just flicking his earlobe.

"I'm in love with you, Castle."

He grins.

"Yes, I believe you mentioned that already."

She pulls her head back as far as she can (which really isn't very far with the way he's holding her) and lifts an eyebrow.

"I'm sorry, did you want me to stop?"

He shakes his head from side to side.

"Wasn't complaining, Kate."

She slides her thumb back from his cheek to run it around the shell of his ear, curling her whole hand around the warm cartilage.

"Why are you still talking then?" she asks, parting her lips in a wide smile.

He shrugs.

"No idea. Probably because I-"

"Castle," she cuts him off mid-sentence. "Shut up and kiss me."

The last words she hears from him are a gruff yes ma'am and then his lips are on her.

Her mouth is first.

He's a good kisser, she's known that for nearly a year. That night in the alley, he swept her up in his arms, and she'd become distracted by his kiss. So distracted that if the guard hadn't let out that little chuckle, she might have forgotten why they were there, why she was pressed against her partner in between dark warehouses.

She had to agree with him, it was amazing.

But that edge of desperation - of fear - is gone, and whatever extra adrenaline or extra high the situation might have provided, she thinks their current position will be even better. Knows it will be even better.

Because both of them are free and there's no guilt. Because they're just themselves and not playing some role to fool a guard. Because he loves her, and she loves him just as fiercely. And now they both know it.

He's tender in the way his lips slide over hers, soft with his press against her, nibbling but not biting, and she can still feel the smile that he apparently can't leave behind.

She likes this - being able to tell how happy he is because of her. Her heart swells and she glides her hand down this neck to his chest. He's warm and the muscle jumps under her fingers and oh, she wants to feel his skin and not just this soft cotton.

As his smiling mouth deserts hers to work across her jaw, she smoothes her hand up his side to his back.

He's broad and strong and it's one more thing that she loves about him - the way he's built. She likes knowing he's there and solid behind her when they go into an unknown situation. She remembers watching him hug his daughter when he got out of the bank, the way the girl melted into the fortress of his body.

Her fingers drift down until they catch bare skin at his lower back. His breath quickens, and he pulls his face away from hers to look at her. Oh, his eyes are dark, darker than she's ever seen them and glinting with barely restrained passion. His usual steel blue has become a deep ocean and she can't wait to explore the treasures below the surface.

She looks him in the eye as her short nails scratch at a strip of skin just above his waistband.

He groans, a deep guttural sound that sends tremors through her bones.

And then his mouth is at her throat, laving her pulse point, nipping at her jugular, and if she doesn't shift his focus quickly, he's going to leave a mark. She might not mind but for the fact that the shirt she brought to wear today is nowhere near a turtleneck and she can't exactly justify wearing a scarf all day if they end up at the precinct.

Her hand trails up his back, pulling his white shirt with it. He chuckles when he realizes what she's doing, but lets her continue.

"A little eager, Detective?"

She just gives him that wicked smile she knows he loves, pink tongue barely poking between her teeth as she uses both hands to drag the tee over his shoulders and head, ruffling his hair in the process.

He leans down to kiss her again, but she pauses him with a hand against his chest. Her quirks an eyebrow at her in question.

Her other hand joins the first at his torso. Not pushing away, not truly holding him back, but just carefully tracing the lines of each muscle.

The writer shudders and she looks up at his face. His eyes are squinted shut, his mouth twisted in agony or pleasure or perhaps some blend of the two. His breathing is ragged.

She wants to... Oh, how she wants to... But there's not enough time, and she hadn't meant to let it get this far right now. Later.

The detective flexes her abdomen, pulling herself up to reach him. She coasts one hand around to his shoulder, tugging down on his left side so she can press her lips to the burning surface of his chest, her mouth covering the visible pounding of his heart.

His whole frame sags, and he falls into her welcoming arms.

"I love you," she whispers into his skin, into his muscle and sinew and blood.

She can't even hear her own words, but somehow he understands, as he always does, the hitch in his breathing an easy sign.

His body is heavy over hers, a sturdy shield against the coming day, and when he starts to lift himself away from her, she grasps his shoulders, holding him there. It's not his whole weight bearing down on her anyway, he's got elbows and knees bracing him enough that he's not crushing her, and she doesn't want to let him go. Not just yet.

A rumble vibrating into her speaks to his laughter and she smiles against him, breathing in his scent. He hasn't showered since sometime yesterday, and his usual cologne has mostly faded. But as she lets her lips linger on his skin, she can detect a hint of citrus and cinnamon and oddly, coffee.

"You taste like coffee," she says, and he lifts up for her to repeat herself, this time so he can hear the words.

He smiles and rolls onto his side, pulling her with him until her chin is pillowed on his chest.

"So do you," he chuckles. "I like it."

She feels the blush rising in her cheeks and turns her head to bury her face in the crook of his elbow.

He tightens his arms around her.

"I know you brushed your teeth last night, so if you still taste like coffee..." he nudges her until she looks at him, finding an extremely serious expression on his face, "we might need to cut down on your intake."

She pinches his side lightly and he yelps.

"Just because you know I love you does not mean you can dictate my coffee intake, Richard Castle."

He shakes his head, mischief dancing in his eyes and his grin.

"Kate, Kate, Kate...I've been doing that for ages."

His eyes are twinkling and she can't even glare at him. She's certain she'll rediscover that balance eventually, the one that allows her to put him in his place. She'll need it at some point. But right now, all she wants to do is smile at him.

"I do love you," she says quietly, and all joking fades away from his face.

He lifts his hand to brush the hair from her eyes, to gently stroke her forehead and her cheeks and her lips. The arm that holds her squeezes and she drops her head, tucking her nose against his neck and just basking in this moment. This tiny and monumentally huge moment of perfection.

"I love you too, Kate," he whispers, lips pressed against her ear. "So very, very much."

His breathing slows and she's not sure if he's drifting off to sleep again or just taking it all in, as she is.

They stay there, resting in the peace of the early morning. They'll have to get up soon. The alarm will sound, they'll take showers (separately, at least today), and they'll head out to see if they can make any progress on their case. But for now, this is beyond good. She never expected this when she came over last night.

A week ago, she woke up in her father's cabin on Christmas morning, missing her writer, knowing she couldn't really even call him that, not with any real claim. Now she's here, sprawled across his bare chest. It doesn't feel real.

She expected to be waking up in his guest room, wandering down to the kitchen with Minnie in tow to find him making waffles or eggs or toast and coffee. Speaking of coffee...

"Why do you taste like coffee?" she asks, shifting back so she can see his face again.

He shrugs.

"Probably the same reason you do. I drink too much."

"So much that it's leaking out your skin?" she asks.

He tilts his head and she realizes what she has just admitted. But he simply looks thoughtful for a moment and then speaks.

"Oh, I ran into Alexis yesterday morning in the kitchen and spilled my coffee all over. Changed clothes, but I didn't shower again."

She smiles at his explanation, lifting up from his chest to skim her eyes across his body.

"All over?"

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