DISCLAIMER: The characters from Law & Order & Law & Order SVU are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf. The characters from Castle belong to ABC and show creator, Andrew Marlowe. No copyright infringement is intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: It Takes Two is a collaborative crossover between the shows Castle and Law & Order: SVU. The story takes place after the episode "Ghost" has occurred and encompasses events from Seasons 1 and 2 of Castle and Season 10 of SVU. Parts of the SVU timeline have been altered to fit the needs of this story, but we tried to remain true to the characters and spirit of both shows. Credits: Acathla: Primary writer for Kate Beckett and compilation of the text. Diamond Crush: Primary Writer for Vicky Harrison/Alexandra Cabot, proofreading and final edit.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To CMSVU2010[at]gmail.com

It Takes Two
By Acathla & Diamond Crush


Chapter Sixteen: Secrets Revealed

Alex woke up the next morning about 11 o'clock, a nice little perk for a Sunday. She got up and took a shower, letting Kate stay in bed a little longer, and then started getting ready. She did her makeup and hair first and then put on her underwear and a robe. She figured she'd call the restaurant to order about noon so that everything would be there and ready when everyone arrived at two. She noticed Kate stirring and walked over to the bed to sit down. "Good morning sleepy head," she said, leaning down to kiss Kate.

Kate reached an arm out and pulled Alex with her as she lay back down on the bed. "Come back to bed baby," Kate whispered against Alex's lips. She was now thankful that they had thought to invite everyone over last night by text just before they fell asleep. Kate glanced at the alarm clock by the bed and grinned, "We have some time."

"You know I would, but I just finished my hair and makeup," Alex said with a pout and then kissed Kate again.

Kate studied Alex's face for a moment and then she huffed and pouted. She knew she wasn't going to win this one. "Fine. Be that way," Kate said mockingly. She wasn't really angry, just a little frustrated because she'd woken up from a very...liquid dream starring her hot blonde girlfriend and now she'd have to take a cold shower to find some relief.

Alex smiled, "Were you dreaming about me again?" She rubbed Kate's stomach gently and peered deep into her eyes.

Kate fought back a grin as she said, "I wake up and my first impulse is to pull you back into bed, do you really need to ask what I was dreaming about? Or rather who I was dreaming about?"

Alex got a devious look in her eye, "Well then, aren't you lucky I haven't done my nails yet…" She slipped her hand lower and found Kate's legs already spread. She grinned, "Wow, must've been some dream…" She could feel just how wet Kate was as she placed her middle finger on Kate's clit.

Kate tried to hold on to her pout but quickly lost the battle as Alex's knowing and talented fingers began to play her like a violin. Kate moaned as she slid down a bit on the bed, desperate to be closer to that hand.

"Oh yeah baby, just like that."

Alex pressed her lips against Kate's, capturing her moans and whimpers, and then slid her tongue into the brunette's waiting mouth. Her fingers were dancing between Kate's legs, hitting all the right spots.

Kate surrendered to Alex's attentions as her hips began to rock against the blonde's hand while her tongue wrestled with Alex's. Kate's last real thought just before she came so hard she thought she'd pass out was that this was a great way to start her day.

Alex pulled back from the kiss so that Kate could breathe and her dark blue eyes shimmered in the morning sun, "You are glowing, you know that? You look so beautiful right now, baby."

Kate fought to catch her breath and just smiled at Alex. After a moment, Kate had recovered enough to flip Alex onto her back and she grinned wickedly at her girlfriend, "I promise I won't touch your make up or your hair...but I need to taste you." Before the blonde could protest, Kate quickly parted the robe and took off Alex's panties so that she could bury her face between her girlfriend's legs. She licked a path through the wetness that had gathered there and closed her eyes, the flavor gathering on her tongue. Kate moaned, "I love the way you taste baby." Then she returned to her task and no more words were needed as she used her tongue and lips to bring Alex to climax.

Alex was gripping at the sheets, so overwhelmed by Kate's take-charge attitude that it didn't take much for her to reach her peak. She bucked, her skin covered in a thin layer of sweat, while she moaned, "Oh God, Kate, so close, so close, baby..."

Kate loved reducing her normally poised girlfriend to her baser self. She increased the suction on Alex's clit as she slid two fingers into Alex's opening, curling them so that she could massage the blonde's g-spot.

Alex's toes curled and her abs tightened, unable to hold anything back. Her orgasm started deep inside of her and radiated out over her entire body, creating a wave of reactions from goose bumps to her nipples hardening to her face flushing. She yelled out Kate's name and had enough presence of mind to also tell her that she loved her.

Kate kept licking at Alex as she came down from her orgasm. Kate licked her girlfriend clean then slid up her body and grinned down at her, "I love you too baby. More and more each day." Kate began to lean down to kiss Alex but remembered her promise. She pulled away, "I'm going to go take a shower ok? I'll be out in a few." Kate began to slowly lift herself off of her girlfriend and although she hated to sever the connection, she had no choice. Their friends would be arriving a few hours and she had to get ready.

Alex watched Kate saunter off naked and smiled. This was a good way to start off the day. She followed Kate into the bathroom and said, "Sorry, I have to clean up a little, you know..."

Kate grinned, "Well, you could join me in the shower...if you wanted to." Kate wiggled her backside as she stepped into the shower. Kate tilted her head up into the warm water and she sighed, loving the feel of the water cascading down her very satisfied body.

"And start all over?" Alex asked with a raised eyebrow. "No thanks…I'm just going to wipe up a little and then go order lunch." She stuck her hand into the shower and spanked Kate's ass.

Kate jumped at the contact and grinned. "Tease!" she shouted as she heard Alex moving around.

Alex cleaned herself up and then touched up her make-up. The hair thing was actually working better after the sex than it had before and she smiled at herself in the mirror. She went back into the bedroom to put on new underwear and get dressed. By that point, she heard the shower stop and she called to Kate, "I'm going to go order and get everything ready."

Kate smiled, "Ok baby. I'll be out in a few to help." Kate began to hum under her breath as she dried off. By the time she moved into the bedroom to find something to wear the humming had evolved into actual lyrics, though not loud enough to be made out. Kate was so caught up in the song and finding something to wear that she didn't notice Alex standing in the doorway. The blonde didn't want to intrude and stop Kate from singing.

"What are you singing there?" Alex asked after straining her ears for as long as they could stand it.

Kate jumped at the sound of Alex's voice and she blushed when she realized that Alex had heard her. She tried to play it off, "Um...just a song..." Kate's blush grew deeper and she tried to turn away.

Alex crept up behind her and wrapped her arms around Kate's waist, "What song?"

Kate leaned back, enjoying the embrace, and she fully appreciated the symmetry of the moment. She whispered, "'Your Arms Feel Like Home'..."

Alex smiled and kissed Kate's neck, "Thank you, baby. You feel pretty darn good yourself."

Kate giggled, "Thanks, but that's the song I was singing. It's called 'Your Arms Feel Like Home,' it's by 3 Doors Down." Kate paused a moment before she began to explain, "Um, after your e-mail and after I had gotten all the venting out of my system, I um...I started listening to the radio a lot and several songs reminded me of you, of us, and I um..." Kate felt her blush deepen again, "I made a mixed CD of the songs. I listened to it a lot. 'Your Arms Feel Like Home' was one of the songs." Kate closed her eyes, not wanting to see Alex's reaction in case she was planning to mock her or laugh or tease her.

Alex felt tears sting her eyes and she kissed Kate's shoulder, "I love you so much, Kate..."

Kate held onto Alex's hands around her waist, "I love you too Alex."

"I'm so sorry I put you through all of that, baby…" she brushed Kate's soft skin with her lips. "Will you play the CD for me sometime?"

Kate turned around and placed her hands on Alex's face to look into her eyes. When she was sure she had the blonde's attention, she said, "Listen to me. If going through all that was the price I had to pay to have you here with me now, then it was worth it. I wouldn't trade any of it if it meant I couldn't have you now. I love you and I have loved you since that day in Santa Fe when you gave me the hot chocolate with the most whipped cream." Kate smiled, "I will love you until the day I die. I forgave you for that whole year of silence once I knew what had happened, so you never have to apologize for it again, ok?"

There were tears falling down Alex's cheeks, but she smiled at Kate and leaned in to kiss her. "Is that what sealed the deal, baby? The extra whipped cream? Because I'd always give you anything to make you happy, for the rest of my life I'll do that. I think that's why I want to carry your baby, I want to give you the most precious gift I can to show you just how much I love you."

Kate smiled, "It didn't seal the deal but it got my heart to the negotiating table. What really sealed the deal was when you asked me to teach you how to make Malukuao. It was my mother's recipe and...she's a big part of me. The fact that you wanted to learn it, and that you have learned it, means more to me than I can express." Kate leaned forward and kissed Alex.

The blonde kissed her back and was just about to lose herself when she heard a knock at the door. She pulled back and looked at the time, "Oh, that must be the food. I'll be right back baby." She let go of Kate and rushed to the door to let the deliveryman in.

Kate let her go, using the time to get her emotions under control before their guests arrived. Once she was certain that she was ok, Kate left the bedroom and found Alex in the kitchen taking the food containers out of bags. The blonde was emptying them onto serving plates so it would be ready to serve when their guests arrived. Kate grinned, "Are you going to try to pass this off as your own cooking?"

"Are you kidding? No one would believe it. I'm going to pass this off as 'I have very good connections to get Mesa Grill delivered to my door,'" she said with a grin. "I just want everything to look perfect. Help me carry these out?" She carried two dishes out and set them down.

Kate helped her then she turned to Alex, "I never did ask, what exactly are these 'very good connections?'" Kate was very curious now.

"I…I know the owner. Met him one night at some party and he hit on me…Turned him down flat," she said with a shrug.

"The owner of Mesa hit on you?" Kate's voice made it obvious she wasn't happy with that. "And you still talk to him?"

"He's married now and he told me if I ever needed anything, to call. I got in touch with his chef and they took care of it, that's all."

Kate calmed down a bit, "Oh." She turned away and went back to the kitchen to pour a glass of water. She took the Brita pitcher from the fridge and grabbed a glass from the cabinet, filling it to the top.

Alex walked into the kitchen and leaned in the doorway, "Are you mad?"

Kate took another gulp of water before she said, "Only at myself."

"You thought I maybe did some 'favor' for him to get this kind of service?" Alex asked, curious to know where Kate was coming from.

Kate turned around so fast she almost spilled water on the floor, "No! Definitely not, no. I know you better than that honey."

"Then why are you so upset?"

Kate struggled to explain, "I'm not used to this...this..." Kate sighed, frustrated, her face taking on a slightly helpless expression, "I've never been a jealous person, but with you…I get jealous over the slightest thing. You tell me about some random guy who hit on you and I know, I know I have no reason to feel this way, but I can't stop it. It's why I want to tell the guys about us. Maybe if we can be honest and get all these guys to stop flirting with you, I'll find a way to deal with this. I'll get past it. I just don't want to feel like this anymore...I don't want to push you away…" Kate trailed off, losing momentum with every word. She took another sip of water and refilled the glass as she waited for Alex's reaction.

"Kate, you know that I love you and no matter how many men or women flirt with me, I'm always going to want you. If you really want to get better, then maybe you should see someone about this…" Alex said, unsure of how else to convince Kate that she was completely devoted to her.

Kate dropped her head and took a breath. She spoke in a low, firm voice, "I know you love me and I know that you're devoted to me. I know that what we have is real and that there is no logical reason or cause for me to get jealous. I know this and yet…" Kate paused and took another deep breath, "I see Castle hitting on you. I see other people, men and women, looking at you when we're out together and...I don't like it. There is a part of me wants to barricade us in this apartment or in mine and just live in a little bubble where I don't have to see other people looking at you, wanting you. Then there's another part that wants us to be open, to go out on dates and have fun and just tell all those people who look at you to look all they want because you're going home with me." Kate stopped again to drink more water, her throat drying up, "I love you, and what's more, I know you love me too and that we're going to have a great long life together. I also know that if I don't get a grip on my jealousy I'm going to lose you and that scares me more than anything else. I'm sorry for that."

"We need to deal with all of this, honey. I don't want you to feel like you can't trust me or the people around me." She walked over and put her hand on Kate's back, "Maybe telling them will help, but if it doesn't, we need to find some way to make this better, especially if we're talking about having kids someday."

Kate chuckled dryly, "I do trust you. I trust you implicitly with my life and more importantly with my heart. I know I have absolutely no reason to ever be jealous, it just sneaks up on me sometimes. I promise you I will control it until it stops." Kate reached out and took Alex's hands in hers. She held them tightly as she looked into the bluest eyes she'd ever known, "As for kids, there's nothing that would make me happier than to see you pregnant with our child." Kate leaned forward and kissed Alex, her tongue reaching out to tease the blonde's lips into opening and when they did, she slipped inside. She wrapped her arms around her girlfriend and pulled her so close that she could feel Alex's heart beating.

Alex was still uncertain about Kate's ability to control her impulses and it worried her. She hoped that being open with the guys would ease the tension and help Kate deal with her emotions. She pulled back, "Come on, we have to finish getting things ready."

Kate smiled, "Ok, what do you need me to do?" Kate decided to put the heavy moment away until they were alone later and just enjoy the day. Her friends were coming over and she was finally, hopefully, going to put an end to Castle's irritating flirting once and for all.

"Um, we just need to put out the dishes and silverware. I have the wine chilling and everything else is on the table."

"Ok, I'll do that, why don't you relax for a bit. I feel like you've been doing all the work here. Just go sit down on the couch and I'll be in right after I get the table set ok?" Kate dropped a quick kiss on Alex's nose.

Alex nodded and then made her way to the living room. She sat down and picked up the remote for the stereo to turn on some music, something light and not too loud. It was just right for their party. She could hear Kate moving about with the dinnerware and silver and she tried to put what had just happened out of her mind. She didn't want anything to ruin today.

Kate took her time with the plates and silverware to give Alex some time on her own. Kate finished in the kitchen and slowly walked into the living room. Kate watched her girlfriend for a moment, studying every detail about her, especially the loveliness of her profile. Kate's eyes traveled from the soft blond of her girlfriend's hair to her amazingly blue eyes and her patrician nose, then Kate's eyes lingered on Alex's lips, those extremely talented, soft, sweet lips that never failed to turn her on.

Kate felt herself growing aroused again and she cleared her throat. Alex turned to look at her, a question in her eyes. Kate smiled, "Everything's ready. They should be arriving soon." Kate paused, "Is there...anything you need?"

Alex shook her head, "No, I'm fine. I just want to have a mini break before they get here. I'm nervous."

Kate stepped closer, slowly, "You're nervous? Oh, baby, there's no need to be nervous. I know they'll be cool with us and Lanie already knows and she supports us."

"I know. I'll be fine, I just need a few minutes to take it all in, that's all. It's a lot," Alex said, talking more about the jealousy issue than the party. She picked up the remote again and changed the track. A Billie Holiday song came on and she thought it was appropriate for the situation.

Kate nodded and then sat down in the armchair to give Alex some space. She turned to look out the window at the bright sunny day. Idly she wondered how the day that started so wonderfully with a mind-blowing orgasm had turned into this: the two of them upset and sitting so far apart. Kate knew she was responsible for the lion's share of the blame because of her jealousy and she vowed to work harder to control it. Kate glanced at Alex for a brief moment before turning back to the window. She didn't know how to bridge the space between them so she waited, hoping Alex would know.

Alex looked at the clock. It was almost 2 and she figured people would be arriving soon. She got up from the couch and went one last time to the bathroom to check her makeup and hair. She hated feeling so disconnected from Kate, but she needed space.

Once she was satisfied with her touchups, she walked out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her. She looked at Kate and said, "We should go out tonight once everyone leaves. A movie or something."

Kate turned to look at Alex and she smiled, "I'd like that. Maybe after the movie we could...take a walk around Times Square? We haven't done that yet, not at night anyway." Kate's voice was hopeful, she wanted to find a way to reconnect with Alex and get back to where they had been earlier that morning, before all the drama.

"That sounds nice. We can go to the movie theatre across from Lincoln Center and then swing around Columbus Circle and go up to the Square," she said, hoping that a night out would make things better.

"That sounds like a great idea," Kate smiled, happy to be making plans again.

She was about to say something else when the doorbell rang. Kate took a breath and said, "Well, here we go honey. Ready?"

Alex smiled, "Yes." She took a breath and walked to the front door, smiling when she saw Lanie and Javier Esposito standing on the other side. "Hi, I didn't know you two were coming together."

Lanie shook her head, "We didn't, we happened to meet up downstairs. I showed him where we were going."

Kate smiled and stepped forward to greet her friends. She hugged them both and then went to close the door while Alex played hostess. Before Kate could close the door, however, a hand shot out and stopped it.

Kate pulled the door open and saw Castle and Ryan in the doorway with Captain Montgomery trailing just a few steps behind. Kate smiled, "Hey Castle, Ryan...Captain, come on in." Kate stepped back and let the guys enter, then she closed the door and locked it before she turned around and walked into the living room where every one gathered.

Lanie, Esposito, Ryan, and Castle were sitting down, Captain Roy Montgomery was standing near the stereo, and Alex was holding court near the center of the room. Kate felt her heart swell at the sight of her friends getting along so well with her girlfriend outside of work. Kate walked further into the room and stood next to Lanie who was sitting in the armchair.

"I hope everyone is hungry," Alex said with a polite smile. She was used to being a hostess thanks to the many dinner parties she'd thrown and she just wanted everyone to enjoy themselves.

The guests all nodded and murmured in agreement that they were ready for lunch. Alex ushered everyone to the dining room and said, "Have a seat anywhere you like."

"Where will you be sitting?" Castle asked with a debonair smile.

Kate turned away when Castle began flirting and swallowed down her reaction before turning to Lanie. "Hey, um, can you sit next to Castle before I kill him?" Kate whispered to Lanie. She made sure her face was loose so Lanie would think she was kidding.

Lanie nodded and moved to sit next to Castle, "Castle, stop being such a dog."

Kate laughed with everyone else when Rick turned red and looked away.

Alex pulled out a chair at the corner of the long table and offered it to Kate. She took the one next to it and waited to sit until everyone else was seated. "I hope you all like it. We got it special delivery from Mesa Grill. Captain, would you mind doing the honors and pour the wine?"

Roy smiled and nodded, "It would be my pleasure Alex." He poured wine for everyone before sitting down to eat.

Ryan and Esposito looked at each other and then Ryan looked to Alex, "Mesa Grill? They never deliver, how'd you swing that one Counselor?"

"I know people," she said with a grin. She figured a little mystery couldn't hurt. "I'm glad you all could make it. We wanted to do something like this so that we could all spend some time together away from work. I want to get to know all of you a little better."

Everyone had their mouths full so a chorus of "mm-hmms" followed Alex's statement. Kate stole a glance at Alex and smiled at how calm she looked. Then she glanced at Castle but he was focused on his food. Kate slipped off her ballet flat and slowly ran her foot up Alex's leg, teasingly. Kate deliberately kept her gaze on her plate to avoid arousing suspicion.

Alex set her fork down and took a sip of her wine. She glanced at Kate for only a moment and then returned her gaze to her food to keep things low profile.

Kate savored a moment of triumph before she turned to Lanie, "So, Lanie, are you seeing anyone?" Kate knew her friend was hiding a secret lover somewhere and she was curious to know who it was. Plus she needed a way to cleanly segue into their announcement.

Lanie looked up like a deer in the headlights and then glanced at everyone else around the table, "Not currently, no, but I have a date next weekend…" She could've killed Kate for putting her on the spot like this, especially to suit her own needs.

Kate grinned, "Really? Anyone we know?"

"No, he's a friend of a friend," she said, giving Kate the evil eye.

Alex tried to ease things, "Javier, can you pass me the mashed potatoes?"

Esposito jumped a bit but he recovered fast enough, "Um yeah, here." He passed Alex the bowl with the mashed potatoes.

Alex served herself a bit more and then looked over at Kate, "Potatoes, Kate?" The blonde could tell that everyone was as confused about Kate's behavior as she was and she wanted to do whatever she could to keep it from moving into a weird area.

Kate shook her head and then decided to let it go. After all, she didn't have actual proof that Lanie and Esposito were dating so she dropped it.

Soon they lapsed into a comfortable silence as they concentrated on the meal and after lunch, they all went back into the living room. Kate hung back in the kitchen after clearing the table and she asked Alex to help her. It was a ruse to get Alex into the kitchen.

When Alex walked into the kitchen, Kate grabbed her hand pulled her to the other side of the refrigerator so that they'd be blocked from view. Alex leaned back on the counter to keep her balance as Kate leaned in for a kiss. The brunette took comfort from embracing the blonde and then pulled back, "I think we should tell them now, you ready?"

Alex nodded, "Yes. I'm definitely ready to stop Castle's relentless flirting. Should I follow your lead, or...?"

"I got this, just don't go changing your mind," Kate teased, kissing Alex's neck for a moment. "C'mon, let's go burst some bubbles." Kate pulled away and grabbed Alex's hand to lead her to the living room.

Everyone was talking to each other, Castle obviously looking around to see what was taking Alex long. When he saw her and Kate walk into the room, the grin returned to his face. Suffice it to say he had something really dirty thoughts going through his mind about what they were doing in the kitchen.

Kate walked into the living room with Alex right behind her and grinned triumphantly when she saw Castle's smile. Whenever she'd seen that look in the past, it was always associated with something dirty. Normally she'd want to kick him for it, but now that she was so close to ripping his fantasy to shreds, she was willing to overlook it.

Kate stopped near the couch and smiled, "Hey guys, um I want you to know that I...well we brought you here under false pretenses. I mean yeah, Alex wasn't lying when she said we wanted to gather everyone together outside of work so that we can get to know each other, but there's also another reason." Kate paused and took a breath. She looked at Alex for a minute found the strength she needed from the love in her girlfriend's eyes. She turned to her friends again and said, "The truth is, um...Alex and I, we're together. We're dating and we're deeply in love." Kate paused, waiting for their reaction.

With the exception of Lanie and Ryan, everyone's eyes were glued to Kate and Alex as everything started falling into place.

Ryan turned to Esposito and said, "You owe me $50 bucks."

Alex exchanged a look with Kate and then turned back to the two men, "You had a bet going about us?"

Esposito had the good grace to blush at Alex's tone but Ryan just looked smug and grinned, "Come on, Counselor, we are detectives. We knew something was going on. It wasn't until Castle touched your shoulder a week ago and I saw Beckett's reaction to it that I put it together. Esposito didn't believe me." Kate seemed to be the only one who noticed Castle's reaction. There was a look on his face she couldn't identify. Kate was concerned, "Castle, you okay over there?"

"I just didn't think you guys were actually doing what I thought you were doing in the kitchen…it should be really hot, but now that I can't be a part of the equation, it sort of takes all the fun out of it." He paused a moment and then asked with puppy dog eyes, "There's no chance I could be part of the equation, right? Just a little?"

Kate rolled her eyes, "Sorry, Castle, not a chance."

Rick pouted for a moment, but then his face it up.

Kate cut him off before he could say anything, "And no you absolutely cannot use any of this in any Nikki Heat novel."

"I'm afraid I have to agree with Kate on this one, Castle," Alex said. "One word about Nikki Heat being a lesbian gets into one of your books and I'll have to make some calls…" She didn't want this getting out for all of America to read.

Castle sighed, "You two take all the fun out of this but ok. I won't use this for Nikki..." Then the smile returned to his face, "Besides, if she's gay, that leaves Rook all alone and we can't have that."

Everyone laughed at that, then Castle grew serious, "Honestly though, I'm happy for you both. You make a stunningly, almost unfairly beautiful couple." He turned to Alex, "Take care of her Alex, she's very important to me." Castle hugged them each in turn and then went to sit back down.

Montgomery eyed them both then said, "Well, as long as you don't let it affect your work, which I'm sure it won't since you've been together this whole time and I haven't seen a single thing to be concerned about, then I'm happy for you both, too. Congratulations."

Ryan and Esposito each expressed similar sentiments of support and Lanie just smiled at them. They knew where she stood and she didn't need to repeat it.

Alex smiled, "I'm glad that you're all ok with us. It isn't easy sometimes for people to accept it when someone close to them comes out. I would never want this to affect Kate's relationship with any of you. All we want is to be happy."

Lanie looked around at everyone then she said, "I think I speak for everyone here when I say that while this was unexpected, it's not that big a deal. Alex, we've known Kate a long time, I've known her since college, and personally I have never seen her as happy as she's been these past two weeks since you came back into her life."

Esposito chimed in, "And we may not have known you for as long as we've known Beckett, but it's obvious she makes you happy too. So as long as that doesn't change…" He looked at his friends and co-workers and said, "We all got your backs."

The others nodded and smiled.

Alex put her arm around Kate, "Thank you, all of you. You have no idea how much this means to us that all of you know and are ok with it. We didn't want to have to pretend anymore. It just didn't feel right, especially when all of you are so close to Kate and now me." She squeezed Kate's waist and said, "Well, now that we have the heavy business out of the way, who's up for dessert?"

Kate relaxed when she felt Alex's arm around her. She couldn't believe that it was really over and everything was ok.

Everyone started back to the table for dessert and Kate was about to head into the kitchen to get it when Alex stopped her.

"I'll get it, you go sit with your friends. You deserve it after handling the heaviest job of all." She pecked Kate's lips without hesitation and went to the kitchen to get the dessert from the fridge.

Kate smiled when no one reacted to Alex's little kiss and she sat down for a moment next to Castle. She lowered her voice and asked, "So are you really ok with this?"

Castle thought about it for a few moments and replied, "Well I am a little bummed that the two hottest women in my life have joined the ranks of the other untouchable women in my life. But yeah I'm ok with it." Rick looked into Kate's eyes and said, "You are extraordinary and now that you're happy and in love...you leave extraordinary in the dust." Castle smiled.

Kate pulled him in for a hug and buried her face in his neck briefly to hide her tears. Then she whispered in his ear, "Thank you Castle. It means a lot to me that you're ok with all this."

Alex brought out a stunning Red Velvet Cake. It had just been added to the menu and the chef sent it over with his compliments. She cut slices and handed out dessert plates to everyone. "I have coffee brewing for those who want some."

Kate pulled away from Castle when Alex mentioned coffee.

Alex looked at Kate and smiled after seeing the tender exchange. She handed her a piece of cake last, making sure to give her extra frosting. The Captain, Lanie, and Esposito all indicated that they wanted coffee, so Alex went to the kitchen to pour them each a cup.

Kate put her slice down and went to help Alex in the kitchen. She walked up behind her and wrapped her arms around her, kissing Alex's neck before whispering, "I love you. Thank you."

Alex smiled and leaned back against her, "I love you too and you're welcome. I thought you needed a little extra frosting after everything. Castle's really ok?"

Kate smiled, "Yeah he's fine…and I wasn't thanking you for the frosting although it is appreciated. No I'm thanking you for having patience with me. I know I can be a bit...challenging at times, especially when I get jealous, but if you can keep being patient I promise I'll work on it. Ok?" Kate hugged her closer.

"Deal. I will do whatever I can to help you, honey, but I really think that being honest is going to make life easier. You don't have to worry about Castle's flirting or anyone else. And tomorrow, you can wear your ring on the job. I, for one, can't wait for that."

Kate kissed Alex's shoulder before, "Baby, would you mind if I wore it now, showed it off today so it's not a big thing tomorrow?"

Alex beamed, "I would love that very much. Go ahead and put it on while I take these out." She put the delicate coffee cups onto a tray and carefully carried them out into the living room.

Kate smiled as she reached into her pocket and took out the ring, slipping it on her finger once Alex left the room. She'd decided to put the ring in her pocket so that when they told everyone, she could immediately put it on and wear it. Kate walked back into the living room and reclaimed her seat next to Castle, only this time Alex was on her other side. Kate began eating, using deliberate gestures so that the ring would be noticed.

Alex sipped her coffee and took a bite of cake, nearly grinning when she saw the sparkle. Ryan and Esposito were too caught up with their cake and football talk to notice, so it was now between the Captain and Castle, since Lanie had already seen it and didn't want to spoil Kate's fun.

Esposito quickly pulled Montgomery into his debate with Ryan about the Jets vs. the Patriots, so Kate knew that Castle would have to be the one to say something.

Castle, who was sitting on Kate's right-hand side, glanced over at her and loved the glow of happiness that was radiating from her. Suddenly something on her hand caught the light and Castle's eyes dropped to the source. When he saw the beautiful ring on Kate's ring finger, he felt his heart dip for only a split second before he leaned close to Kate's ear and whispered, "Nice ring. Congratulations."

Kate looked at Castle and saw the sincerity on his face, "Thanks Castle." She glanced at Alex and leaned closer for a quick kiss, then she turned back to Castle, "Before you ask though, yes, it's most definitely on the correct finger."

"It's not the type of ring you're thinking, at least not yet. I bought it for her as a promise ring… The engagement will happen before you know it though." Alex smiled at Kate and rubbed her back.

Castle grinned and leaned forward to stage whisper to Alex, "You know if you need any input on great ways to propose, I've done it twice."

Kate just watched the exchange before she said, "Oh I'm sure however she asks, it'll be perfect and even if it isn't, my answer would still be the same."

Alex grinned like a little kid and said, "That's why I love her." She finished up her cake and set the plate down. Then she looked around at everyone and realized that nothing had changed. She was as happy as could be about that for Kate's sake.

The Captain was finished up as well and stood, "Ladies, I hate to do this, but I should get going. I have to take care of some things at the precinct before tomorrow."

They said their goodbyes to the Captain and settled back down to enjoy some conversation without the boss around. Before they could say anything though, Ryan's cell went off.

Esposito laughed and said, "Like clockwork, Honey-Milk. You better answer it bro." He made the traditional sound effect of a whip cracking just as Ryan answered his cell.

Lanie lightly smacked his elbow, "Be nice, I think it's sweet."

Esposito looked like he wanted to say something but a pointed look from Lanie made him turn away. Castle caught it and so did Kate and Alex, but they were nicer than Castle and the writer said, "Looks like Ryan's not the only one who's whipped. And these two aren't the only ones who were hiding a little affair." Castle grinned, pleased with his cleverness.

Alex just put her arm around Kate and chuckled. Ryan was too busy listening to the voice on the other side to pay attention to anything anyone was saying. "Yeah, no, yeah, I'll take care of it. Yeah, I'm on my way, ok…" Then he hushed his tone, "Me too…ok, bye." He looked up to see several pairs of eyes staring at him. "Uh, I gotta go..."

Kate exchanged a look with Alex then asked Ryan, "Was that the girlfriend...Honey-Milk?"

Ryan looked totally embarrassed, though he didn't mean to, "Uh, not really. It was my mom…"

Kate saw the look on his face and knew he was telling the truth. Ryan left and then Esposito and Castle made their own excuses and left too. Lanie, on the other hand, wanted to stick around for a bit and Kate, sensing that her best friend wanted some time alone with Alex, began clearing the dessert plates away. She was in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher, when she heard the low hum of voices.

Lanie waited until Kate was out of the room before she turned to the blonde on the couch and said, "I'm glad you two came out to everyone."

Alex smiled, "Me too. I honestly can't thank Kate enough for being so brave. Not everyone would do what she did."

Lanie narrowed her eyes, "They would if the love is real. Kate loves you Alex and if you ever doubt that, remember what she did here today. Did Kate ever tell you how I found out she was gay?" Lanie felt Alex needed to know this.

Alex shook her head, "We haven't shared our coming out stories with each other yet. We tried to focus on the present moment..."

Lanie leaned back in the armchair, "Well, I don't know if this qualifies as a coming out story because her parents already knew, but let's just say it wasn't her choice." Lanie paused, "We were roommates in college. I was Pre-Med and she was a Criminal Justice major. It was our freshman year and she had been very careful for the first few weeks...until Thanksgiving. I was supposed to leave Wednesday afternoon, but my flight to Philly got delayed because of a freak snowstorm so I went back to our dorm room, thinking Kate had already gone back home. I walked in and there was Kate, naked, in bed with this fairly cute brunette. Well, long story short, the cat was pretty much out of the bag and after her girlfriend got dressed and left, Kate came clean."

Alex thought about Kate with her college girlfriend and realized that what Kate had said about jealousy just sneaking up was completely true. She could feel a twinge of something deep inside, but she did her best to shrug it off, after all, that was the past and Kate was with her now. Not to mention that she had a first girlfriend too and she would hate it if Kate were jealous over something that happened so long ago. "Has there ever been a man in her life?"

Lanie shook her head, "I've never seen her with a guy. She's never even mentioned a high school boyfriend. Why do you ask?"

"Just curious. She's obviously known who she is for a long time and she never strayed. That took guts."

Lanie nodded, "For most people yeah it would take guts. But Kate, she's different. Once she sets her mind to something or she knows it in her heart, she doesn't stray."

Alex sighed, "I wish I had been as strong as her. I knew for a long time and I pretended otherwise because of my family…I hid who I was until I was a lot older and I knew that I didn't want to live a lie anymore."

Lanie smiled sadly, "That's understandable. I think part of what made it easier for Kate was that her parents were very accepting." Lanie heard Kate start to come back and she said, "Don't tell her I told you about Amber. She'd kill me if she knew, she doesn't like talking about her, ok?"

Alex's blood nearly turned to ice when she heard Kate's ex-girlfriend's name. She swallowed hard and her skin visibly blanched.

Kate came back into the living room and saw Lanie and Alex in conversation. She smiled, seeing them getting along. "So you two find something to talk about?"

Alex still kept her eyes down, letting Lanie take the lead.

"Uh, yeah, I was just telling Alex that I'm a big fan of Red Velvet. She's even higher on my favorite people list now."

Kate smiled and even though she sensed it was more than that, she decided not to push. "Well, she's pretty high on my list too." Kate sat down next to Alex, put her arm around her, and smiled at Lanie.

"Well, it looks like you two want to have a little time alone, so I'm going to get on the road. Got big plans tonight," Lanie said with a grin and waggle of her eyebrows.

Kate smirked and said, "I'll walk you out." Kate followed Lanie to the door and just before she opened it she turned to Lanie and said, still smirking, "Tell Esposito he needs to work on his poker face. Have fun tonight."

Lanie just rolled her eyes and lobbed back, "You too. Take plenty of rest breaks…" Then she walked down the hall to the elevator.

When Kate got back to the living room she saw Alex standing by the window. She silently slipped up behind her and wrapped her arms around the blonde's waist to pull her close. Kate nuzzled Alex's neck and said, "Alone at last. You smell so good baby." Kate inhaled the scent of Alex's perfume and smiled at the familiar, arousing scent.

"Thanks, sweetie. Did you enjoy yourself today?" she asked, leaning back against Kate, suddenly tired from her thoughts of Amber.

Kate licked a path up Alex's neck, "I did, I'm glad everyone was ok with our news." Kate paused a few moments before she said, "I meant what I said you know."

"About what?" Alex asked absently.

Kate smiled, "My answer. Whenever you get around to asking the question, it will always be the same..."

"Right…um…what question?" Alex asked, still staring out the window. She was only half registering what Kate was saying.

Kate slowly turned Alex around to face her and she noticed the distraction on her face, "Honey, is something wrong?"

"I…don't think I should say anything…Lanie…she asked me not to…"

Kate took a breath, "Did Lanie say something to upset you?" Kate was wondering what Lanie could've said to Alex..."She didn't threaten you or anything like that, did she?"

"No, nothing like that…Look, it's really nothing. I'll be over it before you know it. It was just very unexpected."

Kate sighed, "Ok well...I can respect that you don't want to share and I'm not going to push you, but can you promise me that if whatever this is proves too much for you, you'll talk to me about it? Please?" Kate didn't know if she should be worried or scared yet and although she was definitely curious to know what Lanie had said, she wasn't going to push Alex.

"I can't…I wouldn't even know how to ask you about it…" Alex said, obviously upset at this new development.

Kate felt a something squeeze her heart. She lifted Alex's eyes to her own and said, "You can ask me anything. My life, my past, it's an open book. No secrets baby." Kate's hands ran lightly down Alex's back to just about the curve of her backside. She rested them there, unmoving.

"Even if I asked you about Amber?" Alex asked, her eyes looking deep into Kate's.

Kate took a breath, not expecting that question, but as she thought about it she realized, "Yes even about Amber. Anything Alex, no secrets."

"Lanie told me that she saw the two of you…that it's how she found out that you were gay. Was she your first?"

Kate nodded, "Yes she was."

"I know what she did to you…it just makes me sick to think that she was the first woman you were ever with."

Kate sighed, "Baby, it was because she was my first that she was able to have that power over me. But I learned from it, and I'm stronger now than I was then. Lanie helped me leave Amber." Kate's hands began rubbing small circles on Alex's lower back, trying to soothe the edge off the topic.

"You loved that monster…It's just hard to fathom when I know how strong and smart you are… I'm sorry, I really have no room to judge. We've all done things we're not proud of."

Kate shook her head, "It's ok, it's only human nature. And yes, I did love her once...or at least I thought I did, but what I felt for her pales in comparison to what I feel for you. You've shown me what love really feels like. Amber is my past, I never even think about her unless I'm sparring in the precinct gym where I can picture her face on whoever I'm fighting." Kate grinned at that and then asked, "What else did Lanie tell you?"

"That you've never been with a man…that you realized you were gay and never faltered and that your parents were very accepting of you. You're lucky, babe. You never had to pretend."

Kate smiled, "My parents were in shock at first, but then my father realized that me being gay meant I wouldn't ever have to tell him I was knocked up. Of course my mother smacked his arm and told him that wasn't funny, but they eventually got over it and we went back to normal. A few years after that, my mom was...she died and I went into the Academy." Kate paused a moment, "As for pretending…. Being a female cop is tough enough without adding the 'dyke' label to it so I had to hide it. No one had ever come along that made me want to stop hiding at work...until I fell in love with you."

"Not broadcasting and pretending are two very different things, Kate… You didn't go out and date men to make people think you were straight. You just let them assume you were. If I could go back, I wouldn't pretend, especially if I knew that my life was going to be taken away from me for four years. It wasn't worth it."

Kate thought about that for a minute. "No, you're right I didn't date men as a cover, but I flirted with some of them." Kate tilted her head. "So wait, you pretended to be straight by publicly dating men?"

"Yeah. I knew that I was gay since I was 19, but I would…hit and run with women and date men to keep up appearances. My father's family wasn't a big fan of gays…they disowned two of my cousins because they came out or were found out. My dad wasn't like that, thankfully, but I couldn't do that to them. I couldn't shame them like that," she said, her voice low and sad.

Kate pulled Alex closer, "I'm sorry you had to pretend to be something you're not." Kate had a thought, "Alex, do your uncle and his wife know about...you?" Kate wasn't too keen on pretending to be just a friend around Alex's uncle but she would if she had to. She didn't want to risk alienating Alex's family just to prove a point.

She smiled, "Yeah, they know. The woman that watches Kevin is a lesbian. He knows about her and her partner and he knows about me. He's a very smart little boy who was raised right by a very open-minded family."

Kate smiled, "I'm glad. I don't ever want you to have to pretend again. So, um, was there anything else Lanie told you that you want to ask me about?"

"No, just that she walked in on you and Amber while you were…naked. Otherwise she didn't tell me anything else."

Kate blushed, "Oh, she had to tell you that part didn't she?" Kate sighed, "Not that I need an excuse, but in my defense, she was supposed to be on a plane to Philly by then." Kate was a little embarrassed that Lanie had brought up the whole naked incident.

"It's ok, baby. People have sex with people they are…into. The important thing is that I'm the one who gets to see you naked now and that's not changing anytime soon."

Kate smiled, "Most definitely, you are the only person who will ever see me naked from now on." Kate leaned closer and kissed Alex.

Alex grinned, "So, we still on for that movie?"

Kate thought for a moment then said, "Yeah, we are...if you still want to go out."

"And show off my beautiful, official, ring-wearing girlfriend? Yeah, I still want to," she said and the kissed Kate deeply. "I love you baby."

Kate grinned, "I love you too. And if you want to show me off, then I won't stop you. Come on, let's go see what's showing, ok?"

Alex nodded and the two of them put on their coats to go out for the evening. They checked the movies on Alex's phone while they were in the cab and picked something that suited both their tastes. A couple of hours later when it was over, they walked from the theatre to Times Square and acted like tourists visiting New York for the first time, something they had never done together. They stopped by a little jazz bar and had a couple of drinks before heading home to Alex's loft.

When they got settled, they ended the day the way they started, by enjoying each other's attentions in bed until they were both satisfied. Alex held Kate and gave her a sweet kiss goodnight before falling asleep with her lover in her arms.


Chapter Seventeen: Merry Christmas

The next few weeks flew by as the detectives handled the usual cases. The guys had been true to their word and hadn't made a big deal about Kate and Alex's relationship. It was business as usual with them. Castle, on the other hand, had been caught a few time staring at them with that look on his face that said he was picturing them together, or rather picturing Nikki Heat in a situation where she had to go undercover at a lesbian bar where she learned a few new things about herself.

Alex had caught him the first time and while she had convinced him to cut it out for a week, she wasn't very scary to him. When Kate had caught him though, she'd enlisted Alexis' help to make sure Castle knew it wasn't ok to be having those thoughts. After that they didn't catch him, though it didn't necessarily mean that'd he'd stopped.

December rolled in and Kate became aware of the fact that this was going to be her first Christmas with Alex and she was determined to make it special. She spent the first three weeks of December planning, thinking, and most importantly, stressing, but in the end, she came up with some really wonderful plans.

It was a little over a week before the holiday and Kate was reclining on her sofa, a glass of wine in her hand, waiting for Alex to come over after work. Kate had finished work early for once and managed to leave the precinct on time at six. It was almost seven now and earlier when Alex had called, she'd mentioned that she'd be over about 7:30. Kate had quickly thrown together a lasagna casserole and it was in the oven cooking while the wine breathed in a decanter on the counter. Kate had the lights off in the living room with almost 50 white, vanilla-scented candles glowing softly in anticipation of the prosecutor's arrival.

Kate was in a very romantic mood tonight. She had the CD she'd burned for Alex so long ago in the player and it was cued up to the song she had been singing that one time. Tonight was the night she was finally going to play the entire CD for Alex, sort of like an early Christmas gift for her beautiful girlfriend. Kate was wearing nothing but her black silk robe and a dreamy smile when she heard a key in the lock and she knew that Alex had arrived. Kate tapped the play button on the remote in her hand to start up the CD player.

Alex opened the door, snow covering the shoulders of her long overcoat. She took the coat off and shook it just outside the doorway and then shut the door and turned the deadbolt. With her coat over her arm she walked into the apartment and was immediately hit with the flickering candlelight and soft aroma of vanilla. She smiled, the cold from a snowy New York night suddenly forgotten as the candlelight enveloped her in warmth. She set her briefcase and coat down on one of the kitchen chairs and ventured into the living area where she found Kate with a soft smile on her face.

The blonde looked down at her girlfriend and noticed that she had on her robe and more than likely nothing else underneath. The lights on the Christmas tree were twinkling and soft music was swaying through the air, the melody instantly recognizable as the song that Kate had been humming all those weeks ago.

Alex moved closer to Kate and whispered, "Hello Gorgeous…"

Then she kissed her deeply before Kate could say anything. She lingered there, soaking all of it in before pulling back to let Kate speak.

Kate smiled up at Alex. She inhaled deeply and caught the crisp, clean scent of snow on her and hint of her own perfume just under that.

"Hi... how was your day, dear?" Kate asked, a little teasingly as she pulled out the clichéd question from the 50's.

Alex chuckled, "Long and busy. I can't tell you how happy I am to be home. It seems you've been a busy little bee. How did you manage all of this?"

Kate reached out and pulled Alex closer, "Lie down with me."

Alex shifted and stretched out beside her as Kate wrapped an arm around her. "I had some time to plan this out and today it all came together." Kate paused a moment and said, "Did you notice the song that's playing?"

"I did, I never forgot the sound of your voice that day as you were singing it," she said settling into Kate's arms. "Is this…the CD?"

Kate nodded, "Yeah, this is the first track. You should know that this CD is one tiny part of your Christmas gift. I wanted you to hear these songs the way I used to listen to them, by candlelight, with some wine and a smile." Kate dropped a kiss on Alex's forehead, "I love you Alex. I loved you then and even when I was angry or lonely I still loved you. This disc holds my love for you in every song." Kate held Alex tighter as 'Your Arms Feel Like Home' ended and the next track began. Kate wondered if Alex would recognize it or if she needed to be told.

Alex rubbed Kate's hand and listened to the next track for a few moments, but when she didn't recognize it, she asked, "What's this song?"

Kate smiled, "This is the song that kept me going, kept me believing in us. It's called 'Love Will Lead You Back.'" Kate began to hum along to the melody.

Alex smiled when she heard Kate humming. She always liked it when the brunette would sing in the shower or while she was making breakfast, but hearing her like this, in such a quiet, intimate moment, made Alex fall in love with her all over again. She remained quiet and still until the song was over and with tears in her eyes, she whispered, "You're so amazing, Kate."

Kate blushed, "No, that would be you. If I'm anywhere near amazing it's because you make me that way." The next song came on and it had a slow, slightly twangy beat. It was obviously a country song and Kate bit her lip, hoping Alex would still like it.

Alex smiled, "I know this one… They used to play it at the coffee shop, the one we went to while you were in Santa Fe. The first time I heard it after you left, it was all I could do to keep from crying there in front of everyone. It's amazing that we both felt the same…"

Kate smiled, "I heard this song at a club that Lanie dragged me to one night, a week after I got back from Santa Fe. It wasn't this version though, it was a remixed version for dancing, but the words stayed with me. I looked it up the next day and when I heard this version, the slow, soulful version I knew that it was about us. That everything that had come before, Amber, the few others that followed, they were there for a reason...to help me know what real love is supposed to be...to lead me to you."

"I know. I keep thinking that if I had never been shot, if I hadn't testified against Liam Connors…I never would've been in Santa Fe when you were and we never would've met. I can't even imagine my life without you…I would be so lonely and sad…"

Kate leaned forward and kissed her to stop that thought, "But you were there. Fate, destiny, whatever you want to call it made sure we were in the same space at the same time. You and me, we're meant to be together...we're soul mates." Kate lifted her hand and lightly caressed Alex's cheek.

Alex nodded. Then she kissed Kate on the nose and said, "You know, it's really not fair that I get to have an early Christmas gift and you don't..."

Kate grinned, "I have what I want for Christmas...you. I don't need anything else, baby."

Alex pouted, "But that's not fair…I want to give you something too."

Kate melted a little at Alex pouting so she said, "I would never deprive you of something you want, so in the interest of fairness, I won't try to tell you not to get me anything. You don't have to but if you want to, I won't stop you." Kate ran a hand over Alex's hip and paused on her thigh. She loved the heat of the blonde's skin against her palm, even through a layer of clothes. Before she could go any further, Kate was reminded of the lasagna in the oven by the aroma from the kitchen.

Her eyes got wide, "Oh no! Um, I'll be right back, just wait here!" Kate quickly left the sofa and ran into the kitchen. Her timing was impeccable because the lasagna was perfectly browned and the cheese was bubbling. Kate grinned, happy she hadn't burned it, and took it out of the oven.

Alex stood up from the couch and walked over to the kitchen, "Aw, honey, you cooked." She was of course teasing the brunette who still did the majority of the cooking for the both of them. "Smells great. Want me to set the table?"

Kate looked up at Alex in the doorway and grinned, "Yeah, could you?"

Alex went and got the plates and silverware and set them down on the table. She put out some napkins and then returned to the kitchen to get some glasses. "Are we having wine?"

Kate smiled as she brought the lasagna to the table to dish it up. She nodded, "Yeah baby. It's on the kitchen counter. I'll grab it and be right back." Kate went back into the kitchen and came back with the wine. She served up the lasagna, poured the wine, and held out Alex's chair for her. "M'lady?" Kate gestured to the chair.

Alex sat down and then picked up her fork, waiting for Kate to sit as well. "Is there anything you don't know how to make?" she asked with a grin. She never got tired of being surprised by Kate's abilities in the kitchen.

Kate sat down and grinned, "There's a lot I don't know how to make, but I haven't found a recipe yet that I couldn't follow to the letter and make it work." Kate wasn't sure why, but every time she tried a new recipe, it always seemed to come out good. "I can teach you this one too if you want. You're getting fairly proficient in the kitchen baby." It was true, the few lessons they had managed to get through without being distracted by each other, had turned out well.

"I'd love that. It would be quite a sight to invite my uncle and aunt over with my cousins and surprise them with this. They'd never believe I did it," she said with a chuckle. "Oh, speaking of, I have something in my bag for you from Kevin. He sent it through my uncle for you."

Kate's eyes lit up at the mention of the little boy. The first time she'd met him was when they babysat him for the weekend and the boy had captured her heart within the first ten minutes. He hadn't strayed far from Kate's side the whole weekend, even begging her to tuck him in and read him a story at bedtime. "He did? He's such a sweet kid. I hope our kids are as sweet as him."

"I know they'll be… He really likes you, Kate. In fact, my uncle has invited us to come over on Christmas Day to have lunch with them, but they haven't told Kevin. They want it to be a surprise."

Kate smiled, "I would love to have lunch with them, if you want us to." Kate didn't want to overstep and make Alex feel obligated to bring her to Christmas with her family, but she wanted her to know she was willing.

"Of course, sweetie. I thought maybe we could go there first and then we can go to Castle's…" She took a bite of the now cool lasagna and then sipped her wine.

"Yeah, that sounds like a good plan. But before we go anywhere, you and me are going to have a romantic, private Christmas Eve and morning, deal?"

"Deal," she said and lifted her glass, "Merry early Christmas, baby." She touched her glass to Kate's and then took another drink. She finished her meal and then helped Kate clean up.

They went back to the couch and Alex said, "I'm going to get Kevin's gift for you…" She picked up her brief case and popped it open. In truth, she'd gotten his gift the day before and had it hidden in her suitcase. "Huh, weird, it's not here… I'll be right back." She went to the bedroom and took two packages from her suitcase and brought them back to the living room.

Kate waited on the couch as Alex went on her little scavenger hunt. She loved the way the candlelight and the Christmas tree lights mingled together and cast a soft glow in the room. It definitely added to the romantic mood of the evening. Kate sat back on the couch, stretching her legs out as she listened to the music from the CD.

Alex joined Kate on the couch and handed the detective Kevin's gift first. It was wrapped in the comics from the newspaper and had entirely too much tape. She chuckled, "They let him wrap it himself."

Kate smiled at the gift. It was exactly what she would expect for a gift wrapped by a child to look like, "It's almost too cute to ruin by opening." Kate had an idea. She grabbed her cell phone from the coffee table and took a picture of the gift. When she saw the puzzled look on Alex's face, she blushed and explained, "Now we'll always have a way to remember how cute it looked before I opened it." Kate knew it sounded a little weird but she couldn't help it...she was a bit of dork.

Alex chuckled, "Hey, I'm all about preserving the memory. I know how important it is now." She watched as Kate opened up the gift and grinned when she saw what was inside. It was a hardcover trade paperback book of Batwoman that Kevin must've picked out after Kate told him that she was a big fan of comic books. "Oh my goodness, he got you a comic book, that's adorable!"

Kate giggled at Alex's words but realized her girlfriend really didn't know the difference between a comic book and a trade book. "Actually, baby this isn't a comic book, it's a trade paperback."

Alex raised an eyebrow, "Huh?"

Kate took a moment to think of how best to explain it. "Um, ok, see a comic book is a single issue, like an episode of a TV show. A trade paperback is kind of like the DVD box set for a whole season of that show. Trades combine several issues of a series that contain a story arc. This trade that Kevin got me is the story arc that explains Batwoman's origins and her past, her life story and how she went from being an heiress to being a crime fighting superhero. Her alter ego is named Kate Kane and um…well she's also a lesbian. This arc also explains her military background, her twin sister, and her brief relationship with a cop…" Kate noticed that Alex's eyes were starting to glaze over and she realized she was going off on a very dorky tangent. "I lost you somewhere didn't I? Well, in any case, this is a great gift." Kate leaned over and kissed Alex's cheek. "I can't wait to see Kevin again and thank him for it."

"He'll love that. But you're not done yet. Remember I said I wanted to give you something? Well, here it is." She picked up her package, which was kind of heavy and placed it in her own lap. It was wrapped in a deep red paper with a large gold bow and Kate's name was written in Alex's handwriting. "I've had this for a while but I know that now is the right time to give it to you," she said, handing it to Kate.

Kate picked up the package and ran her fingers over the letters of her name in Alex's beautiful handwriting. She looked at Alex for a moment, then turned back to the gift and carefully opened it, not wanting to rip the paper. When she finally got the paper off and opened the box, she saw what it was and her breath hitched.

It was the statue she had admired in the window of the art gallery where Alex worked in Santa Fe. The statue of two women holding each other with a baby held between them. Kate felt tears spring to her eyes as she lightly ran her fingers over the cool bronze, tracing the faces of both women and the baby. When she finally found her voice she whispered, "Alex, this is...so beautiful. It's..." Kate's voice trailed off, words failing her as tears fell down her face.

Alex put her hand on Kate's and whispered, "I saw you that day looking through the window and admiring that piece. I had plans to buy it for myself, but when I saw the look in your eye and then we met, I knew I wanted you to have it. I held onto it after you left as…one small motivation for me to get back to you. It reminded me of our dreams and now…every time I come here, I'll see it and remember what we're working toward. A family of our very own."

Kate turned to Alex, "I love it, thank you so much." She leaned over and hugged Alex before pulling back to kiss Alex. She slid her tongue out to tease Alex's lips and when they opened, she deepened the kiss, pulling Alex closer to her and running her hand up the blonde's back.

Alex held onto her, kissing her back, and she felt her heart soaring. She had known that Kate would love the statue, but there was more to it than that. It was a symbol of their future and now, they could both share it. She pulled back and said, "Why don't we go to your room. We'll bring this with us and then make love all night."

Kate smiled, "Hmmm...I like that idea. I was hoping you'd be okay with keeping it in the bedroom. I want it to be the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing at night, a physical reminder of what our future will be. I want to look at this every day, from the bed we share, and remember that you and I will have a family together one day, what do you say?"

"I say that's perfect. Come on, lover girl, I need to be with you right now." She helped Kate up and after the two of them put the statue up on Kate's bookcase where they could both see it, Alex put Kate down on the bed and made love with her deep into the night.

A little over a week later on Christmas morning, Alex woke up and smiled when she saw Kate curled up under the covers clutching the book Kevin had given her. She'd taken the time to read it the night before since she was off from work. That was her way it seemed. She'd never start a book unless she had the time to finish it in one sitting. Alex brushed Kate's hair from her face and kissed her cheek, "Baby?"

Kate looked up at Alex, "Yeah?"

"Good morning, are you ready to go see what Santa brought you?"

Kate wrapped her arm around Alex and began kissing her neck. "I have everything I ever wanted here with you," Kate whispered against Alex's skin. She pulled away after a few moments then said, "But we should probably go see what he got for you."

Alex giggled and hopped out of bed. She put on her robe and handed Kate hers. Alex loved Christmas and hadn't felt this excited since she spent it with her mother and Olivia the year before she was sent into Witness Protection. She held Kate's hand and sat down in front of the tree, spotting a few new gifts that weren't there last night.

Kate smiled at Alex's child-like enthusiasm. She sat down behind Alex and wrapped her arms around her girlfriend, "Baby, this is our first Christmas together and I got you something to...commemorate the occasion." Kate pointed to a box that was off to the side, it was small, maybe 4 inches by 3 inches by 2 inches, and wrapped in a gold foil paper with a red bow. "Open that one first?" Kate rested her chin on Alex's shoulder as she waited.

Alex bit her lip and picked up the package. Before she shook it, she asked, "Is there anything that's going to break inside?"

Kate smiled, "No baby, nothing breakable...well that's not true, but there's nothing glass. Just open it?" Kate didn't want to give it away.

She ripped off the paper, eager to see what was inside, and tossed it aside. She lifted the lid off the box and peered inside, a smile spreading across her face.

Nestled inside was a small, heart-shaped pendant. The stone was a brilliant heart-shaped ruby wrapped with a delicate white gold design that resembled the flowing art deco patterns of the 1920s. There were diamond inlays to embellish the stone and it was hanging from a matching vintage white gold chain. Alex took it from the box and admired the way the light hit it. "Will you put it on me?"

Kate reached out and carefully took the necklace out of the box. She held it in her hand, the pendant resting in her palm and the chain hanging over the back of her hand. Kate held it out for a moment and showed it to Alex. "I, um...I wanted to give you something that would have meaning. At first, I thought it would be something I could have engraved with our names and the date of our first Christmas, but when I saw this in the jewelry store, I knew this was better. I saw this and the first thing that came to my mind was that this would look so beautiful on you. I got this for you because I wanted to give you a physical representation of my heart. You can wear it, look at it and remember that I will always love you, and you will always own my heart...forever." Kate stopped talking. She lifted her other hand, opened the clasp, and placed the necklace around Alex's neck before securing the clasp. Finally, she placed a kiss on Alex's neck to seal her vow.

Alex smiled, tears in her eyes, and then kissed Kate before getting up from the floor to look at the pendant in the mirror. She loved the way it looked and couldn't believe how lucky she was to have a woman like Kate. She walked back over and knelt down by the tree, reaching under to get one of Kate's gifts. "Your turn…" She handed her a large box first and then a smaller one. The large one was about 7 inches by 10 inches and 3 inches deep wrapped in blue paper with a big white bow. It read, "To Kate, From Alex."

The small one was square, about 5 inches by 5 inches and 1 inch deep. It was wrapped in red like the statue had been with a gold bow. This one had a tag that said, "From Santa, for being such a good girl."

Alex smiled, "Open the big one first..."

Kate smiled. Her eyes had been glued to the pendant resting against Alex's creamy, fair skin, but she directed her attention to the box Alex had handed her. She opened it quickly and when she saw what it was she couldn't believe it. It was an iPad.

Kate looked at it and hit the home button to turn it on. The image that popped up was one of her and Alex...or rather her and Vicky standing outside the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe.

Kate's eyes teared up as she remembered that day. Alex had taken her back to Loretto after they'd been together a week and they had asked a tourist to take their picture. Kate was standing behind Alex, her arms wrapped around the blonde's waist with her chin resting on her shoulder, while Alex's hands were resting on Kate's. The love in both their eyes was obvious.

Kate turned to Alex, "I remember that day. Thank you baby." Kate moved closer and kissed Alex.

When she pulled away she again looked at the iPad, torn between playing with it now and waiting until later so that she could open more gifts.

Just before she was about to set it down, Alex said, "Look at the back."

Kate turned it over and noticed an engraving that said, "Our First Christmas, December 2009" and she gasped, "It's perfect." Kate smiled at Alex. "I love it, and I love you so much."

"I love you too baby," Alex said, leaning in to kiss Kate's lips. "I figured you already got one 'serious' gift, you deserve a couple of fun ones. Now, I know you're dying to play with your iPad, so open your other gift…" She really couldn't wait to see what Kate was going to do when she opened this one. She grabbed her camera off the coffee table and turned it on, waiting for Kate.

Kate grinned as she reached for the smaller box. She noticed Alex pick up her camera and she blushed, wondering what the gift was that Alex would want her reaction preserved forever. Kate unwrapped the gift and opened the box, but she didn't know what to say when she saw what was inside.

Alex snapped a picture when Kate took the set of car keys out of the box. She grinned at Kate's inability to say anything and she asked, "Do you want to see it?"

Kate tried to say something, anything, but she just looked from Alex to the keys in her hand and back. Finally, after a very convincing imitation of a fish out of water, Kate was finally able to say, "Um...I...I..." She took a breath then said, "Yes, please?"

Alex laughed and snapped another picture. She kept the camera in her hand and took Kate's hand. They were still in their pajamas, but it didn't matter. They went downstairs to the parking garage and there, parked in Kate's normally empty assigned space was a black 2010 Audi A5 two door coupe. It had 5 spoke chrome rims, leather seats, and a premium sound system that Kate could connect her new iPad to.

Alex grinned, "Open it, I want to get a picture of you inside."

Kate couldn't believe her eyes. The car was gorgeous, beyond anything she had ever expected. Kate opened the door and slipped inside, posing for Alex's camera. When Alex was done taking pictures, Kate smiled up at her, "Hey, get in here with me?"

Alex went around to the passenger side and got in, the overwhelming scent of leather and new car thrilling her senses. She looked at Kate and admired how beautiful she looked in her new car. "Do you like it?"

Kate smiled, "I love it. It's perfect...except..." Kate turned away to look out the windshield, knowing when she told Alex what she was thinking it would hurt the blonde and she hated having to hurt her.

"What? Do you hate the color? I just thought black would be more…what you'd want…"

"No, no baby the color is perfect. The interior is perfect. The whole car is perfect. I love it, I just...I wish I could keep it." Kate's voice was sad.

Alex looked at her with confusion, "What do you mean? It's yours..."

Kate closed her eyes and rested her head on the steering wheel. She took a breath and said, "It's too much baby. I show up at work in this gorgeous, expensive, brand new car and IAB will be all over me."

"So you don't want to keep it…" she said, her heart sinking. "Um…well…if you're really sure…I'll…um, I'll talk to the dealer and see if they'll take it back." She opened the door and got out of the car to go back upstairs.

Kate caught up with Alex before she got two feet from the car and pulled her into her arms. "Baby, I would love to keep it. There's nothing I want more than to keep it, but I can't use it for work." Kate had an idea, "Hey, you said your mom left you the house in Amherst right? Well how about we make a deal? I'll keep the car, but it stays parked here, the registration stays in your name, and we'll use it to drive out to Amherst for New Years or whenever we want to get away from the city." Kate lifted Alex's eyes to hers and could've kicked herself when she saw the tears in them. "Baby, I just don't want or need the Rat Squad coming down on me and wasting my time over a car I could never afford on my salary. I'm sorry if I hurt you just now." Kate hoped she could make this right.

"You don't have to use that as an excuse, Kate. You don't want to keep the car because it's too expensive… You think you don't deserve it because you can't give me something like this in return, right? Just say what you really mean, Kate. IAB wouldn't care because they know I have money and I'm the one who gave it to you. Your captain, your friends, they'd back you up. Just do what you want with it, ok? I'm sorry," she said, her tears falling. She pulled away and went back upstairs.

Kate helplessly watched her leave and stood there in the chilly garage in just her PJs, robe, and slippers. She walked back to the car and got inside, closing the door so that she could think about Alex's accusation. She knew that IAB wasn't the only reason why she was concerned about keeping the car, but it was a part of it.

Kate knew that Alex came from money, that she didn't actually need to work, but it had never bothered her before. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes as she thought about what to do next. Alex had gone to so much trouble to pick out this gift and Kate had to admit that it was really perfect down to the last detail: the color, the smooth, black leather interior, everything. How could she ask her to take it back?

Kate realized that the only thing to do would be to just accept the car and tell IAB to go to hell. Kate remembered the look on Alex's face just before she'd turned around and gone upstairs and she hated that she had caused that look in her eyes. She decided then and there to go upstairs and fix things with Alex.

Kate left the car, locking it up and activating the alarm before taking the elevator back up to her apartment. Kate walked in and found Alex sitting on the couch, one hand holding the heart around her neck, the other resting on the back of the couch. She was staring into space but Kate could see the tears falling. Kate walked up to the side of the couch and knelt down, resting her head on the arm next to Alex. "I'm sorry baby. I never meant to hurt you."

Alex sniffled, her focus coming back to reality, "No, I'm sorry for being a bitch. I just wanted to give you something really special and when I saw it… I never meant to make you feel like I was trying to show off or put you into a position where you had to come out to IAB. I understand if you want to give it back. I already put in a call to the dealership and they should call me back when they open back up on Monday."

Kate put her hand on Alex's shoulder and leaned closer, "No. No baby, I want to keep it. I love the car, I love it because it's from you, and I want to keep it. I meant what I said, we can use it to go to Amherst for New Year's...if you want. I was thinking we could drive up there tonight after the party at Castle's since I already got the time off from Montgomery. We can spend a few days away from the city and ring in the New Year together." Kate paused to let that sink in before she added, "And if IAB wants to give me a hard time or ask where I got the car, I have no problem telling them the truth...that my girlfriend bought it for me as a gift." Kate looked at Alex's profile, wondering if she was getting through to her, hoping she was on the right track to fixing what she had fractured.

Alex turned, her eyes still watery from crying, "Really? You mean that?" She wiped her tears and looked into Kate's eyes. "You're not mad or upset about it at all? You don't hate me for getting it for you?"

Kate smiled, "Yes, baby, I mean it. No, I'm not mad, and I could never hate you." Kate leaned closer and placed a kiss on Alex's nose. "I love you and that will never change, no matter what."

Alex smiled at Kate, "I love you baby. I'm really glad that you like it and I just want you to be happy. I know it's not about what I buy you, but still…you deserve to have something fun and I can't wait to go for a ride with you."

Kate quickly stood and then straddled the blonde as she lay on the couch. She shifted her hips closer to Alex's body and smiled down at her girlfriend, "I love the car, but all I need to make me happy is you and your love. You know, I think it might be fun to drive it to your uncle's later, if you're up for it." Kate placed her hands on either side of Alex's head and braced herself on the arm of the couch. She leaned closer until her lips were just a breath away, "I love you Alex and I want to spend my life with you. I also want to spend New Year's with you away from the madness that is Manhattan, so...will you let me drive us to Amherst for New Year's?"

Alex nodded, her lips brushing against Kate's when she answered, "Yes. I was thinking that maybe we can christen the car while we're up there." She pecked Kate's lips, "Spend a little time in the back seat and maybe have a repeat of that day in Santa Fe in the Mini… what do you say?"

Kate grinned wolfishly, "I think before we christen the car we should make sure the leather is scotch-guarded."

"Done and done. I'll pick up a can first thing," she said with a grin, her mood returning to normal. She looked into Kate's eyes, "We should start getting ready. Uncle Bill said they're starting right at noon."

Kate smiled, "Ok, but first I want to spend a few more minutes making out with my girlfriend, can I?" Kate turned on the puppy eyes and even stuck her bottom lip out.

Alex licked Kate's bottom lip and nodded, "Yes, you may." She parted her lips, waiting for Kate to enter her mouth.

Kate slipped her tongue into Alex's warm mouth and shifted closer to her, pressing their bodies as close as she could, as she let herself melt into Alex. Kate loved kissing Alex and it never failed to turn her on. One of Kate's hands drifted down off the couch and landed softly on Alex's breast, cupping it gently.

Alex moaned, her voice captured by Kate's mouth. Her nipples hardened instantly, pressing against the material of her tank and robe. It was almost painful and she longed to feel Kate's hands on her skin to soothe her. Her hands drifted down to the brunette's ass and she squeezed, massaging her slowly.

Alex's moan only turned Kate on even more and then she suddenly felt the urge to feel Alex's skin. She sat back and ran her hands down the blonde's torso to the robe's tie. She opened it and slipped her hands under Alex's tank top and she caressed the warm, soft skin. She moved her hands up to cup Alex's bare breasts and her nipples were like small pebbles. She rolled them between her fingers, squeezing gently, and let out a moan of her own. She shifted her ass closer to Alex's hands as she broke the kiss and began licking and sucking on Alex's neck, Alex's ragged breathing echoing in her ear. She loved that sound.

"We should move this to the shower," Alex heaved. "We can do what we're doing and then clean up before we're late…"

Kate lifted her head and smiled, "You have the best ideas." Kate stood up and held her hand out to Alex, "Shall we, beautiful?"

Alex nodded eagerly and followed Kate into the bathroom. She was aching for Kate and undressed her as quickly as humanly possible. She ran her hands over Kate's smooth skin and started kissing her again.

Kate pushed Alex up against the wall and began kissing her neck, then her hands drifted to the hem of Alex's tank top and quickly removed it. Kate looked down at Alex, the robe had slipped off when she stood from the couch so she was standing there in just her red lace boy shorts. Kate licked her lips as her hands quickly removed those as well. She looked into Alex's eyes, "I love you baby."

Kate dropped to her knees and kissed Alex's stomach, her lips drifting lower as she reached behind Alex's left leg and lifted it off the floor to hook it over her shoulder for better access. Kate's talented, eager tongue finally reached Alex's pussy and she licked slowly through the wet folds, finding Alex's clit at the end of her journey. Kate flicked it once then sucked it into her mouth.

Alex pressed her hips forward, pushing her clit deeper into Kate's mouth. She was using the wall for support and when she was sure she could keep her balance, she brought her hands up to cup her breasts. The moans coming from her mouth echoed off the bathroom walls and she enjoyed the sensation of Kate's lips and tongue between her legs.

The moans coming from Alex drove Kate to increase her motions, determined to carry Alex over the brink. Kate's hands slid up to Alex's waist, helping her to keep her balance.

Alex was rocking her hips now that Kate was helping her stay steady and she knew she was close. She squeezed and massaged her breasts, her eyes closed and her lips parted, "I'm almost there, baby."

Kate ran one hand down the leg that was resting on her shoulder. She caressed Alex's smooth calf and gently squeezed while speeding up her tongue.

Alex's moans grew short as she inched closer and closer to orgasm. Her muscles tightened all over her body and she came hard against Kate's tongue, her juices pouring out from inside. She thought her knee might buckle, but somehow she remained upright and sighed happily as she came back down.

Kate loved it when Alex came in her mouth because she loved the way Alex tasted. Kate licked Alex clean and then looked up at her, smiling as she slowly stood up. She kissed her way up the blonde's body until she was eye-level with Alex again, "Merry Christmas baby."

After a few moments, Kate pulled away from Alex's body and turned on the water in the shower, adjusting it to the perfect temperature. Once it was hot enough, she looked back at Alex, "Ready for our shower baby? Can you walk or should I carry you?"

Alex looked at Kate through hooded eyes, "Huh?" She was still caught in the euphoria and didn't quite catch what Kate had said.

Kate smiled and walked closer to the dazed blonde, running her hand through her hair. "Baby, I asked if you were ready for our shower. Can you walk? Are you ok?" Kate asked, getting a little concerned.

"Yeah, I'm fine, I think…I can't really move…you made me come so hard I got lightheaded."

Kate smiled triumphantly and said, "Come on, I've got you." She let Alex lean on her as they got into the shower and once the blonde was coherent enough, she brought Kate to her own climax and then cleaned her up so that they wouldn't be late for lunch at Uncle Bill's.

"They're here, they're here!" Kevin said, running toward the foyer.

His mother was right behind him and smiled, "Wait before you open the door sweetie. Let's make sure it is them." Janice, Alex's tall, blonde cousin, was dressed in a white turtleneck sweater with black slacks and black leather boots. Her hair was pulled up into a ponytail and her blue eyes were set off with a light brown shadow and she had a clear gloss on her lips. She reached the door and peered through the peephole to see Alex and Kate. She looked at her son, "Ok, champ, you can open it."

Kevin grinned and reached for the knob. He was in a blue dress shirt and coordinating argyle vest with brown slacks and little brown loafers. When he opened the door he practically rushed at Kate, "Kate! You're here!"

Alex smiled at her cousin, "Should I be worried about losing my girlfriend?"

Janice smiled at the sight of her son resting on Kate's hip, a huge smile on his face. She turned to Alex, "Well he is quite a charmer, but I think you're safe for now." Janice turned to Kate and her son, "Come on in, it's cold out there."

Kate turned her attention to Janice after she'd finished listening to Kevin telling her about the snow angels he'd made the other day and said, "Janice, Merry Christmas." Kate and Alex walked into the house, instantly feeling the warmth embrace them.

Kate put Kevin down to greet Janice and Kevin hugged his cousin around the knees, "Hi Alex!"

"Hi honey," she said, lifting him up to give him a tight hug. "Did Santa bring you something cool?"

Janice hugged Kate, "Merry Christmas Kate. You look great, I really love your hair. Did you do something different?"

Kate smiled, "Actually, yes I...um, I let Alex style it. She's been begging me to let her do something with my hair for a few weeks now and I finally gave in." Kate winked at Alex then turned back to Janice, "So are we the last ones to arrive?"

"You're fashionably late, but then again, that doesn't surprise me with my cousin," Janice said, glancing back at Alex.

Alex was listening to Kevin talking about his new Playstation 3, but she was able to catch what Janice said and looked up at her, "Would you expect anything less?"

Janice chuckled and said, "We saved you a couple of seats."

Kate smiled then began to follow Janice to the living room, but before she took two steps, Kevin attached himself to her leg. Kate looked down at the adorable little boy, "Hey kiddo."

Kevin grinned up at Kate, "Hey Kate, can I get a piggyback ride?"

Kate looked to Janice and Alex, who both just smiled, and Janice nodded that it was ok with her.

Kate turned to Kevin, "Sure, climb on." Kate was thankful she was wearing jeans and a silk blouse as she crouched down to let Kevin climb onto her back.

Kevin quickly scrambled onto Kate's back, wrapping his arms around her neck and his legs around her waist, holding on tightly. Kate stood up and made sure Kevin wasn't going to lose his grip, then she smiled and began walking to the living room.

Bill and Beth stood up, smiling when they saw Kevin on Kate's back. Alex waved to everyone. Her cousins, Billy and Caroline were there with their spouses and each one was enjoying a cup of freshly prepared eggnog. Billy's kids were playing with the toys that Grandpa and Grandma had given them for Christmas and didn't bother to stop when Alex and Kate walked in.

"Hi everyone, sorry we kept you all waiting," Alex said with a grin.

"Mm-hmm. We all had bets going whether you'd be over or under 15 minutes. Looks like I win," Caroline said with a smug smile.

Kate grinned as she crouched down again and let Kevin climb off her back. The little boy turned to Kate and smiled, "Thanks Kate, you want to come play video games?"

Kate smiled and said, "Um, maybe later champ." Kate lowered her voice to a stage whisper, her way of joking with the boy, "I kinda gotta stay with the grown-ups for a bit, ok?" Kate rolled her eyes for dramatic effect.

Kevin giggled and said, "Ok, but later, we'll play, right?"

Kate nodded, "Yup."

Kevin pumped his fist in the air and exclaimed, "Yes!" before he turned and went to play with his cousins.

Kate stood up then and caught the grown-ups smiling at the exchange. Kate blushed a bit but didn't say anything.

When Kate rejoined the adult conversation, Billy was handing 20 dollars to his sister and Beth scolded, "Hey, no betting on Christmas!"

Both replied, "Sorry Mom."

Beth got up and walked over to the girls to hug them, "Do you want some eggnog? We have regular and kid-friendly…"

Alex nodded, "Regular for me, please."

"Can I get a cup of the kid-friendly? I'm driving and want to stay sober," Kate explained, not wanting to seem like a party pooper or anything, but as a cop, she knew better than to drink if she was driving. Besides, they were driving the Audi and Kate wasn't going to do anything to risk damaging that car.

"Of course, dears," Beth said and went over to the two punch bowls, ladling out one cup for Alex and another for Kate. She handed them to the girls and said, "Here you go." Then Caroline motioned for Alex and Kate to come sit by her and her husband. She extended her hand to Kate and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you Kate. Daddy has told us all about you… This is my husband Caleb."

He smiled politely, "A pleasure."

Kate smiled as she greeted Alex's cousins. She wasn't used to spending Christmas with more than three people so this was a new experience for her. "Nice to meet you both." Kate turned to Alex and smiled.

Billy took his turn, "I'm William Jr. and this is my wife, Angela. Those two making all the noise over there are Eric and Stephanie."

The two children picked up their heads, the little boy piping up, "Rick, dad!"

The little girl waved shyly.

"Right, he insists on Rick these days, go figure."

Kate smiled, "Rick huh? That's different, but I guess if it keeps him happy, small price right?"

"They older they get the more particular they become," Angela said. "Are you two planning to have kids?"

Kate glanced at Alex for a second and smiled before she turned to Angela, "We've talked about it and we're willing. It's a bit soon right now, but yeah we both want kids." Kate reached over and grabbed Alex's hand.

"I'm sure your dad has told you how much Kevin loves his Kate. Makes me a little jealous," she teased Kate with a pout.

Kate chuckled and teased her back, "Personally, I think it's because she's not the center of attention."

Caroline chuckled, "She's got you there, Alex. When we were little, she always wanted to play wedding because she wanted to be the bride. Billy was the husband and Janice and I were always the bridesmaids."

Alex's mouth dropped open, "That's not true, you weren't always the bridesmaids."

"Oh right," Janice added, "Once I got to play the flower girl…"

Kate giggled then turned to Alex, "You were always the bride, huh? We'll have to see about making that a reality someday."

Alex was turning beet red. Her cousins always liked to tease her. She leaned her head on Kate's shoulder and nodded, but she couldn't say much.

Kate sensed it was time to pull back on the teasing so she changed the subject, "So, um, Bill you're a judge, Beth you're a lawyer like Alex, are the rest of you in the legal profession as well?"

Caroline chuckled, "No, not all of us. I'm a college professor."

"And I work as a stock broker," Billy said.

Angie smiled at Kate, "I'm glad to see you had that feeling too. When Billy told me that almost everyone else in his family was in law, I couldn't believe it."

Kate smiled, "Well, I hate to add to the count but...I'm also part of the criminal justice system. I'm a Detective."

All three Harriman children exchanged a look. Their parents hadn't told them about Kate being a detective. "A detective?" Caroline asked. "Wow…that's unexpected."

Billy looked at his sister, "Are you being ironic or sarcastic?"

Janice chimed in, "I think she's actually shocked that Alex is dating another detective."

Kate grinned, "Well, to be honest, Alex didn't know I was a cop when we first met." Kate felt the jealousy that always popped up whenever Alex's ex was mentioned, but she clamped it down. She didn't want to embarrass Alex in front of her cousins.

"Oh come on, what are the odds that Alex would pick out two cops, detectives no less, who happen to be tall, dark, and beautiful?" Billy asked with a grin and then tossed back the rest of his eggnog.

Caleb, who until now had been quiet, tried to help Kate, "Bill, I really don't think now is the time to be bringing this up."

Bill Sr. nodded, "I agree. We're here to celebrate the holiday, not talk about the past."

"But dad—"

"No buts, William. It's inappropriate."

Kate watched the exchange in silence, grateful to Bill Sr. and Caleb for trying to steer the conversation away from Alex's past. Kate turned to Janice, "Um, could you tell me where the powder room is?"

Janice smiled, knowing that Kate needed a moment alone, and said, "Of course, take a left into the hall and it's the third door on the right."

Kate smiled, "Thanks." Kate turned to Alex, "Honey, I'll be right back, ok?"

"Do you want me to come with you?" Alex asked when she saw Kate get up.

Kate smiled, "No, um...I'll be ok, I just need a minute, ok?" Kate's words said one thing but her eyes reflected that there was something deeper going on and she struggled to hide her emotions as she made her way out of the room.

Alex turned to Bill, Jr. and said, "I want to see you in the kitchen, now." She got up and pulled her male cousin into the other room and shut the door. "What the hell is your problem?!"

Billy was confused, a little drunk, and a little scared of Alex right now, despite the fact that he was older and had at least a hundred pounds on her. "What are you talking about?" He tried to play dumb.

"Comparing her to Olivia? That's low, even for you, Bill. Especially on Christmas."

Bill tried to back track, "Whoa, whoa, who said anything about Olivia? All I meant was it was quite a coincidence that you're dating another hot cop. What's the big deal? I mean, she does know that you've dated other women, even another cop doesn't she?"

"Yes, but it doesn't mean that she likes to be compared to someone I was with. I love her and we're together now, not me and Olivia. Don't bring it up again, Bill, I mean it."

Bill saw the anger in his cousin's eyes and he knew he was treading on thin ice. He decided it was safer for him to back down, "Ok, ok. I promise I won't bring it up again. I'm sorry if it caused any problems but Alex, between you, me, and the stove, you gotta admit it's quite a coincidence that you're dating another hot cop."

"I had no idea she was a cop when I met her, ok? I fell in love with her for her, not because of her profession. I want you to apologize to her for making her feel like shit on Christmas."

Bill took a breath, "Ok I'll apologize." Then he looked away for a moment to gather his strength before he said, "Alex, regardless of everything else, I'm just really glad you're back and that you're happy and in love. Personally, I never thought Olivia was the one for you. She always seemed to be holding something back. I'm not trying to pick a fight or anything, I'm just being honest. I saw Kate with you tonight and just from that brief time I can tell she's it for you. I'm happy for you both." Billy hugged his cousin.

Alex hugged him back, sighing. She knew that he'd had a bit too much to drink and he likely didn't mean any harm. As long as he apologized to Kate and made her feel welcome, that's all that mattered to her. She looked at him, "Come on, let's go back in there. I don't want to fight or cause problems today of all days." She walked back into the living room with Billy and smiled when she saw Kate. She went to sit by her and put her arm around her waist, "Hi baby."

Kate had spent a few minutes in the bathroom, her hands on the counter near the sink, and her head down while she took deep breaths. She knew she had to control her emotions when it came to Alex's ex. Kate knew that Alex's ex didn't pose a real threat, after all, she was in Alex's past and the blonde hadn't even tried to contact her since she'd been back, neither had the ex, despite the publicity that Alex's return to New York received. Still, knowing there was a woman out there that Alex had once planned to marry and have a family with messed with Kate's head. She knew Alex had a past, hell she had her own past, but there hadn't been anyone in Kate's past that she had loved the way she loved Alex, no one she had ever even thought about marriage and kids with---not even Amber. Kate finally calmed herself down enough to rejoin the party.

Kate stepped out of the bathroom and saw Kevin sitting on the floor across from the bathroom. He looked a little sad, so Kate crouched down to his level, "Hey champ, whatcha doin' out here?"

Kevin looked up at Kate, "Are you okay Kate?"

"Yeah honey, I'm ok. Why?"

Kevin shrugged as he looked back towards the living room then back to Kate, "The grown-ups were laughing, then Grandpa yelled at Uncle Billy and you left the room. Then Alex pulled Uncle Billy into the kitchen and I heard Alex yelling but didn't hear Uncle Billy. I came to see if you're okay."

Kate smiled at the boy's twisty logic and concern. She pulled him into a hug. "Yes honey, I'm ok. It was just, grown up stuff. Come on, let's go back in there ok?"

Kevin nodded, secure that his favorite person was ok. They walked back into the living room and Kevin went back to playing with his cousins after giving Kate a kiss on the cheek. Kate went to sit back on the love seat she had vacated and soon after, Alex came back in the room, followed by a contrite looking Billy, and sat she next to Kate.

The brunette smiled when Alex put her arm around her and leaned closer to kiss her cheek, "Hi sweetie. Why were you in the kitchen?"

She spoke in a hushed voice, "I was reading Billy the riot act. I'm sorry that he did that to you, sweetheart. If I had known, I would've put a stop to it before he had the chance to say word one. Are you ok?"

Kate smiled then turned to look at Kevin for a moment before she turned back to Alex and whispered, "Yeah, I'm fine."

Billy cleared his throat and looked at Kate, though he couldn't really bring himself to meet her direct gaze, "Um, Kate?"

Kate turned to look at Billy, noticing the apologetic look on his face, "Yes Billy?"

"I'm sorry that I brought up Alex's ex and compared you to her. I was out of line. The truth is, you make my cousin very happy and that's what we all should focus on."

Kate smiled, "Thank you Billy." Kate didn't know what else to say. She didn't want to talk about this anymore, "Now, how about we pick a happy topic to talk about?"

"I agree," Beth said. "But first, let's all go into the dining room so that we can have lunch."

Everyone nodded and got up from the couch, the little ones rushing ahead except for Kevin who asked Kate, "Kate, will you still at the small table with me?"

Kate smiled down at Kevin and said, "You got it champ. Let's go eat." Kate took the boy's hand and walked towards the dining room.

Alex was waiting for them at the doorway and when she tried to lead Kate to the big table, Kate held back, "Sorry honey but I promised this little guy I'd sit at the kids' table with him, is that ok?"

Alex chuckled, "Of course." Then she knelt down and said to Kevin, "You take good care of my girl, ok?"

Kevin grinned, "I will. Come on Kate." He pulled Kate towards the small table and she followed.

Alex joined the adults at the table and waited while her Uncle Bill brought out the turkey. Everything was spread out on the table in matching serving dishes with gleaming silver serving utensils nearby. Beth had set out their finest China, crystal glasses, and brilliant red napkins. Alex set her napkin in her lap and watched as her uncle carved. A platter was sent around and everyone served themselves, the parents of the children at the small table portioning out the meal onto special plastic plates.

Alex chuckled, doing the same for Kate, and placed a pink plate down in front of her. "Do you want milk or wine?"

Kate laughed, "Very funny. No wine, but can you get me some juice?" Kate heard the other kids giggling at Alex's actions and she smiled, liking that at least the kids were having a good time.

Alex kissed Kate's forehead and then went to get her some juice. She brought the juice back in a matching pink cup, "There you go, babe."

Stephy looked at Kate and asked, "Is she your mommy?" Stephanie was only two and she didn't understand why Alex was doing the same things for Kate that her mom was doing for her when Kate was so much bigger.

Kate smiled at the little girl, "No honey she's not my mommy. She's just being a good friend."

Kevin added, "She's not your friend, Kate. She's your girlfriend. That's different..."

Kate smiled at Kevin, "Yes she's my girlfriend but she's also my friend. She's both."

"Oh," he said and then went back to his meal. Everyone at the adult table was smiling.

Beth leaned over and whispered to Alex, "She's going to be an amazing mother someday. You're very lucky darling."

Alex nodded, "I know. Believe me, I tell myself that every day." Everyone around the table enjoyed their food and shared in light conversation, keeping away from the topic of politics. The Harrimans were known for heated political debates, but on holidays, Beth had imposed a rule that there was to be no discussion about anything directly related to the political realm.

At the children's table, Kevin kept looking over at Kate and smiling. He loved her so much and wished that sometime he could go stay with her and Alex again.

Rick and Stephy were quietly enjoying their meal until Rick decided to steal Stephy's bread from her plate. She looked at him, "That's mine!"

"It's mine now," he shot back.

"No! Gimme!" she said, hitting him.

He hit her back, "No!"

She started to cry and ran over to her mom. Angela took the little girl in her arms and said, "Ok, come here… Bill, talk to your son."

Bill looked at his wife, "I'm no good at that, you talk to him…"

Angela rolled her eyes, "Alex, would you mind?"

"No, of course not. Come here, sweetie." She took the little girl and patted her back, "Shhh, it's ok, honey, we'll get you some more."

Kate watched the altercation and her first instinct was to do something but she was reluctant to step in and try to discipline someone else's child. Luckily, it happened very fast and before she knew it, Rick was with his mother getting a mini lecture and Stephy was in Alex's arms, crying. Kate watched Alex as she calmed the girl down and even got her to smile. She knew in that moment that Alex was going to be a wonderful mother.

Alex sat the little girl down on her lap and handed her some more bread and wiped her tears, "There, all better. Do you want to go sit back down?"

Stephy shook her head, " want to stay with you, please." The little girl grinned and then set her head down on Alex's shoulder.

"Ok, but we need to finish eating, all right?" Stephy nodded and then took a piece of turkey that Alex was holding out for her. Afterwards, everything went back to normal and Alex helped Stephy finish her lunch. Once she was done, the little girl got down from Alex's lap to go play in the other room and Alex called Kate over to sit with her.

"Do you want some dessert?" Beth offered when the two women were done. "No, Aunt Beth, we actually have to get going. We have another get together to go to."

Kate sat next to Alex, smiling, and then turned to girlfriend, "Wait a second honey." She looked over at Beth, "What's for dessert? Maybe we could take some to go?" Kate was not one to turn down a sweet treat.

"We have freshly made pie, apple, cherry, and pumpkin, brownies, sugar cookies, and rum balls," Beth said with a smile. "I can pack you up some of each, if you'd like."

Kate turned to Alex with her puppy dog eyes, "Please?" She knew Alex couldn't resist her puppy eyes.

Alex laughed, "Ok, ok. Go on, you can help her pack it up and I'll get our coats from the other room."

Kate smiled and leaned closer to whisper in Alex's ear, "I promise to reward you tonight." Kate pulled away and followed Beth into the kitchen.

Alex grinned and then made her way into the living room to gather their things. By the time Kate and Beth came out of the kitchen, Stephy was sitting on Alex's lap again asking her not to go. Rick and Kevin were playing until Kevin saw Kate and he ran over, "Stay, please, Kate?"

Kate crouched down to Kevin's level and she said, "Oh honey I wish I could, but we have to go see some other friends for a bit."

He pouted, "I don't want you to go…" There were tears threatening his eyes and he hugged Kate's leg.

Kate felt her heart constrict when she saw he was close to tears. She hugged him close then said, "I know sweetie but I'll tell you what, how would you like it if after the new year, you, me, and Alex go to the zoo in Central Park and spend the day together if your mom says it's ok. Sound good?"

He grinned and ran over to his mom, "Can I, mom, please?"

Janice smiled, "We'll see sweetie. If you're a good boy, you can go over. Now, come on, Alex and Kate have to get going."

Alex hugged her cousins and her aunt and uncle and thanked them for a wonderful time. They all hugged Kate as well and wished them a happy Christmas.

Alex smiled at Kate and took her hand as they walked to the car, "Did you enjoy yourself?"

Kate grinned, "Yes I did. Though I hated having to leave Kevin like that. Hopefully he can come over and we can have a good day together." Kate thought of something, "Unless you don't want that, I mean I know I should've asked you first but I just thought it would be fun."

"Of course, honey. He loves the zoo, he'll have a blast," she said with a smile.

Kate held the passenger door open for Alex and then walked around to the driver's side. She slid in and turned to Alex with a smile, "Thank you again for the car baby. I love it." Kate leaned forward and kissed Alex.

"I'm happy baby, I wanted you to really enjoy it…and later, we'll get to take it for a nice long drive." She looked at her watch, "We won't be able to stay at Castle's for long if we're planning to make it upstate before eight. You don't mind, right?"

Kate smiled, "I don't mind. The sooner we get to Amherst, the sooner I have you all to myself and I can ravage you." Kate enjoyed seeing the reaction her words caused in her girlfriend.

Alex looked at her like a predator, "I think I'll be the one doing the ravaging, babe. Trust me." She chuckled and watched as Kate tried to maintain.

Kate smiled as she drove through the streets to Castle's apartment. "Either way babe, we're bound to have a great time."

"Of that I have no doubt," Alex said with a grin. They pulled into the garage at Castle's building and got out of the car. Alex was holding onto a small bag and handed Kate the bottle of wine they'd picked out. They got into the elevator and went up to his apartment.

Alexis Castle was on door duty for the party, playing hostess. She opened the door and when she saw Kate and Alex there she smiled. She was so happy to see them. "Kate, Alex, come on in!" Alexis stepped aside and let them enter. There was music playing and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

"Hi Alexis, you look very beautiful," Alex said with a broad smile. She showed her the bag filled with gifts and asked, "Where should I put these?"

Alexis grinned and pointed to the tree in the corner, "Right there. We're not exchanging gifts for another half hour. Dad wanted to make sure that everyone on the list was here and had some time to have fun before we got to the good stuff. You two are the last." Alexis took their coats and closed the door behind them. She pointed to the island in the middle of the kitchen where the appetizers were laid out and the bar where the drinks were available. There was also a punch bowl, mostly for Alexis and any designated drivers and a karaoke machine that was currently being used by Lanie, who was singing "Jingle Bell Rock."

Alex put her hand on Kate's back and walked with her into the party. There were several people from work and a few that Alex recognized mostly from the society page of the newspaper. They walked over to the island to get some snacks to be polite, after all, they'd just finished eating, and Alex decided to have a glass of champagne.

Kate looked around the room and almost wished she had her autograph book on her. She knew Castle had celebrity friends but she'd never met any of them. Across the room stood James Patterson, Stephen Cannell, and Michael Connelly in what looked like a friendly debate with each other. Kate loved their books, especially Patterson's Women's Murder Club series. Kate went to the punch bowl and got some juice as a way to keep herself from acting like a star-struck fan with her favorite authors.

Alex sipped her champagne and waved when Castle spotted her. He walked over after excusing himself from his conversation with Ryan and smiled, "You made it. We were starting to wonder."

Kate watched as Castle walked up to Alex, smiling when she realized that something that used to cause intense jealousy now only amused her. She knew it was because Castle had no shot.

"My aunt and uncle kept us a little later than we thought. Looks like a great turnout," Alex said, looking around. "I love your tree, who decorated?"

"Why, Alexis and I did, of course," Martha said as she walked up right on cue.

"It's been up since the day after Thanksgiving," Castle said. "We love Christmas around here."

"That's because we always get you some cool, techy present," Alexis added.

"This year it was DJ Hero!" he said with a huge grin that reminded Alex of Kevin.

Kate walked up behind Alexis just as Castle mentioned DJ Hero. She grinned, "Merry Christmas everyone." Kate turned to Alex, "Babe, did you notice who's here?" She discreetly gestured to the authors across the room.

Alex looked at Kate and then glanced in the direction that she indicated, "Um, no? Well, one of them from those commercials for that book, but I have no idea who the others are. Should I?"

Kate suddenly remembered that Alex wasn't a fan of crime novels and she sighed, "I'm sorry honey I forgot you don't read crime novels. Those three men right there are three of the best crime fiction writers in the world." Kate noticed the look on Castle's face and knew she had to feed his ego a bit, "After Castle, of course. That one with the glasses is James Patterson, the older man with the beard is Stephen J. Cannell and the one with the goatee is Michael Connelly."

Alex shrugged, obviously clueless, and said, "Why don't you go say hi?"

Kate blushed and turned away, "No that's ok." Kate stayed next to Alex, knowing that if she did go up and say anything to her favorite authors, she would end up embarrassing herself.

Castle took her by the arm, "Come on, I'll introduce you." He pulled her into the direction of where the writers were talking.

Alex leaned back against the island and watched with a suppressed grin, "This is going to be good."

Kate tried to talk Castle out of it, "Castle, no, I don't need to meet them."

"Oh nonsense, they're regular guys like me, you'll thank me later."

Kate realized it would be easier to just give in so she did.

Castle walked up to his friends and said, "Hey guys, I'd like you to meet someone." The writers gave him their attention but were soon distracted by the beautiful brunette standing next to him. "This is Detective Kate Beckett. Kate this is James Patterson, Stephen J. Cannell, and Michael Connelly."

Kate smiled, "Nice to meet you all. I'm a big fan." The writers all expressed their pleasure in meeting her.

Then Connelly smiled and said, "So you're the inspiration for Nikki Heat huh? Well, I can see now why Castle is still following you around. You must be really good at your job." He had started to hit on her but decided against it, not wanting to cause a problem for Castle if he was involved with her.

Castle intervened, "Actually, she's amazing. Always gets the bad guy. I really couldn't have asked for better inspiration, but before anyone gets any ideas, she and I are not an item despite my best efforts."

Kate smiled, "Yes that's true. However, I am taken so Castle's going to have to find someone else." Kate was a little nervous to admit that she was in a relationship with another woman for fear of how these men might react.

"Not really all that surprising. You're a very attractive woman," Patterson said. "Whoever he is, he's a lucky man."

Kate blushed, "Actually..."

Before Kate could tell them it wasn't a man, but a woman, Castle cut in, "Actually, yes he is a lucky man, but sadly, he had to work tonight so he's not here." Castle didn't want the writers to know about Kate and Alex because he knew they would never let him live it down that his inspiration, his muse for Nikki Heat was a lesbian. They'd tease him for a while yeah, but then they'd start wondering if he was going to write that into the next Nikki Heat book. Castle didn't need that so he lied.

Connelly spoke up, "So, the blonde you walked in with, you're friends? Do you know if she's seeing anyone?"

Kate smiled sheepishly. She had decided to go along with Castle's lie but Connelly's question was tempting her to confess. She took a breath and said, "Um, actually yes she's taken too." Connelly frowned but he took it ok.

Patterson, though, placed a hand on Kate's arm, leaned in a bit, and spoke in a low voice, "You know, your boyfriend is a lucky man but he's a fool to leave such a beautiful woman alone at a Castle party."

Alex noticed the look on Kate's face when Patterson put his arm on her and she decided that now might be a good time to go over and save her from what looked like a dubious situation. She smiled as she approached and said, "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."

The writers turned to the beautiful blonde and smiled. "Oh no, not at all. You must be Kate's friend," Connelly said, smiling as he looking her up and down. Kate was proud of herself for not getting jealous when he and the other writers began flirting and leering at her girlfriend.

Alex nodded, "Yeah, and right now, I need a moment alone with my friend. Will you please excuse us?" She grabbed Kate by the hand and led her away to a quiet corner, "Should I ask?"

Kate smiled at Alex, "Ask what?"

"That guy shamelessly flirting and all of them under the impression that we're friends?"

Kate grinned, "Oh that? It's nothing, baby. I was about to tell them about us but Castle cut in and said I had a boyfriend. I don't like lying but something tells me that there's a good reason for it. I'm sorry, honey." Kate knew Alex didn't like having to lie or hide, and if she asked, Kate would walk right up to those men and set the record straight, so to speak, but she figured Castle had a reason.

"Castle's the one who told them you had a boyfriend? I'm going to ask him about it later, but for now, we should get going. We'll ask them about their presents later."

Kate nodded, realizing it was getting late and she would much rather get to Amherst where she could have Alex all to herself than insist on working this issue out right now. "Ok, I'll go find Alexis and ask her for our coats, ok? I'll meet you at the front door."

"Sounds good." On the way to the door she thanked Martha for their hospitality and apologized for the quick escape. She waved at Castle and pointed at her watch when he mouthed, "Why?" She mouthed back, "Long drive."

She smiled when Kate walked up and said, "Merry Christmas," to Alexis and Martha before leaving the apartment.

Kate once again held the car door open for Alex then walked around to her side and pulled away from the curb. After a moment of silence, she carefully asked, "So, um...are you ok over there?"

"Yes, I'm fine, why?"

Kate shrugged, wondering how to bring up what she wanted to ask, "Um...because you seemed to be very upset about what Castle said and I just...I wanted to make sure that you were ok."

"Honey, I wasn't upset. I was confused as to why he'd go to the trouble to lie for you about your relationship status. It just seemed odd to me."

Kate thought about that for a minute then said, "Well, he introduced me and his friends knew right away that I was the inspiration for Nikki Heat. Something tells me that if they knew the inspiration for Nikki Heat was a lesbian well...you know how immature men can be they'd probably tease him forever. I think he just wanted to avoid all that." The more she thought about it the more it made sense to her given what she knew already about Castle.

Alex thought about that. She knew that it was best to avoid the whole "Nikki Heat is really a lesbian" thing and she nodded, "I suppose that's plausible, but I really don't think it was his place to make that decision for you or to lie on your behalf. It's your life Kate and he should've let you take the lead on that."

Kate sighed, "I know honey, but I think it was a spur of the moment thing. Patterson made the innocent comment about whoever I was dating being a lucky man and I was going to correct him, but Castle was a bit faster."

"Yeah, well, next time, he should think before he speaks. It's not his decision to make."

"Castle? Thinking before he speaks? Good luck with that one, but I'll have a talk with him about it as soon as we get back from Amherst, ok honey? Until then can we just forget about Castle and all that drama for the rest of this year?" Kate asked, hoping they could put this aside and just enjoy their vacation.

"That's exactly what I had in mind, honey. The sooner we get to the house, the sooner we can get to it."

Kate reached over and placed her hand on Alex's knee, "Good, this is going to be the best week ever. I intend to make our first New Year's Eve together a memorable night."

"So do I, baby." She placed her hand on Kate's thigh while she drove and kept it there the entire way.

When they arrived at the Cabot estate, Alex told Kate the code to enter to open the gate and then they drove up to the main house. They drove past nearly a quarter-mile of perfectly manicured trees and then the dirt became pavement and Alex pointed to the garage over on the right side of the house. "You can pull into the first stall."

Kate pulled into the garage, trying to hide her reaction to her surroundings. From the moment she passed through the gates until she pulled into the garage, Kate couldn't believe what she was seeing. This wasn't a house...it was a mansion! Kate suddenly felt a little out of place and pretty intimidated. After all, she had grown up in Queens, she was a cop, she didn't belong in a mansion in Upstate New York.

Kate slowly got out of the car, hoping to hide her feelings for a bit until she could get them under control. She went around to open the car door for Alex.

Alex stepped out of the car and her heel clicked on the smooth concrete, a happy change from all the snow in the city. She pressed the button to close the garage door and then opened the door to let Kate inside. The door from the garage led into the kitchen and Alex turned on the lights, the familiar scent of home taking her back to a time when she was younger, much more innocent. She smiled, everything was in perfect order, nice and clean thanks to a caretaker that had been under the Cabot's employ for years.

She pulled Kate closer and said, "Welcome home, baby. What do you think?"

Kate embraced Alex and nuzzled her neck for a moment, then she pulled away and smiled, "It's very beautiful here, Alex."

"I'm glad you like it. I want us to spend as much time here as possible, especially after the baby is born. Do you want me to show you around?"

Kate thought for a moment, "A tour? I would like that...tomorrow. Tonight I just want to see the bedroom, is that ok?"

"Of course. Come on," Alex said taking Kate's hand. She led her from the kitchen across the living room to the stairs. When they reached the second floor, Alex took her down the west hall to her old bedroom, which was at the end. There were several paintings on the walls, one between each of the doorways, of which there were eight, four on the right and four on the left. Alex opened the last one on the right and smiled, "This is it."

Kate smiled as she walked into the bedroom, but her smile morphed into a shocked 'o' shape when she saw the decor. There was a four-poster California King bed directly across from the door, the carpet was a rich, plush light blue and the bedding, curtains, even the walls were done in varying shades of blue and cream. The bedroom was the size of her living room and kitchen combined. Kate took a few steps further into the room and noticed two doors off to the right set about seven feet apart.

Kate turned to Alex, "Um...where do those doors lead?"

Kate was struggling not to mention how out of place she felt in such an opulent room. She knew Alex came from money, but she'd never really thought about it before... Today, however, between the car and this house, it was becoming blatantly obvious to her that Alex was completely out of her league. It made Kate wonder why Alex was with her.

"The one on the right leads to the closet and the other one goes to the bathroom, do you want to see it?"

Kate took that in, a private bathroom for the bedroom. She nodded, stalling for time so she could hide her insecurity over their obvious differences.

Alex took her hand and they walked to the door so that Alex could open it. The bathroom, like her bedroom, was coordinated with blue. The walls were Mediterranean blue and the floor was laminate hardwood. To the left was a stainless steel sink sunken into dark brown granite with a large mirror spanning the length of the wall. The shower was directly across from the doorway and through the clear glass door, a mosaic wall could be seen with various shades of blue and brown speckled throughout.

On the right was a modern take on a footed tub with stainless steel fixtures that matched the sink. It was all very sleek, but the colors along with the many candles and warm lighting from pendant lamps gave it an earthy feeling, the perfect place for an escape after a long day.

Kate was speechless as she looked around the bathroom. She turned to Alex, "Wow Alex, this is...just…very nice." She didn't know what else to say.

"We can take a bath tomorrow. I have some bath salts that smell like dreamsicles. I've been saving them for a special occasion," she said, kissing Kate's neck.

Kate tilted her head back and to the side, giving Alex better access to her skin. Kate let out a small moan, "Oh baby, I love it when you kiss my neck." Kate pulled Alex closer, running her hands down the blonde's back to her ass and squeezed gently.

Alex licked up to Kate's ear, "Well that's lucky, because I love kissing your neck." She nibbled Kate's ear and then started kissing her way back down, inching over her shoulder, down her collarbone, and between her breasts.

Kate felt her knees getting weak, "Baby, maybe we should move this to that gorgeous bed you have, I don't know how much longer I can stand on my own." Kate's voice was laced with arousal.

Alex pulled back from Kate and said, "Lead the way, gorgeous." She followed Kate out of the bathroom and started stripping out of her clothes once she hit the bedroom. "Lay down, I'll take care of everything."

Kate stood next to the bed watching as Alex walked closer. Normally she loved it when Alex took control in the bedroom, it turned her on to see the blonde take charge, but for some reason, here in this house where Kate so obviously didn't fit in, she didn't like the loss of control. Kate held up a hand to Alex, "Wait, um, I need a second ok?"

Alex looked at her in disbelief, "What do you mean?"

Kate took a breath, "Just give me a second, please? This is...a little overwhelming." Kate knew she wasn't making any sense, but that was known to happen when someone found themselves outside of their comfort zone.

"What are you talking about? You mean me? Or being here?" Alex needed to know what was affecting Kate so that she could fix it for her.

Kate's eyes softened, "No it's not you, trust me...it's just...this," Kate gestured to encompass the whole room but she really meant the whole estate, "It's not exactly what I was expecting when you said you had a house upstate."

"So…you're overwhelmed because the house isn't what you were expecting and now you feel, what, out of place?" Alex walked over to her closet and grabbed her robe to cover herself. "Was it a mistake bringing you here?"

Kate sat down on the bed and closed her eyes. The evening was deteriorating before her eyes and she didn't know how to salvage it. "No, it wasn't a mistake. It's just..." Kate sighed, "I see what you have, what you came from and then I look at myself and...I feel like I will never be able to measure up." Kate paused a moment and then continued, "I know it's silly to be focusing on something so...unimportant, but...I can't help it. It makes me wonder what could I possibly ever give you that you don't already have or that you can't find somewhere else with someone from your own status in society. It makes me wonder why you're slumming it with me." That last bit was almost whispered, so low that Kate hoped Alex didn't hear it, but she knew she wasn't that lucky.

Alex could've been knocked over with a feather when she heard the last utterance. She crossed her arms over her chest defensively and said, "I never figured you for the self depreciating type, Kate. God, you make it sound like I'm with you as like a…a pity project. I don't have bets going with my friends to see if I can make you over into a socialite, I'm not trying to save you, I'm not trying to make you feel like shit, I'm just trying to share my life with you and like it or not, this is a part of who I am. I brought you here because I want you to know where I come from and I want you to love me anyway. But if you can't see past this…past material things…then I'm not sure what you're doing with me." She was already close to tears as she started out of the room. She stopped in the doorway and turned around, "And by the way, the thing you can offer me that no one else can is a future filled with love, laughter, and happiness…and that's all I need…"

Kate sat on the bed after Alex left the room thinking about what she'd said. She replayed it all in her head and each time, her heart sank even lower. She knew Alex was right, that none of this mattered, that she wasn't with her out of pity or anything like that. She knew that none of these material things mattered, but...she'd never dated anyone who came from so much old money. She'd never dated anyone who had the means to buy an Audi like it was a pack of gum.

Kate knew she loved Alex with all her heart, that she loved the woman, not the money or the possessions or anything like that, but the actual person. What worried her was Alex's family. Despite their warm acceptance, Kate couldn't help wondering if they saw her as a gold-digger, another lowly cop that was trying to get to Alex's fortune.

She hated that Alex's family had compared her to Alex's ex at all, but there was nothing she could do about it. They only thing she could do was give it time, but in order to do that, she'd have to deal with being compared. It was a catch-22. After a few minutes, Kate realized that the longer she sat here thinking in circles, the longer Alex was alone somewhere in this huge house thinking that Kate actually had a problem with all of this...that Kate would let this or her insecurities stand in the way of their happiness.

Kate shot up off the bed and ran from the room, but when she entered the hallway, she stopped. She had no clue which direction Alex had gone and given the size of the house, Kate could be looking for her well into the night. The brunette decided to use her detective skills to try to find Alex so she closed her eyes and listened to the silence.

After a few moments, Kate began to pick up a faint sound and she focused on it. She started moving forward, her ears straining to pick up the sounds, and after a few wrong turns the sound became louder. She recognized it as the sound of Alex sobbing and her heart constricted. Kate kept walking until she finally found the door where the sounds were coming from.

Kate carefully opened the door and peeked inside and the first thing she saw was Alex, in a chair, crying. Kate walked into the room and stood a few steps away, not sure if she'd be welcomed anymore. "I'm sorry." It was all she could think to say at the moment.

Alex looked up and sniffled. The low light of the den cast heavy shadows that seemed appropriate for the situation. She reached for the glass of vodka that was sitting in a crystal glass on the table next to the chair and took a sip. She pulled her emotions back and stared straight into Kate's eyes, "You need to tell me right now if you still want to be with me, even knowing about all of this, because if you can't deal with it, then I need to move on and deal with the pain now…not six months or a year or five years from now." She set the glass down and stood, walking over to Kate, "So, what's it going to be?"

Kate looked into Alex's blue eyes and she knew only one thing: she could never ever walk away from this woman. Kate lifted her hand slowly to cup Alex's cheek and rubbed her thumb over the cheekbone, "I meant what I said Alex. You are mine and I am yours and nothing, not even all of this is going to change that." Kate lifted her other hand to touch the pendant on Alex's chest, the one she'd given her. "You own my heart, I gave it to you freely and you hold it still. I love you Alexandra Cabot and nothing in this world will ever change that. All of this…" Kate once again gestured to the house, "…will take a bit of getting used to, but it's not what matters. What matters is that we love each other and we want the same things, a future together and a family. So…" Kate took a breath and smiled, "If you can handle having a girlfriend who was an idiot for letting any of this bother her, for doubting for even a moment that what we have is enough for you, then I'm all in. No matter what." Kate waited to see what Alex would say, hoping she wasn't too late.

Alex lifted Kate's hand and brought it to her heart, Alex's creamy skin warm under Kate's touch. She looked deep into Kate's eyes and said, "My heart is yours forever Kate. Every beat is for us, for our future, for all of our hopes and dreams and if you asked me to, I would get rid of all of this because it could never compare to what I've found in you. This place is a house, the place where I grew up and for a long time, it was my home…but now, you are my home. Only you…" She leaned in and kissed Kate deeply, her tears falling again.

Kate wrapped her arms around Alex as they kissed, thankful that she hadn't messed things up. After a few moments Kate pulled back and looked at Alex with a smile, "As much as it means to me that you would give all this up for me, I don't want you to do that. This is a part of who you are and I would never ask you to give up anything that makes you the wonderful woman I fell in love with." Kate paused and then grinned a sexy grin, "Besides, our kids will need a place to grow up away from the city. This would be a perfect house to fill with children and dogs and lots of laughter, don't you think?"

Alex nodded, "Absolutely…but in the meantime, I think it's the perfect place to fill with sounds of pleasure. What do you say we go back upstairs and pick up where we left off, but this time, I'm all yours…you are free to do as you like, baby."

Kate grinned, "I say that's a great idea but um, you'll have to lead the way because I got a bit lost and turned around when I was looking for you."

Alex licked her lips and took Kate's hand, lacing their fingers. She led her back upstairs to her bedroom and went to sit on the bed. She took the sash from her robe and offered it to Kate.

Kate stepped closer, her hands on Alex's knees to part her legs so she could stand between them. She looked down at her beautiful girlfriend and in that second she knew she would gladly do whatever Alex asked of her to keep her happy. Kate ran her hands through the silky blonde hair before she took hold of the sash on the robe Alex wore.

With a grin, she tugged the sash until it came untied then she parted the folds of the robe to gaze at the perfect body that had been hidden. Kate loved looking at Alex naked, it turned her on to know that no one else was ever going to see what Kate got to see on a daily basis. Kate leaned down and took one of Alex's breasts into her mouth, her desire for the blonde overwhelming her. Her hand drifted to the other breast, caressing it.

Kate's other hand slipped around Alex's body to her back and lightly scratched the skin at the small of her back. She knew it was one of Alex's sensitive spots. Kate wanted to bring Alex as much pleasure as she could before bringing her to climax; she wanted to show her just how much she loved her.

Alex moaned from Kate's touch, her nipples stiff and sensitive. She arched her back, the scratching driving her wild, which was evident from the glistening wetness on her thighs. Her clit was hard and ready for Kate whenever she decided to pay attention to it and her skin was flushed that gorgeous rosy pink that she knew Kate loved. She ran her fingers through Kate's smooth hair, tugging just a little the way the brunette enjoyed.

Kate smiled around the nipple in her mouth when she felt Alex tugging on her hair. She knew that meant Alex was wet and ready for her, so Kate moved her mouth to the other breast as her hand drifted lower. Kate's hand stopped on Alex's hip and the other hand quickly joined it before she lifted her head to whisper, "Lay back baby." Kate gently applied pressure until Alex was lying down on the bed, her legs hanging over the edge.

Kate knelt down on the plush carpet and began kissing her way down Alex's body. Her hands were massaging Alex's thighs, drifting closer and closer with each stroke to the wetness that awaited Kate's talented tongue. Kate slipped her tongue into Alex's navel, licking it lightly before drifting lower. Kate heard the sounds coming from Alex and smiled, proud to know that she could draw them out of her.

Before she reached her intended target, Kate lifted her head and said, "I love you baby...tell me what you want me to do." Kate loved hearing Alex talk dirty. It was a turn on for her to hear the normally cool and composed blonde using such language.

Alex looked down, her lips parted and full, and she spoke, "I want you to fuck me with your tongue, baby. I want you to lick the entire length of my pussy and make me yours…"

Kate felt a surge of wetness in her own pussy when she heard Alex's request. She licked her lips and leaned forward, licking the entire length of Alex's wet pussy several times, each time ending with a flick to her clit. Kate brought her hand closer and used it to squeeze Alex's clit while she drifted a little lower and slipped her tongue deep inside of her blonde lover. She loved how Alex tasted and she began moving her tongue in and out of the wetness that seemed to flow like a river. She drank up every drop as her hand squeezed and teased Alex's clit.

Alex leaned back on her elbows, her hair draping down and her eyes closed. She was making the most pleasured sounds as she surrendered to Kate's touch. "Fuck, baby, yeah, just like that. I'm yours, all yours, please, don't stop."

Kate had no intention of stopping, at least not until Alex had come in her mouth. She kept doing what she was doing, her other hand drifting up the blonde's body to cup and massage her breast. Kate loved having Alex like this, naked, writhing, taking pleasure from Kate's actions, primal. It touched a part of Kate that she tried to keep under wraps, the primitive side of her brain that insisted on marking her territory. To that part of her brain, Alex was her territory, but Kate knew better than to let that part of her brain take control. Kate felt Alex's muscles tighten around her tongue and she knew the blonde was close.

Alex sat up as much as she could and looked down at Kate. Watching her lover doing those things between her legs intensified her orgasm and she gripped the sheets, moaning, screaming, really letting herself go since there was no one within 5 miles of the house. "Kate!" she yelled, "I love you, God, I love you!" she managed just as she came hard into Kate's mouth. Her entire body went rigid and her heart was racing, unable to hold a single thing back in that moment.

Kate licked Alex through her orgasm, a little shocked but definitely pleased that she was much louder than she usually was and that was saying something because Alex wasn't exactly quiet when she came. Kate began kissing her way up Alex's sweat slicked body, chest heaving as she caught her breath. Kate loved seeing Alex like this. She stretched out next to her lover, nuzzling her neck as she whispered, "That was so hot, you were so much louder tonight than usual...I love you baby."

Alex blushed, "I love you too. I figure there's no one around to hear me, so I wanted to just let it all go for you. You're so amazing, baby, so amazing… Is it my turn now?"

Kate grinned, "Well if being here makes you loud like that, I'm going to like it here." She slid her hand across Alex's body to her back and pulled her until the blonde was lying on top of her. She looked up into Alex's eyes and said, "I'm yours baby, in every way that counts. That said, I think I might die of frustration if I don't feel you inside me soon. I need you so much right now, please." Kate pulled Alex down for a kiss filled with desire and need.

Alex kissed her back and slid her hand between Kate's legs, rubbing her slowly before pulling back, "I have something…I'd like us to try it if you want to..."

Kate shifted her hips to get more contact with Alex's hand as she looked up at her lover and arched her eyebrow, "What did you have in mind?" Kate knew there was very little Alex could suggest that she wouldn't agree to...except for anything that involved inflicting or receiving pain...but she knew Alex wouldn't ask that of her, not after knowing about Amber. Still, Kate was curious.

"I packed something very special and I'd like to put it on…let's just say that it'll free my hands while I fuck you…" she said with an evil grin. "Are you game?"

Kate's eyes widened a bit as she realized what Alex meant. She'd never had a chance to use a strap-on before since most of her relationships with women were brief and not very adventurous. Kate felt a little twinge of fear though. She'd never been with a man, never had a partner use any kind of toy with her...she didn't even own any toys of her own.

Kate's heart sank when she realized just how vanilla-flavored she was...and she didn't like it. She wanted to be more than that. It was obvious that Alex had experience with toys and other...sexual stuff and Kate didn't want to disappoint her lover. She smiled, "I think I might be...can I see it first?"

"Of course." Alex slowly pulled away and got up from the bed. She walked over to her luggage, her ass bouncing nicely with her stride, and knelt down to unzip the suitcase. She took the harness out and stood, walking back to Kate. The dildo was already threaded through the O-ring and she handed it to the brunette to look at.

Kate held the toy in her hand and tried not to blush. It seemed huge and painful. She looked up at Alex, "Um...really?"

"Baby, if you're uncomfortable, we don't have to use it. But I bought you the smallest size they had to make sure that it didn't hurt. We can work our way up to it. I just want you to enjoy yourself."

Kate hurried to explain, "No it's not about comfort, it's just..." Kate couldn't stop her face from turning beet red.

Alex lifted her chin and caressed Kate's hot cheek, "What, baby?"

Kate took a breath, wondering how to explain without sounding like a child, or worse, like some inexperienced virgin. "I..." Kate rolled over and buried her face in the pillow, as she explained, her voice muffled.

Alex pulled the pillow away and looked at Kate, "I couldn't hear you baby…it's ok, whatever you have to say, I'm not going to think you're weird or laugh at you, I promise."

Kate kept her face turned away, unable to look at Alex as she repeated what she'd said into the pillow, "I've never used one of those. I've never had sex with a guy and I've never been with anyone who wanted to use any kind of toy in bed...I'm just...I'm not experienced with that stuff. And I thought..." Kate stopped there. She couldn't say what she was thinking because she knew that it would make Alex feel bad, but also she was a little scared that it was true, that Alex was getting tired of having "boring" sex. The last thing she needed was for her fears to be confirmed, so she shut her mouth and waited for Alex to laugh at her or something.

Alex caressed Kate's hair and said, "What baby? Tell me." Her blue eyes were focused on the brunette and she wanted to be supportive.

Kate exhaled. She'd come this far, she might as well go for the gold and tell her everything, "I thought that our sex-life was pretty amazing, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe you're getting bored with the plain ol' boring sex that we have and you want more. I just need to know if that's it. Are you getting tired of having vanilla sex?" Kate's eyes began to tear up and she didn't have the energy to fight it off...she was too busy praying she was wrong but preparing in case she was right.

Alex shook her head and stayed as close to Kate as possible to make her feel warm, loved, and more importantly, safe. "Baby, I didn't suggest this because I'm bored, far from it. I love making love with you the way we have been and me suggesting that we try toys is nothing more than expanding our repertoire because I want to make love to you every way possible. Honestly, I just thought this would be a nice way to do it so that I could play with your breasts and scratch your back and kiss you all while you were being pleasured between your legs. But I'm not going to be mad or disappointed if we don't use it nor will it change how I feel about you if we never use toys, ever. Ok?"

Kate felt Alex's warmth next to her and she turned to look at her girlfriend, "You mean that? You're not bored with me?" Kate needed to know.

"Of course not, babe. Are you kidding? If I was bored, I wouldn't be breaking down the door at the end of the day to get you into bed would I?" she said with a grin.

Kate felt herself grin despite her doubt, "I guess not." Then she sat up and looked at Alex, "I'm sorry for being such an idiot."

"You're not an idiot, honey. I just enjoy having sex with you and we'll do it however you're comfortable, ok?" she said, rubbing Kate's back.

"Ok." Kate smiled, "Any chance we can try again?" Kate leaned closer for a kiss.

"Sure, baby, just let me put this away and we'll get right back where we were, ok?" She got up from the bed to go put the harness away.

Kate sat on the bed and waited for Alex. She knew that one day soon she'd be ready to expand their experiences in the bedroom, but she needed some time to mentally prepare for that. Kate smiled up at Alex as she walked back towards the bed.

Alex sat down and touched Kate's shoulder, "Lay down for me."

Kate looked up at Alex and smiled as she said, "As you wish baby." Kate laid herself down on the bed having made the decision to surrender completely to Alex.

Alex straddled Kate's hips and put her hands on her shoulders, fanning her fingers as she started teasing Kate's skin. She started with Kate's breasts, tweaking her nipples and smiling when she saw the response. She leaned down and sucked one into her mouth, licking around it and then over it, soothing and teasing over and over. She switched to the other one, repeating her efforts. Her hair was draping over Kate's skin, ticking her with each movement Alex made.

Kate wanted to keep her eyes open, to enjoy watching Alex as she teased her, but the moment she felt Alex's hot mouth on her breast, Kate's eyes closed. Her senses went into overload and she arched her back, pressing her breast further into Alex's mouth. Kate brought one hand to Alex's head, weaving through the soft strands as the other hand gripped the bed sheets.

Alex released Kate's nipple from her mouth and licked down the brunette's tight abs. She kissed Kate's navel and continued lower and lower, her hands holding onto Kate's waist to keep herself steady. When she got low enough, she parted Kate's legs and settled between them. She kissed Kate's thighs and scratched lightly, the scent of Kate's arousal thick.

Kate felt like she was floating. Her hips began rocking on their own as her brain quickly shut down. "Oh Alex, please, don't tease me...I need you now baby," Kate panted, her breathing shallow.

Alex grinned and parted Kate's folds, smiling when she saw how large Kate's clit had grown with her arousal. She kissed Kate's pussy and sucked her clit into her mouth, her tongue working magic while she slipped two fingers inside of Kate's center. She thrust in and out slowly to start, but picked up the pace when she felt Kate's hips bucking hard.

Kate's hand came off the sheets and joined the other one on Alex's head, her hips bucking up against her lover's very talented mouth and fingers. Before long Kate felt her orgasm crest and her entire body went taut as it crashed over her, "Oh yes! Yes! Alex!!!"

Alex slowed her fingers and lapped at Kate's wetness, grinning up at her lover from between her legs, "Yum. I love doing that." She placed a kiss on Kate's thigh and then stretched out beside Kate, her hand resting on the detective's stomach. "How you feeling, baby?"

Kate lazily turned to look at Alex, a goofy, satisfied grin on her face, "Best Christmas ever...I love you Alex...Merry Christmas." Kate shifted to snuggle closer to Alex.

"Merry Christmas, Kate. Get some sleep, babe, I've got you." She put her arms around Kate after pulling the blanket over them. She kissed her girlfriend and spooned her from behind, happy to be alone with the woman she loved.

Kate put her hands over Alex's and cuddled deeper into her arms as she closed her eyes, "Good night baby. I love you."

"I love you too. Sweet dreams, Kate," and with that, they fell soundly asleep.


Chapter Eighteen: Ringing in the New Year

The week that followed Christmas was spent in blissful peace. Kate and Alex spent their days talking long walks around the estate in the snow, bundled up, and holding each other. There had been a few snowball fights, which usually ended with the two of them lying in the snow, making out. They had made snow angels and played in the snow like children, then gone inside for hot chocolate in front of the fireplace. Their evenings were spent relaxing in front of the fireplace with a bottle of wine and some cheese and crackers or fruit before they retired to their bedroom to make love all night long. Kate was looking forward to New Year's Eve because she had a plan for the night to make it memorable. The day before New Year's Eve, Kate was in the living room, stoking the fire as she waited for Alex.

Alex was finishing up in the kitchen, putting the final touches on two cups of Irish coffee. She'd added generous amounts of Bailey's Irish cream and topped it all off with whipped cream and shaved chocolate. She carried the two mugs carefully, smiling when she found Kate perched in front of the big screen and said, "I'm going to have to get one of these for the loft, aren't I?"

Kate looked up from the couch and grinned. She'd finished building the fire and was currently watching a rerun of House on USA. "Only if you really want one baby," Kate said as she patted the couch.

Alex walked over and sat down. She handed Kate her coffee and set hers down on the end table, "We wouldn't put it in the bedroom…that would be too distracting and I can't have you distracted from making love, you know."

Kate took a sip of coffee, the Irish Cream helping spread the warmth throughout her body. Kate put down the mug and shifted closer to Alex, sweeping her hair aside to kiss her neck, "Nothing could distract me from you when we're making love, baby. But you're right," Kate said and then moved to the other side of Alex's neck. "A TV like that can't go in the bedroom...unless you want to use it as a monitor for the video camera Castle gave me for Christmas...make our own home movies..." Kate drifted off as she began kissing lower on Alex's neck.

"I'd be afraid to see what I look like doing that…stuff," Alex said, a sour look on her face.

Kate pulled back and smiled at her, "Oh baby you look absolutely stunning when you're coming." Kate placed a soft kiss on Alex's lips.

"To you, I'd probably hide under the bed for a month if I had to see that," she said, blushing.

Kate lightly ran her fingers over Alex's face, loving the rosy tint to her cheeks. "Baby, you know you wouldn't be the only one on that video, but I can respect your decision to not make a sex tape." Kate ran her other hand over Alex's thigh.

She cuddled close to Kate, "I'll make you a deal. You can use the camera in the delivery room when our baby is born, ok?"

Kate sighed, "Ok, deal." She held Alex close, loving it when they could be like this, just the two of them relaxing together on the couch.

"Can you believe it's almost a new year?" Alex asked, sinking down onto the couch and placing her head in Kate's lap.

Kate thought back to where she was at this time last year. She was alone and missing Vicky...wondering if she'd ever see her again. She felt the tears spring to her eyes and she carefully lifted a hand to wipe them away. "Yeah the time just flew by didn't it? Still, it's been a wonderful three months."

"The best, baby. I can wait to ring in the New Year with you. Kissing at midnight, letting that kiss evolve into something more…I can hardly wait," she said rubbing Kate's thigh.

Kate ran a hand through Alex's hair, "Oh yeah, we'll definitely be ringing in the New Year naked. Count on it." Kate managed to keep her tears out of her voice and she tried not to think about how she rang in the New Year last year...alone in her apartment after she'd lied to Lanie about having a date for the night, getting drunk on wine with the CD she'd burned playing in the background.

Alex smiled, turning to kiss Kate's leg, "Sure beats the hell out of last year. Well, at least for me. I just stayed at my house watching the ball drop, sad as could be, drinking wine until I couldn't stay up anymore. What I wouldn't have given to have you there and now look at us, we're here and we're happy." She sighed happily, "I love you so much Kate."

Kate's hand froze for a second before she continued stroking Alex's hair. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Last year wasn't a picnic for me either. But this year is making up for it in a big way. I'm so glad we're together now."

"Me too. I was thinking that tomorrow we could order out, what do you think?"

Kate smiled, "I'd like that, what were you thinking of ordering? And who would deliver this far out?" Kate was curious because the house was pretty removed from the city.

"We can have anything you want, babe. There's a chef at a local hotel that I know. We can get anything and I'll have them deliver here. Sound good?"

"Yeah I like that. Do you think this chef can make something from the southwest? I was thinking maybe we could have something like what we had in Santa Fe...would that be ok?"

"That sounds wonderful baby. I'll put in a call and see what they can whip up for us," she said, closing her eyes. "I think the coffee had the opposite effect on me than I was expecting," she chuckled.

Kate chuckled, "Well that's what happens when you spike it with Bailey's baby. Tell you what: we're comfortable here, the fire's going strong, and the remote's within reach, so why don't you take a nap? I promise I'm not going anywhere." Kate used her nails to lightly scratch Alex's scalp, helping to lure her into a nap.

Alex yawned, "You don't…play fair." She kept her eyes closed, enjoying Kate's attention until she drifted off to sleep.

Kate smiled as Alex's breathing deepened. She whispered, "No, I don't...but I love you so it works out." Kate lowered the volume on the TV and sat there, staring into the flames in the fireplace. Kate smiled as she remembered their time in Santa Fe.

Alex stayed asleep until she felt Kate move and she opened her eyes. She looked around having forgotten where she was, but she quickly realized she was on the couch in the den. She glanced up at Kate and smiled a little, "What time is it?"

Kate smiled as she ran her hand down Alex's arm and over her hip, "It's a little after 1:30, you've been napping for almost three hours. How do you feel?"

"Sleepy. Can we go upstairs to our room?" she asked, her eyes cloudy and her voice heavy with fatigue.

"Whatever you want baby. Come on let's go upstairs." Kate turned off the TV and placed the safety screen on the fireplace before she reached for Alex's hand. "Ready?"

Alex nodded, leaning a little on Kate as they went upstairs to their room.

Alex pulled back the covers for both of them and climbed in, waiting for Kate so that they could cuddle. She turned her back to Kate, indicating that she wanted to be spooned, and in a very quiet voice she said, "I love you baby."

Kate curled up behind Alex, holding her close as she closed her eyes and said, "I love you too, forever." Kate felt herself drift off to sleep.

The next night, a deliveryman arrived at the house with a feast for two. Alex took care of setting the table and serving the food to give Kate a break from kitchen duty. She had wine chilled and ready to pour and the dessert was in the oven, staying warm for after dinner. She brought out two platters with enchiladas and tamales and there were also the fixings for fajitas already on the table. There was Spanish rice, beans, and posole on the table as well as freshly made tortillas ready for the fajitas. Alex smiled at how big Kate's eyes looked. "Dig in baby, I can tell you're hungry."

Kate smiled at Alex, "This all looks wonderful, it reminds me of our time in Santa Fe..." Kate paused for a moment, "It reminds me of...Vicky." She grinned playfully at Alex.

Alex grinned, "Do you ever see…her when you're with me?" She knew that sounded strange, after all they were the same person in theory, but Alex knew that there were things she did as Vicky that she didn't really do as Alex.

Kate thought about how to answer that, "At first I saw her all the time because I was still getting used to your real identity. I think there was a part of me that was trying to hold on to the past, to the woman I fell in love with, but after a while, she kinda faded away and all I saw was you...Alex Cabot, the woman I love." Kate didn't know if she was explaining it right but she needed Alex to know.

The blonde nodded, understanding what Kate was trying to say. She wanted Kate to see her and love her as she was, as Alex. It made her happy to know that Vicky had faded away just like Emily and Jill had after she'd come back for the Connors trial. She picked up her wine and said, "I have a toast. To our future as Alex and Kate."

Kate smiled as she clinked her glass with Alex's, "To us and to the future we're going to have together."

They shared their meal together, talking about the possibility of a vacation in the spring out west somewhere. Alex got up when Kate was almost finished and said, "I'm going to get the desert from the oven." She brought in a traditional Spanish bread pudding and set it down on a trivet to portion out two bowls.

Kate inhaled the aroma of the pudding and smiled, "It smells great."

Alex nodded and then sat down to have her dessert. "So, you've been pretty secretive about the plans for tonight. Any chance I might get a hint seeing as how it's only four hours away?"

Kate grinned. "You want a hint? Ok..." Kate thought for a moment then said, "You, me, and the fireplace."

Alex looked at her over her black-rimmed glasses, "Well, that could involve a lot of things…unless you're being obvious, which I'm not sure whether or not you are."

Kate just smiled enigmatically and said nothing as she continued to eat her desert.

"You're so not fair!" Alex pouted. "I'd tell you..."

Kate just laughed, "No you wouldn't...you'd never ruin a surprise you planned for me."

"But— Yes I would," she reasoned and to be honest, she was ashamed that as a lawyer, she couldn't come up with anything better.

Kate smiled, "No you wouldn't because you know the surprise would be worth the pouting...trust me."

Alex rolled her eyes and said, "If it's what I think, I'm going to play hard ball..."

Kate grinned, "Oh yeah? Let's see how long that lasts." She chuckled.

"Are you getting cocky, detective?" Alex asked with a raised eyebrow.

"It's not about being cocky...I know you."

"Oh really? Then maybe you should put your money where your mouth is, detective…" Alex said, finishing up her dessert.

Kate arched her eyebrow, "What did you have in mind?"

"Let's see…if I can resist you until midnight, then you have to…be my personal slave for a week."

"And if, or should I say when, you give in to me before midnight, what do I get?" Kate smiled, liking this game. She didn't want a personal slave though.

"What do you want?" Alex asked, curious to know what Kate was after.

Kate thought about that for a bit. "Hmmm...if I win...you have to cook a whole meal, on your own, and serve it...naked."

Alex grinned, "You're on." She was fairly confident that she'd be able to withstand Kate somehow. Her pride and competitive spirit would find a way to see her through.

Kate narrowed her eyes and just smiled because she knew she would win. Alex could never resist her.

Alex stood up and started clearing up the dishes, a smug grin on her face. She carried them to the kitchen and then returned to pack up the rest of the food.

Kate went into the living room to prepare for midnight and smiled as she began spreading out the white candles to light them. She added more wood to the fire and made sure it was going strong before she crossed to the couch. She knelt down next to it and took out the blankets and pillows she'd put into the storage side table. She spread the blankets out in front of the fire making sure they were a safe distance, but also close enough so that they could enjoy the warmth from the fire, then she put the pillows around the edge of the blankets. Kate had the idea for the perfect way to welcome in the New Year: she wanted to be in Alex's arms, naked, and very satisfied when the clock struck midnight. Kate's grandmother had taught her that the way you welcome the New Year is a reflection of how the rest of the year will go.

Kate quickly ran into the nearby bathroom and quickly got naked. She slipped on her black silk robe, which she had stashed in the bathroom earlier that night, and went back to the living room. She was standing there in the middle of the candlelit, fireplace-warmed living room as she waited for Alex to finish in the kitchen.

Once Alex was done putting everything away, she grabbed a bottle of champagne for midnight and placed it into a silver bucket filled with ice. She tucked that into one arm and very carefully grabbed two champagne flutes with her free hand. She carried it out to the living room where Kate was waiting and she intended to return for a platter of chocolate covered strawberries, but when she saw Kate standing there in her robe with the firelight flickering over her, she gulped. It was going to be a long night.

Kate smiled at the look on Alex's face. This was going to be easier than she thought. "Hey baby."

"H-hey, you look…comfortable. Have your pajamas on under there?" she asked, taking an assessment of the situation.

Kate rested her hands on the knot of the sash, "Nope." She smiled seductively, "Disappointed?"

"No," she said nonchalantly. "But you'd better stay close to the fire, you don't want to get cold." She set the champagne bucket and glasses down and returned to the kitchen as though she was unaffected. When she got to the kitchen, however, she had to open the fridge and take a minute to cool off. "Focus, Alex, just focus, you can do this…" She grabbed the tray of strawberries and went back to the living room.

Kate was a little let down at Alex's reaction but she wasn't deterred because she knew that Alex wouldn't be able to resist her for so long. She smiled when she saw Alex return with the strawberries, after all, there was so much potential for strawberries and champagne when it came to seduction.

Alex plopped down onto the couch and held the tray in her lap. She reached for the remote and turned on the TV to look for something to watch. She picked up a strawberry as she flipped through the channels and stopped when she found a documentary on sea turtles. She looked over at Kate and asked, "Do you want to sit down? You're going to get tired of standing over there."

Kate frowned then stepped closer to Alex. She stood right in front of her and leaned down until their faces were only inches apart. She looked deep into Alex's eyes and closed the distance, giving her a brief, but firm kiss. Kate pulled away, reached for a strawberry, and without taking her eyes away from the blonde's, she slowly wrapped her lips around the plump, ripe berry from the back of it. The tip poked out between her lips and Kate leaned closer, offering it to her lover.

Alex watched her and on the inside, she couldn't get over how hot that was, but on the outside, she maintained her demeanor. "Um, honey, you're blocking the TV…and you're eating that the wrong way…"

Kate grinned around the berry and then reached for the remote. She turned the TV off and once again offered it to Alex, but this time she moved closer, her eyebrow arched in challenge. After all, it was just one little strawberry.

"Hey! I wanted to see what happened to the little baby turtles…" Alex said in a whine. "Turn it back on, hurry!"

Kate, determined to not give in, stood up slowly and untied the sash on her robe and let it hang half open. She took a step back and watched Alex's reaction, smiling when she saw the blonde's pupils dilating. She then stepped closer and with her tongue, turned the strawberry around in a full circle, then tried one more time to tempt Alex with it.

Alex bit her lip and turned her nose up in the air, "No, that's gross, it's all covered in saliva..."

Kate slowly removed the berry from her mouth and grinned, "My saliva never bothered you before, baby...do you really want to win so badly that you would deny us the chance to ring in the New Year making love?"

Alex sighed, "No…look, I'll tell you what, why don't we call off the bet and just enjoy each other's company. I don't want to keep this up..."

Kate smiled as she leaned closer and lightly brushed her lips across Alex's. She whispered, her breath ghosting over Alex's cheek, "Then don't fight it."

"I told you what the terms are, baby. Is the bet off?" Alex asked looking at Kate.

Kate smiled. She didn't want to call off the bet because in her mind that meant giving up and she didn't like giving up. She took a few steps back, placed the remote on the coffee table then slipped the robe off. She was naked as the day she was born and she lay down on the blankets, her head cushioned on the pillows as she stretched out.

She looked over at Alex and winked, "Do you really want to turn this down? Me, here, ready, willing, and totally at your mercy? Or would you rather watch baby turtles?" Kate licked her lips.

"Since you won't call off the bet? Baby turtles it is," she said, picking up the remote. She wanted to punch herself, but her pride just wouldn't let her give in.

Kate sighed, "Oh well...since you won't join me I guess I'll have to...entertain myself until midnight." Kate smiled as she ran one hand down her body to her thigh as the other went to her breast and gently squeezed the nipple. She closed her eyes and gave a tiny little moan as she imagined it was Alex's hands on her body.

Alex bit her lip, a pained look on her face. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly trying to convince herself that she was fine and she could get through this.

Kate spread her legs, offering Alex a perfect view of her wet pussy. She slipped her hand down and ran her fingers through the wetness, moaning at the sensation. Her other hand moved up over her head as she arched her back. Kate opened her eyes as she brought the hand that had been between her legs up to her lips and she licked her fingers clean, never taking her eyes off of Alex's darkening blue ones.

"You are so mean!" Alex said, her ego obviously bruised.

Kate smiled, "It's only mean if you stay so far away baby...come closer and I'll give you a very special treat." Kate reached her hand under the pillow and pulled out the strap-on from a few nights ago, smiling seductively, "We can use this...if you give in before midnight..."

Alex was on the verge of tears. Kate really didn't play fair and it bothered her that she was going to have to give in and lose the bet because she really hated losing. On the other hand, how could using a strap-on with Kate really be called losing? It couldn't, she concluded and she sighed heavily, turning off the TV. "Fine, you win. I'll cook for you and serve the food naked."

Kate smiled triumphantly as she lifted her hand and beckoned Alex closer with just one finger, "Come closer baby...I'll make losing the bet worth it."

"You'd better. My pride may take some time to recover…" she said as she got up from the couch. She walked over and looked down at Kate, "For the record, I did want to see what happened to the turtles..."

Kate smiled, "That special was a rerun, I've seen it...the turtles end up fine. Now, come down here." Kate opened her arms to Alex.

Alex knelt down and slipped her hand between Kate's legs before the brunette could say anything. She rubbed her slowly and looked into Kate's eyes, "You want me to put that on?"

"Yes I do, but first I want you to kiss me, slow and deep and long, a real kiss. Think you can manage that?" Kate teased.

Alex nodded, "Yeah, I think I can." She leaned down and brushed her lips against Kate's before pressing more firmly, her mouth opening to slide her tongue into the brunette's waiting mouth. She could taste the chocolate and strawberries on Kate's lips and moaned, the thought of losing suddenly gone from her mind.

Kate swallowed the moan and answered with one of her own. She brought her hands up around Alex's back and pulled her closer.

The blonde's hand that was still between Kate's legs suddenly picked up pace and she added a little pressure to Kate's very firm clit. She didn't want to bring her to climax just yet, but she wanted to really warm her up so that when they did get down to business, she'd be so turned on that she couldn't hold back.

Kate was so turned on she couldn't think. She pulled away from the kiss and panted out, "Oh god...baby that...feels so good..." Kate's hips began rocking closer to Alex's hand, needing firmer contact.

Alex let her rock for a few moments, but then she pulled her hand away, "I'm a little too dressed for this and I don't want you to come until we've had a chance to use this…"

Kate groaned at the loss of contact but she grinned when she saw Alex reach for the strap-on. Kate sat up and began removing Alex's clothes.

Once Alex was naked, she stood up and stepped into the harness, sliding it up her firm, creamy legs until it was perfectly in place. She reached for the bottle of lube that Kate had also brought downstairs with her and put a generous amount on the dildo so that it would be less painful for Kate.

She stretched out on the blanket and said, "I want you to be on top so that you have total control, ok? And if it hurts too much, we can do it the old fashioned way." She smiled kindly at Kate, only wanting the best for her lover.

Kate smiled and then stood up, moving to stand over Alex. She slowly lowered herself until she was on her hands and knees above her blonde lover. "Baby, I've um...never done this so, if I do it wrong, let me know?" Kate suddenly felt nervous but she was determined to try this. She lifted her hips and shifted to hover over the lubed-up dildo, then she looked at Alex, "Mind if I ask for a little help, you know, guiding it in?" Kate felt herself blush but she maintained eye contact.

"Of course not, baby. Just take a deep breath and stay relaxed. When I tell you, lower yourself down." She took the dildo in her right hand and with the left she held Kate's hip, bringing her just low enough to feel her opening against the tip of the dildo. Alex held the dildo in place and said, "Ok babe, whenever you're ready…"

Kate placed her hands flat on the blankets under Alex and gently, slowly lowered herself down onto the shaft. She felt it stretching the walls of her vagina and she paused a moment to adjust to the change. Kate closed her eyes and then finished lowering herself until her skin made contact with Alex's. She didn't move for a bit, getting used to the new sensation. Finally, she opened her eyes and looked at Alex.

Alex studied her girlfriend very carefully and asked, "How do you feel?" She had her hands on Kate's hips, caressing her gently.

Kate smiled, "It's different but...I could grow to like it." Kate lifted her hips about halfway up then came back down again, slowly, as she adjusted to both the motion and the sensation.

"Take your time, baby, I'm right here with you," Alex said loving the way Kate looked and felt like this. She had daydreamed about it, but to actually be doing it was something else entirely. Her hands tickled Kate's waist and then drifted up to cup her full breasts.

Kate began a slow but comfortable up and down motion, loving the feeling of the dildo inside her and the sight of Alex below her. Kate moaned when she felt Alex's hands on her breasts and she picked up the rhythm the more comfortable she became. Kate liked the look on Alex's face when her increased speed made her breasts bounce in her hands.

Alex's lips were parted, her chest heaving from the sheer overwhelming pleasure of watching Kate bounce up and down on the dildo. She released Kate's breasts, allowing them to bounce freely so that she could put her hands on Kate's ass. She squeezed her firm cheeks and grinned as she watched her girlfriend taking and losing control at the same time. It was so sexy and the pressure from the dildo on her clit was bringing her close to climax. "Babe, I want to come with you…tell me when you're coming."

Kate lowered her body to lick her way up Alex's chest, her hips rocking and the dildo hitting the sweet spot with the change in position. Kate felt her orgasm speeding up and she lifted her head, "Oh baby, I'm so close." Kate lowered one hand to Alex's hip and tried to encourage Alex to rock her hips with her.

Alex started bucking up into Kate and the added pressure combined with Kate's admission pushed Alex right to the brink. She looked up at her girlfriend and said, "Come for me, baby. I'm right there with you." She was moaning and panting, waiting for that exact moment when Kate climaxed so that she could come with her.

Alex's movement was the extra bit Kate needed and her orgasm reached its peak, "Oh yes, I'm coming baby, come with me...oh...yes...yes...Alex!!!" Kate's orgasm crashed over her and she rode it out, rocking her hips with the strap-on buried deep inside of her.

Alex came with Kate, her moans matching in frequency and intensity to Kate's. She kept her mind clear enough to say, "I love you Kate!" just at the moment of impact. She helped Kate ride out her orgasm and put her hands on her hips, her breathing returning to normal. She glanced up at the clock on the mantle and smiled, "Happy New Year, Kate. We came together just as the New Year started…"

Kate braced herself by placing her hands on the floor and she smiled down at Alex, "That was my master plan for the night. Start the new year with a mind-blowing orgasm with the woman I love." Kate began to lean down for a kiss but she shifted wrong and was reminded of the dildo still buried inside her. She frowned, "One moment babe." Kate lifted her hips and slid off of the shaft, sighing in relief. It was going to take some getting used to, but right then Kate just wanted to be close to Alex.

She got up on her knees and after a minute of studying the straps, she unhooked the harness and removed it from Alex's body. She placed it off to the side and then smiled again at Alex, "Now, where were we?" Kate leaned down again to kiss Alex.

Alex wrapped her arms around Kate as they lay on their sides and kissed her back. The warmth of the fire made it easy for them to stay naked there in the living room and the plush blanket was so comfortable that Alex decided that they should sleep downstairs for the night rather than having to get up and move. She pulled back from Kate and smiled, "So, you won..."

Kate grinned, "I'd say we both came out winners." She ran her hand over Alex's hip, tracing light, random patterns on the soft, warm skin.

"Does that mean I don't have to serve you naked?"

Kate lightly pinched Alex's ass, "I didn't say that."

Alex groaned, "So not fair… Ok, well, so long as you don't want me to cook bacon or any other fried food while naked, I think we're good."

Kate smiled, "I would never put your beautiful, soft, smooth, sinfully delicious skin at risk by making you fry anything naked...that would just be cruel." Kate leaned closer and kissed Alex's naked shoulder.

"I'm glad to hear that. I was dreading it if you wanted eggs with bacon or fried chicken," Alex said chuckling and moaning all at the same time.

Kate giggled, leaning forward to trail her lips up from Alex's shoulder to her neck, "I would never be that mean. But I was thinking of maybe...changing the terms so that you don't have to risk this gorgeous skin near a hot stove."

Alex raised an eyebrow, "Oh yeah? What did you have in mind?"

Kate grinned, a mischievous glint in her eyes as she leaned closer and licked the outer shell of Alex's ear. She whispered lightly, "Stick with me baby and I'll make you a star..." Kate's hand settled on Alex's butt cheek and squeezed gently. "Just one, um, home movie...please?" Kate mentally crossed her fingers, hoping Alex would agree but prepared for her to fight it.

"Are you kidding?!" Alex asked, pulling back. She was clearly shocked by the suggestion and scrambled to sit up, covering her breasts, "No way!"

Kate frowned at the loss of contact between her and Alex and she realized she'd made a big mistake. She quickly back tracked, "Ok baby. It was worth a shot. I'm sorry if I offended you."

Alex took a breath and calmed down, moving back close to Kate, "I'm sorry, it's just…I don't want to see myself like that. It's...weird."

Kate looked away, biting her lip. "What if I never made you watch it? If it was just for me...just for my own enjoyment?"

Alex looked down, "What if someone got their hands on it? I mean, you know how these things go. You think no one is ever going to see it and next thing you know, 10 people are gathered around the TV watching you doing...that."

Kate grinned, "You know I would never let that happen. But I can take a hint and accept it's never going to happen." Kate turned her head away for a moment to hide the pout that showed up against her will. She didn't want Alex to think she was trying to manipulate her into changing her mind.

"How about a compromise?" Alex offered. "We could tape us one time and you can keep it for six months and watch it as much as you want, but after that, it gets erased..."

Kate thought about that for a moment, "I suppose that would be ok, it's better than nothing I guess." Kate turned back to Alex and kissed her.

Alex kissed her and lightly scratched her back. "You're very persuasive, Kate. I've never done anything like that because I've never trusted anyone enough."

Kate looked into Alex's eyes, "Oh baby, you can trust me. I would never let anyone see it, you know I get jealous when people just look at you walking down the street, no way would I ever let anyone see you like that. I would lock the tape up in a wall safe here at this house. It would never leave this place. But I understand the concern you have, so I won't push this. We can forget the bet altogether ok?" Kate would never want Alex to feel pressured into anything.

"No, it's ok, baby. We can try it. I'm just saying that I trust you and I want you to know that. I know that you'll always take care of me and protect me." She cuddled closer and leaned her head on Kate's shoulder. "I love you so much, Kate. You're all I need."

Kate held Alex close as she kissed her on the head. "I love you too baby. For the record, I would protect you with my life. I'll never let anything bad happen to you, not if I can help it." Kate paused a moment, running her hand up and down Alex's arm, "Alex?"

"Yeah?" she asked, her body relaxed and almost ready to surrender to sleep.

Kate felt Alex relax and she smiled, "Would it be ok if we slept down here? The fire will keep us warm and the blankets are comfortable, would you mind?" Kate loved their bed but her body was happily languid and she didn't want to move. She would if Alex really wanted to go up to their bedroom, but she secretly hoped she wouldn't.

"Not at all. I don't feel like moving one inch," she said with a grin and pressed a soft kiss to Kate's shoulder. "Good night, baby, I love you."

"I love you too beautiful. Good night." Kate whispered in Russian and then closed her eyes and snuggled closer to Alex. Soon, she fell asleep, happy and safe in the arms of the woman she loved, the woman she was going to spend her life with, build a family with, the woman she knew she wanted to make her wife.


Chapter Nineteen: Shopping Trip

After their New Year's celebration, Kate and Alex spent a few more days in Amherst before they drove back to the city. The ride was silent as they thought about how wonderful their vacation had been. Neither one wanted to leave their little slice of heaven but the real world wasn't going to be ignored any longer. They had decided to stay at Kate's for the night so Kate pulled into her parking spot in her building's garage and cut the engine. She turned to look at Alex, who had fallen asleep on the ride, and she gently leaned closer to place a light kiss on the blonde's lips.

Alex opened her eyes and realized that the car wasn't moving anymore. She looked over at Kate and asked, "We're home already?"

Kate smiled, "Ah, Sleeping Beauty awakens...yeah baby, we're home. You ready to go upstairs to bed?"

Alex nodded, yawning. She unbuckled her seat belt and opened the door sluggishly, the cold hitting her once she stepped out of the car. She wanted to go upstairs, change into her pajamas, and hop into bed with Kate. She reached out for Kate's hand and followed her to the elevator.

Kate led Alex upstairs and after locking the door, she led Alex to the bedroom and helped her into her PJs, the blonde almost asleep on her feet. Kate tucked Alex into bed then went about getting ready herself. She slipped into a red satin nightgown and slid into bed next to Alex. She shifted closer and spooned her girlfriend, holding her close as she drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, Alex woke up to find Kate already dressed and making breakfast. She felt like a total bum, but unlike her girlfriend, she didn't have to go into the office until 9:30. She slipped on her robe and walked into the kitchen with sleep-matted hair and a drowsy expression on her face, "Good morning baby, what are you making there?"

Kate smiled at Alex and she loved how sexy her girlfriend looked first thing in the morning. "Something simple: bacon, eggs, and toast," Kate grinned as she turned back to the stove. "How'd you sleep baby?"

"Amazingly. I was out like a light," she said, walking over to the nook to sit down. "I've been so tired lately, I'm not sure what that is...I hope I'm not coming down with something."

Kate smirked, "I don't think you're getting sick...I think your exhaustion could be the result of all the mind-blowing sex we've been having lately." Kate turned her head and winked at Alex.

Alex laughed, "It could be that, too. We were quite active up at the house." She got up to get a cup of coffee and said, "We'd better make the most of it now. Once we have kids, it'll be much harder."

Kate frowned, "Hopefully not too much harder. I'm getting used to making love almost every night." Kate served their breakfast and placed the plates on the table. She brought coffee and sat down, "Dig in, baby."

Alex returned to the nook and smiled, "It looks amazing." She picked up her fork and had some eggs, swallowing before she continued, "Well, we have about two years before our little one really starts to understand what we're doing. However, the crying, late night feedings, and stretch marks might change things... though I hope not, I'm getting used to it too."

Kate reached out and grabbed Alex's free hand, "Baby, the stretch marks, the late night feedings, even the crying won't change how much I'll always want you. As for our child knowing what we're doing...we'll work around that, but I am not going to stop wanting you or having you, understood?"

Alex grinned and squeezed Kate's hand, "Thank you baby. It just scares me sometimes when I think about it. That you'll see me at my worst and you won't feel attracted to me. I know that's not going to happen, it's just an irrational fear."

Kate cocked an eyebrow, "Do you think there's anything on this planet that could make me stop wanting you? There's nothing, especially not the sight of you pregnant with our child, that would ever make me stop being attracted to you, or wanting you, or loving you. Sorry, but you're stuck with me now." Kate grinned.

Alex blushed and then took a sip of coffee. "I'm glad to know it baby. And the same goes for me, you know. I will never stop wanting you...well, maybe for like two seconds during labor, but otherwise, nothing else," she chuckled.

Kate chuckled then thought of something, "So, you said the other day that you would let me video tape the delivery right? I'm trying to understand why you'd let me tape that but not us together?" It made no sense to Kate because she'd seen those TV documentaries where they taped women giving birth and, to her at least, it seemed like Alex looked hotter during sex than any of those women did during childbirth.

"Because that's different. It's a memory of our child being born and we'll always want to remember that. Besides, I'm probably going to be so out of it I won't remember everything and this way I can see it from your point of view. The other is just...embarrassing."

Kate thought about that for a bit and then said, "Ok, well I've heard that after artificial insemination, it...helps the baby-making process to have an orgasm...maybe the one time you let me tape us could be that time? That way if you get pregnant, we can have a record of both the conception and the birth... What do you think?" Kate smiled, turning on the puppy dog eyes.

Alex thought about it for a moment and said, "Ok, you have a deal, but I get unlimited tummy rubs the entire nine months."

Kate smiled, "Deal." She decided not to tell Alex that the tummy rubs, back rubs, foot rubs, and the pampering would've been unlimited anyway. Kate was looking forward to spoiling Alex when she was pregnant. She wanted to wait on her lover hand and foot for the entire pregnancy.

Alex finished up her breakfast and drank the rest of her coffee. She got up to get a banana and asked Kate, "What time will you be home tonight? Do you want one by the way?"

Kate smiled, "No thanks. If there's nothing pressing, I should be home around six. Are we spending the night here or at your place tonight?"

"It doesn't matter. I have plenty of clothes here and you have clothes there, so you can pick. I'll be working late, maybe until 8:30 or so..."

Kate thought about that for a moment, "Ok, how about I wait for you at your place?" They had exchanged keys a few days after Kate came home to find Alex waiting in her hall.

"That sounds perfect, honey."

Kate smiled, "Normally I'd offer to have dinner cooked and waiting but something tells me Castle is going to be very annoying today so I won't be in a mood to cook." Kate said, dreading her upcoming day.

"It's no trouble, babe. I always feel bad when you cook breakfast and dinner…this time it's on me and I'll pick up anything you want," she said as she walked over to Kate to kiss her.

Kate wrapped her arms around Alex's waist and kissed her. When she pulled back she said, "I love cooking for us, for you, because I know you enjoy it. Plus it's my way of spoiling you. But anything you want to pick up will be fine with me." Kate checked her watch, "Oh boy I need to get going. I'll see you tonight, ok, babe?"

"All right, be safe out there, ok?" She kissed her deeply and then looked into her eyes, "I love you so much, Kate. I can't wait to see you tonight."

Kate smiled, "I love you too baby, I promise I'll be safe." Kate smirked, "After all, I have you to come home to, what better reason to make it back in one piece?"

Alex chuckled, but she hated the feeling of Kate being out there with psychos on the loose. She kissed her one last time and then scooted her out the door so she wouldn't be late. Once Kate was gone, she went to the bathroom to start getting ready for the day.

Kate headed to the subway, not willing to risk her beautiful, expensive, new car on the streets of Manhattan. She caught the train and waited as it sped through the underground tunnel. Kate started thinking about the conversation she'd just had with Alex and she was starting to hate the whole "your place or mine" part of their relationship. Kate wanted something more permanent.

Kate got off the train and walked up the stairs into the crisp January air. The more she thought about it the more Kate knew that she wanted something more than just living with Alex, she knew she wanted to marry to her. She walked to the precinct, the thought of asking Alex to marry her taking root in her brain.

Kate entered the precinct and walked to her desk then she looked around and smiled when she noticed Castle wasn't around. She sat at her desk and booted up her computer before grabbing the files in her inbox to begin going through the paperwork that had built up during the holidays.

Castle snuck up behind Kate about 15 minutes later and asked, "So, what's on the agenda for today?" He grinned charismatically and then wagged his eyebrows as he sat down in the chair in front of Kate's desk.

Kate managed to hide her little jump at Castle's intrusion on her focus. She turned and glared at the man, "Paperwork, us actual cops have to do paperwork."

"Bummer, no murders to investigate? Nothing?" he asked, clearly disappointed.

Kate's voice took on a bored tone, "Nope. Sorry Castle, no one has died yet."

"Rats! So, how are things with you and the little woman? Did you have fun on vacation?" He obviously wanted all the dirty details about their trip to Amherst.

Kate smiled as she thought about her time with Alex, "It was fun." Kate's smile vanished as she remembered what happened at Castle's party. "By the way, Castle, why did you lie to your friends about me and who I'm dating?"

He looked like a deer caught in the headlights, "Well, I—I didn't know whether you wanted those guys to know you're gay and besides, do you really want everyone clamoring for me to turn Nikki Heat into a lesbian?"

Kate narrowed her eyes, "Castle, I--" Then she broke off, realizing he had a point. "I get why you did it, but I was ready to tell them the truth. I'm not going to shout it from the rooftops but I don't want to lie either. As for Nikki Heat, you're right, I don't want you turning her into a lesbian, but..." Kate sighed, "Let's just say you're lucky I'm the one asking you about this, because Alex...she wasn't happy about it."

He winced, "What did she say?"

Kate sighed, "She didn't like that you took away my choice and she wanted to have a talk with you about thinking before you speak."

He looked like a little boy in time out. He hated hurting Kate or Alex, especially because he knew how hard their situation could be and he couldn't imagine having to hide things like that. "I'm really sorry. I was wrong to lie like that and not give you a chance to decide what you wanted to tell them. Forgive me?"

Kate smiled, "I know you Castle, I kind of figured you had a good reason, so I forgive you, but I'm not the one you really have to convince...it's Alex."

"Well, is she going to be in her office today? I can stop by later and apologize to her. I just really don't want her to be mad at me."

Kate thought about that, "Yeah she should be in her office today, but tread lightly Castle. She was ready to read you the riot act on Christmas, but luckily I was able to calm her down and distracted her. Who knows how she'll react when she sees you again and remembers what happened?" Kate knew Castle was a little scared of Alex and although she didn't really know why, she understood that he rarely liked to cross her. She turned back to her paperwork.

"Yeah, maybe I should get some flowers or chocolates or…something. Soften her up a bit. Maybe some jewelry? She likes diamonds, right?" he asked, though it wasn't clear whether he was joking or dead serious.

Kate smiled, "Flowers should be fine...and sincerity, that's key."

"Done," he said waiving his hands in the air.

Suddenly Ryan and Esposito popped their head in and said, "Hey, Castle, come check out this YouTube video. You'll pee your pants laughing!" Castle was about to dash out of his chair, but he stopped too look at Kate as though asking permission.

Kate rolled her eyes, "Go ahead Castle. I'm just doing paperwork."

He was giddily running of to be with the guys when he stopped in his tracks, "Um, Alexis is supposed to stop by in a while, can you come get me when she gets here? I'm supposed to take her out to lunch."

Kate lifted her hand not taking her eyes off her work, "Sure thing, Castle." She waited until he was gone and then took out her cell phone and sent a quick text message to Alex,

[Castle's going to see u to say sorry...have fun torturing him.]

Kate smiled as she hit the send button.

Alex was in her office getting settled in when she heard her phone beep. She pulled it out and grinned when she read the message and replied,

[Don't worry, I will. Love you.]

She sent the text and then sat down at her desk to start her paperwork.

Kate's cell buzzed in reply and she smiled when she read the message. Before she could reply though, she heard a familiar voice, "That must be some text, Detective Beckett."

Kate looked up and saw Alexis Castle standing by her desk, smirking. Kate smiled, "It was and it's Kate, remember?"

Alexis beamed, "Right, Kate. Was that Alex?"

"Yes, it was." Kate just smiled for a moment then she realized that now was as good a time as any to ask Alexis for a favor, before Castle joined them, "Um, Alexis can I ask you for a favor?"

Alexis sat down and nodded, "Sure, what's up?"

Kate looked around to make sure they were alone then asked, "I, um...I wanted to get something for Alex, but this particular something is something I've never gone shopping for and I was wondering if, maybe, you would be willing to help me out? Just, you know, for a second opinion to make sure she'll like it?"

Alexis's lips curled into a grin, "It sounds like quite an adventure. Count me in!"

Kate sighed, "Thanks. Um, would you be able to come back here after lunch with your dad? It's been a quiet day so I was thinking we could leave here early and get a start on it today, if you're free of course." Kate was a little nervous now that she was actually making a definite plan.

"I could ask him if it'd be ok if I went to lunch with you instead. He was only taking me because Gran flaked out at the last minute. I'm sure he'd be ok with it, that way we can have more time to look."

Kate thought about that, "Um, I don't want to intrude on his time with you." She knew Castle loved his daughter and the time they shared.

"No, it's totally fine. I was actually going to take him to do girl stuff and I kind of think that would be more fun with you since you're, you know, female?" she said with that sparkling smile she was famous for.

Kate gave in, "Ok, well he's in the break room with the guys. Go ask him." Kate pointed to the break room.

Alexis got up, "Be right back." She ran in the direction of the break room and returned about five minutes later, "Ok, all set! He said to thank you for getting him out of purse shopping for the afternoon and he intends to get you flowers too," she said, a bit of confusion clear in her voice.

Kate chuckled, "Yeah, I'll explain while we're shopping. Come on. Let's get out of here before it's too late." Kate got up and hurried to the elevator with Alexis close behind.

They took a cab down to Fifth Avenue where several jewelry stores were and Alexis looked around, "So, where are we going?"

Kate took a deep breath, "Tiffany's...to start. If I can't find something there, then we'll got to Cartier, ok?"

Alexis lit up, "You're getting Alex some jewelry? That's so cool. I haven't been to Tiffany's in so long, I can't wait to see what they have in their new collection."

Kate blushed as they walked down the street towards the famous jewelry store, "Yeah...something like that."

Alexis followed Kate into Tiffany's and looked around at all the cases. It was always brilliant in there, the light shining off the gleaming silver, gold, and platinum pieces, the diamonds sparkling behind the protective glass. The signature teal color was everywhere and sales people were flitting about helping the customers.

Kate tried to be casual but she was nervous on the inside. She walked slowly towards the area where the engagement rings were located and began looking through the selection, but nothing was special enough. It was all diamond solitaires and Kate wanted something more special than that.

A woman came up to the case where Kate and Alexis were standing and asked, "May I help you find something today?"

Kate cleared her throat, "Um, yes, I'm looking for an engagement ring but not a solitaire. I was thinking something more special than that...maybe something with heart shaped stones?"

"Of course. We can help you customize a ring. We have a selection of diamonds and precious stones and we can place them in a variety of settings. Here, let me show you our catalog so you can get a better idea of the range." She took a binder out from under the case and opened it for Kate. "Hearts will be in this area," she said, turning to the tabbed section for hearts.

Kate smiled, took the book in her hands, and looked at the section with the hearts. She began looking through the pages.

Alexis had been quiet, mostly because she was surprised that Kate was looking at engagement rings, but she spoke up once the saleslady stepped away to give them some privacy. "Kate? Engagement rings? Does this mean you're going to ask Alex to marry you?"

Kate looked at Alexis, "Um...yeah I am. Can we keep this between us?"

Alexis smiled, "This is so cool! Congratulations! I know she'll say yes. And I promise your secret's safe with me." Alexis bounced up and down for a moment, "This is so exciting! Let's pick out a custom ring." Alexis turned to the binder. Kate smiled as she went back to looking at the stones.

The woman returned several minutes later, "Did you find anything you like?"

Kate looked up, "Um...actually can I have a few more minutes?"

"Of course, dear, take your time." She returned to other customers and left Kate and Alexis to peruse.

"So, when are you thinking of doing it?" Alexis asked while she browsed the pages with Kate.

Kate bit her lip, "I know it's going to sound clichéd and cheesy but I was thinking about Valentine's Day."

"That's perfect! I mean, I know a lot of people do that, but come on, it's such a romantic holiday and she'll never forget when you popped the question. Are you going to do it someplace special?"

Kate blushed again, "I, um, haven't gotten that far yet. But I'm open to suggestions." Kate sighed, "I think half the battle for me is going to be picking the perfect ring. After that, I'll be able to think of something."

"Well, I think something with two hearts…one for each of you," she said as she looked at the different colors of diamonds in the book.

Kate nodded, "Yeah I was thinking of something like that. I don't want them to be the same stone though, I want them to be different because, well...we're different you know? Maybe ruby and, since it's tradition, a diamond."

Alexis smiled, "I like that, I think it would look really beautiful. Especially how different, yet complementary they are."

Kate smiled, thankful that Alexis understood without her having to explain it further. She turned the page and found the stones she wanted and said, "These, right here. These are the ones. What do you think?" Kate tilted the book so Alexis could see the 1/2-carat heart-shaped stones, one diamond and one ruby.

"They're really beautiful, Kate. I think Alex will love them. Now you just need to pick out a setting and then you can order it."

Kate nodded, "Yeah." She looked at the tabs on the binder to find the section for the settings. When she located it, she began looking. She skipped over the sterling silver section and focused on the white gold section. "I'm thinking white gold would be best, don't you think?"

"Totally," Alexis agreed as they looked at the settings for two stones. There was one that Alexis liked that had rose gold accents that serpentined up either side like an "S". "What about that one?" she asked, pointing it out.

Kate studied it for a moment, "It's nice. Let's see what else they have first." Kate kept a finger on the page and continued to flip through the binder.

The woman who had checked on them earlier was passing by, still giving them space if they needed it, but close enough that she could be asked any question pertaining to the jewelry.

Kate glanced at the saleslady and grinned to herself; the woman was hovering and it amused Kate. She turned the last page and realized that she hadn't seen a setting she liked more than the first one Alexis had picked out, so she flipped back to that page, "So it looks like this one is the winner." Kate lifted her head and caught the saleslady's eye to motion her closer.

The woman came over and smiled, "You've found something?"

Kate smiled, "Yes I have. Is it possible to have a ring custom designed?"

"Of course, dear. Once you've selected your stones and the setting, we send it to our craftsmen and they will create your ring. What were you thinking of doing?"

Kate flipped back to the page with the stones, "These two stones, the heart shaped ruby and diamond in," she flipped to the page with the setting she wanted, "This setting, the white gold band with the rose gold accents." Kate pointed it out. "Um, can I have it engraved as well?"

The woman nodded, "Yes. Let me get out the form and we'll fill in all the details and you can write out what you'd like to have engraved." She turned to get the form and a pen.

Alexis, meanwhile, was smiling at Kate, "She's going to love it."

Kate smiled, "I hope so." She was still a bit nervous, but she knew it was just because she'd never done this before. She'd never even thought about marriage until she met Alex. Kate wasn't the type to marry lightly. In fact, she proudly referred to herself as a one and done kind of gal and the fact that she was picking Alex meant that she knew that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with the blonde.

The woman put the paper down in front of Kate and handed her the pen, "Fill in all the information at the top and then write what you'd like engraved in that box and I'll fill out the rest.

Kate took the paper and pen and thought for a moment before she wrote down "Kate and Alex Forever" in the box. She handed the form back to the lady.

The woman took the book from Kate and wrote down all the pertinent information, then she handed a copy to Kate and said, "Ok, your ring should be ready in 4 to 6 weeks. We'll give you a call as soon as it comes in. The only think we have left to take care of is the deposit."

"How much is it?" Kate asked as she took out her wallet.

"15 percent. You pay the rest when you pick it up. Here's the quote and the amount of your deposit," she said after she quickly calculated it. "If the ring is to your liking, you can take it that day, otherwise, we'll send it back to make any final adjustments."

Kate smiled and then looked at the price. She was surprised that her eyes didn't bug out of her head when she saw the total, but Alex was worth it. Thankfully she'd saved her holiday bonus because it was just enough to cover the entire deposit. She handed over her credit card.

The woman ran her card and handed it back to Kate along with the receipt to sign. "Thank you, Ms. Beckett."

Kate put her card and the receipt away and said goodbye to the lady before leading Alexis out of the store. When they stepped out into the street, Kate finally exhaled, "Wow."

"No kidding, I can't believe you just bought an engagement ring. It's crazy. Do you want to go get something to eat? You look like you could use something."

Kate smiled, "Yeah let's go eat. The thing is, my wow wasn't about the ring it was about...how much I just laid down for the deposit, like it was nothing. It's going to take me a sec to wrap my brain around that, so let's walk a bit and then find something to eat, ok?"

Alexis nodded and she hoped that Kate wasn't having second thoughts about the ring. It was really going to be beautiful and even though it cost a lot, it was forever. They walked up the street but Alexis just stayed quiet so that Kate could think.

Kate was already thinking about ways to pay for the ring, but the best was to borrow the money from her pension plan and pay it back through her paycheck. She decided to start the process of withdrawing the money as soon as she got back to the station and now that she was settled, she turned to Alexis, "Hey, you're pretty quiet there kiddo, something on your mind?"

"Well, I'm just hoping that you're not rethinking getting the ring…I know it was a lot, but it's perfect and they have payment plans, you know..."

Kate smiled, "You're a sweet girl, but no, I'm not rethinking it. I can get the money from my pension plan and pay it back from my check every two weeks, no problem. No, my main worry right now is how to ask her and what to do if she says no."

Alexis looked at her with a "are you joking" expression, "Really? You're worried about her saying no?"

Kate frowned, "Not like a no for all time just...worried she'll say it's too soon or something." Kate paused, "I mean, we've only been together for four months and objectively speaking, that's not nearly long enough to be talking about marriage. The thing is...I love her and I know I want to be with her for the rest of my life. I want us to be married because, I don't know, marriage makes it seem more permanent than just living together, you know?" Kate knew she probably wasn't explaining herself very well but it was hard to put it into words. "I mean, she already told me it was too soon to move in together, though I did ask her after only a week together, but still..."

"Oh," Alexis said as she started to think about it. "Well, even though she said no to moving in, you still see each other almost all the time right? So even if she says no for now, it doesn't mean that she is always going to say no. She loves you a lot Kate and just my opinion, but I think she's going to say yes."

Kate relaxed a bit, "I hope she says yes. I'm not sure how I'd react if she said no… Even if it was only for now." Kate felt her heart constrict at the thought of Alex saying no. She knew that her girlfriend would try to soften the blow and use logic to make it seem like waiting was the right thing to do.

Alexis touched Kate's arm, "It's going to be ok, Kate. You have lots of friends who support and care about you and we'll all be here no matter what happens. Just try and think positive."

Kate took a breath, "You're right. Thanks again for coming with me. Come on, let's go find someplace to have lunch."

They walked past a few places until they were up by Columbus Circle and Alexis said, "Come on, I know the perfect place." She walked her to a small street and there was an Italian placed called Gabriel's. "You like Italian, right?"

Kate smiled, "Who doesn't? Come on, it's my treat."

Alexis walked Kate into the restaurant and a cute little hostess with brown eyes and wavy brown hair smiled, "Hi, two?"

Kate smiled at the hostess. She reminded her of someone but she couldn't quite put her finger on who it was that she was thinking of. In any case, her smile wasn't for that, it was for the look on the hostess's face when she saw Alexis. Kate knew that look, after all, she saw it often enough in Alex's eyes; this girl was interested in Alexis and Kate tried to hide her knowing smirk as they were led to their table. They sat down and the cute hostess handed them menus. "Your waitress will be by soon to take your orders." She smiled, mostly at Alexis, and then walked away.

Alexis glanced at her menu, not really picking up on the hostess's attention.

Kate looked over the menu and decided on the penne with marinara and meatballs. She glanced at Alexis, "So, where did you want to go shopping?"

"I was thinking of Coach. I saw this great bag online and I'm hoping they have it. Will you have time?"

Kate smiled, "I have my cell, so if anything happens I'll have to go in, but yeah, I have time." The waitress came by then and took their orders before returning to the kitchen. Kate took a sip of the water that was on the table. "Coach is a great brand."

"Dad said I could get one if I passed with all A's last semester. It was, like, a no-brainer…" she said, sipping her soda. "I'm not usually a purse person, but this bag is so cute."

Kate nodded, "I can understand that. I've seen more than one pair of girly heels that I've loved in the store windows, but I never have an occasion to wear them, so they usually stay in the window." Kate chuckled.

"That's too bad. Next time you see a pair, you should get them. Dad is always having parties or going to galas, I'll bet he could get you and Alex in. It would be fun!"

Kate shook her head ruefully, "I have no doubt about that, but if I let her, Alex would drag me to every fancy ball in the Society pages and…that's really not my scene. So I don't think I'll tell her about your dad's connections just yet." Kate could only imagine Alex begging her with those puppy dog eyes of hers to go to a Fire and Ice ball or some other charity/high society gala that Kate knew she'd never be comfortable at and wouldn't be able to say no.

"Still, you should buy the next pair of shoes you fall in love with. You could always wear them just for Alex, I'll bet she'd appreciate that."

Kate's dirty mind went right to the gutter with Alexis's suggestion and her face took on a shocked look, "Alexis Castle! That's..." Kate didn't know what to say to that.

"I may be young, but I'm not naive…" she said before taking another sip of her soda. "People do things, it's just human nature."

Kate sputtered, "Maybe so, but... I can't have this conversation with you...your father would kill me if he knew."

"I can keep a secret. He'll never know I brought it up," she said, using her hand to turn a key to the invisible lock of her lips.

Kate nodded then changed the subject, "Uh huh, well what about you? Are you seeing anyone?"

"Um, not really. There's this guy I like, but I don't know if he's going to ask me out or not," she said, playing with the condensation on her glass.

Kate sensed there was more to the story so she asked, "Why wouldn't he ask you out? You're smart, funny, beautiful, and a great friend."

"He's shy, I guess? I don't really know," she said looking down.

Kate thought about it for a moment, "So, um, why don't you ask him out?"

Their waitress came back with their food and Kate began to eat as she waited for Alexis to answer her.

"I'm shy?" she said with a grin. "He's just…really cute and I'd totally say something stupid."

Kate frowned, "So, you're both too shy to say something? Wouldn't it be worth the risk of saying something stupid if it means you get to know him?"

"I guess so. You really think I should say something to him?" Alexis asked, looking at Kate.

"Do you really like him?"

Alexis nodded, "Yeah, I do."

"Then I say it's worth the risk." Kate smiled, biting into a meatball.

"Thanks, Kate." Alexis made up her mind then and there that she'd say something when she went back to school tomorrow. She twirled some fettuccini onto her fork and took a bite.

Kate nodded as she continued eating. "Glad I could help."

They finished up their lunch and although Kate paid, Alexis insisted on tipping. The two left the restaurant and made their way to Coach to look for Alexis' purse.

Kate and Alexis had a great time and Alexis found the purse she wanted. They spent a few more hours browsing the stores, window-shopping mostly, before they made their way back to the precinct. Luckily, Kate hadn't been called so when she got back to her desk she just had the paperwork that she'd left behind earlier that day to finish up. She turned to Alexis, "Thanks again for your help and remember, not a word to anyone about anything that happened this afternoon, ok?"

"Sealed. See you later, Kate." Alexis left the precinct to head back to the loft and finish up her homework for tomorrow.

About two minutes after she left, Castle came up and asked, "So, did you and my offspring have fun?"

Kate smiled, "Yes we did." Kate turned back to her paperwork, not willing to say anything more than that.


Chapter Twenty: Federal Heat

A few weeks later, Kate was at the precinct late finishing up some paperwork when Castle walked in talking on his cell phone. Kate glanced at him and saw him grinning at whatever was being said on the phone. She shook her head and went to get a cup of coffee.

She was walking out of the break room, heading back to her desk when, Castle got off the phone.



"Ask me why I'm here," he said, practically ready to burst.

"You know, I ask myself that question every day," Kate said, only slightly serious.

"I got a call from my agent and she had pretty big news about Heat Wave… I'll give you a hint…the headlines in the trades might read Castle best-seller to heat up big screen."

Kate looked up from the file she was reading, "Your book is going to be made into a movie?" She was already picturing the teasing she was going to get from the guys, not to mention Alex.

"And you are about to be immortalized on the silver screen!" Before Kate could remind him that Nikki Heat was going to be the one immortalized not her, he continued, "Who do you want to play you in the movie?" Castle was very excited, like a kid with a new toy.

Before Kate could answer, Ryan and Esposito walked up and heard the news.

Ryan asked, "Are you serious? They're really making a Nikki Heat movie?" Ryan and Esposito began talking about who would play them in the movie, or rather their alter egos, Det. Raley and Ochoa.

Kate rolled her eyes as she answered her phone. She really didn't want to think about who would play Nikki Heat in the movie.

"I'd like to report a murder," the man on the other end of the phone said in an eerily calm voice.

Kate didn't think anything of it at first, "Do you have an address?" She prepared to write it down.

"Where's the fun in that?" he asked, taunting her.

Kate suddenly knew something was up and she silently motioned for Ryan to trace the call. She stayed calm and tried to keep the guy talking, "Ok, who is this?"

"Oh, a fan," was all he said.

Kate was intrigued now and quickly thought of ways to keep him on the line long enough for the trace, "Tell me more about this murder."

"I did it, that's all you need to know," and with that, the line went dead.

"Hello?" Kate asked just before the dial tone kicked in.

Luckily, Ryan had gotten the trace and he said, "Got it. 42nd and Lex."

Castle looked at Kate, "That's Grand Central Station."

"Yeah let's go." They all moved out, racing to get to Grand Central to see what they could find.

Kate called the crime scene guys and Lanie and the scene was processed.

Lanie had told them she would be doing the autopsy in the morning so Kate left the scene and went to Alex's loft. She was a bit later than she'd wanted to be but she knew that Alex would understand.

Kate let herself in, only to find a note sitting on the dining room table: "Dinner is in the oven, keeping warm. I went to bed, join me when you're ready. Love you, Alex."

Kate smiled. It was a sweet thing to do, keeping dinner warm for her. Kate went to the oven to see what it was and grinned when she saw it was lasagna. Kate served some onto a plate and then quickly ate her dinner so that she could get ready for bed.

When she slipped between the sheets, she snuggled up close to Alex, spooning her from behind. She held her lover close as she fell asleep.

The next morning, Kate woke up to the smell of fresh brewed coffee. She walked into the kitchen and saw Alex at the stove making scrambled eggs and the bacon was already resting on a paper towel to drain the oil. Kate smiled at the domesticity of the scene before her. "Good morning, sorry I got in so late. We caught a case."

"Must be quite a case, you were out pretty late," she said as she took the pan off the heat and spooned the eggs onto a plate. She carried it over and set it down in front of Kate and then went back to get the bacon and ketchup for her. "I'm sorry I fell asleep on you."

Kate shook her head, "Don't be sorry about that, it was fairly late when I got in. So far it seems like a run of the mill shooting if you don't count the fact that the killer called to report the murder. I don't know, something seems off, but I can't put my finger on it. Hopefully Lanie will know more when she does the autopsy today." Kate began eating and she completely enjoyed her meal. She'd seen enough autopsies to know she wasn't going to lose her breakfast on the morgue floor.

Alex poured her a cup of coffee and sat down, "The killer called to report it?" Alex had heard of a lot of things in her day, but cases like this were rare. She could maybe think of one other time when someone had called to report their crime and it didn't end well. "I hope you catch this sicko fast. I don't like the idea of you dealing with someone like that."

Kate smiled as she swallowed her food, "Don't worry baby, guys like this aren't very smart. They trip up and we catch them." Kate paused for a moment then remembered what Castle was telling her before they caught the case, "Oh, you will never guess what Castle told me last night before we caught the case. Are you ready for this? They're making a Nikki Heat movie."

Alex looked up in shock, "Are you kidding?"

"Trust me I wish I was." Kate shook her head as she drank some coffee.

"And it's confirmed? Who are they getting to play you?"

Kate put her coffee down, "That's your first question? First of all, it's not me, it's Nikki Heat and second, I don't know and I don't care. As for confirmed, well Castle's agent called so I guess it's confirmed."

"You don't care who they get to play the character of Nikki? You can't be serious, honey, this is a huge, huge honor. I wonder if they'll let me have a cameo?" she said wistfully.

Kate barely resisted rolling her eyes. "A cameo? Be careful or Castle might write one in and make Nikki bi or something. I don't care who plays Nikki as long as it's someone who can act, someone badass who can pull off the character and…" Kate drifted off when she realized she'd just given herself away.

Alex gasped, "See? You do care! And I'm not saying my character has to be Nikki's love interest. After all, she is with Rook, remember? But she could be there on official business as the ADA…he could name her…Abbie or something."

Kate raised an eyebrow, "Abbie? Who ever heard of an ADA named Abbie? And ok, yes, I care, a little but I am not about to play Castle's little game. Do you know who he suggested? Kate Beckinsale."

Alex thought about it, "I could see that. She's super hot. Though if I had to take my pick, I think I'd go with…Olivia Wilde. She was Maxim's hottest woman on earth last year."

Kate looked a little skeptical, "Olivia Wilde? Seriously? What about that chick from NCIS? The new one...I forget her name but she plays Ziva." Kate suddenly realized she was playing Castle's game, with Alex.

"Well, she's your character. You can suggest whoever you want, honey. As for me, I'm thinking January Jones…she could play a lawyer…"

Kate decided she didn't want to play this game anymore so she stood up and moved closer to Alex. She leaned closer, "As fun as this is, I don't want to spend the last few minutes I have left before I have to get ready for work talking about celebrities. Care to join me in the shower Counselor?" Kate closed the distance and kissed her then turned and walked towards the bathroom.

Alex grinned, "You know I can't resist an offer like that." She got up from her chair and followed right behind Kate, smacking her on the butt.

Kate chuckled, "Why do you think I made it? Come on baby." Kate led Alex to the bathroom, shedding robes and tank tops along the way. By the time she turned to turn on the shower, they were both naked, and once the temperature was just right, she stepped into the stall and held her hand out to Alex, "You coming?"

Alex stepped in and sighed happily when the warm water hit her skin. She wrapped her arms around Kate and kissed the back of her neck, "I love mornings like this."

Kate leaned back into Alex's arms, "Mmmm...me too." She closed her eyes as she enjoyed the feel of Alex's arms around her. The two made love under the spray, Alex taking care of Kate first and then the detective pleasing her blonde lover.

When they emerged from the shower, Alex looked at the time and panicked, "Shit, I'm going to be late for court and I don't think the judge is going to like my explanation as to why." She kissed Kate's cheek and then ran off into the bedroom to get dressed. "Babe, if I beat you home, are you ok with Chinese?" she called from inside the closet.

Kate grinned, "Yeah, Chinese is fine. Let's crash at my place though, ok?"

"Ok. Sounds good," she said as she ran back to the bathroom in her underwear to do her hair and makeup and brush her teeth.

Kate dressed quickly and, with a quick kiss goodbye, she left the loft and headed for the morgue. She got there a few minutes before Castle did and together they went into the room where Lanie was waiting for them.

"Hey, I'm glad you guys are here. I found something really interesting when I pulled the slugs from the victim. Check it out," Lanie said, moving so that they could take a look at what she'd found.

Kate looked under the magnifying glass Lanie had set up on the counter and she noticed something weird, "They're engraved with letters, five of them."

Castle rearranged the bullets to spell out 'KINKI' and he grinned.

Kate, however, studied them a bit longer and realized they spelled something else, 'NIKKI'. "Nikki. Nikki Heat. That's why he called me. That's why he called himself a fan. He dedicated this murder to me." Kate felt a little sick as she realized this man had died because of her...because of Nikki.

Castle looked as though he'd been punched in the gut. He'd never had anything like this happen to him before: a murder happening because of one of his books. He sighed heavily, "This isn't good."

Kate looked at the bullets, "No it isn't." She turned to Lanie, "Thanks for the info Lanie. I better go brief the Captain." Kate didn't want to think about it but she knew what this meant...they were dealing with a mentally deranged psycho. She turned to Castle, "Come on Castle, let's go."

He followed right behind. He wasn't planning to stray far from Kate's side with this nut case on the loose.

They had just finished briefing the Captain when the phone rang and the same guy from the night before asked, "Nikki, did you get the first part of my message?"

Kate hardened her face, "Yes I did."

"Well, the second is at the Central Park carousel…" That's all he said and then hung up.

Castle looked at Beckett, "Well? What did he say?"

Kate stared at the far wall, "He, um, he said to go to the Central Park carousel. Something about a second message waiting for me there." Kate snapped out of her thoughts, "Come on, let's go." She gathered her coat and began heading for the elevator.

Castle followed her to the elevator and the two went down to the ground level. They got into Kate's car and he buckled his seat belt, "Have you ever had anything like this happen before?"

Kate glanced at him for a moment as she drove, "Like what? Having someone killing people as some sort of tribute to me? No Castle."

"I'm sorry…I feel like it's my fault," he said in a soft voice that sounded completely unlike him.

Kate knew Castle was going down a road he didn't need to be going down so she said, "Like Charles Manson was the Beatles' fault because of Helter Skelter or is it more like Charles Hinkley's shooting of Reagan was Jodie Foster's fault." Kate tone indicated that she didn't think this was Castle's fault.

"If I hadn't created Nikki Heat this wouldn't be happening."

"No Castle, he would still be killing, he would just be using a different reason for it." Kate pulled up to the carousel and along with Ryan and Esposito, she and Castle carefully entered the carousel to search it. The music was on and the carrousel was slowly turning as the three detectives looked around with guns drawn. Suddenly, something strange found its way into the beam of Kate's flashlight. It was the dead body of a woman dressed in a pink sweater.

Kate turned to Ryan who was close behind her, "Turn the lights on and turn this carousel off." Ryan hurried to do that as Kate pulled out her cell and called Lanie and the crime scene techs.

Kate turned to Castle, "I hate this guy." Then she went to stay with the body as they waited for Lanie.

Within 10 minutes, the CSUs and Lanie were on the scene. Two of the CSUs moved the body so that Lanie could examine it and she called Kate and Castle over to tell them of her findings. She explained that there were four entry wounds that appeared to be from a .45 and there was also a muzzle burn on the right side of victim's abdomen, leading her to conclude that the shooter was left-handed. She also let them know that the CSUs had pulled the slugs from the back of the seat where the victim was found and this time they spelled out W-I-L-L.

Kate thought about that, "So he's sending a message, 'Nikki will...'" She wondered what it meant.

Castle asked, "What? 'Nikki will' what?" The three of them looked at each other but no one had the answer.

"Thank you, Lanie." Kate walked away, heading out of the carousel to get some air and Castle was right behind her.

Just as they got out to the fence around the carousel, Castle saw several black SUVs rolling up to the area and said, "Either a UFO just landed on the other side of the park..."

Kate turned to look and she knew what those SUVs meant, "Or else the FBI's here to claim jurisdiction over this case." Kate, like most local cops, didn't care for FBI intrusion but she knew she might not have a choice. Still, that didn't mean she was just going to give up without a fight.

"Maybe they're just lining up early for rides on the carousel," he offered, trying to make light of the situation. He knew FBI involvement meant that this was really big deal and he wasn't sure that Kate was going to be ok with these people intruding on her case.

Kate knew that wasn't likely, especially after she saw what looked like the agent in charge. A stern looking redhead stepped out of the lead SUV and started giving orders to another agent, a dark skinned man with a shaved head. As the agent got closer, Kate muttered to Castle, "Here goes." She knew she was about to get swept aside.

Agent Jordan Shaw walked up to the two people she saw standing outside of the carousel and after making a quick judgment call concluded that the woman must be the detective she was looking for, "Nikki Heat, I presume?"

Kate held back her usual reaction when she was called Nikki Heat and just replied, "It's Beckett. Detective Kate Beckett."

"Right, I read all about you in Cosmo. And you must be the celebrity writer tag along, Richard Castle. I'm Special Agent Jordan Shaw," she said, extending a hand to both of them.

"Jordan-Jordan Shaw?" Now Castle was a little star-struck, "The same Jordan Shaw that broke the Hudson Valley Strangler case back in 1991?" Castle, in his adventures while researching for his books, had come across Shaw's name several times in connections to serial killer cases.

Shaw brushed off his enthusiasm, "I also play a mean game of Scrabble. So, now that we know each other, why don't you show me the body?"

Kate's territorial instincts kicked in just then, "Agent Shaw, my people have already secured the area. CSU is on the scene and we're canvassing the park, so as happy as I am to see the cavalry, there's really not much left here for you to do." Kate didn't want the feds taking over her case...it was personal now.

"Detective, the gods in the marble halls have sent me here to catch a killer, which I will do with or without your help, ok? Now, can I see the body?"

Castle was in love with that line and the way Shaw said it, "That is so going in the movie." He pulled out a small writing pad and pen, "Can you say that again, but start from 'marble halls?'"

Shaw began to move away but only got two steps before Ryan and Esposito came up to them with the victim's purse, "Unis pulled this from a trash bin. Wallet's inside. Vic's name is Michelle Lewis."

Esposito chimed in, "According to her business card, she's a dog walker."

Kate studied the surface of the shiny black purse and noticed it had a print, "There's a print here and it's too large to be our victim's. Let's get it to the lab for..." Before she could finish Shaw pulled out her Smartphone and took a picture of the print. "What are you doing?"

"That print is already in the lab and being processed. No muss, no fuss, no black powder on your clothes." Jordan explained, a little smug.

Castle was in awe, "They have an app for that?!"

Shaw smiled, "That's why I joined the FBI, Mr. Castle. For the toys." She turned to Kate, "I'm really eager to see that body." Shaw once again began walking towards the body.

Castle tried to follow to get a closer look at Shaw's phone, but Kate stopped him. She didn't like it that Castle wasn't as put out as she was by the FBI's intrusion on their case. She turned to him, "Come on, let's get back to the station. Let the feds do their thing while we do ours." She began walking to the car and although Castle hesitated a moment, he realized that his loyalty was to Kate first so he followed her to the car.

They stopped to get a hot dog and made it back to the precinct in time to see Agent Shaw and her team setting up a war room in one of the conference rooms.

Castle was intrigued, "What's going on?"

Kate looked into the room for a moment, familiar with the FBI's procedure, and said, "They're setting up the war room."

Castle was like a little kid, "War room?" It just sounded so cool.

Kate had had enough so she turned to stand in front of Castle and said, "Tell me everything you know about Jordan Shaw."

"She's like the federal you. She's good...she's really good," he said, clearly impressed. "She cracked open the Hudson Valley Strangler case when she was just 25."

Kate remembered that case and tried to punch a hole in Castle's retelling, "I thought they caught him off of a speeding ticket."

"They did, but she's the one who profiled that he drove a Hugo..." he said as though he was speaking of a mystical legend.

"Didn't they find a girl tied up the back?"

"Yup, Jordan Shaw saved that girl's life." Castle was trying to get his point across that Shaw was exactly who they wanted on this case.

Kate was amused at Castle's behavior, "I've never seen you so excited to meet anyone before."

Castle tried to play it off, "No, I just...I'm...can we go see the war room now?" Two guys had just walked by with a large glass screen and he wanted to get into the room to see what it did.

Just as the large screen was being carried into the conference room, Alex happened to be walking through the hallway to look for Kate. Castle nearly ran into her as he was rushing to check out the setup and he apologized. "By the way, Kate's in there," he said as he ducked into the room.

Alex glanced in and noticed several FBI agents flitting about, but continued on to meet her girlfriend. "Hey, what's going on?"

Kate turned to Alex and smiled, happy to see girlfriend, "Hey Alex, the feds have arrived to take over my case. What brings you by?"

"Came by to see if you were free for lunch, but it looks like a bit of a circus. Do you need to stick around?"

Kate was torn between spending time with Alex and sticking close to make sure she didn't lose her case. "I...I should probably stay here, otherwise the Feds'll take over my case. I'm sorry honey, rain check?"

Alex nodded, "Of course. I understand how quickly these things can get out of hand if there isn't a watchful eye keeping tabs on things. I'll just grab something and take it back to my office." She walked over and kissed Kate's cheek quickly, "Good luck baby and if you need anything, call me, ok?"

Kate smiled, "Of course. I'll see you tonight at my place, ok?"

"Ok, I love you," she said with a sweet smile before leaving. On her way out, she did her best to dodge the army of Fibbies as they turned the precinct into command central.

Kate watched her leave, her eyes drifting as they sometimes did, to Alex's perfect ass before she turned with a smile and walked into the war room to see what was going on. Shaw was explaining what her SmartBoard did and Kate couldn't help but say, "Wow, it sounds like it does your job for you."

"It takes a mind to know a mind, detective. The SmartBoard just does the tedious work for us," Jordan said, not batting an eyelash.

Shaw went on to explain her thoughts about their suspect and something in her voice made Beckett think she admired the guy. She, of course, had no problem saying so, "You almost sound like you admire him."

"I admire him the way Robert Shaw admired the shark in Jaws. The better I know him, the easier it'll be to catch him," Shaw said confidently.

"It's like when I'm writing. The killer's voice isn't authentic unless I know why he's killing," Castle explained, relating a bit to what Shaw was saying.

Kate didn't like seeing Castle getting along so easily with Shaw. She'd never really admit it out loud but she had come to really like their interactions, the way they built theories of the crime together, their similar thought patterns enabling them to come to similar conclusions. Seeing him doing that with Shaw well...Kate suddenly found out that she could feel jealous over someone other than Alex and she didn't like that either.

Jordan went on to explain, "Well this guy likes to make a scene. I wouldn't be surprised if he was also an arsonist. In fact, I think that's what drew him to the Nikki Heat character in the first place, her name." Shaw gave them a moment to let that sink in before she said, "Speaking of Detective Heat…"

One of Shaw's team members walked in with a box holding several copies of Heat Wave.

Castle was confused but also a little happy. That many books would mean more money for him. "Guys, listen, not that I don't appreciate the royalties," he attempted to sound modest, "but why do you need 100 copies of Heat Wave?"

Jordan was the one to explain, "If our killer is obsessed with Nikki Heat, then so are we."

Kate stood there just observing. She knew if she spoke it wouldn't be anything polite and besides, Jordan seemed to be making some good points so far…she hated that, but she had to admire it as well. The woman knew what she was doing.

Shaw turned to one of her agents, "Avery? Cliff's Notes please."

Special Agent Jason Avery picked up the folder that contained the basic plot and summary of the novel and began to read from it in a monotone.

Castle stopped him after a few minutes, "I'm sorry, excuse me it's a…it's a New York Times bestseller. I don't think there's a need to make I sound quite so dry. Thanks."

Avery, unimpressed, continued, "Heat's life is complicated by a reporter named Jameson Rook who's following her around for an article he's writing."

Everyone was listening intently because they knew that Castle and Beckett were the models for the characters. They were interested to know what Castle had written for Rook and Heat.

"Heat and Rook verbally spar and in Chapter 11, admit their attraction for one another and have sex."

The room went silent as everyone looked to where Beckett and Castle were standing. They were curious to know if that was ripped from real life or just something added for effect.

Beckett looked around the room and in a slightly pissed off tone said, "It's fiction." She was glad that Alex had already left. She didn't want her girlfriend around for all of this.

Of course no one really believed it, but they knew enough to not say anything. Avery continued his reading, "In the end when the killer's revealed it turns out it's actually…"

"Whoa, oh!" Castle interrupted and he looked at Avery, "Spoiler alert." He didn't want the killer revealed like that, he wanted them to read the book and find out for themselves.

Shaw grinned, "In deference to Mr. Castle's artistic sensitivity, you can all read the book to find out the identity of the killer."

"Thank you. And if you want me to autograph those for you, just form a single file line right here." When no one looked like they were going to be lining up anytime soon, he lowered his voice, "Or not."

Before he could say anything else, the print that had been running through the system got a hit and it was traced to a man named Donald Salt. The guy had a record for manslaughter and he seemed to fit the profile. Shaw, confident that this was their guy, ordered that the agents move out and pick him up.

Shaw was looking out the window and said, "Salt lives in that brick building. His supervisor said he left work an hour ago, so he should be home by now. When the others get here we'll take him." Shaw saw Castle playing with something in the backseat and asked, "What is he doing?"

Kate sighed, "He, um, touches things." She said it much like a mom would of a two year-old. Shaw turned around and saw that Castle was messing around with her night vision goggles.

Castle lowered the goggles and said, "Hey maybe in my third book, Nikki Heat will cross swords with a good-looking, but cold-hearted FBI profiler, call it Federal Heat."

Kate was the only one who knew what Castle meant by 'cross swords' and she turned to him and glared.

He quickly got the message and said, "Or maybe not."

Shaw and Kate turned back around to watch the street. Shaw looked at Castle through the rearview mirror and then turned to at Kate with a grin. She decided to ask them what she'd been wondering for a while now, "So, how long have you two been sleeping together?"

Kate was caught off guard but she recovered fast enough to say, "We're not sleeping together. We...he just observes me."

Shaw looked at her skeptically, "Yeah, I've see how he observes you."

Before Kate could say anything Castle chimed in, "No she's right. Aside from my second wife, this is the most sexless relationship I've ever been in."

Kate decided it was time to mention she was taken, "Besides, I'm seeing someone right now."

"Oh, so it really is a professional thing. Never would've guessed and I'm a profiler. So, what does your boyfriend do?"

Kate grinned, "Actually, she's an Assistant District Attorney here in Manhattan." Kate waited to see how Shaw would react to that.

Shaw turned, an eyebrow raised, "Wow, I'm 0 for two. Maybe I should consider a new line of work."

Castle chuckled, "Don't feel too bad Agent Shaw. I've known her for almost a year and if she hadn't introduced me to her girlfriend, I never would've known." Castle forgot himself for a moment and said, "If I had known sooner…"

Kate turned again to glare at him, already knowing where that sentence was going.

Castle saw the glare and remembered his promise to not bring Kate's sexuality into the books. "Never mind, it's not important."

Shaw just shook her head, "Well, I suppose I can't feel too bad then. So, she's an ADA, huh? I would think a woman like you would want to date someone outside of the criminal justice system."

Kate thought about that for a moment then said, "Very few people outside of law enforcement would understand the long hours, the frustration when leads run out, the cancelled dates when a fresh lead comes in that you have to track down while it's still hot. She gets it because we're on the same side of this fight, we just use different paths to get there." Kate's voice gave away that she was speaking from experience.

"I suppose so, though my family seems to handle it all right. My husband is supportive of my career, but it isn't always easy being away from home."

"What does your husband do?" Kate asked, curious.

"He's a teacher, middle school History."

Kate smiled, "Then you're one of the lucky ones."

"I know. He's a really wonderful guy." Jordan paused a moment, "Are you two planning on having kids?"

Kate took a moment to think about her answer, "Well, it's too soon to say for sure, but we've talked about it." Kate didn't feel she needed to go into any more detail, after all, it was really none of Agent Shaw's business, nor did she want Castle putting his two cents in.

"If you do decide to have kids, it's going to be the hardest on them. I have a little girl and it never gets any easier when I have to leave her. I call her every night to tell her I love her," she said wistfully.

Kate thought about that and she realized that with their jobs it might be a little hard to raise a child, but she also knew that she and Alex would do whatever it took to make sure they did it right. "Well, the good news is that neither of us has a job that takes us out of town. But I hear what you're saying."

Shaw nodded and then spotted two SUVs in the rearview. "Ok, the team's here, let's go..."

In no time the FBI team, along with Beckett, was poised to enter the building, but before they could act, Jordan noticed someone walking down the alley. The confrontation happened fast and when the dust settled, Donald Salt was on the ground with taser leads attached to his back, Castle holding the taser in his hands.

Beckett made the arrest but no one was expecting the guy to ask, "Which one of you is Nikki Heat?" That was when Kate noticed the guy was missing his pinkie finger and she told Shaw.

They took Salt back to the precinct for questioning and he explained to them that the killer had offered him $5,000 for his pinkie finger. Of course he gave them the run around, not offering them a description or anything helpful until Kate asked about the bandage. Salt grinned and told the two women that the killer had bandaged it himself.

"Be gentle, Detective," Salt instructed just before Kate started to unwrap the bloody gauze.

As Kate unwound the bandage from Salt's finger, she found was a series of numbers written on the gauze. She and Shaw immediately carried the evidence back to the war room so that they could start deciphering the killer's code.

Beckett, Shaw, Avery and Castle were trying everything they could do decipher the meaning, but none of the known cryptographies that Avery ran it through could seem to crack the code.

Castle noticed that one column of numbers didn't go higher than 300 and that the other column was no more than 260...after a few moments of thinking out loud, Castle realized the reference key had to be his book, Heat Wave. He picked up a copy and looked up the first set of numbers, coming up with the word 'I.' Avery loaded the text into the computer and the message was quickly deciphered as, "I will kill someone else before midnight tonight unless you stop me.'"

Kate was the first to speak, "Midnight. That's eight hours away. He's putting us on the clock. He's daring us to stop him."

Over the next five hours the detectives and agents did what they could to figure out where the killer might strike next, but by 9 o'clock they were still no closer than when they started. Kate, who had had enough of Shaw's flashy high tech toys, was sitting near the murder board she and the other detectives used on a regular basis when Castle walked up. He stood near her and asked, "Kicking it old school?"

"The whiteboard's always worked for me." Kate knew the SmartBoard that Shaw had was faster and cooler, but deep down she was really a low-tech girl. The whiteboard, the hand written information, was more...organic, more real for her than Shaw's computerized SmartBoard. "I've been going over subway routes. Trying to see if I can trace a pattern from Grand Central to the carousel to the next location, but so far nothing definitive." Kate was starting to lose hope that she'd be able to stop this guy.

"Maybe there's something about how he chooses his victims, first a man, then a woman," Castle started.

Kate wasn't convinced, "A lawyer then a dog walker? Let's face it, there's not pattern there. There's no way to predict where he's going to go next and it's already nine and we're out of time."

Kate sounded a little defeated, but before Castle could try to cheer her up, the feds got a lead. The FBI's lab was able to isolate both ethanol and formaldehyde on the bandage from Salt's pinkie and the two crime scenes, so it was concluded that the killer must be a mortuary worker. The agents hauled in any undertaker with a criminal record, but it turned out to be a dead end. They were just about to give up when the killer called to taunt Kate once again.

"Tell me something. How does it feel to know that you have failed?" he asked in a tone that almost sounded disappointed. He left the phone off the hook and then walked away. He wanted Kate and the agents to trace the call because he felt the only way they could keep us was if he gave them a hint.

They trace led to an underground garage, but when Kate, Castle, Shaw, and the others arrived, all they found was a pool of blood, some hair, and a broken shoe. They followed the blood trail until it abruptly ended at an empty parking space and they quickly concluded that the killer must've taken the body with him.

When it became clear that there was nothing more for Kate to do, Shaw sent her home and told her that there would be a unit on her apartment. She left Kate and Castle standing in the garage and Kate could hardly hold back her frustration. "Can you believe her?" she asked Castle, hoping for a little support.

"Maybe she's right, you should go home and get some rest and something to eat. You've been working since 8 o'clock this morning. I'm sure Alex will be happy to see you, too."

Kate was about to argue, but when Castle mentioned Alex, she realized he was right. "Ok fine, I'll go home, but you have to go home too." Kate didn't want Castle spending any more time with Shaw. The way they were together made Kate almost feel like she was losing her best friend...which was silly because it was Castle, but she knew he had earned that title.

"Ok, if it's the only way to get you to go home too, I'll do it," he said with a nod. "See you in the morning?"

Kate smiled, "Yeah, come on, let's go find a cab." Kate and Castle walked out of the parking garage and each hailed a cab since they were going in opposite directions.

Part 21

Return to Law & Order: SVU Fiction

Return to Miscellaneous Fiction

Return to Main Page