Ryan and Esposito head back to the precinct after she and Castle agree to spring for lunch for the group, a thank you to the other detectives for doing the morning's legwork and allowing their teammates time to sort things out (even if they have no real idea about what that entailed).

The writer follows her to the cruiser, offering meal ideas from Thai to Alaskan (Alaskan? she asks. Lots of salmon, he tells her, and the occasional polar bear. Oh, he's joking.), but they settle on the familiar Chinese. One of their favorite places is right on the way from here back to the precinct.

He offers to pay, and she tells him they'll split, that they're partners, in this too. That makes his eyes soften, and she smiles as she opens the driver's side door and slips into the car, buckling her seat belt as he mirrors her.

"Hey, you okay?"

Castle's voice is low as she pushes the key into the ignition. Her eyes dart up to meet his own deep blue as they swim with concern. They were joking around about lunch only a moment ago, and now he's switched gears. It takes her by surprise.

"Yeah, Castle, I'm good," she answers quickly, and he sighs. "Why?"

He turns his hand where it rests on the console, leaving his open palm facing up.

"You just...when you guys left Restrepo's apartment, you looked shaken. You were pale."

She knew he'd noticed at the time, but had figured he had either forgotten by now or had seen that everything was okay and would let it go. Obviously not. She takes the invitation, slides her hand into his, lacing their fingers and squeezing.

"I called out to tell you that it was clear, that you could come into the apartment," she says gently. "And you didn't answer."

His hand tightens around hers, knuckles whitening with his grip.


She shakes her head, brings their hands up, pulls them against her chest.

"It just scared me, that's all. And then when Ryan checked the hall and you weren't where we'd left you..." She pauses, takes a deep breath, and his fingers twitch against the fabric of her shirt. "I'm not the only one who cares about you, you know? The boys...they consider you one of their own."

His throat muscles clench as he swallows.

"I'm sorry," he says thickly. "I didn't think. I just...she called out to me and she looked afraid, and I just - I should have waited for you. I didn't mean to scare you. Any of you."

She shakes her head, releasing his hand to lift her fingers to his cheek, tips caressing the stubble on his jaw before they rise to smooth across an eyebrow and down to the fine hair at his temple, still a dark brown, physical evidence of his youthful nature.

"It's fine, Castle. You're fine. And that's all that matters. Just...let us know where you're going, okay? I don't want to lose you."

And then she's glad she's not driving yet, because his lips cover hers, a fierce and tender expression of his regret, repentance become worship.

The hand that had been holding hers drifts up her body, skimming her sides, and then her - oh that's good - and makes its way across the sliver of skin bared by her coat to curl around the nape of her neck. His fingers tangle in the short curls, tightening and releasing and tightening again.

He grips her thigh with his other hand, pulls her as close as he can with the impediment created by the console, and settles for squeezing tightly, fingers digging into strong muscles. Not hard enough to leave a bruise, she thinks, but then, she might not even care if he did. She'll probably return the favor at some point.

His mouth works at hers, gentle but wild, giving and yet demanding that she dive in right alongside him. And she does. Wholeheartedly. No hesitation. No regrets.

He forces all the air from her lungs, leaves her gasping, fingers clutched around his collar when he pulls away.

"Hell of an apology there, partner," she says when she's found her breath again after a moment. "And that wasn't even a fight. I wasn't even mad at you."

He chuckles darkly, lifts one shoulder in the semblance of a shrug.

"Just wait until we get to the still partially angry make-up sex."

Uh. Yeah. Well then.

He squeezes her thigh a final time and a frisson of heat shoots through her veins even as a laugh escapes her lips.

He grins. He's good for her. In more ways than one.

A tapping startles both of them, and she tears her gaze from his twinkling eyes, from his crimson, swollen lips to look over his shoulder at the figure rapping on the window.

It's Gloria Dias. The woman is hunched against the cold, nearly swallowed up by a coat that must have once been elegant. And she's smirking. Knowingly.

Castle follows the detective's eye and turns around, gives the woman a little wave as he hits the button to roll down the passenger side window.

"I remembered something," the woman says, before Kate even has a chance to ask what they can do for her. "A week and a half ago, I heard an argument coming from the Restrepos' apartment as I was returning from my book club meeting."

Dias gives the writer a not-so-secret smile, and the detective knows the woman will surely be boasting at the next meeting. She'll be the star for the day, the woman who met the famous author. And not just met, but helped with a case. It warms her heart, especially with the way Castle is smiling at her, a bit bashful, still a little fuzziness in his blue eyes.

"What did you hear?" the detective asks.

"I thought it was James, at first. He was a nice young man, but he did have a temper, and occasionally I would hear him arguing with a friend or a girlfriend who happened to be over. But it wasn't him. It was someone else."

The writer reaches through the open window to clasp the woman's wrist.

"Who was it?"

The woman shakes her head.

"I'm not sure. But it was a man. And I remember he said, 'I know who you are. I know who you are.'"

Castle glances behind him and catches the detective's eye.

"You didn't see the man, did you, Ms. Dias?" she asks. "Didn't get a look at his appearance?"

The woman gives a regretful shake of her head.

"I'm afraid not. But Claudia did seem upset the next time I saw her. Worried. But she didn't tell me why. And sometimes it's better not to ask, you know?"

Castle nods, and Kate thanks the woman again.

"I'm sorry." Dias says. "I'm getting more and more forgetful these days. I should have remembered before. I hope I didn't...interrupt anything just now."

The detective feels a blush rising in her cheeks, sees the tick in Castle's jaw that means he's trying not to laugh.

Kate shakes her head, smiling kindly at the woman.

"You two do make a lovely couple, you know." Dias whispers, a glint of secret pleasure in her eyes, and the detective notices the way the woman's left thumb rubs across her ring finger - empty but still bearing the tan line of a long-worn wedding ring. "I had seen gossip in the papers, but not for a long time. I didn't know you were really together."

Castle doesn't bother to stop his chuckle this time, just takes the woman's hand, his own larger one completely covering it.

"This is actually new," he says softly. "Would you mind not telling anyone? We're trying to keep it ours for a bit. Out of the press."

The older woman smiles, and the detective can see the faded beauty shining through, how she must have been drawn her husband in with her good looks, kept him there with her sweet spirit.

"Of course, Richard Castle," she promises. "I know what it is like to have the odds against you. I will not say a word."

Kate sees the spark of interest in the author's eyes, the way he wants to know this woman's story, who she is, where she came from - what she knows about beating the odds. But she's already pulling her hand from his and patting him on the shoulder.

"Please let me know if I can be of any additional help. And I wish you both many blessings."

The detective nods, and Dias steps away with a final smile for each of them, her eyes gentle when they land on the woman in the driver's seat. She turns and begins walking back up to her building, and Kate's gaze follows her steps until Castle's hand lands on her thigh.

It's possessive, the way he touches her now, and yet not threatening, not uncomfortable. Just something that tells her he's not completely certain this isn't all a dream and needs to make sure she's really sitting next to him.

"What do you think?" he asks quietly, and she turns to look at him.

She shrugs.

"I think we better get some lunch for the boys and then find James Restrepo and see how much he knows about that argument."

Castle nods his agreement, but says nothing. She sets her hand over his and squeezes, winking at him when he looks up at her.

"I also think we'd better quit making out in my car if we want to keep this a secret for very long."

His face is solemn, but his eyes are soft, probably something to do with her using the words 'making out' in such close proximity to that other little, all-important word - we.

"Could have been worse," he says. "Could have been paparazzi."

She purses her lips, nods.

"Definitely could have been worse. Could have been the boys."

She honestly doesn't care if Ryan and Esposito know. And she'll have to tell Lanie, because the woman will figure it out as soon as she sees the two of them together. Hell, she'll probably figure it out the next time she sees Kate by herself.

But for now, it's fun trying to keep it from them. Especially if the restraint she and Castle are forcing themselves to exert leads to a buildup of pressure that might lend itself to rather, ah, explosive results later.

She turns the key to start the car.

"Let's go. The sooner we get this figured out, the sooner we can go home."

Her eyes don't miss the way his light up at her choice of words. But he doesn't comment on that, just squeezes her leg once more and then takes his hand back to his own side.

"Eager to get back to Minnie?" he asks.

She nods as she pulls into the street, cuts her eyes to him, bottom lip tucked under her teeth. He swallows when he sees her expression, and she lets out a little laugh.

"Among other things."

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