Lately they’ve varied between outrageous flirting and passive aggressive silence. It’s Castle, really, who’s been doing it. Some days he grins at her so lasciviously she can’t help but blush. But other days he’s quiet and surly and it makes her want to hit him, or send him home, at least. Instead, she lets him pout beside her desk and tries to make him smile.
It’s one of the good days—flirty days, she corrects herself. She’s trying not to equate the two. So it’s one of the flirty days when she wears a white blouse with eyelet holes along the scoop neckline. It’s not usually a work shirt, shows off a little more skin that she’d like, but it’s laundry day.
Castle keeps looking—not at her chest, really, she’s not showing any cleavage—but he’s definitely tracing the neckline with his eyes. It makes her skin prickle with heat, but she tries to ignore him. Focusing on paperwork is even harder than usual.
“You know, Beckett,” he says, half-casual, “You have the cutest freckle below your left collar bone.”
She tries for stern, handing him her coffee cup and not even looking at him. “Castle, stop checking me out and do something useful. I need a refill.”
She does glance his way when he takes the mug; he’s smirking and she figures her cheeks must be red.
“You should warn me when you’re going to dress like this and I’ll stay home. You’re too much of a distraction for me to get any work done.”
“You’re saying my skin is not inspiring?”
It’s become a game of brinksmanship, of Jenga, who can get them closest to the edge without toppling the whole thing. She’s mixing her metaphors and she knows he wouldn’t approve but he leans a little toward her and she forgets about figurative language. She looks around nervously but no one in the precinct is paying attention. This must be what passes for normal between them.
She swears his voice is an octave lower when he responds, “We can only have so many scenes like page 105, Detective Beckett, before it just turns into tawdry smut.”
If she had restrained her blush before, she definitely doesn’t now, can feel it hot on her cheeks. He gives her another smirk before heading off for more coffee. She lets out a breath.
That’s when Gina shows up. Beckett sees her across the room and pretends not to notice how her own stomach clenches, how her body readies itself for fight or flight. Instead, she tries for small talk.
“Hi, Gina. How are you?”
Gina crosses her arms and scowls. “I’d be fine if that writer of yours would finish this fourth goddamn book!”
Beckett would have objected to him being called “hers”, but fourth sticks in her head for some reason. When Castle appears with coffee and sees Gina, his face falls so completely it’s almost comical—except that’s what makes Beckett realize fourth means final and nothing seems funny suddenly and she can’t really breathe.
Gina starts yelling at Castle. She calls him Rick and Beckett thinks that’s unfair, thinks it’s unfair that she’s his publisher, that she’ll still get to see him after this is over. She’s trying to listen to what Gina’s saying but there’s a weird buzzing noise in her ears. She does manage to catch deadline, missed and again before she excuses herself to the bathroom because there’s a chance she’s going to vomit.
The bathroom is quieter. She can still hear voices by they’re muffled, she can’t make out any words. She also still can breathe. She’s gasping, hyperventilating and she tries to focus on inhale, exhale but her mind is elsewhere, thinking things like over and done and lonely. She feels dizzy and too hot and remembers her intro to psych class freshman year, learning about panic attacks. She’s pretty sure she’s having one.
She leans against the wall next to the paper towel dispenser. She still can’t catch her breath. Her head is swimming to the point that she slides down the wall to the floor, unsure if she’d be able to stay on her feet.
That’s where she is, arms wrapped around her knees, gasping for air, when the door opens tentatively. It’s Castle on the other side and when he sees her on the floor his face falls again. In two big steps he is next to her, sits beside her, and pulls her to him.
Beckett doesn’t have enough oxygen to think it’s weird that Castle is holding her on the floor of the women’s bathroom. He rubs her back and shushes her even though the only noise she’s making is her attempt to breathe.
He inhales slowly as he comforts her, and releases it just as slowly. It’s easier to get air with him here, warm, solid. She tries to match his breathing, slows her hiccupping gasps to the gentle pace he’s set.
When Beckett finally calms down, she realizes she just had a panic attack over Castle.
She could not be more mortified.
She pulls herself from him, onto her feet, and goes over to splash water on her face.
“Missed your deadline, did you?” she says, faux-casual.
Castle stands. “Beckett—” He tries to catch her eyes in the mirror but she’s determined not to let him. “Look, I just…I didn’t…Yes. I missed my deadline. Four times.”
“Jesus, Castle,” she’s surprised enough that she forgets about avoiding him and turns around. “What were you thinking?”
“I can’t get the ending right,” he says and swallows roughly.
Beckett’s not sure how she’s supposed to handle that. They don’t talk about them, except for one damn fight, they never talk about them. And Castle isn’t, not exactly, except he is and they both know that. They just look at each other until she can’t take it anymore.
“Castle, I’m not Nikki Heat. I’m not going to stop existing just because you stop writing her.”
“But I won’t be able to follow you around anymore,” a bit of a whine is in his voice and it feels more like normal territory. “I won’t get to see you as much.”
“You could if you’d grow some balls and just ask me to dinner already.”
She couldn’t help herself, but now it’s awkward again. It’s not familiar anymore, not anything close to usual for them.
Castle’s mouth opens and closes only once before he breaks out in a grin. “You free tonight?”