She doesn't linger in the shower.

Hair still damp, Kate gathers her dirty clothes and stuffs them back into her overnight bag after applying light makeup. She didn't get enough sleep last night and she hasn't had her coffee, and yet she feels more awake than she has for a very long time.

He's standing at the stove when she crosses into the kitchen, his back to her as he hums a song she thinks she might recognize. He hasn't noticed her yet. His baritone reverberates through the open space and she pauses, taking in the scene before her.

The writer is still barefoot, toes curling against the tile as he shifts back and forth and taps his thigh with one hand, keeping the beat. His hair is rumpled from sleep. And probably from her hands running through it too, she realizes with a little jolt of arousal.

His free hand hovers over a pan of what looks like a standard omelet. But she can tell by the wafting fragrance of chocolate in the air that it's not. He's actually making her his monstrosity of a breakfast creation. And she'll have to at least sample it. Because she loves him.


"Just gonna stand there all morning?" he asks without turning to face her.

She wonders what it is that allows him to sense her presence. Her shoes remain by the front door and her current outfit doesn't swish when she walks. She hasn't said a word, nor are there any reflective surfaces in his line of sight that would allow him to pinpoint her location.

"It's your scent, Kate," he says when she doesn't move from her vantage point. "I can always tell when you're in the room."

Now he can read her mind too? Well, to be fair, they've always had a bit of a mental telepathy thing going on. Lanie and the boys aren't the only one who've noticed. Still, wouldn't it be nice to keep a little mystery?

He turns, his grin immediately erasing any annoyance, and to be honest, all other thoughts in general.

"The pot should be done brewing. Fixed you a mug, so you just need to add the coffee."

She laughs when she sees the pair of mugs on the counter. He's given her two options, and when she looks back at him, he's smirking.

"I'll leave the Shakespearian insults to you," she decides, stepping over and pulling out the carafe to pour a stream of dark liquid into her mug.

He shrugs.

"Fair enough. You like yours?"

She brings the mug to her lips, but it's just a bit too hot so she sets it down on the counter again. The white pistol grip is unfamiliar of course, differently shaped than her standard Glock. But it's exactly the kind of mug she would expect Richard Castle to own.

"How long have you been waiting to show me this?"

His smirk breaks into a bright smile that crinkles his eyes.

"Ages. One of my readers sent it to me."

She lifts an eyebrow.

"They send you things?"

He shrugs again. He's famous, though she often forgets it, and there are certainly people out there whose lives he has touched through his writing. She doesn't think he's ever seen her signed copy of one of his early books, and she never would have sent him a letter, much less a gift, but still, some reach out.

"Black Pawn gets my fan mail. There's a form letter that gets sent out in return. But sometimes they forward mail to me, personal stories they think I'd like to hear, or funny gifts people send."

He pauses, lifting the mug to examine it.

"The mug actually came from an older woman who saw me in a coffee shop one day. She was too shy to say hello, and apparently I looked like I was in a hurry, but she sent me this. They send you things too, you know."

The detective takes a step back.

"Me?" she asks incredulously. "Why would your fans send things to me?"

He waves off her doubt.

"You're not exactly famous, but I've named you and the rest of the team in my acknowledgements. So, people know who you are. Not to mention the launch you came to a couple years ago. And the Cosmo article."

He's right, of course, and she's aware that being Richard Castle's muse, while it doesn't make her a public figure, does expose her more often than she realizes, more often than she might like. But such is life, right? Might as well have a little fun with it.

"So what you're saying is that you've been keeping gifts from me?"

She arches an eyebrow at him and he splutters, the coffee he just sipped dribbling down his chin. She lifts her hand and swipes her thumb across his skin. When she brings her hand up to her lips to lick away the remnants, he nearly chokes. She just watches him.

"I'll, uh," he starts, stops when he sees the way her tongue still swirls around her thumb, catching every last drop of coffee. "I'll have someone from Black Pawn bring over anything that they might have for you."

She nods her agreement, stepping deeper into his personal space so she can see what's going on in the pan on the stove.

"That would be good," she tells him. "Now I believe you promised me breakfast, such as it may be."

Oh, he lights up in that little boy way he has about him sometimes. She loves that, she really does.

"Could you bring a couple of plates from the cabinet there behind you?" he asks, pointing over her shoulder. "And the toast should be popping up too."

She follows his instructions, procuring the two plates and grabbing the toast as soon as it's done. When she turns back to him, he's got a spatula in the pan, lifting up on the edges of the egg concoction. It's oozing chocolate. And marshmallow. What has she gotten herself into this time?

But he's fairly quivering with excitement, so she can't exactly shut him down now, can she? She remembers making more than one "creative" breakfast for her parents when she was growing up, and they always accepted the offering with grace. So she'll have to do the same.

Of course, she was maybe eight years old the last time she did that, and she was adorable. Castle is definitely not eight years old. Unfortunately, in this case, she does find him rather adorable, so...

He slides the s'morelet, as he's apparently named it, onto one of the plates she set on the counter, using a knife to cut right down the middle, dividing the thing in two. He sets one half on the second plate, presenting it to her with a flourish.

"Prepare to be amazed, my dear detective."

She looks down at her plate. Oh well, if it kills her, at least he knows how she feels now.

He nudges her with his elbow and she glances up to find him smiling affectionately, tilting his head toward the bar.

She takes her breakfast and coffee and follows him as he sets his down on the countertop before slipping away again to pull butter and jam and orange juice out of the refrigerator.

"Really, Kate," he says, leaning down to brush his lips across her hair as he sidles up next to her. "You don't have to eat it if you don't want to. I can make you something else. Or there's cereal."

He must have seen the look of trepidation that she couldn't quite disguise. And she appreciates how considerate he is. But she told him she'd try it and she will, so she shakes her head.

"This will be fine, Castle."

He plops into the chair next to her, his left hand finding a home on her thigh and squeezing briefly before simply resting there as he sips his coffee.

She takes a deep breath, cuts a piece of the s'morelet, and steels herself, prepared for the worst. He's watching her carefully.

But when she finally takes a bite, it's actually not that bad. Her mom used to make scrambled eggs and chocolate chip pancakes, and this sort of reminds her of when she'd end up with a little bit of both on the fork. She chews thoughtfully.

"And?" he asks, tightening his hand gently on her leg. "What's the verdict?"

She swallows the bite in her mouth and turns to face him.

"Interesting texture," she says first and he grimaces, probably because he thinks she's saying nicely that it feels weird in her mouth.

She bumps her knee against his.

"Salty, from the egg, of course. Sweet, from the marshmallow and the chocolate. I see what you mean about the graham crackers."

He nods. She purposely hasn't said whether she likes it. It is fun to watch him squirm sometimes. Oh, but he just looks so hopeful.

"I like it, Castle," she says, chuckling as he pumps a fist into the air in triumph. "I mean, I don't know that you've got the next big food trend here. I don't think it'll compete with chicken and waffles, but it's not half bad."

She might have just given him a puppy, for all he's grinning. And she really is being honest with him. It isn't bad, despite her preconceptions.

Not that she'd let him make it for their kids everyday or anything like that. Too much sugar. But. Wait, their kids?

Suddenly she's bombarded by images of a little boy with her dark hair and Castle's enthusiasm and tendency to ask too many questions. She can't help picturing a little girl, quiet and mischievous, with bright blue eyes that see everything.

Her heart pounds hard in her chest and she has to set down her fork, take a long drink of coffee to calm herself. The writer has gone silent beside her, and when she looks up, oh, he knows. He knows exactly what she's thinking. Somehow he can tell.

"Whatever you want, Kate," he says softly, thumb running patterns along the inside of her thigh, sending flutters into her stomach and tingles all the way down to her toes. "It's yours. Whatever you want."

She wants kids. She knew that already. Despite her unpredictable, dangerous job, she's always wanted kids. She's just never been struck by this deep longing, by these clear images of what it could be like to have children. With Castle. No one else.

The detective nods in answer to his promise, presses her hand over his on her thigh, wrapping her fingers around his.

This is it for her, she realizes. It's been less than twelve hours (though really it's building for years), but she's certain. And maybe this is part of the reason she shied away for so long, why she was terrified of letting him in. Because she knew: once she did, that would be it. If Richard Castle got a hold on her, he'd never let go.

She leaves her hand covering his, picking up her fork again with the other and resuming her meal. He does the same, flipping his palm so he can tangle their fingers. They eat the rest of the meal in weighty silence.

Until a certain redhead comes wandering down the stairs. The girl yawns, rubbing her eyes. It's half past eight, and she knows from the few days she spent here after her apartment blew up that Alexis is an early riser. Still, they all had a late night, and she wouldn't be surprised if the young woman was on the phone with Drew until the wee hours.

"Morning, Dad, Kate."

Castle snags her elbow as she passes and pulls her over into a one-armed hug, his other hand not releasing Kate's.

"Good morning, pumpkin. How'd you sleep?"

The girl shrugs.

"Not long enough. But I've got nothing going on today, so I can sleep later if I want. Just thought I'd try to catch you two before you left for the day."

The detective's heart swells at being included in the statement. Whatever tension existed after the summer, whatever it was that caused the girl to lash out at her in front of the bank, it seems to have resolved itself now. And she's so grateful for that. Alexis has been Rick Castle's whole world for seventeen years, and if Kate is going to somehow fit into Castle's life, more than just at the precinct, she'll have to fit in with Alexis too.

Speaking of his daughter, she's now looking rather pointedly at their joined hands. Kate blushes, but doesn't pull away. And neither does Castle, who seems to be fairly oblivious, actually. Well, maybe not totally oblivious, she realizes when he squeezes her hand, his eyes on Alexis.

The girl says nothing, but does give her a subtle nod as she continues to speak with her father.

"Wait a second," the redhead exclaims, jolting the detective from her thoughts about dating a man with a teenage daughter. "Are you feeding her a s'morelet?"

Oh, is this their thing? Some breakfast tradition the two have shared? Is she infringing?

"Dad, I thought you liked her."

Well, maybe not then. Maybe Alexis is just looking out for her. She laughs.

"It's actually not that bad. A little different, but tasty in its own way."

Castle beams at her.

"Oh, now I know you two are meant for each other."

Both adults look up at the girl simultaneously while the young woman flushes a bright red and claps a hand over her wayward mouth.

"I didn't...I mean, if you're not...I just," she stutters. "Sorry. But, well, you are holding hands."

Kate purses her lips to hold in a smile at the girl's uncharacteristic stumbling. She looks to her partner for affirmation, and he shrugs his shoulders lightly.

"It's fine, Alexis," she assures the girl. "And yeah."

That's all she has to say.

Alexis looks to her father, and he nods, his clear blue eyes focused on hers. There's a silent exchange she can't quite grasp, but whatever the two said, it seems she's passed some kind of test, because Alexis reaches out to grasp Kate's free hand.

She tries not to show her surprise. Though the girl had come to her for advice previously, there's never been much familiarity between them. So this is new.

"Take care of him," the girl says solemnly. "Please."

The detective nods, the seriousness of the request evident in the way the girl is looking at her, clear in the way her partner's grip has tightened.

"I will do my very best," she tells Alexis, tells both of them. "I give you my word that I will do my very best."

She won't vow that nothing will happen to him. Life is uncertain, and more so for a cop, or someone who follows cops around on a daily basis. Anything could happen out there, and they all know it.

But she can promise to try. She can promise to give everything if it means getting this man home safely every night.

That seems to be enough for the girl, because she nods and turns away, heading to the cabinet for a packet of oatmeal and the fridge for the carton of milk. Kate watches her for a moment, wondering what exactly has just transpired. But then Castle is pressing his knee into hers, squeezing her hand, and she turns her attention back to the man at her side.

The man who is gazing at her with such tenderness and longing.

"Thank you," he mouths, and she nods, leaning in to rest against him, her mouth close to his ear.

"If I said 'always,' would it be too cliché?" she whispers.

He shakes his head, turning just enough to brush his lips against the corner of her mouth. She closes her eyes at the soft touch of his mouth, at the way his stubble grazes her cheek.

"Always, then, Castle," she says quietly.

She feels his smile against her face and he bumps his temple gently against hers before he turns back to his breakfast.

"S'morelet's getting cold," he tells her. "Better eat up. You'll need your strength."

He could be referring to the long day of crime solving they have ahead of them. But she's pretty certain by the leer on his face that he's not. She shakes her head, kicks him lightly in the shin and digs into her s'morelet once more. She could see this being a pregnancy craving. Oh, there she goes again. Less than a day, Kate, really.

But when she glances at him and he winks at her, she truly hopes the day will come when she can share that with him. She's already seen him with an adorable kitten. She's not even sure she could handle the sight of him holding a baby - their baby - his devotion written all over his face.

"One day at a time," he murmurs.

Oh, she's got to retrain her face if he can read her that easily now. What is it about being in love with him that makes her so guileless?

"Where's Minnie?" Alexis asks, drawing her out of her thoughts.

Kate realizes that she hasn't seen the kitten since she emerged from the shower. That's not good. She looks to Castle, but he just shrugs.

"I'm sure she's fine. How much trouble could a cat that size cause?"

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