He's searching for a can of compressed air - barbecue chip crumbs in his keyboard again - when he finds it, tucked beneath a box of staples and a half-used roll of duct tape:

A narrow rectangular package, gift wrapped in creamy yellow paper with a dark brown ribbon tied neatly around it in an elegant bow.

It wasn't there the last time he opened this drawer a few days ago.

He stares at it.

Ponders it.

Alexis is at school. No. Not just school. At college. Living in the dorm. She didn't leave it.

His mother is out of town on an extended field trip with some of her acting students.

Which leaves Kate.

He reaches toward the parcel with a hesitant hand, threads one end of the ribbon between his fingers for a moment before he releases the smooth fabric and pulls his hand away.

If Kate left it here, concealed under these things in this desk drawer that he actually rarely opens, she must want to hide it from him. She's discovered already in their relatively brief time together that he has a fantastic knack for finding birthday presents and the like.

Except it's September and nowhere near his birthday. Nowhere near Christmas either, or any other holiday he can remember. Not even Halloween.

So maybe she found something she really wanted to get for him and bought it so she wouldn't forget about it later? Or maybe it's a limited edition?

Curiosity makes his fingers tingle in anticipation and he inches his hand across the knee where it rests. Closer to the little yellow package.


No. He should be good. He shouldn't steal that pleasure from Kate. Not when he knows how much joy she gets from giving to him, by catching him off guard.

He still remembers the look on her face - that sly smile - the day in the elevator when she'd handed him the bouquet of fake flowers she'd slid from her sleeve.

And all the other times she's surprised him since then:

coffee with a bright red heart scribbled on the lid,

an action figure from that space western he loves of the captain she insists looks uncannily like him,

the morning after the first day and night they spent pressed skin to skin when she pulled one of his books from her shelf and opened it to show him his faded signature.

She surprises him in ways no one else does. And there's always such joy blooming in her eyes when she gets the drop on him. He won't take that from her.

"Took you long enough."

He startles, looks up to find her leaning against the bookshelves that separate his office from the rest of the loft.

"Took me long enough?" he echoes.

She nods, stepping deeper into his office. Golden sunlight filters through the huge windows, drawing out the filaments of burnished bronze in her hair and casting a warm glow on her skin. "I've been giving you hints all week."

"You have?" he asks, leaning forward with his elbows on the surface of the desk.

She smiles softly at him. "I have."

He opens one hand, leaves it palm up on the desk in invitation.

Kate cocks her head, regarding him silently for a moment, tenderness in her eyes that makes his heart clench, make his bones feel like jelly.

And then she comes to him, perches herself in front of him on the edge of his desk, their legs interlocking. She curls one bare foot around his calf, big toe tickling at the back of his knee as she leans over to pluck the small package from the drawer.

"It's not my birthday," he blurts suddenly.

She raises an eyebrow. "Duh."

"Nor is it Christmas."

She shakes her head. "I realize that."

"So this is just an anytime gift?" he wonders aloud.

She laughs. "Well, it is sort of a birthday present. But I figured it I waited until then it wouldn't exactly be a surprise."

He leans back in the chair a little to look up at her. "How so?"

Slipping from the top of the desk, she settles into his lap, winding one arm around his shoulders and running her fingers along the back of his neck. "It'd be a little obvious by then, Castle."

He closes his eyes, leans into the touch, feels the hum that rises in the back of his throat.

"You gave me a gift once," she murmurs, her thumb working along his skin to brush against his earlobe. "Right here, in this very spot."

He nods, but doesn't open his eyes. "Well, to be fair, I didn't exactly intend to give it to you in this very spot. I had a plan."

Her gentle laughter rings in his ears, her breath warming his flesh, setting his nerves tingling. "I know you had a plan, Castle. But so do I. And this is it. Right here."

She presses the package against his chest and he opens his eyes to find her watching him, solemn, yet undeniably joyful. "Kate?"

"Just open it."

He always tears off the wrapping of his presents. Not this time. This he wants to savor, though he's not quite sure why. Probably it has something to do with the way his wife has perched herself on his lap, the way she gazes at him with those dark eyes.

He unties the ribbon carefully, sets it on the desk. The paper goes next and he somehow manages to undo the tape without ripping it a bit.

He's left with a narrow wooden box that looks like it might hold a pen. Rosewood, he thinks. He glances up at her, and the corner of her mouth lifts as she nods toward his hands.

But he doesn't open it. Something in her eyes arrests him, freezes his curiosity. He's never seen this look on her face, this complete trust, this intense adoration.

Her hand covers his, fingers tightening, and he pulls his gaze away from her face, back to the box.

She flips open the lid.

His heart jumps into his throat and his eyes fill with tears as he stares down at the white stick that bears a single word.

"Castle," his wife whispers, lips brushing his ear. "I think you might have to share your birthday."

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