By the time Castle unlocks the door to the loft, it's past nine o'clock. Paperwork took forever, even with the murder weapon and a confession, and they'd stopped for a late dinner of Mediterranean food.

Of course, the two of them spent the whole time they were eating trying to figure out exactly what had happened that led to the death of Agustin Ramirez. Some of the details were still a little fuzzy for Kate, though Castle seems to have a grasp on most of it. If there's a case that makes good use of his writer's brain and its ability to navigate the twists and turns, this has certainly proven to be the one. Her head is still spinning.

"Dad!" Alexis calls out, and Kate looks up to see the girl skidding across the floor on socked feet. "Incoming!"

Sure enough, a gray bolt is headed their way, and the writer barely manages to get the door shut in time to keep the kitten from escaping into the corridor.

Kate drops to her knees, scooping up the little creature and cuddling her tightly. Her bandaged hands still sting from this morning's debacle, but she's happy to see the cat (especially after the anxiety-ridden phone call from Alexis earlier) and somewhat grateful too that all of their secrets are out in the open now. And Minnie, however unknowingly, served as the catalyst for all of it.

"Hey sweet girl," she coos. "Did you have fun with Alexis and Drew?"

The boy in question appears at that moment, hands in the pockets of his hoodie.

"Hi Mr. Castle, Detective."

The writer steps around Kate, brushing his fingers over her arm and Minnie's head before heading over to hug Alexis and shake Drew's hand in greeting.

"You two have dinner already?" he asks, one arm still around his daughter's shoulders.

The girl nods, gesturing toward the living room.

"I ordered pizza. There's still some left if you and Kate are hungry. We were just watching a movie."

Castle leans down to press a kiss to her hair.

"Thanks, sweetheart. We stopped for food on the way home. How was Minnie?"

The detective stands, making her way over to the trio, and hands off the kitten when Castle reaches for her.

"She didn't give you any problems, did she?" Kate asks.

Alexis shakes her head and Drew laughs.

"We had a great time with her, Detective," he answers. "She's got quite the personality. Very feisty."

Castle throws a wink in her direction, and Kate already knows she probably won't like whatever comes next.

"Like mother, like daughter?"

The detective swats him on the arm as both teens grin.

Alexis tilts her head and the writer nods, leading them back to the living room. Somehow, they end up in much the same position as the evening before - Kate, Castle, and Alexis on the couch with Drew on the floor, leaning back next to his girlfriend's legs.

"Did you solve the case?" the redhead asks, turning to look at her father and the detective.

Kate nods.

"You could say that. We've got the killer. Personally, I'm still trying to figure out the case."

The way the girl's eyebrows quirk is so much like her father and the detective feels a rush of affection for the young woman. Whatever mistakes he may have made (and she's realized that he's made far fewer than she might have previously thought), he is an excellent father.

Yes, his rules may be lax. He may be more laid back about bed times and studying and other traditional disciplines than her parents ever were. But he loves his daughter fiercely and would do anything to protect her, to help her. And the girl knows it.

Castle turns to look at the detective, and she gives him a soft smile along with a gentle nudge of her elbow.

"I think you'd better explain this one, partner. It's quite a story and needs someone who can do it justice."

His eyes light up at her words and the hand that isn't cradling the kitten lands on her knee, squeezing lightly. She glances over at Alexis, and the redhead gives her a subtle nod before her father turns around again.

"Well," the writer starts, shifting into the smooth, hypnotic tone he uses to spin tales at the precinct. "It all started in Colombia nearly forty years ago."

Kate leans back against the couch and closes her eyes, drawn in by his voice.

"A woman named Claudia de la Rosa fell in love with a handsome young revolutionary named Diego Restrepo. They married and had a son, named after his father. They were happy, for awhile."

Pinpricks on her thigh alert the detective to the fact that Minnie has forsaken Castle for her owner, and she unfolds her arms, giving the creature a clear path up her torso to curl in the crook of her neck, shrouded in dark curls. The kitten purrs in her ear as the writer continues his story.

"Eventually though, Diego began drinking. And when he drank, his idealism turned to bitterness and he began taking out his anger on his wife and young son. So one night, they ran away."

Though she heard all the same facts as he did, Castle somehow has managed to piece them together into coherency. He's found the plotline, the character arc. She wonders if this is how he writes his books too - he knows who the killer is and just has to find the story.

"Claudia and her son found a home in a village a long way from Diego. They made friends. Her son was smart and kind and he looked out for the younger children, including a young boy named Agustin Ramirez. But after a few years, Diego found them. And so they ran away again. This time to New York."

Kate opens her eyes to find both Drew and Alexis listening with rapt attention. She leans into his side, and he pauses for a moment, his eyes flicking over to meet hers, the gleam of his storytelling mode replaced by a raw need wrapped up in tenderness. He stares at her until Alexis clears her throat, breaking the moment.

"What happened after that?"

Castle gives her a long slow blink that sends tingles up her spine and then he turns back to his daughter and her boyfriend.

"They made a life for themselves here. Claudia found a job at a department store and her son, who was going by James or Jamie now, finished school, double majored in horticulture and business management. He became a specialty coffee roaster."

Drew cocks his head.

"Sounds like all of that should lead to a happy ending."

The boy isn't afraid of speaking up, and that makes Kate like him all the more. He may be quiet, but he's got guts.

"You'd think so, right?" the author says. "But a few months ago Agustin Ramirez, our victim, came to James Restrepo and asked for help. He and his wife were having some financial problems after they adopted their little girl. James had come into Agustin's flower shop one day to buy a bouquet for his mother's birthday and the two men reconnected after twenty-plus years."

This is where the story gets particularly interesting, and Kate sits up, dislodging Minnie and earning a nip to her earlobe. She jolts at the pain, and the other three turn as one to look at her. The kitten stands on her shoulder, back arched, and then jumps to the back of the couch, casting a disgruntled look back at the detective. Castle laughs, but lifts his hand, turning her face with his fingers and prodding carefully at her ear.

"No blood," he whispers, his voice husky. "But if it hurts, I could kiss it and make it better. If you'd like, I mean."

Oh, she would definitely like. But if he starts with her earlobe, there's no telling where things might up, and two impressionable teenagers are watching closely.

"Think I'll be okay," she says, but appeases him by bumping her smooth cheek against his rough one. "On with the story."

He leans away, and smiles. His hand still rests on her leg, and as he begins speaking again, his fingers begin to knead her muscles, working out the day's stress and adding a whole new kind of tension.

"Unfortunately, James wasn't the only one Agustin asked for help. When his parents died, just a few years after Claudia and James had left the country, Agustin had joined the guerilla forces, and Diego Restrepo had been his commanding officer until the young man fell and injured himself one night and became separated from his squad. He fell in love with the girl who took care of him, married her, and they too moved to New York to make a new life for themselves. They adopted a little girl and named her Luz."

The detective's heart clenches as she remembers the tiny child who had latched onto her partner and the undisguised longing in his eyes as he held the little girl. He'd told her before, when he first started shadowing her, how much he'd loved playing with Alexis when she was that age. And she could tell by his expression just how much he'd probably like to do it all over again.

"Much like with James," Castle is saying now, and she pulls her imagination back from imaginary children to focus on the story he's telling, "Agustin ran into Diego one day when he was making a delivery. With every month that passed, he told Diego, he and his wife fell a little deeper into the hole. So Diego offered him a deal. If he would use his job as a way to run drugs, Diego would make sure his family's debts were covered."

The old man had told them the whole crazy thing during the interrogation, the writer teasing out details, the pieces that made it all make sense. Kate may have had the facts - the man still had the murder weapon in his possession and Elena had positively identified him as the one who threatened her - but it was Castle who got the story, the whys and hows.

She zones out as Castle begins to wrap things up. When Agustin had pushed back, saying that he wouldn't be part of an operation that sold drugs to kids, Diego had threatened him. He'd followed Agustin to make sure he wasn't going to the police. And one day when the florist went to help James at the shop, Diego had recognized his grown up son - the similarities between them were unmistakable.

And that was when all hell broke loose. He began following James as well, tracking him to their apartment. He'd gone there one day and found Claudia alone. Only the sound of the elevator when Mrs. Dias had arrived home had scared him away.

Years of addiction had addled the old man's mind, and he was convinced that Agustin had been concealing his long-lost family. So he shot the younger man and then broke into James and Claudia's apartment, only to find the place empty. His estranged wife had died the day before.

"The one thing we couldn't figure out," Castle says, bumping his shoulder against the detective and bringing her back to the present, "is why he took Dante."

Ah, yes. They'd finally chalked it up to pure crazy - a man driven mad by anger and his various addictions.

"Dante?" Alexis asks. "Who's Dante?"

The writer chuckles, turning to his partner and grinning.

"Dante is a puppy, belonging to Agustin's daughter, Luz. Both the puppy and the kid were quite taken with your father."

The girl pats Castle on the knee.

"Yeah," she says, glancing at Kate with a sympathetic smile. "Kids and dogs tend to like him. I haven't really figured out exactly why."

He reaches over and flicks his daughter in the arm.

"It's because they are excellent judges of character," he protests. "They see me as a friend and someone who can be trusted."

Kate winks at the girl, and Drew chuckles.

"More likely," she says thoughtfully, "it's that you play like one of them. You're not afraid to get down and dirty."

As soon as Castle looks at her, she regrets the words. She's left him an easy opening, and if he's going to make inappropriate jokes, she likes to at least make him work for them. But he curls both lips between his teeth and shakes his head.

"Too easy," he says softly, eyes twinkling as he turns back to his daughter who watches him with some kind of mild reproach on her young face.

"Anyway," the detective says, before things get more awkward with the two teenagers in the room. "Dante was unharmed and your father had the privilege of reuniting a girl and her dog."

Luz had squealed right there in the interview room when Castle strode in holding the dog, and before long the man had his arms full of both squirming puppy and squirming child. Kate's pretty sure he got a few kisses from each - it was fairly adorable, especially the grin on her partner's face and the gentleness in his eyes as held the two of them close to his chest.

"So," the writer says. "There you have it. Another case solved. Oh, and did I mention that Elena and James are cousins? Their mothers were sisters."

Really, she's glad to see the end of this one. Too many twists and turns. If Diego Restrepo hadn't shown up when he did, she's not sure they ever would have figured it out. But at the very least, they'd managed to sort of bring a family together, even if it was family that had never met. In some ways, at least, this is a happier ending than most of their cases have.

Drew groans and gets to his feet, leaning over to kiss Alexis on the cheek and pet Minnie where she's sleeping on the back of the couch behind the girl's head.

"I should be going home," the boy says. "Congratulations on solving your case, Detective Beckett, Mr. Castle. It's nice to see you again."

Alexis snags his hand and lets him pull her upright.

"I'll call the car service again, if that's okay?"

Castle nods his permission, and waves at the kids as they walk hand in hand toward the front door. Drew shuts the door behind them.

"And then there were two," he murmurs, leaning into the cushions of the couch and turning to face the detective.

She sets her hand over his on her knee and he flips his palm, lacing their fingers together.

"I'm tired," he says softly. "How about you?"

She nods, and leans toward him, settling her head on his shoulder.

"Time for bed, I think."

His hand tightens around hers, and when she looks up, there's a question in his expression.

"Are you staying?"

She shrugs, letting a hint of a smile play at her lips.

"Told the boys I would, didn't I? Did you think I was joking?"

Desire flares in his blue eyes, and she's seen it before, but there's something about sitting on his couch, the loft empty now that Alexis has walked down to the lobby with her boyfriend. Her stomach flips, heat igniting in her belly.

"I just figured we didn't have dinner with my daughter and her boyfriend, nor did we play with Minnie or watch a movie," he says, a teasing note in his voice. "So I wasn't sure the rest would happen."

She pokes him in the side, then trails her fingers down to trace nonsensical patterns on his leg.

"But you helped me on with my coat, Castle. And we rode the elevator down together, and held hands in the car. And we *have* been snuggling on the couch now for half an hour."

He nods, his breathing heavier than it was a few minutes ago. His eyes follow the movement of her hands.

"You make an excellent point, Detective," he rasps. When she stops the spirals of her fingers and simply squeezes his thigh - firmly - he sucks in a breath and shoots to his feet.

"Where are you going?" she asks, a tease in every syllable. "Don't you like sitting here on the couch with me?"

He laughs, the sound dark and dangerous and absolutely delicious to her ears.

"I love sitting there on the couch with you," he confides. "But I have to admit I'd rather do other things with you. In other locations."

She takes the hand he extends to her, lets him pull her up until they stand toe to toe, bodies flush, her chin brushing the tense muscle of his shoulder. She presses herself still closer, until every thump of his heart resonates within her own chest.

"By all means then," she whispers, tongue darting out to caress the shell of his ear. "Lead the way."

Back                         Home                              Castle Main Page                          Next

Your Name or Alias:      Your E-mail (optional):

Please type your review below. Only positive reviews and constructive criticism will be posted!